I write this message at the end of yet another International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. International Women's Day honours the work of the Suffragettes, celebrates women's success, and reminds us of inequities still to be redressed. The first International Women's Day event was held in 1911. There have been many women who have played extraordinary roles in the history of their families, communities and countries. I am conscious that, as I write this message, there are probably many women across our country, busily preparing their families for the week ahead. When my children were younger, I used to spend Sunday nights ironing and making sure all homework was done and tasks completed, so the week ahead would run smoothly. This created greater harmony all round in a very busy household. While this may not sound overly heroic, I believe it is these small, yet constant, gestures of love that make the smallest unit of our society functional, and therefore a contributor to the common good of all. My own children similarly spend the last part of their weekend preparing for their weeks with their young families.
This reflection of mine seems to fit with the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, Empowering Women – Empowering Humanity: Picture It! It envisions a world where each woman and girl can exercise her choices, such as participating in politics, getting an education, having an income, and living in society free from violence and discrimination. And this all begins in the family unit, which encourages girls to be who they are, and to become extraordinary citizens.
If you heard the Year A Readings this weekend, you would have listened to the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well, engaging with her in conversation, treating her with respect and dignity, and not belittling her. Because of this encounter, she was able to recognise him, and in this recognition underwent a conversion of heart. Because of her conversion, she in turn was able to invite others to a similar faith experience. Love and acceptance, with some points of challenge, create for us a point of difference which can lead to our growth as a person.
I witnessed this yesterday, Saturday, at the wedding of my nephew. Luke and Anne chose to be married in a Catholic Church surrounded by many family and friends. Both families were filled with pride for these two young adults who publicly committed themselves to each other for life. The joy of their love and care was contagious, and those who spoke of them spoke from the heart, filled with love. It was refreshing for me to witness this expression of unconditional love, which brought with it great hope and affection. It is hard to imagine that this could ever be challenged or go wrong. I know that it will be their faith in each other and in the other person of their trinity, God; along with the Christian community, that will sustain them no matter the road, either smooth or rough. It was a magical moment and the celebration which followed was filled with life, laughter, dancing, eating, drinking, embracing and lots of clapping. Joy is contagious and I am still smiling at the grandness of it all.
Another aspect of my week which I choose to share with you was a question asked by someone with whom I work who is finding out about our Catholic ways. She comes from a Protestant Christian background and she asked, “How do we keep the sabbath holy?”
Interestingly, this formed part of our first reading over the weekend from the book of Exodus, in which God hands to Moses the Ten Commandments. These Commandments teach us how to live in right relationship with God and with one another. If we seek to live by the Commandments, we will avoid the trap of materialism, of being more concerned with buying, selling and making money, than with loving God and our neighbour.
And so let’s recall the instruction for the sabbath day. “Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath for the Lord your God. You shall do no work that day, neither you nor your son nor your daughter nor your servants, men or women, nor your animals nor the stranger who lives with you. For in six days, the Lord made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that these hold, but on the seventh day he rested; that is why the Lord has blessed the sabbath day and made it sacred.”
So in being asked this question, I was reminded of what we have been commanded to do. So I wonder how you may have answered the question posed to me. Very few now go to Mass or any church service. Probably very few take the extra time required to pray and keep alive their ongoing relationship with God or even with each other. Without a conscious effort to observe the sabbath day, I wonder about the outcome for an extremely busy human race, taking little or no time to consider the mystery of life. I think we are experiencing the effects of not taking this Temple time or holy time. We are not machines, who can keep functioning without adequate rest and recuperation, or connection with what lies beyond our reality. And yet we are immersed in a world caught up in overdrive, and not necessarily satisfaction. For Israel, the observance of the Law, and the reverence for the Temple, were most important ways to live.
We are temples of God, the holy places in which God dwells and takes flesh among us. We must take care of these temples with good nourishment - physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and socially. To do this we must take time – time to eat well, to exercise, to read and study, to engage in meaningful conversations, leisure time, time to encounter creation, to rest and recreate, to pray and build community, time to honour God and each other. This will form my examination of conscience for the week. I invite you to do similarly.
I hope some of you are out visiting your local Catholic Schools in this Catholic Schools Week. It is in our schools, as well as in families, that young people experience the love and grace of God. We need to be part of this experience.