This is the first of the weekly e-mail messages that I intend to send to our parishioners as long as public Mass is suspended. I figure this is a way—imperfect though it may be—of maintaining connection with you all and trying to offer some spiritual nourishment during this time of enforced isolation. I don’t intend for these messages to be overly long, and they will likely be a mix of reflections on the Sunday liturgy, parish updates, and a few helpful links. Feel free to unsubscribe at any time by simply replying “unsubscribe”.
This Sunday is known in the Church as “Laetare Sunday”. The word “Laetare”—which in Latin means ‘rejoice’—is taken from the entrance antiphon prescribed for this Sunday’s Mass. Now past Lent’s halfway point, we are invited to take courage from what the Lord has already been doing in us during this fast of forty days. As we draw closer to Easter—and to the Lord who bears our burdens—our Lenten load is lightened. And so the violet vestments of Lent are mixed with the white vestments of Easter, resulting in the rose-coloured vestments that many clergy wear this Sunday.
Our Gospel passage points to the underlying reason for our joy. Jesus heals a man blind from birth, and then—in the high point of the story—asks him: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man is able to recognise the deeper significance of what Jesus has done for him, and as such he quickly moves from the light of new sight to the light of faith, declaring: “Lord, I believe!”
Because of Original Sin, we too were born “blind” in a sense, but in the baptismal font we were illumined by the grace of Christ. Sin wounded humanity and destined it to the darkness of death, but in Christ, the newness of life shines out, and lights the way to the heavenly destination to which we are all called. Through Christ, and reinvigorated by the Holy Spirit, we receive the strength to defeat evil and to do good.
As I looked ahead to this weekend I was pleased that it fell on Laetare Sunday, because I felt that we could do with a little consolation this weekend. As many of you know, today is the first anniversary of Fr Joseph Tran’s passing, and I had hoped to use my homily this weekend to speak to this milestone and to acknowledge its effect on our parish.
This time last year was a very difficult time for us all, especially given that it was all being played out on the front page of the newspaper. As many of you know, I worked alongside Fr Joe at Whitfords parish for 18 months, and so this time last year I was back at Whitfords to be with the people during this most painful and surreal time. I was personally very affected by Fr Joe’s passing and the circumstances surrounding it, and I went through a variety of emotions. Archbishop Costelloe was also at Whitfords parish that weekend, and I noted to him that if he needed me to be part of the upcoming clergy shuffle necessitated by Fr Joe’s death I was open to it. Nonetheless, I was a little surprised when a few weeks later the Archbishop told me he was sending me here to St Francis Xavier parish. I’ve had a steep learning curve here and I’ve no doubt made my share of mistakes, but this place has very much become my home and I’ve taken consolation from the generous support of so many of you.
I offered my Mass today for the repose of Fr Joe, as well as for those hurt by this situation. I also received a warm message from Archbishop Costelloe this morning assuring us of his prayers for our parish at this difficult time. Given all that we’ve has been through in recent times—to say nothing of the broader controversies surrounding the Church—I must say that I’ve been very impressed by the resilience of our parish, which speaks to the wonderful community foundation that is present here.
I know this is likely a delicate time for many of you, with different people reacting in different ways. Nonetheless, this milestone strikes me as a suitable time for us to examine how we’re doing as a parish: whether various factions have taken hold, or whether we’re essentially together in our desire to follow the Lord as a parish. Regarding Fr Joe’s time here, I realise that some of you loved him, while some of you found him a bit challenging. As I’ve said before, I believe that I must strive to be a priest for you all, regardless of your backgrounds or what you thought of previous priests. For, at the end of the day, we’re not here for the priest, but for Jesus, and my job is to help foster your encounter with him as best I can.
It’s appropriate for us to give thanks for the generous service Fr Joe offered to many, and to pray for him, his family, and all those who miss him. It is also appropriate for us to acknowledge and support those who’ve been hurt by this whole situation, including those who’ve suffered abuse in their life. May this anniversary may be a time of healing for us in the parish, in the broader Church, and in our local community.
Turning to the Coronavirus, I noted in a recent homily that the fact that the world is going through a collective brush with mortality during Lent is, for us Catholics, rather interesting timing. It is likewise interesting that one result of the virus’ impact has been that much of the world has found itself placed under quarantine. The word “quarantine” comes from a Venetian dialect and literally means “forty days”. During times of plague, the policy in Venice was to make ships arriving from plague-stricken areas wait off its port for forty days to ensure that no latent cases of plague were on board. As you might have guessed, the number forty was taken from the forty days of Lent, which in turn comes from Christ’s forty days of prayer and fasting in the desert. The ships under quarantine would have forty days of isolation to ensure the physical health of those on board in preparation for landing. Similarly, in Lent the faithful are given forty days in the figurative desert with the Lord to facilitate their spiritual cleansing in preparation for the great mysteries of Easter.
Well, the Great Fast of Lent is taking on a whole new meaning this year, as health precautions are requiring the faithful in many parts of the world to forego participation in the Mass itself, for what might end up being several months. For many Catholics this seems like a cruel twist. It is precisely our faith that helps give meaning to our suffering, and as the Second Vatican Council emphasised, the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our faith – both the origin and the goal of all our spiritual desire.
It goes without saying that this is a very difficult situation, and many bishops have spoken about how they agonised over making such a decision. And yet, as the mysteries of Holy Week show us, our God knows a thing or two about bringing light and life from the sorrows of this world. So let me finish with a few thoughts on how the faithful might approach their present inability to be present at Mass.
The expression “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” can sound like a trite cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason – namely, that it’s often true. A recent survey in the U.S. indicated that up to two-thirds of American Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence—the fundamental Catholic belief that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. In such a context, it’s worth asking ourselves if many in the Church have perhaps been taking the Mass somewhat for granted, and therefore that the present disruptions may have the possibility of rekindling the spark of Eucharistic faith within the Church.
Consider that, for much of the Church’s history, large numbers of Mass-going faithful would not receive the Eucharist each week. And there have likewise been many times when the faithful of various regions have had to go without the Mass for extended periods, during war, or persecution, or because of distance or illness. It’s generally been during such times that the great devotions in our faith have risen to the surface. Novenas, litanies, the rosary, and Eucharistic Adoration form part of the rich tradition of Catholic devotional life, and such forms of prayer could be reclaimed with relish during the present time. I think, for instance, of how in the earliest days of the Catholic faith in Australia—once the first priest in Sydney had been expelled back to Europe—Catholic families would gather in hiding to pray in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, and this devotion nourished their faith until Mass was once again a possibility.
And it should be emphasised, we priests will continue to celebrate Mass privately each day, and through acts of spiritual communion the faithful are able—and indeed encouraged—to unite from afar themselves and their spiritual offerings with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
All the baptised have a share in the priesthood of Christ, and are able to offer sacrifices for the good of the Church and the salvation of souls. Well, at this time, many of the faithful are being asked to sacrifice their physical presence at Mass, so as to protect the Body of Christ at large. So if you are following Mass on your TV or device, as the priest raises the Host and says, “This is my Body,” unite your bodies in sacrifice, as you give up your bodily closeness to the Eucharist for the sake of your neighbours.
And nourish your anticipation for that wonderful day when this Eucharistic fast is finally lifted, and the faithful can reunite with joy to celebrate once more our physical and spiritual union with our crucified and risen Lord.
So know that we priests are carrying all of you and your intentions to the altar each day, and pray that this time of physical distance may increase the yearning in our hearts for closeness to the Lord. Be good to each other, pray for each other, and know that our merciful Lord and his Blessed Mother continue to watch over us and protect us.
A reminder that our parish schedule at present is as follows:
– Monday to Friday, 9am-12noon: Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, beginning with a public recitation of the Rosary at 9am.
Saturday, 8am-9am: Reconciliation, plus Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament with Benediction.
– Saturday, 5:30pm-6:30pm: Reconciliation.
– Sunday, 5:30pm-6:00pm: Reconciliation.
The parish church will also remain open for private prayer during office hours. At St Kevin’s in Serpentine, we will have Reconciliation and Adoration from 9:30am-10:30am on Sundays. Please maintain good hygiene and appropriate social distancing when taking part in any of the above.
Finally, some links. A number of you have expressed an interest in watching Mass at home on your TV, phone, or computer. Channel 10 broadcasts a Mass at 6am Sunday mornings, called “Mass for You at Home”. As for online, Archbishop Costelloe will live-stream Mass tomorrow at 11am, which you can access via one of the following as it begins at 11am:
Archdiocese Website – www.perthcatholic.org.au
Archdiocese Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/perthcatholic/
The Record YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMFFqA8iYLlIVIb72LXMYFQ/live
The CathNews YouTube page also broadcasts Mass each day which can be accessed at any time: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYRq7AjVimr-hcHFJD_HVaQ
I’ve attached a sheet with some tips on praying along with a televised Mass, so that it might be spiritually fruitful and not simply another thing on TV.
And here are a few of articles that you might find helpful at this time:
Ten guideposts for Christians in the time of the coronavirus pandemic
Lessons from the underground Catholic Church about spiritual communion https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2020/03/19/lessons-from-the-underground-catholic-church-about-spiritual-communion/
Christians and the coronavirus: Prepare to lose
Holy See grants indulgence to coronavirus patients and Catholics who pray for them
And something a little light-hearted: