TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Devastation and Joy

Interestingly, it may come as a surprise to you, but I don’t know how to begin this week’s message. I have been overwhelmed by the devastation in Turkiye and Syria and conversely overjoyed by my family gathering over the weekend.

I struggle to sit with the reality of the enormous suffering of many people, while ‘normal’ life continues for us in our blessed country. I hope you are aware of the work of Caritas in assisting those who are dealing with so much loss. I am unable to imagine the death toll of over 30,000 people (and still climbing), and how these countries will ever recover from so much human loss and the catastrophic damage to, and destruction of infrastructure. Prayer and financial aid feels so inadequate, however, this is our way of supporting and reaching out.

My weekend was one of great joy as all my siblings, the whole twelve of us, gathered at Shoal Bay to celebrate my eldest sister’s and her husband’s 80th birthdays. It is our first complete family holiday. Over forty of us stayed around Shoal Bay and came together on Friday night, for the formal function on Saturday and then for brunch on Sunday. We worked out that we have probably only gathered seven times over our lives as a complete unit. Imagine, six boys and six girls and their partners and some of their children spending a weekend together! It was indeed fabulous as this is what gives us our primary identity. We are indeed blest to have all of us living and in reasonable health.

The reminiscing and storytelling were wonderful and of course tears of love and happiness were shed. Our lives were not like the movie, ‘Cheaper by the Dozen’, and yet our love and support of each other have moulded us into strong, resilient people who contribute to the betterment of the world in which we find ourselves.

Distance prevents more frequent occasions such as the one on the weekend, and yet our bonds are not weakened by time and place. The real sense of belonging is deeply embedded into who we are. I also enjoyed the encounters with my nieces and nephews and grand nieces and nephews. They seemed to be keen to go deeper into who we are and what formed us. What struck me in some of these conversations was their desire to be good people, while acknowledging that they did not need to be religious or to belong to a worshipping community. They are happy that they have good values that sustain them and give them direction and a quality of life.

So, at the end of this weekend, as I gathered with those who attended Mass at the Cathedral, I pondered these conversations, not only over this weekend but in the previous weeks, with people expressing their goodness and their wish not to be connected to a faith-community. I wonder if, throughout history, the number of people who commit to a faith-community is but a small proportion of those who profess a belief in the tenets of a faith group.

As we listened, once again to the further reading of the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew’s Gospel (5:17-37), Jesus tries to invite people more deeply into the Kingdom of God. He speaks of the Law of the Prophets, and challenges his listeners to live by the Spirit of the Law. I love the way he begins with “You have learnt how…” and then follows it with “but I say to you…”. This is what some of my recent conversations sound like, with people who are trying to understand the place of religion, beliefs and practices in their lives.

What I have come to realise, is that those of us who commit to be part of a worshipping community, must witness to both the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. We are being invited into bringing about God’s Kingdom in our time and place.

I think what I am trying to say is captured beautifully in the Second Reading for St Paul to the Corinthians (1 Cor 2:6-10):

We have a wisdom to offer those who have reached maturity: not a philosophy of our age, it is true, still less of the masters of our age, which are coming to their end. The hidden wisdom of God which we teach in our mysteries is the wisdom that God predestined to be for our glory before the ages began. It is a wisdom that none of the masters of this age have ever known, or they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory; we teach what scripture calls: the things that no eye has seen and no ear has heard, things beyond the mind of man, all that God has prepared for those who love him.

These are the very things that God has revealed to us through the Spirit, for the Spirit reaches the depths of everything, even the depths of God.

We are being called daily, to bring to life this great mystery, so that people may experience the depths of everything, even the depths of God. Our scriptures are ageless and can help us read and respond to the signs of the times.

And so, I return to my family get-together. It is through these lasting relationships, with all their fragility, that I have been able to experience the depths of God’s love, compassion, hope, joy, trust, truth, peace, acceptance, care, and forgiveness. This weekend was a sacred time and one that we did not want to end.

Shoal Bay was a beautiful location in which to gather. May you also have blessed family times which bring you closer to God’s mystery within and around you.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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