TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Learning humility from the ground up

Once again this message is being written on Sunday evening after spending the day at the Upper Hunter Regional Gathering and then going to Mass at the Cathedral for my parish commitment.

Today, Sr Patricia Egan rsj and Sr Maureen Salmon rsj broke open the document Misericordiae vultus (The Face of Mercy), in this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. It was a good day, with the insightful way that Fr John Tobin broke open the readings in his homily while also speaking with care and respect for all those who will be part of and impacted upon by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It is wonderful to be with the people of the Upper Hunter and their hospitality is astounding. They make great sandwiches, cakes, slices and biscuits. No matter what parish they are from many of them affectionately know each other, because they have been having yearly gatherings since 1992. They are proudly country people who live their Catholic faith daily.

Our readings for this weekend have one clear message running through them, that of humility. I was conscious of the origin of this word, humus, meaning the earth or ground. To be humble is to be grounded and without pride or conceit. The humility to which the readings refer demands that we be meek, gentle and humble of heart, full of mercy and compassion. It asks us to treat all people equally, particularly those of us who have been given much from our good and gracious God. In this first world country of ours, much is expected of us.

I spent Saturday with a group of Aboriginal people who belong to the NSW Aboriginal and Islander Catholic Council. We are presently trying to re-establish Aboriginal Catholic Ministry (ACM) in our diocese which has struggled since the death of Fr Tony Stace, a much loved priest who companioned the indigenous people of our diocese. Aboriginal artFrom what I know he was a humble and generous man who loved the Aboriginal people and connected spiritually with them. It was a privilege for me to sit with these men and women ‘leaders’ on Saturday and just listen and observe. I noted the absolute respect they show for their elders and when these elders speak, everyone listens and no one interrupts, even if they may not agree. I listened as they shared the same concerns that we have about the disconnection of their young people from engaging with their Catholic faith and their willingness to be involved.

On Friday night about sixty people attended the awareness raising dinner on Domestic Violence. The three speakers looked at prevention, response and support. Natasha Maclaren-Jones MLC stated that “it takes a village to raise a child and a community to prevent domestic violence.” I stated at the conclusion of the evening that everyone has a right to feel safe, no matter where they find themselves – work, school, holidays, sporting Domestic violence dinnergames, the shops, the streets − but even more so in their homes. You have heard me say this on several occasions, violence is not OK because it involves power and control. Our scriptures, both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, demand that we live honourable lives respecting ourselves and each other. I believe everyone needs to attend one of the relationship courses offered by Robyn Donnelly who presents well researched information about what makes relationships work and how you can become a ‘master’ of this most important and significant part of your life and that of your spouse, partner or family. It is the ‘masters’ who practise relationships. I think to be humble is the opposite of exercising power and dominance.

Last week I shared with you Richard Rohr’s writing on paradox in which he states that “the binary, dualistic mind cannot deal with contradictions, paradox, or mystery, all of which are at the heart of religion.”

On Wednesday 24 August he wrote the following, reflecting upon being at home in the mystery:

Discernment (1 Corinthians 12:10), rightly understood, is not choosing between a total good and a total evil. Authentic wisdom is found at a much more subtle and non-dualistic level. It is choosing between two partial goods. If you hold both sides seriously, within this space you can grow morally and begin to understand what really matters. That is the space in which you can go deep and learn mystery - which is endlessly knowable.

The source of spiritual wisdom is to hold questions and contradictions patiently, much more than to find quick certitudes, to rush to closure or judgment, as the ego and dualistic mind want to do. The ego wants to know it is right. It wants to stand on its own self-created solid ground − not the mysterious solid ground of the abyss. This is why so much religion remains immature and is a hiding place for many “control freaks” instead of people trained in giving up control to a Loving Presence.

A mature spiritual director will teach you how to negotiate the darkness, how to wait it out, how to hold on, how to live in liminal or threshold space. The dualistic mind just doesn’t know how to do that. The dualistic mind cannot deal with paradox, but the non-dual mind can. In fact, it almost relishes and revels in mystery. Non-dual consciousness is at home inside of the abyss.

I invite you to offer a simple, full-hearted “Yes” to the moment as it is, into the whole field, the full horizon of God and future. Choose every now in its wholeness. Whenever you choose or allow or surrender to the now, you can hold it in its entirety—the good and bad, the satisfying and unsatisfying, both what fulfils and what disappoints you. Saying yes to paradox positions you in a place that is bigger than your pain, bigger than your own thoughts. Here the Divine Friendship holds you. This is nondual consciousness.

And on Thursday he wrote:

MountainI’d like to point out the two great theophanies in the Bible: Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19) and Jesus on Mount Tabor (Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36). Mountaintop experiences are moments of enlightenment, encounter, clarity, and seeing. But in both cases there’s also a thick cloud. God is hidden in the darkness of the cloud on Mt. Sinai and Jesus is overshadowed by a dark cloud on Mt. Tabor. There’s the paradox of seeing and not seeing, knowing and not knowing. This is what biblical faith means to me. Yet we’ve often interpreted it as its opposite: absolute belief and certainty.

I know as a people and as a church we are seeking a way forward and we would like this to be clear and yet the invitation is to sit in the now and know that it is already and not yet. As Richard Rohr says, ‘welcome what is’.

As you know we are celebrating 150 Years since Bishop Murray arrived in our diocese as the first resident Bishop. I share with you the following image of the 1938 Eucharistic Congress in Newcastle. At our Pastoral Ministries meeting on Thursday one of those present shared how the outline of the Cross reflects the place of Jesus to the north, south, east and west. Because of our baptism we are called to take the Good News out from our centre to all theEucaristic Congress points of the compass. It is a spectacular image and certainly captures one’s imagination. The same person also noted that the circle was significant, reflecting on the notion of who is in the circle and who stands outside the circle. We are invited to be inclusive but many are not included and indeed many have excluded themselves.

Let’s be gentle and humble of heart this week as we struggle with our reality. May we connect with the coming of spring and the new colours of green coming to birth around us. It was wonderful to drive into the Upper Hunter on the weekend because of the many species of wattle in bloom. New life is around us as we journey through the seasons.

Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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

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