The hymn sheet produced on Ash Wednesday for the Cathedral had on the front the following words:
As we receive ashes on our foreheads this sacred day, we remember the practice of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters in their care of the land. As part of their spirituality, they burnt back the grass and trees every seven years, so that new life would emerge.
So too, ashes are a part of our spiritual tradition as we embrace a soul-searching work on ourselves that leads us to the new life of Resurrection in Christ.
At our family function on the weekend one of my brothers, who lives on a mountain close to Kempsey, spoke of the new life that has sprung forth in his patch of wilderness after the bush fires nearly destroyed his home. He shared with us the miracle of the need for fire in regenerating the bush, which surrounds us. I know that as I drive around the diocese, I am delighted to see the new green shoots of grass in the paddocks along with the new growth in our foliage.
On Shrove Tuesday, people from across our diocese gathered at the Cathedral to launch Project Compassion, the theme of which is Go Further Together. This gathering of people listened to the six stories of Shirley from the Philippines, Phany from Cambodia, Barry from Australia, Sakun from India, Tawonga from Malawi and Dominic from Papua New Guinea. After each story, the following words were sung:
And God saw that she/he was good, and God saw that she/he was good.
We then broke open our scriptures, which allowed us to embed the living Word of God about love into these stories, and our own lives.
The words we sang repeatedly came from the chorus of the hymn It Was Good by Tony Alonso. Those who left this liturgy would have gone away with many images, but the abiding one would have been that God saw that we are good. And of course they would have remembered sharing in the pancakes, ice cream and maple syrup which Bart and Rebecca, from the Cathedral Café, lovingly prepared and served; all 400 of them!!!
As part of your Lenten journey, I encourage you to visit the Caritas website each week, and listen to each of these stories and the global work of Caritas. This work for the people of our global village would not be possible without the generosity of people through Project Compassion. Together we change people’s lives.
So what might we reflect upon during this Lenten season? Our Sunday readings provide us with a good template for living each week during lent. On the first Sunday of Lent, we listened to the reading from Genesis Chapter 2, where God places the culmination of God’s creation, a man and woman in the Garden of Eden, with all of the wonders of creation, including the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Clearly, we are not meant to comprehend good and evil. This is part of our struggle of being human. Good and bad happens and much of it is beyond our grasp. Since coming to the diocese in 2005, I have struggled with what we now call the ‘sexual abuse crisis’. I cannot fathom how anyone can harm a child, and in my struggle, I recognise that I am not meant to understand the workings of evil in our world – the mass murderers, war, genocide, rape, domestic violence, destruction of our natural world, slavery, poverty etc.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, indeed as humans, we are created for goodness. I have no doubt that this is what is taught in our Catholic Schools. I hope in this, Catholic Schools Week, you will take time to visit one of your local Catholic Schools to experience their ‘Drawing from the Well’ the theme of this year’s Catholic Schools Week. I recognise that many of you who read this message struggle with our reality of not having most of these young people or their families join us for our weekend Masses.
The following words from Psalm 50 with the refrain ‘Be merciful, O Lord for we have sinned’ spoke to me as we sang it on Ash Wednesday and Sunday:
A pure heart create for me, O God,
put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
nor deprive me of your holy spirit.
During these forty days of Lent, what might we learn from our time in the wilderness, a time of preparation for ministry, for our synodal process, for our Plenary Council, for making Jesus real, for turning back to God with all our heart, for……….?
I share with you the final part of the reading from the Book of Isaiah which was proclaimed on Friday – the First Friday of Lent (Is 58:1-9a)
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!
I have no doubt that this is what goodness looks like.
This week I am assisting with the two-day training of people in Broad Based Community Organising for the common good. In the room, there will be people from community groups, faith groups and unions. The aim is to set up the Hunter Community Alliance in order to work with each other for civil society, to reclaim our humanity in the Hunter. I have no doubt that we need to be a voice at the table in this space for the good of all who call the Hunter home. This is an invitation for us to move outside of our ‘walls’ and to bring the heart of Jesus Christ to our community.
May your Lenten Journey bring you courage, faith, imagination and peace.