We are living through strange times at the moment, but Marists are called to be instruments of mercy. In our reflection for May, we invite you to ponder beyond the immediate, and consider what life, society and church may be like in the aftermath of Covid-19. Manaakitanga, which is explained in the reflection, is suggested as a response.

Marist Manaakitanga for All – the Aftermath of COVid-19

by Bev McDonald

Living as Easter people is profoundly different under Covid19. I have read an essay, ‘The Coronation’ by Charles Eisenstein who is an astute observer and analyst of the our world.

He says, “Covid-19 is showing us that when humanity is united in common cause, phenomenally rapid change is possible. None of the world’s problems are technically difficult to solve; they originate in human disagreement… A few months ago, a proposal to halt commercial air travel would have seemed preposterous. Likewise, for the radical changes we are making in social behaviour, economy, and the role of government in our lives. Covid-19 demonstrates the power of our collective will when we agree on what is important. What else might we achieve in unity? What do we want to achieve and what world shall we create?”

He continues, “To interrupt a habit … is to turn it from a compulsion to a choice. When the crisis subsides, we might have occasion to ask whether we want to return to normal, or whether there might be something we’ve seen during this break in routines, that we want to bring into our future. We might ask, after so many have lost their jobs, whether all of them are the jobs the world most needs, and whether our labour and creativity would be better applied elsewhere. We might ask, having done without it for a while, whether we really need so much air travel, or…? What parts of the economy will we want to restore and what parts might we choose to let go? … and on a darker note, what among the things that are being taken away right now -civil liberties, freedom of assembly, sovereignty over our bodies, in-person gatherings, hugs, handshakes and public life – might we need to exert intentional political and personal will to restore?”

These are deep questions and perhaps we are not feeling ready to face them. However, the world has been shaken to its core and whether ready or not we stand at a crossroads. We may be bewildered, confused and fearful but God is with us and calls us to creative faithfulness and hope.

Pope Francis invites us to consider church in the new normal aftermath of the pandemic. Do we simply go back to life as it was before? Francis says, “The aftermath has begun to be revealed as tragic and painful, which is why we must be thinking about it now. The temptation is to dream of a deinstitutionalized church, …or one that is subject to fixed institutions,” he adds, “We have to learn to live in a church that exists in the tension between harmony and disorder provoked by the Holy Spirit.” He recommends reading the Acts of The Apostles to help us understand this. “There you will see how the Holy Spirit deinstitutionalizes what is no longer of use and institutionalizes the future of the church. That is the church that needs to come out of the crisis,” he concludes.

How is your parish, family or community reaching out beyond your immediate comfort circles to the lonely, the over 70’s, the shut-ins, the hungry, the poor, those without internet Masses or spiritual support? The provision of online Masses is a support for many and through this crisis God calls us to graced solutions to our myriad human needs. Marists are called to do great things for God alone and daring greatly must become our new normal as parishes and communities.

Social workers advise that the impact of a crisis like this is experienced unevenly and that one certainty is social suffering. There is technology poverty in New Zealand. The government decides children need technology for learning and with the gracious sweep of a pen, somewhere between 40 and 70,000 devices are made available. If creative ways to support children’s online learning were possible all along, then why haven’t we been using them? Lockdown is multiplying the strains on families who don’t have the luxury of warm homes, possessions, savings and social supports. How could we apply a creative approach to these issues and their spiritual counterparts in our parish and communities?

I am acutely aware that I am not much more than inconvenienced by lockdown. My pantry is stocked, I have income, technology keeps us entertained and connected and yes, home schooling a special needs child has its issues, but compared to those New Zealanders living on bare floors, enduring fear, cold, damp, scarcity, trouble and anxiety my lockdown must seem like a dream. Middle class life, with facebook soundbites, zoom meetings, shared recipes, online exercise routines and educational software, is somehow perceived as a shared narrative. “We are all in this together” and “we are a team of 5 million” are important catch cries to build social cohesion but the ‘team’ is leaving a lot of people out of the game. Do we see the struggles of the Lazarus’s lying at our gates? Where are the invisible poor? We might get the odd TV clip showing tireless workers from SVDP boxing up unprecedented numbers of food parcels but then we move on.

The world faces massive questions in the medium to long-term. Our current economic models ravage and pollute the world which is also the home of God. ‘Take off your shoes for you walk on holy ground”. The natural world has taken a breather from our excesses during this pandemic. Will we rush back to a world economy built on endless growth and consumption or do we – just maybe – have the capacity to re-think the path to one which puts people and care of the earth at the centre of decisions. Covid-19 offers an unprecedented opportunity to re-imagine how society and my daily life could be. Where is God in this question?

As Marists our vision is to create a Marian church of mercy; where every person matters to me because each one is a brother or sister in the human family of God. That makes our focus manaakitanga (Maori noun meaning: hospitality, kindness, generosity, support – the process of showing respect, generosity and care for others), compassion, aroha, mercy, creativity, dignity, respect, justice and the wholeness of every person and of creation itself. We long that all creation may live free, to give glory to God.

What will our response be; at home, in our family, parish, community and country? Are we like the Israelites in the desert hankering for what we left and longing to go back to Egypt, or will we dare to walk the path of creative dependence on God and explore this new path that opens before us with Gods promise to guide us? That is my pondering as we move toward Ascension and Pentecost and as we step into Mary’s month. The Holy Spirit is dynamic, creative, life-giving, powerful and freeing, drawing us into the courage and counter-cultural hope of creative manaakitanga for all. Mary lived this courageous dependence on the Spirit and invites us to live her way. If that is the big picture what is my next most obvious step? Who will I reach out to today? How will I pray? Within my sphere of influence what am I called to do that contributes toward a Marian church of mercy and a new normal filled with hope and the glory of God?

Read and ponder the parable of Lazarus at the gate in Luke 16:19 ff..
Ponder with others or on your own about what strikes you from this reflection, the biblical references, and how you might be able to respond creatively to the many questions posed within it.

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Acknowledgements: Used with permission
Charles Eisenstein: Click HERE
Pope Francis: Click HERE
Social Workers comment taken from Dr Ian Hyslop, senior lecturer, University of Auckland.