TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Do your little bit of good where you are

Last week, you received my weekly message on the feast day of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, and this week, it comes to you on the Feast of the Assumption. 

It is good to think of these two women, along with St Clare whose feast day we celebrated on Friday, and the Dominican Sisters, whose feast we remembered on the feast of St Dominic. These great women of faith continue to influence the response to the call of the gospel by both men and women.

It seems that I have had one of those weeks where I have been blessed to share many wonderful events and experiences. I will list them, which may assist in linking you into my message for this week:

8th August -      Feast of Mary of the Cross MacKillop

8th August -      Experience of Social Justice League at Community Kitchen, Uniting Church, Merewether

9th August -      Grief Awareness Week – Morning Tea (Seasons for Growth)

10th August -    Broken Bay Institute eConference, Gospel Leadership in times of Chaos – The Hope of Pope Francis

10th August -    Hunter Ecumenical Social Justice Network meeting

11th August -    St Clare’s High School Taree – St Clare’s Day

12th August -    St Columban’s Primary School, Mayfield, Centenary Mass and Celebrations

These events have formed the backdrop for some comparison with what I think has been the main news item for the week, the troubling words spoken by Donald Trump:

“As I said they will be met with fire, fury, and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

I am struggling to comprehend how a world leader can speak so violently after the experiences of a century of wars, death and destruction. Surely we have matured as a human species to seek peaceful resolutions, instead of threats of using power-over tactics. It reminds me of the words of playground bullies.

Our young people deserve role models who are able to speak words of forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, harmony, healing, compassion, understanding, tolerance, mercy, pardon, resolution, compromise, justice and restoration.

The first reading from Romans (10:8-18) chosen for the centenary celebrations at St Columban’s, spoke powerfully to me of such a way of life:

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.  For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through preaching the word of Christ.

But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed, they have; for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”

St Dominic, in whose tradition St Columban’s was founded by the Dominican Sisters in 1917, was born in the 12th Century and preached and lived by the Gospel. This charism still exists today and this was evident in this school and with those who gathered for the Mass – the Dominican Sisters, Bishop Bill, clergy of the diocese, parents, grandparents, children, former students and staff, present staff, CSO staff and political leaders. There was a definite sense of community and of goodness. It felt good to be there. The motto for the school is Truth and on the walls around the hall were banners with the words – Prayer, Service, Study and Community as well as in the Centenary Garden. After the blessing of the Centenary Garden, the students sang, loudly and with pride, a wonderful school song which captured the essence of listening to Jesus Christ and proclaiming him. I spoke with some students who were seated on a “buddy seat” in the playground. They explained that if students sat on that seat, they were feeling alone and in need of friends and students would then go to them and offer companionship. In a school with over twenty nationalities, there is indeed a great sense of welcome and unity.  So I wonder what happens when these young minds hear such threatening words from adults such as Trump and Kim Jong-un?

And I had similar thoughts for the high school students of St Clare’s at Taree, who assembled for Mass and activities on Friday. They are likewise being exposed to a value system which must almost seem counter-cultural to the world in which they find themselves. Our schools are trying to preach the message of Jesus in word and deed, and yet the world is portraying a very different message.

The outreach, faith in action, provided by the Merewether Uniting Church at the Community Kitchen provided an experience, for those who joined them as part of the Social Justice League, of the Christian Churches attempting to respond with mercy to those who seek and need support.

Paul Kelly, Editor at Large with The Australian, spoke on “The Crisis of the West: The Failure to unite Faith and Reason”, during the Broken Bay Institute eConference on Thursday.  He spoke of the Western World democracies being in chaos, crisis and turmoil. Some of this he attributed to the following; the exhaustion of public confidence, the collapse of trust, polarisation, scepticism, a moral crisis in which virtues are being challenged and the disintegration of cultural norms. He spoke strongly about the need for the church in playing a critical role in saving the ‘Western Project’. There is a need for faith and reason to co-exist in order for Truth to be sought. You can access the transcripts of this eConference on the BBI website.

Paul Kelly says:

It is a project worth saving since it concerns the material of spiritual well-being of many millions of people. The church itself is located at the historic centre of these tribulations. This is surely a challenge for gospel leadership…..

The church has a dual role in the world, obviously. Temporal and spiritual. It has been deeply wounded by the sexual abuse revelations, particularly in this country, Australia. This necessitates reform and repentance and restoration. 

Ongoing silence is not a strategy. We have to learn to engage with the faithful and civil society as a flawed institution. Perhaps Pope Francis, with his personal example, his inspirational common touch and his quest to reform the church, is the ideal candidate to lead the way as holy Father. 

If the voice of the church is not heard in this crisis of the West, the church is abandoning its responsibility to its people as well as its historic mission.

These are indeed powerful words to us, of leading and leading with conviction. As I walked down the stairs from this eConference pondering my small part in this ‘big’ project, I spoke to the administrative support person for the Office of Life and Faith, who later sent me this quote. She had wanted to share this with me as part of our brief conversation reflecting upon the eConference:

“Do your little bit of good where you are: it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world” (Desmond Tutu)

How profound is that statement which serves as a reminder to us that each of us is charged with doing good?

And I finish this message with part of the Eucharistic Prayer (Various Needs III) which was prayed on Saturday:

Grant that all the faithful of the Church,
looking into the signs of the times by the light of faith,
may constantly devote themselves
to the service of the Gospel.
Keep us attentive to the needs of all
that, sharing their grief and pain,
their joy and hope,
we may faithfully bring them the good news of salvation
and go forward with them along the way of your Kingdom.

Bishop Bill noted, in his homily at St Columban’s, the hope of the people of Mayfield in 1917, still in the throes of the First World War, in opening a new school. We are indeed people of hope, but also people of faith and love.

Let’s keep on searching for Truth.

Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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

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