On an extensive property midway between Condobolin and Lake Cargellico, some 800km west of Sydney, a Kenthurst man, Walter Brachmann, has built the most beautiful shrine dedicated to Christ the King. It is an extraordinary enterprise: out in the back of nowhere, on the edge of the immense Australian desert, stands this majestic little chapel. I have come to know of it because a friend of mine, a Franciscan brother Dominic Levak has taken up residence there, living the life of a hermit. Dominic spends the day in the saturation of the stillness and silence of the vast Australian outback, tending to simple chores, reaching out to a local aboriginal community, and welcoming guests like me who come to stay with him from time to time.
There’s a part of me, I must admit, that would dearly love simply to live there too, along with Dominic, though it seems the Lord calls me in other ways. It is difficult to express what such silence means to me. I simply absorb it as God’s presence, without the need to do too much else other than to sit in it, and to gaze upon the horizon which stretches infinitely beyond.
One of the very special experiences being in such a place is to gaze upon the night sky. Its brilliance is breathtaking. It is so easy to see why Aboriginal people used to think of the Milky Way as the smoke from a camp in the Dream Time. On one occasion, I took a book with me to read interestingly called, The Metaphysics of Night, written by the philosopher Matthew Del Nevo. In one part of his book, Matthew discusses the work of a 14th century Dominican, Meister Eckhart. Eckhart is a complex writer and was not well understood in his own time or since. In fact, he died in 1327 on his way to defend himself against allegations of heresy. However, in some ways, Eckhart’s spirituality was a commentary on the gospel proclaimed to us this Sunday.
As Matthew Del Nevo identifies, the two verses that reverberate through Eckhart’s teaching are “You are partakers of the divine nature” (1 Peter 1:4) and “In God we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). For Eckhart each of us carries the spark of the Divine within us. We are to kindle this divine spark, to allow its light to shine. And how are we able to bring this inner light within us into a darkened world. Eckhart gives 24 signs, and the first one is the most important: the first sign is Christlike love. He quotes from the prayer of Jesus from the gospel we hear this Sunday, “Father, just as you are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us? I have given them the glory that you gave me.” (John 17:20-21). Yes, we are to become partakers of the divine nature, we are to become like God. And how do we become like God, but through the quality of our love. As Del Nevo comments, “There are no proofs of God in Eckhart, only the possibilities of love.”
And how might we understand the nature of love in this sense? It is to struggle constantly with the cost of self-sacrifice, to go beyond myself in openness and receptivity to something, someone other than myself. Love mirrors God, because God, in God’s own very self, lives eternally with a self-emptying.
For Eckhart, love is not automatic. We become love; it is a work that we need to do. In other words we have to learn how to love. We commit ourselves to learn how to do it all the days of our life. The lesson is never mastered. Yet, in our very struggle to learn love we become like God. We become God-like and the divine spark deep within us shines forth from within. It is wonderful that my friend, Dominic, living out on the edge of the emptiness of the Outback has written his own little book, Stay with Me and Love with Me.
All this amounts to the way in which we define holiness from a Christian perspective. Holiness is not about developing a particularly esoteric persona; it is not about the multiplication of religious practices. Genuine holiness is absolutely ordinary, as ordinary as forgetting myself and reaching out to someone else. Once when taking the long drive out to Condobolin I chanced to listen to an interview of Liesl Tesch by Richard Fidler. Liesl Tesch, a paraplegic as a result of an accident, was the first woman in the world to play professional wheelchair basketball. She made the comment towards the end of the interview, “If you feeling lousy in your life, go out and do something for someone else. Then you will feel brilliant.” And from our Christian perspective, we might also add, “and then you will become holy.”
I have often remarked that the holiest people I encounter are the parents of children with special needs. They certainly don’t think of themselves as holy. Their struggle to attend to the particular needs of their children in the midst of all their other responsibilities wears them out. They know only too well their fragility, their vulnerability, their limits. At times they border on the edge of their capacities. They get tired, they get frustrated. They get angry –with themselves, with their children, with the world, with God. Yet, their holiness is unmistakable. Yes, they are the holy people in our midst because their life is a daily expression of what it means to learn how to love, of what it means to forget oneself in a self-giving to another. They are the most important people we have in our Christian community for they are greatest teachers of what Jesus proclaims in the gospel today.
And of course, so are all our mothers whom we celebrate too: those from whom we first learn the mystery of love. We pray:
“Good and Gentle God, we pray in gratitude for our mothers and for all the women who have joined with you in the wonder of bringing forth new life. You who became human through a woman, grant to all mothers the courage they need to face the uncertain future that life with children always brings.
Mary, on this day when we honour all mothers, we turn to you. Intercede for all of our mothers. Ask your Divine Son to give them the grace of surrendered love so that they could join with you in giving their own “Fiat.” May they find daily strength to say yes to the call to the sacrificial love – the very heart of the vocation of motherhood. May their love and witness be a source of great inspiration for all of us called to follow your Son.”
 Matthew Del Nevo, The Metaphysics of Night: Recovering soul, renewing humanism (New Brunswick, USA and London, UK: Transaction Publishers, 2014).
 Del Nevo, The Metaphysics of Night, 7.
 Dominic Drago Levak, Stay with Me and Love with Me (McPhersons Printing Group, 2013).
 ABC Local Radio, Conversations with Richard Fidler, Interview with Liesl Tesch broadcast Monday, 19 May 2014, http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2014/05/19/4007206.htm?§ion=article&date=(none).
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