Sunday, July 8, 2012

A vision statement for the next 45 years

On Wednesday, March 7, I wrote the following affirmation, to outline the person I wanted to become, the life I wanted to lead, the qualities I wanted to demonstrate. On this date, July 8, I re-commit to doing all I can to live up to the sentiments expressed in these few lines:

I am committed to being a man of integrity, of self-discipline and courage. I will not be swayed by the opinions of others; I will not be assaulted by self-doubt or paralysed by indecision. I am a man of God, committing all my thoughts and deeds, plans and dreams, to the Lord. The qualities I admire in others - strength, self-discipline, forthrightness - will be qualities I aspire to model and embrace.

I will let Celena know that I will be there for her, no matter what may come. I will let her know that I am grateful for her presence in my life, and for her unwavering support and unconditional acceptance. Most of all, I will let her know that I love her, each and every day, in each and every way - passionately, graciously, abundanly

I will 'converse' daily with my two God-given delights, Amber Rose and Brodie. Each day, and throughout each day, I will let them know when I am doing it tough and share with them my joys and successes. I will share with them my joys and successes. All I do will be for them, who have died and for children who are living, but not able to yet enjoy qualitiy life.


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Leaving it to Beaver

Having always appreciated the acting ability of Mel Gibson, I finally checked out the innovative movie, The Beaver. Talk about heavy! The movie's premise is straight forward enough: a depressed man finds that the only way he can communicate with those around him (including his wife and two sons) is through a hand-held puppet. The puppet, obviously called The Beaver, gives Gibson's character, Walter, a voice (albeit sounding uncannily like acclaimed British actor, Ray Winstone), to say things he cannot otherwise articulate.

While that may sound like the recipe for a somewhat quirky, even humourous take on the difficult subject of depression, forget it! This is a film that is as dark as the fur coat of the addition to Gibson's left forearm.

I don't intend to use the rest of this blog to critique the film, or any of the performances in it. There are other bloggers, and other film commentators, that do that sort of thing much more eloquently, and knowledgeably, than me. But one part of the film is gnawing at me, much like the buck-teeth of the animal in question do to a piece of wood.

When it comes to dealing with life's curveballs, who's to say how a person should respond? We each have our challenges and only we can discern the most appropriate way of how we overcome (or not) those hurdles, and how we emerge (or not) from the darkness of despair. Obviously, it is important not to hurt or damage others in the process but if a habit, a behaviour or a particular item offers us comfort, strength, security and, most of all, hope, then surely that's a small price to pay?

I'm not condoning anything that puts us, or those around us, at risk (emotionally, physically, mentally or spiritually) or trying to 'self-justify' decisions that I have made in the past. And please don't think my exposure to a creative Hollywood interepration of the significant and all-too-real issue of depression has suddenly made me an expert in human behaviour or even psychology. (To claim the latter would be foolhardy, at the least, dangerous, at the worst.)

Part of the human condition is that we are all broken and flawed. In different ways, at different times, we each hide behind our own version of The Beaver: a mask, a quirk, a ritual, something that sustains or empowers us. Unless it becomes pathological, this extra source of strength or comfort can be a  saving grace. (Who's not to say that playing the part of a man unhinged and on the edge was not cathartic for Gibson, a man who, it would seem, is indeed plagued by his own share of demons and personal challenges.)

For all the buck-toothed simplicity of the titular character, The Beaver was a movie that posed plenty of questions. Significantly, (for a product of Hollywood), it didn't settle for offering easy answers. I don't know about you, but that sounds a lot like life itself!


Sunday, June 24, 2012

The challenge of staying put

A sentiment often expressed to those who have experienced some sort of loss or trauma is that they need to 'move on'. It's a well-intentioned statement, emanating from a desire to see the person, or people, recapture a zest for life and to rekindle their purpose in living. Or is it totally altruistic?

It's not easy being in the moment with someone, when they are feeling sorrow, or anger, or hurt, or betrayal. I know I find it difficult dealing with conflict, and the myriad of 'negative' emotions that come from breakdowns in communication or falling short of expectations. But I am learning that if I do not stay present to what is being shared, I miss an opportunity for growth. I may think it preferable to 'move on' but really, I need to stay present to whatever is being shared and ensure that the person doing the venting, the ranting, the outpouring, knows that I am there, regardless!

We need to stay present to whatever is being shared
Anyone that has 'moved' will know that going from one house to another, one office space to another, is only part of the journey. When the removalists have pulled out, you still have the boxes to be unpacked, the furniture to be arranged and the mail to be redirected. It's an ongoing process and you need to attend to the various tasks, at your leisure and as your circumstances allow.

Moving on is no different. It takes time. It takes an effort. Those we want to 'move on' will do so at their pace, in a way that respects their particular circumstances. It's not easy but they need us to stay there, in the moment and offering the assurance that says: "I'm not going anywhere!"


Monday, January 23, 2012

Message to a little child on the beach

Dear Little Girl:

You ran along that beach yesterday as if you were never going to stop. Your little white legs propelled you along the sand, and your hair waved like tree branches in the afternoon breeze. It was a sunny afternoon and your bare skin, save for a pair of muddy knickers, seemed to soak up the rays of the declining sun.

I sat and watched as you ran: so carefree, so uninhibited, so oblivious to all those who paced, stormed, sauntered or strolled past. You were on your way to a destination that only you could see and it made me smile to see you having such fun.

As you get older, you will probably run with more precision, and less abandon. People will tell you to 'put on some clothes' and to 'slow down', to 'be careful'. You may start to notice the people around you and react according to how they respond to you - it's confusing I know but this is how adults get through life: we think about how others see us and then act according to how we see their reactions to us. Yes, as I say, it's confusing...

But in that moment in which I watched you run, life was not confusing. It was simple, it was pleasant and it was something to be celebrated. Little girl, you ran and ran and ran...and I didn't want to see you stop! I pray it will always be that way for you.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Swords into Plowshares is something to aspire too

Swords into Plowshares is a powerful image. It also happens to be the name given to a blog set up by the Peacemaking Program and the Presbyterian Ministery at the United Nations of the General Assembly Mission of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

At the time I came across it, it carried an emotive prayer and plea.

This is part of what the author wrote. (The rest can be read at the following link:)

Famine stalks the Horn of Africa. Bombs detonate in Oslo, Violence wracks Malawi and Syria. Rapes are perpetrated in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Atrocities are suspected in Southern Kordofan. Human rights are denied in Madagascar, Peru and Colombia. In places and situations that fail to make the headlines, people are violated; God's creation is abused.

Yet we continue to trust the good news: that people will prevail; that good overcome evil; that love is stronger than death; that God will have the final word."

What do you think? What problems around the world do you find particularly confronting? Or what is the sword in your life that you want to hammer into a plowshare?


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Of pearls and buried treasure

The following thoughts are taken from the beginning of the appeal talk I will be giving at Sunnybank and Acacia Ridge parishes this weekend (July 23/24), as part of the Catholic Mission appeal program. They draw on the imagery in this weekend's Gospel, about the landowner finding buried treasure, and selling all he owns to possess it; and a merchant similarly selling all his possessions to acquire a precious and rare pearl.

Celena and I are considering moving. There is a town house in Wellington Point that has caught our eye and we are in the process of doing the paperwork, and dealing with banks and mortgage brokers and everything that comes with such a decision. It also means, however, we are doing a lot of clearing out, and culling.

When we cull, or when we have a clearing out in our life - a room, a desk, a shed - we come to understand what is really important. The things that are perhaps trivial, or less meaningful, we dispose of; we keep what is significant and what we truly cherish.

This goes some way towards conveying the mindset Jesus invokes in the Gospel for this weekend (July 23/24). When He shares about the owner of the field selling everything to buy the buried treasure, or the merchant selling all his possessions in order to purchase a newly discovered valuable pearl, He is asking each of us to consider the ultimate clearing out or cull, with the question: "What would compel us to give up everything?" Or to use the theme for the Catholic Mission appeal at this time, "What sacrifice would we make in order to 'Do Something Beautiful for God?'"


Friday, July 15, 2011

Algo Bello Para Dios in Toowong

The following is the text of an appeal talk I prepared, as Director of Catholic Mission in Brisbane, for the parishes of Toowong and Indooroopilly, on the weekend of July 16/17.

There is a young lady in this community tonight/today, whose name is Bella. It is a name that means Beautiful. She is a family friend but I mention her specifically because the Spanish version of her name is Bello...and it is this word that figures prominently in the Catholic Mission appeal for this year.

ALGO BELLO PARA DIOS – Something Beautiful For God. It was an expression coined by Blessed Mother Teresa and used by one of the church communities in Peru, when it established a hospice for people living with HIV or AIDS. Set up in an old warehouse eight years ago, the facility was called ALGO BELLO PARA DIOS. Tonight/today, you, like the people of Las Malvinas and like Gabriela, who is on the front of the appeal envelope, are being asked to Do Something Beautiful for God.

Before I introduce you to Gabriela and her work, I have a confession to make: my confession is this: I have never been on Mission! I have never left my homeland, to travel abroad and offer myself in service to the church or those who are poor, sick or oppressed. Like some of you here tonight, I have lived out my mission, here in Australia, as a husband, as a father, as an employee and a colleague.

For those of us here tonight/today, who are filled with faith but not yet hearing the call to travel overseas or to remote parts of Australia, in service of our faith, Mission begins the moment we wake up and continues as we make our way through the day, the week, the year. You don’t need a passport to do Mission and it’s not limited only to those who wear the Roman collar or who don a habit. In fact, our entire baptised life is a constant call to create ALGO BELLO PARA DIOS – Something Beautiful for God.

My mission has changed somewhat however in these past few months. Last year, I had to give the eulogy at my son, Brodie’s, funeral. He was just over five years old. A decade earlier, I did the same thing for my daughter, Amber Rose. For me, there is now a very clear question of “if I am not called to be a father in a day-to-day sense, what am I meant to be doing?” And then I look at the image on the envelope you are holding...

Gabriela cannot be here to ask for your support. She is answering the call of God to serve the people of Peru, through the communal kitchen she has set up in Las Malvinas. Father Raymundo who set up the AIDS clinic, also cannot be here to ask for your support. So I guess, for the moment, I have made it my mission to come before you, on their behalf!

The readings for this weekend seem simple, in that they see Jesus use parables to describe the Kingdom of Heaven. The imagery we hear in the Gospel includes the Kingdom being described as the sown seed, the mustard seed that becomes a sheltering tree and the yeast that leavens the bread.

Of all these images, however, it is the parable of the wheat and the darnel, and how they become entwined, that dominates. It is a reflection unique to Matthew, focusing as it does on the idea that not only is the world made up of people who become apathetic in their faith but there are those who actively oppose Gospel values. It is in this world – where evil seems to flourish, poverty is prevalent, and disease and violence is rife – that Catholic Mission operates. Those we support in more than 160 countries – the dedicated missionaries - around the world are the wheat; what they tackle is the darnel.

It is a theme carried over from the first reading, where the author of the book of Wisdom declares: “Your justice has its source in strength, your sovereignty over all makes you lenient to all... “You only have to will and your power is there.” God could solve all the world’s problems but He created us with the potential to take the mustard seed of our faith and nurture it so that it can grow and spread its branches. Contributing to the appeal will do just this, by providing shelter, education, medical assistance and pastoral support, to those in need.

I think Jesus uses the parable of the wheat and the darnel to also point out something fundamental about us, as humans: in each of us, there is potential for good, and potential for evil. One moment we are a Saint, the next a Sinner. Stuff happens in our lives that makes us doubt, makes us question, makes us angry and sets us railing against the injustice of it all. That’s the darnel.

I know I find myself asking lots of questions about why my two children have both been called ‘home’ before me – parents shouldn’t have to bury their children! And while I can’t make sense of it, just yet, I am confident that there is a divine plan and that one day, I might appreciate how and why my children were my ALGO BELLO PARA DIOS for only a brief time!

From my limited perspective, I think the point of Jesus’ parable is that we don’t have all the answers, and we can’t provide the solutions to the world’s ills, on our own. What Matthew’s account encourages is discernment and prudence. We are not always able to distinguish accurately between what is wheat, or good, and what is darnel, or evil. It is Jesus alone who is qualified to judge. This Gospel – as with the appeal itself – is ultimately one that asks us to trust in God’s providence and divine justice.

Donating to Catholic Mission is not about solving all the world’s problems. Make no mistake – your contributions DO make a SIGNIFICANT difference and the inside flap of the appeal envelope gives some examples of how this happens. For instance, $544 – the equivalent of two beers or cups of coffee each week – will enable missionaries to provide food and medicine to 65 river villages in extreme poverty in Peru.

Our donations are like the mustard seed that turns into a tree providing shelter, education, medical assistance, pastoral support, even the Sacraments. Or you could also consider a donation to Catholic Mission as yeast that, when combined with the faithfulness of heroic missionaries like Gabriela and Fr Raymundo, helps ‘leaven’ the conditions experienced by needy people, in more than 160 countries around the world, practically and spiritually.

One such example is the focus for our appeal tonight/today. In the urban river slum of Las Malvina, on the outskirts of Iquitos, the poverty is so extreme, people live in wooden houses made of planks and boards, with only two or three walls and occasionally no roof. Flood conditions exist for up to 7 months each year, bringing sewage, rubbish and disease into the make-shift homes. Polish lay missionary Gabriela says the cars in her homeland of Poland ‘live’ in better conditions, in the garages, than the people of Iquitos do in their homes.” She opened a communal kitchen for local children and it has since expanded to include literacy and education support. With the help of Catholic Mission, and its loyal donors such as you here tonight, she has created ALGO BELLO PARA DIOS – Something Beautiful for God.

I would now like to give you all a chance to respond, according to your capacity, and fill out the envelope or make your contribution.


I began my talk tonight/today by singling out Bella, the daughter of my friends. I would like to conclude by addressing my closing remarks to her, her sister, Katie, and all those who can rightly be described as Children of God. In doing so, I am going to draw on some of the words from a lovely children’s book, written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

In his book, God’s Dream, Archbishop Tutu asks:

Dear Child of God: do you know how to make God’s Dream come true? It is really quite easy. As easy as sharing, loving, caring; as easy as holding, playing, laughing. As easy as knowing we are one big family, because we are all God’s children.
Will you help God’s dream come true?

On behalf of Gabriela, Luisa, Fr Raymundo and all those whose your support will benefit, I ask you: “Will you help God’s dream come true? If you have answered yes, by making a donation, I thank you. You can be confident that you have done exactly what the appeal asks tonight: Algo Bello Para Dios.