Ray Clifton tssf gave three talks for the Day of Penitence for Queensland-B Tertiaries. We post them here because many more Tertiaries will benefit from them.
2021 Day of Penitence, St. Francis College, Milton, 13th March “Transformation within the desert” in this time of the pandemic.
Talk 1 – Eucharist – ‘The Shock of the Desert’
I would like to thank the Regional Team for inviting me to offer these reflections with you over this quiet day. I offer these little words and the invitation to journey with me in the company of Francis and in the Holy Spirit to reflect on the heart of our call to live the Gospel in these challenging times. We will have the opportunity to recognize where we have wandered in search of our own agenda, resented others and denied others grace. We will also have the space to see the ways God invites us to return to serving others where we are called, joyfully and generously.
In these talks we will use the metaphor of the desert and look at the Story of the Prodigal Son to reflect on the experience of the Pandemic. We will take what we have learnt from the desert of the Pandemic as we look to emerge into a changed place. The talks will lead us from ‘The Shock of the Desert’ to ‘Exploring the strange land’ and onto ‘Learning from the desert’.
The inherited European view of Desert in Australia thinks of Desert as a place of vast space, no life, a thing to be conquered and dangerous. To first nation peoples, the desert is a place of life, song lines and stories as well as resources.
David Attenborough at the beginning of a series on Deserts says, “A third of the land on our planet is desert. These great scars on the face of the Earth appear to be lifeless. But, surprisingly, none are. In all, life manages somehow to keep a precarious hold.”
In the desert, a variety of plants, mainly cacti, range from the tall and spiny to small and very low (almost submerged). These symbols of resilience and adaption to the harsh environment, all have ways of capturing water, protection from predators, and flowers to attract pollinators.
This view of deserts gives us, along with the challenges to life of this Pandemic time, a new way of seeing possibilities and of ‘being’ people of hope and life living in solidarity with others facing the same challenges.
For billions of people, 2020 is a year best forgotten. However, as we reflect on the last year and our continued experience of the Pandemic, we continue to live with unprecedented change and uncertainty. Nations, communities, and individuals, we all live with the scars of the experience and long for a return to how things were pre-COVID.
The great shock of the Pandemic, as it gathered pace, reached into every community and home. Even without the confronting experience of contracting the virus or the loss of someone close to us, we have all been affected.
During the Pandemic, some people experienced isolation. This was accompanied by fear of COVID and lead to separation at critical times of need such as funerals, sickness, and older people living alone. There were protests at restrictions of movement and being, forced to quarantine. A great number of people lost jobs and livelihoods. We also found ourselves confronted by panic buying.
Life was being pared back to basics.
A Tale of Two Sons – Broken Paradise
The Younger Son
In the familiar story of the Prodigal Son, the younger of them said to his father,
“Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” …A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.’
The son consumed with dreams and his own desires let loose a shock wave through his family and community and one which would consume him too. This younger son, oblivious to the effect on his father and everyone else leaves home with paradise in his eyes and ultimately plunges himself into isolation.
At first this desert place is a rich place full of exotic experiences. A place where he immerses himself in the pleasure and people money could buy. This oasis is only full of the paradise he desires, as long as his resources last. Very soon, this place becomes a broken paradise.
This desert now becomes an empty and isolating place. The shock settles in for the younger son as he is left with no one and nowhere to go. No way out.
The older son
In this story we only find out at the end what the impact has been for older son of this shock experience of desert time in the family. The older son returns from a day’s work to find his brother, not only home, but being treated with a ring, fine clothes, and a feast. It’s unbelievable, unjust, and insulting. The older son reveals the anger and hurt he has held since his brother left when he replies to his father, ‘ “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!”
The shock of this desert time for this older brother is that his belief in duty owed to his father and toiling for reward weren’t required. Duty and working hard, as important as they might be narrowed his focus, lead to angry judgements, and displaced the reason for respecting his father – Love.
Francis’ experiences of chasing pleasure and chivalry lead to his desert where the true focus of his life would be exposed. Francis, the ringleader of parties and carousing, the dreamer who pursued fame and heroism as a knight was gradually pared back by God. The isolation of Francis’ imprisonment in the war between Assisi and Perugia while he waited for his father to pay a ransom, his illness and the dream on the eve of battle as a knight, began to expose the emptiness of his quest and begin the journey to desire God alone.
Gradually this journey would turn Francis from selfishness to making God known through compassion and solidarity with others and all living things. Francis would be shaped by the shock of his desert and find springs of joy and life overflowing in in that same place.
As we reflect on the Pandemic and our experiences at this Day of Penitence, may we see afresh. To see the life-giving gifts of this uncomfortable desert and respond to God’s call to live a new life acknowledging those things that brought us disconnection from our communion with God, those around us, the environment and ourselves.
* What was your experience of the Pandemic?
* Which son do you identify with as you grappled with the shock of the ‘desert’?
* Like Francis, in what ways has this pandemic exposed your plans and desires or resentment?