Along the Track

2022

6 September - A Gathering Story

About fifteen years ago I was lucky enough to attend a synagogue in Jerusalem for that community’s Sabbath worship. After the service, the community gathered in small groups to discuss the scripture readings used as part of their worship that day. The next hour was filled with a very passionate and lively discussion. Despite differences in their interpretations, there was a common bond. They loved this Book, it was part of them and they were part of it. They brought their life experiences to it.

23 August - Is it any wonder?

We expect a lot from our teachers, and rightly so. We entrust our children to their care and we expect them to guide them, to teach them, to open their eyes and hearts and minds to the world around them. We want them to inspire their imaginations and share with them the richness of our history and our culture and our faith. We want them to help our children discover their talents and build on them and learn the skills necessary to contribute to the world we live in today.

9 August - Marriage

Families come in many shapes and sizes, many different incarnations. I worked in a remote area of Papua in the late sixties and early seventies. An enduring and endearing memory are the families I met in the small villages scattered through those remote mountains – their closeness, their care for one another, particularly when tragedy struck as it often did with infant mortality. The family unit was usually one husband, four wives and the children.

26 July - Lessons from the Past

The prophet Jeremiah had a terrible time. Right from his calling in his early twenties he was constantly in danger, particularly from the corrupt religious elite of his time. His fellow priests did not accept the legitimacy of his priesthood. They were suspicious of him. He was an outsider. He and his message were not acceptable. It was not surprising – they had too much to lose, they enjoyed their power and authority. His job was to carry God’s messages “over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jer. 1:10).

19 July - Telling the Truth

One of the most famous passages about the resurrection is the following:

While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed.

21 June - The Silent Word

Learning a language is hard. Not just learning the words and the syntax and the grammar, but the pronunciation and the accent too. And then you think you have mastered it and you try it out with other ‘native’ speakers and they can’t understand you! Language is much bigger than words. It embodies a culture, stories, a way of looking at the world, beliefs and traditions, a dialect that embodies long held local histories and customs. It is hard to pick that up in a language class.

7 June - Thank God for the Explorers

Could you imagine Italian food without tomatoes? Yet the humble tomato arrived there around 1500 all the way from South America, brought there by the explorers. Until then there were no tomatoes with pasta or any other Italian food. Two hundred years later, mass migration helped the tomato to spread across the globe. Not all such discoveries were as beneficial – tobacco hasn’t been a huge boost to the health of humankind. But so many discoveries have resulted from curiosity, from the desire to discover, to try out new ways, new ideas, new tastes.

24 May - Song of Joy

Ein Karem is a beautiful little town. It has an atmosphere that makes one conscious very quickly that something special happened here. It has a population of around 2,000 but attracts three million visitors a year, mostly pilgrims from around the world.

10 May - It's Just Harmless

I was in college with a person who was a master at labelling others with nicknames, myself included. Some were clever, some were funny, some were incomprehensible, some were original, witty even. But they all had one thing in common. They hurt. And I suggest that they encouraged the one who thought up the taunt. He was well known for it, even fifty or more years later. But it also encouraged the recipient to share the pain and hurt. We called his victims by those names and sometimes we even made up our own.

27 April - Joining in the Neighbourhood 3

Fr James Martin SJ, in an article in the Tablet magazine, refers to the rejection of Jesus in the synagogue (Luke 4:14-30) in his home town of Nazareth. Up until recently, Jesus had lived for thirty or so years in that town of perhaps 200 to 400 people so when Jesus stood up to speak, these people would have known him, and he them.

29 March - Joining God in the Neighbourhood 2

If we think about Jesus’ great missionary command, we probably think of “Go out and make disciples of all nations, baptising them etc” as we read in Matthew. That’s one but not the first. The one before that is probably more relevant to today....

15 March - Joining God in the Neighbourhood 1

Missional: Joining God in the Neighbourhood by Alan J. Roxburgh is a very timely book. It should be required reading for any Parish Council or anyone trying to build community intent on mission. To do this book justice in a few hundred words is impossible but there are a couple of thoughts worth considering.

1 March - Finding a Place to Call Home

It is not surprising today that there are so many films and TV shows about a place to call home. Arguably, we are witnessing the greatest migration of peoples across our planet in history. Sadly war or violence or poverty or destruction force many of them to leave their homes and even their countries. They don’t have a choice so they go in search of a place to call home.

15 February - Christmas in February

Luke announces Christmas in this way: I bring you good news of great joy, a joy to be shared. Luke 2:10.

1 February - For Those Going to School

The start of another year so at this time we think of all those going back to school, the students, the teachers and all those who work to make the school a place of welcome and discovery. We pray especially for those who are starting out on this new stage of life. And memories may come flooding back about our own school days too.

27 January - This Year I Resolve to...

Happy New Year! Let’s hope that 2022 plays out very differently. While 2021 may have had some highs, some good memories, I don’t think many of us will be sorry to bid it farewell. It was a tough year.

16 December - The Pandemic Christmas

So here we are, Christmas 2021, the closing days of this Pandemic year. To say the very least, it has been an ordeal like no other for tens of thousands, millions of people. As we near Christmas, we join our hearts and minds with those who have lost loved ones, those who have lost livelihoods, those who suffered if not from the illness of the virus then the loneliness or the depression it left in its wake. We join our hearts and minds with those who have no home, those we cannot name who sought safety, a new life on our shores and have been cast aside.

2021

14 December - A Friend in Me

When they (the Magi) had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him. So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.” Mtt 2 13 -15

30 November - Birthdays

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. Psalm 139: 13

It’s your birthday. So, here’s to being alive but also that you are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made!’ (Psalm 139). Birthdays remind us to celebrate all that is wonderful in our life, just being alive, love and friendships, achievements, our goals and dreams.

16 November - Never too Late

I copied this paragraph from a magazine in the doctor’s waiting room:

And when it is time to truly rest, I can be laid in the soil and a tree planted so that my children can hug me still, lay their weary head against my limbs, trace the lines of my life….we remain embodied in place that they may be always connected to the ones who loved them, saw their light and sung their songs when they had forgotten them.

2 November - Something to Consider

During the pandemic one of the front-line doctors wrote: When I ask patients what they want at the end of life, many are genuinely bewildered. “I don’t know. I didn’t think it would happen to me.”

19 October - Joseph 3

So what might Joseph have to say to us today?

The passion, the purpose of Jesus on earth, was to make the good news of God’s redeeming love present, to enable people to understand it, to embrace it and to live it. That was his vision, his dream. He called it the dream, the vision, the reign of God.

5 October - Joseph 2: With a Father's Heart

From the brief details we hear in the two gospels we know that Joseph cared for his wife and son and in their care Jesus grew in age, grace and wisdom (Lk 2:51-52). It wasn’t always easy.

14 September - Joseph I

Pope Francis has invited us to remember St Joseph throughout 2021, focusing on the theme of “With a Father’s Heart” So what has Joseph got to say to us today?

7 September - Open and Listening

I read a thought provoking article recently written by a person who described himself as an Irish Catholic by baptism, culture, and upbringing but one who is “lapsed but listening,” though still a “sceptic”. Others in that same article describe themselves as “believing without belonging”. There is another category “longing without belonging” mostly used about those who are searchers but who are not touched by present Church language. Some time ago, I listened to a group who described themselves as ‘Catholics in remission’. Others though are still practising, still believing, still finding a place in their church and still finding it to be a sign of hope.

24 August - In Disguise

Sr Ursula Hayes was an elderly Brigidine sister when I met her in Ararat many years ago. She had been there for a long time, teaching music at the end of her career. A wing of Marian College is named after her. She told me the story that, as a young woman from a wealthy Irish family, she was sent to finishing school in Ypres but war broke out and she was summoned home. During the journey the train stopped in the north of France and a troop train stopped next to it. The young soldiers gave those in her carriage hastily written notes to loved ones at home and begged them to post them.

10 August - Affirming Difference

In her book, Late Migrations Margaret Renkl recounts that in 2007, the fossil remains of a severely disabled prehistoric man was uncovered in what is now Vietnam.

27 July - I am Afraid

In Irish sign language for the deaf (perhaps in others too), the sign for fear is holding five or even ten fingers against your chest, close to your heart in a kind of rapid touching motion. The sign for courage includes that same fluttering of hands and then moving your hand into a fist. So, in sign language, courage literally emerges from fear.

13 July - A Better Idea

According to surveys, 62% of Australians are becoming less interested in news. Many have stopped watching or reading it. Around 44% of Australians think our news is too negative, even more so than readers and viewers in other countries.

15 June - Why am I so Angry

Along the Track is in its eighteenth year, believe it or not! Over those years I have received a variety of emails in response to particular editions but I always know I will receive many, many emails if I write about either forgiveness or anger, especially the latter. It seems to bring out very deeply held and strongly felt emotions. Whatever I write or suggest is always wrong! So why not avoid it? I could say that anger is all the rage, but I won’t. But there is a lot of anger around.

1 June - Mind How You Go

‘Take care of yourself and mind how you go’ is used often as a farewell in parts of Ireland. I heard it many times and took heart from it. It seemed a much better greeting than ‘see you later’ or ‘see you around’. So how do you take care of yourself, how do you ‘mind how you go?’

18 May - Babel

Ancient stories, often very familiar to us, can teach us very up to date and relevant lessons. The story of the building of the tower Babel in Genesis starts this way: "Now the whole world spoke the same language, using the same words." The people propose to build a mighty tower right up into the sky, a building that would make them famous and fill future generations with wonder and amazement.

4 May - Never-ending Journey

Nick Cave, Australian musician, singer-songwriter, author, screenwriter and composer wrote to some of his fans who questioned his belief in God:

Does God exist? I don’t have any evidence either way, but I am not sure that is the right question. For me, the question is what it means to believe. The thing is, against all my better judgment, I find it impossible not to believe, or at the very least not to be engaged in the inquiry of such a thing, which in a way is the same thing. My life is dominated by the notion of God, whether it is His presence or His absence. I am a believer – in both God’s presence and His absence. I am a believer in the inquiry itself, more so than the result of that inquiry.

20 April - Towel People

We are the towel peopleSoothers, cleansers, healersOf feet tired and sore and cut from the journey.

Christ’s sent people,Wiping away the dirt and blood and spittleOf the world’s hatred spewed onto the faces of the weak.

On our knees before others –And in homage to them,for Christ is there. (Anonymous)

30 March - Palm Sunday

The significance of Palm Sunday is often forgotten. It is all about fear. Jesus of Nazareth, this itinerant preacher from nowhere arrived at the gates of Jerusalem in a parody of imperial pomp. Instead of a stallion, he rode up on a borrowed donkey. In place of an army, he had a bunch of people throwing down their cloaks and palm branches as if he was someone important. And he was.

16 March - The Spring of Hope

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way……..

2 March - Like Children Part 2

In 1945 TS Eliot wrote: ‘the trouble of the modern age is not merely the inability to believe certain things about God which our forefathers believed, but the inability to feel towards God as they did.”

16 February - Like Children

It is a wonderful experience to live with small children. It is easy to see why Jesus said: " I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mtt18:3). Not become children but like them again. They are easily amazed, they see the forgotten, the overlooked as well as the spectacular in the very ordinary. They love a story, and their imagination is a well-honed skill.

2 February 2021 - Cathedral Thinking

The idea of Cathedral Thinking is not new. It goes back to medieval times, when architects, stonemasons and artisans laid plans and began constructing the huge places of worship, the massive community gathering spaces that many of us have visited. Architects and builders would start work on a cathedral knowing that they would not live to see the project’s completion.

26 January 2021 - Australia Day

For all the controversy around the date, there is much to celebrate about Australia. It is an ancient, vast and beautiful country with a history few can match.

2020

15 December 2020 - And so...

In the words of John Lennon:

And so this is Christmas, And what have you done,

another year over, A new one just begun.

Another year over….. and what a year!

8 December 2020 - Which Stories

I read somewhere that our lives expand or contract, depending on the stories we tell ourselves, and we get to choose which world we wish to inhabit by becoming conscious of which stories we want to share, amplify and embody each and every day.

1 December 2020 - A Friend in Me

When they (the Magi) had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him. So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.” Mtt 2 13 -15

17 November 2020 - We Don't Learn Everything in a Classroom

Some time ago I purchased a compilation of short essays* on the recommendation of Fr Ronald Rolheiser who writes a weekly column. The author is a gifted and observant writer with a sharp eye for the smallest detail that often makes the event or the scene come alive in the reader’s imagination and emotions.

3 November 2020 - Following the Footsteps of Others

As the youngest in a large family I was often asked “Are you going to follow in your father’s footsteps?” Or my brothers? I didn’t. My father had me ear marked for life on the farm. That wasn’t my path.

20 October 2020 - The Bucket List

Is there something you would like to finish but for whatever reason, you didn’t quite get it done? Is there someone you would like to catch up with but you haven’t quite managed to do it? Is there something you want to do or say, a place you’d like to visit but it may not be an option? We just run out of time and energy or the opportunity doesn’t arise again.

6 October 2020 - A Lonely Time

“Illness can be a very lonely time,” Michael Leunig wrote in a poignant article describing his diagnosis and treatment for an aggressive form of melanoma. What he wrote revealed much about his own courage and sensitivity, but also the surprises and the disappointments about how others reacted and what that meant to him.

8 September 2020 - Kindness

I have experienced only two bushfires and that was too many. They both came so quickly and without warning but they lingered for days. The second one was worse, perhaps because by then I was old enough to help fight it. The men of the district gathered with all sorts of primitive equipment. There were no fire trucks on hand then. It was terrifying. The smoke and the roar of the flames didn’t quite manage to drown the sounds of the frightened stock that were running all over the place in panic. It was my job to muster them, to gather them together in the middle of this chaos and get them out the gate. It was so difficult to see or breathe at times and they certainly didn’t want to follow the directions of a fourteen year old.

25 August 2020 - Friendship

A mirror reflects a person's face, but what they are really like is shown by the kind of friends they choose. Proverbs 27:19

I lost a close friend in recent times. We first met almost sixty years ago. I admired him greatly, his sense of fun, his endless energy and tireless commitment. He was an extraordinary character, no pretensions, no false airs but his defining characteristic was his love of the underdog.

11 August 2020 - The Prism

My brother lived in a retirement home interstate for four or five years until his death a couple of years ago. He celebrated Mass there every Sunday for the residents and the many neighbours who chose this as their place of worship. On one Sunday when I happened to be visiting, we all listened to the readings and he began his homily with this question:

What did you hear today? What words from these readings have stayed with you?

28 July 2020 - The Music Makers

Long ago the world was a silent place. The Book of Genesis describes it as ‘formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep…’. There was no sound, no noise and there was no music, there were no songs. I wonder who was the first person to sing, the first person to make music. Music was one of our first inventions. Primitive flutes have been found among the relics of very, very ancient civilizations. Did the first singers listen and learn from the songs of the birds around them?

14 July 2020 - Social Distancing

Life is made up of the ordinary. Otherwise there wouldn’t be the extraordinary. The extraordinary, although usually very welcome, is not the stuff of life. Sometimes you read of people continually chasing the next adventure and you are left to wonder whether they miss out on the real joys of life in the meantime.

23 June 2020 - Spiders that Sail

Scientists in Britain have discovered that an ordinary little spider, one we have all seen hundreds of times, is actually a very adept sailor. Some species of spider form diving bells out of silk to enable them to breathe under water.

9 June 2020 - Winter

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater. Isaiah 55:10

26 May 2020 - This Quiet Time

And so we are being ‘let out’. Our weeks of isolation are gradually being eased and we can see that there may be an end to this stage of the dreadful virus. There is a sense of relief and growing optimism. But it has been a time of contrasts.

12 May 2020 - The Call of the Spirit

Our parish priest sometimes finishes Mass with the question: And what will the Spirit call you to do today? What will the Spirit ask of you? How will the Spirit inspire you today?

28 April 2020 - Staying at Home

And so we stay at home, if we are not required to go out. Kathleen O’Meara from Wisconsin described this time:

And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

14 April 2020 - The Challenge

Don’t we love a challenge? We watch them on all sorts of programs on TV and other media platforms. The weekly footy is usually laced with the language of challenge, the survival of the fittest. Reality TV even makes a cooking show a challenge and pretending to survive in a jungle. Video games are designed to challenge the player at many levels. We humans like to think of ourselves as dominant in just about every aspect of life.

24 March 2020 - What is Happening?

The shelves are empty – no tinned food, no cleaning fluids, no toilet paper, then no meat, no bread, just shelves rapidly being stripped bare. And some very angry people, abusing fellow customers and checkout staff. Not a pretty picture. What does that say about us? Just a few short weeks ago we were congratulating ourselves on such a generous, compassionate response to the victims of the bushfires. And now this.

For previous editions of Along the Track, please click here