Like you, I am near saturation point with all pageants, concerts, musicals and opinion pieces endeavouring to capture the personality of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop: near saturation point because they so frequently miss the point!
Pope John Paul II hit the spot when he came to Sydney for Mary’s beatification in 1986, “it is through her witness that the truth of God’s love and the value of the Kingdom have been made visible in this land”.
And don’t we need the kind of commitment seen in St Mary’s life and work, for she is a wonderful example of how God uses people to change things for the better, to bring light and hope to the human heart.
Mary MacKillop became a saint not because she was a great horsewoman, or a rebel against the bishops, but because of the holiness of her life, a holiness which is possible for each of us. Her life challenges all of us to a radical personal and social renewal.
At the time of her beatification, Mary was promoted as a ‘traditional Aussie battler’ rebelling against authority. Such typecasting did not serve her well because it did not reflect the truth, Mary’s letters do not show her feeling victimised, or badly done by, but reflect her serenity, her confidence, courage and determination that she was right in what she was doing because God wanted her to do so.
This is clear in the way she approached God and her fellow human beings, especially the alienated and marginalised, at a time when there was little security or solicitude about personal comfort, and when financial backing was virtually unknown.
Mary’s virtue lay in her love for God and the people she helped, the uneducated and the unwanted, not in her typecast ‘Australianness.’ Her virtue was not generated by adopting the role of matriarch of radical feminist values but in her deep trust in, and her love for, God.
St Mary was single minded in her mission, with no desire to possess goods, or to be successful for herself, but totally motivated by what God wanted of her. In other words, her life was lived totally for God and His presence was not a fearful one – but rather the consciousness of His goodness and love.
She wrote: “I can never think of God but as a Father whose goodness and love I am always abusing, but His tenderness is such that He cannot cast me off.”
Of course, it was not always easy. Sister Mary felt the tension of balancing her fidelity to God with the demands for her own will. She coped with opposition from the hierarchy, priests and people, disagreements, the break with the founder, Fr Woods, and the change of the property rule which went contrary to her ideals of poverty.
Because these setbacks and suffering were seen as the Will of God she became stronger in her faith in God, and without bitterness towards her fellow human beings.
She went to the poor and marginalised and shared their lives without thought of her own needs and comforts. But she did not idealise poverty, she saw it as an evil needing to be alleviated. For her personally, it was the means to an end and especially because it enabled her to go freely and unimpeded to the needy, to show them the living face of a loving and concerned God.
And, so, her canonisation confirms for us her holiness, and her example of love and concern for others. May we do likewise!
Kevin Manning is Bishop Emeritus of Parramatta.
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