Jack was born in 1917 and has been married to Jess for 73 years. They were born during the First World War, lived through the depression and then Jack spent years in New Guinea during the Second World War. Since then he has lived a lifetime in the family business (Sobb’s Furniture and Carpet), while bringing up three children, and being involved in the life of the community.
Jack is a man of great faith and he shared with us his life story, highlighting his daily early morning meditation, which he has been practising since 1951. He speaks with calmness and passion about spending time at the beginning of each day with God. This, he asserted, is what has got him through the highs and lows of life, keeping his focus on God. In sitting with him I could feel his absolute trust in the One who created him and all that surrounds him. In conversations with him, I know he does not feel worthy and is a very humble man but he loves God and loves people. He loves the Lord his God with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his mind and with all his strength.
He shared his belief that the Christian way is the Way (Stations) of the Cross. Such has been his dedication to this that in 1966 he began to canvass the then Bishop of the Diocese of Maitland to support his wish to hold an Ecumenical Way of the Cross. Bishop John Toohey resisted this initial approach by Jack, saying that he should wait until the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. So it was in 1967 that Jack, along with other members of the Knights of the Southern Cross, constructed fourteen seventeen-foot crosses on the hill at Lochinvar. Listening to Jack, you can feel the way in which he was compelled by God to carry out this task. Ecumenism was a very new movement within the Catholic Church at that time, and Jack claims that the Way of the Cross is the way of Christian unity. The Way of the Cross was held every year at Lochinvar until about 2007 when it moved to the grounds of St Joseph’s Catholic Church at Kilaben Bay, when we were preparing for World Youth Day. Since that time the crosses have disappeared from the hill at Lochinvar, but the new pilgrimage site in the bush at Kilaben Bay is a wonderful setting.
Presently we are preparing for the annual Ecumenical pilgrimage of the Way of the Cross which will be held on Palm Sunday, 29 March. Evidently in 1967 there were 5000 people who journeyed from station to station. In recent years, the crowds number about 400. Students from our schools and our young people from parishes actively participate in this annual event. We are hoping that Jack and Jess will be able to join us this year, in our prayer in which we contemplate the passion of Jesus. I hope you are able to join us and invite others to do so.
This is one of our many ways of praying with the community. Today (Sunday), I received a text message from one of my daughters who attached a photo of the Prep Blue prayer mat which she had just finished sewing together. As you can see it is made up of the children’s prayer squares. Someone else had shared with me this week the story of their child who began kindergarten this year. She came home on her first day and said they had learnt the Sign of the Cross. Since starting school she has been to the church a couple of times and one Mass. So we can worry and fret about the lack of people in our churches and yet when I see the prayer mat and listen to what is being taught, I know I am being called to trust.
Jack, who has lived a long life, is filled with prayer. He has a relationship with God and because of that closeness he has lived an amazing life of faith which has influenced the way he behaves as a human being. He has been blessed and in turn has blessed others, including me.
On Friday night I was present at the Catechists Mass at the Cathedral. During this Mass, Catechists are acknowledged for their years of service. Many faith-filled people have given 20, 25, 30 and 35 years of service. One lady, Marj Norris from Taree, was acknowledged for 50 years of teaching SRE! The applause for her was loud and long and she beamed with delight at her blessings. The Mass was just beautiful, and the responses and singing from those gathered filled the Cathedral. It is good to be at these Masses.
Similarly, a couple of weeks ago, teachers and staff from our Catholic Schools and CSO gathered at the Cathedral for the Called to Serve Mass. This was a great Mass with the Cathedral full to overflowing and everyone present participating fully. We were told there are just over 2000 staff in our Catholic Schools and there would have been about 800 people present at this Mass, which honours teachers who have served for 25 years as well as presenting some teachers, staff and schools with the Monsignor Frank Coolahan Awards for Excellence in a variety of categories. The concrete that fills the spaces between the bricks in the Cathedral expanded that night with the power of the Spirit present.
So good things are happening - if we just look for them and celebrate them. From the simple text message and prayer mat, to the magnificence of people gathered at the Cathedral, to listening to the story of one of our own living saints.
I invite you to please keep looking for these opportunities and then making the decision to become part of it. Maybe you might consider coming to St Pius X at Adamstown this Friday night, 27 February for our first Praise and Worship Night. It will be a wonderful night and our young people have worked hard to organise this event. All ages are welcome.
And to finish this message, I had the privilege of proclaiming the first reading from Isaiah (58:1-9) on Friday night. The question being explored by the prophet is: “Is this not the sort of fast that pleases me?” and this is the response:
It is the Lord who speaks –
to break unjust fetters
and undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and break every yoke,
to share your bread with the hungry,
and shelter the homeless poor,
to clothe the person you see to be naked
and not turn from your own kin?
Then will your light shine like the dawn
and your wound be quickly healed over.
Your integrity will go before you
and the glory of the Lord behind you.
Cry, and the Lord will answer;
call, and he will say, ‘I am here.’
So in this Lenten Season, look out for the many possibilities for grace.