TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Acknowledging the need for living affirmation

Last week Vivien Williams, Diocesan Co-ordinator of Adult Faith Formation, assembled the weekly message with contributions from Massimo Faggioli along with Sam Hill, Carmel Moore, Michael O’Connor, Paul O’Heir, Lidy Waanders and Helen Whale.

I am grateful to Vivien and her helpers for taking the time with this message and for giving me some family time with some of my children and grandchildren, as well as attending the beautiful wedding of one of my many nieces. It is so good to witness two people expressing the depth of their love with family and friends in sacrament and celebration.

I thought I would begin this week’s message with the challenges that were noted at the end of last week’s message:

  1. To become more familiar with, and better informed about, the Vatican II documents
  2. To fall in love with, and deepen understanding of, our scriptures
  3. To realise that, as with Pope Francis, we will be unique in the living out of our ministry call
  4. To be more evangelical – put on Jesus-coloured glasses to view the world
  5. To ensure our experience of church is ministerial rather than political: of true service to others
  6. To seek alignment between what the church says and does – being a more honest church
  7. To change from seeing the church as all-complete and all-perfect, and be ready to wait, discern, listen and pray – nourished by the church as sacrament on the way to the Kingdom of God. [100 years for a Council to be implemented, Massimo observed!]
  8. To revisit the nature and call of priesthood. [Dr Richard Lennan also raised this in his 2016 seminars]; be a more inclusive, less clerical church
  9. To further explore Massimo’s notion of different ecclesiologies, eg, The ecclesiology of the school or healthcare
  10. To reject any notion of being a pure, small, exclusivist church.

I am writing this message with that backdrop, and am conscious that this message will be accessed by many on Tuesday 8 August, the feast day of Mary of the Cross MacKillop, who continues to inspire Australians, no matter who they are, faith background or not. She understood the call to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and then went about honouring that call, accompanied by Julian Tenison Woods and inspired by the French Sisters of St Joseph. Such was her response that it was not long before other women joined her, and the Australian, home-grown version of the Sisters of St Joseph was born. I wonder what she would think of the reality of our present struggling church?

In the diocesan conversations in preparation for the 2018 Youth Synod, people have shared their concerns for the secular world in which we find ourselves, and the apparent growth in humanism, the capacity and desire to do good without faith or religion as the key driver. What became apparent in some of our conversations was that Church was viewed as a place, a building where people attend for prayer and worship. There did not seem to be an understanding of the magnitude of the many aspects of community outreach that take place in the name of the Catholic Church or other Christian churches or of the church as a people of God. I wonder if we have lost our capacity to tell our story both within our many Catholic bodies and to those who are served by such organisations. Therefore, for many who work in and are served by these organisations, the reason for our being, the good news of God incarnate, God coming to us as flesh and blood, the Jesus movement, is not understood or apparent.

And yet, over the weekend we have that wonderful reading of the Transfiguration (Mt 17:1-9). We have Jesus, Peter, James and John going up a mountain; always an astonishing place to go in the scriptures. It is on this mountain that Jesus is transfigured and the announcement is made from the cloud, “This is my Son; the Beloved; he enjoys my favour. Listen to him.” As I pondered these words I thought about our need as humans to be affirmed, and I wonder if this is what happened for Jesus in that moment on the mountain, and therefore he shone with the glory of God, and his disciples noticed and remembered when retelling this particular story. I am not conscious of those around us often intentionally seeking opportunities to see the splendour of God in each other, and then taking the time to show this appreciation. When I read about those who have died, it seems to me that it can happen really well once someone has gone, but as humans I am convinced we need this living affirmation, so the glory of God shines.

By concentrating on the negative, and not seeking the positive, in the lives of the many people who mission as disciples daily, we have lost the beauty of capturing the joy of the gospel. Some of this magic was captured in the Catholic Schools’ ASPIRE performance, The Hoarders Next Door, which was performed at the Civic Theatre last week. ASPIRE is an initiative of the Catholic Schools Office, providing an opportunity for students talented in the performing arts to challenge themselves in a creative environment. This showcase performance unites the five ensembles of Vocal, Drama, Instrumental, Dance and Strings culminating in a dynamic, integrated production. This year it involved 130 students from across our diocesan schools. What was so good about this production, apart from the gifted students, was its storyline of a caring neighbourhood, whose members knew and shared each other’s stories. The values of a Catholic education were obvious not only by the script, but also by the way in which the many students worked with each other. They had fun and it was obvious.

I wonder if we are courageous enough to have fun while living out the Jesus movement in our local settings – in parishes, schools, CatholicCare, the Chancery, our community or work locations. I think Mary MacKillop might have been such a charismatic person, because others were prepared to follow.

While attending to this message on Sunday 6 August, I am conscious of it being Hiroshima Day, the day on which we remember the terrible devastation and loss of lives by the dropping of an atomic bomb on this city and then on 9 August the dropping of a second bomb on Nagasaki. It is estimated that over 200,000 people were killed and many people’s lives were destroyed by the residual nuclear fall-out. It was not until 15 August that Japan finally surrendered. We must pray for and act towards personal, community and global peace. Surely as humans we have the capacity to stop destroying each other − or have we???

I conclude this week’s pondering with the prayer to St Mary MacKillop:

Ever-generous God,
You inspired St Mary MacKillop
to live her life faithful
to the Gospel of Jesus Christ
and constant in bringing hope
and encouragement
to those who were disheartened, lonely, or needy.
With confidence in your generous providence
and joining with St Mary MacKillop, we ask that you grant our request….(name your request).
We ask that our faith and hope
be fired afresh by the Holy Spirit so that we too,
like Mary MacKillop, may live with courage,
trust, and openness.
Ever-generous God, hear our prayer.
We ask this through Jesus Christ.
Amen.

Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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

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