Saint Mary MacKillop…..and the rest of us….truly human.

October 17, 2010
Autumn in the Fitzroy Gardens, 1894 by John Mather

And this, they say, is Melbourne in its prime:

the air crispened as though for taste,

sunlight playing among the burning sugars,

a green defiance flagging limbs,

the files of trees like dreams commanded outright.

Elm and linden, pine and maidenhair,

so many sentinels of life,

they rise up from their own shadows, proclaiming

an earthed vitality, a sky

they cannot see, and the sun’s cascading fire.

Mather is gone, of course, and the vine of years

fastens the tighter for its offered fruit:

but still the woman pauses on the path,

her child engrossed by the lit palings

and half immortal like the watching statue.

It comes to me that this is the life of the mind –

a passage made on another’s way,

silent attendants holding out their powers

even as Fall asserts its own,

a readiness to wait if pause is given.

‘More than you remember’, the poet said,

‘stays green all winter.’ Nature’s art

persists in mind and eye as well, the two

staying the puzzled heart with rumours

of buried gold and a road come round again.

 ~ Peter Steele, Jesuit Priest and Poet

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On the occasion of the canonisation of Mary MacKillop 17 October 2010


Fr. Paul Mullins, S.J.  Parish Priest

Contrary to what is being put out in various publications, Mary MacKillop is not Australia’s first saint. She is, however, Australia’s first canonised saint.

During his pontificate Pope John Paul II canonised some 500 saints and beatified 1340 people. There were those both within the church and beyond who thought he was far too zealous in this matter of canonisations; a slower, more wary approach should have been the practice. Pope Benedict XVI has been less zealous than his predecessor in this matter. However, it is my suggestion that we should not be surprised by the number; rather we should expect more. Consider the image of heaven which is described by John in the seventh chapter of the Book of Revelation: “I saw a huge number, impossible to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language; they were standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands.” John suggests that the number of saints, those who spend eternity with God is countless.

That is why I say Mary MacKillop is not Australia’s first Saint, but she is the first Australian officially recognised by the Church and raised to her altars.

There has too been much discussion about Mary’s progress to sainthood. In the modern world people are wary of the proclamation of miracles, and so they should be. The whole procedure is for many, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, mediaeval.  It is viewed with scepticism and bewilderment in an age where much of what is witnessed has a logical and rational explanation. Pope John Paul II simplified the process to sainthood, but it still requires two miracles before the Church formally declares a person a saint and is thus to be revered by the universal church.   The verification of a miracle is an exhaustive process and the miracle itself can only be attributed to God. The person who is being considered for canonisation is recognised as the intermediary. However, whatever or not of miracles the person being examined for sainthood must fit the criteria which God has laid down and which is evident in the scriptures. Sainthood is open to all of us, but to qualify we must fulfil certain criteria.

Consider what the prophet Micah told us: “what is good has been explained to you, man; this is what God asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God.” (6: 8). Move to the New Testament and we have abundant criteria by which to measure the sanctity of others and our own.  Consider the beatitudes in the fifth chapter of Saint Matthew’s gospel.  Finally, in the twenty-fifth chapter of the same gospel, reflect on the depiction of the Last Judgement. Aside from whatever miracles have been attributed to the intercession of Mary MacKillop, it is abundantly clear that Mary’s life, measured against the demands of the scriptures, indicates her essential humanity and her sanctity.  It is my contention that only the churlish could not rejoice in Mary’s recognition by an international organization – this, I suggest, is true for believer and non-believer alike.

Mary MacKillop reaches across the great divide of Australian society, both the one which existed in the 19th and 20th centuries and which exists today. Her life speaks to all decent people.

The product of a dysfunctional family, Mary MacKillop knew hardship, misunderstanding, illness and rejection. She recognised the value of education for all in an age when women in particular did not have the opportunities for education that their male counter-parts did, and which many thought unnecessary. She was able to withstand the rejection of her own faith community. She travelled extensively in an age when it was difficult to travel, all in the name of helping others. She had friends both within her Catholic community and in the wider Christian community when the divisions between the Christian denominations were accented; bigotry on both sides was common. Mary MacKillop inspired friendship and loyalty because she was both loyal and a friend. She was supported by a Jewish benefactor.

St Matthew depicts the Last Judgement when we will be called to give account of ourselves: “I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me” ( 25:35-36), Judging by this standard, God’s standard, Mary MacKillop must be among those who have inherited the Kingdom prepared since the foundation of the world.

 Her commitment to the poor, the outcast, the despised, those who had no voice or power in society is undoubted. Her commitment to her God is also undoubted. Mary MacKillop had, as may be judged humanly every reason to be bitter; she had every reason to doubt God. She experienced personal tragedy- the drowning of her mother; she was questioned and condemned by her own church community.  She was treated with suspicion; she was intelligent, courageous and faithful, a visionary who did not allow the less courageous, the frightened and the small- minded to lessen her enthusiasm or destroy her faith.

 Mary MacKillop is recognised in the Catholic World as Australia’s first canonised saint, but she belongs to a long line of faithful people, both Australian and others. They are the millions of people who have enlivened human history with their courage, fidelity and their quiet witness. Among them are people whose lives are unheralded and whose names are known only to their families and friends; those whom they touched in the most gentle of ways.  God knows these people, these saints.  

As a primary student at a Josephite convent school in the late 1950s I, like my class mates, was taught the Penny Catechism – although it cost 3d in my day.

“Why did God make you”? was one question. The response was: “God made me to know him, love him and serve him here on earth and to be happy with him forever in heaven”. All very neat  and I believe it.

 But to know, to love, and to serve all require a learning process, learning experiences. Mary MacKillop learnt from her life experience. She was stronger for the cross which she carried every day. Thus to know , to love and to serve God was her way.

A woman of vision, generosity, and courage, all that she did was underpinned by her faith in and her love of God, nurtured by her devotion to the Eucharist. Mary MacKillop is a great Australian but, more than that, she is an embodiment of what it is to be truly human.

 Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.    

~ Mark Twain

Sermon and quote swiped from St Ignatius Parish, Norwood, South Australia


One comment

  1. I love that painting of now-Saint Mary, holding the 6 baby kangaroos, soaring on her horse up to heaven!

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