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Thanksgiving Mass - St Mary of the Cross MacKillop - Numurkah

On Sunday October 17 I was one among 8000 Australians who were present in St Peter’s Square, Rome for the canonisation of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop.  It was a historical moment not only for me and for so many others as believers in Jesus Christ but also as an Australian.  St Mary of the Cross is our first saint and that says a lot about our church here in Australia as well as about our nation.  
We are relatively speaking a very young country.  Nevertheless this country of ours has fashioned and molded the character of many men and women who have made an amazing contribution to the welfare of so many.  With the canonisation of St Mary of the Cross we can now safely say that one of us has become an example to follow by the entire Catholic world.  This is very tangible sign that as Catholics we have reached a certain maturity which can be followed and appreciated by the world wide church.

Who was this woman and where did she get the necessary stamina and courage to persevere in the midst of so many difficulties and challenging moments?  She was born in Fitzroy Melbourne in 1842.  At that time life was very hard.  Schools were rare.  Gold had not yet been discovered and there were only a few priests available to take care of the scattered Catholic people.  Moreover, she was born in a family where financial hardship and restraints were the order of the day. She had to start work at a very early age and she was constrained to leave her family to go to Penola, South Australia so that she could work as a governess with the children of her relatives.

While there with the encouragement of the local priest Fr Julian Tennyson Woods she embraced the challenge of answering a very particular need. There was no opportunity for the Catholic children to receive an education animated and nurtured by the values and principles of our Catholic faith. She worked hard to give poor Catholics the opportunity to be given a fair go.

Young women began to be attracted by what she was doing.  These women both from Australia and from Ireland were animated and enthused by the ideals of St Mary of the Cross.  As things improved there were about 750 sisters who joined St Mary in her work while she was still alive.  These sisters were very much at the heart of religious renewal and growth in our nation especially in the poor country areas.  They ventured where many did not dare to go.  St Mary of the Cross was ready to instill the seed of Catholic education wherever it was needed.  It was therefore not surprising that she accepted to establish the first Catholic School in the state of Victoria right here in the parish of Numurkah.

Throughout her life she constantly encouraged her religious sisters to “seek first the poorest, the most neglected part of God’s vineyard” and to “never see a need without trying to something about it”.  We are truly indebted to all the sisters of St Joseph for their dedication, perseverance and faith to bring a sense and the presence of God in some very remote spaces of our country.  Our diocese is definitely far richer because of the presence and the work of the Sisters of St Joseph and today on behalf of the whole diocese I wish to acknowledge this publicly. Thank you sisters and may many more young women embrace the ideals and the mission of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop.

What can we learn from St Mary of the Cross today?  I would like to make a couple of observations.  It is very tempting to compartmentalise the life of our first saint in order to justify our particular way of thinking. Some people are attracted to St Mary of the Cross because of her social consciousness.  Others are attracted because of her work with the poor.  Some others admire her determination while others see in her a courageous woman who had to battle hard against a powerful institution. It is true all these elements have been part and parcel of the life of St Mary of the Cross.  However, the bottom line is that she is a saint because of her faith.  She is what she is today and accomplished whatever she accomplished because of her deep and personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Her life was animated by the following attitudes which she often expressed in words to her sisters.  “Do all you can with the means at your disposal and calmly leave the rest to God” (1891). “Courage, courage, trust in God who helps you in all things”.  “Let God’s spirit guide you in your choice”.

This is a very important lesson for all of us here today.  As part of the Catholic faith community we are continuing the work of Jesus Christ.  This is a life changing call which challenges all of us to make very radical decisions in the ways we act and think.  We cannot accomplish this mission relying only on our talents and qualities.  These of course are of a great help. However, this is God’s work and to accomplish this call we need the power, help and the presence of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.  When we are faced with difficult situations let us keep repeating these beautiful and deep prayers of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop.

“Do all you can with the means at your disposal and calmly leave the rest to God” (1891).
Courage, courage, trust in God who helps you in all things”.
“Let God’s spirit guide you in your choice”.

This deep relationship that St Mary of the Cross had with Jesus Christ led her to face her many situations of heartache and disappointment with an amazing attitude of hope and perseverance.  Her faith did not only encourage her to face whatever needed to be faced but also to overcome them.  In the midst of turmoil and very challenging situations she said, “I have through God’s wise permission at present enemies…….but they are loved enemies”.  At one stage she told her sisters that “When you become hard, suspicious and censorious then goodbye to being children of St Joseph”. Her example and teaching about forgiveness, about resisting hardness of heart about working to overcome evil and refusing to be disheartened or defeated by it still speaks very powerfully to all of us today.

Saints are not superhuman beings.  They are very normal down to earth people who let themselves be totally guided by the life giving presence of Jesus Christ within them.  We are all called to do the same.  So yes let us rejoice today, let us celebrate well because through the life and example of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop we understand that for us in God nothing is impossible.  In reality for you and for me in God everything is possible.  As a Catholic community we have made and are still making many significant positive contributions to the life of our nation.  Let us keep united in our faith and in our endeavours so that we pass on to the next generation the same attitudes, values and faith.
St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, Pray for us.

God Bless

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