MAKING SENSE OF DIFFICULT TIMES
– Homilies for a Time of Pandemic –
The quality of our lives is a common preoccupation of human beings. People look for happiness and keep modifying their daily lives in ways they think will help them to find it.
Many look more deeply for a happiness which stays for their whole lives from their youth to their twilight years: a happiness which remains whether they are well or sick; able bodied or disabled.
Such happiness needs to be deeper than the emotions so that it is not lost in times of fear or distress; pressures or reversals. It is a happiness which grows and remains regardless of whatever challenges life brings.
The happiness the Risen Jesus makes possible
This is the happiness which God alone can give. We cannot earn it or achieve it by human effort alone.
It is the happiness which grows as the life of God, or ‘eternal life’, grows within us. This is the life Jesus offers all who believe in him. He taught that it was to share this life that he came 
I came that they may have life and have it to the full.
Seeing Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead must have shocked most who were present. Martha’s words in John’s account hinted a deeper faith in who Jesus is. 
If you had been here, my brother would not have died, but I know that, even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you.
Jesus then spoke of himself, not merely as someone whose prayer can bring about the seemingly impossible, but as the actual source of God’s life for people 
I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
As was common in the culture of the time, Jesus was playing with different meanings of the word ‘life’. His further teaching on human and eternal life can be summarised as
- human life finishes in this world when the person’s soul leaves their body
- the human soul is immortal, and so lives on forever
- body and soul are reunited at the Resurrection of all the dead when he comes again
- through Jesus, the human soul becomes united with God’s own life through Baptism
- God’s life changes a person from within as he or she nurtures it in ways Jesus taught.
Eternal life an inner experience
The deep happiness for which people yearn grows within the baptised as they nurture the life of God – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – within them. Jesus likened this experience to an ‘inner spring of water’ which ‘wells up’ as it is nurtured. 
Jesus always taught Christianity as an empowerment faith – a faith which God within empowers the responsive to live. The capacity of believers to live Jesus teachings – especially the more difficult ones – depends on their personal relationships with himself, the oOne who strengthens divine life within them.
Outside this context, many of Christ’s teachings about forgiveness, marriage and turning the other cheek would be no more than impossible dreams.
Jesus emphasised that God’s life needs to be nourished by the Eucharist. Using the absolutist speaking style of the time for the purpose of emphasis, he taught 
… if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life …
This is one reason why Catholics share in the Eucharist on the Lord’s Day each week.
As believers have experiences of God’s life, they come ‘to know’ God. This is much more then just ‘knowing about’ God. He prayed to God the Father
And eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
Experiences of eternal life in daily life
God’s life changes the responsive from within. They grow to think, think, feel and behave more like Jesus. Different personalities have different starting points, but the same basic experience applies to all.
Let me give two examples of experiences of divine life which Jesus wishes for us in our daily lives – especially now.
The love of the Son of God for people led him to give his life for all. This was the context within which he taught Christian love 
This is my commandment, that you should love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.
Christian love, therefore, is the self sacrificing love empowered by divine life. While he also clarified the meaning of love commandments of the Old Testament when teaching the Golden Rule and the two great commandments to love God and one’s neighbour as oneself, these are not the love commandment of Jesus himself.
Jesus gave examples of Christian love when he taught that his followers should, for example,
- not merely live God’s laws externally, but from the heart. (The Fifth Commandment, for example, not only forbids murder but also anger directed at another person 
- never judge others 
- love those in need of the basics for life 
- remain faithful in marriage until death 
- welcome those others think worthless 
- resist the lure of materialism 
- be servants to all 
- love enemies. 
Christian self-sacrificing love is being called for in the current pandemic. For example
- grand parents and grand children need to sacrifice treasured time together to avoid becoming sources of infection for each other and for others
- we are all called not to engage in hoarding
- we need to look out and help others with shopping
- people need to be tolerant and patient towards each other as they spend more time than usual inside their homes together
- we need to forgive when others annoy or hurt us in times of frustration.
Growth in wisdom
In the scriptures, wisdom is the gift which enables us to see life, others and ourselves as God does. This gift grows with the divine life within us. It enables us
- to see through negative thoughts and feelings to recognise reality, especially the good
- to find solutions to problems
- to think clearly through times of confusion
- to recognise the goodness in others, even when they frustrate us
- to find hope in times of despair
- to see a path to the future in times of difficulty.
At the present time, many people are in a state of shock as their lives have been turned upside down due to the sudden unemployment, the financial collapse of a business, the closure of schools, the loss of the company of friends because of self isolation.
The wisdom of God can lead us through all such personal crisis.
We nurture the divine life within us, therefore, every time we seek to draw on its power. Two important ways are to draw its power to love in Christian self-sacrificing ways and to seek wisdom in our present crisis.
And as we allow the influence of God’s life to grow within us, the deeper happiness for which the human heart yearns grows.
Let us pause now for a few moments to share with Christ in conversation in our hearts where we need the power of eternal life
- to overcome challenges to love as Jesus taught
- to see the way through our present problems.
Let us open ourselves to the only one who can lead us to true happiness.
Bishop Gerard Holohan
28/29 March 2020
 John 10:10
 John 11:21
 John 11:25
 John 4:14
 John 6:53-54
 John 15:12-13
 Matthew 5:22
 Matthew 7:1-5
 Matthew 25:31-46
 Mark 10:9-12
 Mark 9:37
 Mark 10:21-27
 Mark 10:43-45
 Luke 6:27-30
TO PARISHIONERS OF PARISHES IN THE BUNBURY DIOCESE
Dear Brothers and Sisters
For the first time in our memories, it is no longer possible to celebrate public masses in Australia. No one can say how long this situation will continue.
For the moment, therefore, I need to clarify what is demanded of us – Priests, Deacons, Consecrated Religious and people – while current Orders are in place.
All churches are to be closed
Please ensure that all churches and chapels are locked closed until further notice. No one is to be admitted into a church for any reason.
Masses and public devotions
The Sunday Mass obligation is suspended for everyone but priests at present – so no one should feel guilty about missing Mass while the coronavirus remains in the community.
No public Masses
There are to be no public Masses or public devotions until further notice. This will be a real hardship for many Catholics, I know, but there is no other option at present.
However, the Lord is still with us and we can still pray parts of the Mass in our homes.
There will be Mass streamed from the cathedral each Sunday when we cannot celebrate public Masses. The cathedral Mass will also be available on YouTube.
Like many areas of the world where Catholics are deprived of weekly Mass because of persecution or a shortage of priests, we can
- Repent of our sins by praying the Penitential Act
- Pray for our personal intentions before the Collect Prayer
- Reflect prayerfully on the scripture readings, asking the Lord to see how they relate to our personal lives and situations
- Unite ourselves with the Lord by offering our own lives and crosses as we pray the words of the Preface and Eucharistic Prayer
- Pray a spiritual Communion Prayer, such as
I believe that you are present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.
Since I cannot at this moment receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart.
I embrace you as if You were already there.
And unite myself wholly to you. Never permit me to be separated from you. Amen.
Mass readings and reflections on the scriptures can be found also on numerous websites.
Some Parishes will be streaming Masses also.
Home prayer and devotions
Those less familiar with technology can use the time they normally participate in the parish Mass to pray devotions. The decades of the Rosary is a common example. We could pray the four mysteries – the Joyful, Light, Sorrowful and Glorious mysteries of the Rosary.
The main thing is to give time to the Lord as best we can.
Priests, Deacons and Consecrated Religious
Priests will continue to celebrate private Masses on their own. I ask them to offer Masses periodically for the sick; those working hard to protect the community; those caring for the sick; for the protection of the community from the further spread of the virus.
I ask Priests, Deacons and Consecrated Religious to include these intentions when they pray the Prayer of the Church each day.
The celebration of Baptism
Celebrations of Baptism should be postponed until further notice – except where there is danger of death.
The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation
This Sacrament will not be available inside churches or other buildings until further notice – either the First, Second or Third forms.
Parishioners should make sincere examinations of their consciences and pray an Act of Contrition from their hearts.
If individuals feel still that they need to go to confession for reasons other than personal devotion, Priests should agree if requested only if the conditions for hygiene can be strictly followed outside a church or other building.
Under no circumstances should Confessions outside buildings be advertised: they should be ad hoc and only upon specific request.
All Catholics are dispensed of their annual duty in relation to this Sacrament.
Weddings and funerals
These may be held in a church for a very small group, normally the immediate family only. The church is to be opened to admit them and closed again once they have been admitted. It should not be left open.
Pastoral visits to the sick, the frail shut-ins and the elderly
These people need to be cared for especially by Priests and Deacons – provided they are low risk where the catching of coronavirus is concerned. However the normal hygiene regulations must be adhered to strictly.
Under no circumstances should the person be touched.
Priests must ensure that their own health will never be at risk.
Priests should wash their hands carefully before and immediately after the visit –before they touch the doors or steering wheels of their cars.
Holy Communion can be given only in the hand, never on the tongue.
The Sacrament of Anointing
For the celebration of this Sacrament
- The Laying on of Hands should be only over the head of the person receiving the sacrament – the head should never be touched
- The priest should use a cotton wool ball or a glove for the anointing
- Anointing the head alone will be sufficient – not the hands.
It is sad that we have come to this situation in Australia. However, we must do everything in our power to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Let us all pray that the Lord, who always brings good out of evil, will help us to see also what we can do for the good of others.
We can pray for all, but especially for those for whom this will be a time of reassessment of their lives and values and an opportunity to return to God.
God bless you all
Most Rev Gerard J Holohan
Bishop of Bunbury
MAKING SENSE OF DIFFICULT TIMES
– Homilies for a Time of Pandemic –
* Fourth Sunday of Lent *
To say that these are unsettling times is something of an understatement. In a country that seemed so secure, we now find
- we are facing a disease over which we have absolutely no control
- freedoms we have taken for granted, such as gathering whenever and with who we please, being taken away
- our national self image – ‘We are one, we are many … we are Australians’ – battered by TV images of grocery hoarding and people fighting over toilet paper
- grand parents and grand children being isolated from each other.
For many, Australia feels something like a yacht in a storm that has lost is keel.
The national regulations we are now following to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus have come as a bolt out of the blue. Who would have imagined them three weeks ago? Necessarily, they are leaving us shocked.
People now are realising the seriousness of our situation. Inevitably, over coming months, many will begin to reflect on their lives” ‘Where am I going with my life?’ ‘How can I reconcile with others after neglecting relationships?’ ‘Do I have the right life priorities’? ‘What are the meaning and purpose of my life?’ ‘Should I be getting more from life?’ These are five of the countless possible examples.
We have been told too that some will die as a result of this virus. This will be disturbing for those who fear death. So often we find people trying to sugar coat grief and the reality that eventually we will all have to account for our lives by speaking in terms of ‘celebrating the person’s life’.
The regulations inevitably will show the pace of life. People will have more time to think. New opportunities for love and doing good will emerge. People will have more time to ‘get in touch’ with themselves.
Life will change.
Remember who we are: children of the light
St Paul reminds us in the Second Scripture Reading of this Mass that we are ‘children of the light’. The ‘light’, of course, is God. We are God’s children because, through Baptism, we share in the divine life of Jesus himself, the life of God.
The contrast is darkness – a life without a relationship with God and the subsequent loss of Christ’s guidance and power through the Holy Spirit to help us. This darkness is growing across our land – around a third of all Australians, for example, declared themselves ‘atheist’ in the last national census. The decline in Christian values across the country is obvious. The decline in worship and other religious practices show that many are no longer relating with God in the ways Jesus taught.
As a result, many Australians will be facing heart questions and other challenges without Christ’s guidance or power for their lives. This will have consequences for their personal lives, their relationships and how they cope with difficulties such as physical distancing.
Live as children of the light
St Paul urges us to live as children of the light. Jesus told us that 
… your light must shine for people, so that they may see your good work and give praise to your Father in heaven.
Take opportunities to love
Let us first behave as children of the light by taking every opportunity that we can to love others in this time of crisis – especially those who need help getting food; those whose loneliness we can relieve with a phone call. These are our neighbours, even if we have not yet met them. There will be other opportunities if we keep alert to them.
Share a Gospel perspective
As people face their human heart questions, we need to share with them the insights of our faith. We do so in a spirit of sharing, never imposing. Let me take just two of many possible examples. I will suggest others over coming months.
The first example is the gradual biblical revelation that God brings good out of evil. A well known example is the last story of Joseph, who had been sold into slavery by his brothers but became like the Prime Minister of Egypt.
In the scene of Joseph’s death, his brothers feared he would have them killed for their betrayal. However, Joseph says 
Do not be afraid: am I in the place of God? You planned to do me harm, but God has turned it to good …
So often, believers going though crises have said to me: ‘I could not have survived without our faith’. They experienced personally the presence, guidance and strengthening of God.
Others suffering tragedy, such as the death of a child, have discovered friends and others coming forward to help in surprising ways. Whenever there is love and goodness, there too is the touch of God – even though those moved by God may not be aware of this.
We need to be people of hope, therefore, for God is with us and will remain with us no matter what unknown we have to face.
The pandemic is not a punishment from God
Some, of course, may not know well the God revealed gradually over the books of the Bible. They may suggest that the pandemic is the punishment of God on people who have turned from their Creator.
This is a similar mind set to those in today’s Gospel who asked whether the man’s blindness was punishment for sin.  Jesus quickly dismissed this idea and focussed upon giving the blind man sight.
We too need to be quick to dismiss any suggestion that God caused the pandemic to punish people. Such a suggestion shows little actual knowledge or personal relationship with God.
The meaning of death
The fact that Australians will die as a result of the coronavirus will cause fear in many. None of us can afford to ignore this possibility or fail to prepare ourselves.
From Christ’s teachings, we know that the destiny planned for all by God is the relationship with God called ‘heaven’. It is oneness with the God of infinite love and goodness which brings with it ever growing happiness.
However, even God cannot force a person into a relationship he or she does not want. People can only choose heaven freely.
Making this choice is the ultimate purpose of our lives in this world. We can all choose, therefore, not to accept heaven and experience instead the eternal separation from God called ‘hell’.
This certainly is not God’s wish. However, like the child who is disappointed by another who does not want to be his or her friend, God has to accept the choices of those who do not want to relate with their loving Creator.
Jesus taught that we show that we accept a relationship with God through Jesus by living his commandments.  Closeness with God, therefore, is not just a feeling. Keeping his commandments is the objective measure of closeness.
We know too that, though we may accept a relationship with God, we cannot experience heaven while there is any trace of selfishness or wrong in us. God, therefore, purifies us through ‘purgatory’ so that we can enjoy heaven. We are called to pray for souls in purgatory.
Personal conversation with Christ our Light
Like other Australians, the current crisis will stir questions in our hearts. We will find time on our hands and be more inclined to think about our lives. Grandparents will miss their grandchildren and many will become lonely through social isolation. Many will face terrible financial situations due to the loss of jobs and the closures of businesses.
We too will worry about how those close to us will cope, and even survive. We will be anxious about health risks to ourselves and others
We need to remember always that the Risen Jesus is present within us. We need to recall the challenge St Paul gave the Corinthians 
Do you not recognise that Jesus Christ is in you …
We need to remember too that, though there are many wonderful religious devotions, the most basic Christian devotion is daily personal conversation with Christ. It was through conversation with him that the blind man came to understand and recognise who Jesus is. 
He said, ‘Lord, I believe’, and worshipped him.
For some people, knowing that Christ is within them is like knowing that someone is next to them on a bus. The other person remains a stranger while there is no conversation, much less sharing of life.
We find his light guiding us for our lives and decisions as we grow to ‘know’ him, not just ‘know about’ him. We experience him as we share with him our most secret fears, concerns, questions, joys – and the rest of our lives.
This includes too questions about how to respond to the questions, issues and needs of others.
Silent conversation now
Let us pause now for silent conversation with Christ, who is within us. Let us share with him all that is in our hearts as we face the challenge of the coronavirus, along with our loved ones and others we encounter in our daily lives.
And let us do this every day of our lives.
Bishop Gerard Holohan
22nd March 2020
 Matthews 5:16
 Genesis 30:19-20
 John 9:3
 John 14:20
 2 Corinthians 13:5
 John 9:38