TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Missionary of Mercy

On Saturday night, Fr Richard Shortall SJ was commissioned by Bishop Bill to be our Missionary of Mercy (MOM). Fr Richard had just travelled home to Australia from Rome where Pope Francis commissioned him, along with about 700 other priests, to be priests of mercy for anyone who might seek God’s love and mercy.

There are approximately 1000 MOMs in the world.

Amazingly, as I drove with Fr Richard from our home to St Joseph’s, East Maitland, I realised that his ‘yes’ to the invitation by God, Pope Francis and us, is about stepping out in faith, hope and love. He is really leaving home, his place of comfort and support, to live the life of a Missionary of Mercy, on wheels. As a Jesuit he has lived his life in community and now his motor home will be his place of residence until the end of the year. He has left his Jesuit community in Melbourne to find his community with us, the people of the many parishes which he will visit and be with for one week at a time. Currently he is at Lochinvar, where he will be present to any who come and seek a listening ear, a loving heart, forgiveness and healing. Who could resist this generous invitation to seek God with all their heart?

As I heard Fr Richard speak to us after his local commissioning, I could see that somehow he had been transfigured, he glowed with the spirit of the Lord and the desire to do God’s will. In our Gospel reading for the weekend (Luke 9:28-36) Jesus is transfigured in the company of his disciples. In this place Jesus’ mission was revealed to him more fully. He found himself between Moses, the law, and Elijah, the prophet. Fr Richard will companion us so that God’s mission may be more fully realised in this place, through us. God revealed God’s self to Abram and the covenant between God and humanity was established. It is about remaining faithful, as Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians (3:17-4:1). We are now required to be faithful to the new covenant, established by Jesus Christ. His sacrifice sealed for us our intimate relationship with a God who is merciful.

Fr Richard now has a mobile place to call home, but this home will always be located at a church, the real home of his mission of mercy to us. He will spend time in prayer when people are not with him. He will hold our past 150 years as a church in this location, while remembering the long history of our indigenous people and the sacred land on which our diocese stands. Bishop Bill remarked that it was fitting for our Missionary of Mercy to be commissioned from East Maitland, the very site on which Fr John Therry established a chapel in the 1820s to reach out to those who had settled north of Sydney. Fr Therry also missioned to those who were in need of God’s amazing touch and grace. They were tough times for all who found themselves in the Great South Land of the Holy Spirit.

The people of East Maitland really welcomed Fr Richard and were thrilled to see the MOM ‘camper’, as they call it in Rome. Today (Sunday) I visited Fr Richard at Lochinvar and shared with him the beauty of this place. The parishioners assisted in his setting up and I was able to sit under the awning in the cool of the evening and chat to him. I also went into St Patrick’s (the church) because its doors were open and the setting sun shone beautifully on the stained glass windows.

Part of the desire of Pope Francis for the Year of Mercy is to open the doors of our churches. It would also be my hope that we are able to open the doors of our own hearts and embrace the opportunity to hold people with love and mercy.

I was thrilled when a man spoke with me at the motor home at East Maitland on Saturday evening. He knew all about the motor home, the Missionary of Mercy and Fr Richard. At the age of 90, he logs in each week to our Dio Update and has a keen interest in all that is going on around the diocese. Of course I introduced myself to which he exclaimed; “Oh! You are Teresa!” How wonderful that he remains connected enough to use his computer to assist in keeping his faith alive and active. He also spent some time sharing his story with me.

I share with you now the prayer of blessing extended by Bishop Bill to Fr Richard:

Merciful God
in the life of Jesus
you reveal the human face of your mercy.

Today you call upon your Church to pattern its behaviour on him
so your mercy is evident in our world.

Look upon your servant Richard
who is to be your missionary of mercy.

Through the power of your Holy Spirit
guide his steps and keep him safe
as he journeys throughout this Church.

Bless him with a listening ear,
a discerning and compassionate heart
and the grace of your wisdom
as he prays and shares your word
with all who gather with him to contemplate your mercy.

Through his ministry may we be led
into a deeper experience of God’s mercy
and so be heralds of God’s mercy
in our neighbourhoods.
We ask this through Christ our Lord,
Amen.

So I encourage you to be like the 90 year-old man I met who receives our Dio Update and searches our website and mnnews.today in order to connect with the local church of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. We are all responsible for extending God’s mercy and receiving it.

May the doors of your hearts, homes and churches be open to God’s grace.

Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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