St Mary’s, South Brisbane: In and out of exile

May 17, 2009

My friend and flatmate Michael Carden has written another blog post on the St Mary’s in Exile community, reflecting on a recent homily by Terry Fitzpatrick at the TLC building.

Michael discusses Terry’s equation of himself with those on the margins, and questions how that equation can be effectively articulated without a reflection on Terry’s own privilege.

Michael zeroes in on the rather odd ‘Buddhist’ references in the homily. I think it’s absolutely right to query how Terry has gone about composing the margins of his own discourse. I have no objection to, and rich praise for, those who find points of articulation with Buddhist traditions and their own cultural background exploring those – and many do so from a place of absolute respect. Sociologically, we live in a post-traditionalist society where one can’t simply say that because of ethnicity or heritage that ‘we’ are Christian.

While we – in this place and at this time – no doubt remain within a broader culture that’s been formed by Christianity – there are many for whom their own life and formation is not in any real sense Christian, and some for whom ‘other’ faiths and mysteries provide a point of articulation in their own spiritual practice. I, myself, am becoming increasingly interested in (or perhaps reinteresting myself in) some connections that can be made between Taoist motifs and a certain sense of time and the articulation of events to each other that could be named Jewish. It’s a work of thought, and a practice, that I think is bearing immense fruit for me.

But we do need to question our own place in regard to margins, and whether, why, where and how we inscribe them.

Michael is right to say Terry’s choice of ‘Buddhists’ as a name for the marginalised is a strange one. Perhaps it’s a personal one. But there’s a sort of lack of respect for the real others – all those named and more – Indigenous, women, queer – which he conjures and summons up in his homily. I think it does go to the crux of something which has caused the pain I think we all feel, if we are separated from one another when we should be united by and in love.

I think the Exilists’ story does show a strange sort of pull away from an absent centre – towards the other. But a certain imaginary other, rather than the others in our midst. The centre might be the institutional church, or a space of privilege. But what’s not going on, I don’t think, is any decentring. There’s something in that centre, still – the priestly authority, and the particular priestly authority of Terry and Peter Kennedy. There’s a gesture towards the other, but I question how much the other is listened to, and more broadly – and here I think Michael is spot on – there’s something of a spiritual emptiness within that core place.

There’s a weird, and to me, a striking contrast between that sense of an absent centre and the immense sacrality of the space that is itself (among other things) St Mary’s Church.

We’re all inscribed within cultures and practices which often do the work of choice for us. We are human and we have assembled an amazing creation – the social realm – but we often fail to see ourselves as co-creators, and hypostasise and reify the social and forget that we can reassemble it. There’s a work that’s involved in that art of recombination – and it’s a work of love. Love dissolves margins, summons up new relations, fructifies and endures. Often it’s frightening. But it is that love which knows no bounds, no distinction between Jew and Greek, between man or woman, which is the creative force which sustains and liberates.

For we Catholics, we cannot but understand that work of love in terms of the person of Christ – the figures of the suffering holy mother, the outcast, those who are ‘marginalised’ – all are united and woven together and brought into new relation through love. That’s no flip statement. Love is a work. It works its magic on us, and we often resist because we are all too human while God is Love. For us, that work is mediated through the re-presentation, the re-memorialisation, the re-incarnation of Divine Love through the Eucharist. We need to remember that the Spirit is always with us, that we always have another walking by our side, and that love never dies.

It’s that sense of connectedness and of the bonds love weaves which bear lasting fruit which I think St Mary’s itself incarnates. It’s an amazing place, standing on Indigenous land which has its own sacrality. I’ve felt my own journey through St Mary’s over the last month or so to be an astonishing one. It’s been a return to a space in my own heart I thought I had lost. I have been led where I had not anticipated going, and literally reworked and renewed. There’ve been intriguingly meaningful coincidences, and more than a little alchemy. Possibilities in that small city block abound, and wonders can happen.

I was thinking about all this last night as I once again celebrated the Eucharist at St Mary’s.

I was sitting at the left of the altar, which is centrally positioned within the nave. Communion had been received, and the holy mysteries were doing their work. It was a cool, still night. Quite suddenly, a wind blew in from the south, and I watched – in warmth and wonder – the flames of the altar candles dance with joy.

It blew where it willed.

At that moment, I felt joined – conjoined – to so many spirits, immaterial and material, known and unknown. I had brought some to that space as had others. Many were the spirits of that place, of all the love that has been spoken, lived and performed there over so many many years, almost to time immemorial. None of us are ever lost to each other, if we abide in love. These holy things transcend how we live ordinary time, and re-present, re-memorialise, re-create us anew.

So much lives in that sacred place. There is a reason why the words ‘guest’, ‘host’ and ‘ghost’ are the same radically – at root.

I wept there last week. Last night, I felt an incredible joy.

I feel the journey which has taken Terry Fitzpatrick, Peter Kennedy and those of the St Mary’s community who have gone into ‘Exile’ has been a very sad one. Much could be said about paths not taken. I think there’s a work of mourning which sometimes hasn’t been recognised, or channeled.

It’s so sad that the words of the Eucharistic prayer itself have been one flashpoint for the alarums and dramas which have befallen so many. Last night, it seemed to me once again, how they articulate so lovingly the spirit and the Eucharistic body. We need to transcend the inscription of margins, and remember how to re-present each of us, one to the other. In the love that renews. We need to remember how to bring what is disparate, and unique, into conjunction. In the love that revives. We need to remember we are co-workers of the Spirit. In the love that bears fruit.

We have already been changed and transformed. But we need to remember!

Part of living love is to recall what is something that has always been known in our own faith tradition – the art of the Discernment of Spirits. I think it’s that work – a work of mercy, healing and justice, that remains to be done. It is a work that must be nourished in love, a Eucharistic and truly Catholic love.

Last night, at the vigil Mass at St Mary’s, we read and were nourished on the words of John. I hope and trust that the same words were proclaimed at the TLC Building. My prayer is that those words will bear fruit for all of us, if we cherish them in our hearts, and live them, and come together as one in a love that has no margin, that extends infinitely and lasts forever and ever.

Children, our love must be not just words or mere talk, but something active and genuine.

This will be the proof that we belong to the truth, and it will convince us in his presence, even if our own feelings condemn us, that God is greater than our feelings and knows all things.

My dear friends, if our own feelings do not condemn us, we can be fearless before God, and whatever we ask we shall receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what is acceptable to him.

His commandment is this, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and that we should love one another as he commanded us.

Whoever keeps his commandments remains in God, and God in him. And this is the proof that he remains in us: the Spirit that he has given us.

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8 Responses to “St Mary’s, South Brisbane: In and out of exile”

  1. Brian Bahnisch said

    Thankyou, Mark.

  2. Mark said

    A pleasure, Brian!

  3. Mercurius said

    Mark, thank you for starting what I’m sure will become a wonderful forum for exploration and insight!

    I’d like to comment, if I may, from my perspective of participating in and learning about the traditions of progressive Judaism as it is practiced here in Sydney and also in New York City. In so doing, I make no pretense to represent or “speak for” my synagogue, reform Judaism as a movement, or Jews as a people — but merely to offer a personal response that is informed by my experiences within reform Judaism and also the secular humanism that pervades so much of life in Australia.

    I would like to address this key insight of yours, from which your meditation on love commenced:

    “We are human and we have assembled an amazing creation – the social realm – but we often fail to see ourselves as co-creators, and hypostasise and reify the social and forget that we can reassemble it.”

    As a reform Jew, this statement is not problematic — indeed it is the basis for much of the reform project, and has enabled enormous progress within the reform movement to include and even ordain members from all walks of life.

    I took your subsequent meditation to mean that love, of the kind professed by John, can provide a means for your congregation to furnish a “return from exile” for the (self-)exilic practitioners of your faith. This seems to me an entirely sound prospect, and one that I hope will bear fruit for your congregation.

    My question, (as a practitioner of a faith that is de-centralised, non-authoritarian and open to individual conscience) is this: how will you manage to do it?

    What means exists within your church to “reassemble” your faith? How can you as congregants petition priestly authority and re-engage the terms of your social realm? In short, what room is there within the church hierarchy for the love of which John speaks to do its work?

    Thank you again for the chance to engage in such an interesting forum.

  4. Paul Burns said

    Congratulations on your new blog, Mark. Nothing much to say on this post, but occasionally topics dealing with the spiritual get me seriously engaged. After all there’s nothing to say that an atheistic socialist can’t have a pre-occupation with the spiritual. So, I’ll look in from time to time. Let me know when you do a post.

  5. Mark said

    Great, Paul – look forward to having you here! I’ll probably notify people when I post via Facebook, or you can always sign up via an rss reader.

    Merc – thanks for a thoughtful and stimulating post. I guess the question of authority is a crucial one. One thing I think I feel about the whole St Mary’s configuration is that it’s simply unnecessary to oppose Catholic liturgical and spiritual practice and traditions to social justice – as if one can’t do both, and as if there aren’t massive resources within the tradition which can be mobilised.

    Within the Exilic community, though, there does now seem to be a dynamic where the priests are identified as suffering leaders, and are at the fulcrum of the crisis. Perhaps that’s in part because they’re the ones who have accountability to the institutional church, but it also raises the question of why they cannot now do all the things they said they couldn’t because of Rome etc. – ie ordain women to the priesthood, etc. There is literally nothing stopping them except insofar there is a weird relation between the church and the priests which is still being reinscribed on both sides.

    I think one of the nice things about St Mary’s post the ‘Exile’ has been that it hasn’t been priests taking the lead in what now occurs there, but acting as ministers of the sacraments. Of course, it’s more complex than that, but there’s a genuine belief in respect for the traditions of the place.

    Ultimately, I suppose, there will be a parallel judicial process within the church directed at Peter and Terry, which again in a strange way they have co-responsibility for. But I’d like to see the focus shift from the institutions and the ministers and away to thinking about how that unity I’m discussing can be re-created and co-created among those Catholics of all stations who have affinity with St Mary’s. That’s sort of what I’m calling for, but I don’t want to delimit any margins or point any particular ways myself. We have to evolve and imagine how it might occur together. As a very first step, I’m glad there is still discussion across the barrier, even if people are attending different versions of St Mary’s.

    But I’ll think more on that!

  6. […] For my thoughts on the continuing life of St Mary’s Catholic Parish, South Brisbane, see here – but it did conjure up a remarkable spirit for me […]

  7. […] field of action or configuration of choices. It is here that the art of discernment, about which I’ve been writing lately, is […]

  8. […] who regard themselves as truly Catholic, and the separation that has occurred is a source of pain. We all hope it will not be an enduring one. Posted by msbahnisch Filed in Spirituality ·Tags: […]

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