Saturday, February 20, 2010

Time to consider legacy of our first Saint

The news that the Vatican has set a date for the Mass that will mark the creation of Australia’s first saint, Mary MacKillop, will no doubt cause a huge sigh of relief among travel agents, tour operators and other ancillary services associated with the ‘business side’ of canonisation.

But set aside the actual event in October for a moment and it’s timely to ask just what having a national saint will mean for our country? What will be the long-term legacy of this pioneering woman’s elevation to sainthood?

Call me a wishful thinker but I hope there will be two key areas where we will see a transformation in one another’s hearts, minds and behaviours of Australians, post October. They will include our willingness to share our time, through volunteering, and our desire to offer financial support to those less fortunate.

The need for volunteers has never been greater. Scratch the surface of any community group or charity and you will find a need for people to give of themselves in some small, but practical way. Whether it’s patrolling the beaches as a Lifesaver, being involved in a local church or delivering Meals on Wheels, the opportunities for serving others are widespread. To quote Mary again: “Work on with the means placed at your disposal.”

In my capacity as the Director of a church agency assigned with the task of raising money to support the Catholic Church’s missionary efforts overseas (and in remote parts of Australia), the biggest pay-off I’m hoping for will be increased donations. More donations means that more lives can be changed! After all, to again quote the woman of the moment: “God loves courageous and generous souls.”

Just as Mary MacKilliop set about providing education for young children, and caring for those involved in prostitution, so many of the programs our donors support have similar focus. If people are moved b y her example, to open up their hearts and wallets, the long-term impact will be massive.

Imagine an Australian community where people regularly, and consistently, share a portion of their pay-packet with a charity of their choice? Imagine if every adult Australian took up the opportunity to give a few hours each week to a local charity or community group. You don’t have to be a Catholic to follow in Mary’s saintly footsteps!

This brings me to a third pointer about the impending canonisation of Mary MacKillop. While the ceremonies in Rome, and the ensuing festivities back here, will be joyous occasions for all those involved, there is no doubt that Mary’s life – as an advocate for the poor, a champion for change and her willingness to challenge authority - is one that should inspire us all. This is why the Roman Catholic Church goes to a lot of trouble to identify certain individuals as worthy of being called ‘saint’ – to remind us of what we are truly capable of!

In Brisbane, Mary MacKillop has been nominated by the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church, John Bathersby, as the “patron” for the Archdiocese (a geographic region bounded by Hervey Bay in the north, Gatton in the west and Burleigh Heads in the south). Hopefully, this will provoke greater reflection on both the words and deeds of Mary Mackillop, in the months ahead. Most importantly, however, it reminds us that in a world wracked by evil, the challenge is now up to us to do something. For as Mary herself reminds us: “Never see an evil without seeing how you may remedy it.”

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