Faith communities provide fulsome answers

How do we live life to the full? Or as Socrates or Aristotle state from a philosopher’s lens, reach eudaimonia? The ancient philosophers agreed that happiness may bring about eudaimonia if life is led with the inclusion of the virtues. This sort of happiness is not intermediate but one that strives for flourishment, and ultimately assists life to be lived to the full.

From a Christian perspective, the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity play an integral role in assisting people, individually and communally, to live life in a state of beatitude.

The 2020-2021 Social Justice Statement says: “We are social beings. We need the bonds of family, friends, and the broader community to celebrate the joys and hopes of life. These bonds help us face the usual challenge of life, but they are even more important in times of anxiety or despair.”

For many, 2020 has been a time when their mental health and faith have been tested and there have been real barriers to living life to the full.

As US journalist and Catholic reformer Dorothy Day once said: “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

On the other hand, then, 2020’s restrictions around communal Mass celebrations have also provided a unique situation to reimagine faith practices.

The Immaculate Heart of Mary community in Tighes Hill, with Lawrie Hallinan at the helm, not only encouraged the reimagination of approaches to faith, but also reached out to parishioners through acts of charity so they would not feel alone.

“Initially I felt angry and ashamed that we had never thought to gather the names and contact details of parishioners,” Mr Hallinan says. “I was anxious that they might be struggling or concerned, and we would not be able to let them know that we care and could help.

“Once we had gathered a reasonable list of parishioners’ contact details and surveyed them on their needs and interests, I felt more comfortable that we were caring for each other in the way that each wanted.”

A phone tree was established among the parishioners and weekly bulletins were dropped off in mailboxes for those without the internet.

Some parishioners say their faith life deepened during 2020 as they turned to alternative types of spiritual nourishment such as meditation, readings, podcasts, music and singing. Many welcomed the opportunity to reflect on just what their faith practices mean to them.

The Tighes Hill community embraced technology during lockdown and offered two weekly faith formation opportunities – Praying the Rosary, and Praying the Gospels. This kept the community’s spirits alive. Despite the lifting of Mass restrictions, the community continues to meet online to pray.

“My faith life deepened during the time when I couldn't attend Church services,” says Mr Hallinan. “I tried watching Mass on TV and online but found it a frustrating and poor comparison with being physically present.

“Our parish was fortunate to have someone who took the role of hosting a weekly faith formation Lectio Divina where we prayed and reflected on the Sunday Gospel. It is a highlight in my week. I find God speaking to me through the others in the group and through my own response to the Gospel.”

Parishioner Pam Tierney was keen to join the on-line group during a time of communal deprivation.

“Praying the Gospels shares scripture, song, prayer and responses to artworks,” says Ms Tierney. “I am very grateful for this group. It is not an intimidating experience, rather, it is an enriching one as we ordinary parishioners share the love of God and the light of the Spirit seeking to teach, heal, and embrace us through the Word.

“I like the honesty of people in this group. I like their humility, their prayerfulness, their seeking of God, their shared wisdom. It is a gift to me, and to each other.” 

Mr Hallinan says the group has enabled him to get to know fellow parishioners in ways not possible from Mass.

“We share our response to the Gospel as well as parts of our lives that relate to the Gospel and how we are each feeling,” he says.

Faith in God’s unfailing love is a powerful gift in any time of stress and anxiety, and faith communities create a sense of belonging. There is always something to learn from the approach others take to practising their faith, and encouragement to grow so we can all live life to the full.

Rose McAllister is part of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle’s Pastoral Ministries team.

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