Pentecost 2020

Bishop of the Australian Military Services

Pentecost 2020 – What are we to do?

Things are certainly different for us this year. Things were certainly different for the disciples too. The Solemn Feast of Pentecost records that event which, at one moment heralded the end of Jesus’ earthly mission to make the Father’s love known and fulfilling. His promise to ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit, and at the other moment the beginning of the work of His disciples to continue His mission. Life for them and for us changed dramatically and not without some concern and uncertainty either. “What are we to do?” was their question and it is ours too. All this was going on while they were in their own ’lockdown’ —they had sequestered themselves together with Mary in fear— and spent the time in prayer awaiting the promised Holy Spirit.

The social climate for those Apostles was deeply fractured. There was the obvious situation of the Jewish People being under the authority of Rome. There were significant differences between the religious leaders and sometimes open argument had led to different factions forming in the practice of the faith. We can easily get an impression from reading the New Testament — especially the Acts of the Apostles — of a sense of enthusiasm and zeal that was tempered at times by the tensions of the practical application of Jesus’ teaching in various places. They had to find ways around these tensions so that they could fulfil their mission. After all Jesus did tell them “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matt 16:24).

Here in Australia in our present time we too are confronting difficulties associated with the COVID19 pandemic. The measures imposed to control the spread of the virus brought special challenges to people of faith. The ‘distancing’ that forms part of that response is on several levels. That distancing has made it very difficult to maintain our sense of community— in our families, in our workplaces, in our social engagement, in our spiritual community. We have all become aware that the usual community expressions that encourage our spiritual life have not been available. The faithful have not had the Opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist or the Sacraments – especially Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick. Special celebrations of Baptisms, Holy Communion, Confirmation and Marriage have been put on hold. Even limitations on funerals have been hard to accept. Members of families have, in many cases, been unable to ‘sit together’ and this has been difficult particularly for the grandparent/grandchild relationships. So the ‘denial’ and ’taking up cross‘ dimensions of Jesus’ words are fairly obvious.

What is also obvious is the working around the difficulties so that we can follow Jesus. The use of the electronic media has brought our spiritual life into a new dimension. We can be part of a celebration together even though we are separated physically. The live streaming of Mass and Holy Hour devotions are two examples. The use of facetime, skype, and zoom and similar programmes have enabled people to pray together at the same time even though apart. We have more time for private prayer and reflection. There are not as many distractions. There is an increased effort from many to be in touch so that they can be even more encouraging and actively supportive. This is an opportunity for increasing our sense of awareness of the needs of others and to find a way of helping them meet those needs. Differences have become less threatening to our community.

Things will not be the same as they were. The new ways and senses of community expression are an encouragement for renewal of our mission as followers of Jesus and give us new purpose and heart. We are better able to own and reach out in a new evangelisation perhaps better equipped and inspired by our current experience. “What are we to do?” is our question in our day and the Holy Spirit, the Gift promised and sent, will continue to enlighten us and illuminate the way. It only remains for us to sincerely, deliberately and openly place ourselves in prayer and reflection in a space where we can let the Holy Spirit dwell in us and renew our hope, purpose and indeed the face of the earth for us.

“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful and renew the face of the earth”.