We might find ourselves standing in ashes after this blistering summer of fire. While we will trust that new life will return to both land and people, as it has done so often in the past, perhaps this time is different and the suffering too large, evident and raw. What is now being asked of us after we have allowed the pain, loss and grief to be deeply felt and acknowledged, perhaps more than at any other time in recent history?
At the same time the Church has also experienced its own bushfire of sorts. There is the trauma that many survivors of sexual abuse have carried for decades. As we’ve seen in recent weeks here in our own Province, that trauma is something we need to remain mindful of, avoid adding to, and be committed to responding to. We acknowledge the harm done by our failures as a Church, and our own Australian forms of clericalism. In this year, the year of the Plenary Council, what is being asked of us as we also face the pain, loss and grief of many in our Catholic community?
For both nation and Church there can be no simple return to the ‘normal’ if we accept that we are standing amongst this depth and spread of ashes. Pain, loss and grief are real and they call for a response. A call to listen and a conversion of the heart.
Any conversion that calls us to become more deeply human is a sacred experience because it speaks to our becoming the fullness of God’s creation. Such a conversion will have a deep and lasting effect if we can allow the best aspects of ourselves to humble, guide and enlighten us on a new journey, together.
There is a depth of generosity within our Australian community that has been revealed many times this past summer, expressed by many spontaneous acts of kindness, love and self-sacrifice. This generosity cuts unashamedly across divisions of age, gender, race and religion. Even politics. We are at our best, both in our nation and Church, when our lives are grounded in forming friendships and building bridges beyond our preferences and differences. We need to trust the healing that such goodness brings.
We also need to trust that our land, burnt and wounded as it has been, can also teach and heal us. It does not just hold ancient stories but, as Aboriginal people continue to remind us, is always calling out for us to listen and come into a closer relationship with it and one another as we walk upon it. We need to build upon our love for our land and trust that we can grow even more in the knowledge and healing that relationship can bring.
As we approach the end of summer we cannot avoid those calls to listen to pain, loss and grief. Within those calls is an invitation for personal and communal conversion. To grow in being a people who walk more closely together and more lovingly upon the land. Our response may well depend on how much we are prepared to feel pain and how open we are for the conversion it seeks.
I hope we are ready to give conversion a go.
Fr Brian F. McCoy SJ, Provincial