Spirituality: the inclination of the heart and how it is moved in God’s promptings.

The following are different aspects of Father Woods’ spirituality. They are interrelated and integrated.

The first is awe before God. At Penola, on Pentecost Sunday 2010, Mary’s canonisation year, Fr Paul Gardiner sj preached at Mass before the opening of Fr Woods Park. He said that Fr Woods’ spirituality was grounded in his awe before God, that all other gifts of the Spirit in his life were on this foundation: awe before God, inspired by the vast cosmos, the huge variety of life forms, the structures invisible to the human eye and the mystery of God within each person.

Another aspect of Fr Julian’s spirituality is a deep sense of the Incarnation: recognising the Incarnate God in the person of Jesus and losing his heart to Him. It was Jesus in his family, Jesus in his infancy- ‘little tot’, Jesus in His Sacred Heart, Jesus in his weakness, Jesus in suffering, on the cross.  It was Jesus in frailty and weakness whom Julian saw in the children and adults of his time: it was this same Jesus he gave himself to serve.

Next, his love for Mary, the mother of Jesus. Julian’s knowing Jesus in his family meant his knowing Mary personally and a life-long love for her. He pondered her joys and sorrows. In the sorrows, rejection, misunderstanding and isolation in his own life, he gained his strength not only from communion with Jesus in his suffering, but with Mary in her sufferings as the mother of Jesus. His favourite title of Mary was the Immaculate Heart of Mary. His frequent prayer was Sweet Mother I’m trusting to you. His love for Jesus in his infancy, childhood and youth let him also know and love Joseph personally. He entrusted himself to Joseph as his protector.

In Julian’s attitude, all aspects are united in Jesus, above all in the Sacred Word and the Eucharist. Here he was with the living Risen Jesus. The living Risen Jesus was real for him. He was with Him, person to person.

Another aspect is the totality of his dedication to God, responding to God with his whole heart, giving absolutely all his being, his energy.  His motto in his crest was Vota Vita Mea. My life is vowed, my life is consecrated.  It was everything, interior and whole being, for God. (Col 3: 24a).

The total dedication summoned courage in the conviction that ‘I will be with you and will not fail you.’  (Fr Woods’ Desk plate, Dt 31 :8, Jer 1:8). It gave trust despite all odds. He wrote in his last months, ‘It is with hopeful confidence that I say resurgam. (I will rise up). I am cheerful and happy’. (Fr Woods to friend, William Archer 13 Mar 1889).

The last aspect I note was his living out obedience to God, submitting himself humbly to the designs of God, giving himself in love as again and again he moved or was moved from place to place, task to task, right to the end when stripped of health and church recognition. Mary MacKillop spoke of this aspect in his leaving Adelaide. (Julian Tenison Woods: A Life, 153-4, 2010 edition) Today, some would call this adjusting to changes as going with the flow. Yes, that is true. But it often meant total uprooting and cost deeply, interiorly. In the keen suffering, he kept the gaze of his heart on Jesus.  He wrote in his poem, Follow Me.

Onward to the Open Side All who to themselves have died. Hear the Lover crucified Calling ‘Follow Me’. Follow Me, despising pain, Follow, sharing all my shame, Heeding not the world’s hard blame, Seeing only Me.[1]

In summary, I offer these words of Proverbs as the key his spirituality:

Like flowing water is the heart of the King in the hand of the Lord Who turns it where He pleases.  Prov 21:1


Like flowing water was the heart of Julian in the hand of the Lord Who turned it where He pleased.

Jan Tranter rsj


[1] Hymns and Sacred Poems by Julian Tenison Woods, Alvernia, Sydney, 1890
This talk was presented at the gathering of Sisters of St Joseph, Nundah, 7 October 2018