TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Love alone overcomes fear

The first part of this week’s message has been written by John Hayes who has a very strong interest in Social Justice and The Environment

John has written about three events noted in the Australian Catholic Social Justice diary:

  • Earth Hour (28 March)
  • International Mother Earth Day (22 April)
  • World Environment Day (5 June)

These are John’s words:

Many readers will know that over the 20th and 21st Centuries, several Popes have written Encyclicals and other important documents concerning Climate, Environment and the importance of caring for the Earth, culminating in Pope Francis’ encyclical letter on Ecology and Climate - Laudato Si’ - on care for our Common Home, released in 2015.

Many will also know of the lived example of St Francis of Assisi, who lived in Italy in the 13th Century. He is an exemplar to us all.

Earth Hour is a worldwide movement organised by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The event is held annually encouraging individuals, communities, and businesses to turn off non-essential electric lights, for one hour, from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. on 28th March, as a symbol of commitment to the planet.

It was started as a lights-off event in Sydney, in 2007.

International Mother Earth Day provides an opportunity to raise global public awareness of the challenges to the well-being of the planet and all the life it supports. The Day also recognises a collective responsibility, as called for in the 1992 Rio Declaration, to promote harmony with nature and the Earth, to achieve a just balance among the economic, social and environmental needs of the present and future generations of humanity.

The UN General Assembly designated 22 April as International Mother Earth Day through resolution A/RES/63/278, adopted in 2009.

World Environment Day, 5 June 2020, is the UN’s flagship day for environmental outreach. It is a key milestone on the path to raising awareness of what biodiversity is and how its health is critical to sustaining all life on earth. It will be a pivotal moment towards galvanising understanding and action to get nature at the heart of decision making for the CBD Conference of the Parties. Since it began in 1974, it has grown to become a global platform for public outreach that is widely celebrated in more than 100 countries.

In recent years, and this year, 2020, we have seen:

  • Droughts of record, or near record, duration across Australia;
  • Record breaking heat maps across Australia;
  • Wild fires across Australia, which many describe as unprecedented;
  • Rain dumps at record levels in many places across Australia – leading to widespread floods.

Therefore it is time to:

  • pause and take stock;
  • listen to what leaders across the world are telling us;
  • read up on St Francis of Assisi, and the modern Papal Encyclicals and other important Church Documents - especially Laudato Si;
  • listen to what the overwhelming number of scientists around the world are telling us; and
  • pray

Within the constraints of the coronavirus, we have opportunities to slow down, enjoy our gardens more, and communicate in the virtual space of social media, Skype, Zoom etc.

Let us make the most of these unusual times to take the pressure off ourselves, and off Mother Earth

And now some words from me:

On Thursday 19 March, Richard Rohr in his Daily Meditations, reflected on Love Alone Overcomes Fear. His meditation arrived in my inbox not long after one of our daughters had been on the phone, quite inconsolable regarding COVID – 19. She had come to the realisation that our world will never be the same and that many people will suffer. As an accountant she was aware that many of her clients will struggle to survive in this current situation. I found Richard’s words filled with wisdom.

He wrote this while in self-quarantine in his hermitage. He said:

It is shocking to think how much the world has changed in such a brief time. Each of us has had our lives and communities disrupted. Of course, I am here in this with you. I feel that I’m in no position to tell you how to feel or how to think, but there are a few things that come to mind I will share……

Right now I’m trying to take in psychologically, spiritually, and personally, what is God trying to say? When I use that phrase, I’m not saying that God causes suffering to teach us good things. But God does use everything, and if God wanted us to experience global solidarity, I can’t think of a better way. We all have access to this suffering, and it bypasses race, gender, religion, and nation.

We are in the midst of a highly teachable moment. There’s no doubt that this period will be referred to for the rest of our lifetimes. We have a chance to go deep, and to go broad. Globally, we’re in this together. Depth is being forced on us by great suffering, which as I like to say, always leads to great love.

But for God to reach us, we have to allow suffering to wound us. Now is no time for an academic solidarity with the world. Real solidarity needs to be felt and suffered. That’s the real meaning of the word “suffer” – to allow someone else’s pain to influence us in a real way. We need to move beyond our own personal feelings and take in the whole. This, I must say, is one of the gifts of television: we can turn it on and see how people in countries other than our own are hurting. What is going to happen to those living in isolated places or for those who don’t have health care? Imagine the fragility of the most marginalized, of people in prisons, the homeless, or even the people performing necessary services, such as ambulance drivers, nurses, and doctors, risking their lives to keep society together? Our feelings of urgency and devastation are not exaggeration: they are responding to the real human situation. We’re not pushing the panic button; we are the panic button. And we have to allow these feelings, and invite God’s presence to hold and sustain us in a time of collective prayer and lament.

I hope this experience will force our attention outwards to the suffering of the most vulnerable. Love always means going beyond yourself to otherness. It takes two. There has to be the lover and the beloved. We must be stretched to an encounter with otherness, and only then do we know it’s love. This is what we call the subject-subject relationship. Love alone overcomes fear and is the true foundation that lasts (1 Corinthians 13:13).

I wonder how many of you have felt a sense of loss this weekend without the ritual of preparing for and attending Mass, hearing the Word of God and celebrating Eucharist. It is a foreign experience for us and yet some people go without this nourishment every week. The following prayer written by St Teresa was sent to me over the weekend and I thought it might help us:

Let nothing disturb you,
let nothing frighten you,
all things will pass away.
God never changes;
patience obtains all things,
whoever has God lacks nothing.
God alone suffices. Amen.

Let’s keep praying and connecting with God’s creation over the coming weeks and months. The Gospel reading from the weekend (John 9:1-41) about the man born blind, reminds us that, even when things seem to be impossible, having faith can bring us to the light.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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