Speak Up on Mental Illness

Keeping-Company.com FCJ SistersThe death of Robin Williams has struck a cord with many people. Many were shocked by it, saying that they could not have imagined someone so uplifting, funny and well-loved, succumb to suicide. But to put it bluntly: that’s life for you, and the indiscriminate and unbiased nature of mental illness. Unfortunately, an uncomfortable silence continues.

And that’s the point of Australia’s R U Ok? Day, appropriately following on from yesterday’s World Suicide Prevention Day. Far from being “just another” good cause or campaign to support, these initiatives seek to dispel social taboos and myths on mental illness and offer support to the multitude affected by this condition, by making connections, encouraging conversation and opening up.

Even if you haven’t personally experienced depression or anxiety, or witnessed a mental breakdown, chances are likely that someone around you has or is going through it right now.

You don’t have to be a doctor or medical professional. You don’t have to be a counsellor. You don’t even have to know them very well or be their best friend and confidante. All you need to do in this kind of accompaniment is to be open-minded, open-hearted and compassionate so we can speak up on mental illness.

Let’s all be a little kinder to one another and to ourselves today. Let’s all be a little gentler and more welcoming with our time, presence and availability. A few minutes or a few words to someone in need can help them and make all the difference. 

If you or someone you know is in crisis, click here to access a list of services available. And that’s the truth: there is help available, there is someone willing to listen and there is someone who cares.

On Canonisation, Happiness and the Catholic Faith (A Personal Reflection)

You know that spark of energy you sometimes get in the morning (perhaps after coffee)? When you open your eyes and feel so grateful for another day? I had that today, and it’s not even my birthday. Though the morning has worn off, I’m still bursting to share my joy with you because it involves you too. True story: I woke up feeling especially good about being Catholic.

Making headlines the world over is the canonisation of two of the twentieth-century Church’s most influential Catholics, the late popes, John XXIII and John Paul II, on this Divine Mercy Sunday. I’m not old enough to remember the ‘good pope John’ and have a smattering at best, of the significant events of John Paul II’s pontificate. But today I rejoice in celebration with the millions of faithful worldwide as the current pope, Francis and his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI officiate at the ceremony in this historic event. What’s there not to be happy about?

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Photo: Reuters. Pilgrims pose with cut-out pictures of the two pontiffs in Vatican City.

Feeling a little left-out of the events in Rome, I rummaged around before Mass this morning, for a photo of John Paul II that I had kept from among my grandparents’ snapshots. It shows the then-spritely pontiff descending a plane which had landed at the miniscule dot of an island-nation known as Singapore. The year was 1986. If memory serves me right, it was one of the proudest days for my grandfather, who often told us stories of his pilgrimages to various holy sites around the world, including Europe and the Holy Land. With the pope in his hometown, my grandfather must have been over the moon that a part of that world was now in his backyard.

John Paul II, Singapore 1986. (C) Keeping-Company.com

It is this precise universality of the Catholic faith that I treasure today. I recalled the funeral Mass of John Paul II that was televised internationally. I remember seeing the masses of people, from all over the world, notable and unknown alike. I recall the reported conversions and return of many Catholics to the Church attributed to the death of such a holy man. I remember that this man installed World Youth Day, the largest international gathering of Catholic youth in the same place at the same time.

Yes, as crowds gather, and news reporters, photographers and videographers prepare their devices to record this day in phenomenal numbers, it is easy to say that the Catholic faith is a beautiful thing.

But in truth, this feeling of joy and pride at being Catholic came about on Saturday at some point. I know we are in the season of Easter, typically marked by hope, rejuvenation and joy, but yesterday was especially so, at the ordination of some friends in the Redemptorist congregation (CSsR) to the Order of Deacon. Both provinces of Australia and Vietnam were united in prayer. Members from the Kew community of FCJ Sisters were in attendance, in support of their Vietnamese neighbours, whose monastery they frequent for daily Mass.

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Photo: G. Anderson, 2014. Stole and Dalmatic (liturgical garments) laid out, ready for Investiture.

I have written about this topic before, but I will say it again: to be present at a public profession of faith is something remarkable. To witness and pray with and for a candidate – and friend – is a humbling experience that makes the presence of God almost tangible.

PicsArt_1398482807411Officiating the ceremony was Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne, Vincent Long OFM Conv. who spoke an impassioned and heartfelt homily to the congregation. Bishop Long’s speech lamented the current climate of Catholic identity in Australia as “a seriously damaged brand, at least at the level of public perception in the wake of the Royal Commission Hearing.”

But he goes on to say that despite the “battered, bruised” image of the Church, we are nevertheless at a “critical juncture as the new exile.” He called for the congregation, but especially the deacons, to be as prophets at this time, “prophets who accompany their people and point us to the sign of the new kairos (reign/kingdom of God), and lead them in the direction of the kingdom” with humility, service and simplicity.

What gave me hope is that these are words that I, an ordinary member of the Church, can believe in. Bishop Long acknowledged the real brokenness of our time, but not with despair. “Our wilderness [as Catholics], our exile is daunting, disorienting and challenging. And in the pope’s words, we are bruised, hurt and dirty.”

For all our efforts to promote the mission and identity of the Church, and the gospel at large, such a statement speaks from a place of truth, from a place of reality that we cannot ignore. Yes, this wilderness Bishop Long speaks of can sometimes feel like a rather isolated place, and that “the wind of secularisation has blown away what’s left of our defenses.” But more so are we encouraged to band together, and “…not to retreat fearfully. Not to disengage with the world, not to, as [the] pope says, not to engage in self-referential pop, but a time of faith, a time of courage as we are called to accompany our people in the new exodus.”

I draw emphasis on the themes of accompaniment and companionship that the FCJ Sisters live by. I thank most graciously, our friends at the Redemptorist community, especially to the new deacons, who have shown us by example, what beauty, grace and joy there is in professing our faith. May God’s blessings continue to be upon Pope Francis and his fellow leaders, and all the faithful. May we, like John Paul II and John XXIII, all aspire to sanctity – the radical sanctity that comes from true humility, selfless service and love for Jesus Christ.

How is that for challenge and inspiration? If I have not convinced you, let me end here, with a quote from a saint:

Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and ‘Hallelujah’ is our song. | John Paul II

By virtue of our internationality and universality, in what joins us and in what diversifies us, may we continue to true to the gospel as members of the faithful. For all Christians, this is indeed a happy day. Alleluia, alleluia! Not just this day, but every day.

Insight: The Pope’s Tweet on Teaching Children to Pray & A Young Mum’s Response

Many people find great comfort in prayer, especially those who seek to deepen their spiritual life. Pope Francis in a recent tweet, exhorted all parents to teach their children to pray, which I, as a mother, took to heart.

Keeping-Company.com |@Pontifex Pope Francis Twitter

Immediately I thought of my own parenting and how my children have been exposed to the faith tradition and to prayer itself. I thought of the prayers my children say and of how they behave during Mass. I thought of their eagerness to help out where they can, as welcomers, collection ‘taker-uppers’, ministers of the Word, offertory processors and altar servers. I thought about their openness to prayer, and how my husband and I, in our own ways, foster this environment. And I gave thanks.

But I am all too aware how rare this is in families, especially in the young families of today’s more secular age. It can be a challenge for parents to teach their children to pray, period. (What’s this pope guy talking about?) But if I may offer something from my own reflection on what Pope Francis means in his tweet, perhaps the task of praying with our children might not be as daunting or dare I say it, boring.

As a matter of practicality, simple tradition and ritual aid this task, as many childhood prayers involve the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be, beginning most fastidiously with the Sign of the Cross and ending with a dragged out “Aaaaahhh-men”. Encouraging communal prayer out loud at routine times is also helpful, such as before meals or before bed. That seems to take care of the first bit: “Teach your children to pray.” Yet Pope Francis goes further by encouraging parents to do as they say, namely, to actively pray with their children. Simple right? Easy peasy…

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Just your everyday to-do list…

Yes, and no.

Enter stage right, slight reluctance to attempt the pope’s latest challenge, because the adult can’t remember the last time they prayed. Add in a list of obstacles and maybe some guilt too, with thoughts like, “I’m not good enough, who am I to teach them to pray?” The adults are not kids anymore and the day is too busy to stop and pause before lunch (often in public) to give thanks for food. They know that asking Jesus to give them sweet dreams before bed won’t stop the nightmares. They even missed Mass, twice in a row already. Yikes.

So to my fellow parents who’ve found themselves in a similar situation, how then, does one get around this?

On deeper thinking, I looked more closely at the pope’s words. I offer here, my version:

Keeping Company | Pope Francis on Prayer, Children

Dear parents – teachers, leaders, carers, guardians and every member of the faithful – teach your children or friends, students, neighbours and those in your care how to pray. Pray with them.

In other words, we can teach each other not only to pray, but also how to pray. By talking about experiences of prayer, be they graces or doubts, and opening up the topic for conversation is a good place to start. But it is also as much as in the doing that our lessons are passed on. In our daily actions and attitudes of kindness, compassion and peacemaking, by speaking politely to one another and by cursing less and blessing more, we can also be teachers of prayer by example.

And in our roles as parents, teachers, faith leaders, mentors and caregivers, we give our children the priceless gift of living prayer. By ourselves being open to God and open to encounters with God, we inevitably give by example, accompaniment in faith and support to the faithful. As has been said before, “when you pray, you are never alone.”

Let us all, regardless of whether we have children or work with children, teach one another to pray (by being open to prayer), how to pray (by our living example) and in doing so, be companions to one another in our praying with.

Wise Words: Honestly and Gently

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Wise Words: Honestly and Gently @ Keeping-Company.com

The juxtaposition of words in this quote caught my attention:

fundamental aggression toward ourselves
fundamental harm is done to ourselves
when we choose to remain ignorant (unaware, asleep)
to see ourselves honestly and gently which takes courage and respect

What does this quote say to you? Examine yourself gently, honestly and lovingly.

Accompanying the Novices with Anne Morrison fcJ

So much seems to be happening in recent times! The FCJ General Chapter (See #FCJGeneralChapter for Twitter users!) has been well underway, and we continue to pray for the Sisters and others involved, especially with regards to the discernment process, that will decide on positions of leadership for the next few years.

Somewhat closer to home, a few of our Sisters have been to Indonesia and back to provide input for the three novices in formation. Here is what Anne Morrison fcJ had to say about her time in province of Jogjakarta:

I really enjoyed the time with the novices as well as with the community of Soropadan and Baciro. I went twice there, the first time for a meal, followed by Taize prayer. The second time I presented a session with the community at Baciro and stayed for the evening meal. The postulant from Ende is spending a few weeks there during the chapter.

With the novices I presented various sessions on ecology, cosmology and a few other themes, as well as giving a talk to the community and the novices on the theology of the cosmos. | Sr Anne Morrison fcJ

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Sr Anne Morrison fcJ with our novices in Indonesia. October 2013.

One of Sr Anne Morrison fcJ‘s passions lie in the area of ecology and cosmology. She is a member of the EarthSong Council in Parkville (VIC), which regularly publishes a journal on various issues within the domain of ecology, cosmology and spirituality.

Editor’s Note: Since Anne’s return, Maureen Merlo fcJ has been in Indonesia working with the novices as well. What an example of service and dedication these Sisters in Melbourne have for their counterparts in Asia!

We continue to wish all travellers safe passages, and grace-filled joy for our novices. We thank God for the energy and vitality of the Order, of the mission to spread the gospel, and for the opportunities to do so peacefully.

Prayer | On Friendship

The concept of friendship comes almost naturally to us. We are social and sociable creatures, made to interact and relate to one another. As young children, we identify ourselves as so-and-so’s friend. As we grow older, we become more socially aware and eventually we recognise a pattern – that some friendships last for a while, and that some last a lifetime. In our maturing stages, we hopefully learn the and accept the value of being a friend to oneself.

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Friends are witnesses, for not only do they keep us company on life’s bumpy road, they also testify to our personal identity. That is why Jesus called his disciples, “no longer servants…but friends” (John 15:15), inviting them into fellowship with him in a community of equals. They still call him ‘Lord’, ‘Teacher’, and ‘Master’ but it is in friendship that they learn to live with one another.

It is usual to be surrounded by groups of people, and in them, we can (theoretically!) get along in a friendly manner. We can smile, say ‘hello’ and wish each other well, but sooner or later, life experience will set off a process of discernment, though it may not be conscious, because we fight, we argue and we hurt one another and we even fall out with one another. It’s part of our human reality. What those tough times do articulate however, is that friendship, true friendship, takes something special, based on the desire to love one another. Recognising the quality of friendship in another person is to mirror our self-recognition as a friend. With the other person, as well as with myself in mind –

I thank you, loving God, for the gift of friends. It is a special ministry to which you call us, because through our friends, you have a face. Being a good friend doesn’t always come naturally, so I ask for the graces of humility, reverence and compassion to aid my loving intention, so as to bring good news to our world. Amen.

Do you have your own insights on friendship? Perhaps you might like to comment below, in thanksgiving or intercession for yourself and for your friends. (Please remember to contribute responsibly and respect one’s privacy. Thank you.)

There’s Something About Mary (15 August: Feast of the Assumption)

Keeping-Company.comCharles Healey SJ writes:

Since St Ignatius had such a strong commitment to and love of Jesus, it should come as no surprise that he also had a deep and abiding devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus. A favorite prayerful request of his to Mary was: “Place me with your Son.” | Praying with the Jesuits (Paulist Press, 2011)

Time and time again, we seek the intercession of Mary. While venerated, she is not worshipped, but rather points us to her Son and our Lord in whom all things are fulfilled. In John’s gospel at the wedding in Cana where Jesus performs his first sign, it is Mary who issues the imperative, saying, “Do whatever he tells you.”

There is a lot to say about Mary and about the feast of the Assumption, but perhaps for now, let us look at this note, again from Fr Healey:

The feast of the Assumption (August 15) is still one of the traditional days on which Jesuits pronounce their vows…

Since it is only the beginning of the day this morning, pause for a moment and ask yourself prayerfully:

  • What are the vows I have made? How do I live them?
  • Where I fall short, I ask for the grace to stand up again.
  • Where I excel, I ask for the grace of gratitude and humility, always praising God.

Let the day unfold gently, remembering the vows we have made to the Lord. God knows all that is in our hearts, let Mary take them to Him.

22 July: Feast of St Mary Magdalene

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Oil painting by Pietro Perugino, c. 1500

Today is 22 July, the feast of St Mary Magdalene. There is a lot that can be said about this person, and about what she contributes to the mission and identity of the Faithful Companions of Jesus. Here are a few images on offer, which may resonate with you in prayer:

1. A summary from the Daily Mass Book (2013):

A faithful disciple of Christ, Mary ministered to his needs after having seven devils cast out from her. Witnessed his crucifixion, was present at his burial, and was the first to see the risen Lord. Commissioned by Christ to proclaim the good news of his resurrection to the apostles (John 20:17-18).

Consider the verbs attached to her: to minister, to witness, to be present, first to see, commissioned, to proclaim. How might we minister to others’ needs? How do we witness to the suffering of another? Are we present? Are we hopeful toward what lies beyond our horizon? How have we been commissioned by Christ? What ‘good news’ do we proclaim?

2. As played by Yvonne Elliman in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar (1973):

Try not to get worried, try not to turn on to
Problems that upset you, oh.
Don’t you know
Everything’s alright, yes, everything’s fine.
And we want you to sleep well tonight.
Let the world turn without you tonight.
If we try, we’ll get by, so forget all about us tonight

(Apostles’ Wives: Everything’s alright, yes, everything’s alright, yes.)

Sleep and I shall soothe you, calm you, and anoint you.
Myrrh for your hot forehead, oh.
Then you’ll feel
Everything’s alright, yes, everything’s fine.
And it’s cool, and the ointment’s sweet
For the fire in your head and feet.
Close your eyes, close your eyes
And relax, think of nothing tonight.

(Apostles’ Wives: Everything’s alright, yes, everything’s alright, yes.)

Consider the role of Mary Magdalene in this story as comforter in the midst of strife. Here, she manages to soothe and be a presence of gentleness while maintaining strength and resilience. What might that say about our own capacity for healing? What about our leadership?

3. As a characteristic of friendship:

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Excerpt from The Friendship of Women (2006) by Joan Chittister OSB

Consider then, what kind of companionship we seek to offer. Are we able to follow another and accompany them in the deep?

It is not without significance that the founderess shares the saint’s name, Marie Madeleine. Articulated best are the words:

…My name is Magdalen; I will follow my patron saint who so loved Jesus, her good Master, as to accompany him in his journeys and his labours, ministering to him even to the foot of the Cross with the other holy women who did not…abandon him but proved to be faithful companions. | Marie Madeleine, as recorded in the Memoir of Fr Ferdinand Jeantier SJ (1860)

Best name of them all: “Faithful Companions of Jesus”

KEEPING COMPANYA distinguished lecturer and religious sister whom I studied with said to me recently, “I was thinking about them [the Faithful Companions of Jesus] the other day. Out of all the names, their’s is the best one.”

It’s not the first time I’ve agreed with her, but to hear her say that was something special and something that made me proud.

And so as we enter into Holy Week, bring your thoughts not only to the Lord but also to the memory of Marie Madeleine who said and lived:

My name is Magdalen; I will follow my patron saint who so loved Jesus, her good Master, as to accompany him in his journeys and his labours, ministering to him even to the foot of the Cross with the other holy women who did not, like the apostles, abandon him but proved to be faithful companions. – from the Memoir of Fr Jeantier SJ, 1860

By doing so, we ask her in prayer to intercede for us, that we may be in our own ways, faithful companions of Jesus, especially during this beautiful and sacred Holy Week.