Opening Mass for Brigidine College and Commissioning of new Principal, Ms Laetitia Richmond

One of the great insights of our Tradition is that God created humans because God loves a good story. And so it is that our Scriptures are filled with narrative rather than philosophical discourse. Why is this so? The writer Denis McBride relates a Jewish explanation of this: truth is like a naked obscene man in a village. It needs to be tamed by a beautiful woman dressed in fine clothes and much adornment and this woman’s name is Story. Our stories open the imagination and help us see new possibilities. They are the best means by which we come to the Truth of life. 

For us, Scripture is a “Story of stories . . . the great love story between God and humanity.” [1] And yet, we also recognize other stories that Scripture helps us to understand and to interpret – the story of our own lives, the story of our family, the story of our school, the Brigidine story.  These stories, too, by our telling of them teach us something important – they bear “witness to what the Spirit writes in our hearts.” 

Pope Francis recently recounted our natural instinct for stories. “From childhood we hunger for stories just as we hunger for food. Stories influence our lives, whether in the form of fairy tales, novels, films, songs, news, even if we do not always realise it . . . Stories leave their mark on us; they shape our convictions and our behaviours. They can help us understand and communicate who we are.”  We delight in weaving stories. For this reason, there is a link, as Francis identifies, between the words, ‘textile’ and ‘text’. Both come from the Latin word, ‘to weave’ (texere). 

Yet we know the capacity we have to weave both stories of good and stories of evil. And so, the Pope goes on to say, “. . . we need wisdom to be able to welcome and create beautiful, true and good stories. We need courage to reject false and evil stories. We need patience and discernment to rediscover stories that help us not to lose the thread amid today’s many troubles. We need stories that reveal who we truly are, also in the untold heroism of everyday life.”

The late English writer, Daniel O’Leary underscored this when he remarked, “Hope or despair can spring from the stories we choose to tell. Stories can be told that pander to the weakness in us, or we can reach for stories that will empower us to imagine and create a better world . . . Despair creeps in when we forget the story; hope grows in our memory of it.”[2]  

As O’Leary observes January is ordinarily a month for courageous beginnings.” Yet, of course, this year has started with a great deal of anxiety for us particularly in the face of the challenges of the bushfire crisis in which we discover ourselves with all its many implications and the emergence of the coronavirus more recently.

It is a time, therefore to bring back to our memory and hearts the stories that give us meaning – the story that has animated the life of our school community for such a long time, the story that is at the very heart of our religious Tradition, the story, as O’Leary beautifully describes it, of “the enduring love and compassion at the heart of our ever-green story – the Incarnation story . . .” We are the custodians of those beliefs and values which are at the heart of this story – those of justice, fairness, mutual respect and of the equality and holiness of all people.”  We know this story to be true. We know it to be true because we have seen its fruits. We have seen how the story gives sight to the blindness of prejudice, how the story restores hearing to the deafness of selfishness, how the story cures the disease of souls, how the story opens new possibility even in the paralysis of fear and disillusionment. We know its veracity because we have seen its beauty and promise lived out in a countless community of people across time and culture and circumstance. We have seen, through the power of this story, what is dead come back to life. 

“We tell stories to help man endure by lifting his heart,” remarked William Faulkner, the American writer in his acceptance speech of the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature.  Now more than ever we need to hear the stories that have kept us steady for such a long time, to be uplifted by them, and to be challenged by them. To go back to what O’Leary said, “Despair creeps in when we forget the story; hope grows in our memory of it.” 

The Brigidine story is today entrusted to our new Principal, Ms Richmond. Teash it is given to you to be told in new and creative ways. In particular, it is given to you not simply to read or to remember or to pass on. Then the story would lose its interest and grow contemptible by its familiarity. Indeed, the great story-teller, J.R. Tolkien said of learning: “Real education begins when the familiar looks strange.” And so, this means that it is your duty not just to read and retell the story entrusted to your care today, but rather to write new chapters to the story, and even further to elicit the generosity of the whole community in such writing. To make sense the new chapters need to have continuity with the past chapters, those chapters scripted by past generations of Brigidine. But those chapters would leave us suspended in our hope and expectation if they do not give rise to the new chapters for which you will have the responsibility to write. Only in this way, will the story continue to grow, continue to entrance and excite, continue to convey a Truth that is living and transformative.

This morning we entrust the Brigidine story to you as we enact another story, the story of the Eucharist, the story of Jesus own self-emptying become a self-giving. In this story “we continue to believe,” as O’Leary writes, “that humanity is still and always evolving toward that final Omega-point of a peace-filled belonging.” May this always be your dictionary in the task of writing the new chapters of the Brigidine story. 

[1] “Message of Pope Francis for the 54th World Communications Day,” http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/communications/documents/papa-francesco_20200124_messaggio-comunicazioni-sociali.html

[2] Daniel O’Leary, “Beginning with our Hearts,” The Tablet (7 January 2017), 16.

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