Noel Rowe, from retreat notes written by Mary MacKillop
"Two creatures feature on the Australian coat of arms - the emu, which is a flightless bird, and the well known kangaroo. These animals were purposely chosen because they share a very unusual characteristic. You see, both the emu and kangaroo can only move forward, they cannot move backwards. And so the Australian coat of arms serves to remind us of the importance of always moving forward. It is fitting that Australia’s first native saint, Mary MacKillop is one of the finest examples of a person who always sought to move forward.
There were plenty of really tough times in Mary’s life and at no point did she give up. Rather than be held back by her past or even her current challenges, Mary always sought to move forward. So what helped her rise above the many challenges that life threw her way? Well I feel it was down to her faith. Mary had many great characteristics but overriding all of these and in fact underpinning all of these was an incredible faith. She once said, ‘Faith is the first essential if we are to cope with life's difficulties.’
Unfortunately it’s hard to fully capture what faith is as there are so many different sides to it. But ultimately true faith will involve prayer, trust and service. That trust was clearly evident in Mary’s life. In the midst of her difficulties she never doubted that God was with her. In fact she believed that wherever we are, no matter how messy it is, we will find God. This gave encouragement as she knew she could always rely on God, in fact she once said, “God gives me strength for what is necessary”
And while it’s lovely to celebrate Mary’s virtues today I feel she would not be happy if that was all we did. She was a practical, hardworking saint and she would want today to serve a purpose. Yes honour her and especially offer genuine tribute and thanks to the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, sisters who have given and are still giving incredible service in Australia and also a lot closer to home, here in our diocese. However the practical side of Mary MacKillop would want us to leave this celebration willing to try harder to make a difference in our personal lives, in our communities and then even in our world.
So today we should ask ourselves what we can learn from Mary. You see Mary’s life shows us what is possible and what we are capable of. Mary would not want us to feel that her faith and life are beyond us. Instead she would want us to know that we could all have a similar faith. You see faith is like a muscle, if we want our faith to grow stronger we simply have to exercise it, we have to use it. Deepening our faith involves putting effort into praying, into trusting and into serving.
So a practical difference we could begin in our lives today is to try to deepen our faith. And because Mary’s trust in God was such an important part of her faith we could begin by trying to increase our trust in God. Mary’s incredible trust may be beyond us, but at least we should start somewhere. Having a sense of trust or providence in our lives means that we believe that everything that happens, be it good or bad, happens for a reason; and then knowing that in the midst of it all God is with us. Trusting this, should encourage us to live more fully irrespective of how messy or tough things are. And deepening our trust isn’t beyond any of us. Trust deepens the more we trust. So we just have to make the conscious decision to actively trust God more. Rather than rely simply on our own resources and become weighed down by our own difficulties and shortcomings, we should give it all to God. We must try to always entrust to him every minute of every day, every worry, ever situation, knowing that if we place these in God’s hands, they are in the best of hands.
Another way we can make a difference is to adopt Mary’s motto for life. Her motto was ‘never see a need without doing something about it.’ She wanted everyone to know something of the compassionate heart of God. If we are people of faith we cannot turn a blind eye to the genuine need of others. The more we grow in faith the more we should grow in compassion and service. Obviously we can’t do everything, but we can do something and as Mary once said, “Do all you can with the means at your disposal and calmly leave the rest to God.” Mary shows us what is possible when one person cares enough to try and make a difference no matter how small they feel their efforts might be.
Mary remained inspiring even to the end. In fact she used her dying breath to utter two tiny words – four letters really. Now, what could you say in four letters, well in Mary’s case, with four letters you can say everything. Mary’s final words were ‘Go on’ - it is hardly surprising that such a practical, hardworking and faithful saint would use her last words to simply encourage us to keep going no matter what.
The best service we can pay to Mary today is to try to imitate her virtues. She was a person of prayer of trust and of service who always moved forward and never gave up. May we try to be people who do the same. And remember Mary’s motto, ‘never see a need without doing something about it’, may we try to live this as best we can. And finally based on her dying words of encouragement, may we be people who always go on, go on trusting, go on praying and go on serving, knowing that God is with us and if we truly believe that God is with us, sure what else would we need. And when we face difficulties, if we find ourselves questioning our ability to make a difference in this world, may Mary’s life encourage us and in the midst of our doubts may we hear her whisper ‘Go on’"