I have been pondering
as to what to share. You have stories; you have
experiences as rich
as or even richer
“The Motorcycle Diaries”,
a film currently showing in Sydney, is the template
I want to work
with. It was Che Guevara’s journey
around a continent. It started with a call to adventure
it became the hero’s journey. In being human we
are all heroes. The film was about a bike, two persons,
accidents, arguments, injury, being penniless,
sadness, exposure to injustice, spontaneous generosity,
romance and death—life itself. The story of Che
is also our story. That is why metaphor is so delicate
“You enter the forest at the darkest
point where there is no path. Where there is a path
it belongs to someone else.” Life is
quest we all make for the absolute and we
seem to spend our
lives unravelling the mystery of who we are
in relation to the world. And it is precisely here
the paradox of life itself. If we are real
there is that compelling need to identify with the
pushed to the margins. The need comes from
a faith we were born into. It is a faith that if
exposes our fears. It is in moving from certainty
and security to a leap into the darkness that
we run the
risk of failure. Yet it is when we are able
to take this
risk that we are invited to seek genuine salvation.
I am a product of my own experience.
We are all products of our own experience. It is
not always easy to acknowledge
this. If we
do not then we can allow ourselves to be
experience. If we become prisoners then we
remain in Plato’s cave and never seek to escape.
I was born in Sydney at the beginning
of the 2nd World War to a balanced Catholic mother
and a Catholic but anti-clerical
father. I was the youngest of 3 siblings
by 6 years. We were not wealthy but at the same
time we were
not poor. We had enough of what was needed
to live with
dignity. We grew up in Cremorne. My parents
voted for the Menzies
Government. I only attended Catholic schools-Loreto Convent,
Kirribilli, OLSH Bowral and St. Aloysius College. Family,
Church, School, Friends and Location were my focus within
the bigger world of politics, economy and popular culture.
My father was crippled with Rheumatoid
Arthritis. He had been a wonderful sportsman in his
day, representing the State in cycling and rowing.
He became severely handicapped with arthritis
to my birth. He was much older than my
mother and he was 54 when I was born. I feel that
I can say that I
had a reasonably happy childhood, secure
in the knowledge that I was loved. My father died
when I was 13. I realized
only years later the incredible impact
his death had on me. It seems that persons who have
losses in childhood can be particularly
vulnerable to depression as adults. The loss of a
parent between the
ages of 10-14 is seen as devastating.
From my own experience as a counsellor adolescents
are unable to understand
death or to express grief as adults do,
and they often carry with them throughout life a
sense of unresolved
or incomplete mourning. His death was
the first death that I had experienced. I was there
the whole time. He
had been nursed by my mother at home.
He had bladder cancer. After the funeral I was fearful
of going back
to school and kept on putting it off
for days, fearful of what the other students would
say. I just didn’t want
to be different.
I did not want to be seen as different.
But I had no father and all the others in the class
did have a father. My
I began to suffer badly from scruples,
scruples that at times made me question my own
sanity. Religion became
a burden because it was based on fear.
But I had to be redeemed so I followed slavishly
the one true path of
salvation. This was none other than
the Church founded on the rock of Peter.
I can see so clearly now as I look
back to my own past just how powerful the church
can be in controlling the
of people and
how men like Jensen, Pell and their
ilk are able to have so much political and emotional clout. In times of uncertainty humans stampede for answers. Hillsong and tele-evangelism are little different to the Alan Joneses, the Stan Zemaneks, and the Ray Hadleys of this world. They talk religious ‘jock’ talk.
The Jesuits who taught me through primary
and secondary school were a mixed bunch. A few were
beautifully creative and compassionate. Still there
were a couple who at times seemed to have suffered
severe neurosis. There were traces of Jansenism there
which exposed even more my disposition to scruples.
I remember when the legendary Jimmy Carlton died
an old Jesuit spoke for 30 minutes of how he was
enduring hell for eternity, describing the putrefaction
of his skin. Why? Because he had betrayed his vocation.
We were told how a couple who didn’t marry in the
church and who were killed in an accident on their
honeymoon were burning in hell for all eternity.
And the story of being true to your faith was seen
in the light of a good catholic young man going into
a condom factory and puncturing the heads of all
So here I was a mixture of shyness,
reticence, friendliness, fearful of being different
and certainly very aware of my inadequacies.
I was reasonably ok with schoolwork and matriculated
in 1958. But I certainly would not become one of
the famous alumni of the college.
On the 31st of January 1959 a somewhat
insecure 18-year-old alighted from the train at Douglas
Park Station to begin a religious
pilgrimage. It was to be a lifetime commitment.
Here I had placed my hand to the plough and there
to be no turning back. Religious life was seen
as the sign to the world of what the real priorities
of life were all about. The vows taken were seen
as a witness to that reality. Yet over 20 years
things were realized. The certainties that were
fostered at an earlier stage were no longer there.
not to do with a lack of faith. The real practitioners
of poverty were not necessarily those who took
formal vows in a ceremonial and consecrated ritual but rather those who sought the quest for the kingdom in their identification with the poor. Obedience had to be more than keeping peace at all costs or letting others take on the burden of responsibility. Chastity was not just about being tokenly wedded with Christ and the denial of passion. It was far more.
It was precisely at this point that
I found myself facing a dilemma. On the one hand
there was the church which had been the bastion of
my mental and spiritual sanity and which in the past
had offered me the certainty of salvation if I followed
all her rules. Yet at the same time I found something
unreal about it all. I was searching for a way to
live out the compassion of the Christ, which I had
discovered in my reading of the Gospels.
It was then I saw that much of my life
in the seminary was an endurance test. We had in
no way been exposed to the outside world.
For 9 years I had been confined to a set location.
Maturity and a sense of self worth were not central
to such training, still there were the positives.
I had made wonderful lifelong friends. Friends
who will be with me always. I was very fortunate
had a really good academic basis for life outside.
I can never fully express my gratitude to the Missionaries
of the Sacred Heart for the education and even
the warmth they gave. I feel sure that the education
one got there was better than any other seminary
training about at the time. As I went through the
scholasticate, light became clearer. I started
be awakened to the outside world through my reading
and sharing. The Second Vatican Council had opened
so many windows. Our reading became broader and
the Order itself allowed us to dig deeper. Two books
had a big impact at this stage, Maisie Word’s ‘
Pagan’ and Fromm’s ‘Fear of Freedom’ allowed me
to understand the role of priesthood in a world crying
out to be heard and just how easy it is to abrogate
If I were to go into the nearly 14
years as a priest it may take time. Dare I
say that I did enjoy my time as a curate in the Randwick Parish, my years as a Chaplain to the students at the University of NSW and the several years I spent in the Philippines?
I took leave of the pilgrimage started
in 1958 on the 15th of February 1980. I was to continue
on the pilgrimage but this time with a different
structure. Nine years as a Probation and Parole Officer,
nearly 13 years as a school counsellor and now working
privately in counselling and also as a Marriage,
Funeral and Naming Celebrant. It is like coming full
circle and the words of T. S. Eliot seem so germane,
‘We shall not cease from exploration and the end
of our exploring will be to arrive where we started
and to know the place for the first time’. I want
in these moments though to go further. Here we are
as a community. We know the real church is multi
-faceted. There is a certain heterogeneity. Morris
West said, “Once you accept the existence of God
than you are caught forever with his presence in
the centre of all things.” It is with this in mind
that I want to touch on three themes that are central
to our belief in a God of Love.
Conscience is at the heart of everything
for our engagement with conscience is engagement
with the presence of God in our lives
and in our decision making. It is here that ambiguity
raises its head. On the one hand conscience is
regarded as the most fundamental way that we approach
goodness and truth. The Vatican Two documents insist
that conscience must be obeyed yet at the same
time there is that expectation that the judgement
will be in accord with the Church’s teaching. Here
we have the tension between conscience and the
moral authorities within the church.
This tension is exacerbated when some
bishops, who by their nature and endorsed with their
perceived power, wield an authoritarian
and bullying stance. Dialogue becomes stymied.
I believe that we need to remember blind obedience
and unthinking acceptance of authority may make
institution work more smoothly but the people
who live under such a regime will remain
infantile and dependent. Pell’s ad hoc comment that we must follow ‘The hard
teachings of Christ’ seem to be contrary to what Jesus himself had said “Come
to me all you are weary, come follow me for my yoke is sweet and my burden
light.” I often think of the words of a modern lyricist Xavier Rudd when churchmen
politicians make their statements and it is so relevant in our Australian setting,
'Tiny hearts lead our nation and tiny minds let them go’.
A second theme I would like to talk
about is compassion. This is at the heart of our
faith. All religions of the world put suffering at
the top of the agenda.
If we deny our own pain we dismiss the pain
of others. Each tradition teaches a spirit of empathy
by means of which we relate our own suffering to
of others. We look into our own hearts, see
our own distress and refrain from inflicting similar
pain on others. We turn on TV, we read the papers
are jolted out of our own frustrated introspection
by the spectacle of suffering. We know what it is
like when people ignore our suffering.
The one and only valid test for a religious
idea, doctrine or statement is that
it leads directly to compassion. If your
understanding of the Divine makes you kinder, more
empathic then you know you worship the true God.
been practised by all the great faiths
because it is the safest and the surest means of
enlightenment. Compassion is a habit of the mind
transforming. Compassion and social justice
are interwoven. A 9th Century Sufi mystic Rabiah
said it beautifully, “O God, if I worship
thee in fear of hell, burn me in hell: and if I
worship thee in hope of paradise, exclude me from
worship thee for thine own sake withhold
not thine everlasting beauty.” The focal point
is compassion for we need only see proof of this
The third theme that I would briefly
like to touch on is imagination. Imagination is like
a lantern. It moves us into the
inner landscapes of our life. When we can
view the world with a deep sense of wonder it opens up for us all that
was hidden. Mystery and beauty is all about us and yet we can at times fail to
It is the quality of our looking that determines what we really see. Helder
Camara was in his younger days told to mistrust imagination. He countered
them, “Imagination helps me to understand creation, to understand God.”
I was fortunate in my seminary training that we had some gifted lecturers who
us to use imagination.
Imagination awakens the inner world.
In its innocence it sees new possibilities in what
appear to be fixed and immovable. It has no rules
for it throbs
with the passion for freedom. It goes
beyond accepted frontiers. It keeps us young.
With imagination we do not permit
social convention to dominate and control us. We
do not have to be programmed into a patterned social
If we can work with imagination
we learn reverence for we become open to the
huge forest of our experience.
We see with fresh ideas. The words of Keats ring
true, “I am certain of nothing but the holiness
of the heart’s affections
the truth of imagination.” Leunig
put it ever so richly, “Let us live in such a way
that when we die our love will survive and continue
to grow.” If
the mind alone we will live isolated
and lonely lives. It is imagination that brings
warmth and tenderness of affection into the life
will then be able to keep our heads
out of our hearts.
As I conclude I see that my life
continually changing and yet I find
myself revolving around and around
the same themes, the same issues and at times making
the same mistakes. From that
boy who loved people, to the young man who entered
the semi-monastic life for reasons that are so
mixed, to the 40
old who seemingly turned his
back to the plough, to the almost 65 year old who
beside you - we have a life in kaleidoscope.
Here I am now experiencing
my own fragility, pondering
the thought of death, feeling all too timid in
I should do for the oppressed
and vanquished. I continually make that leap of
faith yet I know that a sustaining element in my
is that I am
a closely knit family and friends.
I am proud to be part of this community that
has a vision and a desire for justice.
Finally I live with the words
my 24 year old son penned on the outside of
an envelope sent from Darwin, “Beyond the turmoil-
it lives- a fairer world,
kinder world - a more peaceful existence. Believe
- trust uncertainty.”