TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Seeing with the eyes of love and mercy

On Sunday night at the Cathedral, we experienced the joy of being joined by about 20 children for our singing at Mass. Their parents formed part of the congregation along with others who were there with their young families. These children were clearly excited to be there and to learn some of the words and indeed actions to our responses and hymns. Their parents were delighted at the joy which exuded from their children. In my experience children do not have any difficulty with religion or in expressing their faith as something beyond us.

So the second reading (Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13) about discipline, caught my attention. The theme of the reading was regarding the Lord disciplining those he loves – for the Lord trains the ones that he loves and he punishes all those that he acknowledges as his sons and daughters…. Any punishment is most painful at the time, and far from pleasant; but later, in those on whom it has been used, it bears fruit in peace and goodness.

The Gospel reading (Luke 13: 22-30) reminded us to enter through the narrow door/gate. Jesus invites his listeners to strive or try your best.

I recalled that the origin of the word discipline is disciple and so do we discipline in order to make disciples. The Latin origin of the word discipline is discipulus which means learning, instruction or knowledge. It is the old French origin descepline which has the meaning of punishment or correction. No matter how we hear the word discipline, I wonder if we are able to realise that discipline comes from a place of love and a desire to teach and form those we have responsibility for – our children, our students, our work colleagues, our community, as disciples.

DPC meetingAt our Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) meeting on Saturday we finished our group conversation session talking about being disciples of Jesus, a discipleship that comes from faith, from being followers. About 50 people gathered at the Therry Centre in East Maitland for one of our open DPC meetings.  The open conversation gave people the opportunity to express their concerns and desires for our church. Much of the conversation focused on our schools and their place in our parishes. I recall hearing one of the principals speak of parents entrusting their children’s faith formation and development to the school because they, the parents, don’t feel they have a faith to hand onto them. I also heard some of the older people (we coined the phrase ‘the vintage group’, coming from WYD), speaking of their taking the initiative of going into the schools, and not waiting for the school community to come to them.  The vintage group wishes to engage actively with the students and their families, most especially in the sharing of their faith.

DPC meetingIt was evident to me that those who gathered on Saturday were faith-filled people who have a strong desire to witness as disciples of Jesus, and it is they who have the capacity to instruct and share their faith. As was stated, our schools form a stable institution in a world where change and distress are the norm. Fr Paul O'NeillClearly, the parents who brought their children along to Mass on Sunday night wish something for them - a discipline in the journey of faith. This is the business of the heart and I think we struggle for the best words to use to express this deep desire.

We celebrated Fr Paul O’Neill’s 40th Anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. Along with Fr Paul, Bishop Bill and Fr Kevin Corrigan were celebrating their own 39th anniversary of priesthood. I believe these men are wonderful reminders to us, of those who have lived their vocation to the priesthood, through great pastoral care, service, worship and leadership. They recalled briefly and with laughter, their time together in the seminary. God was laughing with them and through them. How blest are we!

And this leads me to the launch of the Vision Statement for Catholic Schools which took place last Wednesday. The vision is;

At the heart of everything there is always Jesus Christ

And the statement that follows is:

Catholic Schools educate:

From and for the community of Faith

From and for Excellence in Learning

In a rigorous, creative and critical pursuit of Truth

Catholic schools educate from, and for, vibrant, welcoming and diverse communities with a particular commitment to the poor; for justice, integrity and peace; and with hope for the future.

CSOFor me the alignment between the launch of the school’s vision statement and our DPC conversation was not an accident. It is a sign of the great hope which Fr Richard Lennan spoke of when he was with us a couple of weeks ago and about which he has co-edited a book, Hope: Promise, Possibility, and Fulfillment (co-editor with Nancy Pineda-Madrid), (Mahwah NJ: Paulist 2013)

As a people of God we are here to be disciples of Jesus and to form other disciples. I quote Archbishop Mark Coleridge who last week said, “I think we have to ask questions about how we become a more missionary Church, and not a Church that is just retiring behind a defensive wall.” He said this while announcing plans to hold an historic plenary council or synod of the entire Catholic Church of Australia in 2020. He noted, as we did on Saturday, that we are in a time of cultural change which calls upon us to stop, reflect, discuss, listen and then act – “everything is potentially on the radar screen, anything that does not infringe on the Church’s faith, teachings and morals.” He is calling this an ecclesial event in which “we are trying to discern what God wants and we are invoking the Holy Spirit.” The last plenary council of the Church in Australia was held in 1937.

I sense we are truly blessed to be holding open conversations around our diocese with the DPC in the spirit of our Diocesan Pastoral Plan emerging from our Diocesan Synod of 1992/93. I am conscious that we are doing this while entering into the week in which we will be subject of a Case Study before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. We sit with the paradox, or as Richard Rohr states in his daily meditation of Sunday 21 August:

The binary, dualistic mind cannot deal with contradictions, paradox, or mystery, all of which are at the heart of religion. Sadly, a large percentage of religious people become and remain quite rigid thinkers because their religion taught them that to be faithful, obedient, and stalwart in the ways of God, they had to seek some ideal “order” instead of growing in their capacity for love. These are not bad people; they simply never learned much about living inside of paradox and mystery as the very nature of faith.

A paradox is a seeming contradiction that may nonetheless be true if seen in a different frame than my “rational” mind. The word comes from the Greek prefix para meaning “beyond” or “outside of” and the verb dokein meaning “to appear or to think.” A paradox is beyond the normal way of thinking. Contradictions are based on logic, a set of assumptions or expectations which we take for granted. Conversion − a changed mind − allows you to call those assumptions and expectations into question. If you’re still overly attached to your ego, you normally can’t let go of these opinions. It takes true transformation to allow you to look at yourself from a bit of distance − with some calmness, compassion, and the humility and honesty to know that you don’t know.

In truth, we are all living paradoxes. No one or no thing is totally good or totally bad. Look at Paul, for example. He was a persecutor of Jesus’ followers, maybe even a murderer, all in the name of being a good Pharisee. Suddenly, on the road to Damascus, he meets Christ, and the strict line between good and bad, evil and virtue, dissolves. In that moment, the contradictions have been overcome in him.

So during these next few weeks, I hope we are able to hold the living paradoxes and be transformed, because God’s framework must allow us to stand back and look at the moment with the eyes of Infinite Love and Mercy.

My prayers are for all of us in this struggle.

Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is the Vice Chancellor Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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