ICYMI: Article in ‘Kairos Catholic Journal’, Vocations Edition 2015

This week in Australia, we celebrate National Vocations Awareness Week.

In case you missed it, we have an article published in the Kairos Catholic Journal for the Archdiocese of Melbourne, which you can read here:

kairosaug2015

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.

Thomas Merton: On Pilgrimage

The story of man’s pilgrimage and search has reached the end of a cycle and is starting on another. It is clear that there is no paradise on earth that is not defiled as well as limited, and yet the piligrimage must continue because it is an inescapable part of man’s stucture and program. The problem is, for his pilgrimage to make sense, it must represent a complete intergation of his inner and outer life, of his relation to himself and to other men. The Bible has always taken men in the concrete, never in the abstract. Our task now is to learn that if we can voyage to the ends of the earth and there find ourselves in the aborigine who most differs from ourselves, we will have made a fruitful pilgrimage. That is why pilgrimage is necessary, in some shape or other. Mere sitting at home and meditating on the divine presence is not enough for our time. We have to come to the end of a long journey and see that the stranger we meet there is no other than ourselves – which is the same as saying that we find Christ in him. | Thomas Merton

image Excerpt transcribed from Thomas Merton’s Mystics and Zen Masters, from the radio show, Paul Elie – Faith Fired by Literature, (20 February 2014). Click here to listen to the recording.

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In just over a week, I will begin a pilgrimage to France ‘In the Footsteps of Marie Madeleine’, with an international group of people associated with the Faithful Companions of Jesus, including Companions in Mission, staff from our schools and other associates. Kindly remember us all as we embark on this journey, and together we pray for all those travelling, on pilgrimages of some kind, and for those who are forced to move for their safety and welfare through no fault of their own, such as asylum seekers and nations displaced.

Sunday 11 May 2014: Vocations, Witness to the Truth

Good Shepherd Sunday, Watanabe Sadao washi | Keeping-Company.com

Image: Good Shepherd washi, Watanabe Sadao as seen on BowdenCollections.com

Good Shepherd Sunday has over the years become a day where the Church prays together for vocations, especially religious vocations and those to the priesthood.

Pope Francis has set the theme for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations as: Vocations, Witness to the Truth.

Click here to read the letter on this theme, that was sent to all the FCJ Sisters in the province, as well as to the Companions in Mission.

For related links

Message from Pope Francis
Catholic Vocations (Archdiocese of Melbourne)

 

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?

Keeping-Company.com

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.

Palm Sunday Rally for Refugees

It has been one of the most memorable Palm Sundays for me, personally. In thanks to God for the many graces of today, I wish to recollect very briefly on the events of today.

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Palms at the rally.

After Mass, we headed into the city for an intimate, passionate and beautiful prayer service, lead by Bishop Vincent Long, himself a former refugee to Australia.

It was wonderful to see so many familiar faces from all parts of “Catholic Melbourne”, from seminarians, to school staff, priests, sisters, families and the like.

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Interior of St Patrick's Cathedral, East Melbourne

The FCJ Sisters were well-represented, with Srs Catherine Flynn, Margaret Claver Hayes, Maureen Merlo, Denise Mulcahey and Mary O’Shannessey walking with the large gathering of peaceful protesters down the streets of the Melbourne CBD.

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Our banner.

Some highlights included a group of women who called out in support for the FCJs on seeing our sign, meeting and greeting with other members of the faith we wouldn’t normally otherwise meet, as well as the joyful sounds of music, singing for justice.

Thank you to each one who attended the rally, prayed with us and kept in their hearts, solidarity with those suffering, detained and inhumanely treated.

We continue to pray and work to influence the hearts of those in government and policy-making by our actions and example, as well as all those who do not stand with us. No human being is illegal.

Insight: The Personification of Ignatian Identity: Fr Frans van der Lugt SJ, Jesuit Priest Killed for Staying with People

It was in the middle of the night when I found out that Dutch Jesuit priest, Fr Frans van der Lugt SJ was shot dead by a masked gunman in Syria. The news was like something out of an action movie. I had read about this priest a few months ago, when he made headlines for refusing to leave the besieged area of Homs, so long as there were still people there who were suffering. Having lived in Syria since 1966, van der Lugt was said to have been well respected by the community around him. Spokesperson for the Vatican, Fr Federico Lombardi SJ is reported to have said of Fr Frans’ death:

“This is the death of a man of peace, who showed great courage in remaining loyal to the Syrian people despite an extremely risky and difficult situation.”

I personally stand in sorrow at the death of such a man, but also with great admiration and encouragement. Though our brother-Jesuits have lost one of their own, though the people of Syria have lost an ally and a friend in Pater Frans, the Church and the world have gained in him, an examplar of faith, courage and fidelity to God.

As I thought about the loss – and it is indeed very much that – I remembered the words of St Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus to which Fr Frans belonged, and spiritual father of the Faithful Companions of Jesus. In his Principle and Foundation [SPEX #23] we have a teaching on indifference (better understood as non-attachment), application of which does not come so automatically to our human nature:

Frans van der Lugt: Keeping-Company.com Yet we have in Fr van der Lugt, an immediate and real-life example of this ideal, personified. In his life of service and ministry, we see how his actions came from a deep conviction of God’s call to love, and in his death, we see a man who devoted his whole life to the greater glory of God. Ad majorem Dei gloriam.

May we remember in our thoughts and prayer, the memory and repose of Fr Frans van der Lugt SJ; the people of Syria to whom he served and for all who are affected by war and civil unrest. We also pray for ourselves as members of the faithful, to be in the world, in like example of Fr Frans and St Ignatius before him, as lovers of peace, restorers of justice and people for God.

Photos from #LighttheDark Vigil for Asylum Seekers (Melbourne)

My family and I made it to Federation Square in Melbourne city to help shine light on the darkness that is the tragedy of detention centres like the one on Manus Island, which allowed 23-year-old Iranian asylum seeker, Reza Berati to suffer unjustly and die. Regardless of political leaning, every life is sacred and every human being deserves to be humanely treated and cared for.

Here are some photos from our night out. I was especially delighted to have met up with Sr Margaret Claver fcJ who joined us. I wish to express grateful thanks as well, to all who supported this night, through prayers, messages and thoughts, to help express an Australian culture that we can be proud of.

An individual flame is small, but together, we can shine a light so bright, for hope, for peace, for humanity, for all.

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Melburnians stand tall even before it gets dark.

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Sr Margaret Claver fcJ meets us at the vigil after a long day. Thank you.

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Laying down of lights, messages and tributes in memory of Reza Berati and all asylum seekers.

Light the Dark Vigil for Asylum Seekers

Another day, another death, another disaster. More bad news. It sounds horrible and pessimistic, but there is some truth in it. Earlier in the week, I uploaded a picture on Facebook and Twitter that read: Believe there is good in the world. The letters ‘be – the – good’ were highlighted. I really liked the image because while it said on one level, that we ought to believe and keep on believing that there is good in the world, there is the other incentive that in believing in this goodness, we ought also to embody the good.

KEEPING-COMPANY.COM | FCJ Spirituality, Mission and Identity

GetUp! Australia has called for Australians to hold a candlelight vigil for all asylum seekers, in the memory of 23-year-old asylum seeker, Reza Berati who died during the week under Australian care. As well as lighting a candle for Reza and those who suffer from the atrocities that are results of unfair governmental policy, the vigil will also symbolise the need for truth and transparency on this human rights and life issue.

Image credit: GetUp! Australia

Fr Bob Maguire has expressed in an email:

This morning, new reports have emerged from an Australian guard working for security contractor G4S, that local guards working for the company were in a frenzy and jumped on Reza’s head in a rage on Monday night, inside the detention compound. Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, now admits his initial information was wrong – that in fact most of the violence that happened on Manus occurred inside the Australian-run detention facility. Some people inside the centre say asylum seekers were attacked. The truth is we don’t yet know, because we’re being kept in the dark and journalists aren’t being allowed in to shine a light on what really happened. What we do know is that a young man named Reza came to Australia from Iran seeking our protection. Instead he was brutally killed. (via GetUp)

As an Australian, I am appalled that asylum seekers – that people – like Reza, are being treated so unjustly in detention. Moreover, as a Christian and practising Catholic, I am especially moved to do something (small though it may be) for a greater cause.

A few weeks ago, I posted a gospel reflection on being salt of the earth:

You are salt of the earth…You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. | Matthew 5:13-15

Tonight’s vigil is a fine example in which we can show our worth, our value and our confidence, by living out the command to be “light of the world”. I believe in the power of an individual act of kindness and compassion that can change an entire group. I also believe in the importance of my being Catholic, not because Catholics or Christians are the only ones who care, or ought to show they care, but because this kind of movement is at the heart of the gospel.

In today’s Sunday liturgy, the readings speak loudly and clearly on loving one’s neighbour and on being holy as God is holy. Psalm 103 reads:

As far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.

So too, we are called to be compassionate people, not just to our friends or those we know or deem ‘safe’, but to all “as far as the east is from the west…”

If you cannot make it to Federation Square tonight 23 February 2014 from 8pm for the #LighttheDark vigil, please remember us in your thoughts and prayers – for the cause, for the supporters and for those who need a sign of hope. The adage is true: it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. Or to adapt another phrase: many hands make lights work. Be a light for someone today, do not curse the darkness and in this, be compassionate and holy as God is.

Brain-picking and Planning

Keeping-Company.com | FCJ Spirituality, Mission and Identity

Failing to plan is planning to fail.

It feels like an age since I’ve written anything, and admittedly it is because I haven’t felt as though I have had the time to reflect more deeply. My attention has been elsewhere since the year began, but I assure you, with good reason and for good things. There are several and diverse projects over which I have spread my time, but of particular importance is the new Mission and Identity Team, which will gather together in the near future. I have been brainstorming and taking into account the responses I received from the Province Assembly in January, and as a result, have come up with a number of key tasks that we hope to carry out in the field of ‘Mission and Identity Promotion.’ Our newly appointed General Superior, Sr Claire Sykes fcJ will also be visiting Australia in a month or so, which for me at least, means among other things, more planning, preparation and ‘behind-the-scenes’ work.

Thank you for your patience and kindly remember us in your thoughts and prayers, as we work together, pray with each other and discern the best ways forward for our community and for the good of the Society.