MARY MACKILLOP LECTURE BRISBANE
By Bishop William Morris, DD
The excommunicated one
Centuries ago when mapmakers ran out of the known World before they ran out of parchment, they would sketch a dragon at the edge of the scroll. This was a sign to the explorer that he/she would be entering unknown territory at their own risk. Unfortunately, some explorers took this symbol literally and were afraid to push in to new Worlds. Other more adventurous explorers saw the dragons as a sign of opportunity, a door to virgin territory.
Each of us has a mental map of the World in our heads that contains the information we use to guide ourselves in our day-to-day encounters. Like the maps of long ago, our mental maps also have dragons on them. These represent things that, for whatever reason, we don’t want to do or push beyond. It is the fear of something that stops us. Sometimes these dragons are valid. Sometimes, however, they prevent us from discovering something new.
Fear is one of the most debilitating emotions there is…….elections are won on fear, people are controlled by fear, when we fear something or someone we stop living for we lose the ability to relate to ourselves……that is we stop living in our truth……our relationships with others, the World around us and God are stunted.
We need to break out of the ghetto of suffocation that fear puts us in and breathe the air of the Spirit “breathing where The Spirit pleases” which means that the windows must be open and we must expect the Spirit to come from any direction. The error is to lock the windows and doors in order to keep the (Holy) Spirit within our house. The very action of locking doors and windows is fatal.
There is a story told of a great guru who had many followers and some came along the way to enlightenment fairly quick and some it seemed to take forever, but eventually they all got to the point of enlightenment and when they were ready to move from being novices and followers into being masters in their own tradition, he gave them a mantra and when they came before him he said, this mantra that I will teach you will allow you to discern the truth no matter what is going on around you, it will keep you from despair when you see what reality is, it will give you great peace and it will save you. Then when he told them the mantra he also promised them to secrecy, because the things of the spirit do not belong just to anyone. Well one day, it was an ordinary student, he had gone through all the rituals and it came time for him to learn the mantra. When he was told the mantra he repeated it over and over until he had it down pat and then he was promised to secrecy and he gave his oath like all the others. But after he had learned the mantra he asked the guru, what will happen if I tell somebody this mantra. And the guru looked at him and said, it will do for anyone who hears it the first time you speak it what it does for you, it will give them the ability to see the truth no matter what is going on around them, it will give them great peace in the midst of strife, it will save them, it will give them joy, it will do all the things that is does for you, but you will lose your soul and you will be outcast from the community forever.
The man thought about it for a few minutes and left the guru’s house, he journeyed immediately to the largest city, he gathered a huge group of people around him and promptly
told them the mantra. Now in this large group of people that listened were many of the disciples of the guru who knew that he had disobeyed the master and that he had betrayed their faith to just people. So they immediately went back to the guru and said, what are you going to do to him?, how are you going to punish him for betraying us and for disobeying? The master looked at them and said, I don’t have to do anything to him, he gave away everything he had, now he loses his soul, he is outcast from the community, but now that man is my master because he knows the one important thing, compassion for the people – we are invited to follow…..to serve.
…..As followers of Jesus, everything that belongs to us is given as gift to the community, that means, everything we know about the scriptures, everything we know about prayer and spirituality, everything we know about relationships…..As followers of Jesus, everything that we have been given belongs by right to someone else and we are just servants, when we have done all that we have been commanded to do…. and all that we have been commanded to do is build a new kingdom in the midst of all the kingdoms that exist on earth. Our kingdom is to model peace and justice, it is to model new relationships, there is to be no poor among us and those who are outcasts and rejected in all the kingdoms of the World find a haven among us.
This echo, this vision has long played itself out in the hearts of many as they lose themselves in the relationship of love with their God, “ a God who will take care of us all” in the words of Mary of the Cross, “Our Good God”.
To capture this vision and to honour the canonisation of Mary MacKillop and as a tribute to the ministry of the Sisters of St Joseph in the Toowoomba Diocese we commissioned artist, Jan Williamson, to paint an image of Mary MacKillop that would be unique to the Diocese. Jan used the words of the hymn “Women for Today” by Michael Henry for inspiration. It’s the image of a young Mary who through her dreams, her vision of bringing the message of Jesus to the lives of everyday people, would invite all across the Diocese to envisage how we too might live the message of Jesus in our everyday lives and into the future. The image invites us to reflect on how we might take up the challenge to find the sacred in the secular, to be ever attentive to the movement of God’s Spirit in the World of our time.
I personally love the image for I think Jan has captured Mary’s strong Scottish ancestry in her facial features and gleaming auburn hair. We see Mary envisioning her life in Christ depicted in the poor and destitute, the vulnerable, the children with no shoes, the schools bringing light to their life. We also see Mary in her humanness as she rides the plains with windswept hair. If you look at the painting closely you will see the image of the blue braid monogram which graced the Sisters’ original habits: the three J’s for Jesus, Joseph and John the Baptist.
These are set within the Ave Maria Symbol depicting her love for Mary the Mother of God. Depicted through scatterings of brush stroke Crosses is Mary’s name in religious life and now in Sainthood, “Mary of the Cross”.
Pauline Wicks in her book, “God Will Take Care of Us All” A Spirituality of Mary MacKillop, reflects on the fact that while Mary’s spirituality comes largely from the influence of her family and the French school of spirituality, she responded to the unique personalities and conditions of the colony in which she lived in an extraordinary way, and this makes her life worthy of imitation.
Pauline went on to speak of Mary’s confidence in the will of God. Because she was convinced that God was good and worthy of her confidence she could accept whatever happened in life as an act of love from the “dear good God”. She wrote to Wood’s in April 1870. ‘now my confidence will be grounded in the Will of God’ which shows Mary’s deep trust in God’s care and guidance.
God’s will can be described as emanating from the point where our desires and God’s desires for us commingle……God’s will is intimately present to the unfolding process of one’s becoming whole. Mary identified her own desire to live a life “entirely consecrated to the service of God” as being one with God’s desire for her. She saw in the unfolding of events in her life a confirmation of the will of God and prayed that “our dear Lord’s holy will be ever welcome.”
This reflection form Pauline Wicks really excited me for it echoes the call of Jeremiah and the conversion of Paul. For both Jeremiah and Mary, and I think it is important to remember that Jeremiah has the only developed theology of Vocation in Scripture, so for Mary and Jeremiah a vocation is not doing what one thinks God wants of a person – it is doing what God wants. A Vocation can, in fact it must, begin by responding to apostolic opportunities. Yet such a response is only the occasion, not the meaning of a vocation.
In the most profound level of the heart, a vocation is a personal union with a God who seeks all women and men in peace and love. Both Mary and Jeremiah understood that a vocation must not degenerate into personal ambition, but rather it loses one’s self totally in God, there to find one’s self again in the union of all creation with God.
The question is: How is such an interior conviction to be established? In Jeremiah’s case, anyway it demanded that apostolic dreams crumble like paper houses. Somehow he had to sustain repeated failures and constant difficulties. Only then would he confess, deep within his heart – My desire for God must be none other than God’s desire for me. I can really hear Mary here. It flows out of that close relationship she had with her ‘good God’, her constant awareness of God’s presence which she speaks of constantly in her letters. For both Mary and Jeremiah, here is the consummation of personal union with God and purest love. I want what God wants, and only what God wants can ever answer the desires and possibilities of my life.
I believe what sustained Mary and Jeremiah was that hidden, inarticulate intuition where God is present, compelling one ever onward, seeking what the person herself/himself cannot yet understand. Trusting one’s intuitions means trusting that hidden inspiration of God. Trusting intuitions therefore means that complete surrender to God.
In Margery Williams children’s story, The Velveteen Rabbit, there’s a delightful conversation
between the well-worn velveteen rabbit and the skin horse which illustrates this:
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out-handle?’
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “it’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at one,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges or have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
It was because Jeremiah and Mary were true to themselves and were Real in that Loved sense, they could cope with rejection and remain totally faithful to their good God. When Jeremiah came out of the shadows of Anathoth in answer to God’s call he was accepted by a people who were experiencing freedom for the first time for many years with the collapse of the Assyrian Empire. After experiencing success in his preaching ministry for six years he started to feel the rejection by his people as they did not want to be reminded of their responsibility in their relationship with their God. I have not got the time to go into the full history of Jeremiah and the Israelites, it’s suffice to say he had a rough time, e.g. his family tried to kill him, he was thrown down a well, put into stocks etc.
His love for God did not waver, but he wanted to know in his prayer that if he was doing what God wanted him to do; why was he not being accepted? Why does not the way of the just flourish? Why does not my way flourish….the way I understand your will? The answer comes I think in some of the most beautiful lines in Scripture: Ch 12……….Let me paraphrase: You Yahweh know me and see me, you explore my heart with me, you explore walking with my footsteps as I plunge into the darkness of my life…You God are there with me.
Isn’t that beautiful, if that does not make your heart sing I don’t know what will.
It reminds me of Chapter 1, Nos 2&3 In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. I take this translation from Bill Heubschs’ ‘Vatican II in Plain English’
“With a most profound wisdom and goodness,
God created the whole world
and from among all of creation
God chose us humans to share in the divine life,
to have an eternal walk with God
arm in arm
heart to heart.
And although we have stumbled along
and at times have even lost our way,
God has not abandoned us.
Instead, God remained radically present,
eventually expressing the depth of parental love
through Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is the one around whom the Church Gathers”
Jeremiah’s love relationship with God, his prayer and spirituality, his response to hardship and rejection is the mirror which has helped me see into Mary’s life. For I believe the surest indication that one is following the intuition of God’s will in vocation in life is the ability to be at peace in the midst of darkness and mystery because then is the moment when God is most present, sweeping one beyond the ability to put into words, sweeping one beyond the horizons of the intellect, allowing the heart to seek, the ever deeper and mystical union. In such a seeking of mystical union one finally arrives at the meaning of what God intended before one was conceived or born.
From her letters it seems quite evident that Mary’s devotion to the will of God in her life came early from her mother Flora. As she reflects on her early childhood she says “as far back as I can remember, He gave me such a sense of His watchful presence that I would feel reproved for my smallest faults”. Mary reflected on the wonderful ways God’s watchful presence guided her. “My good God watched over me and guarded me when I did not try to guard myself”………and God “taught me to lean upon Him alone”.
After the Holy See had granted central government to the Institute, Mary became more conscious than ever of God’s care, that He did take care of all, and Mary could live more than ever in the knowledge that “God would take care of us all”. This understanding, this acceptance having been with her from her earliest years, and in the most trying of situation helped her to remain confident and at peace. She trusted in God’s providence and knew that, now and always her confidence would be grounded on the Will of God and nothing could separate her wishes, thoughts or desires from God’s will. So often God’s will for her brought suffering and the Cross. This devotion to the Cross was another dimension of her spirituality.
Her words and thoughts echo those of Paul in his letter to the Philippians. Paul says he fears nothing….Why? because he knows that in every circumstance God will be present with him, taking care of him. Paul’s trust fills him with such confidence that he is able to say: “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me”. Philippians 4/13
Paul’s conversion was a total transformation and like Mary he was conscious and consumed by the presence of God. Jesus, for Paul, was God filling in the gaps………Christ is what we can’t do……….to love unconditionally, to forgive, to show mercy and compassion, to pray, to breathe in union with all creation. We are embraced in the dance of the Father, Son and Spirit. Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant………..a Unilateral Covenant………where God fills in all the gaps and all we have to do is get out of the way.
Each of us are wounded healers.
The mystery for Paul was found in the folly of the Cross, the foolishness of the Cross, the scandal of the Cross, Paul resolved this tension not by trying to rest on one side and forget the other, not by affirming or denying either side but in the tug of war between the two……..the Cross and Resurrection, life and death, the letter of the law and the Spirit of the law, weakness and strength, i.e. he lived in the Paradox, he was a both and thinker, he was a Mystic. This is where I think we get it wrong and Paul and Mary got it right for Religion is a Mystical matter not a moral one.
To be wise and free, to be graced, for grace means, that which is free, we have to live in the Paradox as Mary did, hold both sides and resolve the tension. That is why I believe she was at peace in rejection. She knew who she was in God, she knew her true self, she was true to herself.
Getting to know Mary a little better over the last few months I believe Mary like Paul, was a Mystical Thinker. She held the Cross and Resurrection in tension, found the balance between the two and became wise and free.
We need to protect the limitlessness of God by refusing all definitions as final. It takes great courage to remain open under the controlling pressure to be certain. Mary’s constant awareness of God’s presence and love enabled her to remain open, to be surprised by her Beloved, and to confess in prayer deep within her heart……My desire for God must be none other than God’s desire for me.
In every age the Spirit leads us to ask new questions, for God is found in the breath of life and the heartbeat of creation. If we are to discern how to evangelise our culture, the World of today, we need to listen with the three ears of 1)Scripture 2)Tradition with vision (Tradition without vision leads us away from truth and 3) the Word/Creation/Society. [Sensus Fidei]