As we prepare our hearts in this Advent Season to celebrate Christmas, we pause to remember those for whom this Christmas will be difficult.
Here in Australia, we are very mindful of all those who have suffered in the recent bush fires and those in our rural communities living through one of the most devasting droughts of this era. Across our world we are mindful of all those who are left homeless through poverty; those living in refugee camps; the first nations peoples of the world seeking recognition and respect for their traditions and those working to address the many unjust circumstances that arise out of misuse of power. In such realities, we might be prompted to ask: “Where do we see the events of the Christmas story happening in our world today?”
The stable where Christ is born is to be found in the many refugee camps of the world. The shepherds represent the many women and men who work tirelessly to bring peace across our world. The innkeeper is like us when we can be so overwhelmed by the many calls on our time that we fail to hear the knock on the door of our hearts to be more compassionate and open to the needs of our world. We see the joy of Mary and Joseph as parents welcome their newborn child. Our hearts and minds are stretched by the many people who invite us to widen our tents like the wise men from the East. Each character within the story invites us to explore within ourselves what it means to be the hands and feet and heart of Christ in our world today. This Christmas, let us be attentive to those many places where the vision of the Christ Child is being born today in the generous self-giving of those whose lives are inspired by the story of the first Christmas. Let us celebrate the giftedness of each person we encounter on this Christmas day.
As we pray with those who are struggling in our world today let us be encouraged by these words of Isaiah 11:1 that:
So too on this Christmas day, we celebrate the many women and men who provide a word of hope or an action of love that bears fruit like the many fire-fighters in our country, or the groups organising Christmas packs for women in rural communities. In our world, we see and hear stories of love at the borders where women and men are seeking refugee; the encouragement given to the Indigenous communities at the Amazonian Synod; the voices of those seeking freedom from oppressive regimes and the simple acts of neighbourliness shared in so many ways. These stories are the Christmas story told once again.
Sr Monica Cavanagh rsj
A Message from ‘Bridge for Asylum Seekers’ Ambassador Sr Susan Connelly…
Belmore Park in Sydney has all those old trees, plenty of pigeons, and various patches of grass where people lie in the sun, read, or just sit around yarning. It’s been the site of many a demonstration, and is just far enough away from the ebb and flow of Eddy Avenue and Central Railway to claim the title of a peaceful spot.
People sleep in Belmore Park. Some are regulars, and some are not, like the family of a mother and five teenaged children. They had come from the Middle East where the mother had been tortured for political dissidence. They were all shocked by their plight, their asylum journey and new environment.
Workers from ‘Bridge for Asylum Seekers’ began to engage with them. It was hard to know if the family understood what was said, or even what was happening. Their faces often had a blank expression. The middle child, the most traumatised, took months before finally smiling.
Financial support provided by Bridge was critical, enabling them to settle in, find a place to live and send the children to school. This family are now renting their own house with members variously now working or studying. Belmore Park days have gone.
I have been a Patron of ‘Bridge for Asylum Seekers’ for many years. Bridge was founded in 2003 for the provision of emergency financial assistance to asylum seekers who have no alternative means of support. It has provided support to 2041 people during that time, including single men and women as well as families with children.
Bridge is an autonomous committee of Uniting NSW/ACT and is managed by a pro-bono Committee comprised of legal and refugee experts and community members with a range of relevant skills. Bridge is the largest provider of financial support to people seeking asylum in NSW. The organisation focuses its energies on fundraising and monitoring expenditure of funds rather than administering payments directly. Administration of payments is done through its partner organisation, the Asylum Seekers Centre (ASC) in Newtown.
Adverse policy changes by the Department of Home Affairs mean that people now find it more difficult to get work. This means that they require Bridge support for longer. In 2016 the average support time needed was nine weeks – now it is 20 weeks.
Bridge is a lean, well-managed and professional organisation. Over 95% of total expenditure was directly on asylum seeker support, with the remainder spent on operational costs and awareness-raising activities. Bridge has no office and no paid staff, and its technology and marketing support is provided pro bono.
For the past 16 years, Bridge has raised, administered and successfully acquitted approximately $250-400,000 per annum. Bridge successfully guards against risks associated with the project. They ensure that clients are not receiving any other financial support, that they have legitimate claims for asylum and that funds are not misappropriated. Organisational processes details are available on request.
Bridge helped the family in Belmore Park, just like they helped ‘Sahar’. She is a young single woman who escaped from state-sanctioned, gender-based violence and forced marriage in her home country. Bridge’s financial support meant that she was able to find safe accommodation and was able to travel to legal and medical appointments and to English classes. Her need for Bridge support ended when ‘Sahar’ gained work in hospitality. She is now rebuilding her life in the community and working towards her goals of furthering her education and career. Bridge welcomes the support of like-minded Australians who know that what we do to the least, we do to Christ.
Susan Connelly rsj
In an ecological reading of Isaiah 35:1-10 Elaine Wainwright explains how paralysing hopelessness can change to active hope.
This extract from the Book of Isaiah is the work of a prophet of Israel who was preaching in the late 6th century BCE — towards the end of Israel’s exile in Babylon. The prophet bears the name “Isaiah”, as did a previous prophet in Israel in the early 8th century BCE who predicted the exile. The first 34 chapters of the Book of Isaiah in our Bibles are associated with the earlier Isaiah.
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During 2019, the Prayer and Spirituality Program at St Joseph’s By the Sea, Williamstown, focussed on the Plenary Council question “What is God asking of us in Australia at this time?”
In October, the topic was: “How can we joyfully receive the contributions of our indigenous sisters and brothers?” The presenter was Sherry Balcombe from the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry Victoria. The following is the response of a participant in the program, Sue-Ann Hess:
This quote, made by Pope John Paul II at Uluru in 1986, was the focus of our conversation with the current Coordinator of Aboriginal Catholic Ministry Victoria, Sherry Balcombe, this past Thursday.
Hosted by the Josephite Sisters at the beautiful St Joseph’s by the Sea in Williamstown, the day offered two opportunities to sit with Sherry, to listen to her sharing her experiences, and to ask questions about aboriginal spirituality and in particular, what it means to be aboriginal Catholics.
For those us who don’t come from an aboriginal heritage, it was important to understand that within aboriginal culture, there is no separation between spirituality, culture, and identity. Spirituality is something that resides within each person; it is a connection to creation, to kinship and family, and to the Creator Spirit. It has been at the heart of aboriginal communities for thousands of years even through the most painful experiences of injustice. As Sherry explained, there is a great gift, and a great calling that has been given to the aboriginal people, to be a part of the oldest living culture on earth, and to share the beauty of that culture with other peoples.
As we reflected on the full speech given by the pope more than 30 years ago. It was clear that he was encouraging aboriginal people to express their catholic faith in culturally specific and unique ways. He says:
Sherry took the time to explain to us how aboriginal signs and symbols can be incorporated into catholic sacraments, such as baptisms or the mass. Elements of aboriginal culture, such as message sticks, coolamons, emu oil, possum-skin cloaks, and clapping sticks can be powerful ways to express the meaning of the sacrament. We also saw examples of beautiful prayers written by aboriginal authors.
Despite our shared agreement that our aboriginal brothers and sisters have suffered greatly at the hands of the settler peoples, our conversation had a hopeful tone, as we shared anecdotes about the reinvigoration of aboriginal culture in today’s young people. Using examples like the Tanderrum event at Federation Square recently, and the work of the Opening the Doors Foundation in our Catholic schools, we could see ways in which aboriginal culture is being re-nurtured and strengthened once more. Through Sherry’s sharing and teaching, we were encouraged to reflect on our part in joyfully receiving the contribution of the aboriginal culture.
Prayer and Spirituality Program Participant
“US” and “THEM.”
One of the ways in which we too often fail to respect the dignity of people and of whole groups of people is to talk about “them”. We make “them” into an object of discussion or a problem to be solved. Often, we reduce “them” to a characteristic, which distinguishes “them” from “us”. Although we may have the best of intentions in having special days for people with disabilities the decision may contribute to a belief that somehow “they” are different from “us”. We gain superiority because “they” are disabled and somehow “we” are not. Sometimes we may even emphasise that it is our Christian duty to care for “them.”
Such “othering” denies the unity of the human family. We are all children of the one God, all equally created in the image and likeness of God. Do we need to ask ourselves if we are contributing to an “us” and “them” mentality because of classifiers that tend to put people into people who walk, talk, hear and speak, like “us?”. Have we missed something? We are all limited, only God is without limits.
The Office for Catholic Social Justice recently released a document “Us” not “Them” Disability and Theology and Social Teaching by Justin Glyn SJ. I found the booklet raised many of the issues that the Emmanuel Centre in Perth has wrestled with over many years.
I found myself thinking about the name of Emmanuel Centre, a Self-Help Centre and leaving off the last four words “for people with disabilities”. I asked myself would anyone notice? What if we changed our name to Emmanuel Centre for people with different abilities?
1981, the year Emmanuel Centre started, was designated as the International Year of Disabled Persons.
Reflecting back on the establishment of Emmanuel, we have all benefited. We have come to appreciate that we are all made in the image and likeness of God and by working together, identifying and using our different abilities, we can experience a bigger picture of who God is and what each individual can contribute to the understanding of the power of God. It is important for us to recognise that we are all part of the Body of Christ. The smallest or insignificant part contributes to the better functioning of the Body. We are all on a journey home walking with each other and with Jesus. The name Emmanuel – God with us. constantly keeps in the forefront of our minds who is directing the endeavour.
When I think of the people with different abilities that have walked the journey with me over the last 38 years, I appreciate how people who have never heard a sound because of their deafness have taught me to talk with my hands. I appreciate that my body, my facial expressions are drawn from within me and I have a deeper experience of what a relationship is.
I understand how access is important. Facing a set of stairs or even the lip of a small step means you are not welcome. But you have ideas and thoughts to share regardless of your ability to walk. I have never mastered the ability to read Braille with my fingertips, but my friend has. Another friend has never spoken but the love of Jesus pours out of her heart in bucket loads.
Self Help turns the conventional approach to services on its head and requires those interacting with Emmanuel Centre to take the time and effort to understand how relationships between giver and receiver and status issues are replaced with a non-pathological mutually shared experience of what it means to “love one another”.
Self Help identifies the skills and capacities that each contributes in supportive relationships where the receiving and giving are important.
International Day of People with Disability Logo obtained from their website.
Wheelchair image by Zoran Stupar obtained from Pixabay. Used with permission.
Thumbnail photo by RUN 4 FFWPU from Pexels. Used with permission.
Kathleen Rushton rsm explains how our usual image of the birth of Jesus is different from what we find in Luke 2:1–20.
We’ll see many Christmas cribs in homes and churches this season — Joseph, Mary and the baby in a stable with animals and with shepherds and kings visiting.
These crib sets derive more from the Protevangelium of James, a “novel” written about 200CE by an unknown Christian, than from the Gospels. And even our understanding of the gospel accounts need to be informed by a knowledge of the first-century Middle Eastern community and culture.
In Luke’s Gospel there is no mention of the Bethlehem community into which Mary and Joseph arrived. Yet in that culture a woman about to give birth would have been given special care and attention by other women.
The biblical scholar Kenneth Bailey, who lived and researched in the Middle East, suggests that Luke’s Gospel gives us insight into the hospitality and care given to Mary. He points to the shepherds who “returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Lk 2:20) — the “all” would have included the quality of hospitality that they received. If the family had not been sheltered and cared for adequately, the shepherds would have been outraged and said: “Come home with us! Our women will take care of you!” The honour of the village rested on hospitality…
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Kathleen Rushton RSM lives in Ōtautahi Christchurch where, in the sight of the Southern Alps and the hills, she continues to delight in learning and writing about Scripture.
*Painting: Mary with the Midwives by Janet McKenzie © 2009 USA www.janetmckenzie.com Collection of Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, IL USA. Used with permission.
Every year as we celebrate the Season of Advent many reflections are offered for us to ponder. Here is another one.
As a child the Season usually meant an impatient wait for Christmas. If Advent was even thought about religiously it meant waiting for Jesus to be born in a stable in Bethlehem among the animals and filth of a stable.
I like Richard Rohr’s take on it:
As adults I think we need to think more about that and how important it is to bring that awareness into our lives so that our consciousness is forever looking for the good that our world offers to us and not the negatives that are becoming so prevalent in our society today.
It is true that we are caught up with many ‘doings’ and Christmas does creep up on us… but if we take our faith seriously and want to make a difference in this world, which is slowly losing a sense of the wonder of Creation and of the Creator God, Advent is a time for us to really appreciate and rejoice in the Everyday God.
I want to look more closely at just one person’s role at this time: Mary the Mother of Jesus the Christ. When she gave her Yes to become the Mother of Jesus she was depicted as the white, blue clad virgin praying at a prie-dieu. In reality she was about 13, more dark than white and probably dressed in black doing her house work! That courageous YES came with a conscious consent while heaven waited; and we wait as we ponder the reality of what this meant for the humble Mary who had nine months of waiting and contemplating the child she was carrying. To even begin to see Mary as a thinking, intelligent woman in her time where she could have been murdered for her condition (saved by Joseph) moves us out of the Pollyanna version that we have come to accept.
Life was hard for Mary and so are many of our lives now. Can we see Mary as a genuine person who being the Mother of God listens to us as we cry to her? Our waiting needs to reflect on how we are living our lives in preparation for ‘Christ being born daily’.
The Four Candles
1st Candle: Candle of Hope – God keeps God’s promises
2nd Candle: Candle of Preparation – Reminding us to make room for Christ
3rd Candle: Candle of Joy – The cosmic Christ being born every day
4th Candle: Candle of Love – God so loved the world….
As we approach this Christmas let us continue to be mindful of those who like Mary and Joseph are refugees not finding room in our ‘inns’.
Marie McAlister rsj
Jane Woolford announced as new CEO of Mary MacKillop Today.
Mary MacKillop Today has announced the appointment of Jane Woolford as their new CEO, commencing 28 January 2020.
Jane joins Mary Mackillop Today with a wealth of experience gained in the international and Australian not-for-profit sectors. Her career has spanned senior management roles with Caritas Australia and Save the Children Australia, as well as various roles in the media, teaching and program coordination both locally and abroad.
Mary MacKillop Today’s Chairperson, the Hon. John Watkins AM, said he was delighted to announce Jane’s appointment:
Reflecting on her appointment, Jane said she looks forward to commencing the role in 2020.
Inspired by the spirit of Saint Mary MacKillop, Mary MacKillop Today works with local communities in Australia, Timor-Leste, Peru, Papua New Guinea and Fiji, focusing on building dignity through learning for life in the areas of education, health, financial inclusion and sustainable livelihoods to support and empower people from all walks of life, right across the world.
For further information visit www.marymackilloptoday.org.au
Media contact: Emily Hickman
Ph: (02) 8912 2777