At the opening of the Second Vatican Council in October 1962, Pope John XXIII hoped that
“new sources of energy would be opened to the Church, enabling the Church to face the future without fear.”
He went on the say
“We hear certain opinions which disturb us - opinions expressed by people who, though fired with a commendable zeal for religion, are lacking in sufficient prudence and judgment in their evaluation of events. They can see nothing but calamity and disaster in the present state of the world. They say over and over that this modern age of ours, in comparison with past ages, is definitely deteriorating.
One would think from their attitude that history, that great teacher of life, had taught them nothing.
We must disagree with these prophets of doom,
who are always forecasting worse disasters,
as though the end of the world were at hand.
What is needed at the present time is a new enthusiasm,
a new joy and serenity of mind.”
Last year Sr Anne Derwin RSJ, the Congregational Leader of the Sisters of St Joseph, said “Mary’s canonisation will be an occasion for gratitude and an opportunity for personal reflection. Mary MacKillop lived her life with an unwavering sense of gratitude and confidence that God would always provide.”
Since the Catholic Church began to formalise the process of canonisation, finally centralising it in 1200, and giving it a bureaucracy in 1588, the run of statistics on saints shows interesting trends in holiness. Martyrs and crusaders were likely to be recognised in times of persecution and threat, teachers in times of consolidation or controversy, missionaries and founders of new groups in times of change, and, some wryly note, peasants and exemplars of simple piety from times and places where the institution had trouble with the intellectuals!
For Mary MacKillop, being promoted as a saint for all Australians, is she in danger of becoming one of the clichés for Australia, alongside Waltzing Mathilda, ANZAC Day, Hills Hoists and akubras in our catalogue of national identity? There are also examples of the canonisation being hijacked to serve narrow agendas and that of course is nothing new. The prestige of certain towns and cities, of pilgrimage sites and their associated revenues have all made their grab for that light under which to appear enhanced by the sanctified hue. What does it mean for Mary MacKillop to be a saint 'for Australia'? We might also ask how we Australians recognise holiness, though I admit that’s not a term many are comfortable with, we nonetheless glimpse a goodness in some people that leads us beyond that particular person. Accounts of Mary MacKillop’s life speak in familiar cadences about who we are and what we value: she was practical, not fussy or 'intellectual', her clear thinking was applied to real problems and made a difference to ordinary people, especially children. The authorities gave her trouble, but she stood her ground. Her real friends stood by her and she quietly got on with her job, focused and resolute. She possessed the freedom and the common touch so honoured by both Australians. But if we remember her only for particular actions or qualities, for being excommunicated or establishing a successful network of outreach to the poor, we misunderstand. Mary MacKillop was a believer a woman of faith. As her Josephite Sisters continue to remind us, the conviction that God is to be trusted, that Jesus really is the model of freedom, defined her commitments before anything else. Her letters are often preoccupied with business, but underpinned by faith. She modelled a commitment to 'above all get help in prayer', and was ready to welcome a change for the good even from people who had given her most trouble because 'you will be surprised what Grace can do'.
But this day takes us deeper into the ways in which God is revealed to us. As Australia’s first canonised saint, Mary MacKillop will not be the last. Already the causes for canonisation of two Australian women have commenced. Caroline Chisholm, but much closer to home is Mary Glowrey who was born in Birregurra (1887) and raised in Watchem. Watchem! Mary Glowrey studied Medicine at Melbourne University and graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine and a Bachelor of Surgery in 1910. In 1920, aged 33 she joined the Society of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Guntur, India. For many years the lone doctor, she trained local women to be pharmacists, nurses and midwives. Recognising the vital need to promote the use of medicine, Mary Glowrey founded the Catholic Hospital Association of India (CHAI) in 1943.
We celebrate Sr Sheila’s 80th birthday here in Beaufort today. Sheila I’m not about to have you canonised, though I’m sure many would like to!! We do see in you much of this goodness and the sort of holiness that we Australians recognise and relate to as we do in Mary MacKillop – practical, loving, generous and faithful (we could add wise, humorous, gentle and much more). For that we give thanks to you and for you. We recognise in you what John XXIII hoped for the Church, especially your ‘serenity of mind.’ Today’s psalm that speaks of the meeting of mercy and faithfulness also captures much of your spirit and presence amongst us.
Each of us is called in faith to courage, to move beyond our fear and to this new enthusiasm, new joy and serenity of mind.
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