FAITH MATTERS: The day our house burnt down

I have always known that God loves me. Mum and Dad were religious, and every Sunday took us eight kids off to Mass. Such a Catholic family - all our aunts and uncles and grandparents were Catholic, except for one relative on Mum’s side who was a Mason. We went to a Mercy school - Monte St Angelo in North Sydney. It was a good school.

But did I ever doubt that God loved me? Well, perhaps once. Our house burnt down one Christmas when we lived at Annandale in Sydney. I was five months pregnant at the time. One of the kids woke early and was playing with matches under the Christmas tree. We all got out okay, but the house was gone and everything in it. I questioned God - ‘why did you allow this to happen? ‘ It was such a terrible disaster and loss. It scarred Graham and me in so many ways. We had to start again from scratch.

Looking back I think I had a type of nervous breakdown. I became very anxious. I wasn’t eating properly and was losing weight. The trauma of the fire also triggered painful memories, like losing my brother at the age of five. He was killed in an accident.

Nobody spoke about it in the family even though we were all deeply affected. There was no such thing as grief counselling back then. Mum only spoke of our brother’s loss decades later, when Dad died. People very much kept things to themselves in those days.

What did help me after the fire, was that I could go and sit in the local Church on my own. ‘God in the Church’ I called it. I would speak to God there, and it helped - it gave me strength. I still like going to Mass even though I mostly go on my own. I like the ritual, the quietness, the prayer and the gospel. I also chat to Mary when things are heavy going. I like chatting to her, I feel free to have a grumble now and then.

Raising four children and gearing into the workforce didn’t leave much time for volunteering, but I did become a Minister of the Eucharist for a while. I loved taking the Eucharist to people too sick to come to Mass. I’m also a good listener, at least that’s what people tell me.

My faith is still very strong, but I believe we’re allowed to have a day off now and then, without judgement. My mother was relaxed that way.
‘It's okay to have a fishing day,’ she’d say, ‘if things are happening and you’re just not up to it.’ So on occasion, I might say - ‘I’m having a fishing day God,’ and both Graham and God know I don’t want to step outside of the house that day, or do anything much at all.

Graham and I have been married for almost fifty years now. If asked, Graham calls himself a non-practicing catholic. The recent church scandals deeply upset him, but it was the fire that sent him off course for a while, as it did me. What a struggle it was to get back on our feet again.

Despite the anxiety I still sometimes experience, I am a courageous and forthright person. I really dislike people presenting concepts and ideas as truth, when they need to be questioned. For example, when I was working towards becoming a teacher, one of our lecturers used to tell us that we were superior people because we were intelligent and focused on a teaching career. I challenged her by stating that I was dyslexic, and had to work very hard to get to university. I had never passed anything at school because of this unrecognised condition. It was only later when I went to TAFE that I received help.

I love God, and I love the Church. The loss of Priests is sad, as all are being judged for the actions of the offenders. What the future of the Church will be is indeterminate, but I do believe the hierarchal system has to change.

We need to look a lot more closely at candidates for the priesthood, at their motives, and if they have emotional maturity. I cannot understand really why priests can’t marry, or why women cannot have a more priestly role, even if they are not priests as such.

One time when I lived in Kirribilli, the elderly priest couldn’t make Mass that day. We had a prayer group, and the woman running it was so religious, so beautiful. As there were hosts in the Tabernacle we were able to have a type of service that worked very well.

The majority of my adult children don’t have much time for Church, which I find sad but understandable. Most of them believe in God in their own way, but they don’t believe in the institutional church.

My grandchildren are more responsive, and I seem to have influence with them. One is a teenager now and still says a prayer every night that I taught her as a child. She says it helps her a lot.

Another grandchild persuaded her mother to go back to Church when she spoke one time about missing it.

So, all is not lost.


Author: Barbara McCarroll (Parishioner at Tighes Hill)

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