However, I was struck by the Opening Ceremony because of its synergy with my message of last week, on non-violence as a way of life. The Opening Ceremony began with the story of creation and then moved through the history of the people – their indigenous roots, the coming of people from Europe, Africa and Japan to the present cultural melting pot which makes Brazil a very colourful country. I felt the story telling of climate change and their part in destroying the Amazon, with a response for athletes to place a seed in a pod for planting, was very powerful. It is clear that the Olympic Games are attempting to address some of the many issues facing our global village – peace, justice, freedom, order, personal dignity and harmony. I recall hearing the words ‘unity in diversity’ on a few occasions during the presentations.
How wonderful it was to see an Olympic Refugee Team come into the stadium to rapturous applause. It is when we give recognition to a minority people with no voice that we can sense a real hope for change in our world.
I was also touched by the awarding of the first Olympic Laurel to veteran Kenyan athlete. Kipchoge (Kip) Keino, to honour an individual for his achievements in education, culture, development and peace through sport. Kip won medals in middle and long distance running in both the 1968 and 1972 Olympics, winning Gold in the 1968 1500m. Twice on the weekend, I heard of education being the gift which cannot be taken from you – both in Kip’s speech and in the video shown after Mass for Catholic Mission in which Daughter of Charity, Sr Eulie Desacula, works with and educates the poor children in Cambodia. Please visit the Catholic Mission website.
Keino speaks of education as a weapon which creates peace. He states, “You come into this world with nothing and we leave this world with nothing, if we can do something for humanity it’s the most important. When you are physically fit you are also mentally fit…. It is important to create activities, to assist the needy children in our own society through sport.”
The Olympic Games provides us with the opportunity to consider the message of sport and culture, a tool which does not divide but unites in a sense of peace. I loved the final images that were shot of the Opening Ceremony with a magical explosion of fireworks overseen by the image of Christ the Redeemer. It was as if God was looking upon the best of God’s creation, with outstretched arms saying, “I love you so much my children, when you live out my dream for you.”
And this takes me to the past week in which Fr Richard Lennan generously spoke across many diocesan locations about The Church: Continuing the Pilgrimage of Hope. He was just wonderful and those who attended felt hope-filled and renewed. I think Richard’s presentations reflected this weekend’s second reading to the Hebrews (11:1-2, 8-19).
Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen. It was for faith that our ancestors were commended.
It was by faith that Abraham obeyed the call to set out for a country that was the inheritance given to him and his descendants, and that he set out without knowing where he was going. By faith he arrived, as a foreigner, in the Promised Land and lived there as if in a strange country, with Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. They lived there in tents while he looked forward to a city founded, designed and built by God.
Fr Richard Lennan spoke of the church as a project and therefore always on pilgrimage. And while on pilgrimage it is the journey that matters, not the destination. As travellers we need to be opened to growing and changing because only things that are alive keep on growing. God, who is bigger than us, keeps deepening our foundations so we can enter more deeply into the mystery of God. Holding onto this image must fill us with hope because it is this faith and the faith of others which keeps us going − the unknown encounters, the challenges, the messiness, the questions…. It is we who need to trust and continue the journey begun by our forebears, ancestors in faith.
I hope you read the WYD blog of the 30 hours spent by our pilgrims getting to and from the WYD Mass in Krakow. It gives perfect witness to what Fr Richard Lennan is speaking of. Our pilgrims set out thinking that this particular part of their pilgrimage would be at least a bit predictable but they were very wrong and therefore needed to rely on themselves, each other and strangers along the way. They were hot, thirsty, hungry, foot-sore, smelly, fatigued, questioning and probably many other things too emotionally charged to suggest. And yet by all accounts, as the record states, the journey was worth it.
I share with you the following quote from Pope Francis’ Encyclical, Lumen fidei (34)
But if truth is a truth of love, if it is a truth disclosed in personal encounter with the Other and with others, then it can be set free from its enclosure in individuals and become part of the common good. As a truth of love, it is not one that can be imposed by force; it is not a truth that stifles the individual. Since it is born of love, it can penetrate to the heart, to the personal core of each man and woman. Clearly, then, faith is not intransigent, but grows in respectful coexistence with others. One who believes may not be presumptuous; on the contrary, truth leads to humility, since believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth which embraces and possesses us. Far from making us inflexible, the security of faith sets us on a journey; it enables witness and dialogue with all.
Richard Lennan spoke strongly about the need for dialogue in breaking open God’s mystery, God’s self-revelation and God’s self-communication. This is what our WYD pilgrims have been doing, and this is what we are meant to be doing each time we gather. We are co-creators of God’s mission with God, and because of our creative involvement and imagination we are co-deciders with God’s spirit through Jesus Christ. We are participants in creating the church of today which will be the foundation for the church of the future.
Once again, our next few weeks will be messy and shameful, and yet we need to hold on to the reality that God is in the chaos, as God was at the beginning of time. God is limitless and we are to trust in the limitless openness of God in the Spirit. It is hard for us to imagine that God is in this dark place with us, and yet this is what we are called to believe and live. Let’s keep our souls nourished in prayer, meditation and reflection as we journey together.
I am mindful that, as I scribe this message, 8th August is the Feast day of Mary MacKillop of the Cross, and that 15th August is the day we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption. Two great Marys who show us what it means to have faith and to follow. I leave you with a prayer to Saint Mary MacKillop.
Holy God, source of all goodness,
who shows us in Saint Mary MacKillop
a woman of faith
living by the power of the Cross,
teach us, we pray,
to embrace what she pioneered,
that like her we may show to the world
new ways of living the Gospel
that respect and defend
the human dignity of all in our land.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Image: © Dorothy Woodward rsj. All rights reserved. Used with permission within the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.