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SIP    - Spirituality in the Pub.

APRIL 2013
Topic: How is Australian Society changing?  Speakers: Patty Fawkner and Peter Hancock.

 

Annette Milross welcomed visitors to our first session of the year.  2013 marks the 50th anniversary of two historical events.  In August 1963, Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a dream” speech Pope John Paul opened the second Vatican Council October 1962.  The theme of SIP this year is “I have a dream” and we are is to looking back over those 50 years  and also to look at what is happening in our world today and ask  “How much of the dream of those two men has actually come about?”

Our first speaker tonight is Sister Patty Fawkner.  Patty is a Good Samaritan nun.  She is a former educator with formal qualifications in Arts, Education, Theology and Spirituality.

 

Patty Fawkner sgs

How is Australian Society changing, easy.  In 15 minutes, not so easy!

Sarah is a member of my community and I’m well and truly old enough to be her mother.  She was telling me what happens when one of her four nieces aged 6 – 12 is naughty.  No being sent to her room, no banning from television, no physical punishment – the trifecta of punishments in my day.  No, her father disables the internet connection on her iPod!

Can you imagine a family of 8?  And can you imagine a family of 8 today having just one phone?  That’s what we had and thought ourselves lucky at that.  No such thing as an iPod or internet, and if we’d heard of anyone talking about Wifi, we might have thought it was the name of the neighbourhood dog!

The screen is one of the key icons of the contemporary world – be it on iPhone, iPod, iPad, computer, video games, television, cinema or digital camera. 

In a break we check our phones for the next text message or email. Look at people on the train, couples dining in restaurants – seemingly more connected to their device than their partner!

If the screen is the icon, what might the currency be?  One commentator said the key form of currency today is the economy not of money or property but attention.  In the “Attention Economy” everyone is vying for our attention.  We’re bombarded on our multiple screens with advertising campaigns, messages, whatever. 

24/7 (and the term wasn’t used 50 years ago) we’re constantly available, constantly “connected”, and it blurs the demarcation between work and leisure.  How easy to check work email when I’m away on holiday.  We’re more connected, yet more distracted and over-stimulated, becoming more isolated and disconnected from a deeper presence to myself and each other.

However, technology isn’t the greatest change in the last 50 years. The biggest shift in Australian society, the most significant sign of the times is the different way we think because we live in times that are called postmodern.  “Postmodernism”, a concept not easily defined, is a slippery term used by various disciplines from philosophy, art and literature to talk about trends. Its greatest influence is not in design, as in postmodern architecture, but in how we think.  And I’d like to look at how a few of these postmodern thinking traits influence change in our Society.

Postmodernism is typified by mistrust – mistrust of traditional authority and institutions. Politicians, police, the church, sporting bodies, banks, the military, have all been found wanting and, in many instances, corrupt.  Individuals have been shielded by institutions – Lance Armstrong, Father Gerry Ridsdale (serial paedophile in the Ballarat Diocese), Eddie Obeid. We were so much more trusting in the 60’s and isn’t that one of the reasons that acknowledging and addressing sexual abuse in the church has taken so long? Unfortunately, there are some people who mistrust any politician, any priest merely because they are politician or priest.

We want to trust our sporting heroes and our leaders but we feel such betrayal if they prove not to be worthy of our trust.  It’s easier to trust Black Caviar than it is some jockeys. We used to give authority figures incredible status, now we give that same status to celebrities, some of whom get status simply because they are – a celebrity.

As a wet-behind-the-ears Novice in 1970 I was caught up in the excitement of seeing Pope Paul VI, and twice travelled huge distances to see Pope John Paul II.   This January I was doing some work in Rome I had the opportunity to go to St Peter’s Square for the Pope’s Sunday blessing.  I didn’t need to do that and chose to go around the corner to the Vatican Museum.  Of course I was somewhat disappointed when Benedict XVI resigned a few weeks later. I have to go back to Rome in June.  I just might mosey on over to St Peter’s Square to get a glimpse of Pope Francis.  What I’m getting at is that my own approach to authority figures has changed markedly.  It might be called growing up! 

The emergence of postmodernism gives rise to many other isms in our consciousness.  We recognise now many things we just didn’t see 50 years ago. Perhaps we recognised racism and the beginnings of multiculturalism, but we weren’t as aware of sexism, ageism, militarism and clericalism. 

Another postmodern characteristic is that there is no absolute nor impartial truth, and institutions which claim a monopoly on truth are seriously suspect. We were much more accepting of truths promulgated, for example by our churches 50 years ago but Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968 was a game changer.  Reaction to the encyclical was so strong that it produced the first crack in Catholics’ unquestioning acceptance of church authority. No longer were Catholics content to “pay, pray and obey.”

In the postmodern era, truth is relative, atheism is back in fashion, morality is personal. New Age spiritual seekers are notoriously eclectic – a bit from this tradition here, a tad from that tradition there.  Each person is free to develop their own private code of ethics without the need to follow traditional or institutional values. Forget about “My Kitchen Rules”.  In the postmodern world my opinion rules.  And everyone’s expressing it on their own blog.

Consider how the pill has changed thinking and behaviour in the last 50 years. It’s been a key factor in what might be described as a “loosening of society”, another sign of our times.  Since the pill was introduced women are starting a family much later and having fewer children, often without marrying and the divorce rate has climbed.  Co-habitation has outstripped marriage just as civil ceremonies have outstripped church weddings.  My sister has made a very good business as a marriage celebrant, thank you very much.

In the late 60’s my brother travelled overseas and became engaged to another Aussie traveller.  He made the mistake of telling my parents that they were living together. When they came home, no co-habiting in the Fawkner household. I remember the chilly reception they received by my parents. Now my sister allows her 19 year old son’s girlfriend to sleep over with him.  The times were, are and ever will be a’changing.

A key aspect of the “loosening of society” is the growing acceptance of gay-rights and the push for gay-marriage.  When I first joined the Good Sams we knew we were to avoid, what was rather quaintly called “particular friendships”.  In my naiveté I didn’t recognise the sexual overtones of that till later.

Today it seems that we’re saturated by a highly sexualised world.  We see the visualisation of sex in advertising.  Driving down Parramatta Road recently I saw the re-emergence of those ugly huge yellow billboards advertising longer love-making with a nasal spray!  We see the sexualisation, some would say “pornification” of young children especially pre-pubescent girls.

The role of women has changed markedly in the past 50 years.  Think about work. Up until 1966 once a woman was married she could not be employed in the public service.  My sisters and I fitted the classic female employment stereotypes.  Between us we had one nurse, two secretaries and one teacher. One of my nieces is a lawyer another is in the army, another is doing wonderfully in marketing.

Our postmodern world is reflected in the title of the best-selling book by Thomas Friedman, Hot, Flat, and Crowded. A hot, flat and crowded world is another sign of our times and the sign that our planet is seriously stressed, is perilously at risk.

All this change, rapid change doesn’t come without cost. Social researcher Hugh Mackay argues that the human psyche is not prepared for such rapid change many in Australian society feel out of control making people feel helpless.

Mackay says that we respond to this rapid change in two ways.  We can retreat and become politically and socially disengaged.  With an upcoming Federal election will the majority carefully examine policies? I wonder.  I think many will be more influenced by the ten second sound bight – that’s if they bother to watch or listen to any news.  I met the owner of a coffee shop in Merimbula who was extremely proud of the fact that she had not seen nor listened to any news in ten years!

Hugh MacKay says that a second response to huge and rapid change is for people to focus on what they can control. He says that’s why many Australians are obsessed with the domestic arena, with renovations and lifestyle.  We’re safer with that kind of change.  Check the ratings for The Block, Masterchef, and other lifestyle programs.

And we can control our borders.  We can decide who comes to our country.  Mackay sees mandatory sentencing and border control as symptoms of people wanting to be ordered, in control, wanting to remain the same, and hugely resisting change.

I have simply dipped into our postmodern world and pulled out some signs of the times that I see.  Recapping I recognise:

1.    the screen

2.    the attention economy 

3.    we are thinking differently

4.    we don’t have the same blind faith in institutions

5.    truth is relative, morality is personal and my opinion rules

6.    the loosening of society

7.    the role of women

8.    a hot, flat and crowded planet

9.    rapid and unrelenting change leading to disengagement and the desire to control.

 

Now, they are just some of the changes I see.  I’m sure each of you could come up with your own list and I look forward to discussing that list with you.

Our second speaker tonight is Brother Peter Hancock.  Peter is a Christian Brother.  He is an educator who has spent his professional life in the school and the university.  He has spent his life in many countries and has a good knowledge of the world and is still quite involved with young university students.

 

Peter Hancock cfc

I am an old teacher and I cannot stop being a teacher.  I can’t help it.  My grandfather and my mother were both teachers before me.  I would like to take a couple of issues that have occurred to me. One issue concerning me is: What do kids of today make of the significant changes that have occurred in the last fifty years.

 I was a novice a couple of years before Vatican 11, when we students were surreptitiously reading all the new theologies, like Schillebecks, Rahner, Orsy.  We were reading them while appearing to be listening to getting pretty boring scholastic theology lectures.  We were even reading the Catholic existentialist Gabriel Marcel. 

Later as a teacher, I used to say to my students when I was correcting their papers: “If you can’t say it simply then you are not on top of your subject.” 

So tonight I say to myself :“If it’s not simple then I don’t understand it, not to mention my audience’s chances of understanding me.

We each look at things and reflect on them from different perspectives, perspectives we have grown up with from family and student days and beyond.  As I get older I can see I am now looking at things through categories of what I have had to come to – psychology, anthropology and spirituality. 

Last time I was invited to speak here the topic was: “Is there a conflict between Science and Religion?”  I don’t know how we would have answered that question fifty years ago.  Fifty years ago our religion and our spirituality was considered opposed to or different from the logic of the scientists and the rationalists. We had faith as a way of knowing.   There was some danger in that thinking.  When we were warned when we went to University not to do certain subjects such as philosophy and psychology because of the risks to our religious, we had to later learn for emerging theologies of Incarnation, that there was no conflict, no real dichotomy.  I am thrilled today to see that respected scientists in all fields of inquiry are able to say things close to what current theologians are saying: The new Cosmology calls theologians to explore a bigger God and  to see scientists correcting their former doctrines of evolution and naming “mystery” and such spiritual terms they can share with theologians. The latest discovery the space is “dark matter” and holds the universe together, sounds a close parallel to the theologians’ exploration of the presence of the Holy Spirit everywhere in creation.  

So when I was  talking to novices in recent years I found myself asking them:“Where do you think Our Lady’s body is up to now if she died 2000 years ago when she was assumed into Heaven?”

Images have to change now and with the help of current developments in studies of the historical Jesus and his culture, we are learning a lot more about Jesus’ own use of images to help us face the Mystery of God. His parables are mostly not allegories, but make is think about ourselves and God; they call us to Mystery and conversion.

I often light heartedly complain that in the text of the Apostles’ Creed’s text we say: “I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried……” All of the life and teachings of Jesus, the presence of God among us, in a comma! A new Creed will be rich in statements summing up what we are learning from the biblical scholars about Jesus in his time. The universal  Christ of the scriptures and human faith history will be “seen” in the creation. And sensed in human creativity and integrity, especially in manifestations of love of the human heart.

How does our religion and our symbols measure up to today’s reality? Our scientists can somewhat awed and reverential in the face of nature.  They are quite able to say: “This is how we understand what we see for now, but remain open to future natural revelations (findings).”  Realistic theologians are probably saying “We ought to try to create images and word explanations about a bigger God.”  

The theologians and scientists can now face mystery.  What do the kids make of that?   Pastors, parents, teachers catechistsmight ask ourselves if we give kids enough time to think and reflect and face  the mystery of life and faith?  Do they always have to know answers to pass exams ?  In a modern classroom kids learn with internal school assessments find that they are actually competing with one another, which tends to stifle group sharing and enquiry.  Do we think we have to sign on to the doctrines or the creed or otherwise be thought to be not loyal or worthy members?  Lately some bishops have pressured teachers to take oaths about their beliefs to be recognised (and paid). 

 I can deal with mystery.  I can be curious.  I don’t have to be right all the time.  All this orthodoxy and catechism should be the less important thing we should look at.  I have a worry that this orthodoxy and catechism is the first thing.  Karl Rahner said that “the Christian of the future will be a mystic or he will not exist at all.”  The people who ponder mystery, the prophets of the Old Testament, the people who were mystics, a lot of whom were women, through the ages  saw more deeply; than we do they see more than we see.  People such as Richard Rohr, Michael Leunig, poets, artists perhaps are popular mystics.  They are not orthodox. You have to have a lot of faith in mystery, a great faith in risk taking to put that colour on the canvas, to take that first step.  Like that architect who boldly takes that step to challenge the norm or that artistic person who goes ahead, risks and then prepares to pay the price of not being understood for a hundred years.  They may be the prophets. I wonder how much creativity is encouraged, even in what is arguably one of the most enlightened education systems in the world.  We have an extraordinary dedicated and open education system.

One of the educational pillars developing in the last fifty years is the concept of intelligence.  I was brought up in the years of IQ.  Intelligence Quotion  was tool devised by the Americans to help ex-soldiers prepare for fast track learning and employment.  It was used to match them to training pathways according to how innately gifted they were in handling number and word.   But IQ was appropriate for its task, but was generalized to give my generation’s career guidance counsellors a practical base for advice. But of course it was culture based.  Now we recognise many different types of intelligence. Emotional intelligence became  a popular criterion for general guidance. How aware are you of the emotional component of yourself, others and the climate of the group?  You can be quite bright in an academic discipline of books and specialized forums but if you haven’t got a clue about how people feel, if you cannot relate to people you cannot fit into teamwork tasks or helping professions very well, for example.  You cannot even be a leader or a manager today according to recent MBA course outlines.

What is interesting to me is that more recently psychologists have finally faced up to the examination of the spiritual domain in human life.  There is great consoling potential future here.  The concept of spiritual intelligence suggests that every human being has the innate potential for spiritual growth, as do the other intelligences hint at potential abilities for growth.

Maybe we pastors, parents, teachers and catechists should relax about our tests and catechism for a while, aware that the light and power of the Spirit is available in every human heart, to be freed and nurtured. Right before us among the children and youth themselves

Discussion

Several people commented and asked questions.

Topics covered the philosophical concept of Truth, Authority, Trust, Fear, Mystics, the American Dream, Gun control, Media and Social Control, reactions of the generations, e.g Gen X and Y.  The spiritual intelligence of children was mentioned as well as the openness of children to mystery.  Post modern Religion, especially the Catholic Religion is seen, by many in the community as being “on the nose.”  Did we bring this on ourselves by being so “right?”  Has the fact that we are better educated than we were fifty years ago had an influence on our trust in our beliefs?  The geopolitics of emotion is a key issue.  The West is riven with the emotion of fear. Asia is alive with hope.  The Middle East has a feeling of humiliation.  Africa feels hopeless.  Trust in authority has been replaced by trust in technology.  We trust machines, not people.  The Church has not moved with the times.  (Note what Pope John said about the Council)  Americans have their “Dream” that everyone can “make it” and that somehow their dream is being thwarted.  Americans are lucky because their constitution trusts people to use their guns intelligently, not like other peoples who do not get this trust.  Americans are obsessed with the rights of the individual.  Media is driving fear and fear is being used for social control.  Bad news sells in the media.  No-one is interested in the good news.  There is drama in reporting on what “might” happen.  Much hope in Pope Francis.  Individualism versus interdependence.  The espousal of “causes” such as Amnesty International, etc by young people.



MAY 2013
Topic: Being Young – What is changing? Speakers: Anthony Steel and Olivia Fricot.

Kevin Grant welcomed visitors to our second session of the year.  2013 marks the 50th anniversary of two historical events.  In August 1963, Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a dream” speech, Pope John Paul opened the second Vatican Council October 1962.  The theme of SIP this year is “I have a dream” and we are is to looking back over those 50 years  and also to look at what is happening in our world today and ask  “How much of the dream of those two men has actually come about?”

Anthony Steel

 Anthony has spent a lifetime in education and is still teaching.  He has a long experience in working with young people and currently teaches theology and the core curriculum at Australian Catholic University, Strathfield.

Your theme for the year is “I have a dream.” Reflecting on this I was reminded that  in sacred scripture the prophet Joel says:

“And afterward, I will pour out my spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my spirit in those days…”  Joel: 28 – 29

I grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s.  I moved round quite a bit.   I started in Auburn, ended up in a god-forsaken place called Wallerawang, ten miles west of Lithgow and then moved back to Mt Druitt so you have an idea of the socio-economic background I came from. I If you were to read the signs of the times there were a number of different areas where growing up was very different from what it is for Olivia.  In the 1950’s and 60’s, families were very different.  There were usually Mums and Dads and two or three or even ten kids and it was fairly stable.  Divorce or separation was a real stigma and blended families were quite unusual.  I remember when we went to live at Wallerawang; my father had left the family and left my mother with  three boys.  I was the only kid in my Catholic school that came from a separated family, and I was so ashamed of that.  In most families, Dad was the bread winner and Mum stayed at home and made the house.

 In those times society was a very conservative, very monocultural.  We were still in the era of the “White Australia” Policy.  Respect for authority was still quite strong.  Social mores were quite Victorian.  We were very prudish.  We were very concerned about correct etiquette.  Gayness was not spoken of or if it was it was very prerogative and we didn’t know what lesbianism was. 

There was an increasing abundance of the sort of material excesses we have come to see today, clothing and the plethora of things.  I got my bike when I was ten and my first watch when I was twelve.  Now when you ask a kid what they want for Christmas and they are five, they give you this list of technological gadgets that we would have never thought of.

 Employment was abundant and most kids left school to go to work or apprenticeship.  University was for the elite and there were plenty of jobs to pick from.  My first job was with the Taxation Department but only for a short time and then I went to work for the Department of Mines and Explosives as it then was.  I finished one job on the Thursday, went looking and had the next job on the next Tuesday.  I wasn’t worried about whether I would have a job.  Many people stayed in jobs for thirty, forty and fifty years.

Communication in particular, telephones.  When I was in  3rd grade there was one boy in my class who had a telephone in his home and we thought he was pretty rich.  Do you remember if you wanted to place a trunk call, you had to ring the exchange and how amazing it was when we got STD, (I don’t mean that kind of STD) but Subscriber Trunk Dialling.  You could ring Melbourne yourself.  And what about when we got ISD, International Subscriber Dialling.  How amazing!  The world came into reach for us.  Today you can have thousands of friends.  You can be a “twit” if you “twitter or tweet” (I’m not quite sure what the correct verbs are there) and whereas we would wait four or five days for the newsreels to come on the kangaroo route to get the news from London; now  like that, be in Boston for a bombing. The world is smaller and we have become virtual travelers. 

How many of you owned a car in the 1950’s?  I live in a block of flats that was built in the 1960’s.  There are eight units.  There are three car parking spaces.  The advent of the car was really significant because it meant that we were no longer locked into our local community.  We could move.  We could go places. 

Do you remember that if you applied for a job or if you wanted a baby baptised or if you wanted to get married, you had to have a signature or a reference from the parish priest of the parish of your domicile.  So, if you lived in Sutherland and you didn’t like the pastor and you went along to Cronulla you didn’t have a parish.  Which brings me to religion.

I grew up in an era of sectarianism.  I didn’t really believe that Protestants were really Christians.  I remember taking a dare to run up and push open the door of the Anglican Church.  Not do anything, not say anything, just run up and open the door and then run away because I was probably going to get nabbed by those  “dangerous” Protestants.  We didn’t know anything about Islam or Buddhism.  We lived in a really prescriptive Catholic culture and, in fact for some of us, we lived in a Catholic ghetto.  We mixed with one another, YCS, YCW, and CYO.  How many marriages came from the CYO and the dances and the tennis and the football?  Mixed marriages were frowned on.  If you were going to do that you can get married but out in the sacristy thank you very much. 

We went to Catholic schools and in something that is not well known, the Australian bishops in one of their meetings (I think it was in the 1940’s) actually passed a law that if you had children and you had the means to send them to a Catholic school but you sent them to a public school then you were excommunicated.  If that’s not a ghetto mentality I’m not sure what is.  We had stringent codes of behaviour - we didn’t eat meat on Fridays with the threat of being sent to Hell.  We fasted.  We had lots of Catholic prayers and devotions – the rosary, the  Memorare, the Angelus, St Jude, St Anthony, lots of piety.  We believed that we were “it”.

We prayed for the conversion of Russia at the end of Mass.  Either we weren’t heard or God was asleep when we were praying.  There were lots of visible Catholic symbols. There were big institutions like St Bernard’s -  Catholic High School, St Margaret Mary’s Hospital for Women.  Catholics were in the public arena in a big way.  If you came to a Catholic home two things you would find, a Crucifix, the twin Sacred Heart pictures on the wall.  We saw priests in cassocks, brothers and nuns in habits.  In that time we lived in an era of clericalism, of putting priests and religious on pedestals,  of “the clerical club” and the denial of forms of sexual abuse and other forms of abuse which we now know were quite rampant.

By the 1960’s the world was beginning to change and so was the Church.  At the end of World War II we got this optimism that the war to end all wars, the second one, was over and we were on the road to peace We began making babies in abundance and that, combined with the beginning of the influx of immigrants saw the birth of multiculturalism Australia which brought with it a necessary broadening of our perceptions of the world and the realization that not everyone saw things as we thought, not everybody approached life as we did.  There were also new horizons.  Sputnik was launched in 1959.  Within a period of ten years we went from being totally grounded on this Earth to walking on the Moon.  Ten years – that’s amazing!  All of a sudden we weren’t caught up on this Earth, we could go beyond.

The 1960’s also saw the emergence of the challenge of authority.  Up until the 60’s we accepted authority, believed authority and sometimes put up with pretty corrupt authority.  How many times have you heard of the local sergeant picking up a young fellow, giving him a hiding and sending him home?  We accepted that.  All of a sudden we started to say, “no”.  “Why should I accept what you think?”  “Why should I do what you say?” 

The sexual revolution came and part of that was triggered by technology – the pill.  Party of it was also this liberation from authority. And the expectation that we would have social stability and certainty became eroded.  In that context and this is where I have argument with the ultra conservatives, the church experienced Vatican II - 1963 to 1965.  For me Vatican II became the most influential event in my life.  I was still in school at the time. 

I can remember the changes and you will have heard some of what Pope John XXIII said when he opened that council.  I’m not going to read all of it but let me introduce a couple of things:

“Present indications are that the human family is on the threshold of a new era.  We must recognise here the hand of God, who, as the years roll by, is ever directing man’s efforts, whether they realise it or not, towards the fulfillment of the inscrutable designs of His providence… Extracts from Pope John XXIII- Address at the Opening of Vatican Council II – 11 October 1962.”  And then “In the daily exercise of Our pastoral office it sometimes happens that We hear certain opinions which disturb Us – opinions expressed by people who, though fired with a commendable zeal for religion, are lacking in sufficient prudence and judgment in their evaluation of events.  They can see nothing but calamity and disaster in the present state of the world.  They say over and over that this modern age of ours, in comparison with past ages, is definitely deteriorating.  One would think from their attitude that history, that great teacher of life, had taught them nothing.  They seem to imagine that in the days of the earlier councils everything was as it should be so far as doctrine and morality were concerned.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    “We feel(John XXIII feels) that We must disagree with those prophets of doom, who are always forecasting worse disasters, as though the end of the world were at hand.” Extracts from Pope John XXIII- Address at the Opening of Vatican Council II – 11 October 1962.”

 John XXIII threw open the windows of the Church and he invited us to see the world in his eyes; to see the Church not here for itself  but to be the sacrament of salvation for the world.  Not to serve ourselves but to bring salvation to the world. Vatican II opened to me great optimism and if you haven’t dipped into the documents of Vatican II, I would really love to commend to you the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.  Even though they are fifty years old the voice of the Spirit of God  comes through them still.  I would also recommend this translation (I don’t get any royalties) by Austin Flannery, “Vatican II” because it is written in inclusive language. 

 For me new possibilities were associated with growing up.  Unfortunately we are growing older and those possibilities have been progressively shut down.  But the Church goes on. And the challenge for us is to continue to believe in the dream we have, the dream of God’s presence in our world, in and through the church, which is called to be the sacrament of salvation for the world.

 Olivia Fricot

Olivia is a twenty year old third year uni student studying for a double degree of Arts and Law at the University of New South Wales.

For as long as I can remember, I've been a Catholic. l've spent nearly all of the Sunday mornings or nights of my life at church. My school life was spent at St John Bosco Primary and College, where my education was coloured with the teachings of the church.  I've memorised the prayers, had weird oils poured over me, eaten the bread, drunk the wine - it's pretty safe to say that when it comes to Catholicism, I've had a thorough experience.  I haven’t always been a willing participant, as my parents could probably tell you, but I’ve mostly settled my differences with the church and have returned on my own terms.

 Growing up Catholic is all I have ever known. I couldn't tell you what it felt like to grow up in say a Buddhist family or an atheist family. Yet in our ever changing world, experiences like those are becoming more and more common and my experience suddenly isn't really the norm. I don't think this is a bad thing, just a sign that the world is getting bigger. As a young person. there are so many different ways of life all clamoring for my attention and it's sometimes hard to figure out exactly which one I'm going to choose and how I’m going to live. As of right now, I’m living a lifestyle which makes  me happy  and which also just happens to involve being a Catholic. These days it's become quite uncommon to  hear the words “young” and “Attends church willingly" in the same sentence. Yet, here I am, talking to you all about it as easily as I would the latest episode of Doctor Who.  It’s natural to me, but it hasn’t always been like this.

I used to find church to be dull and painfully irrelevant to my life. I could think of a thousand things I'd rather be doing on a Sunday morning than going to church and listening to one old guy act holier-than-thou and pretty much lord it over all the half awake parishioners – I could be sleeping in!  After gradually growing sick of all the Sunday shenanigans through my early teens, getting a casual job at a bakery near Engadine pool when I was fifteen gave me the perfect excuse to stop going to mass.

This happened to be the very same year that Sydney was hosting World Youth Day, an event which i somehow managed to avoid. While most of my, friends were off praising the Lord and joining the youth group Antioch and other such nonsense, I was busy being a “normal” teenager, working,  hanging out with non-church friends and studying  for my school certificate exams.  The thought of picking up my faith and actually doing something with it just didn't cross my mind.  I didn't want to join Antioch even though most of my friends had, and I was getting pretty sick: and tired of hearing about how it was. It even go to the point where I  felt a little excluded from my school group.

 Funnily enough, what essentially drew me back to the church was a need for friendship Rather than God. I eventually came to realise that I had very few friends who weren't people I went to school with. Alarmed by this sudden ttrealisation, started looking around for a solution to this worrying problem. Enter the parish youth group Antioch, a place where 16-24 year olds eould chillout with Jesus every Sunday night singing songs, listening to talks not unlike this one and reflecting in prayer. Spurrred on by the prospect of getting a bit out of my comfort zone.  I tagged along on one Sunday night.  I figured that I’d meet new people, who hopefully weren’t total church nuts and if God entered the equation at all, then great! Well, He did. ln a pretty important way. I began seeing the world through His eyes as a place where everyone could live in harmony.  While God didn't enter into every aspect of my life, I had a pretty good relationship with Him - I still do. He's there for me if I need him (and even in times when I think I don't) and he gives my life a kind of purpose and stability which I don't necessarily find anywhere else.

 I keep pretty quiet about my faith life, not wanting to be that person who is a ruthless evangeliser and,who pushes their religion down other people's throats. I didn't really talk about it at all, even at school. Let me tell you that a Catholic school can sometimes be the loneliest place for a practising catholic. ln a class of thirty odd people, maybe four or five would actually attend mass regularly because the whole concept of practising was so uncool it was practically social suicide. I wish I could say that I was loud and proud about my faith during my later years of high school but I would be lying. I kept it pretty hush hush that I went to mass and, shock horror, went to a youth group! Not that being in with the so called popular kids at school was very important to me, , it just wasn't worth the hassle of being called a "god freak" in every Studies of Religion class.  It was pretty much just like when Jesus told Peter that he would deny him three times by the time the rooster crowed the next morning. Except this time it wasn't Peter doing the denying, it was me. And it wasn't a rooster, it was the school bell.

 Thankfully, the world outside high school was much more receptive to my faith decisions. People were much more accepting and grown up and I could actually talk about my faith to whoever was interested. lt didn't take me long though to figure out that some people, a lot of people, weren't happy with the church at all. Groups of people were facing mass marginalization not only from the rest of society but from the institution which once held so much sway - the Church.

 I had a lot of problems with the church as a young teenager. I still do, to be perfectly honest with you. Just like I have problems with the way the government handles certain issues. But do I go out and start a riot because they're thinking of cutting university funding? No. Just like I wouldn't start a riot in the middle of mass because the Church condemns the ordination of women as priests.  lt's  just not a constructive way to evoke any kind of change. But by that token, to just stand by and not question the choices that the Church makes on behalf of us lay people is simply something that I ean't do. When I was younger, I didn't have the knowledge and ability to properly articulate how I felt about the church's choices about things like sex, marriage and science. I feel that I do now, whether it's because of entering the world beyond high school and actually interacting with different people or because it was just a part of maturing as a human being. I have experienced society as it currently stands today yet I wonder if the Church has at all sometimes. The concept of things like homosexuality or contraception aren't so taboo anymore but you wouldn't know it if you walked into a Sunday morning service. 

I'm a big believer in change, particularly where the church is concerned. I've mentioned that I attend the youth group Antioch, where we have two symbols. We have the rose, symbolising growth, maturity and change - exactly the kind of things we should be aspiring to in our faith. But we also have the rock - cold, unmoving rock, symbolising stubbornness and a reluctance to grow. We want to go from being a rock to a rose.  lt's a pretty solid metaphor and one that I think extends much further than one small parish youth group. Unfortunately, to me it seems that the church has become a rock where it was once a rose.

 Our entire faith is based on the teachings and actions of one guy, Jesus of Nazareth, who completely rocked the boat when it came to faith. For his time, he was a radical and not everybody liked what he had to say, to the point where he was sentenced to death for it. But what was this radical, worth-dying-for message? Surely it was something huge and groundbreaking?

No, it was love. Pure and simple. Love one another as I have loved you.

Let's look at it another way. Accept one another as I have accepted you. What does this mean? lt doesn't mean that you have to go out and march for the rights of women to become priests or anything like that. lt just means that you understand that there's an issue which another person has. lt may not be your personal issue but you just need to accept that people do not all fit in the same social, cultural, religious or sexual mould. Where one significant institution such as the Church still maintains that there is only one mould, it is the right mould and we won't permit or indulge anything that doesn't fit into that mould...well then there's a problem because the Church is not following Jesus' example.

 Acceptance of others... this is the message we should be perpetrating. I'm so perplexed when I see how stagnant the Church has become in this respect and I feel that it's greatly off-putting to young people who don't identify as Catholic. We cling to outdated ways of moderating our behaviour that sometimes doesn't allow our own human nature to breathe. Jesus was both fully human and fully divine but we're not. We're only human.   I'm not saying that we should all go out and explore our sexual orientation or go on the pill or whatever. Nor do I think that every single sermon should be about one of these taboo issues. I just think that we need to encourage more discussion about things like sexuality, medication and the things which our Church does wrong. Because it does do things wrong. I think the Church can find a way to say for example that "No, we don't think that sex before marriage should occur but neither do we think that pre-marital celibacy is the only way to be a Christian." lt doesn't mean that every single young Catholic is suddenly going to run off and sleep with their partner or with a lot of different people, it just gives them the space to sit back and think about it, to think about how they can best live their life and serve God. lt gives them the chance to make an informed choice and I think it helps us to be more open to change. We should establish a system that is encouraging and welcoming of difference, without being pushy or in-your-face- something worthy of Christ himself. We can't just stick our heads in the sand and pretend that these things aren't there, or that they don't happen. 

Young people today can be quite hostile towards the concept of organised religion, which I think is an issue of miscommunication on both sides. They're both trying so hard to get their message across to the other than nobody can hear what the other is saying.

This is really disappointing because there is a huge potential to encourage people to find themselves in faith, if that's where they want to go. There is an incredible youth culture that's growing within the church right now as we speak, one that's much much bigger than Antioch. I mean, we have World Youth Day, a global event which is specifically designed for celebrating the faith shared by young Catholics. And these young people embody everything that is new and changing in the world. We know more about the world now. We understand science and nature. We've grown up with new technologies and medicines that can really impact the way we live our life. We've grown up knowing people who are just a little bit different, people who maybe aren't heterosexual or people who aren't interested in getting married or having children at all.

And I am actually really keen to see this new younger generation pass through the church but at the same time I feel a bit apprehensive. I see the risk of the older generation not being able to relate to these young people. Change is a hard thing to accept when you've been living and practicing in one particular way for so long, which is why I think communication and education are so important and not just when you're young. I think forums like this one are a great idea and we should have more of them.

The thing l'm trying to say is, I don't want there to be an enormous gap between the younger and older generations. lt's why I'm here speaking to you tonight. lf there's something about the world that an older parishioner is uncomfortable with or doesn't know much about, they should just ask one of us. We young people are a vastly under-utilised intellectual and emotional resource. There's more going on in our heads than just what appears on our Facebook newsfeed and we have a lot to say these days. We just want to share these things with other people. Communication is a huge part of this process of reuniting the young and the old but also in reuniting Christians and non- Christians.

 We should all get the ball rolling if we're going to see any kind of responsiveness from the Church to the current social state of the world. I firmly believe that there is still a place for the Church in this world and I hope that if the Church bends a little and accepts the new changes which young people care about, then there's going to be a bright future ahead of us.                                                                                                                                    Don Humphrey

 Comments from the meeting: 

  • How am I going to live in the future.
  • There are lots of people interested in the Church today.
  • There is a need for community in the Church.  The institutional Church does not accept that people come from many stages of life.  People question where the Church is taking them.
  • What does happiness mean?
  • If the Church wasn’t there would people miss it?
  • Cardinal Pell says that the Church is not an institution.  There are institutions in it.
  • We now have some freedom.  We are responsible.
  • Are there message for our educational institutions?
  • The Bible is not a book for children.
  • The Church provides some certainty.
  • The Church provides some community.

 

 

 


June 2013
Topic: Men – what challenges have men faced and are facing?  Speakers: Graham English and Robert Favaloro.

 Graham English

Graham English spent his working life of forty six years in various forms of Catholic Education.  He is a former Christian Brother, a cartoonist and a frequently contributor on issues within the Catholic Church in Catholica.

 What challenges have men faced and are facing?

 Spirituality is about the inner life of human beings, it is about finding a meaning for my life, a meaning that enriches and enhances my life rather than one that is destructive.

 Religion is slightly different. lt too is about producing meanings but it is a group thing.

Religion is one of the human constructs or institutions that form a structure for people to be spiritual and to seek the meaning of life, and to express what they believe or accept as the meaning of life.

 I was born in 1944. My family was deeply religious. We said the rosary every night and we were often at the church. We lived in the shadow of the church, almost literally and certainly metaphorically. We didn't have much but we knew who we were and we knew where we fitted in the scheme of things. We had religion.

 This is one of the strengths of religion. lnstead of seeking meaning alone, as spirituality sometimes does religion allows people to do it in a community or at least in company. Lt also means the community need not be based just in the present. lt can be like Chesterton's comment on tradition. Tradition he says is the realisation that voting rights extend even to those no longer alive. Tradition is Great-Grandma still having her say. lt is the democracy of the dead. Religion means that even though Benedict lived in ltaly in the 7th century his insights are still alive in this community.

 The trick though is to make sure tradition is alive and helpfu! now and not a millstone around people's necks. Bad tradition kills and it is one of the reasons religion now has such a bad name. There are too many bad traditions.

 I think that is the challenge for men of any kind now, to make traditions alive and helpful.

And I am not finding this easy. This is partly because lots of my generation of men were spiritually traumatised. Our religious education was severely retarded and some of it did a lot of damage.

 When I was a child I gained the impression that the world and the Church were permanent and I felt fairly secure in the Church. I felt that as it was then was as it had been since

Jesus. At the same time I felt really unhappy. When I was small I felt deeply angry with God for making me without asking my permission and now I had to go on forever and ever.

Instead of someone dealing with my deep unhappiness I was assured that things would be okay as long as I was good and I tried to believe the people who told me this. And I was more or less successful for a long time. Religion gave me a place to be and a way to describe myself. It seemed to give me meaning. And by the time I was fifteen or sixteen it seemed to be almost enough.

 Then gradually sometimes and with a bang at others religion failed me as a way of explaining the world and as a way of gathering meaning.  Religion has lost its authority and now many people involved in religion have low morale. I find this a challenge. The poet

James McAuley wrote in 1957 wrote. "ln spite of all that can be said against our age, what a moment it is to be alive in," and the same can be said about now but I still need to ask,

"What do you do if something that seemed the main meaning of your life fails? What do you do if you are struggling to find meaning and there is little out there worth believing in or signing up for? What if there are no leaders worth following?" For me this has become a challenge.

 I spent forty six years that is all of my working life in religious education, at all levels from year three primary to doctoral level and ended up asking myself why the doctrines and traditions of Christianity should matter now to someone not already familiar with them. I tried many things but I do not have a simple or clear answer. Religion has failed as a straight forward supplier of meaning because it has lost credibility. lt promised things it could not deliver. Too often now religion does not help folk to be spiritual. Too often it gets in their way. I hear things said by religious leaders and I find myself saying, "No, that is not what I mean. What you are saying just does not matter to me." I hear people of all ages saying, "Oh

I am spiritual but I am not religious." And while I am a bit religious I can see what they mean.

 Here are a few of the things that make this, asking why the doctrines and traditions of

Christianity matter a special challenge for me:

 Morality: For about fifteen years I taught ethics to student nurses, to teachers and to people who work with folk who have a mental disability. I taught ethical theory and used lots of examples. As it was at the Catholic University I made sure Thomas Aquinas and other particularly Catholic ethical theory got a fair go. Even as I taught, the field was changing. I used say to the students, "You will have to make decisions about techniques and possibilities that have not been invented yet." In my lifetime we humans have discovered so many things and official religion finds it hard to keep up. And after 1968 when Paul Vl forbade the use of artificial contraception many people do not listen to the Church anyway.

 They do not find its answers credible let alone convincing.

 Addiction: We live in a culture that encourages us to become addicts. They are playing up to something we are prone to already. We want to wipe out the agony and confusion of existence by doing something destructive and these days there are lots of things out there to destroy ourselves with. We might smoke or drink alcohol to excess or take other drugs that light us up for a while and soften the edges. We might work compulsively or even pray compulsively. All of these are easier (at least for a while) than living in the moment and accepting life as it is in all its complexity. These days some folk even try violence, mostly against others but often enough against themselves. Lots of us would love there to be an easy way to find meaning. I would. Advertising depends on us wanting an easy way out. But there is not.

 And education is especially failing boys. We are not good at talking. Boys who get sexually abused take twenty years on average to speak up about it, much longer than it takes girls.

Boys seem more likely to become addicts. Boys are more likely to resort to violence. We are not good at friendship and intimacy. We are not naturally given to understanding how others feel. My generation has been especially bad at this. The Church I grew up in had only one piece of advice about intimacy and feelings and that was DON'T. The truth is our teachers failed us badly.

 Technology:

Technology is all those whizz bang things about us. lt is the three year old on the train using his mother's i-Phone. It is the car beside you booming rap at the lights. It is talking to your friend in lceland on Skype while you are sitting here in the Shire. It is downloading an article from New York here in your office or faxing or emailing sophisticated plans to someone in Helsinki and getting an answer in seconds. It is some hacker stealing this without you knowing. The world is so small, the information is so quick, and the miraculous is so common. And it is all another thing we can be addicted to and convinced we have solved the problem of life and meaning.

 Education: Neither of my parents finished secondary school. When I left school in 1960 only a small percentage of the boys who began school with me went on to the Leaving Certificate. Among girls the percentage was even smaller. Now almost all students finish year twelve and many of both genders complete at least one university degree. I used tell my university students that when the slaves were first brought to the United States they were urged to learn to read the Bible especially the fourth commandment, “Honour your father and your mother.” The slave owners told them this meant that they had to obey their masters. But the problem with teaching people to read is that they often read things you did not intend them to read. The slaves read Exodus; “Let my people go!”  I once drew a cartoon of a bishop saying to the then pope, John Paul ll, "The problem is Holy Father that women have learnt to read." The Catholic bishops at the Reformation who forbade English translations of the Bible had the same issue on their minds. Once people learn to read they have power. And this education combined with technology, i-Phones, the internet, the copier means that anyone has access to just about everything right now. The authorities no longer have control of information. We cannot fool any of the people any of the time. As the Church has found out the hard way our sins are on television every night.

 Feminism: I heard an economist the other day say that the biggest changes in the Australian economy in the last fifty years are not because of economic rationalism. They are because of feminism. When I left school a boy with almost no education could still get a reasonably good job because he was big and had muscles. Now women can do most jobs men used do.

Technology, the loss of manufacturing in Australia, women often being more employable, these and many other changes have changed what it means to be a man in Australia. And the decline of priesthood as a job of prestige has killed that as an option too. When women can also be priests, and though it won't happen in my lifetime I think it will happen, that will be that. Women have already taken over education, more or less. And even in jobs we are good at like teaching boys young men shy away from it in fear they will be called sex abusers. How then does a man get a job that will give his life meaning?

 Cosmology: The Hubble telescope and those who interpret what it beams back to earth assure us that there are 7,000 to the power of ten galaxies other than ours. I cannot even imagine 7000 to the power of ten galaxies though the writer Bill Bryson says to think of each galaxy as a frozen pea; then there are enough frozen peas to fill the Sydney Town Hall.

It is a helpful image but it still staggers me. We already know that we have no way of even getting to the edge of our galaxy. Any cosmology based on the view of the earth that the

Bible presumes has no way of touching humans who live knowing about all those galaxies.

Any view of God limited to thinking the earth is like a flat plain with an upturned soup dish kind of sky just won't work anymore. Even thinking of God the way we did fifty years ago won't work. We are challenged to think of God in new ways and the world and the universe in new ways.

 Salvation: For those of us hanging on to Christianity somehow we have to think of Christ differently and what it means to be Christian. This should not amaze us. Who Christ is and why he matters has changed from age to age. When St Anselm the eleventh century archbishop of Canterbury described what Jesus did for us in terms of feudal rules and customs he was just meeting the needs of his feudal time and using what the people experienced as a metaphor. Now we need new metaphors. We all know, in the words of

Richard Holloway, “how easy it is to sabotage our own happiness” and how helpless we are by ourselves to do anything about it. We know “there is no power within ourselves that can lift us out of ourselves.” I think this is our biggest challenge as men, and women, finding new metaphors, new ways of telling the story of what the role of Christ is in all this.

Anxiety: Have you noticed how many anxious people there are about us? ln 2007 I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I had surgery and there has been no sign of it since. At the same time I had an anxiety attack. The unhappiness of my early childhood came roaring back saying, "Pay attention! Do something about this." A friend tells me I had a breakthrough, not a breakdown. lt felt horrible at the time and has taken a lot of working through. lt forced me to know that I just have to find ways of living with unease and uncertainty because that is what life is like. Pat answers will no longer do.  That for me is a challenge, to ask how in a world where all these things are commonplace why the doctrines and traditions of Christianity should matter to someone not already familiar with them and to ask how we make the doctrines and traditions of Christianity still matter to those of us who are used to them or are wondering where all the certainty and the reassurance went.

 I quoted James McAuley earlier. He said that in spite of all that can be said against our age, “what a moment it is to be alive in.” Of course he was cheating. Unlike Doctor Who we do not get a choice about the age we are living in. There is no Tardus. The only age we are alive in is this one. This is where my challenges are because this is when I am. We only get a choice about how we live in the age we were born into. That is the challenge that faces me; to live constructively now.  I find it plenty to being going on with.

 

Robert Favaloro

Robert is a well-respected General Practitioner in the local area with a special interest in Men’s health.  He is a family man, and has an interest in exploring his personal spirituality.  He has been a GP for 37 years.

Life has been a challenge.  I see life like a 3000m hurdle.  You have smooth times when things are going nicely, then, bang, a hurdle.  The problem is that in the Olympics, you know where the hurdle is, in life you don’t.  In the Olympics you know how big the hurdle is, you don’t know what’s going to happen in life, but in hurdles and in life you have to get through the hurdle to get to the next thing.  So the reality is that you have to work at it.  There are hurdles until you get into the final run and I’m not there yet.  There are more hurdles to come so one might as well get used to it. 

 I’ve had an eventful life, so I will go through a few of the hurdles I’ve had.  The ones that came to mind : 

The first came when I was 10 at  Marist Brothers Penshurst.  I remember hearing the word “Dago”.  It was dark, it wasn’t nice.  My Dad had a fruit shop in Mortdale and I’m full-blooded Italian.  How do you cope with that?  I didn’t say a word to anyone, I didn’t speak.  I thought about and I studied and I came top of the class and you don’t criticise the guy at the top of the class.  That got me through that.  I don’t remember praying.  I guess I did it myself.  Then, smooth run again. 

 The next hurdle came when I was 14.  My Dad was a good guy, prayed beside the bed every night, Mass every Sunday. He got a belly pain and in three months, died of cancer so I was then the eldest son.  What I remember then were people, the importance of people who came to visit.  A little lady down the road brought us trays of cake.  I began to realise the power of family and friends.  The support was good.  We got through it.  Then, life went quite nicely again.  I was on the level again.  There I was sailing Along through the Leaving Certificate, Commonwealth Scholarship, took an ego trip, got into medicine, but then...

 I failed.  One is easily distracted in youth.  I failed 2nd year Med. I had never failed anything.  Mind you, 50% of Med students fail.  That’s my excuse anyway.  It was a terrible trauma.  I went down to Missenden Road, sat in the church there and prayed.  I had to go home and tell the family that I had failed.  I was supposed to be the king pin, the one doing Medicine.  Again, Mum was there.  She gave me unconditional love.  So whatever I did was OK I worked as a postman on Saturdays, made money and the rest of it.  Eventually I got through Uni and then things got smooth again. I finished Medicine, residency at Sutherland Hospital,  medical registrar and then passed physician training.  I went into General Practice – enjoyed it.  Life was going well.  I got married, had three children, then, one day,...

 My wife said. “I want out.”  I was going through grief and something was disappearing out of my life.   Failure.  No one else’s marriage seemed to fail.  This hurdle was THE hurdle.  What would I do?  I remember chatting with Sister Pam.  I learned along the way that you’ve got to talk and I’m a good talker and I got better all the time.  Sister Pam said, “I thought you had it altogether.”  I was very untogether. 

 I went to church.  There were positives and negatives. The distinct positives were the hymns.  Joan Moylan must have known every time I was coming and sure enough (I’m not allowed to sing it, Gail said), “In His time, He makes all things beautiful in His time” came up.  The other one, “I have carried you on Eagle’s Wings.”  So that was all right.  “He’s going to carry me until all’s well.”  The hard part was all those people who had it all together, sitting in church holding hands.   I’m sitting in Church by myself.   Anyone near me would get the best handshake.  I was almost turned off going to Church because I felt lonely there.  I had failed and it was terrible at the time but then God works in mysterious ways.   I came across Anthony De Mello’s “The Song of the Bird”.  A  book of all these little stories from India.  There was one about an eagle.  “The eagle lays an egg, the little boy pinches it and puts it in with the chooks.  The eagle hatches with the brood of chickens and grows up to be a chook, scratches the ground like a chook because that’s what chooks do.  He clucked and cackled and he would thrash his wings and fly a few feet into the air.  Years pass and the eagle grew very old.  One day he looks up at the sky and sees a magnificent bird far above him in the cloudless sky.  It glided in graceful majesty among the powerful wind currents with scarcely a beat of its strong golden wings.  The old eagle looks up in awe.  “Who’s that?”  he asked. “That’s the eagle, the king of the birds,” says his neighbour,  “He belongs to the sky.  We belong to the earth – we’re chickens.”  So the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that’s what he thought he was.(Adapted from Anthony De Mello, S.J.:- “The Song of the Bird”)

 Maybe, I thought,  I can do better than what I am doing.  You tend to restrict yourself in life.  I know I had.  So the time has come to do more.  So I looked around.  My wife’s family had a bit of alcohol problems and that gave me an introduction to ALANON. So I made the 12 steps.  I liked the idea of the higher power.  I used to get a bit angry about God being “He”.  I thought that God should be bigger than “He.”  The “higher power” and the “ inner voice” really clicked with me.  I noticed an article in the Herald written by an American about the 10 best things to do before you die.  Not a bucket list! : “Make sure your affairs are in order, Live the life you want,  Go to funerals, Tell people what they mean to you, Tell your story, Lighten up and laugh, Be kind and expect a mess, Say thank you and I’m sorry, Choose life, Let go.” The inner voice seemed to speak.  Good friends were around and I started talking with them.  I started a cycling group.  I got into running.  I started to go to Men’s breakfasts in the church, I got family reunions going, I did more medical studies, and I started doing what my inner voice wanted me to do.  I never got depressed.  I got some rules from the “Happiness Conference” in Sydney (See footnote): One of the rules is to be happy.  Other rules were “Stay connected with people, keep exercising, stay connected with your environment, take notice of the world around you, learn new things, and be a giving person.” 

 Then a crisis, part of the marriage crisis - the dog died. That’s when I cried.  I hadn’t really cried until my dog died.  I had a vet, my ex-cousin-in-law come and put the dog down.  The dog died in my arms.  I dug a hole, buried the dog.  A neighbour helped me.    I thought why does everyone love the dog?  My prayer was “asking” I felt this unconditional love thing.  My mum, she came out and helped with the kids whenever I wanted.  When I had the girls there were no troubles.  The dog never judged anyone.  If I got angry with the dog and pushed her out of the way, she still loved me with unconditional love.  The old saying, “We can always cope in life if there is one person who can give us unconditional love.”  Regrets!  We mostly have regrets about what we haven’t done not about the things we have done.

   One of my best lessons in counselling came next.  Who was going to get out of the house? My wife said that it was my role to leave the family home.   My friends told me “You should not be getting out.”  This advice did not mean much to me.  At AlAnon, I was asked “Why are you getting out?”  This question made me think - I didn’t want to get out.  I told my wife “I’m not getting out” so she moved out to a new home.  My first night alone was a Monday night I walked in and sat down. I felt peace. “I’m feeling peace.” It was fantastic.  All this time ‘On Eagles Wings’ kept playing.   I thought “Everything works for good” You adopt these positive mantras.  Back in church I was happy and not feeling lonely.

  Life goes on and sure enough I met Gail.  I believed she was someone I could share my life with and talk to.    Gail told me the magic statement “Expect nothing and what you get is a bonus.”  So we talked .  I was on the level again.  I was running.  I was sprinting.  The house was good, the kids were good, everyone loved me, kids were doing loving things.  One of my daughters drew me this beautiful picture.    Gail and I were thinking of getting married and sure enough...

 I went to the loo and passed blood.   Must have a haemorrhoid!  Got to be.”  I was the optimist. No, it was a cancerous polyp,  the surgeon decided to operate and cut out part of the bowel.  Thank God, when I woke up I put my hand down expecting a bag – no bag!  My prayer became pretty much an acceptance thing.  Everything was going well, I still went to church, Joan was still playing I heard that saying that a Saint “Does ordinary things extraordinarily well.”  I’ll stick to that mantra.  While I was going through recuperation after the surgery, and while I was going through the marriage problems Fr John Briffa visited me.  He seemed to have unconditional love for me and I could talk about anything to him.  So we were zooming along and then the idea of annulment came along. I don’t believe in annulment.  I knew what I was doing when I got married and I felt that my ex wife did also. The marriage was something that just didn’t work out. 

 At that stage we were talking to Fr Eddie Murphy.  Gail and I were going to get married in the Uniting Church in Jannali.  Fr Eddie said, “Would you like me to come along and be with you?”  He actually stood beside us.  He blessed us in the Uniting Church in Jannali and was a witness on our marriage certificate.  Good man – unconditional love, very brave, in fact he said, ”Don’t tell anyone.”

 The inner voice is power.  Don’t give in. Everything works for good.  I have grandchildren now and they love super heroes.  These super heroes have great power and fear nothing.    We can do great things also.  Jesus says we can do greater things than He did – if only we trust.

 Gail and I had a gut feeling that we wanted a farm.   We set out one day and we bought a very small property.   We attended field days and workshops on different aspects of farming. We then realised we needed a larger property. Sure enough we got what we wanted at a good price and sold the small farm in a week.  We got everything we wanted, a gravel drive, double glazed windows, dams etc. I don’t call it luck, I call it providence.  The farm is called “Providence.”  My prayer has become one of “thanks.”  I don’t ‘ask’ in my prayers any more.

  In conclusion, I always think of Mark Twain’s statement, “My life has been full of catastrophes, most of which have never happened.”

 For me, my life has been full of hurdles all of which I needed to give me my fortunate life.

 Footnote: Happiness Conference Sydney 2009

The happiest people tend to:-

1) Devote time to family and friends

2) Express gratitude for what they have

3) Help out colleagues and passer-bys

4) Practice optimism when imagining their future

5) Savour life’s pleasures

6) Live in the moment

7) Do physical exercise

8) Commit themselves deeply to a life-long goal and ambition

FIVE WAYS TO WELLBEING

1) Stay connected with people

2) Be physically active

3) Take notice of the world around you

4) Learn new things

5) Give to others (including volunteering)

(Centre for Wellbeing at the New Economics Foundation)

Report by Don Humphrey

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