TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Faith in our Future

Once again the events of the past week demonstrate that as a diocesan church community we have been actively and proactively engaged in spreading the joy of the Gospel and sharing it with the world.

I invite you to log on mnnews.today and to view all the stories, images and YouTube clips that have been collated for each day of Catholic Schools Week. It will challenge even the most hardened person, who questions the reason for our Catholic schools, to take a deep look at this opinion and hopefully change. This as they are brought to the realisation of the wonderful experiences that occur for the children, their families and staff within these educational communities. The theme of Catholic Schools Week was Faith in our future and this double meaning of the use of the word faith has not been lost in the activities that took place in every school across the diocese during last week.

As I attended the Catholic Schools Week Mass, I recalled fondly being a teacher in Catholic schools. I was always proud of the students and when taking them into the community, knew how blessed we were to have young people who looked joyful, good, connected, happy and full of grace. I remember saying to them that their faces and eyes portrayed the soul that lay within. This what I now know to be called the divine spark. Those they encountered also saw this spark, undamaged by outside influences. I was proud to be part of school communities that were safe for all who crossed their threshold. For some of our students, their lives beyond our walls were not amazing, but every day they knew they were loved and cared for, because of our belief in Jesus and in  our desire to make his presence real for all of them.

The invitation is always there for you to go along to school events and experience what I am referring to. Please take the time to see what is happening in each of your parishes.

I know we continue to question the whereabouts of all of these children and their families on Sundays and we are sad and concerned about their absence from Eucharist, and from what we hold as essential and important to our faith journey.

We do not have an answer to this complex problem, other than to trust that the Spirit is at work in the lives of all who connect in any way with our Catholic faith.

I experienced that in a particular way on Friday evening at the Bishop’s Awards for young people, an event which took place at St John’s Chapel, Maitland. These awards are presented to young people who are actively engaged in the life of their parishes, schools and communities. There were eight recipients this year, and as each of their citations were read, I could feel those of us gathered, swell with pride. I am sure the souls of the ‘deceased’ bishops, who are buried within the Chapel, smiled with hope as we prayed, sang and rejoiced, that there are still young people who are prepared to live a life of active faith, a faith in our future.

I wish I could express and capture the feeling in St John’s, as the group of young people, parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers, priests, and the Bishop gathered and celebrated. We were blessed with a lovely evening and shared a dinner box of hot food on the lawns of the Chapel leading onto the banks of the Hunter River. It was a magical evening.

On March 8 each year, we celebrate International Women’s Day. The theme for this year was #PressforProgress, which was a call-to-action to press forward and progress gender parity. This day was a call to motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities, to think, act and be gender inclusive. 

To mark this day, a small group of us, from the diocesan offices, attended the Newcastle’s International Women’s Day breakfast with about 400 other people, to hear an inspirational talk given by Rabia Siddique – Woman. Lawyer. Mother. Soldier. Hostage. Hers was a story of resilience, equality and diversity. Rabia is an Australian criminal and human rights lawyer, a retired British Army officer, author, professional speaker and hostage survivor.

She spoke of the power of one and the inner strength that each of us possess to survive and to make a difference. I invite you to explore her story. She used the following quote from Mother Teresa as a hook for her talk and for the story she shared of her life.

I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.

She said:

It is about the power of one. We all have it within us to create ripples of change. Will you harness that capacity to be the change you want to see in the world? We are on the precipice of a beautiful revolution where we as a people are taking back agency, taking back control, where we are demanding more of ourselves, our community and our leaders. Women are now coming together in unity, and raising our power comes from when we once again lift each other up and help fan each other’s flames so our fires can burn brightly.

She spoke of the power of story, and of sharing those stories, so we are able to connect with each other and be changed by the wisdom that flows forth from our shared stories. Hers is a story of speaking out for the powerless and the voiceless, because of her own experiences as a young girl and then as a British soldier. She wishes for others to find their voice so they will not feel gagged as she has.

With this in mind, during the week we came together for a Sisters in Faith dinner, where women of different Christian variants, Jewish women, Muslim women and women of ‘no’ faith shared a meal and listened to our beautiful Sr Carmel Moore RSJ speak about peace. Her reflection of people, places and words of peace touched us. What was of equal effect was just the presence of those gathered and the conversations at table. Not only was this the power of one, but the beauty of many women of faith seeking to inspire, empower and transform the world in which they find themselves.

Sr Carmel spoke of Dr Graham Farquhar a biophysicist and senior Australian of the Year. She said:

He struck me as a humble and peaceful man. In his acceptance speech he gave us three challenges – struggle for truth, struggle to be successful and struggle to constantly reassess your prejudices. His peacefulness came, I think, from his deep self-knowledge and self-acceptance. ……

Peace is a fully human loving of all other humans; it is forgiving, non-resentful, altruistic, serene, yet strong in times of suffering; it never repays evil with evil; it attracts, inspires and wins disputes without power over other people.

To reach peace in our hearts, we go beyond our ego and reach the wells of peace in our true self. It’s our journey of faith to our deepest self, to resting in the arms of God.

And then on Sunday we celebrated our own International Women’s Day Mass followed by the Magdalene Award. Another amazing experience of being surrounded by good people and role models of all ages. Thirteen people were nominated and Claire McWilliam a young woman from St Joseph’s Parish, Toronto was the recipient of the award for her involvement in parish, diocesan and community life.

And I finish this message with part of the second reading for the weekend from St Paul to the Ephesians (2:4-10)

Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit. We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he has meant us to live it.

I hope this message helps you to contemplate the great graces, of our last week, in the diocese and to re-visit the graces that you also encountered.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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