Faith & Spirituality in Review
Larrikin Angel: A biography of Veronica Brady, Kath Jordan, Round House Press, South Fremantle, 294 pp, pb, 2009, rrp $32.95.
We are used to hearing about conventional saints and conventional religious. But of course, it is not the saints and religious who are conventional. It is our fixed ideas about them, the boxes into which we put them, that are conventional.
So it is helpful from time to time to read of real religious whose life takes Sister Veronica Brady ibvm. Her life began conventionally in an Irish Catholic family, at Catholic schools, in joining the Loreto sisters after university, and then teaching in a school.
Then she went to North America to study, found herself in the middle of the turmoil over civil rights and the Vietnam War, and returned to take up a teaching post at the University of Western Australia.
Her life les conventional, she began to speak at demonstrations, particularly about Indigenous rights, wrote fiercely about political decisions, was briefly a member of a turbulent ABC Board, and spoke critically of the treatment of women in the Catholic Church.
This detailed biography suggests that these activities are perfectly proper for a Religious to engage herself in. It also suggests that underlying Veronica Brady’s vocation, as under all enduring vocations, is a deep sense of God’s presence that runs through all the stages of a her life. She has found that in nature, in Australian literature, in people, and in the struggle to make a more just Australia.It is neither clothes nor defined roles that make a religious but a shared passion for God.
People of Compassion, Dave Andrews, TEAR Australia, 130 pp, pb, 2008, rrp $20.00.
Dave Andrews says we do not all possess Christ’s abilities, but we can live better by learning from those who have shown compassion towards others. He offers this collection of short biographies as examples of what he describes as ‘Christlike compassion’. They include the famous stories of Francis of Assisi, Florence Nightingale and Desmond Tutu, but also the lives of lesser-known men and women of faith from all around the world.
One of these is John Gribble, a minister who spoke out against violence towards Aborigines while facing anger from locals, the government and the church. Andrews gives a colourful account of Gribble dragging Ned Kelly out of a local pub to demand his stolen watch to be returned.I found the stories to be an accessible and interesting introduction to the lives of inspirational people. Their lessons provoke us to think about how we care for others and encourage us to show compassion to all. These people are not saints, as Andrews says, but ‘imperfect people in relentless pursuit of the practice of perfect compassion’.
Mary MacKillop: Touching our lives (rev. ed.), Judith M Steer rsj, St Paul’s Publications, 80 pp, pb, 2009, rrp $14.95.
This little book offers a short life of Mary MacKillop. It places her life and work in the framework of her relationship to God. Her life was eventful and involved her in many conflicts. So her struggle to be faithful to her vision speaks to our day as well as to her own.
Mary’s vision was of a group of women committed to the poor through caring and teaching. It took flesh during her time teaching at Penola. She soon realised that in Australia she could be effective only if her group was recognised by the church and was governed from within the congregation.
In realising this vision she had to persuade powerful men who had their own visions of the church. She was much helped by Julian Tenison Woods, although he later became distant because of the approach she took to religious poverty. She was excommunicated by Bishop Shiel in Adelaide and later expelled from Brisbane by Bishop Quinn, and deposed from office by Bishop Reynolds. Each of these men had their own ideas of how a congregation should relate to the local bishop. Their ideas were compatible with some forms of religious life. But they were incompatible with Mary’s own broad vision. This vision was eventually enshrined in the approval given by Rome to the congregation.Mary’s history shows her to be a saint for our day. She was direct, simple, modest in her dealings, and unshakeable in following her calling from God. She also had a vision of a church which was focused on the people to whom the Gospel was proclaimed. The relations between different groups within the church were shaped by the Gospel. This is a timely as well as a traditional vision.
The Pro Hart Pocket Companion, Raylee Hart, John Hart & Paul Lonergan, 96 pp, pb, 2009, rrp $19.99.
Most Australians could identify a Pro Hart painting—so many of them have one of his prints on the wall, or at least have seen his TV carpet-cleaner commercials. In an interview with journalist George Negus, he spoke of the inspiration his faith gave him. ‘I sort of paint religion’, he said. ‘I grew up with the Marist Brothers—I know about religion!’ Not many would know, however, that he read the Bible each day and listened to it on tape as he painted.
This little book links some of his favourite scripture quotes with his work. Images of paintings or details from them are reproduced in glowing colour alongside the excerpts from scripture, each sometimes illustrating the other, or providing a juxtaposition that sparks reflection. All his life Pro Hart was a stirrer. Good to see him stirring for God.
50 Days of Glory: From Resurrection to Pentecost, James Fitzpatrick omi, St Paul’s Publications, 64 pp, pb, 2009, rrp $12.95.
In Catholic life Lent is the great time when we focus on faith. We notice the change of colour in church, we chat with people about what we are all giving up or taking on, and we have a sense that Easter is coming.
Advent is a lesser time of preparation. It gets swamped by the busyness of Christmas. And we usually miss altogether the central period of reflection in the early Church – the period between Easter and Pentecost. For those baptised at Easter, and so for the church congregations to which they belonged, this was a vital time for deepening faith. The newly baptised were led deeper into prayer as they reflected on the riches of Christ. These were opened up to them especially through the Fourth Gospel.
We still find traces of this intense period in the Scriptural Readings used at mass from Easter to Pentecost. But if we want to make this time one of reflection, we need to do so by ourselves. For that a guide will be helpful.
This unpretentious little book contains fourteen short meditations on the Easter appearances of Jesus to his disciples. A brief passage from the Gospel is followed by a few comments situating the passage in the Gospel, a brief passage from John’s Gospel to meditate on, two or three questions to put to our own lives, and a concluding prayer.Each meditation offers a good starter for prayer, and together they help shape the reflective time that leads to Pentecost.