Fiona Basile, Catholic Social Services Victoria
On Monday 30 March 2020, Premier Daniel Andrews announced that as of 11:59pm that evening, all Victorians must stay at home, able to leave only for four essential reasons: for food and supplies, medical care, exercise, and work or education. Since that time, more than 10 weeks have passed, and from June 1, the isolation restrictions eased a little.
But what of this time, this COVID-time? Have we learnt anything as a society, or as individuals? What have been the positives, or negatives of this experience? Where have been the moments of darkness and light for me? The moments of pain and grief tenuously balanced with moments of grace and joyful surprise; and what of it? What can I make out of this time, which is still unfolding as we continue to find our feet individually, as families and as communities of people? Will things return to ‘normal’, or is there a ‘new normal’ now?
These were some of the questions addressed during a recent Zoom conversation hosted by Catholic Social Services Victoria’s Emerging Leaders Network. Titled Creativity During A Time of Crisis, the conversation was led by Andy Hamilton sj and Rachel McLoughlin ibvm. Andy is a Jesuit priest, teacher, poet and writer, whose inspiring and thought-provoking work can be found in EurekaStreet. Rachel is a Loreto Sister and works as a spiritual director and supervisor, and physiotherapist at Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub in Brunswick. In sharing their thoughts and reflections, both drew from the deep well of wisdom found in Catholic Social Teaching and in particular, from the example of St Ignatius of Loyola and Pope Francis.
In addressing the opening question, ‘What do you think our [Catholic] tradition might say about this moment?’ Andy said, “The question for me is, ‘what is this moment?’”, noting there are “two sides to this”. The first being general uncertainty about what the moment is, itself. And secondly, the confinement. “We’re going to be confined in different ways, economically and probably in terms of space, for the foreseeable future, so how do we work with that?”
“We have a long list of Christian heroes and heroines that we can draw inspiration from, young men and women coming together with a good idea and sparking life off each other”, Andy said. He was referring to people like Frederic Ozanam
, the French founder of the St Vincent de Paul Society and Nano Nagle
from Ireland, founder of the Presentation Sisters congregation from Ireland, who established schools and supported other works of charity in the 1700s. Andy encouraged all to take heart and inspiration from these young groups of people who created something in response to difficult times.
Commenting on the same question, Rachel said: “Now in a time of crisis, more than ever, the most vulnerable are hurting. It is also five years since Pope Francis released his encyclical Laudato Si'
, which emphasises that care for creation cannot be separated from care for the poor. If we really believe that, we need to use this time to reimagine, and to live differently … it’s a really important time where we have no choice but to collectively come together and move into this ecological conversion that Pope Francis is calling us to.” Drawing upon the teaching of the Gospels, she said: “Our [Catholic] tradition is to love radically and to love our neighbours as ourselves.”
In the course of the conversation, Rachel and provided a number of suggestions as to how we could enter into this current time more deeply, as well as ways in which we might prepare for, and live through this ‘new normal’.
“Getting in touch with your own spirituality is at the heart of this,” said Rachel. “What gives us meaning and purpose? What fires us up and gives us energy and life? Make choices around what increases my desire and the collective desire of the group. It would be amazing if we could all listen deeply to the Spirit and move into a new realm of consciousness and lead from that place.”
Andy suggested that we “look inside ourselves” and ask, “what is it that we’ve discovered over this period of solitude and withdrawal and looking at the way the Corona Virus has affected society.” In considering the question, ‘What matters?’, he offered to see that question as always being about ‘Who matters’, the who of the people we work for and the who of the people we work with. It’s people who have that priority.”
He also said this is an opportunity to look freshly at what we’ve been doing. “Keep those fresh eyes going and instructing and focussing on reflection on all the processes of what we’re doing.” He suggested that every meeting in any institution should start with a period of personal reflection. “This could be introduced to make an enormous difference to how the meeting goes and also make a difference to our capacity to see things,” Andy said.
Both speakers encouraged participants to be “bold” and to “think outside the square”. “If we have the attitude of ‘try and give it a go’, this opens up possibilities, rather than locking us in,” said Andy. This could be an opportunity for “rejuvenating souls and therefore rejuvenating mission,” he said.
Click here to watch the Zoom conversation (1hr 4 minutes)