The season of Lent begins this week with Ash Wednesday; a season of prayer, fasting, abstinence and generous giving.

So much seems to be happening across the diocese at the moment. Once again, people from the diocese gathered on Friday night, to honour those who are called to serve as Catechists in our diocese – Special Religious Education teachers, those involved in preparing young people and their families for the Sacraments of Initiation, those involved in Children’s

Liturgy of the Word and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). Bishop Bill presented those who have served more than 15 years in their respective ministries with a memento to mark either 15 years, 20 years, 25 years or 30 years of service. There have been years that we have celebrated with those who have served more than 40 years. Those who have worked in these ministries for 5 years or 10 years are acknowledged in their parishes. Regrettably, each year the numbers who come to this celebration are diminishing, a sign of our times. We are left wondering about who will teach these children about God and Jesus in the future, but trusting that God always provides.

On Tuesday night, 13th February, the Cathedral will be packed with staff from our schools and CSO for the Called to Serve Mass. This is always a wonderful Mass and celebration of teachers and staff who serve generously in our school system.

As always, on Shrove Tuesday, we as a diocesan community gather with Bishop Bill as he launches Project Compassion in our diocese. I hope you are able to connect with the stories of Project Compassion, each week, either through your parishes or via the Caritas website. The Government has cut back on funding for overseas aid and development and this has had a significant impact on what programs Caritas is able to fund and support. We give generously in our diocese and I ask that you please keep this up during Lent.

This leads me into Pope Francis’ World Day of Peace Message which I have been breaking open for you over the past couple of weeks. I will share with you the third section of this wonderful message which is headed, With a contemplative gaze:

The wisdom of faith fosters a contemplative gaze that recognizes that all of us belong to one family, migrants and the local populations that welcome them, and all have the same right to enjoy the goods of the earth, whose destination is universal, as the social doctrine of the Church teaches. It is here that solidarity and sharing are founded. These words evoke the biblical image of the new Jerusalem. The book of the prophet Isaiah (chapter 60) and that of Revelation (chapter 21) describe the city with its gates always open to people of every nation, who marvel at it and fill it with riches. Peace is the sovereign that guides it and justice the principle that governs coexistence within it.

We must also turn this contemplative gaze to the cities where we live, “a gaze of faith which sees God dwelling in their houses, in their streets and squares, […] fostering solidarity, fraternity, and the desire for goodness, truth and justice”– in other words, fulfilling the promise of peace.

When we turn that gaze to migrants and refugees, we discover that they do not arrive empty-handed. They bring their courage, skills, energy and aspirations, as well as the treasures of their own cultures; and in this way, they enrich the lives of the nations that receive them. We also come to see the creativity, tenacity and spirit of sacrifice of the countless individuals, families and communities around the world who open their doors and hearts to migrants and refugees, even where resources are scarce.

A contemplative gaze should also guide the discernment of those responsible for the public good, and encourage them to pursue policies of welcome, “within the limits allowed by a correct understanding of the common good”– bearing in mind, that is, the needs of all members of the human family and the welfare of each.

Those who see things in this way will be able to recognize the seeds of peace that are already sprouting and nurture their growth. Our cities, often divided and polarized by conflicts regarding the presence of migrants and refugees, will thus turn into workshops of peace.

What a wonderful image – a contemplative gaze. I wonder how each of us look upon the world and all of its humanity! I love the phrase – peace is the sovereign that guides it and justice the principle that governs coexistence within it. I once taught at a school whose motto was Peace through Justice.

I am sure that, in many places, migrants and refugees are like the lepers in the reading from the Book of Leviticus and in the Gospel on the weekend, they were the outsiders, the outcasts, the ones shunned because they were deemed to be unclean. Jesus breaks the taboos of his day and reaches out and touches the leper. With this healing touch, it is Jesus who is then rejected and forced to live as an outsider.

This week I came across these two quotes which spoke powerfully to me and I share them with you for you to ponder:

Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear or feel it when it comes to us. Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy. It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity. (Fr Henri Nowen 1932 – 1996)

These days we tend to see spirit and structures in opposition to each other. The challenge is to create structures which serve the spirit and which are themselves nourishing. There is a way in exercising authority, of discerning and even running the finances which is in the spirit of the gospel and the beatitudes and so makes these tasks sources of life. (from the L’Arche Board Papers).

Seeing God’s contemplative gaze in some of my daily work and interactions is indeed most challenging, but it is in every moment that God is ever present and waiting for our response and for us to bring about God’s kingdom.

These were the words we sang in the responsorial psalm on the weekend:

I turn to you Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation. (Psalm 31)

Fr Brian Mascord finishes in our diocese in the coming week. I hope you are able to join us at his farewell function next Sunday afternoon. I am sure the God of surprises is with Fr Brian as he prepares for this big step in saying yes to God.

Many blessings as we begin our Lenten time.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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