Seeing how distressed his parishioners were at being locked out of their church, Fr Joseph (Joe) Lam, parish priest of St Finbar’s Parish in Glenbrook has written a book of reflections to help them cope and even find goodness that might come from the pandemic. He’s also donating the proceeds of the book, I Will Cause My Spirit To Enter You And You Shall Live: Biblical Theological Essays on the Pandemic to the Diocese of Parramatta’s Clergy Support Foundation, which is having its major fundraising appeal this weekend.
Fr Joe describes the distress caused by the closing of churches during lockdown.
“They asked whether they could receive communion and whether they could enter the church to pray privately,” he says. “They found it hard to live without the sacraments and were saddened by the closure of the church. Some were really angry with the whole situation. Some parishioners were financially drained. Some could not farewell their loved ones at the funerals due to the restrictions.
“As Parish Priest, I also was struggling and experience doubts and powerless,” he admits.
The book of four essays, Where is God in the Pandemic? Is God angry? On Ecology and Economy, and On the Value of Life and the question of Euthanasia draws on the wisdom of the prophets, who themselves lived in challenging times. Fr Joe’s favourite is Ezekiel.
“Ezekiel was a Temple priest and a member of the elite class of Jerusalem,” says Fr Joe.
“He received his prophetic call in a foreign land while being in exile in Babylon, far from Jerusalem. He had to deal with questions concerning the place of worship (Jerusalem Temple was destroyed in 587BCE), about God’s anger, about economic and financial hardship and about the value and hope of a new life. He saw his life as a refugee in a foreign land not as a defeat, but as a new opportunity to grow in faith and righteousness.
“Through the lens of Ezekiel, I tried to reflect on our current life with the pandemic,” he says.
The book’s message will also apply post-pandemic.
“The questions we are being faced with right now are actually perennial,” he says. “We face them daily: What is the image of God and the presence of God? How do we do business ethically? What is the value of life?”
Fr Peter G. Williams, Vicar General & Moderator of the Curia of the Diocese of Parramatta and Lecturer at the Catholic Institute of Sydney recommends the book. He writes in the forward:
As Fr Joseph Lam remarks: “A crisis is not always bad.”
As Christians we believe that the God we worship is dynamic – not static, and thus the theologian will always be challenged by the changing circumstances of our world and like Kushner to constructively engage with difficult questions which are likely to surface in the minds of believers in a time of crisis, such as the pandemic which currently afflicts our world.
How do we locate and relate to God at a time when our church buildings are shuttered? Is this a result of the God’s anger? Does our current predicament have any relationship to questions around climate change and other environment and economic concerns? And in Australia where almost every jurisdiction has made provision for voluntary assisted dying, what is the value of human life and the process of dying itself in a society fixated on the denial of mortality?
Fr Joseph systematically addresses these questions as all good theologians do by having recourse to the Sacred Scripture and referencing the Church Fathers and more contemporary theological voices.
I commend these essays to the reader and thank him for his ongoing contributions to the “queen of the sciences”.
For over 15 years, Fr Joe has lectured theology in Germany, Italy, Belgium, Africa and the US. He has authored six monographs and over 60 peer-reviewed articles in German, English, Italian and Spanish.
He explains why he is donating proceeds from the book to the Clergy Support Foundation. “Our priests have cared for our faith community’s spiritual nourishment and wellbeing for all their lives, asking little for themselves. When their time comes to retire, many are without family to support them and assist with the everyday essentials for a retirement.”
I Will Cause My Spirit To Enter You And You Shall Live: Biblical Theological Essays on the Pandemic by Fr Joseph Lam costs $AUD9.99 plus postage. It can be purchased directly from Fr Joe. To order a copy, email Fr Joe at email@example.com.