WelCom June 2020:
“They showed us unusual kindness” – Acts 28:2
There has been a lot of debate and discussion online here in New Zealand and internationally about impact on the Church from the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, and the way forward in the months ahead.
During lockdown I received many articles to read and several reflections were sent to me. Included were some very humorous articles and cartoons, which even during a serious pandemic did bring a sense of humour and some light relief.
It clearly has been a time to take life seriously. People have been in danger, many overseas losing their lives – thankfully fewer here – and there have been potentially very damaging effects to the economy. There are hardships impacting many New Zealand families and individuals right now and, unfortunately, they will continue to do so into the future.
Reduced working hours, loss of jobs and growing unemployment numbers across multiple sectors are having a serious effect on peoples’ lives. We are hearing stories of people and households struggling and sacrificing essential necessities such as food, power, health care, in order to pay bills such as the mortgage or rent.
The uncertainties and social isolation resulting from Covid-19 restrictions have also impacted people’s mental health. Maybe it was because of the disastrous effects of Covid-19 that some have responded with humour – sometimes ‘black humour’ – which at times drew attention to the way people have been suffering.
I have thought often of Suzanne Aubert and how amidst the challenges of her time she maintained a great sense of humour. There was the time she went into the office of a businessman in Wellington, and he said to her, ‘Take a chair’, and gestured to a chair from behind his desk. Suzanne’s response was ‘Thank you very much’, as she picked up the chair and took it home with her.
I also thought often of the book by the author Fr James Martin SJ, Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humour, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life. It’s a wonderful book; I cannot think of any other book that has on its cover pictures of Pope John XXIII, Ss Julie Billiart, Teresa of Avila, Francis of Assisi, and Mother Teresa with their heads thrown back in laughter.
People are looking for reassurance and guidance at this time of uncertainty. It might be the very simple things that get us through, help us to plan and move ahead with confidence and in hope, with kindness and patience. Many of you will have seen the motorway signs with the simple words ‘Be kind’, and the theme for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (25–31 May) has been ‘They showed us unusual kindness’ (Acts 28:2). They are the simple words, which may help when things are so uncertain for so many. Perhaps they might help when stress and uncertainty make us inclined to lash out at others.
One of the reflections sent to me quite early in lockdown came from a religious sister. She began by saying, ‘It’s taken a pandemic to shake the people of the world into realising that the “extravagant love” of God is NOT IN CONFINEMENT.’ She then quoted from ‘Snippets of a Prayer for the Day’ by Canadian Jane Jones, which said:
‘Our essential services will keep running, the sun will rise tomorrow, the earth will spin, the tides will wash in and out, Autumn hasn’t be postponed, the clusters of stars will not be cancelled, the trees will reach up to the light, and the Lord’s love will bring peace, gifting us with pockets of unforeseen Joy today. Amen.’
These are very challenging times. We have been in this Covid-19 scenario just over two months, which is not long in the context of Church life, so it doesn’t mean that things are irrevocably changed, or that we must have answers immediately. But this does give us an opportunity to stop and reflect on how we live our faith and what our faith communities might look like in the future.
As we reflect, I want to emphasise the safety of people is of paramount importance. We need to keep safety in mind as we slowly begin to gather again. The virus is not under control internationally and a spike in Covid cases could happen in New Zealand. All of us are called to care for one another, to be careful and always ready to put the health and safety of others first.
One of the things we all need to do is to pray and reflect about our parish communities. Almost two years ago at the fourth national priests’ assembly diocesan priests from throughout New Zealand were challenged to unleash the giftedness of the people in parishes by making them disciples. We listened to Canadian Fr James Mallon, author of the book Divine: Bringing Your Parish from Maintenance to Mission, as he spoke about the need to convert people in the pews into ‘missionary disciples’. Some of the questions he asked us to consider were: ‘Are parishes moving in the right direction? Are we making disciples? Or are we just providing services to consumer Catholics?’
We are much more than ‘consumer Catholics’. We are disciples who make a choice every day to live as disciples, to tell the truth of Jesus, walk the way of Jesus and live the life of Jesus. Our lives as the baptised should be exciting and energising, supporting one other, helping others to be fascinated with Jesus and what he offers us.
Please pray with the text from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 27:18 – 28:10) in which St Paul experienced ‘Unusual kindness’ and think about what ‘being kind’ and ‘showing unusual kindness’ mean in our current circumstances.