TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Acts of heroism and self-sacrifice

I begin my message this week with the Collect prayer from the beginning of Mass on Sunday:

Show favour, O Lord, to your servants
and mercifully increase the gift of your grace,
that, made fervent in hope, faith and charity,
they may be ever watchful in keeping your commands.

This resonated strongly with me because this week a third person, Warren Sheppard, from our Ecumenical and Interfaith Council, passed away. I have known Warren since coming to the diocese, when he was a Pastoral Associate at St Philip’s, Kotara, before it became part of All Saint’s Parish, Blackbutt South. He was part of our Pastoral Associates’ network at that time. He and his wife, Christine, have been actively engaged in the Interchurch Family Movement since marrying in the 1970’s. Christine is a Uniting Church minister and both she and Warren were strongly supportive of each other’s tradition, and were well known in both the Uniting and Catholic churches. Because of Warren’s failing health, Christine is the chair of our Ecumenical and Interfaith Council, and she and Warren would prepare for our meetings and come as ‘one’. We have been very blest to have both of them share this important role and we will miss Warren’s deep faith, commitment and connection. Last year, Maureen Grealy, a very active and engaged member of this Council, died suddenly. She made lots of connections with people across Newcastle and was also an essential part of the Mission to Seafarers and Stella Maris mission. And in September 2017, Beverley Hincks, the heart and soul of Ecumenical and Interfaith in our diocese, passed away. She and her husband Kevin were also very actively engaged in the Interchurch Family Movement, with Kevin being a member of the Anglican Church. Kevin passed away in May this year. Both Beverley and Kevin travelled the world in pursuit of building up the Christian family of believers. I learnt a great deal from each of these people.

I have no doubt that the lives of Warren, Maureen, Beverley and Kevin were spent building the Kingdom of God, much like Sunday’s Gospel reading from Matthew (13:24-43), in which Jesus speaks in parables about the wheat, the weeds, the mustard seed and the yeast.

The passage from my missal, for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A), summarises the readings nicely:

Wheat among the weeds – The world in which we live is a mixture of wheat and weeds. Wonderful acts of heroism and self-sacrifice occur alongside shocking acts of violence and abuse of power. In the midst of a world tainted by sin, we are called to live the values of the kingdom of God. This can be difficult, but the Spirit will help us in our weakness and God, the just and merciful judge, will reward us.

I hope some of you have read the article Good Evans, in this weekend’s Good Weekend – an insert in the Sydney Morning Herald (July 18, 2020). Hugh Evans spent a night sleeping on a garbage dump in a Manila slum as a Year 9 student, as part of a World Vision trip to the Philippines. At that age he made a vow to end global poverty. He was raised in Melbourne, and now, at 37, lives in Manhattan and heads up Global Citizen, “an activist organisation that, via an app and a website, encourages people to take ‘action’ against poverty. It doesn’t run its own projects, but researches and selects causes to support. As a member, you don’t donate money. Instead, you take ‘actions’ – as suggested by Global Citizen – that contribute to ending poverty.”

This article resonated with me because it reminded me of what we are trying to do in building up the Hunter Community Alliance. This Alliance, which is not a movement, is geared towards building civil society, to make a difference by taking action. It involves establishing relationships with leaders of organisations, such as churches, unions and community groups, who imagine a world where all live with dignity and in harmony. Its purpose is to explore the common good for all of creation.

It seems to me, in reading this article, Hugh Evans, through Global Citizen, wants people to take action, to do something, do anything – tweet, sign petitions, give generously, be informed, write to politicians…. – to make a difference to eliminate poverty. The actions can be broad, because poverty is a complex issue. It seems that he builds relationships with those who have influence and plenty to give. He imagines solutions on a huge scale: involving entire national governments, huge multinational corporations and millions of engaged ordinary people demanding change, because systemic poverty requires systemic change. His most recent special event called One World: Together at Home, raised $184 million and featured many celebrities singing in their sitting rooms and was broadcast globally across a variety of platforms to 300 million people. Key to the commitments made on the public stage, is accountability. He has a whole division whose sole focus in on impact and accountability. Evans says that “their job it to make sure every announcement made on stage is specific, measurable, time bound and achievable”. As stated in the article, one of the aims of the organisation is that “We believe in holding world leaders’ feet to the fire.”

As I read the article I was really touched by his ongoing commitment, energy and drive to do what he vowed at such a young age. It reminded me of the words of Pope Francis about mission in Evangelii Gaudium:

When we live out a spirituality of drawing nearer to others and seeking their welfare, our hearts are opened wide to the Lord’s greatest and most beautiful gifts. Whenever we encounter another person in love, we learn something new about God. Whenever our eyes are opened to acknowledge the other, we grow in the light of faith and knowledge of God. If we want to advance in the spiritual life, then, we must constantly be missionaries..... A committed missionary knows the joy of being a spring which spills over and refreshes others. Only the person who feels happiness in seeking the good of others, in desiring their happiness, can be a missionary. This openness of the heart is a source of joy, since “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). We do not live better when we flee, hide, refuse to share, stop giving and lock ourselves up in own comforts. Such a life is nothing less than slow suicide. (EG, 272)

My mission of being in the heart of the people is not just a part of my life or a badge I can take off; it is not an “extra” or just another moment in life. Instead, it is something I cannot uproot from my being without destroying my very self. I am a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world. We have to regard ourselves as sealed, even branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, raising up, healing and freeing. All around us we begin to see nurses with soul, teachers with soul, politicians with soul, people who have chosen deep down to be with others and for others. But once we separate our work from our private lives, everything turns grey and we will always be seeking recognition or asserting our needs. We stop being a people. (EG, 273)

If we are to share our lives with others and generously give of ourselves, we also have to realise that every person is worthy of our giving. Not for their physical appearance, their abilities, their language, their way of thinking, or for any satisfaction that we might receive, but rather because they are God’s handiwork, his creation. God created that person in his image, and he or she reflects something of God’s glory. Every human being is the object of God’s infinite tenderness, and he himself is present in their lives. Jesus offered his precious blood on the cross for that person. Appearances notwithstanding, every person is immensely holy and deserves our love. Consequently, if I can help at least one person to have a better life, that already justifies the offering of my life. It is a wonderful thing to be God’s faithful people. We achieve fulfilment when we break down walls and our heart is filled with faces and names! (EG, 274)

I began this message by paying tribute to those who have given generously – Warren, Maureen, Beverley and Kevin. May they know the rewards of eternal life. And I also explored with you the work of Hugh Evans.

If we each do our bit, according to the gifts we have been given, it may be possible to create a world of peace, equality and dignity. We pray!!

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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