Before Mass Before we begin, a point that might be of interest. Our entrance antiphon today begins with “Like newborn infants...” In the Latin, the first two words of this antiphon are “Quasi modo”. Now, I am reliably informed that there is a famous character in French literature born on this day who takes his name from this antiphon. I haven’t read the book so can’t confirm this, but the name rings a bell. On another note: what’s wrapped in plastic and runs around Paris at midday? The lunch-pack of Notre Dame.
During Mass It’s rare that we get to hit the reset button in life. Life is normally too busy. We usually don’t have the time nor the space to take stock. The snow-cone is always being shaken; and so we never get to see what things look like when it all settles. And I am very aware that for many people, even now is not such a time. For some, the days are even busier than normal, when all the jobs still need to be done but there is less help available.
However, based on a number of conversations that I have had, for many people this can be a time for reflection. And if this can be done, it should be done. As I said, it is rare that we get to hit the reset button. And perhaps even rarer still that we can do a soft reset. More of often than not, if we have to hit the reset, it is normally a hard reset. Something has gone wrong, the wheels have fallen off, and we have no choice but to start from scratch. And again, I am aware that this might be the case for some in our community. This might be the hard reset, a real punch in the guts, that has got us reeling.
But whether it is a hard or soft reset, we should take whatever opportunities present themselves to have a look at the shape of our lives. Because as I said, these opportunities don’t happen often, and they definitely don’t happen on this scale.
A number of people have likened the social setting to a retreat. We have been thrown back on the basics. Now, one of the key features of a retreat is the quietening of noise. This allows what is deep to come to the surface. For longer spiritual retreats, usually the first few days are simply a slowing down, a speaking less, the development of a new rhythm of prayer, reading, walking and reflection. All of this brings a new stillness that allows what is hidden, what is subconscious, to reveal itself. The various tensions, the anxious hum, the unintended habits: all of these begin to come forward into the light. We begin to become aware of our real life, the unseen forces that shape our days, shape our thoughts, even affect our bodies and our breathing. Our real culture.
This idea of community reflection came to mind this week because of our first reading. It was the reading that Fr Joe used to prompt reflection among those in our parish who met to discuss the formation of a parish pastoral council. The discussion, though, was bigger than the formation of the council. It was about our vision for our parish, what we needed, what we had to offer, and how those two fitted together in our setting of East St Kilda. The first reading gave us a number of criteria for guiding and assessing our discussion.
However, in our own reflections, if we find the time and space to do a mini retreat, we might turn first to today’s Gospel. In the Gospel, we see the community before they receive the good news. A tired, anxious, insular community, closed in on itself. But we also hear why it is that they become the community of the first reading. Jesus comes among them. Not only is he alive, but he also answers their deepest desires, and speaks to their deepest concerns. First, he offers them his peace. In doing so, Jesus brings real hope. And it is real hope because he also acknowledges their fears. His wounds give him credibility. They saw him die, so they know his new life is no trick. This is the basis of communion. He lived with them. He died the death that they will die. And he is alive. His peace is eternal. He is solid ground.
Our reflections, our retreat must address both these things: wounds and hope. Suffering without hope is despair. And, in this life, hope without suffering is a fantasy, and therefore cannot real hope because it does not speak to where we really are.
I said a few weeks ago that Jesus is the truth, and that therefore he must be both the truth of how things are (seen in the Cross, and in the poor) and the truth of how things should be (seen in the Resurrection, and the promise of justice). I also said he reveals the true relationship of these two truths: the first truth becoming the second truth; how things are turning into how things should be. This is the movement of Incarnation. This is God calling new life into being. St Thomas Aquinas defined this as God’s mercy: what is not yet becoming what is. God’s act of creation that must precede any justice. God’s Amen to creation. The great act of divine mercy that is always ongoing, always creating new life, always holding us in being.
So, let us pray hard about what is going on. Let us see what hurts and needs to change, or at least offered up in the meantime. Let us also spot what is new and good, and so needs to be nurtured. And in all this, let us listen closely to God’s Word, who asks us at each moment to trust in his love, to be grounded in his peace, and to have faith that at every moment he is Emmanuel, God- with-us, our Lord and our God.