Thoughts September 2004

Thoughts for the Month

The Jesus I know is no cold, hard Iron-Christ; nor does Jesus deserve to be reduced to smug, glib and uncompassionate irrelevancies when the real meaning of His love is what people need so desperately.

“Who is Worthy?” Ted Kennedy
September is the beginning of Spring. The wattle trees burst with yellow. We see new life after Winter’s sleep. It is also when the Social Justice Statement is published. The theme for this year is “Cultivating a Culture of Peace”. The United Nations invites us to be part of an “International day of Peace”. We are encouraged to vigil on the 21st September in whatever way we can – alone, in groups. Perhaps light a candle for peace on that day. We also celebrate Mary’s life – her birth and her journey, and so it is appropriate to share with you Helen Reagan’s commentary on the feast of the Assumption.

Reflections by Helen Reagan

First Reading, Revelations 11:19; 12:1-6. 10.

Today’s first reading is filled with amazing imagery.

We hear about the universe of which we are a part. We hear about women, pregnancy, life, and the source of life – women; and the risk of life in the dragon.

There is a risk of life still today in our world of science. A woman and a baby can still die in birth. Sometimes science, logic, order, and rationale give us a false sense of security.

There is risk taking in this life that is of life. A baby in its first week of life with its mother (and a supportive father close by, hopefully more these days) is often chaotic. Nurses who come to work on postnatal in the hospital where I work with the mothers and babies have been heard to say they prefer to work elsewhere due to this chaotic nature.

On the first day of life a baby just wants to “sleep it off” usually – the birth that is. So does the mother but cannot because she is so elated or wound up and she wonders why the baby does not feed and what is wrong. On about the third day the baby wants to fed non-stop on the little but rich colostrum and the mother thinks “What’s wrong, I just fed you?”. When the milk does come she feels she could feed every baby in the hospital because she has so much.

However a mother chooses to feed her baby, this first week is often described as erratic, and the mother is reassured and supported. This experience can be painful, one of struggle and overwhelming. Amidst all this uncertainty there is also joy, wonder, beauty.

It is out of chaos and sometimes in it, the life happens. And so the power of the scared is not a static power of law and order but a dynamic energy that disturbs and disrupts the necrophilic (morbid) patterns of human ordering and prevents the sterility of idolatry by keeping everything in a creative flux.

In the first reading we also hear about the desert as a haven. Usually the desert is often portrayed as a place of challenge, aloneness, banishment, a place of deep spirituality and nourishment. But here it is a place of safety.

In this world sometimes people create a desert where there is not enough of food, security, dignity and basic human respect for one another. Sometimes this pain is humanly unbearable and people are driven to desperate measures, only then to be put down and denied yet again like salt in the wound.

But it is in our need and our longing that if we come together to help each other and share with each other that the desert can be a haven. This is the kind of life Christ lived.

Heaven is also described as victory, power and empire. Christ spoke about this with the authority of truth and compassion. He also lived this truth, sharing his life with the poor, the marginalised, the dispossessed – this being the closest place we will find in this world to the kingdom of heaven.

Second Reading, Corinthians 15:20-26.

In the second reading we hear of Christ being first – and so – that being of which we are invited to take part every moment of every day.

Christ does away with the sovereignty, authority and power of this world. The word “sovereignty” especially reminds me of land – of the land of this country. Two hundred years ago colonial invasion assumed the right to take what was not theirs, defending this only on greater physical power and arrogance of its own laws. It took over the land and the lives of its aboriginal people. The world and its people are a gift from God to be shared. Sadly, this stealing still occurs today in Australia and elsewhere. And so we all suffer as these gifts are not in their rightful place.

In our over-ordered, too comfortable lives there is an unnecessary and increasing anxiety, health problems; and crime and violence as the gap increases between rich and poor.

“We will plant olive trees
where before
there were thorns.

All of us the same,
each one of us different,
we will walk hand in hand
with a new song,
of love on our lips……

Federico Mayor Spanish Director General, UNESCO, France

Gospel, Luke 1:39-56.

In the gospel today we hear about women and their story of courage. Elizabeth is pregnant with John, and Mary with Jesus. They meet each other on common ground – their circumstances being unusual, to put it mildly. Elizabeth is beyond child bearing age. Mary is not married – unacceptable to the point of death in her time. But God is capable of the impossible and Mary’s Magnificat brings this out.

When Mary and Elizabeth meet, John the baby leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb and she is thrilled to see Mary and acknowledges her son and God. Elizabeth acknowledges her marginalised state of being pregnant but not married. We do not know where Joseph is. Perhaps in his natural reaction he has run away to work things out. And thankfully does so by the time of the birth.

It is amazing what an unborn baby takes in. A baby knows its mother’s voice at birth because its whole body takes in the vibration of the mother’s voice when she speaks. The baby has done this in the womb and so does the same thing outside the womb. A baby knows its mother’s voice not from hearing with its ears but with its whole body. It has taken in the vibration in the womb and so already knows her voice outside the womb.

And it is this leaping of joy that I love – this humanness – God in humanity. Because when we are in a situation of waiting for a joyful moment to happen, we all can experience that sense of anticipation and excitement.

Mary knows her state in the world and she knows God’s love for her is greater than worldly acceptance and so she praises God. She then goes on to list all those in the world who are not accepted in the world, but loved by God.

It is not because of our status in this world – religious, cultural or social that we are loved by God. Instead it is when we are without them that we are more likely to know God’s love as we come together in our need. To do this we need to see the truth, let go, trust and allow ourselves to be vessels of light for each other in the dark. Sadly, too often we are taught to be afraid of the dark rather than believe in the light in the dark. Having said that I think it was Nelson Mandela who said it is the light we are not afraid, not the dark

An Open Heart

Peter Griffin reflects back over the beginning of the story of St Vincent’s and highlights two very different understandings of Conversion.

Your humanity will only begin to blossom when you come into intimate contact with the lives of the poor. The poor, by virtue of their lower state, will not approach you.
You must find ways to seek them out. From them, and in their presence, you will discover much about humanity. Without realising it themselves, they will be your teachers.
You will learn a lot about suffering, about patience, about hunger and trust, about sharing, about community, just by observing them with an open heart……….
At the same time as you make these discoveries, you will come to a better understanding of your own weakness existing within yourself.
Far from being fearful of this discovery, you will experience a sense of liberation, because the true self encompasses the complete range of positive and negative forces. Allowing yourself to acknowledge and reflect upon this ongoing revelation is helpful in making real choices.

Thomas Merton

Over the years, we have come to experience a “disarmed” church, yes, a “poor” church. It is poor precisely so that it might be a church for, of and with the poor. In our experience of this, we are given much reason to reflect well on some very basic stuff. For one thing, as we enter the gateway of the church, we are confronted always by the presence of a begging subculture of people whose very existence is a confronting and disarming reality. The experience for me is one of embarrassed powerlessness. I realise more and more that my embarrassment is appropriate. The sense of powerlessness, I now know, is a sham.

We who enter the church for OUR spiritual nourishment,have to walk past the people whose spiritual life IS the very land upon which the church stands! We are like Dives (the rich ones) going to partake of our spiritual wealth (in the Eucharist of Thanksgiving) who walk past the spiritually robbed Lazarus who is poor precisely because the wealth of Dives requires the poverty of Lazarus.

In Aboriginal Spirituality, the People and the Land are one.

The crushed spirit of the people of the Land confronts the spiritual opulence of we who enter to give thanks in the Eucharist at St Vincent’s. Part of the enculturation of going to St Vincent’s involves being confronted by the “great chasm (which) has been fixed” (by whom (?), we might well ask) ” between Dives and Lazarus. (Luke 16.26).

There is a comment in Mathew (Ch 5.v23/24) which sums up our plight. Our brother, Christ, has something against us. Like Dives, we have that-which-our-brother (the Aboriginal Christ) has not. We are slow to understand the true nature of the fire which touches us as we enter the church. Saints of Heaven: Ora pro Nobis.

Historically, what is at St Vincent’s today began with Ted Kennedy. Whilst it is necessary to say something about the man, it is indispensable to realise that the journey of that one man is in truth a journey undergone (and continues to be so) by many.

I know Ted and his personal story well enough to know that his pre Redfern days were marked by an ongoing and at times traumatically challenging path of conversion. That is to say, the contemporary and inherited theological ground upon which he stood was challenged and found to be wanting. It is not too much to say that when challenged by the history of the Church in its relation to the Gospel itself, Ted found it necessary to jettison much ecclesiastical and for that matter, High Christological baggage. It is important however, not to settle for a preoccupation with Ted himself. I say again: what was true of Ted in terms of his pre Redfern days can be found to be true of many who come to St Vincent’s.

Now we come to a central truth about St Vincent’s. For those who are open to it the conversion to Gospel living continues, but it does not come from the Church.

The conversion to Gospel living comes from being open to and being converted by the Christ of The Poor. The community at St Vincent’s accepts that Christ is present in the person(s)-and challenges us to change in so far as we are locked into our protective ecclesiological shells. We cannot know Him as and where He truly is. This is contrary to where we want Him to be. Simply put, we come to St Vincent’s to be converted by the Christ who identifies Himself with “the least of these” (Mathew 25/45).

Now we come to the core of why the community at St Vincent’s cannot accept the theology of the Neo Catechumenate. The Neo Catechumenate is purposed to conversion of itself by an inward looking heavily structured High Christology (hence the podium) and its call for change is in the direction of very clearly laid down rules and precepts of the Church as they understand it. Theseregulations have nothing to do with the people of Redfern. The call to conversion as understood by the Neo Catechumenate here is precisely away from the people.

To seriously suggest that a rapprochement is possible is to suggest that both groups abandon their own core purpose for the sake of a false and dubious peace, based primarily on bad faith. Both groups seek conversion. The contemporary inspiration for conversion of each group is from opposite directions.

Take Us Beyond Our Comfort Zones

All of us need to be taken beyond our comfort zone. That is where we find human growth and human authenticity. That is where we find love, justice and community. That is where we find hope for ourselves and our world. That is where we find our God. Jesus looked at the rich young man with compassion and invited him to move beyond the comfort zone of his current lifestyle……

Excerpt from Sandhurst Diocese Catholic Education Conference
Frank Brennan SJ
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