I trust you continue to be inspired by the Lenten contemplative dialogue program, which has been created to assist all of us in preparing for our diocesan synod on Saturday 22 May. If you open this message on Tuesday 16 March, there remains 100 days before we gather for Session Two of our Synod.

In preparing this program for Lent, and in conversation with Bishop Bill, the decision was made to use the Year B readings for weeks one and two of Lent and then the Year A readings for the remaining weeks. The reason for this decision was because of the power of the gospel stories for each of these weeks:

  • Week 3 – The Samaritan Woman
  • Week 4 – The Man born blind
  • Week 5 – The raising of Lazarus

I hope you are able to imagine these stories unfolding before you, the light and shadow of each story and the characters who are part of each story. As I listened to the Gospel tonight (Sunday night), I found myself caught up in the characters - of the man who was cured, Jesus, the Pharisees, the man’s parents and the onlookers. Imagine the surprise of the man, having mud rubbed into his eyes and then being directed to wash in a pool, and then being able to see. All present around the man were trying to make sense of the miracle they had just witnessed, while being fearful of the people who held power over them. However, Jesus was just responding to the person who stood before him seeking help, and was not concerned about the way in which people perceived those who were on the margins.

Last Friday night I was invited to attend the Lake Macquarie Lord Mayor’s Prayer Evening. This is the second such evening I have attended, while I have also attended the Newcastle City’s Lord Mayor’s Prayer Breakfasts. It seems that very few members of the mainstream Christian churches attend these events, and yet hundreds of Christians gather from the other denominations. On Friday night, I had the privilege of being invited to pray for those who serve our community – the charities, care providers, frontline workers and first responders. The theme for the evening was Our Place Our Future, and I was touched by the sense of belonging and desire to make a difference by those in the room, with God’s divine assistance.

Praying for, and with, the people of the City of Lake Macquarie is the reason for this evening gathering, as well as supporting a community group which is reaching out and making a real difference in the community. It seems to me that these local community churches have as their mission the heart of Jesus, to make a real difference in their local areas by seeking out and supporting those on the margins.

It reminded me of Pope Francis proclaiming this year as the Year of St Joseph with the Apostolic Letter Patris corde (With a Father’s Heart). I bring this to your attention because this week, on Friday 19 March. we celebrate the Feast of St Joseph. Pope Francis recalls the 150th anniversary of the declaration of Saint Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church. St Joseph is described as a beloved father, a tender and loving father, an obedient father, an accepting father, a father who is creatively courageous, a working father, a father in the shadows. The aim of this Apostolic Letter is to increase our love for this great saint, to encourage us to implore his intercession and to imitate his virtues and his zeal.

This is what I witness when I gather with those from the evangelical churches. They seem to be filled with the joy of faith, and they really desire this for others. I love their exuberance for the gospel and for Jesus. They live and breathe the Good News that through Jesus, God has come into our world and the light has overcome the darkness. In conversations with some of them, I appreciate their sense of being called by God, of listening to God, of God speaking to them through the Scriptures, each other, and life’s experiences, and then their duty to discern and respond. They do not seem to have the need to wait for someone to give them permission to go forth with faith, hope, love and indeed trust – God will provide!

Our own Sisters of St Joseph have ministered in such a way in our diocese since 1883 (almost 140 years). These women established schools and pastoral ministries throughout the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and beyond. I was taught by these great women in primary school, had relatives in the order and now work with and minister with them. They are indefatigable, they just keep giving generously without counting the cost. Please pray for them on their feast day and thank them for their capacity to choose and cherish life.

I believe our synod is inviting us to explore other ways of being faithful to the message and person of Jesus. What does it really look like to love God and to love our neighbour?

In the world in which we find ourselves we need men who are willing to emulate the fatherhood of St Joseph, who placed himself at the service of the entire plan of salvation. I enjoy the ABC TV Series Call the Midwife, not only because of the storyline but because it gives us the historical context of that period of history. I am glad that Allen and I began parenting in the 1970’s when men were allowed to be present at the birth of their children and involved in their early years – bathing, changing nappies, caring for them, playing with them, cooking etc. This was a monumental change in history and here we are almost 50 years later, and for some the dominance of men in the household still remains. The pace of change can be very slow for some and welcomed by others. The disruption and wounds created by families when relationships sever fills me with immense sadness. I wonder what will become of our communities when God is not at the centre of people’s lives and their decisions, as it was for both Mary and Joseph.

I recall my own dad when he and mum moved to live with us, when they were in their seventies, watching, and learning and changing his ways of being a husband, father, grandfather and carer. He was brought up at a different time and yet as a senior man, he was able to adapt and be more relational which what our faith calls us to be. He was a religious man who, over time became a man of deep faith, who was able to grasp the deeper meaning of being Christian.

I am also aware that we are celebrating Harmony Week (15 – 21 March). The Harmony Day website https://www.harmony.gov.au/about provides the following words:

Australia is a vibrant and multicultural country — from the oldest continuous culture of our first Australians to the cultures of our newest arrivals from around the world.

Our cultural diversity is one of our greatest strengths and is at the heart of who we are. It makes Australia a great place to live.

An integrated multicultural Australia is an integral part of our national identity. All people who migrate to Australia bring with them some of their own cultural and religious traditions, as well as taking on many new traditions. Collectively, these traditions have enriched our nation.

Australia is one of the most successful multicultural countries in the world and we should celebrate this and work to maintain it.

Harmony Week is about inclusiveness, respect and belonging for all Australians, regardless of cultural or linguistic background, united by a set of core Australian values.

It is a time to celebrate Australian multiculturalism, and the successful integration of migrants into our community.

Let's come together with friends and family and through schools, workplaces and our wider communities to celebrate our diversity.

We have much to consider and much for which to be grateful.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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