TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Build up hope and peace

Welcome back to the year which began just over one month ago. I am conscious that I am writing this message on 2 February 2020 which is a very special date, as it is a once-in-a-century eight digit palindrome (02022020). Apart from that, it is the feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, which means it is already 40 days since Christmas. In the Temple Jesus, Mary and Joseph encountered Simeon and Anna who recognised Jesus as the light of revelation to the nations.

So much has happened since my last message to you before Christmas – we have celebrated Christmas, New Year, the Epiphany, and Australia Day. We have been exposed to the terrible fires which have destroyed so much land, flora, fauna, homes and people’s lives. We have watched the summer sports of tennis, cricket and soccer. Most families have taken time for their summer holidays and now the year begins in earnest with the return of school and the routine of work life. Even as we take a break from the normal routine of life we can be busy!!

I recognise that many of you who read this message are eagerly awaiting information about our Diocesan Synod and the processes moving forward. We are having a Synod Working Party meeting this Wednesday, and I hope that shortly we will be able to provide you with a timeline around our engagement with you between now and the next session of synod on Saturday 21 November, 2020. We certainly have a lot of information to ponder from the Plenary Council and Diocesan Synod processes. 

I could not help but think of the diocesan and wider community when the reading from the book of Romans (12:9-13) was read at Mass on 26 January:

Do not let your love be a pretense, but sincerely prefer good to evil. Love each other as much as brothers should, and have a profound respect for each other. Work for the Lord with untiring effort and with great earnestness of spirit. If you have hope, this will make you cheerful. Do not give up if trials come; and keep on praying. If any of the saints are in need you must share with them; and you should make hospitality your special care.

It took me to the Message from Pope Francis for the 53rd World Day of Peace– Peace as a Journey of Hope: Dialogue, Reconciliation and Ecological Conversion.

The message begins with, “Peace is a great and precious value, the object of our hope and the aspiration of the entire human family.” Pope Francis then goes onto say that “Hope is the virtue that inspires us and keeps us moving forward even when obstacles seem insurmountable.”

This then reminded me of some of what I read about Jill Emberson, who died before Christmas and whose “Life of Love” was remembered at a public memorial at Newcastle City Hall on Thursday 23 January. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2016. Her daughter paid tribute to her mum:

She never wavered in her complete love of this life. Mum showed me that our best is not just the work we do for others, but the approach we have to life… to unreservedly love our family and friends, to fight injustices with raw, unabated ferocity. (Newcastle Herald 24/1/20).

I loved the following image given to us by her daughter Malia Emberson-Lafoa’i:

This is my mum’s first life. At 60 she could gush over the smallest pleasure as if experiencing it for the first time, like a newborn. From big, beautiful things like her love of Ken, of me, of her family, her fights for justice, to small things, like a cup of really well made tea, a sunset swim at Merewether baths or the ink flowing from a really great pen.

Jill had written to her daughter saying, “All we can do in our life is the best for good, our best for the ones that we cherish and our best for what we believe in.” Jill’s husband Ken also spoke at the memorial service about Jill as the story-teller with these words, “Let us remember the storyteller, her passion, her curiosity, her easy forgiveness, her rawness, but most of all, her huge heart of love and compassion.”

In the Newcastle Herald on the previous day (23/1/20) Aaron Kearney paid tribute to his colleague and friend saying,

“Jill’s story isn’t finished, she does have a future, she just isn’t here to see it.”

He went on to say:

Jill wanted the world to be a better, fairer, kinder and more honest place. She devoted her life to trying to make that happen through her broadcasting, her journalism, her compassion and her advocacy……. She was angry about lots of things and yet paradoxically gentle, empathetic and merciful. She was obsessive about getting things right and perfectly happy to abandon the rule book when it suited. Blunt and tactful. Elegant and rough. But always authentic. Always.

As I read these beautiful articles about Jill, I could not help but think of each of us as we struggle with so much about our church and our civil society. And yet the message I took from watching her struggle over the past few years was not to give into despair and hopelessness, but to fight the good fight till the end. We just have one life to live and we must live it to its fullest. I know many of you are doing just that.

I now go back to the Pope’s peace message. The Pope speaks about peace emerging from the depths of the human heart, so as to unite individuals and communities that must be built up continually in the constant pursuit of the common good, truthfulness and respect. This he sees as an enduring commitment of “solidarity and cooperation in the service of a future shaped by interdependence and shared responsibility in the whole human family of today and tomorrow.”

He speaks strongly of mistrust and fear which weaken relationships and increase the risk of violence, creating a vicious circle that can never lead to a relationship of peace. He asks the following questions:

  • How, then, do we undertake a journey of peace and mutual respect?
  • How do we break the unhealthy mentality of threats and fear?
  • How do we break the current dynamic of mistrust?

These are great questions for us to ponder in our local church. I can’t see the outcomes of our synodal process having any positive contributions to our life in the diocese if we continue down the path of mistrust, fear and cynicism. We must seek out relationships, we must be authentic, and we must dialogue so as to build up hope and peace.

I would like to finish with the following quote from his peace message which is taken from his 2015 Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si’:

The ecological conversion for which we are appealing will lead us to a new way of looking at life, as we consider the generosity of the Creator who has given us the earth and called us to a share it in joy and moderation. This conversion must be understood in an integral way, as a transformation of how we relate to our sisters and brothers, to other living beings, to creation in all its rich variety and to the Creator who is the origin and source of all life. For Christians, it requires that “the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them.”

I wonder if you have noticed the green shoots of grass coming through the brown parched land that is surrounding us as a consequence of the periodic rainfalls we have recently experienced. I remember the shoots of new life that emerged out of the ashes after previous fires. What looks like total devastation, harbours hope and new growth, new life.

We are a people of faith, hope and love. Let this year be a year of faith, hope and love, brought about through a life of prayer (contemplation) and action. I can think of no better way of finishing this message than the solemn blessing for 1 January – The Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.

Solemn Blessing

May God, the source and origin of all blessing,
grant you grace,
pour out his blessing in abundance,
and keep you safe from harm throughout the year.

May he give you integrity in the faith,
endurance in hope,
and perseverance in charity
with holy patience to the end.

May he order your days and your deeds in his peace,
grant your prayers in this and in every place,
and lead you happily to eternal life.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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