Catholic Youth Parramatta

Bishop Anthony Fisher’s Rome Blog: 15 Oct


Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP
Bishop of Parramatta, Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP.

The Bishop of Parramatta, Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, blogs live from Rome.

Rome, 15 October 2010

Rome is the city of apostles, martyrs and saints. As I make my way through the streets, as a pilgrim to some of the places Mary MacKillop visited, I bump into the same saints she did when she was in Rome.

She first went to the church of St Ignatius Loyola, the Gesu, and she returned there often for Mass or Confession. Everything, she said, was “so solemn and nice here, I felt so happy”. In St Ignatius she had, of course, the companionship of a fellow founder. She would also meet with Fr Anton Anderledy, the future General of the Jesuits, who became her mentor.

Another favourite church of Mary MacKillop’s was that of Sant’ Agata dei Goti (St Agatha of the Goths). That’s where she would meet with Monsignor Tobias Kirby, who proved to be her great friend, adviser and advocate in Rome.

St Agatha was, of course, a young martyr to whom Mary could turn both in her youthfulness and her trials. At Mass, like all of us, she was united with the great company of saints on earth and in heaven – including this idealistic young one like herself.

Yet another favourite woman-saint of Mary was Catherine of Siena. Mary went in her habit to visit Fr Raymund Bianchi OP at the convent of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

This Dominican had been appointed to assess and revise the Josephite Rule so that it could be approved in Rome. He defended her desire to have a central government that crossed diocesan boundaries and was not subject to the whims of local bishops. But he pressed her to ameliorate the severe commitment to poverty that disallowed the sisters even to own their convents in common.

With his help the rule was accepted by the Vatican – though sadly this was to prove a sticking point both with some Irish-Australian bishops (who wanted to control the convents of Josephites in their territory) and with her co-founder Fr Julian Tenison Woods (who wanted severe poverty).

Mary MacKillop prayed the Rosary before the tomb of St Catherine of Siena, another young woman of great determination and holiness, and in due course got the support she needed for the order’s rule to be recognised.

Getting to know some of Mary’s saintly companions in Rome tells us something of her own inspiration and personality.

Lots of people think saints are miracle-workers, but of course only God works miracles. The saints can bring us closer to Him who is the source of all miracles, healing, and hope. They point away from themselves and towards Christ, for religion means always giving God His due.

Not that God needs our praise or our obedience. He’s perfectly happy as He is. He has no needs. When God asks us to do His will, it’s for our benefit, not His. Saints, like MMK, are doers-of-God’s will.

Now if you get close enough to God some of who He is will likely rub off on you. As you become transparent to God’s grace, people will be able to see Him through you. Lots of people have had the experience of meeting someone, such as the Pope or another holy person, and have come away convinced that they have experienced holiness first hand. Saints have that effect on us.

So getting closer to the saints is one really good way of getting closer to God. But whatever way we take to uniting ourselves more closely to God, it ultimately rebounds to our benefit, not His. In subjecting our spirits to Him we are perfected, so that like Mary MacKillop we live in union with God in this life and are rewarded with everlasting union in the next.

In last Sunday’s homily I reflected upon the fact that when we praise God out loud in hymns and prayers, as Mary of the Cross did when riding on horseback between tiny towns to build her convents and care for the poor kids; or when we praise God more quietly on our knees, especially before the Blessed Sacrament, as Mary MacKillop also did, often for hours at a time: such praise arouses love for God in our hearts and those of others. Sanctity consists precisely in this process of devoting all our actions and ourselves to God in praise and so uniting our spirits with His.

But to praise God is not always easy, especially when we are suffering. Much has been made of Mary MacKillop’s excommunication, misunderstandings and other trials, often missing the point entirely.

Their place in her life was like the trials of Abraham asked to leave his familiar lands and even give up his son. Like Abraham, Mary was tenacious, she persevered in faith, through thick and thin, and so was found worthy to be the spiritual parent of a whole nation.

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