TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Something beautiful for God

Once again the weekend is upon me and I contemplate my message in the light of the Integrity in the Service of the Church formation which I was part of on Saturday, along with the canonisation of Mother Teresa and the upcoming Celebration of Religious as part of the 150 Year celebration of our diocese.

During the formation on Saturday, we explored two units; ‘Call and Discipleship as a response to the Word’ and ‘The Church as living the Word’.  Both units engaged those present in exploring with each other how we live out God’s mission in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. All of us are called to be saints and some of those saints are recognised by the official church. Interestingly it seems that while Mother Teresa was alive she captured the imagination of the media as an exceptional woman of faith. Pope Francis canonised St Teresa of Calcutta on 4th September.

Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity looked after the dying destitute in the streets, the abandoned infants who were welcomed wholeheartedly, the hungry, lonely, diseased, frightened and lost souls who were treated with dignity and charity in all corners of the globe. Their devotion to the Eucharist enabled them to take Christ out into their villages, to minister to the poorest of the poor.

For some, there continues to be criticism of her, because of the structures which create such division − and poverty remains. Her gift and those of her sisters is to comfort the poor. It is up to others to advocate for more just structures. To quote Dom Helder Camara, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” Mother Teresa’s Sisters strive to give dignity to those who are dying, they let them know that they are not alone, that Jesus is with them and that God loves them. They are held and loved at the point of letting go of this life so as to surrender to the next.

Over the past 150 years, we have had over thirty religious orders come and minister with us in our diocese. Mostly, they established and taught in schools across the breadth of our diocese. When they arrived the ‘colony’ comprised many poor Irish families and it was to these families that the religious went. Education was seen as a way of lifting people out of poverty and enabling them to serve their communities. These religious men and women listened attentively to God’s call for them to serve and they did so, often in the harshest of conditions. However, there was a mutuality of relationships between those who were called and sent and the communities in which they found themselves. The communities welcomed them and cared for them, giving them lodgings and food and making sure they were safe. I have no doubt that those who went experienced the harshness of the Australian bush and yet made a home among those who were trying to make a life for themselves and their families.

To mark our own local saints, everyone is invited to attend the celebration of Religious Life in our Diocese on Wednesday 21st September at St Mary’s Campus, All Saints College, Maitland commencing at 11am. If you are attending we would like to know for catering purposes so please phone Brooke Robinson on 4979 1111 or email her on brooke.robinson@mn.catholic.org.au by 14th September.

I am looking forward to acknowledging my own debt of gratitude to the many religious women who helped form me as a woman of faith, and also a woman who valued education and intentionally responded to my baptismal call to be and to serve. I was blessed to have great witnesses who challenged me to imagine my gifts and to pursue my dreams. I hope you join me on this important day.

Holiness is the quality of our union with God and all of us are called to be holy, to search for God. Holy women and men are close to God. That’s why we call them saints. In his encyclical Spe Salvi (Saved by Hope), Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI writes:

Life is a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route. The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives.” They are the lights of hope….because they point us to Jesus Christ, “the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history.

I read the following in an article written in GP Services by Dan Conway:

Mother Teresa was a woman for all seasons. To newborns she was hope for the future. To the poor and homeless, she was shelter and comfort. To the hungry she was nourishment (physical and spiritual). To the dying, she was consolation and lasting peace.

This paragraph reflects the lives of the many men and women who devoted their lives to living the Good News in our diocese. Religious live a life of prayer in their own communities while joining the wider community in celebrating Eucharist as a way of being drawn closer into the mystery of God. Unfortunately, some violated their call to holiness and did not serve their mission faithfully.

Most people would be aware of Mother Teresa’s struggles with her own demons that plagued her with a sense of being unworthy, a sinner and with discerning God’s will for her and her sisters. What was not obvious was the pain and anguish that her search for holiness often involved as she struggled with inner loneliness and a sense of abandonment by God − even when she knew God was close by. I think this is also our own battle with knowing and not knowing, with confusion and clarity, with hope and hopelessness, with dark and light.

This weekend’s parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son all speak of the mercy of God. When we stray from the right path, God comes looking for us, not to condemn us but to offer us forgiveness. There is great rejoicing when we are contrite and seek forgiveness. Surely this is what the Year of Mercy is about. Look at the image of the logo for the Year of Mercy – the shepherd with the lost sheep draped around his neck, each gazing tenderly at the other. I wonder how we gaze at those we encounter, in our relationships, our families, our neighbours, our workplaces, in the community (shops, businesses, streets), and then those who are unknown to us but enter our homes via a screen. I am convinced that it is this gaze which serves to remind people they are mysteriously loved.   

Dan Conway finished his reflection on Mother Teresa with the following words:

When Pope Francis canonised St Teresa of Calcutta, he did something beautiful for God. He took something simple and small and he magnified it beyond all ordinary proportions. He took someone who desperately wanted to be humble, and made her great!

St Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!

Teresa Brierley
Vice Chancellor Pastoral Ministries
13th September 2016

Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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

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