September 06, 2012
Time-lapse photography has always fascinated me – ever since I first saw Disney’s beautiful film “The Living Desert”.
In the film a landscape that looked as though it could produce little proved itself fertile and abundant- but the secret of its abundance was hidden. It needed the right moment and the appropriate conditions to bring to birth the amazing life hidden within. And that life was brought forth at a cost. The desert seeds, like all seeds, had to split to germinate and had to allow every nutrient within to be used so that growth could happen. In Scripture’s words “Unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies” . . . and Meister Ekhart takes up the theme writing: Christ is the ground of our being – from that ground flows all we are.
Is this process of death and life also one way of viewing Mary MacKillop’s story as Australia and New Zealand breaks into spring? (A season more noticeable in some parts of our countries than in others). We think often of Mary’s great activity, her travel, her contribution to our society and culture, the education she made available to all, her love of Church but do we think of where that energy originated? Of the meaning and purpose that drove all her actions? Of the prayer that absorbed her pain and grief and allowed her experience to be transformed into compassion and understanding of the suffering of others?
Mary MacKillop was first of all a woman of prayer, of contemplation and it is compassionate action that spills over from contemplation, not the other way around. Mary writes, ”All depends on prayer. Begin with it and end with it.” (1890:S & L Kane:62). This was her fundamental approach to mission.
Contemplation was the ground of her being and the spiritual path was always paramount with Mary. The power that split the seed of concern open was love and that, of course, is the contemplative centre to which we are all invited. The education Mary offered, with her sisters, was permeated by the Catholic understanding of life, an understanding focussed on love. The keeping of the Rule was not just a keeping of law and custom but an interaction with love, a way of being that made action for others possible.
So here, at the beginning of spring, as new energy courses through plants and trees and animals and humans and after the cold of winter we can celebrate our enduring story with hope. There have been people like Mary MacKillop who gave all in love and there are and will be such people again and again… This in spite of the world’s increasing suffering and violence. In the poet Elizabeth Jenning’s words we live in a world “not beyond repair”. Mary brought new life, material and spiritual, to a violent world in the 19th century. We are invited to do the same, in whatever way we can, in our violent 21st century which hungers for Christ’s spring to invigorate it in every way.
Colleen O’Sullivan rsj