A while ago I was visited by a couple of very nice Jehovah’s Witnesses. The conversation started out promisingly enough – I was asked if I believed in God. When I said ‘yes’ I was told that that was surprising as (according to my guests) most people today are agnostics. However, I was reassured to learn that I am not ‘most people.’
If you like a spiritual challenge, this is the season of the year for you. On the one hand, we are in preparation mode for one of the central realities of our faith – the celebration of our God who loves us so much that he enters our world as one of us. Aside from the events celebrated during the Easter Triduum there is no more important celebration in the yearly cycle of the Church.
As the year comes to an end, we tend to reflect on how fast the year went, of what we did and what we didn’t do. We reflect on how we moved forward, our achievements as far as new learnings, better health, better mental grasp of our environment, better appreciation of our work, and better expression of our devotion and care for family and relatives. We also look back if we had a better clarity of our purpose on earth.
As I get busy doing all the ‘stuff’ I think needs to be done for Christmas, I’ve become aware of some gentle tugs from Jesus. “Stop rushing.” “No, you don’t need to do that just now.” “Slow down.”
It’s so counter to my own goals and plans. For many of the tasks I have planned, I find myself wanting to ‘just do it, get it over with, get it organised’, especially as it pertains to getting stuff done in advance.
My thinking goes something like this: ‘I’ll do as much as I can now so that it’s all done and so that I don’t have to worry about it and I can relax later.’ It sounds good on the surface and I always thought this kind of approach in life was prudent, smart and even responsible. But as it turns out, not quite.
As I dig deep to find the meaning of silence, I am drawn to how our modern day Christian models used silence in their lives:
During his visit to the typhoon-ravaged city in the Philippines’ south, Pope Francis said: “So many of you have lost everything, I don’t know what to say to you. But the Lord does know what to say to you. Some of you have lost part of your families. All I can do is keep silence and walk with you all with my silent heart.”1 Pope Francis used silence as a compassionate and loving spiritual response.
At first reading, the account of Jesus and Peter walking on the water is not immediately relevant to us in our daily lives. The ability to walk on the water may be a miraculous curiosity, perhaps serving to highlight our own lack of faith, but that isn’t telling us anything new.
When former ballroom dance instructor, John Edward, hit the big time getting the bereaved in touch with their deceased loved-ones, he discovered something that the Catholic Church has known for a very long time: human beings like to know that they are not alone. However, there has always been at least one significant difference with the Church’s approach to communion with some of those that have gone before us: each one of us can talk to them – we don’t need to pay someone to do it for us.
As we strive daily to become missionary disciples, we need some guideposts for us to focus on this goal. Here are three tips:
1. Swim into the deep
In Romans 12:1-2, Paul challenges our tendency to want to live a life of faith while not wanting to take it too seriously.
Perhaps the major crisis among the People of God is one of imagination. We cannot imagine that God wants to work in and through us as he reaches out to everyone we come in contact with. When it comes to living our faith many of us are like people playing around in the shallow end of a swimming pool – content to barely get our feet wet while wondering why it isn’t particularly exciting or engaging. Perhaps we imagine that it is not our place to take our feet off the bottom of that pool and swim into the deep.
There are many different ways that we welcome and encourage parishioners to feel part of our faith community. And social media is a tool to share our witnessing of faith. This witness of faith is ministry.
Social Media for parish ministry is real work. It is not fad or play. It takes time, commitment, planning and execution, creativity and basic writing skills, graphic design skills and photography skills.
There is also a need for everyone in the parish: clergy, Parish Pastoral Councils and ministry leaders to realise, respect and appreciate this social media ministry within the community. Although the main audience will be parishioners who come to regular Sunday Masses, there is also an expectation that the posts are shared with those who are Catholics yet do not come to Mass anymore and those who are wondering what Catholics do and believe. We need to consider this when planning our content.
Mother Teresa has long been known as the Living Saint. At her canonisation, Pope Francis described her as a “generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defence of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded.” He added: “Her mission to the urban and existential peripheries remains for us today an eloquent witness to God’s closeness to the poorest of the poor. Today, I pass on this emblematic figure of womanhood and of consecrated life to the whole world of volunteers: may she be your model of holiness!”1
On a few occasions, I have watched on Facebook a short YouTube video by the Greek film Director and Producer, Constantin Pilavios. It is a conversation between an adult son and his elderly father called “What is that?”1 The gist of the story was that when his father asked what the bird was, the son said it was a sparrow. After the father asked the third time, the son was so agitated and shouted to the father. The father then took his old diary and asked the son to read it aloud. The son read the part where he, as a 3–year old boy, asked his father twenty-one times about the name of the bird, a sparrow. His father wrote that he answered each time he asked and gave him a hug. This story almost always touches people’s hearts.
I immediately recalled this video when we had “World Elder Abuse Awareness Day” a few weeks ago. It aimed to highlight abuse of elders. Does it actually exist? Nobody seems to be talking about it. We always hear about child abuse, domestic abuse, sexual abuse and other types of abuse. Elder abuse thrives because people are silent.
In his homily at Casa Santa Marta last month Pope Francis criticised entrepreneurs who get rich by exploiting workers and enslave the poor. He declared “When riches are created by exploiting the people, by those rich people who exploit [others], they take advantage of the work of the people, and those poor people become slaves. We think of the here and now, the same thing happens all over the world. ‘I want to work.’ ‘Good, they’ll make you a contract, from September to June.’ Without a pension, without health care... Then they suspend it, and in July and August they have to eat air. And in September, they laugh at you about it. Those who do that are true bloodsuckers, and they live by spilling the blood of the people who they make slaves of labour.”1
In Australia, like in most Western countries, one in every three marriages ends up in divorce.1 This is a sad reality in our present world. During the past ten years, my husband and I have witnessed six couples go their separate ways. They were all part of our social and church network. Almost all of the couples were too far from getting reconciled when we knew about their deep marital problems. We thought they were having simple couple misunderstandings. Two couples were part of our small social group, another two couples were part of our covenanted community and the other two couples attended the Adult Altar Servers training with us.
In the early 70s, we heard a lot of stories about marriage for convenience. Many women from developing countries married men in developed countries hoping to improve their circumstances in life. They hoped for better jobs, better environment, better privileges and better homes. It was also a motivation to be able to bring their siblings and parents to their new home country.
This year, countries in Europe have experienced a similar phenomenon but more of changing not their spouses but their religion. Hundreds of Muslim refugees are converting to Christianity. According to online media The Daily Beast1, hundreds are queuing up in Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands to be baptised as Christians. However, Europeans are not very convinced that this is an inner change of heart. The skeptics are worried that this is just a way of improving their chance of getting asylum.