After several weeks of having to keep our parish churches closed, there’s finally some light at the end of the tunnel. As you would know, the State Government is easing some restrictions as of this coming Monday, which means that we’re finally able to take the first tentative steps towards returning to our regular parish schedule. I’ve attached the letter from Archbishop Costelloe outlining the new guidelines that come into effect as of Monday, but the main takeaways for us at present are that—provided strict protective measures are in place— 1) we are able to open up our churches for private prayer, and 2) we are able to recommence baptisms. The Archbishop also mentions the possibility of some public Masses (again, under strict conditions), but for reasons that I’ll note below we’re going to hold off from trying this in the parish just yet. I’ll also outline the planned parish schedule that will take effect from Monday onwards. But first, my homily, which—suitably enough—is on the theme of hope…
In our second reading this weekend, Saint Peter encourages his audience with these words: “Reverence the Lord Christ in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have.”
Always have an answer ready those who ask us the reason for our hope. This implies a couple of things – one, that the followers of Christ are indeed people filled with hope; and two, that this is an unusual thing, which prompts others to ask believers, “Where does your hope come from?” So let’s take a brief look at what we mean when we speak of the virtue of hope.
You’ve perhaps heard of the four “cardinal” virtues, sometimes also called the “natural” virtues. They consist of:
– Prudence – judging correctly what is right and what is wrong in any given situation;
– Justice – the constant determination to give everyone their rightful due;
– Fortitude – remaining steady in our will in the face of obstacles; and
– Temperance – the balancing of legitimate goods against our inordinate desire for them.
These were recognised by ancient philosophers as cornerstones of a good human life, and the Church has always acknowledged them as indispensable. They’re known as “natural” virtues, because they are things that any reasonable person can identify and strive to practice more-or-less on their own, regardless of their faith. Prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance.
However, above and beyond these “natural” virtues are what we speak of as “supernatural” or “theological” virtues – in other words, virtues that are dependent upon the help of God. These virtues are not simply the result of reason and practice, but are the fruit of the Lord’s grace in our life. I’m speaking, of course, of the great Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love.
So the first thing to be noted about the virtue of hope, is that it is not a naturally-occurring thing. It is a gift from God.
Now, before we go any further, we need to acknowledge that the way that many people use the word “hope” these days is quite different. We tend to use “hope” in everyday language more-or-less the same as “optimism”. So for instance, I might “hope” that the Eagles will win the flag this year. And I may or may not have reasonable grounds for this hope.
An optimistic worldview is essentially an attitude that things in this life will work out in the end. It’s an upbeat assessment of things here below. “That’s okay – it’ll all be fine in the end.” But here’s the thing – from a purely worldly viewpoint, you could make a strong argument that things will not work out in the end, and that the right attitude is not optimism but pessimism.
For starters – sooner or later, every one of us is going to die (so, you know, there’s that). Furthermore, all of our plans and projects—in the long run—will eventually come to dust. That new home you’ve built, that new car you’ve just bought, that start-up company you work for – in a few short centuries, those things will all be gone with barely a trace. And more to the point, deep in our heart of hearts we know that—in the long run—nothing in this world can truly satisfy the deepest longings of our soul.
So, from a worldly point of view, you could make a strong argument that optimists are just being naïve or short-sighted. All worldly things fall apart – nothing good truly lasts.
But the virtue of “hope”—in the sense that Saint Peter is using it, and as the Church has always understood it—is a far different thing. Christian hope is the virtue that pushes us beyond this world and its struggles and conflicts, and directs the eyes of our soul towards the fulfilment that can only be found in the life to come. It does not deny the good things of this world, but it does know that the ultimate good is to be found in a world beyond this one.
And this season of Easter holds the key to this supernatural virtue of hope. Easter hope is grounded on the proclamation that the worst event that has ever happened in human history—the execution of the Son of God—was divinely transformed into the best event in human history: the salvation of the world. It is not about having favourable circumstances – indeed, it was born from the most unfavourable of circumstances.
The Easter miracle is the definitive revelation that the one true God is not like one of the petty, self-preoccupied gods of ancient mythology, but that our God is fundamentally and irrevocably on our side. Easter emphasises the fact that, if our God can take the sheer horror of the Crucifixion, and turn it into the sheer joy of the Resurrection, then nothing is beyond God’s ability to heal, and transform, and use for his wonderful purposes. None of our sins, none of our weaknesses, none of our sufferings, are beyond God’s ability to transform into something good, and true, and beautiful.
We believers are privileged to know that Jesus’ death was not the end of the story. He is alive, and is with us this very moment! And despite all the human mess in the Church, despite all the hypocrisy and sinfulness, Easter hope has always been the beating heart of the Christian revelation – and to have been influenced by joy of this revelation—even indirectly—is a tremendous blessing. And even though our Christian pilgrimage in this passing world will always see us live in a kind of exile—strangers in a strange land—we know that the ultimate victory is already won.
So… what is our answer for Saint Peter – what is the reason for our hope? Well, he told us at the beginning. He said, “Reverence the Lord Christ in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for your hope”.
To reverence Christ in our hearts—to let him be the Lord of our life—this is the source of our hope! It is he who can transform our lives, and the broken mess of our world – and it is he who has prepared a place for us in his heavenly kingdom.
So may this hope which is rooted in faith grow ever more within our hearts, and may we be courageous witnesses and dispensers of this hope to our hurting world that secretly yearns to receive it. Praised be Jesus Christ – now and forever. Amen!
Okay, you’re probably all keen to see what our new schedule will be. However, before I get into it, I need to emphasise that—per government requirements—all access to our two churches (Armadale and Serpentine) will, until further notice, be dependent on the following:
– Signing in and out, including your name, contact details and time of visit;
– Using hand-sanitiser upon entry;
– Maintaining good hygiene and social distancing;
– No more than 20 people in the Armadale church or hall, no more than 10 in Xavier House, and no more than 15 at St Kevin’s in Serpentine.
Thank you in advance for your cooperation.
Onto the schedule. Firstly, our parish office will be returning to its regular hours, namely 9am-4pm Monday-Friday. As for the church, St Francis Xavier, Hilbert will be open for private prayer from 9am-2pm Monday-Friday. As you may have noticed, school pick-up is a bit of a circus at present from 2:30pm each day, which is why we’re limiting it to 2pm. During these hours, the main church doors will remain locked, and you are asked to enter via the parish office, where our volunteer and/or secretary will keep track of numbers and assist you with the sign-in book and hand-sanitiser. We’re also asking you to only use the two central rows of pews when visiting the church, so as to make it easier for us to clean the pews each day. From 9am-12noon Monday-Friday we will also have Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, beginning with a public recitation of the Rosary at 9am.
On the weekends, the Sacrament of Reconciliation will be available at St Francis Xavier at the following times: Saturday, 8am-9am (including Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament with Benediction; Saturday, 5:30pm-6:30pm; Sunday, 5:30pm-6:00pm. At St Kevin’s in Serpentine, we will have Reconciliation and Adoration from 9:30am-10:30am on Sundays. At these times, a volunteer will be at the church entrance to keep track of numbers and assist with the sign-in book and hand-sanitiser. If we reach the allowed number, any extras will have to wait outside until there is room. Again, please maintain good hygiene and appropriate social distancing when taking part in any of the above.
Baptisms are now able to be celebrated again, with the standard restrictions (no more than 20 people, social distancing, etc). Please contact the parish office should you wish to book a baptism. Weddings and funerals remain restricted to a maximum of 20 people for the time being.
As for public Masses, they’re likewise only allowed to take place for a maximum of 20 people (or 30 outdoors). Given the size of our parish, it’s hard to see any way of making Sunday Masses available at present until restrictions are eased further (unless we want to institute a Mass attendance lottery!). It might be possible to make weekday Mass available in due course, but we’ve decided to wait for the time being, partly because I’m going to be away for the next week and a half on a much-needed break (I had hoped to sneak it in before things got to this point, but alas). If our planned schedule goes well and no further changes come from the government, we’ll look at possibly celebrating two public Masses each weekday once I’m back (don’t worry, I’ll still send out a parish e-letter next weekend!).
My sincere thanks for your patience and understanding over the past few weeks, and regarding the inconveniences that remain. I know many of you sorely miss the Mass, but let’s give thanks for the small mercies we’re being given now, and continue to strive to please God in expectant hope for when we can gather for the Eucharist in the hopefully not-too-distant future.
A few other notices and links:
– Many thanks to those who helped co-ordinate the repainting of our parish offices – they’re looking brand new! And keep an eye out for the new artwork which will be adorning our office spaces in the coming weeks.
– This week’s piano song is a specially-tweaked version of a recent song by American singer Andy Grammer, “Don’t Give up on (Him)”: https://youtu.be/3bdq9N1ia1E
(And here’s a gorgeous rendition of the original version with Andy and a school choir: https://youtu.be/KL9qp0FNEzU)
– Thanks to everyone who donated goods to the Vinnies Drive n Drop Hub. A carload of groceries was dropped at the Canning Vale depot during the week. The appeal has now concluded so we are no longer receiving donations.
– Bishop Don Sproxton recently wrote a letter to the RCIA candidates and catechumens throughout Perth who were preparing to enter the Church this past Easter, which I have attached here. Please continue to keep them in your prayers as they wait to take this important step in their walk with the Lord.
– Those of you with children preparing for the sacraments in our parish Chi Rho program have obviously seen your plans disrupted. Please find attached a letter from our Chi Rho coordinator with the latest updates.
– Here’s a fine conversation about living the faith amidst isolation with Bishop Joseph Strickland and Dr Stacy Trasancos of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas: https://youtu.be/xW3bhbUoHz4
– And lastly, for a taste of Catholic beauty this week, check out these sweet beer-brewing monks in Norcia (the birthplace of St Benedict): https://youtu.be/vjRB3qUAwqM