On Saturday 28 March, a small group of parishioners from around the Diocese of Parramatta gathered together in a new way.
From couches, bedrooms and living rooms, we connected via video conferencing software Zoom for a one-day retreat reflecting on Fr James Martin’s book Seven Last Words. Led by Lisa Bright, Project Officer for the Pastoral Planning Office for the Diocese of Parramatta, the online retreat provided all of us with an opportunity to experience and share our faith in a new way.
In a time of such acute suffering and uncertainty in our world, the retreat allowed us all to draw comfort and hope from reflecting on the last words of Jesus. It allowed us to realise that Jesus, who is both fully human and fully divine, has a total understanding of our human experience. His last words give us insight into his understanding of feelings of abandonment, physical pain and disappointment; all feelings which seem to be abundant in our world right now. But amidst all of that, we discovered that in His human experiences, Jesus also brings hope of a divine salvation for all of us.
Mary Queen of the Family Parish, Blacktown, parishioner, Frank said, “Throughout this time of self isolation, it is great that we have the opportunities to stay intentionally connected with one another.” Patrice from Holy Spirit Parish, St Clair, agreed, “Even though we were not physically connected, I felt emotionally and spiritually connected with the group.”
Participants also commented on how the online format of the retreat was a testament to the ability of the church community to adapt and find faith even in the most challenging circumstances. Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, Greystanes, parishioner Nathan said, “The day was a great sharing of vulnerability and direction towards holiness as we carry our crosses, but one we don’t experience alone as we reflect on the last words of Jesus, He has experienced it all. It was a lovely remedy for the aches and pains of our times.” Rosanne from St Andrew the Apostle Parish, Marayong, echoed that sentiment saying that the retreat reminded her that the Church is not a building. “Church is community. And even though we cannot meet physically, we can find all kinds of ways to keep faith alive.”
Other participants found much needed optimism and hope in meeting (albeit virtually) with their faith community. Antoinette from Mary, Queen of the Family, commented on the timeliness of the retreat, “Fr James’ Seven Last Words presented Jesus as a truly human being, that through all his suffering, He is a sign of hope and joy to us all.” Reflecting at the end of the retreat, fellow parishioner, Len said, “I am so happy and deeply energised with everyone sharing their views and experiences and reflections today!”
While there’s no telling when the need for social isolation will come to an end, it’s clear that our faith community continues on. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, early Christians “broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people” (Acts 2:46-47). Our retreat certainly felt like a nod to those early traditions when the Church was not yet a building but a community of believers.
Annie, from Mary, Queen of the Family, summed it up best saying, “It is wonderful to have access to the technology that makes all this possible. This was a different experience but a wonderful one.”
Zoe Victoria is a parishioner of St Andrew the Apostle Parish, Marayong, and was an attendee of the retreat.