Pandemic Letter 5 – Pentecost (29/05/2020)

The former President of the Court of Appeal, now Governor of New South Wales, Margaret Beazley AO QC, has sent a message to the community urging us, during the coronavirus pandemic, to maintain our routine of physical exercise.  The Governor points out that if you enjoy going for a walk, if that’s part of your usual routine – keep to that. And if it isn’t now may be a good time to give it a try.  Routine is important. It is good to start the day as you normally would start work. Take your usual breaks – perhaps you could go for a short walk, do a 10-minute exercise regime – whatever is best for you so that you can concentrate again.

Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II has also sent a message to the people of Australia:

At a time when people across the Commonwealth are experiencing a profound and rapid change to their lives, the pain of lost loved ones, and an understandable concern about the future, my thoughts are with all Australians.

Whilst it can be difficult to remain hopeful in such challenging times… I am confident that the stoic and resilient nature of the Australian people will rise to the challenge.

I extend my sincere admiration to the many Australians who work tirelessly to help those affected, provide essential services for their fellow citizens, and continue to care for the most vulnerable.

You will remain in my prayers in the coming months, with the resolute knowledge that with hard work, faith and unity, we will rise to the challenges ahead and ensure the health and vitality of all Australia’s communities.

I send my thanks and warmest good wishes to you all.

These two messages from the Governor, Margaret Beazley, and from Queen Elizabeth II, in effect, sum up my thoughts.  This is a difficult time, and we should keep in touch with our friends and family.  While restrictions may be loosening, we remain at risk, and yet we must continue to work, and care for our families, but in a difficult national and international situation.

There are many persons worse off than ourselves, and we must not be indifferent to their needs.

Second Most Important Feast in Christian Year

This Sunday is Pentecost, the second most important feast in the Christian year, second only to Easter.  Pentecost has its origins in the descent of the Holy Spirit upon our Lady and the Apostles in the Upper Room in Jerusalem.  This feast celebrates the beginning of the Church, following the Ascension of Christ.  Pentecost reminds us that we are part of a tradition that is traced back to the Apostles.

Jewish Origins
As the Universalis app (to be recommended for anyone who wants to follow closely the liturgical year) points out, Pentecost has Jewish origins.  Like Easter, it is tied to a Jewish feast.  Forty-nine days after the second day of Passover, the Jews celebrated the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot).  Passover celebrates the freeing of the Jews from slavery. Shavuot celebrates their becoming God’s holy people by the gift and acceptance of the Law; and the counting of the days to Shavuot symbolises their yearning for the Law.  Shavuot was a very good time for the Holy Spirit to come down and inspire the Apostles to preach to all nations because, being a pilgrimage festival, it was an occasion when Jerusalem was filled with many pilgrims from many countries.  We are freed from the slavery of death and sin by Easter; with the Apostles we spend some time as toddlers under the tutelage of the risen Christ; and when he has left, the Spirit comes down on us and we become a Church.

St Irenaeus
St Irenaeus (130-202 AD) was Bishop of Lyons in southern France.  Originally, he was of Greek origin, from Smyrna in modern Turkey. St Irenaeus wrote a number of works important for Christianity’s self-understanding, in particular, defining the content of Sacred Scripture.

What Pentecost Means
St Irenaeus explains the meaning of Pentecost: 
“When the Lord told his disciples to ‘go and teach all nations and baptise them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,’ he conferred on them the power of giving men new life in God.

He had promised through the prophets that in these last days he would pour out his Spirit on his servants and handmaids, and that they would prophesy.  So, when the Son of God became the Son of Man, the Spirit, also descended upon him, becoming accustomed in this way to dwelling with the human race, to living in men, and to inhabiting God’s creation. The Spirit accomplished the Father‘s will in men who had grown old in sin, and gave them new life in Christ.

Luke says that the Spirit came down on the disciples of Pentecost, after the Lord’s Ascension, with power to open the gates of life to all nations and to make known to them the new covenant. So, it was that men of every language joined in singing one song of praise to God, and scattered tribes, restored to unity by the Spirit, were offered to the Father as the first fruits of all the nations.

This was why the Lord had promised to send the Advocate:he was to prepare us as an offering to God.Like dry flour, which cannot become one lump of dough, one loaf of bread without moisture, we who are many could not become one in Christ Jesus without the water that comes down from heaven. And like parched ground which yields no harvest unless it receives moisture, we who were once like a waterless tree could never have lived and borne fruit without this abundant rainfall from above. Through the baptism that liberates us from change and decay, we have become one in body; through the Spirit we have become one in soul.

‘The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and strength, the Spirit of knowledge and fear of God’ came down upon the Lord, and the Lord, in turn, gave this Spirit to his Church, sending the Advocate from heaven into all the world into which, according to his own words, the ‘devil too had been cast down like lighting.’

If we are not to be scorched and made unfruitful, we need the dew of God.Since we have our accuser, we need an Advocate as well.And so the Lord in his pity for man, who had fallen into the hands of brigands, having himself bound up his wounds and left for his care, two coins bearing the royal image, entrusted him to the Holy Spirit.Now, through the Spirit, the image and inscription of the Father and Son have been given to us, and it is our duty to use the coin committed to our charge and make it yield a rich profit for the Lord.”

As the Easter season comes to an end, this is a time to thank God for all his blessings, and keep in our prayers our family and friends, our colleagues, all those we come into contact with us in the course of our work, and those who are suffering most, both in Australia and elsewhere.

Modern Slavery Act 2018
As you may be aware, the NSW Parliament passed the Modern Slavery Act 2018 but, although the Act was passed unanimously in June 2018, it has not been proclaimed to commence.  The Modern Slavery Act 2018 provides a determined and positive role for NSW institutions in the eradication of slavery and the protection of the poor and vulnerable.  NSW should have proclaimed the Modern Slavery Act 2018, shortly after it received the Royal Assent.  It is now May 2020.  In 2019, the NSW Government announced a Legislative Council Inquiry into the Modern Slavery Act.  The Inquiry completed its mandate and tabled its Report on 20 March last.  The Inquiry supported the proclamation of the Act and endorsed its key provisions including:

  • The establishment of an Anti-Slavery Commissioner. 
  • Modern slavery reporting statements on a public register by entities in NSW with an annual turnover in excess of $50 million dollars.
  • Penalties for entities not reporting or not properly reporting on their activities, their exposure to the risk of slavery in their supply chains and operations, and actions to mitigate that risk. 
  • The inclusion of NSW public sector supply chains under the reporting requirements of the Act. 

These provisions should be proclaimed immediately.  Any necessary regulations relating to the Act should be proclaimed. 

In NSW, the executive government has six months to respond to the recommendations of a Parliamentary Inquiry.  The Government response need not take six months.  Ample time has passed.  If the Government only responds at the end of the six months period (September/October 2020), then there will be scant time to prepare for the commencement of this Act on 1 January 2021 (a date proposed to the Government in a majority resolution by the Legislative Council on 13 May 2020). 

It is rare for legislation in the NSW Parliament to engender worldwide interest, let alone worldwide acclaim, as a model to other legislators in Australia and abroad.  This leadership role for NSW antislavery legislation should be reasserted. 

The Modern Slavery Act 2018 is a contribution to the eradication of modern slavery and human trafficking in NSW supply chains.  This is a singular and memorable contribution by the NSW Parliament to Australia’s international goal (as a signatory of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 8.7) of eradicating modern slavery and forced labour in our generation.  This great worldwide consensus that there should not be another generation subject to slavery and human trafficking has Pope Francis, as a principal advocate.  This is not a political issue.  This is a moral issue on which there should be no disagreement. 

There are an estimated 40 million people worldwide who are enslaved, including several thousand in Australia who are enslaved.  Many modern slaves are immigrants whose passports are held by the persons who have trafficked them.  Many work in brothels and massage parlours, in kitchens, in homes, particularly of diplomats….  In determining whether a person is a slave, a good question to ask is – can this person walk away?  Slaves cannot do so readily.  We cannot stay quiet at this abuse of human dignity, of human rights.   

Michael McAuley

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