For most, if not all, the abiding image of the liturgy in thanksgiving for the gift of Religious to the diocese would have been the presence of ‘Bishop Murray’, aka Mark Spencer, bestriding the space, biretta on head, staff in hand and resplendent in soutane and lace-trimmed surplice. Mark, who is an Education Officer in RE & Spirituality Services, Catholic Schools Office, brought Bishop Murray to life in voice, garb and mien, telling the diocesan story with verve and humour, accented with particular recollections of the religious congregations.
At intervals he brandished a variety of ‘props’ to prompt his tale, ranging from the collected works of Shakespeare and an exercise book (remember those?) to a blackboard and an iPad!
Leading the liturgy were Sr Megan Brock rsj, Sr Judith Lawson op, Sr Frances Stace rsm, Br Jeffrey Barrington fms and Bishop Bill. Music and song were important components, with Mercy, Dominican, Josephite and Marist hymns being sung with gusto!
A highlight was the launch of a song composed by gifted musician and composer, Basil Morrow, to mark the diocese’s sesquicentenary. The song is titled “Take Heart, God is Among Us”, and is a spirited rendition of the hopes, dreams and mission of the Church of Maitland-Newcastle.
Take heart, for God is among us,
in each gath’ring of Word and breaking bread,
in each act of sacrament and service,
in the faith of all assembled here.
While signifying hope, Basil’s words are not rose-tinted. He has written,
Without fear and without favour let us forge a truthful path,
So the wrongs that were endured cannot return.
Let respect and understanding underlie all that we do,
With acceptance and compassion, hurt can heal.
The liturgy wove itself around the gospel story of the vine and the branches. Vicar General, Fr Brian Mascord, invoked his own experience of a ‘pruning retreat’ in his homily: “A good vinedresser pores over the vines and from experience knows that to cut too much or too little will render the vine without its distinctive character. Every cut is measured and aimed to prune back only the diseased branch, so as to bring about greater growth for the whole vine and a bigger yield for the vineyard. The vinedresser is not violent with the vine, but extremely tender.”
If we are to remain connected to the vine and thus bear fruit, Fr Brian said, we “must love one another….If we really love our brothers and sisters, including strangers and even enemies, we do not have to worry if we love God. I need to love those God loves…and God loves every single person without exception. In practice, it is not always so easy. We need to learn slowly how to love people unconditionally.”
Bishop Bill told the assembly, “I feel privileged to have been part of our celebration this morning.” However, he kept his remarks brief, saying in a reference to his predecessor, ‘Bishop Murray’, “You don’t try and out-blarney the blarney!”
As Sr Megan Brock, congregational leader of the Sisters of St Joseph Lochinvar, proclaimed during the liturgy, “And God saw that it was very good.”
Lunch followed and guests clearly enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones amid the beautiful surrounding of St Mary’s.
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