Soon after the final declaration of Mary’s sanctity was given in Rome, I read a poignant but rather challenging letter to the editor of The Sydney Morning Herald from a Vincent Matthews:
“My wife is a saint. And I don’t need the Pope to confirm it. For nearly 40 years she worked as a nurse in many parts of Australia easing the suffering of the sick and helping to cure many. She is idolised by her three children and is a special nana to two adoring little girls. Aged 74, she works in a charity shop, gives part of her age pension to Medecins Sans Frontieres and to World Vision to help a child struggling to survive in Gaza.
The Vatican has never heard of her…. Yet she has performed scores of miracles in the 50 years I have lived with her. So why the fuss about Mary MacKillop.”
So why the fuss, indeed? Perhaps because it is Mary who sheds light on the sanctity that is indeed evident all around us, that particular kind of holiness characteristic of the Australian heart known around the kitchen table. To honor Mary, ultimately, is to honor those people, hidden and often acknowledged, who bear her spirit: they who are the true boast of the Australian Church. In honoring Mary, we honor all those hidden and unacknowledged people who likewise discover sanctity in the ordinariness of giving without counting the cost and through in undramatic generosity. We honour people like Vincent Matthew’s wife, those people known to us all.
No one would have wished more than Mary MacKillop herself to highlight the egalitarian character of holiness. We can be sure of one thing about Mary’s own self-perception: never would she have considered herself a saint. Life was too full of confusion, uncertainty, and contradiction for her to perceive any sense of personal greatness. So often she was confused, lonely and bewildered. There was the complexity of her family relationships, unhappy home life, having lived in 16 places by the time she was 24. There was the confusion generated by the brilliant and charismatic, but quixotic and delusional, Julian Tenison Wood, her first mentor and the one who first inspired her commitment to education as an expression of Christian mission. There was in her fledging community the chaos created by the delusions of Srs Angela and Ignatius in the Adelaide; There were the contradictions caused by envious and petty gossip with the innuendo that she was alcoholic; There was the concern brought about by constant ill-health.
Complexity, confusion, chaos, uncertainty, contradiction, concern: things all of us know in our own way, especially in this time of pandemic. Yet, it was precisely in this milieu that Mary attended to the whispers of God in her heart and faithfully followed them. Mary’s intuition of God occurred in her suffering, not in her euphoria. Indeed, euphoric feeling and ecstatic vision are never associated with Mary whose spirit was far more pragmatic and pioneering.
She looked squarely at ordinariness and intuited precisely there, transcendent possibility. Often, she felt like ‘running away’, at times “envying the dead.” Only she didn’t. It is her quiet clarity of purpose which she maintained in the face of so much that threatened to overwhelm her that is altogether remarkable. Mary loved and made the choice to be open whilst confused, fearful, overwhelmed. In the example of Jesus serving at the Last Supper, Mary gives herself in the face of any instinct for self-preservation.
How did she maintain such clarity? She did so by being grounded in her relationship with God – a relationship which was always characterized by a sustained care-filled discernment. She sought to remain attentive to God in her reading, by seeking advice, through friendship, by letter writing.
This, too, is our challenge in these times of pandemic and restriction. Like her, we are to keep vigilant for the small things to which we can attend and attend to them as carefully as possible. We keep our gaze on the God who is master of all that is happening, who is above all that is occurring, and yet who is present to us in the immediate and the ordinary, and particularly in the one who needs our help. Mary teaches us that the rest is in God’s hands.
Meredith Lemos and Patricia Thomas
God, help us to look with ‘soft eyes’ as Mary MacKillop did,
Upon all who are a part of our days
Allow us to break through the barrier
Of our scrutinising views.
Transform our inner landscape into a peaceful place of acceptance.
Pull back our projections and criticisms.
Replace our mean measurements and our biased expectations
With an openness that allows others to be.
Saint Mary of the Cross, your life and ministry
Were constantly clothed with love.
We hold the image of your loving qualities
And virtues close to us as we pray:
When our spiritual clothes are soiled with negativity and neglect,
May we have the desire and energy to clean them.
When our spiritual clothes droop, sag, and do not fit,
May we have the wisdom and determination
To let our words and actions fit our values and beliefs.
When our spiritual clothes need changing,
May we have the ability to make good decisions and the courage to follow through with the necessary changes.
When our spiritual clothes are torn and need mending,
May we make amends and be open to forgiveness and reconciliation.
When our spiritual clothes are not accepted by others,
May we have the self-affirmation to be our true self and not give in to the demands of others.
When our spiritual clothes become thin and frayed,
May we strengthen them with a garment of loving-kindness.
Christ Jesus, through the intercession of St Mary of the Cross,
Transform all we are and all we do into the kindness of love that permeated her presence.
Clothe us with your love and grant us grace to be truly kind and caring
Like ‘soft eyes’ St Mary of the Cross
May our spiritual clothes be spun from the gold of her kindness and goodness that lasts into eternity.
 Vincent Matthews, Forestville Sydney Morning Herald 21 Dec 2009.
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