TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: The foolishness to think that you can make a difference in the world

For the regular readers of this message, you would be aware that I mostly put my thoughts into words on a Sunday evening. Today is no different, except I have had a different sort of day, because Allen and I went to see a movie, The Eagle Huntress, directed by Otto Bell, at the Regal Theatre at Birmingham Gardens.

We were inspired to go because Allen spent time in Mongolia last year, with some family members. One of my brothers lived in Mongolia for a number of years, and he was keen to explore the west of Mongolia, which was where this film was shot. It was good to spend Sunday, our day of rest, in a more restful way.

Whatever the reviews you may read, regarding the movie and the accuracy of its storytelling, the scenery is amazing as it depicts the way of life of the Kazakhs in that part of Mongolia. Aisolpan, the 13-year-old eagle huntress, is like any other girl in many ways, but is inspired to learn the male age-old tradition of eagle hunting, passed on for generations, usually from fathers to their sons. She is very skilful and courageous, and is proud of her achievements, particularly winning the Eagle Festival in Ulgii, a city which Allen visited while in Mongolia. The Mongolian nomadic way of life is challenging and harsh, and both males and females play their part in the survival of their families and their tribes. It was also good to encounter the natural way of their faith and prayer life.

This film reminded me of the celebration I attended of the 90th anniversary of the Mater Auxiliary last Tuesday. This celebration began with Mass in the chapel at Calvary Mater, followed by a lunch. The Mater Auxiliary is mostly made up of women who support the hospital in many amazing ways, having done so through 90 years of service. We gathered to remember, to offer thanks and to recognise the enormous contribution and commitment over generations to the care of the sick in our community.  As the Opening Prayer stated:

We celebrate the fact that ordinary people in ordinary places can make a difference to the lives of others. We celebrate the truth that our life here has produced the women and men of our Auxiliary who have lived these 90 years in a way which has left a clear footprint in the journey of our history and the history of the wider community.  

As I sat in the chapel at prayer, I recalled part of my own story, a time when my mum was in and out of the Mater. It came back to me, and the place of healing it was for her. She was very sick for a few years, and as a girl of around twelve I would occasionally visit her with my dad and some of my siblings. Hospitals, in those days, had a particular odour of disinfectant and ether about them, with beds lined up in rows, curtains pulled back, starched bed covers and floors polished. Sisters and nurses wore white and blue starched uniforms and they walked with purpose. The Auxiliary, or if my recollection is correct, the ‘pink ladies’, were an essential part of the life of the hospital. They brought to the wards the cups of tea, as well as trolleys ladened with some of life’s essentials − and extras, like sweets. I can only imagine that my mum’s many months in hospital were made easier by the friendly faces of the volunteers from the Women’s Auxiliary, as it would have been known then. It was these women who had time for a chat and shared the stories of those who really were confined to bed. If you were sick then the place for you was in bed, and not wandering the ward or the corridors.

Today, the people of the Auxiliary still provide support to staff and patients in the hospital, while also raising funds for the much-needed extra equipment. They are an impressive group of people, who certainly enjoy each other’s company socially. It was clear to me that this is a happy, vibrant community, within the Calvary Mater community which is part of the broader Hunter New England Health community. I could not help think about how well our wider community is served by all these groups within groups. I commented to some of the Auxiliary members when leaving that one of the criteria for becoming a member was to be able to dress well – they all looked great!

The following hymn, Standing on the Shoulders, by Joyce Johnson Rouse, was sung a few weeks ago at the Centenary of St Columban’s Mayfield and again at the 90th Anniversary of the Mater Auxiliary. It seems pertinent even for the movie I watched – The Eagle Huntress.  I hope the words provide an invitation for you to ponder your own story.

I am standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before me,
I am stronger for their courage, I am wiser for their words.
I am lifted by their longing for a fair and brighter future,
I am grateful for their vision, for their toiling on this Earth.

We are standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before us.
They are saints and they are humans, they are angels, they are friends.
We can see beyond the struggles and the troubles and the challenge.
When we know that by our efforts things will be better in the end.

They lift me higher than I could ever fly,
Carrying my burdens away.
I imagine our world if they hadn't tried,
We wouldn't be here celebrating today.

I am standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before me,
I am honoured by their passion for our liberty.
I will stand a little taller, I will work a little longer,
And my shoulders will be there to hold the ones who follow me.

They lift me higher than I could ever fly,
Carrying my burdens away.
I imagine our world if they hadn't tried,
We wouldn't be so very blessed today.

I am standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before me,
I am honoured by their passion for our liberty.
I will stand a little taller, I will work a little longer,
And my shoulders will be there to hold the ones who follow me.

©1995 Rouse House Music, ASCAP. All rights reserved. www.earthmama.org

Pope Francis has introduced us to a number of “new” words: mercy, tenderness, warmth, conversation, dialogue, pilgrim, discernment, synodal, joy and beauty. On 9 August, he introduced another word, “noisy”. During his General Audience, he told two groups of sisters, “Be always joyful, and even . . . noisy!” and he encouraged them to “witness everywhere the beauty of your consecration to God and to the Gospel”. While speaking these words, he was honouring religious women - I cannot think of better words to describe many women I encounter in the life of our church, and indeed in many other faith traditions. I am privileged to meet lots of joyful and even noisy people as I go about the many aspects of my role. Like Mary, may we be Christ-bearers to our world and so enable the growth of God’s kingdom of justice, peace and love.

And so that brings me to the weekend readings. In Matthew’s gospel (Mt: 16, 13-20) we have Jesus asking that bewildering question of his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” and then the next question, “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter responds with, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is from this revelation that Jesus then claims, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church.”

It is in our personal response to that question that Jesus invites us into being the rock, the foundation of his message and kingdom. What an enormous responsibility! And so I finish this week’s message with a Franciscan benediction:

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, superficial relationships,
so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation,
so that you will work for justice, equity and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war,
so that you will reach out your hand to comfort them, and change their pain to joy.

And may God bless you with the foolishness to think that you can make a difference in the world,
so that you will do the things which others tell you cannot be done.  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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