Plenary Council / Formation / Self-Care / Benedictine Union / General Audience / Big Storm / Pentecost Homily
In this issue
“Gaudet Mater Ecclesia… Mother Church rejoices”. These words of the much-loved St Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and set the tone for the ensuing journey. The Holy Spirit was with him and with the two and a half thousand Council Fathers as they launched into the deep over the next four years. There were many twists and turns ahead, steep climbs and dark valleys, anxious searching, and even an ambush or two. But, through it all, the Church undoubtedly listened to what the Spirit was saying to the churches, and Mother Church was gifted with the Spirit’s light and joy.
Pope John’s words express an enduring appropriateness for our Australian Catholic Church on the eve of the first of the two sessions of its Fifth Plenary Council. It is a moment of grace, of great significance for our future as a faith community, a moment of expectation and hope. Opportunity for an even more enthusiastic embrace of the Spirit inspired vision of Vatican 2 is being offered us. In addition, the Australia and the Australian Church of today are in a very different place from that of the yesterday that was Vatican 2. There has been a great flood of water under (sometimes over?) the bridge in the intervening five to six decades. There are fresh challenges demanding the attention of the ecclesial and civic communities. Providence has blessed us, in this time of the Francis papacy, with the urgent invitation to walk together, work together and pray together for the coming of God’s kingdom among us.
This is a time of “all in together this sunny weather”, social distancing presumed! Vatican 2 quoted St Augustine to the effect that “from the bishops to the last of the faithful” all the baptised have an anointing from God equipping us to make our contribution to an ongoing penetration of the Good News and its application in daily life. The preparatory stages of the Plenary Council sought our faith-inspired insights into the needs of this time and place, and possible ways forward. Covid-19 has dictated a raft of ongoing re-sets. As at the time of our going to press, Assembly 1 will be held in a multi-modal form online on October 2-10, 2021 and Assembly 2 will be held in Sydney on July 4-9, 2022.
Our abbot, Steele Hartmann, is one of the 280 Members expected at the Council assemblies. They are drawn from the various sectors of the Australian Church and across the nation. There will also be non-voting Advisers and Observers. Over recent months ZOOM has been gathering them for preparatory input, rules of the game, and getting-to-know you sessions.
When all Members are participating together in the plenary sessions, these will be live-streamed, allowing those who aren’t Members to hear how the assembly is unfolding from their armchairs. (Perhaps a Covid lockdown alternative to presence at sports fixtures or live concerts?) We are promised daily stories, photos, videos and other coverage of the Council assemblies.
Were you one who asked the Plenary website FAQ corner: “Can I pray for the success of the Plenary Council?” The answer is an emphatic: “Sure can! Please do!” The Plenary Council Prayer can be accessed on the website in multiple formats. Or you and God may prefer something straight from the heart!
The 2021 Ongoing Formation for the community as a whole is using another of the excellent Great Courses series: Professor Jodi Magness, PhD, lecturing on “Jesus and His Jewish Influences.” The Second Vatican Council reminded us that Jesus, and his mother Mary, the apostles, and many of the early disciples who proclaimed the Gospel to the world, were all Jews. They didn’t live in a vacuum. They were all impacted and formed by the culture and history that was theirs. Jesus himself received and discerned in a real world. More than one of us has registered how little we really knew about those centuries immediately preceding Jesus’ life as a Jew. They were as important for him as - whether we know it or not - are the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth century events and movements that, through the more recent ancestors on our family trees, are to the people we have turned out to be. Pope Pius XII famously taught: “We are all spiritually Semites”. What Jesus received, what choices he made in his time and place, still carry the Gospel to us. Dipping our toes into those times and places is definitely interesting and valuable.
“God helps those who help themselves”. This exhortation was once directed to major superiors at a General Chapter. Though not many of us have had the experience of being such a leader. And then if ever you have been diagnosed with some medical or psychological condition, we are blessed in Australia with access to information and professionals about how to care for ourselves. Here and in this day if you’ve had something, you’ve had a course in self-care, right?
So, one winter’s day when the above title headed a schedule on the community notice board, a jaw might have dropped. One of our deceased brethren, Br Joachim, used to say, “We are not the Sisters of Mercy” (presuming that the Sisters had it easier!). No, we are Cistercians! But as it happened on July 5th, a Sister of Mercy we did meet!
Sr Nicole Rotaru came and gave the community three sessions on Self-care, and indeed taught us something new for acquainted and unacquainted alike. Nicole talked to us about the various standard definitions of self-care, of mental health; on the signs more self-care may be needed; and the areas of self-care. She was patient when finding we needed a tad more priming to discuss with our neighbour. Her personable and sensitive approach endeared her to us.
Her final session, on vicarious trauma, was a highlight. She defined it as “the emotional residue of exposure that we have from seeing or listening to, the trauma situations of others. We become witnesses to their pain, fear, and terror.” Having worked as a missionary in Sudan and experienced the painful conditions of patients in a make-shift hospital, Nicole was well prepared to share on this less common subject. “Such are the after-effects sometimes when we go out to others in love”. But what was remarkable was how universal the experience of vicarious trauma is. It can be the result of events that we have experienced in our past that come back to us in later life. And for those with vivid imaginations, it can even be what we have heard or read. And these traumas arise beyond our control, regardless of our rational acceptance of the past. You may know you are okay here and now, yet wonder why am I experiencing this trauma? Nicole’s answer was: “Our bodies remember”.
Meanwhile, Nicole’s PowerPoint presentation, and moments of reflection while listening to music helped place these issues into our Christian perspective. One song recording she played was attributed to Julian of Norwich, in which we heard a woman’s soprano voice as though storming the earth from heaven, “All shall be well”. And one of the quotes featured was by Diarmuid O'Murchu, “We must learn to cherish and care for our bodies as the Spirit’s primary articulation and expression of empowering creativity”. Sr Nicole’s sessions on self-care were a blessing for us. Self-care is important for all - yes, even for Cistercians hidden away in the hills.
Four men are in monastic training here at present: Simon, our Junior Professed; two Tarrawarra novices – Moses and Piotr; and Jonathon, a novice from Kopua, our New Zealand community who is availing of a peer group and the courses being presented. There is a strong course emphasis on early monastic history and spirituality. The students are spending time with the Egyptian Desert Fathers; Anthony, classically the pioneer of Christian hermit life; Pachomius, a fellow Egyptian who laid the foundations of the monastic community way; Origen, Evagrius, and Cassian who provided the intellectual presentation of the movement and a bridge from Egypt to Europe. They are also getting to know our basic monastic documents – the sixth century Rule of St Benedict and the twelfth century Cistercian Exordium. In addition, attention is being given to human sexuality and the monastic vows.
The Tarrawarra community were happy to welcome members of the Australian and New Zealand Benedictine Union for the AGM from 20th – 22nd May. After a break of two years, courtesy of COVID-19, we all appreciated the value of a face-to-face meeting following the difficult year of 2020. We were fortunate to pick dates that weren’t impacted by lockdown restrictions. Who knows what 2022 will bring!
The community reports and the conversation flowing from them were an important part, as always, of our agenda.
Carmel Posa SGS, as co-editor of “Tjurunga”, gave a very encouraging report. There is sufficient material for the next few issues. Subscriptions are holding up well and TJ is in the black. The Australasian Benedictine Review, “Tjurunga”, is a child of the fruitful Benedictine Union and has matured into a highly regarded journal within the global Benedictine/Cistercian community and is now celebrating fifty years of publication. To mark this milestone, TJ has been launched online via Tarrawarra’s website (www.cistercian.org.au/ tjurunga). This has been made possible in part by the good work of our Fr Samuel and Br Simon. It promises to be an excellent resource with an index and back issues available. The hardcopy edition of TJ will continue.
On Saturday 22nd a Study Day under the heading of “Reading Benedict Today” was held at Pilgrim Theological College, Parkville, Melbourne. Numbers were restricted (COVID again) but we were able to live-stream the lectures given by Carmel Posa SGS and Michael Casey OCSO. These two lectures are available as audio on the new Tjurunga site referred to above.
Michael Casey’s “The Promise of Deliverance: Reading Second Isaiah” rolled off the press of Orbis Books early this year. The dedication page reads: “Written during the reign of Coronavirus. Dedicated to its victims”. Second Isaiah refers to chapters 40-55 of that major prophet. Walter Brueggemann writes: “Michael Casey moves quickly beyond the categories of historical criticism to offer us the theologicalspiritual riches of the text. In eight gentle, accessible vignettes, Casey considers central themes of Isaiah that yield resources for the sustenance of life and faith”. His eight chapters deal with the themes of consolation, transcendence, servanthood, glory, sin, compassion, awake!, and deliverance. These themes are as relevant today as they were originally. (The book is available through our Gift Shop).
Monasticism has always been marked by the practice of public reading, especially in its liturgies in the church, and during community meals. We listen together. In this way we are exposed to, and enriched by, many voices. One we have welcomed repeatedly in recent years is that of Pope Francis. We have listened to his down-to earth words on “the call to holiness in today’s world”; on the responsibility each of us has for “the joyful proclamation of the Gospel”; on our life as children of the one Father in a “fraternity and social friendship” which knows no bounds and transcends differences of origin, nationality, colour or religion; and on the urgency of embracing “care for our common home, the earth”.
Most recently we have received his teaching on prayer in his thirty-eight instructions on the topic, delivered as his Wednesday public audiences, all available online. They average two A4 page grabs, and are biblically and experientially rooted. Francis centres his reflections around the prayer of Old Testament figures such as Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Elijah and David; and New Testament ones including Jesus himself as man of prayer and teacher of prayer, Mary as prayerful woman and our companion in prayer. He draws inspiration from the nascent Church at prayer, and teases out themes such as petition, intercession, thanksgiving and praise. Praying with the liturgy and with the scriptures is explored as rich entrances into Christian prayer. Ever practical, Francis devotes one reflection to prayer in daily life, and others to the struggle we all have in prayer, and the feeling at times that we are alone, abandoned, communicating with the void. He borrows St Teresa of Avila’s image of “the madwoman in the house” to speak of distractions when the imagination wanders, and wanders, and wanders. And he faces the “scandal” when people pray with a sincere heart, ask for things that correspond to the Kingdom of God, and, nevertheless, God does not seem to listen to them. He reminds us that the prayer Jesus addresses to the Father in Gethsemane also seems to go unheard. Francis encourages us: “Do not forget: Jesus is praying for me. Now? Now. In the moment of trial, in the moment of sin, even in that moment, Jesus is praying for me with so much love”.
Highly recommended. No parental guidance required!
Ernst Fries, our neighbour, friend and source of various pieces of sacred art, died in 2020. His family generously gifted us with his personally crafted crucifix from his coffin. Formerly, it hung in his room and is now on the wall of our Blessed Sacrament chapel. A replica was already situated on the grave he shares with his wife, Rosemary. Over the years Ernst was commissioned to design and execute: our cross-and-circle logo, originally for the pillars at our front entrance, but since replicated frequently; the tabernacle lamp with its evocation of Moses’ experience of the divine presence in the burning bush; the processional cross used for solemn liturgies; the glass and metal candleholders on the altar; the small sculpture memorial of the seven 1996 Cistercian Algerian martyrs; and the suspended “Four Elements” glass and metal piece given for our library by the Friends of Tarrawarra. When he wrote “Life on the Other Side”, an account of his Bavarian childhood during World War 2, he was assisted with a linguistic editing from Tarrawarra.
Tarrawarra was in the path of the Big Storm that struck from an unusual south-easterly direction on the night of 10 June. Gippsland and Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, especially the Dandenongs, took the brunt of it. Power outages ranged between days and weeks due to lines downed by falling trees. What a job the State Electricity and Emergency Services had and did! We were without power, except from our small generator which kept the fridges going, for three full nights and days. Our time schedule had to be radically adjusted. We came to appreciate, through personal experience, Benedict’s pre-electricity wisdom when he arranged in the sixth century that “Vespers be celebrated early enough so that there is no need for a lamp while eating, and that everything can be finished by daylight”.
A falling branch killed one unfortunate calf. With Pollyanna, we were “glad” that it wasn’t one of us! On the night of the storm we recorded 81 mls, with more in subsequent days. The Yarra waters rose with unaccustomed rapidity while we had several herds of cattle on the river flats. Hausia and Bernard rescued one lot through a rushing flood. The others had to crowd on small islands of grass for a few more days before being moved to the hills. They have migrated back and forth a number of times, with the rising and the falling of the waters, to avoid putting too much pressure on the higher paddocks. Hausia has been able to keep them reasonably happy with our good store of silage and hay. Word got around the avian grapevine and in no time we had the company of black swans and pelicans, varieties of ducks, geese and other waterfowl. The frogs made their contribution to our acoustic world too. Wonderful! “You can’t lose ‘em all!”
“LISTEN TO WHAT THE SPIRIT IS SAYING TO THE CHURCHES”
“LISTEN TO WHAT THE SPIRIT IS SAYING TO THE CHURCHES”
PENTECOST HOMILY 2021 by Fr David Tomlins
There is a certain logic in the ordering of the books of the New Testament. However, my logic would like to re-arrange them slightly so that the Gospel of Luke is followed immediately by Luke’s second book, the Acts of the Apostles. It’s not just another book. It is part two of the same story. The other three evangelists also tell the story of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection, and perhaps a brief commissioning of the disciples: “Go, and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19). Mark does add: “And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them…” (Mark 16:20). Luke says emphatically that the ministry of Jesus was not the end of the story. He expands Mark’s “they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them…” This is the narrative of Acts, it is Luke’s message to the Church of all ages: the Lord is still working with you and through you to bring the Good News to all people.
The Holy Spirit is a prominent protagonist in Luke’s two books. There are three instances of singular importance. Firstly, at the Annunciation the angel Gabriel tells Mary “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called, the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Secondly, at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, at his baptism in the Jordan “the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, ‘Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased’” (Luke 3:21-22). “And Jesus”, Luke tells us, “full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil” (Luke 4:1-2). And he enters upon his mission in the synagogue at Nazareth, reading from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…”(Luke 4:18; Isaiah 61:1-2).
Thirdly, Luke, in this morning’s passage from the Acts of the Apostles (2:1-11), provides us with the only presentation of the Pentecost event. “The apostles had all met together in one room, when suddenly they heard what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven… and something appeared to them like tongues of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit”. Luke is speaking here of the group of Jesus’ disciples traumatised by the execution of their leader. Now they are “filled with the Holy Spirit”, set on fire. They exhibit an unaccountable boldness and joy. Pentecost is day one of a new reality; it is the birthday of the Church: “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit”.
The Church, each and every Christian disciple from that day forward, is “filled with the Holy Spirit” at baptism and, like Jesus, in the words of Isaiah, “sent to bring the Good News to the poor” (Luke 4:18). Peter, as usual, is straight into it that very morning. Luke writes: “Peter stood up… and addressed them in a loud voice”, quoting the prophet Joel. “‘In the days to come – it is the Lord who speaks – I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh…’” They will prophesy, see visions, dream dreams (Acts 2:14-22).
Pentecost 2021 is a special birthday for the Church in Australia. Why? It is special because we are all being called to come “together in one place” (Acts 2:1), namely, the fifth Plenary Council of the Australian Church. We have a joint appointment to “listen to what the Spirit is saying” to the churches of Australia today. The first of two assemblies will be held in October of this year, with the second in July of next year. Two preparatory stages have already been completed. We were consulted over a year ago about what we thought God was asking of the Australian Church at this time. Did you take up that invitation? 12,758 individual submissions were received, and another 4,699 group submissions; 222,000 participants in total. An appointed group undertook a discernment of this material based on these submissions. A Working Document (Instrumentum Laboris) was then produced and published (you can find it online). This, in part, will serve as the basis for discussions at the two assemblies. 280 delegates – bishops, priests, religious, and laity – will endeavour to listen to what the Spirit is saying through this wider consultation.
In 2001, at the beginning of the new millennium, Pope John Paul 2 wrote: “Conscious of the Risen Lord’s presence among us, we ask ourselves today the same question put to Peter in Jerusalem immediately after his Pentecost speech: ‘What must we do?’” (Acts 2:37). The fifth Plenary Council of the Australian Church is our asking ourselves that question: “What must we do?” What must we do as a community, here and now, to respond as faithful disciples of Jesus to the leading of his Spirit today and in the years ahead? What must we do for the Good News to be effectively shared with our brothers and sisters?
St Paul, in the second reading (Galatians 5:16- 25), distinguishes between being “guided by the Spirit” and “yielding to self-indulgence”. He provides a checklist that is always worth revisiting. At Pentecost, let’s focus on the signs of being “guided by the Spirit”. Paul insists: “The Spirit brings… love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and selfcontrol”. These are not our virtuous achievements. Paul says: “The Spirit brings…” Our part is to allow ourselves to be guided by the Spirit. This will result in us all being gathered together in one place, in the Spirit. It is the Spirit who creates communion in the Church, creates the communion that is the Church. As we pray in the third Eucharistic Prayer: “Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood may be filled with his Holy Spirit and become one body, one spirit in Christ”.
“What must we do?” The journey of the Plenary Council is already under way. Are we part of it? This is about us. We are the Australian Church. We are responsible for Jesus’ community and Good News in Australia at this time and into the upcoming generation. Nobody else can exercise this responsibility for us. So: “What must we do?”
Perhaps the first thing we must do is be positive, have great expectations because we trust in the Spirit’s presence and activity in our community, the Australian Church. The temptation might be to cynically announce that “they” don’t want anything to change and won’t allow it; or that the process will be highjacked by those with an agenda. No! “The Spirit brings trustfulness”. We must strengthen our confidence that the Spirit desires to be present and active. Next: Be interested. If you haven’t read the Working Paper (Instrumentum Laboris), maybe think about getting it and informing yourself. “Listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches”, not just to yourself. You might then want to contact one of the delegates (to be found online). It is not too late to make your thoughts known to someone who will be there. Above all, pray constantly in the time ahead for the Spirit’s will to be made manifest and brought to fruition. Be positive. Be interested. Pray constantly.
The Risen Jesus told his disciples when he was at table with them: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and then you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth”. Then “when the day of Pentecost came round, the apostles had all met together in one room, when suddenly they heard what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven… and something appeared to them like tongues of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit”. We, too, the Australian Church of 2021, have been called to wait in prayer for the Spirit to empower us to be witnesses and instruments in renewing the face of the earth.