Parishioner’s Easter Reflection 1

Happy Easter everyone,

Strange as this Easter has been, I’ve been thinking that it’s also been one of the most reflective ones I have ever experienced.

This is all thanks to you, Frs Jude and Silvio, Dcn Royden, our neighbouring priests, Geralyn, our leaders, parish staff and all who have contributed to bring us the wonderful liturgies of Holy Week; I have participated in each one of the events. Nothing happens just by chance. I am aware how much effort goes into these functions during ‘normal’ times, and can only imagine how much more demanding it has been to organise all of this under such restrictive circumstances. Thank you for sharing your talents with all of us.

As I mentioned, this has been a very reflective time for me. I shared this with some others and would like to share it with you too.

Churches all around the world are as empty and as desolate as the tomb this Easter.  But just as Jesus found his way to his friends on that first Easter morning, giving them courage and bringing them peace, this year he comes intimately into our own private homes, offering us the same gifts – courage and peace – and hope. By his grace, may we have the strength to bring these gifts to others who only see the present darkness.

Maybe the tomb wasn’t empty after all. Maybe Jesus filled it with hope – it just took us a long time to notice it.

I hope that you are now enjoying your Easter Sunday at home with loved ones, knowing that you have made what might have been a very ‘dark’ Easter the brilliant sign of hope that it actually is. Blessings,

Judy

 

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Dear Fr. Jude & Fr. Silvio,

We just wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who made the beautiful ceremonies possible;  absolutely first class in every respect!!! In particular how wonderful that all parishes combined together for the Triduum;  the collaboration of all priests in our area — so beautiful — moving, prayerful and reverent.  So proud that we are all part of something so very special.  We thank God for such authentic spiritual leadership of our priest community and Geralyn too!!  (Great to have a woman on board….) You all must have worked so hard to get it all sorted before Stage 3 restrictions!!!

Hopefully the upside of the downside has been a new and different type of Easter for us all, where we have been able to connect with God on His terms minus all that we have become accustomed to, and embrace technology to bring us together with one heart and mind.

From our hearts wishing you a blessed Easter,

Ann & Frank

 

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Exemple

Dear parish family at St. James, visitors and friends,

Even though our church buildings are closed, locked doors are no obstacles for the risen Lord.

We have never experienced an Easter like this, with public worship suspended in many places, and people confined to their homes.

Over the past weeks, our world and our lives have been turned upside down, as we respond to the global pandemic of coronavirus, COVID-19.

Our Easter services this year have taken a very different form, as Christian communities seek to respond in many ways that will slow the spread of the virus, and keep vulnerable people safe.

It has been heartening to see the creative ways our churches are connecting to pray, pastorally care for one another, and advocate for those who are experiencing disadvantage and injustice.

Across Australia and around the world during the Christian festival of Easter, we celebrate that Christ is risen, and continues to be present with us today. As we celebrate Easter this year, we are conscious of all those who are affected by the catastrophic and unprecedented events in our nation, of bushfire, flood and drought, as well as the global pandemic.

It is our Christian belief that through his life and ministry, Jesus identifies with, and comes alongside us in our suffering, offering comfort and compassion.

In our churches and wider communities, we are witnessing acts of enormous sacrifice and love, as people reach out to their neighbours. In the midst of grief, we see emerging signs of hope, and new life. The Jesus story as we have heard in the gospel, does not end in death, but in life. Jesus, the God-man dies on the cross and is buried, and after three days rises again. The disciples got to experience the risen Christ. They came to realise that the empty tomb was no joke, but the source of a new and glorified life, in which we are invited to share.

The risen Lord breaks through the physical and emotional barrier, just by standing in their midst and speaking “Peace”, banishing fear stemming from the hostility of the world.   It is not merely a wish: “Peace be with you”; rather it is a declaration: “Peace be with you”! The cross of Jesus, dear friends, says that there is no dark place, no depth of human desolation, where Jesus is not present – he is there. The book of Exodus speaks about “Moses entering the thick darkness where God is present” (Ex 20:21).

Jesus is in the thick darkness of COVID-19, and his resurrection says that he is the light which dispels even the thick darkness of death. So when we sing “The Light of Christ” on Easter night, even in an empty church, we are speaking a truth to all the world – that the virus may be new but the remedy is not.

We can all catch something of the reality of the resurrection, when we experience new life in the midst of hopelessness. We can see it in so many working on the frontline, our nurses, doctors, volunteers, religious, sisters, priests, shopworkers – all performing their duties so that society can continue. We can see it in the beloved disciples who see in the dark what no-one else sees.

Let us keep deep faith, dearest friends, stay strong and try to remain sane.

On behalf of Fr Silvio, Fr Brendan, Dcn Royden, the parish council, and myself, we miss you greatly and long to be physically united with you again.

May you all experience God’s renewing love and hope in your life and families. Have a blessed and peaceful Easter.

Fr Jude Pirotta mssp Parish Priest

 

 

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As we gather in our homes to commemorate the passion of our lord Jesus Christ on this Good Friday 2020, we gather to hold holy the love that opposed violence and the love that endured violence, the love that made its’ way with the cross on its back.

We gather to profess our gratitude for that love, and to stand in solidarity with all those people whose courageous love makes them victims of violence. The cross of Jesus has not been dismantled, the suffering he experienced has not ceased. The cross stands in the midst of life. This is the first time in our lives where we do not meet each other in our churches, but we meet in our domestic churches, in the company of our families in our homes due to the coronavirus that has had an impact on the world at large.

I am daunted by what this virus is doing to lives all over the world…

  • those who are suffering from it;
  • those with compromised health and living in deadly fear of catching it;
  • those who have lost their jobs and don’t know how they will get through this;
  • the elderly in our community, and those isolated from human contact;
  • those at the front line courageously risking their lives for others, our doctors and nurses and carers;
  • millions of refugees living in unsafe situations with no place to go and now with less hope than before;
  • those whose kids are lonely for companionship and play, and are frustrated and bored;
  • millions of people around the globe trapped in their homes and cannot go out even for a walk;
  • people without health care, people who cannot get the medicines they need and the general loneliness millions are experiencing in isolation.

It isn’t often that the whole world feels this vulnerable, that we lose the illusion that we are in control. It is a sobering time, a reflective time, a time to recognise that we are not in control, and a time to count our blessings.

During this unusual time that we are living in, where the death toll of those who have died through this deadly pandemic rises daily, we ask the question: Why is it so significant that we recall the death of a man who died 2000 years ago? The reason is that his death has changed forever the very face of death and given it a new meaning.

We can see this exemplified in the Vietnamese cardinal Francis Van Thuan who had been ordained a bishop of Nha Trang in Vietnam in 1967 and appointed coadjutor bishop of Saigon in 1975 just days before it fell to the North Vietnamese army, was arrested and spent next to 13 years in prison. While in solitary confinement in 9 of the 13 years, he describes the conditions in which he was held.   He was in a cell without windows, and for several days and nights the light would never be switched off. And then for several days and nights he plunged into total darkness. He felt as though he was suffocating of heat and humidity to the point of insanity, and he was distressed because he could not fulfil his ministry as a priest.

Living in the present moment in silence and isolation does not make everything easy and Van Thuan explains, time passes slowly in prison, above all in isolation. Imagine a week, one month or more of silence. They are terribly long.   We are not experiencing something so severe, but we may find the next few weeks and months very hard. Many times in his life he explains, when he suffered from being unable to pray, and he writes, he cried like Jesus on the cross: My God, why have you abandoned me.   He adds at once: Yes I know that God did not abandon me. However difficult this time may be for us, and however hard it can be sometimes to believe it: our faith assures us that we will never be abandoned. As Christians we are committed to remember the passion of Jesus: “whenever you do this, do it in memory of me”. When a community chooses to remember suffering, their memory becomes a protest. That memory also serves to make us aware of the crosses that are in our midst. The memory of Jesus’ passion educates us to pay attention to the sufferings of others. The cross demands that attention should be paid. So today we pay attention to the suffering of Jesus, and the suffering of all those who are paralysed in the grip of fear, and all who are victims of hate and violence.

For us Christians, keeping the memory of Jesus’ death is a living reminder that we are never alone, as we stand near the cross in our lives. While our faith does not magically remove the pain, you and I are assured that Jesus, the crucified son of God, is in solidarity with us at that place. He is intimately close to us because he experienced that place in the most personal and intense way possible.

Our experience over the next few weeks and months will not, we trust, be as extreme as that of Cardinal Van Thuan. But it will offer us an opportunity. “When I lived in times of extreme physical and moral suffering”, Van Thuan writes, “I thought of Jesus crucified”. To the human eye, Jesus’ life was a defeat, a disappointment and a failure. However in the eyes of God, that was the most important moment of his life, because it was then that he poured out his blood for the salvation of humanity. Standing near the cross of Jesus is a painful and a powerful place to be. As we pray this Good Friday, we are invited to stand there with Jesus and his disciples. And we are called to trust that what is happening there is what happens wherever the God of Jesus Christ is present; God is faithfully present and at work to bring life out of death.

I invite you as a family, as you venerate the cross in your midst, to be reminded that the cross of Jesus stands at the centre of the Christian story, as the sign of the length love will go to in its passion for others. If we ever wonder if we are really loved, we should look at the figure on the cross. It is difficult to maintain, that we are unloved, when we know that someone thought that we were worth dying for. The cross was lifted up as a sign of our worth; someone thought that we were worth all that pain and suffering. And that somebody is Jesus, Son of God.

Fr Jude Pirotta mssp

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Holy Thursday 2020 – Commemoration of the Last Supper

Now that restrictions related to COVID-19 are in full swing, we are aware of, and acknowledge the pain of those people who have been the hardest hit, through isolation, loss of income, infections, and worst of all, death. While acknowledging all this, we are also aware of the fact that we miss doing things that are part and parcel of our culture and living, like meeting up for a coffee, watching footy, sharing dinner, or enjoying a BBQ evening. We love being together, and we love to share a meal. No wonder, that on many special occasions God himself wanted to show us the significance of an event through the sharing of a meal.
A meal brings people together. Is it not a matter of simply filling an empty stomach, much like filling in at the petrol station. It is an opportunity to encounter, to enkindle relationships, re-ignite old friendships, create community, and keep family together.

Today’s readings speak to us about events happening during, or commemorated by, a meal. The first one from Exodus, refers to the Passover ritual. At the end of hundreds of years in slavery, when God liberated his people, everyone within the context of his/her family, ate the roasted meat with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Some of the blood was sprinkled on the doorposts and the lintel of houses. All was done in a hurry, as a prelude to leave the house of slavery. That day, the people were liberated. Remembering and re-enacting the ritual year after year enabled each generation to enter into that saving event. The Passover ritual was not just a memory. It became a participation in the saving event of the past. The event, so to speak, becomes present. The present generations make it their own, and it confirms their identity.
Jesus chose the Passover meal celebration to celebrate his last supper with his disciples, and during that meal he instituted the Eucharist. Jesus loved community, and wanted his disciples to celebrate in community.

St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, tells us what the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke also do. The Christian community in Corinth was a lively one, enriched by the great gifts of the Spirit of God. But it had flaws as well, and Paul told them off. On this particular occasion, he noted that they were coming to recall and celebrate what Jesus had done. They ate together (agape), but were not sharing. Each ate his own food, to the embarrassment of the poorer people. No, he said, that is not what Jesus wanted. The Eucharist is not just a meal. It is much more!
So he tells them what Jesus did, and how he gave new meaning to the Passover meal.
He shared the bread, which he calls his body, and he shared the cup of wine, which he called his blood. He invited his disciples to “do this in memorial of me”. Because of what He says, when we celebrate the Eucharist, we are not simply remembering an event. We are making it present! Jesus continues to give Himself freely to save us from eternal death, and set us on the path that leads us to share God’s eternal life.
Such was His great love for us.
When we believe and reflect upon what Jesus did, we discover that we are caught up in this self-sacrificing love of Jesus. Celebrating the ritual and loving others (as Christ did), go hand in hand.

John helps us to understand this reality by speaking to us about the washing of the feet (and not about the institution of the Eucharist). Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, a menial task normally reserved for slaves. John recounts this in a very solemn manner.
Imagine yourself having been invited to celebrate the Passover with Jesus, your teacher, the prophet, the Son of God. The atmosphere is already emotionally charged, it being just “before the festival of the Passover”. “Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father (so you remember his death). He had always loved those who were his in the world (remember the shared time, experiences, teachings, miracles, joys and sorrows?), but now he showed how perfect his love was…” He humbled himself, removed his cloak, put on an apron, took a basin and a towel, and washed their feet, telling Peter that if he did not wash his feet, then he had nothing to do with him. (What!!?)
The God we believe in is not just someone up there in Heaven, looking down upon us. He is Jesus at our feet, gently and lovingly cleansing us from our sins. Jesus is not there to judge and condemn. He is there to love, to make us clean. Whatever our sins are, he is intent upon removing the stain, making us clean and whole again. Dear brothers and sisters, can we wish for more?

He says something else: I have given you an example, so that you may copy what I have done to you. Jesus does not want us to wash His feet in return. He wants us to be of service to others. He wants us to serve him in others. When we celebrate the memorial of Christ’s self-giving in the Eucharist, we are encouraged and given the grace to pass that love forward to others. His grace will cleanse us and see us through.
Let us celebrate his self-less love, by participating in his eucharistic meal, and loving others.

Fr Silvio

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To keep yourself connected to the Parish and its prayer life during the lead up to Easter, consider taking part in any of the following. Unless otherwise stated, you can find these pages on the Parish Website under ‘Mass Online’ (stjamesapostlehcn.com.au/?page_id=5897)

  • Live Streamed Daily Mass at 9:00am until Wed 08 Apr via our Public Facebook page (you don’t need a personal Facebook account to view this page) at www.facebook.com/stjamesapostlehcn/
  • Way of the Cross reflection available on Mass Online
  • Sign up to the Parish Bulletin at stjamesapostlehcn.com.au/?page_id=537
  • Holy Week at Home Prayer Resources at stjamesapostlehcn.com.au/?page_id=5969
  • Palm Sunday pre-recorded Mass available on Sun 05 Apr at 10:30am at Mass Online
  • Holy Thursday pre-recorded Mass of the Lord’s Supper available on Thurs 09 Apr at 7:30pm at Mass Online
  • Good Friday Stations of the Cross available on Fri 10 Apr at 10:00am at Mass Online
  • Good Friday pre-recorded Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion available on Fri 10 Apr at 3:00pm at Mass Online
  • Easter Vigil pre-recorded Mass available on Sat 11 Apr at 7:30pm at Mass Online
  • Easter Triduum Homilies available after each celebration of the Mass.
  • Easter Sunday Message by Fr Jude available on Sun 12 Apr at 10:30am at Mass Online

 

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We enter the Church’s most sacred week, Holy Week, this year in circumstances that have no precedent, prevented as we are from any public ceremony and burdened by the anxiety caused by the pandemic and all the other restrictions that have followed in its train. We are, perhaps then, in the mood to hear the very sombre account of Jesus’ Passion as described by St. Matthew.

 

But not only do we have the longest of the all the Passion accounts as Gospel. A wealth of Scripture comes before it to set the tone.

First, after the blessing of the palms, there is the Gospel of the Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. What is distinctive of St. Matthew’s account is the stress upon the way Jesus fulfils Scripture (a blend of Isa 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9) by riding into the city on a colt. (So anxious, actually, is Matthew to have Jesus fulfil the prophecy of Zechariah exactly that he actually has him riding both the she-ass and her colt at the same time!) What Matthew wants to bring out is the truth that, though Jesus is entering David’s city as its Messianic king and is rightly acclaimed as such by his disciples, he is not doing so in the way of worldly rulers. They would enter seated on a magnificent white charger. He is coming in the way Scripture had foretold he would: riding the mount of the common people. He chooses this mode of entry to make clear that he comes not as one who will lord it over people but, as the Son of Man who has come, “not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28). This agrees with the presentation of Jesus as the “Servant” figure throughout the gospel (8:17; cf. Isa 53:4; 12:15-21; cf. Isa 42:1-4).

The First Reading set down for the Mass, Isaiah 50:4-9), is in fact the third of the Songs of the Servant of the Lord recorded in the latter half of the Book of Isaiah. All four will be read during Holy Week, culminating in the reading of the last and greatest, Isa 52:13–53:12, on Good Friday. These four texts, in which the personal fate of the prophet and that of Israel are mysteriously intertwined, have from the beginning been central to Christian interpretation of Jesus’ passion and death. For the early believers they provided the “script” for the sufferings of Jesus (Luke 24:27, 44-45; Acts 8:30-35), which otherwise were totally unforeseen in Jewish messianic expectation.

In the Second Reading, Phil 2:6-11, St. Paul quotes what seems to be a hymn from an early Christian liturgy. The sense of Christ’s status—divine and human—that emerges from this text at such an early stage of Christian history, only a few decades after his all too human death upon a cross, is quite remarkable. What the hymn points to is that at three stages of his “career”—pre-incarnate, incarnate up to death, and post-resurrection—the disposition of Christ is to pour himself out in self-emptying love. The “obedience unto death” displayed in his passion is absolutely continuous with the divine outpouring of love that led to the incarnation of the one whose nature was divine. The hymn thus provides the essential background and accompaniment to our consideration of the Passion of Jesus throughout Holy Week: behind every word, gesture and suffering is the outreach of God’s love to an alienated world.

St. Matthew’s account of the Passion follows that of St. Mark very closely but with certain additions that bring out an issue Matthew particularly wishes to stress. In the biblical tradition which Matthew inherited and of which he is so conscious, the shedding of innocent blood was considered a monstrous crime; guilt for shedding innocent blood could adhere to towns and communities down entire generations. If such a crime occurred, it was essential to find the perpetrator and carry out the prescribed punishment and ritual so that the guilt would not remain a stain and pollution upon the community as a whole. Matthew invites us to contemplate the arrest and eventual execution of Jesus from this point of view—as a shedding of the most innocent blood the world has ever known. This haunting issue lends the Matthean Passion narrative great dramatic power—which is why it has inspired works of high art down the ages (such as, in music, J. S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion).

So Matthew lingers on persons and episodes central to this issue. Most prominent is the tragic figure of Judas. We are told not only of his betrayal of Jesus but also of his subsequent remorse and his futile attempt to cleanse himself of guilt by getting the chief priests to take back the blood-money (27:3-10). The priests will have none of this. Nonetheless, anxious to avoid any guilt themselves, they use the money for a philanthropic purpose (buying a plot of land as a burying place for strangers). Judas meanwhile, unable to forgive himself and unable, it would seem, to believe that he might find forgiveness and a fresh start with Jesus, goes off and hangs himself.

Peter, by contrast, when he hears the cock crow after his third denial, realizes what he has done and “goes out and weeps bitterly”. He is overcome with sorrow and shame but somehow the fact that Jesus had foretold his failure, allows him to see it gathered up within the overall divine plan. He does not despair but awaits a better day.

Pilate, warned by his wife to have nothing to do with “that innocent man” (27:19), washes his hands before the crowd, saying “I am innocent of this man’s blood” (27:24), which of course he is not. Finally, the people as a whole answer, “His blood be upon us and upon our children” (27:25). No verse in scripture has caused more suffering than this one. None needs such careful handling in preaching and interpretation. In no sense does this cry, terrible as it is, mean that the crowd is taking upon itself responsibility for the death of Jesus down the generations, so that in some way the responsibility would fall upon Jewish people for all time. This would be a monstrous misinterpretation. Matthew’s gospel was written shortly after the Fall of Jerusalem to the Roman armies in 70 CE. Many other Jewish writings of the time cast about for a reason for that calamity. For Matthew the reason is that the citizens of Jerusalem, urged on by their leaders, called down upon themselves “and their children” responsibility for the innocent blood of Jesus. “Their children” refers strictly to the coming generation—the generation that would be in its mature years at the time when Jerusalem fell to the Romans. There is absolutely no suggestion that the responsiblity should somehow continue on or that it should adhere to the Jewish people as a whole. This needs to be made expressly clear.

Early in the Passion narrative, when Jesus is arrested, one of his companions attempts to resist violently, cutting off the ear of the High Priest’s slave (26:51). Jesus’ rebukes him, pointing out that, if he wanted, he could appeal to his Father for twelve legions of angels (26:52-53). But then he adds, “How then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?” (26:54). This makes clear the absolute freedom with which he goes to his death—the freedom of self-sacrificial love. All that will happen—the betrayal, the miscarriage of justice, the shedding of innocent blood: all this evil—is gathered up and overcome by an overwhelming act of divine love, foretold in the scriptures. Even as Jesus dies there is already a hint of love’s victory as the earthquake and opening of tombs foreshadows the resurrection (27:50-54).

 

 

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