TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Facilitating a Truly Human Encounter

I believe that this Lenten season in the Year of Mercy is truly a time for self-examination, self-reflection, reconciliation, penance, forgiveness and healing. We all err in thought, word, in what we have done and it what we have failed to do. 

Our Sunday readings recall Jesus’ temptation by the devil in the wilderness. These temptations were an invitation to give priority to material comfort, to have power over others and to test God. Our confession of faith in Jesus as Lord is our gift of life, to share with others for the salvation of humanity.

I would like to share with you how we have lived out this confession of faith as a diocesan community during the past ten days. This is not an exhaustive list but one in which I have taken part or have been aware of:

  • The Annual Catechist Mass 
  • Diocesan Council of Ministry with Young People meeting
  • Marriage Preparation Courses
  • Pastoral Placement Program ‘on- boarding’
  • 150 Year Celebration Working Party
  • Launch of Project Compassion
  • Catholic Schools Council meeting
  • Called to Serve Mass
  • Ash Wednesday Masses
  • Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes – World Day of Prayer for the Sick
  • Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle Pastoral Ministers Association meeting
  • Opening Bishop’s Staff Mass
  • Visitation to Myall Coast Parish to welcome Sr Libbey Byrne rsc as Parish Pastoral Co-ordinator
  • Triduum Workshop
  • Rite of Election of Catechumens and Presentation of Candidates for Full Communion
  • Commissioning of Fr Richard Shortall SJ as our diocesan Missionary of Mercy (MOM)

From where I sit, I see and experience so many opportunities for formation, connection and spreading the Good News.

Each of these ‘events’ has involved lots of people in its preparation and loads of people in the experience.I value being present with those who come along, Bishop Bill and other leaders (clergy and lay people) because it provides me with a prayerful and prayer-filled space to contemplate God’s word and the faithful’s response to the call to serve and to be served.

For this message, I will just focus on one aspect of the long list I have shared with you.

Fr Richard Shortall left Australia about twelve days ago for Rome. Not long before leaving Australia, on 29 January, the following words were spoken by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelisation, at a press conference in the Vatican about the Missionaries of Mercy who were to be sent out into the world by Pope Francis for the Jubilee of Mercy:

There will be 700 Missionaries arriving in Rome. Pope Francis will meet with them on February 9 in order to express his feelings regarding this initiative which will certainly be one of the most touching and significant of the Jubilee of Mercy. On the following day, only the Missionaries of Mercy will concelebrate with the Holy Father, during which time they will receive the “mandate”, as well as the faculty to absolve those sins reserved to the Holy See. An interesting story may help to capture the pastoral interest that this initiative has garnered around the world. Father Richard from Australia will visit 27 communities in his rural Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle where there is only one church and no priests in residence. Traveling in a camper, he will journey from community to community as a “Missionary of Mercy on Wheels”! This is but an example of the way in which the Jubilee is meant to reach all, allowing everyone to touch the closeness and the tenderness of God.

At the first gathering of these Missionaries of Mercy (MOM), Fr Richard introduced himself to Archbishop Fisichella who immediately responded with a smile, "Ah, Wheels" and thanked Fr Richard for his service and presence. When introducing the Missionaries of Mercy to Pope Francis, Archbishop Fisichella also noted Fr Richard’s unusual mission in our diocese. This has also attracted the imagination of some Vatican news services and Fr Richard has been viewed on screen speaking of the mission of these MOMs. There is even an indication that reporters may be sent to our diocese to see this ‘priest on wheels’ in action. How good is it to be noticed because we are attempting to bring God’s mission of love, joy, hope and peace to the people of our diocese?

As attested  in the Bull of Indiction, Misericordiae vultus, the Missionaries are to be a sign of the Church’s maternal solicitude for the People of God, enabling them to enter the profound richness of this mystery so fundamental to the faith. There will be priests to whom I will grant the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See, so that the breadth of their mandate as confessors will be even clearer. They will be, above all, living signs of the Father’s readiness to welcome those in search of his pardon. They will be missionaries of mercy because they will be facilitators of a truly human encounter, a source of liberation, rich with responsibility for overcoming obstacles and taking up the new life of Baptism again.

They will be led in their mission by the words of the Apostle: ‘For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all’ (Rom 11:32). Everyone, in fact, without exception, is called to embrace the call to mercy. (Misericordiae vultus 18)

So my hope is that many people from around the diocese will be as excited as the Vatican appears to be about seeking out our MOM when he visits the many communities between now and the end of November. This is a wonderful opportunity for healing, and we need to let go and let God. It reminds me of the words from our first reading on Sunday:

The Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, our toil and our oppression; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with mighty hand and outstretched arm, with great terror, and with signs and wonders. He brought us here and gave us this land, a land where milk and honey flow. (Deuteronomy 26:8-9)

There are so many opportunities for each of us if we but listen and respond. If you are listening, please let others know about the Year of Mercy, read the papal bull Misericordiae vultus, discuss it with others and live out the call of mercy each day.

Fr Richard is presently on his way back home to Melbourne and he will arrive as our MOM on Thursday afternoon before picking up his new home. I hope you will make him feel welcome as he takes God’s healing hand to those who seek this gift.

Before leaving Rome he spent time with our two seminarians who are studying at the Beda – Graham Fullick and John Lovell. By all accounts they had a wonderful day visiting many pilgrim church sites and praying for us all. I don’t think we can underestimate the wonders of having people in faraway places and close by, offering prayers on our behalf. Most notable of the places at which they prayed was in a church that housed the 13th century painting of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, our diocesan patron. Of course they also enjoyed coffee and good conversations.

Fr Richard will be commissioned by Bishop Bill on Saturday 20 February at the 5pm Mass at St Joseph’s, East Maitland. His motor home will then be located at St Patrick’s Lochinvar for the first week of his mission of mercy in our diocese.

“Be merciful like the Father”, is the motto for this Holy Year, may it also be our motto. I certainly have experienced first-hand the mercy of others in my life as a consequence of the death of our granddaughter. So many people have taken the time to speak with me, embrace me, give me a hug, send me a card, and shower me with tears, flowers and plants …. God’s mercy is abundant.

Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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