This message certainly marks the beginning of our working year, with many people having enjoyed some time off for our summer holidays.

I took a break before Christmas and the week afterwards, and then some more time a week ago, as Allen and I enjoyed an extended visit from four of our grandchildren. I imagine many of you have spent many hours on the lounge enjoying the cricket and tennis. I trust you have appreciated the slower pace which January affords us, and are now feeling refreshed and renewed for the year ahead.

I am conscious that students and teachers are now returning to school, and the days will now take on a different routine for families. I recall that this routine can add a certain stress to the household as the more relaxed time of holidays, kairos time, turns into the demands of chronos time – the time of schedules, timetables and meetings. Not only is there the routine around school, but also the extra activities in which children and family members are involved. I do hope you are able to breathe and enjoy the moments given to you. Somewhere in all this ‘chaos’, God is journeying with us and asks for our time and attention.

Interestingly, the Beatitudes from Matthew featured in the gospel reading of Australia Day and the Fourth Sunday of Year A (this Sunday). While listening to and pondering the beginning of this great Sermon on the Mount, I challenge myself and each of us to consider the blessings we are asked to give and receive. These are those blessings:

  • The poor in spirit
  • The gentle, in some versions the meek
  • Those who mourn
  • Those who hunger and thirst for what is right
  • The merciful
  • The pure in heart
  • The peacemakers
  • Those who are persecuted in the cause of right.

We are reassured that God will bless us and care for us, and we in turn have a duty to look out for those who are poor, who mourn or suffer persecution, and to live a life of mercy, purity, peace and justice. We are to put our trust in God, and in each other.

The Sunday readings throughout January were about being called and responding as disciples of Jesus. I think the message of the Beatitudes provides us with a way of responding to our brothers and sisters.

The following words, found in my missal, at the beginning of the readings for Australia Day, pick this up well:

Set your hearts on God’s Kingdom. The Great South Land of the Holy Spirit is richly blessed by God. May the Providence of God continue to be manifest among us through the way we live, preferring good to evil, having a profound respect for one another, sharing our goods with those in need and making hospitality our special care.

In our diocese we attempt to assist those in parishes and the wider community through our various pastorally focused councils which advise Bishop Bill:

  • The Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC)
  • The Adult Faith Formation Council (AFFC)
  • The Diocesan Council for Ministry with Young People (DCMYP)
  • The Ecumenical and Interfaith Council (EIC)
  • The Liturgy Council (LC)
  • The Social Justice Council (SJC).

The members of these councils attempt to provide opportunities for all of us to encounter God’s grace and dispense God’s grace in a variety of ways. As well as these councils, we also engage with the Diocesan Council for Australian Catholic Women (CACW) and Aboriginal Catholic Ministry (ACM). I implore each of you to seek out the opportunities provided by these councils throughout the year. The calendar can be found on our website and it is updated regularly. Of course Dio Update, mnnews.today and Aurora also advertise our diocesan and parish events.

I know that some of what we are called to recognise can appear to be political and yet I feel I should share with you some words that came across my desk with regard to social justice and Australia Day. Scott, Brooke, Jess, Kylie and the team at Common Grace wrote:

This January, Aunty Jean Phillips, in partnership with Common Grace, invites Australian Christians to acknowledge the true history of our nation, to lament the present day disadvantages and injustices facing our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters, and to pray for a nation built on truth, justice, love and hope. Regardless of the politics of “Australia Day”, for non-Aboriginal Australians to acknowledge that Aboriginal peoples are hurting, grieving and mourning on this day, and as Christians we must love our neighbour as ourselves.

Acknowledgment is an act of noticing something and honouring it with our attention. When we acknowledge something, we accept its truth and existence and recognise its importance and significance.

Jesus regularly acknowledged others, turning his gaze towards them and giving them his full attention. He acknowledged the presence of those whom his society deemed unworthy and those who lived in ways that made others feel awkward. He acknowledged when people acted with kindness and faith, even if these acts were outside the social norms. And in particular, he acknowledged those who had experienced pain and oppression, extending compassion and love.

I recognise, with the possible wisdom that comes with age, that many issues which are before us are not distinctly one way or the other (either/or) but there is truth in different positions or points of view (both/and). People tend to think dualistically, thinking that they must hold a clear position, but many issues facing us today are not simple. They are complex and therefore are paradoxical. The more complex the issue, the more we need to read about it, talk about it, discuss it, pray about it and wait for inspiration – the spirit-led response.

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations for this week explore the dualistic mind:

The dualistic mind is essentially binary, either/or thinking. It knows by comparison, opposition, and differentiation. It uses descriptive words like good/evil, pretty/ugly, smart/stupid, not realizing there may be a hundred degrees between the two ends of each spectrum. Dualistic thinking works well for the sake of simplification and conversation, but not for the sake of truth or the immense subtlety of actual personal experience. Most of us settle for quick and easy answers instead of any deep perception, which we leave to poets, philosophers, and prophets. Yet depth and breadth of perception should be the primary arena for all authentic religion. How else could we possibly search for God?

We do need the dualistic mind to function in practical life, however, and to do our work as a teacher, a nurse, a scientist, or an engineer. It’s helpful and fully necessary as far as it goes, but it just doesn’t go far enough. The dualistic mind cannot process things like infinity, mystery, God, grace, suffering, sexuality, death, or love; this is exactly why most people stumble over these very issues. The dualistic mind pulls everything down into some kind of tit-for-tat system of false choices and too-simple contraries, which is largely what “fast food religion” teaches, usually without even knowing it. Without the contemplative and converted mind — honest and humble perception — much religion is frankly dangerous.

How wonderful it was to watch the Australian of the Year Awards and listen to the many stories of local heroes who give selflessly to their communities. I hope you saw Sr Anne Gardner, an Our Lady of the Sacred Heart sister, who won the Senior Australian of the Year Award for her work on Bathurst Island among the Tiwi people. She went there as a 22 year-old, and now 62 years later, is still there working with them.

During her acceptance speech, she called for greater efforts to understand the culture of communities such as those in the Tiwi Islands. She said:

Sadly some of the cultural understandings and their incorporation into policies which enable communities such as the Tiwi to maintain and develop their cultural strength while simultaneously engaging with the wider world are not in place in Australia today.

I pray that all people in our wonderful country Australia — regardless of language, culture, skin colour or religious belief — may stand tall as proud Australians.

There is so much we do not understand or have words to express, and our place as church in the community, like Sr Anne Gardner’s place, is to give blessings to those who are without voice. May the Beatitudes be your guiding light for 2017.

God’s peace and grace be with us.

Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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

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