TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: A year filled with mercy

The Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, marks the close of another liturgical year and next Sunday the beginning of Advent.

On Sunday, a liturgy was held to mark the close of the Jubilee Year of Mercy along with the conclusion of the diocesan celebration of 150 years. I must admit to feeling both a sense of pride and of sadness, as I gathered with others at the diocesan offices on Sunday afternoon. The music in the gardens at Cathedral House, provided by Morisset Parish, was just wonderful and to see people sitting around, relaxing and chatting while others availed themselves of the Sacrament of Reconciliation was indeed very special. A feast for afternoon tea was made possible because of the generosity of those who brought food to share. My sadness seems to have come from that place of having lived the year with some intensity in both the professional and personal domains. I have certainly been the recipient of great mercy, and I have also been asked to share mercy at a level that has not otherwise been my experience.

The liturgy was prayer-filled and meaningful, with the use of our 150 Year song by Basil Morrow, Take Heart, God is Among Us, and The Hymn for Holy Mercy by Paul Inwood and Eugenio Costa, Misericordes sicut Pater! Hundreds of people came forward to mark our WYD Cross with pieces of paper symbolising works of mercy and experiences of mercy. Powerfully the cross was covered with these pieces of paper. The six banners marking our 150 Years were taken down and our Missionary of Mercy, Fr Richard Shortall sj, was decommissioned, with the keys to the motorhome passed over to Bishop Bill. Fr Richard visited 30 communities, living with them, celebrating Eucharist with them and being the presence of God’s mercy among them. The following words were to be found at the beginning of the booklet for this liturgy:

The quality of mercy is not strain’d
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that give and him that takes.

The Merchant of Venice Act 4, scene1,180-187

On the last page of the liturgy booklet were these words:

Let us go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ… I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and which then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37).

And Bishop Bill concluded with the following words:

As this Jubilee year ends,
I extend to each one of you the commission of the Gospel:
You are to be the doors of God’s mercy.
You are to be missionaries of mercy.
You are to carry the fruit of the Year of Mercy into each day.

In the preface for the feast of Christ, King of the Universe, you will find the following words:

An eternal and universal kingdom,
a kingdom of truth and life,
a kingdom of holiness and grace,
a kingdom of justice, love and peace.

Surely if our year is to be about anything, it is to be about truth, life, holiness, grace, justice, love and peace.

While I was away last week with my family, you heard from Helene O’Neill. Helene wrote powerfully of her day of faith-filled experiences, which just depicts some of what happens in the life of our Family Community Faith Co-ordinators. This is certainly what our 150 Years and our Year of Mercy have been about – meeting people, offering them a listening ear and responding to their desire for faith experiences. We are all called to be disciples and yet as disciples of Jesus we are still in need of good faith-filled inspirational leaders and parishes. I hope you are able to acclaim those who are being disciples.

Spencer, our newest grandchild, was baptised on Saturday. Once again the priest was personable and enacted the sacrament well but failed to connect to us as a people still struggling with our loss of our baby Ada. Many who came into the church were there at Ada’s funeral and yet her name was not mentioned. It was as if God has smiled upon this family, and the disaster of losing a child was of no consequence. Disappointingly, no one from the parish has visited Sam or Angela in the eleven months since Ada passed away, and I realise, that while Allen and I are the first and probably best teachers of the faith to our children, their spouses, their extended families and now our grandchildren, this cannot take place in isolation from the wider parish community.  That aside, the parish did respond sensitively to Angela’s request that the baptism take place outside the normal arrangements of a Sunday morning which was wonderful. I am grateful my children belong to this dynamic parish, and yet I am left wondering where this personal connection could and should take place. Yes, relationships are two-way, but in this Year of Mercy and in our devastation I have wanted and needed more.

Angela and Sam remarked at the end of the day that they felt like this had been the first celebration that they had been able to engage in since Ada’s death. It certainly was a joyous afternoon with many children and adults just being present, to and with each other. What a great outpouring of mercy on all of us as family and friends. Allen’s dad, who is 98, travelled from Sydney to the Gold Coast especially for the day. He is a very proud dad, grand-dad and great grand-dad. It was certainly very special watching the pattern of sleep needed by Spencer at one end of the age scale and the ‘old man’ at the other end of the age spectrum. It seems to me that sleep, and in great grand-dad’s case, deafness, are great gifts.

So I return to Sunday afternoon, and the gathering at Cathedral House and the Cathedral. I realise that it is not wise for me to put my hope in the formal institutionalised Church and its structures, because this is what can disappoint me. We need each other, the ordained and non-ordained, to be the Body of Christ, to be the kingly presence of Christ, serving each other, missioning to each other and holding each other. I have been blessed in this Year of Mercy to have been shown the face of God over and over, with words of care, with eyes of understanding and the touch of gentleness. One year ago, I could never have imagined how this Year of Mercy would unfold for me and for our family when we opened the Doors of Mercy at the Cathedral.

And so next week, we once again begin the liturgical cycle with Advent, the time of waiting and longing in great expectation of the ongoing coming of God’s reign.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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

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