TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: NAIDOC Week, Songlines: The living narrative of our nation

It is now Monday evening and I have not even begun to pen my weekly message. Such is the state of things when you take some leave and then return to a mountain of emails, and also a number of people who wish to connect with you during the day. I realise that many of you know this reality, and ponder the pace of life and the notion of an integrated life.

Most of the readers of this message would be aware that I set aside Sunday night for this weekly reflection. However on Sunday evening, after Mass, I participated in a gathering and conversation with some of our local indigenous people. For many years, we have been trying to re-engage more intentionally with our Aboriginal Catholic Ministry in the diocese. It was certainly more active in Fr Tony Stace’s time and I have heard many wonderful stories of his way of celebrating with the aboriginal and non-aboriginal people, especially at Broadmeadow. It seems to me that when a ‘prophet/saint’ dies, it takes a long time to connect the old story to a new story. I hope the time is right for this ministry to become alive again. Last week I wrote about the theme of this year’s NAIDOC Week, Songlines: The living narrative of our nation. The local aboriginal people who were present last night wish to connect to the narrative of those aboriginal people who honour their heritage while claiming their Catholicity. Evidently there are more than 6000 aboriginal Catholic people living in our diocese with about 1000 attending our Catholic schools. I am sure we would all be blessed if a significant number of those who identify as Aboriginal and Catholic would re-connect with each other and with us.

Of course the weekend’s Gospel of the Good Samaritan is a timely reminder to all of us that we are called to reach out to those who are alienated, dispossessed, marginalised, different and poor. Fr Andrew Doohan, in his homily, spoke of the characters in the story – the victim, the Levite and Priest, the Samaritan and the inn keeper. He indicated that the Samaritan is Jesus, the one we should follow, and that we are the inn keeper. It is we who need to open our doors to the stranger and care for those who have little. It is we who need to be on the lookout for opportunities to minister, to offer mercy, to those who are the ‘victim’ because that is what it means to follow Jesus.

When Fr Andrew spoke, I thought of our Missionary of Mercy, Fr Richard Shortall, who is on pilgrimage around our diocese and who is leaving open the doors of our churches for anyone who may wish to come in and find the ‘inn keeper’ who is willing to offer mercy. I wonder how many communities are then taking up the opportunity, once Richard goes, to keep open the doors of their churches and have someone there to welcome anyone who comes, possibly offering them a listening ear and even a cuppa. I wonder what sanctuary might look like in each of our communities, if we could contemplate offering it. Pope Francis speaks often about the doors of every church and every Christian heart remaining open to others. We must show that our God never refuses anyone who comes and offers mercy and healing. There are so many people who are lost and searching.

Missionary of Mercy, Fr Richard Shortall“If the door of God’s mercy is always open, the doors of our churches, our love, our communities, our parishes, our institutions, our dioceses also must be open so that we all can go out to bring God’s mercy to others. The jubilee means to let the Lord come in and go out.” (Pope Francis)

How do you think your communities are faring on this path of mercy?

I spent time with one of my daughters and her three children at the end of last week. The eight-year-old boy and the six-year-old girl spent some of their time with me working out life. While I was watching them in the bath, the six-year-old spoke to me of her friends and how they were sometimes mean to her and sometimes kind. She spoke seriously of how she should deal with the mean part of their exchanges. She was clearly concerned, and indeed a little upset, by the way she saw people behaving. Of course she also acknowledged her own part in the ‘drama’ she was sharing. She understood the ideal of being kind and loving, and in my terms, showing mercy, but this was not always possible. She also shared with great delight her prayer assembly which seemed to be a highlight of the last week of the school term.

The two-year-old enjoyed learning to bless herself and to say grace before meals. Occasionally over the days she would spontaneously begin to bless herself and smile with delight. It takes time to listen and to teach and yet our children are the beneficiaries of such time. Mind you both Allen and I were a little weary as we said our goodbyes at the airport. As elders we have so much to pass on.

The conversations with my grandchildren, who are learning how life works and how they fit into the world, resonated with me as I listened to the first reading from the book of Deuteronomy (30:10-14).

Moses said to the people: ‘Obey the voice of the Lord your God, keeping those commandments and laws of his that are written in the Book of this Law, and you shall return to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul. For this Law that I enjoin on you today is not beyond your strength or beyond your reach……the Word is very near to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart for your observance.”

I don’t like to contemplate the violent world we are exposed to, as are our children. The innocence of not knowing until we reach a certain age is no longer possible. And so God’s way, which we know to be Jesus, gives us and our children a way of living and being. It connects us to a bigger story, in the same way that our aboriginal brothers and sisters are connected to their land and their story. I think we can identify with their loss of land and story, and therefore of their way of life, and passing on the important ‘stuff’ of life. We also are losing the capacity to pass on our story.

Please make the opportunity and take the time to connect with our younger generations and share with them what is of value to you and to us. Educate the hearts and minds of those you meet.

Please pray for our WYD pilgrims who depart on Thursday. I hope all who travel to Krakow will experience a church of hope and delight. 

And so I conclude with the following prayer which formed part of the resources sent to parishes for NAIDOC week:

Aboriginal Thanksgiving Prayer

God of Holy Dreaming, Great Creator Spirit, from the dawn of creation you have given your children the good things of Mother Earth.

You spoke and the gum tree grew.

In the vast desert and the dense forest, and in the cities and at the water’s edge, creation sings your praise.

Your presence endures at the rock at the heart of our Land.

When Jesus hung on the tree, you heard the cries of all your people and became one with your wounded ones: the convicts, the hunted, the dispossessed.

The sunrise of your Son coloured the earth anew, and bathed it in glorious hope.

In Jesus we have been reconciled to you, to each other and to your whole creation.

Lead us on, Great Spirit, as we gather from the four corners of the earth; enable us to walk together in trust from the hurt and shame of the past into the full day which has dawned in Jesus Christ.


Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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

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