Faith & Spirituality in Review
Ted Kennedy: Priest of Redfern, Edmund Campion, David Lovell Publishing, 2009, rrp $24.95.
Years have many names. Next year has been named the Year of Priests. Although it was not his intention, Ed Campion has written the perfect book to set his readers thinking and praying about what it means to be a priest.
His book describes the life of Ted Kennedy, the legendary Sydney priest who lived and worked with the Aboriginal community in Redfern. As readers of Ed’s vignettes on Australian church life in Madonna would expect, it is full of telling details that relate Ted Kennedy’s journey to the broader context of the Sydney Catholic Church and of the lives of priests within that church.
Ted Kennedy grew up in a Catholic Church apparently unchanging in its clerical shape and devotional forms. His early years and attitudes as a priest were those of his contemporaries. But his interest in liturgy was significant. With Roger Pryke and other friends he was responsible for the Living Parish Hymn Book, with its splendid hymns by James McAuley and Richard Connolly.
He grew into his distinctive style of priesthood while chaplain at Sydney University. He was always available to students, was an indefatigable listener, read widely and kept an open house. He developed his simple spiritual vision of seeing Christ in the people whom he met, a necessary vision when you have no space to call your own.
When he came to Redfern his initial aim was to experiment in team ministry. But it soon became a ministry to the Aborigines in the area. Ted was drawn more and more deeply into the lives of the people of the suburb. His church and presbytery became a place of welcome. It was not easy to live with the conflict, smells and noise of daily life there. The rock on which his ministry was built was respect. He saw himself as a stranger who had been invited in by the local people.
With such a radical ministry, Ted was inevitably felt an outsider in the church and broader society. He saw Aboriginal people as neglected and condescended to in both places. He was capable of tumultuous anger, which in turn brought out both magnanimity and harshness from those against whom it was directed. But he always sought forgiveness from those who became estranged.Ted Kennedy’s journey from the priest in control of his presbytery to the priest at the disposition of his people is an inspiring one. His was not a life that many Catholics, lay or Catholic, could live. But it does offer a gold standard of authenticity for judging the many exhortations we shall hear this coming year about priesthood.
Close to the Wind: Growing up Catholic, migrant, working class and a religious in Australia, 1955–2005, John Braniff, David Lovell Publishing, 2009, rrp $24.95.
John Braniff’s story of his life illuminates both religious formation and movements within the Catholic Church over the last fifty years. He tells of his early days in Australia as a migrant, his country schooling, and his years as a Marist Brother. It concludes with his decision to leave the congregation.
It is an important contribution to the Victorian Catholic story because he has such a great grasp of detail and insight into the complexities of the daily life of principals in Catholic schools after Vatican II. He had found the Council a liberating event, but had to deal with the anxieties about changes in the church, and the hostility that those changes engendered. He also speaks frankly of the divisions within his own congregation at the time. But he also expresses his great appreciation for the great support that he received there.
John Braniff appears in his book as an admirable and principled man, quietly passionate and courageous but with a cool and analytical view of the worlds in which he moves. He is an observer with high ideals and no illusions—difficult qualities to reconcile. His title suggests both the strength of the winds blowing in Catholic life after the Council, and also his calculation in steering close to the wind.
His final verdict on the state of the Catholic Church is pessimistic. The capitulation to the forces associated with Archbishop Lefèbvre has convinced him that the hopes that he once harboured have been dashed, and that the Catholic Church has lost its taste for freedom and truth. One may disagree with his judgment, but recognise how the viciousness with which he and others were attacked for implementing the Council has shaped his conclusion.
Ted Kennedy and Close to the Wind are available to Madonna readers at the special price of $22.00 per copy, including p&p. Order from PO Box 44, Kew East VIC 3102, cheques payable to David Lovell Publishing.
Some books for children from St Paul’s
Reviewed by Cecilia Condon
Such Is Life, Giovanni Acalera, illustrations by Mariarosa Guerrini, 2009, 144 pp, rrp $17.95.
Such is Life is one of those handy pocket-sized books imparting small parcels of wisdom on topics from faithfulness to friendship. Giovanni Acalera was inspired to write the book after reflecting on the advice he received from his own, much loved and respected grandfather but unfortunately, in transition from personalised advice to page, something has been lost. Separated from the intimate relationship of mentor to pupil, some of the tips come off as a little cold and didactic, others are just plain obvious. At times, I also felt that the book didn’t really flow; it seemed to gloss over profound reflections before moving on to more superficial musings that were entirely unrelated. To avoid the feeling that you are reading a jumbled shopping list of good advice, I recommend reading the book aloud with someone younger, and embellishing the quotes with your own personal experience. Such Is Life may not offer anyone over the age of twenty any revelations, but as part of a shared reading experience it has the potential to spark some very interesting discussions about living a life of love and faith in the face of adversity.
I Was There, Barbara Allen, illustrations by Lynda Kennedy, 2009, 32 pp, rrp $14.95.
Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to see Jesus at work, preaching and healing? Self confessed animal lover Barbara Allen has taken this imaginative leap one step further to create a delightful story about a little dog who follows Jesus along on his journey of earthly ministry. Not only are the illustrations clear and lively, but Allen’s simple story draws both adults and children right into the action. It’s a wonderfully engaging concept and a great way of introducing the major events of Jesus’ life to young children.
Wonderful God, Clare Horan, illustrations by Marcelle Krndija, 2009, 48 pp, rrp $17.95.
Every so often, something will strike us as particularly vivid. It can be anything: a beautiful face in a crowd, the way rain sounds falling on the windscreen, or just the smell of buttered toast. In these rare moments, we are suddenly reawakened to the startling majesty of the physical world, which is so often smothered by the pressures of daily life. Children naturally seem to possess that magical sense of awe and wonder for God’s creation, whereas adults sometimes need a bit of reminding. Luckily, Clare Horan’s musical prose and Marcelle Krndija’s lush illustrations tap into that childish sense of delight and they capture a truly joyful vision of God’s wonderful creation and our place within it. Read aloud with the kids, Wonderful God promises to be a popular and much loved book!
The Little Brown Book: Mary MacKillop’s Spirituality in Our Everyday Lives, Sue & Leo Kane, St Paul’s Publications, 176 pp, rrp $17.95.
The Little Brown Book reveals what the life of pioneer and occasional renegade, Mary MacKillop, can say to us in the 21st century. She faced many struggles in her own life but by allowing the promptings of God to change and guide her actions she grew from strength to strength. For many of us, it can be a real struggle to maintain such a strong and vivid connection with God, especially when we are caught up in the mundane practicalities of everyday life. Sue and Leo Kane have drawn upon the example set by Mary MacKillop to focus our attention on reconnecting with God through a deeper reflection on personal spirituality. The author’s have coupled MacKillop’s more poetic reflections on the nature of God and her obligations to him with appropriate biblical quotations, and then suffused these together with a lucid, conversational commentary.
While the book is loosely organised around the chronology of Mary’s life, it covers a vast range of topics, from courage and honesty to fear and stress, and each subheading focuses on a single theme.
The compact format invites rather than demands meditation and it allowed the reader to dip into reflection and prayer easily. The Little Brown Book challenges us to continue in MacKillop’s footsteps but it’s not a tough read. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea, or to that quiet time just before bed. And it’s small enough to slip into your back pocket for a little bit of wisdom in the midst of a hectic day.Cecilia Condon