Loved and Sent (Assumption and Mary MacKillop)
There is no need to be afraid, little flock, for is has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom.
As I reflect on these opening words from this weekend’s Gospel reading, I am struck by their appropriateness within the context of this particular week. More by coincidence than by design, the next seven days are bookended by two liturgical events of great significance for the universal Church and for the Christian Story in our country.
This Sunday, (8 August) we rememSentber the death of Mary MacKillop, the first Australian Saint, to be officially canonized on October 17. Next Sunday, (15 August) we will celebrate the feast of the Assumption of Mary into the glory of Heaven. Each of these two liturgical events speak to me of past and future, of destiny and of commitment, in terms of who we are and of who we will be. Most of all, both liturgical events draw their significance and their energy from those words of the Gospel: “There is no need to be afraid, little flock . . .”
To be addressed as little flock and being designated as those to whom the Father has pleased to give the kingdom, express deep affection and personal endearment – precisely the kind of affection and endearment that God has for each of us individually. Whatever our image or understanding of God, the God of Jesus is definitely the one who wants to enter into a relationship with each of us, a relationship so deep and so eternal that nothing can keep us away from his presence and his love. The feast of the Assumption points precisely to this eternal presence in life and in death. When we love someone deeply we want to be with that person both in life and death, we long for their presence, and we treasure the times when we are together sharing who we are and energized by the life and story of the Other. Mary who had lived that presence in her own very body could not but be with the One she had given life and love to, and for eternity. And that is our destiny too. All of us, whatever our earthly story may unfold, our destiny is to be with our God for all eternity. Today we celebrate as God’s gift to us of our future not so much as a payback for what we may have done or not done, but simply because God thinks of us as his precious “little flock”.
The realization of God’s eternal plan of loving presence, however, is not just a pie-in-the-sky-when-we-die. The experience of this God-enriched love and presence needs to become a reality in our daily life and in our mutual relationships. I believe in God’s love and care when in my need I discover and experience love and care around me. Then the God of Love becomes real and tangible in my life. Jesus’ insistence in the Gospel on being “dressed for action . . . awake and ready . . . because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” does not necessarily refer to the final call into death, lest our ledger be unbalanced. I believe that this “readiness’ has to be “awareness” of God’s presence and a call deeply set in the reality of each day, in the encounters I make, in the repetitive or unexpected event of my daily routine, at home, at school, in the office or at the bus stop. Each of these moments can be “the moment” where God reveals himself through other people or through the silence of our boredom-laden life. Each moment of our life can be a revelation of God’s love and presence, particularly in the presence of need and/or challenges, and we have to be “ready” to meet the challenge and to respond to the revelation” as it presents itself to us. In this perspective the Gospel today calls us to discover, acknowledge, and act upon God’s loving presence addressing us “beloved” and “little flock” in every instant of our earthly existence, so as to finally enjoy the eternal presence for which we are destined and which Mary the Mother of Jesus is point out to us.
This is precisely why we rejoice in the memory and the heritage of Mary MacKillop, our own home-grown saint. Mary’s motto “Never see a need without trying to do something about it” is not just a nice platitude for philanthropy, but a living and eternal expression of what it means to make real and believable God’s endearment and affection for each of us and all of us. We often do saints a great disservice by placing them outside our human condition, as if endowed with spiritual and human gifts, not attainable by the majority of the rest of us, stuck in the normality and frailty of our daily humanity. On the contrary, Mary MacKillop stands as the ultimate exemplar of a woman totally caught up in her time and place – a time and place of great turmoil, insecurity and lacking fundamental human needs. Relying entirely on Jesus reassurance to his disciples that there is no need to be afraid, and drawing inspiration and energy from the acceptance of God’s loving presence in her own personal struggles and misunderstandings, she immersed herself totally into the human situation of that time with courage and determination.
It was through this radical and fearless immersion in the human situation that she acknowledged, discovered and acted upon the conviction of God’s eternal presence and love for her and for the whole world. She was ready to see this God in whomever and wherever, particularly when humanity was at its lowest ebb and in greatest need. As a response to that “awakening to the reality around her”, she could not but reveal that same God to those who needed to discover it most. Energized by the awareness of being one of God’s little flock, and through her commitment to love and human promotion, she revealed and brought the love and endearment of God into the life of thousands of marginalized, lonely and destitute people in her own time and for all future generations in this country and the world over. It was through her “readiness to see God” in the world of real people and situations that she became the lamp alight for “people forgotten in the darkness” of poverty, ignorance, destitution and abuse, revealing to them their true reality and their destiny as objects of God’s love now and forever.
Both events bracketing this Sunday speak in very powerful terms of the living and loving presence of God in and beyond our life. May the memory of the Assumption of Mary and the life of Mary MacKillop, challenge and stimulate each and all of us to grow in our awareness of being God’s beloved, marked for an eternal destiny of togetherness and love with our God and with each other, and called to a down-to-earth commitment to mutual love and concern both as a response and a revelation to the whole world that no matter who we may be fundamentally we all belong to God’s beloved little flock to whom God has entrusted his Kingdom of peace, justice and love.
Fr. Peter Varengo PP