I hope you begin to see message boards of peace (Give Us A Sign campaign) when you travel around the diocese.
My past week has been filled with many meetings – Catholic Schools Council, Adult Faith Formation Council, Combined Executive Meeting, Integrity in the Service of the Church meeting, meetings of the Gloucester and Krambach Parish Leadership Teams, interviewing for the University Chaplaincy position, organising the next part of the Missionary of Mercy pilgrimage around the diocese, the CatholicCare Refugee Service Fete and the L’Arche gathering.
While at the L’Arche gathering on Saturday, I found myself contemplating the notion that we as church could spend a great deal of time and energy using our cognitive intellect while avoiding the need to connect with the heart and focus on our emotional intellect. To be a follower of Jesus requires us to be connected to our head, our heart and our hands. Most of the meetings I attend seem to focus on the cognitive aspect of our being, avoiding the feeling element. I think we need to ensure a good balance of our thinking, doing and feeling.
It was refreshing to engage on Saturday with those involved in L’Arche. Jean Vanier’s dream was to enable and build communities, supporting those with an intellectual disability. What followed was of mutual benefit to all who experienced this way of life. One of the presentations was from a mum and her fifteen-year-old twins, who had been part of the L’Arche community since they were born. While not having had children who were developmentally disadvantaged, the family liked the community connections formed in L’Arche and the twins spoke with deep affection of the joy and love they had
experienced as part of this community. One of the twins played the ukulele, because music is an essential part of their gatherings. I enjoyed chatting to these delightful young people and to their mum during afternoon tea.
Storytelling forms a major part of their time with each other, and the telling connects the stories with their faith lives. L’Arche is an ecumenical community, and I enjoyed meeting people of the heart, who really are making a difference in their own families, with each other and in the wider community. They are certainly heart and hands people whose generosity gives them life to the full.
I was reminded of the very negative images I grew up with, such as terms like spastic, mad people, asylums, special schools, dumb people etc. One of the women with whom I had a conversation spoke of those who were referred to as the ‘unlovely’ ones. Our language has changed and become more sensitive, but I don’t know about our attitudes. We are certainly challenged by those who are different, and who require care. Friendship was seen to be the response required, and with this, everyone blossoms and reaches fulfilment. Many who spoke referred to the preciousness of all, especially of those who can be described as disabled. Their families and carers are amazingly courageous.
My disappointment came from having advertised this gathering widely, with very little response from the people of our parishes and agencies coming along to experience this encounter of remembering, celebrating and dreaming.
Interestingly, I had spent some of my Saturday morning at the CatholicCare Refugee Service (CCRS) Fete. By the time I arrived it was quiet, and what struck me was the joy of those who arrived from the Charles O’Neill Hostel located at the back of our Refugee Service at Mayfield West. Those who support the refugees at Wilson Street knew the residents of the hostel by name. Tania Kelland, the Co-ordinator of CCRS spoke affectionately of the residents, many of whom have an intellectual disability and who regularly visit the Refugee Service. They are an essential part of our outreach to refugees, and we are an essential part of their lives. This to me is the charism of L’Arche in action.
I have no doubt that our own CatholicCare Disability houses would be well served by people from our community establishing a relationship with those who live in our five residential sites. One of the women who spoke on Saturday was happy that her son was living in one of our houses and appears to be really settled and happy.
It is in relationship that lives are transformed. There was reference made to incarnational spirituality, the reality that Jesus is present in the moment of encounter around food, fun, laughter, storytelling, listening and celebration. This is what we read of Jesus and are asked to follow, to be his disciples.
L’Arche gathers on the first Saturday of each month at St Matthew’s Anglican Church Hall in Georgetown from noon till 3pm. A plate of food for sharing is appreciated.
Christ the King Church at Mayfield West will be home for Father Richard Shortall and his motorhome from next Saturday, 7th May. He will be there for anyone who wishes to have a chat, or reconciliation or ……. Mass will be celebrated each day at 9.30am and a Service of Healing will be held at 7pm on Thursday 12th May. Already he has visited the Chisholm and Upper Hunter Regions and over the next four weeks will be visiting the City and Macquarie Regions. It seems that those who come are changed by the experience of God’s mercy. The Missionary of Mercy is available for all who come.
Next Saturday, we begin the next set of formation units titled Integrity in the Service of the Church, for all those involved in parish ministry. These eight units have been designed specifically for those who are actively engaged in the life of their parishes. I know that those who have previously attended find that they learn a great deal and are formed and transformed by the information and experience. Please consider coming along.
In my readings during the week by Richard Rohr, I came across the following which seemed to resonate with my weekly message so I thought I would share it with you:
It is hard work to open up our entire being -- heart, mind, and body - -to Love. From childhood, we're trained to protect ourselves by closing off one or more of these channels. Perhaps this was a necessary coping mechanism. But to develop a mature, holistic faith, we must learn to embrace and listen to each part in the safety of God's presence. We each depend on certain areas more than others. It will take some "exercise" to develop the neglected muscle of body, heart, or mind. Below are some suggested practices to nurture each area of being.
- Heart: loving-kindness meditation, deep listening, community, journaling
- Mind: lectio divina (sacred reading), writing, dialectic argument, study
- Body: ecstatic dance, yoga, meditative walking, chant, tai chi.
I will sign off at the beginning of another week of opportunities.