TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Choose to Challenge

I am writing this message on the eve of International Women’s Day, having attended Mass for this occasion at the Cathedral this morning which involved listening to the reflection given by Dr Anne Millard. It was good to hear the feminine voice/context reflect on the scriptures and the experiences of life.

I note that one of the recommendations being put forward as part of the Worship and Prayer Foundation Paper for the Diocesan Synod is:

WP 3.1 That lay men and women be trained and formed to exercise their gifts and talents in various ecclesial community settings, including preaching in the liturgical context.

I hope that, last week, you engaged in the contemplative exercise around Worship and Prayer. I found that the biggest question for me in our group was around people not even being aware of seeking God. It does not seem to be on many people’s radar; it seems to have fallen away from being significant. And if they do not know to seek God, then the deep experiences we provide are of no consequence. I believe that we are attempting to provide people with a place to call home, but they do not wish to have such a relationship with us. 

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “Choose to Challenge” with the accompanying phrase – a challenging world is an alert world and from challenge comes change. So, let’s all choose to challenge.

This week’s Gospel reading for Year A (John4:5-42), which we have been asked to reflect on for Week 3 of our diocesan synod preparations, has a Samaritan woman challenge Jesus, in the middle of the day at Jacob’s well. I believe in that challenge Jesus grows in his understanding of his mission and the woman in turn experiences a conversion of heart, such that she is believed because of her testimony. It is in the exchange of words at the well that people come to develop a deeper call to discipleship. It is this mutual exchange and challenge that brings this about.

Week 3 of our Synod Foundation Papers is about Formation and Education. This week’s papers begin with a quote from “A Framework for Formation For Mission” from the National Catholic Education Commission.

The intention of formation for mission is to enable:

    • A deeper relationship with God, church, self, other, creation;
    • Greater engagement between individual’s’ lives marked by “accompaniment” in the service of others;
    • A culture of dialogue;
    • Stronger commitment to the ministry of teaching and parenting;
    • A deeper call into missionary discipleship.

I hope you can see the similarity between what I have shared above about the theme for International Women’s Day and the Gospel of the Samaritan woman.

I invite you to go to the section Get Involved on the Diocesan Synod website https://www.domnsynod.com.au/. There you will find, under the section, Building the Kingdom of God Together, the theme of our diocesan synod, in Week 3, three videos - one of the Scripture passage being read, one of Bishop Bill’s reflection and one of a reflection in visual images and words on Our Story. These are really worth spending time with, sitting with them and pondering what it means for you, our diocese and our church.

Jesus, as rabbi (teacher), broke open to those with ears to listen, an experience of God that was irresistible. Surely this is what we are trying to do every day and especially through our diocesan synod.

The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity – into this “art of accompaniment” which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3:5). The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life.

(Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 169)

During the past week, I spent part of the day at Kilaben Bay at the recording of this year’s Way of the Cross using Valarie De Brenni’s Stations of the Cross: A Journey with St Mary of the Cross MacKillop. We were indeed on sacred ground, not only literally but in the company of each other. Bishop Bill along with students and staff from eight schools, as well as with people from various groups across the diocese came together to provide a visual reflection for each of the fourteen stations of the cross. Young, middle- aged and older people joined together to powerfully break open the last moments of Jesus’ life. This shared faith, in the bush at Kilaben Bay, demonstrated the need for accompaniment in sharing our story of faith, hope and love. The older looked upon the young with hope and the young looked upon the older folks with awe and wonder. The end result will be a video production by our Communications Team of this version, and our interpretation of the Stations of the Cross, for use across our diocese during Holy Week.

I really do hope that you are engaged with our wonderful Synod resources and that you are also inviting others to experience them. It is not too late to find the time and space for contemplation or for contemplative dialogue. You may be challenged or indeed you may challenge others.

It is good to be back home after so many weeks away.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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