Once again it is Sunday evening and after singing at Mass, I have an ear worm that won’t leave me, of the chorus of a hymn we sang at the Preparation of the Gifts:

Do not be afraid, do not be afraid, have courage it is I.

(from the hymn Do Not Be Afraid by Suzanne Toolan rsm).

Of course, this reflects this week’s Gospel reading from Matthew (14:22-33), when Peter gets out of the boat and walks on the water towards Jesus. He experiences a moment of doubt and begins to sink. Jesus reaches out to him, to catch him saying, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” This is how I feel at times; I am trusting in following Jesus and then I have a moment of doubt and confusion.

This gospel reading follows the wonderful reading from the First Book of Kings (19:9a, 11-13a), in which the prophet Elijah goes to a cave to escape from the work that God has called him to. When he goes outside and stands on the mountain to get a glimpse of the Lord, he discovers that God is not in the wind, or the earthquake or the fire but in the tiny whispering sound of the wind.

I think we hope that God’s revelation of Gods-self to us will be monumental, but as we hear in our readings for the week, that is not usually so. God comes to us disguised as our life, the daily chores, conversations, moments which we encounter.

I am conscious that last Tuesday we celebrated the Feast of Mary of the Cross MacKillop and today (Tuesday) we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary into heaven. Our readings for this Sunday, the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time fall between these two Mary feast days. These women were not timid in their faith and certainly showed courage. I am sure there were times when they felt very afraid and yet were able to respond with courage.

The Gospel Acclamation for the Feast of Mary MacKillop from Matthew 27:55 speaks of the courage of many women disciples:

Alleluia, alleluia!
Many women were there by the cross, watching from a distance,
the same women who had followed Jesus and looked after him.

I am drawn to think about the recent deaths of two Shirleys in my life, that of my Aunty Shirley Moylan who died a few weeks ago and the death of Shirley McHugh who died last week. Both women were in their nineties and so lived through the hardships of the depression, the Second World War and the changes brought about by the sixties’ revolution and our technological upheaval. They both had families, for whom they worked hard to support, and both were strong faith-filled women, who knew of God’s love for them. My aunt loved being part of our extended family and was a great storyteller. She was a resident of Mayfield for over seventy years. Shirley McHugh loved life and lived it fully. She committed it to her family, the church and to many causes in the community. I had the privilege of encountering Shirley’s deep sense of justice as part of our Diocesan Social Justice Council, and she also spent many years as an Aurora volunteer working with Tracey Edstein. She was politically motivated and dedicated her life to many causes. I will miss both Shirleys because I loved them, and they loved me. The were both courageous women who endured heartache, and who God has now called home. May they rest in peace.

This brings me to the Second Reading from Colossians (3:12-17) which was read on the Feast Day of Mary MacKillop. It speaks to me of the two Marys that bookend my Tuesday messages and of the two Shirleys I have just written about. It is also not lost on me that this was one of the readings which Allen and I chose for our wedding.

Bear with one another, forgive each other.

You are God’s chosen race, his saints; he loves you, and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because it is for this that you were called together as parts of one body. Always be thankful.

Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you. Teach each other, and advise each other, in all wisdom. With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God; and never say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I also wanted to share with you the following words from a reflection, “Keep Rowing!”, written by Fr Michael Tate:

It takes courage for us to move to a new situation, but with Our Lord’s presence we need not be as afraid as we would otherwise be.

When the Church is buffeted by storms, it is often because the Church is in the midst of a journey from familiar to unfamiliar territory. Some of the storms include a new attitude to authority, to gender roles. There is anger and suspicion at sexual abuse and its cover up. In all these situations and many more, Our Lord will not allow us the indulgence of nostalgic yearning for the safety of the past country inhabited by the Church. We must make our way to the other shore.

I pray for the courage to hear God’s voice in the whisper of the wind, in the hand that is given to me, in the voice that says, “Courage, it is I!”. We cannot go back, we are being invited to walk on water, and to trust God’s presence in the turmoil.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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