I am the Vine

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” John 15:1-2       This was one of Mary of the Cross MacKillop’s favourite scripture passages.  As we approach Mother’s Day, I am reminded of the inspiration Mary MacKillop had on my Mother’s life and how this scripture applied to her own life.

My mum was like the gardener who takes care of all the plants in the same way she looked after me and my three sisters. In our childhood it was starting our day with breakfast, sending us off  in our uniforms to our respective Catholic schools (ensuring we were educated in the Catholic faith) and then listening to the stories of the day at night. I often reflect when she heard our stories this was when she did the pruning. So, how did this pruning occur?

I think one of my mum’s clever ploys was to allow us to have freedom of speech when it came to talk to her about day without interruption. Her only requirement was that we did not speak negatively about anybody (a Mary of the Cross, MacKillop edict) and our recollections weren’t just idle gossip. As my mother would always remind me, “a still tongue makes a wise head.” Now as I reflect on those words, I realise nothing is to be gained from such diatribes. Thus, I acknowledge that living according to that idiom is a powerful weapon when dealing with challenging situations.

Another aspect of my Mother’s pruning was being an exceptional, faith role model in our lives. Mary of the Cross MacKillop wrote, “We teach more by example than words”.  My mum exemplified this through her commitment to prayer, Sunday Mass and paying for our education at Catholic schools helping us understand our own faith and building our relationship with God. Hence, she recognised that God could be a strong influence in our lives, particularly someone we can turn to in times of triumph and adversity while appreciating what we have in our lives.

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. John 15:16 When I think about this scripture, I consider my mum’s character strengths just like Mary of the Cross MacKillops of faith, judgement, wisdom and perseverance. I believe they have shaped my sisters and I in building relationships with God, our own families and friends and hopefully we will continue to inspire others to bear fruit just like my mother and Mary of the Cross MacKillop did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Empty Tomb

In John 20: 1 Mary Magdalene discovers that the stone had been removed from the empty tomb. I often wonder what I would do if I was Mary Magdalene and found that Jesus was no longer in the place where he was buried? Would I panic and think of the worst-case scenario or keep calm and search for a possible explanation?

My initial reaction would be surveying the tomb for any possible clues of what may have occurred. “Mary Magdalene ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple. Simon Peter went into the tomb and saw linen wrappings lying there and a cloth that had been on Jesus’ head rolled up in a place by itself. John 20 :6-7.”  Immediately, in this situation is how and why could this have happened? There was a large rock rolled against the tomb entrance to prevent people from coming in or out and also guards posted outside the tomb emphasised in Matthew’s resurrection account. So, what would be my reaction to Jesus’ body removed?

I think once I got over the bewilderment of seeing cloth wrappings strewn around the tomb, I would hope my logical rational processes would kick in. Thus, putting myself in Mary Magdalene’s, Simon Peter’s and the other disciple’s position and having no prior knowledge of the Gospel accounts I would have to deduce from Jesus’ words and actions some reference to this moment. For example, Jesus 16:21, “From that time on, (Peter’s reference to Jesus being the Messiah), Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes, be killed and on the third day rise.” Therefore, the evidence was always in Jesus’ teachings.

The proof is in when the other disciple entered the tomb and believed. John 20:9. Therefore, the  onus on all of us is not to see the clothing scattered in the tomb but to truly believe that Jesus has risen.

 

Being a Dad

In Luke 2: 41- 51 Joseph, Mary and Jesus went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. However, when the festival ended unbeknown to his parents Jesus stayed behind whereas they thought he was travelling with the group. Luke 2:44 As a dad of three children a priority for me is that my children feel safe. Nevertheless, over the years I have learnt you can’t be hovering over them all the time and more importantly you can never assume anything. Thus, you have to trust them that they are doing the right thing. Unfortunately, this is not always easy as I say to myself when they tell me they are going to do something how I wish I knew the outcome beforehand.

 Next, I try to be positive and listen without judgement in my interactions with my children even when their activities severely test my patience. For example, Joseph and Mary were tested when they were unable to find Jesus and start searching for him. “After three days they found him in the temple sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” Luke 2:47 When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and Mary said, “Child, why have you treated us like this. Look, your Father and I have been searching for you with great anxiety.” Luke 2:49. My first reaction when my children have done something that has caused me anxiety is to try and remain cool, calm and collected when I asked them about the situation. I know this is the best approach to gaining a response from them. Additionally, I don’t give an opinion on what they have done I just ask them to keep me in the loop. Hence, like Joseph and Mary I might not understand what my children might do but it is vital to open a strong line of communication between us.

 Ultimately, I imagine similarly to Joseph and Mary I would like them to be happy in whatever endeavour they wish to follow. Sometimes, it might be a change of studies or a job but I believe what it gets down to is finding something meaningful they can pursue in their lives that gives them a sense of meaning and purpose. Whether that be in their relationships with others or their work I would hope they know that I am there to support them. Just like Jesus was by his Father.

Lifegiving Water

Often, I find it is easy to react when you are feeling yourself under pressure or expected to give a quick response to a situation that requires immediate action.  I really like how Jesus reacts in John 4:5-15, Jesus and the Woman of Samaria are a blueprint to responding to challenging circumstances.

Jesus asks the Samaritan woman who came to draw water from the well is asked by Jesus for a drink. The Samaritan woman replies, “How is it that you, a Jew ask a drink of me a woman of Samaria? John 4:7 So, Jesus directly is speaking to a woman who normally you would not see an interaction between those two races as they did not share things in common. Thus, I was thinking how many times do I avoid coming into contact with people I find difficult to relate to or have had testing experiences with in the past. Therefore, by not engaging is not really solving the issues it’s allowing them to linger.

Additionally, Jesus, offers the Samaritan woman something in return if she gives him a drink. “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is, that is saying to you, give me a drink, you would have asked him and he would give you living water.” John 4:11 Hence, the key is how you approach people it might be with a wave, a smile or a simple hello acting as a catalyst to a way forward for future communication.

Furthermore, what was the gift Jesus was offering the woman and to us? “The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. John 4:14 What I really like about the gift that Jesus is suggesting is that it is not just a gift for the Samaritan woman but is freely given to all of us. The gift of living with Jesus in eternity that provides us with the courage and motivation to build relationships with all people and God knowing that if we need to, we can drink from that water anytime.

Being Ready and Proficient

In Mark 1:12-13 Jesus prepares for his ministry by going out into the desert and overcoming the temptations that were put this way. I liken it to an actor preparing for their initial grand stage performance, a musician about to play in their inaugural concert in front of a large concert or a sports star competing in a packed stadium in their first grand final. Their experiences like Jesus will be life changing not only for themselves but for those people who witnessed their craft.

So, what enabled these people to achieve their goals?  I would contend that it begins with their faith in their ability to attain their objectives. That is to know you have done all the hard work, developed the necessary skill set and are not daunted by the task that is about to be placed in front of you. Thus, they were mindful that they had the fortitude to overcome any obstacles. For Jesus it was more than that he knew that through the power of the Holy Spirit which came from God that he could remove any barriers that were blocking his path to complete his ministry.

Finally, what were the outcomes that they were hoping to deliver? For me it is how do we remember them? Is it their great work, their contribution to others as role models or that their tradition continues? For the actor it is plays in theatres throughout the globe. The musician, packed concerts listening to a variety of music from all different countries. The sport star filling stadiums to watch teams compete. While for Jesus it is that some 2021 years people are still proclaiming the message that he taught through his ministry. What great legacies they leave us by being ready and proficient.

Looking Anew

In Mark 6:1-6 Jesus returns to his home town of Nazareth. However, his teachings despite their wisdom were rejected by the local people. So, why did they take offence at Jesus?

Firstly, the people still saw him as Joseph the carpenter’s son rather than a prophet, teacher and miracle worker. “Is not this the carpenter, the Son of Mary.” Mark 6:3. I was reflecting on this situation and if Jesus suddenly produced incredible football skills would he be so unfairly maligned?  Maybe, what Jesus was offering was challenging whereas a football player doesn’t challenge someone to change their lives.

Secondly, the fact that Jesus was calling for change would mean that people would have been taken out of their comfort zone. Perhaps that was why they were riled up who is this carpenter’s son telling us how to live their lives. Additionally, people find change hard to embrace particularly if it requires self-sacrifice. I know it is a daily battle for me to try and live the Gospel values and continually do what I must do than I want to do.

Finally, was Jesus being judged for who he was rather than what he had become. I know I wouldn’t want to be judged for what I was like as a younger person compared to adulthood. Through greater life experiences you gain infinitely more wisdom than you have as a younger person. How many times does a voice in your head say if I only knew then what I know now? Thus, like Jesus we need to move on and look forward, ignoring the opinions of others as it can only cloud our judgement in doing what is right for others even if it comes at a cost.

 

Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop Part 2

I build my capacity as a religious leader at Holy Family by being inspired Mary to take up my cross with conviction when faced with adversity.

 “We feel our Crosses hard at times, but our courage should rise with them.”

 Mary MacKillop

I am reminded that throughout Christian history the Saints, like Mary placed their trust and authority in God  to overcome obstacles along the way. Mary was not exempt. In Mary’ case she spoke out about a matter of misconduct. For me in my leadership role it makes me think about always ensuring that I try to do the right thing no matter the cost. Thus, not worrying about my reputation or shifting the blame onto someone else but instead making things right and trying to achieve a positive resolution for all parties. Most importantly, I must not use the influence of my role but search for truth and accountability for my action.

One of the priests  who was implicated in the misconduct case pursued his own agenda and put pressure on the Bishop to have the Sisters of Saint Joseph under the Director of the Adelaide Archdiocese’s authority. Conversely, the Sisters of Saint Joseph rule is a centralized structure under the control of a General Superior who was drawn from their membership which Mary was determined to remain faithful to as it was integral to her calling. She then informed Bishop by letter of her refusal to comply but instead seek God’s will.  He saw it as insubordination and Mary was excommunicated from the Church on 22nd September, 1871.

I am in awe of how Mary steadfastly refused to compromise herself and her sisters core values to the Bishop’s request of continuing her mission under his authority. It made me ruminate on the times in my leadership through circumstances beyond my control, I am thrown into challenging situations with staff, parents, students and the parish community.

Mary’s response to her conflict makes me re-evaluate how I will react in the future knowing my words and actions will determine that outcome and my relationships with those involved. Am I going to act with anger and wanting revenge or like Mary that through her sacrifice she displayed her faithfulness to her community, her friends and trust in God to resolve the situation? I believe Mary had a freedom that occurred through her service to others due to her seeking to do God’s will. From her example, I need an open mindset, that will enable me to alleviate my anxieties and strive to live out what I truly want for all people, our world and myself. I would believe that it is best summed up by Paul Gardiner sj,

Mary MacKillop walked in faith and entered into the mystery of the Cross with an utter belief that enabled her to deal in an extraordinary way with oppositional people and difficult situations.”

Hence, we learn from Mary’s awareness that God would provide, for eight months later Mary was reinstated as leader and the sisters renewed their vows under their constitution.

Finally, Mary reinforces that I build capacity as the religious leader of Holy Family by placing my trust in the providence of God.

 

Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop Part 1

When reflecting on Saint Mary of the Cross, Mackillop, I firstly, engage in learning about her story. Furthermore, looking to develop her qualities of incredible wisdom, embracing her values, dedication to work and faith, emphasised by how she placed enormous trust in listening to the whisperings of God.

For me the best way to engage in her story is to know her as a person and understand her vision. Joan Chittister puts it succinctly,

“Mary MacKillop was so possessed by an internal vision of divine goodness that she gives us a glimpse of the face of God in the centre of the human. She gives us the possibility of greatness in ourselves.”
I believe it is embodied in these words:

“That those who are the most needy, come first, shows reverence for the dignity of all people, by never rejecting anyone. “Mary MacKillop


This is evident when in March, 1866 she responded to Father Julian Tenison Wood’s invitation to move to Penola and become the first sister of Saint Joseph setting up a Catholic Primary School in a disused stable. Then in 1867, accepting Father Julian Tenison Woods, (appointed to Director of Catholic Education, South Australia) invitation to open schools and assist him with Catholic Education. From there many young women joined Mary as Sisters opening up schools throughout the state along with management of an orphanage and a women’s refuge. Thus, Mary models to me that the role of religious leadership needs to be flexible with a readiness to accept an invitation to change no matter the challenge. Also, inviting others to undertake the mission with you.

The cornerstone of that mission is like Mary to witness my faith and become a role model in my community. The intrinsic motivation for Mary came from Jesus’ mother Mary, Jesus, Joseph and John the Baptist that adorn their emblem and their Rule of Life developed by Woods and Mary. That is a personal commitment to poverty, a dependence on divine providence, no ownership of personal belongings, faith that God would provide and willingness to go where needed. Thus, they not only talked the talk but walked the walked.

The question that I reflect on is where does my intrinsic motivation come from and how do I witness my faith and Holy Family’ school’s values not only in my school community but in my everyday life? The words of Mary MacKillop I think will be a constant reminder, “We must teach more by example, than by word.” Therefore, I must challenge myself daily that through our Three Pillars, Catholic Identity, Pedagogy and Ecological Sustainability and our values of positive emotions, relationships and sharing and support  I am respecting and honouring the dignity of each person by being welcoming and inclusive in my relationships with my family, friendship group and the school and parish community.  Hence, am I continuing Christ’s mission through my personal faith, being actively involved in my faith community and through my APRIM role by promoting the gospel values in prayer, masses, liturgies, the Crossways curriculum and local and global social justice issues and ecological projects. Additionally, continuing to evolve through my life experiences and acquire greater skills and knowledge through the relationships I form with people and my environment.

I am inspired by Mary’s commitment to her dependence on divine providence and a faith that God would provide when I am feeling frustrated with certain outcomes both in my work and in my life.  She was able to bring people together from all different walks of life to contribute to her vision and ministry and this struck home as I explored the museum and through the Mary MacKillop Kensington-Norwood walk. Individuals such as Sisters Laurence O’Brien and Sister Elizabeth Etheridge, (Aged Care Nurse) who were part of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart community, Robert and Joanna Barr Smith, Emmanuel Solomon, Bert Edwards and Doctor John Benson all of them providing social emotional, financial, education and medical support. Mary with this assistance was then able with these resources to help as many people as possible particularly the poor and the marginalised.  Thus, Mary had the foresight to be able to see that utilising these people’s different gifts and ways of serving was making an immense difference to people’s lives.

Consequently, I realise I can’t live in isolation but need the encouragement of others to continue to do God’s will. Too often I can become consumed by daily activities and routines at school while God is calling me to surrender myself to greater realities, trusting my instincts and taking risks. Moreover, I know through supporting, utilising and acknowledging the gifts of my family, friends, school and parish communities I will have the courage to serve others positively to my full capacity knowing as Mary would say, “there where you are you will find God.”

The Bigger Picture

Sometimes, when Sports Coaches are appointed to a sporting club, reporters first question to them is what direction are you hoping to take the club and what game style will you introduce to your team. For Jesus, there were no journalists but it was preparation that was the cornerstone about to embark on his mission. This he did by walking into the wilderness for forty days and nights without food and water and rejecting the temptations of the devil. Furthermore, the real test is for the Sporting Coaches game plan and for Jesus’s mission how it was going to cope under scrutiny.

 The first step smart Sporting Coaches do and Jesus did was handpick a loyal and trustworthy group of people to support them in their quest.  The people they have chosen have to believe in the vision that has been devised otherwise if they stray from that cracks begin to appear and those opposed to those ideals will pounce. Thus, in times of adversity you will need your supporters to stay true to the game plan or the mission to prevent what you have from falling apart.

 The second step is for coaches as Jesus did clearly communicate your vision to your key stakeholders and supporters. If you are a coach by clearly articulating your team’s game plan or as Jesus did with his teachings and miracles you are sharing your vision and offering it to others to accept the opportunity to play a role in that team’s success or continue Christ’s mission.

 The final step is for the Coaches and Jesus to be a catalyst for change for their team and mission respectively. Therefore, making it clearly apparent that the Coaches game plan and Jesus’s teachings have brought new ideas and innovations to how the team plays or what we can do to bring us closer to God living in harmony with all people throughout the world. Finally, although the Coaches team and Jesus’s first followers have moved on what both the Coach and Jesus did was leave a legacy that will pass on from generation to generation.

 

 

Walking the Path of Jesus

One of my favourite passages in the Gospel, is Matthew 5:1-12, the Beatitudes it is what inspires me to walk in the path of Jesus. It is like the benchmarks that assist me in continuing Christ’s mission.

What I really like about it is it refers to the poor in spirit, those in mourning, the meek and the hungry as entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Hence, it is the people on the margins who Jesus refers to has having priority rather than those who are highly acclaimed in society. Moreover, you don’t have to do something remarkable to receive eternal life however, you must aspire to do the following standards.enceHde ce

Jesus defines these standards through these words, “Blessed are the merciful, pure in heart, persecuted and people who revile you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” Matthew 5:7-11. Thus, these are the qualities and the resilience one must have to continue Christ’s mission. The point is these are the gospel values you need witness daily without fear of reprisal or reacting angrily when someone is questioning you and your beliefs.

Jesus concludes with, “rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.”Matthew 5:12. We have Jesus, Mary, the disciples and saints has great role models of how we should share our faith with others. So, the best way to emulate these people of great faith is follow their example. That is having a strong prayer life, read the scriptures and minister and proclaim the gospel to all people, particularly those at the margins. Therefore, by adhering to these three practices we become powerful witnesses walking the path of Jesus.