Church Mouse Journal

More morsels from St Vincent's Redfern

Friday, 21 April 2006


Good Friday - a sorry day

The Good Friday ceremony got off to a good start with John Hill's introduction to the liturgy [here].

However the Neocats soon imposed their agenda for the afternoon when parish priest Prindiville was heard muttering that it was "crap". He followed this, after the Gospel, by forbidding a performance of reflective music from Bach's Passion According to St Matthew, despite arrangements to secure the services of a flautist and an organist especially for the occasion.

Instead the congregation was subjected to a 15 minute sermon, on a day when the long Gospel reading is usually followed by a brief homily. It was the most culturally inappropriate and confronting piece of ham theatricality imaginable, with Clesio Mendes (assistant parish priest) shouting, yelling, play acting at being the crucified Christ, and crying out "Daddy, Daddy, save me!" Had this crass piece appeared on some distasteful comedy show it would have been bad. Coming from a priest on Good Friday it was beyond the pale.

It has long been a custom at St Vincent's on Good Friday and other appropriate occasions to remember the dead of the parish - in particular deceased Aboriginal friends buried by Ted Kennedy - by reading their names from a disturbingly long list. This year it was particularly poignant as both Bob Bellear and Ted himself had died since the last Pascal Triduum. At the mention of each name, autumnal leaves, individually selected for their beauty, were tenderly placed along the front of the altar. Their placement was accompanied by the singing of a liturgical response at regular intervals. The simple symbolism of this gesture was appreciated by (almost) all.

As the participants readied themselves, Mendes spoke to Prindiville, who nodded, and Mendes headed for the sacristy with the acolytes - presumably to get the Cross for the Adoration. As the names were read one of the acolytes stood outside the sacristy, and was soon joined by the others. They talked and sniggered for some time. Mendes and one of the acolytes turned their backs to the altar. One upset parishioner approached them; an acolyte nudged Mendes who swung around with a wide grin on his face.

After the remembrance, and just before communion, Prindiville stormed around to the front of the altar and callously swooped all the leaves onto the floor [movie].

A number of parishioners moved to collect the leaves in a palm pod, and returned them to the altar.

The community felt shattered by the desecration. Some could not bring themselves to receive communion from the perpertrators. An elderly couple left the church saying that it was abominable and that they could scarcely believe how these "priests" had dishonoured the Aboriginal people. The man was sobbing.

Some newcomers to the parish - a family with two teenagers - were shocked and asked a parishioner what could be done. They remarked that the clerics were behaving "like robots" in the face of community efforts to acknowledge Aboriginal presence and create a fitting liturgy for the occasion.

Everybody was distraught. One elderly nun left the church weeping. Many did not return for the Easter Saturday ceremony, which had the smallest attendance in living memory.


Since Sorry Day 2005 and the calling of police to Redfern, there has been no change in the behaviour of these clerics. They show no interest in Koori or white parishioners' concerns. They are not only clueless but callous. They exhibit no moral, creative or compassionate capabilities. They have no capacity to make the gospels relevant. Instead they attack the insight and creativity they envy.

The Prophet of Redfern

ABC TV Compass Program
Friday April 14 2006

It was lovely to see Ted again, his kindly face, quick intelligence, his compassion in spades, his capacity to recognise the life transforming moments in the everyday. Nurtured by the insights of poets and other artists, and ever attentive to the stories and needs of people he'd just met or knew well, Ted had the imagination, compassion and maturity to inspire. He built loving and trust-filled relationships.

There were lots of things the show didn't touch on, including Ted's love of Baxter's poetry and his capacity to bring history alive. It would also have been great to hear again his rich and resonant voice singing.

Ted had an extraordinary facility to build relationships and to use words. But he also worked at these things. He made the effort to think and reflect on the Bible in the light of interpretations by the most vigorous theologians. He did not inflict on his parishioners inept rehashings of Gospel readings, bereft of insight and relevance for our lives today.

Subsequent experience would suggest, however, that people who lack the capacity to empathise with others, to accept themselves as they are, to comprehend symbols, to understand theological debate, to commit to justice, to take any interest in local culture, or to be, in Ted's words, 'evangelised' by Aboriginals - such people see Ted-like qualities as aberrant and fundamentally frightening. Ted's theology was always challenging, but it is quite something to see what happens when it hits the raw nerve of those who espouse a "theology" of sin, misery and damnation.

The challenge is to be resolute in our focus on compassion, justice and creativity and not be distracted by the naysayers.

Would that Compass had the wherewithal to investigate the impact of new fundamentalist sects on parish life around Australia. Were it to include Redfern, it might also contrast the robust effort Ted Kennedy put into supporting Bob and Sol Bellear, Shirley Smith and others into trying to secure The Block in the early 1980s, with the piously apolitical refusal of the new parish priests to support current efforts by Indigenous and other people to save the Block from the Redfern Waterloo Authority's whitewash.

Ted could act the ass on occasion, but he didn't play act when it came to the things that mattered.

It would seem that Pell's pp's could not care less if the values of the so-called 'Prophet of Redfern' were eclipsed by those seeking profit at the expense of the wider Redfern community.

Saturday, 15 April 2006


Easter Vigil Prayers of the Faithful

Prayer 1:
Let us pray for the sun and the everlasting glory of its daily death. May its gentle warmth nourish our soul. May each lingering sunset broaden our imagination and strengthen our conviction for a fairer world.

Prayer 2:
Let us pray for the heavenly birdsong that springs forth from all trees. May we listen intently to their rapturous melody and share some of their joy with this troubled world.

Prayer 3:
Let us pray for the ocean and those marvellous creatures that live within her womb. May they keep on swimming and gliding and dancing to a rhythm that we cannot see but only feel. May we learn to live with a similar sense of uncertainty. May the love of this earth wash over our universal spirit.

Prayer 4:
Let us pray for the moon. As it sits alone amidst the night sky, it radiates a supreme sense of peace for which we search day in and day out. May it continue to glow and inspire us to dream.

Prayer 5:
Let us prayer for the deceased of this community. Our deceased Aboriginal brothers and sisters, the original nurturers of this sacred space and those non indigenous brothers and sisters who have journeyed with them into the dream time.

Prayer 6:
Let us pray for the sick in our community, especially L., recovering in hospital from surgery. May he know that he is in our thoughts and prayers. We wish him a swift and graceful recovery.

Jonathan Hill

Reflection for Easter Vigil

Continuing the theme of this Holy Week, the words of John Paul II highlight the richness of Aboriginality, “The establishment of a new society for Aboriginal people cannot go forward without just and mutually recognized agreements with regard to these human problems. You, the Aboriginal people, must show that you are actively working for your own dignity of life. You must show that you can walk tall and command the respect which every human being expects to receive from the rest of the human family. The Gospel of Jesus speaks all languages. It embraces all cultures. It uplifts and it and enriches cultures with the revealed message of a loving and a merciful God. The old ways can draw new life and strength from the Gospels. As you draw the beauty of your culture you come to realize more and more your great human and therefore Christian dignity. You will realize that the courage is innately inside you when you listen to the God of your dreamtime speaking to you in the words of the prophet ‘I have called you by your name, do not be afraid, you are mine and I am always with you.” We, your white brothers and sisters, share with you the Christ story and we give to one another the courage to bring that mission home.”

The Easter homily, we are told should always be brief, for when we are dealing with something as mysterious as the resurrection, words will never do. We can never capture what happened at Easter. It is the hardest thing in life to believe that there is life after death. Yet it is the most wonderful. There is no proof, only belief.

The Gospels never intended to prove that Jesus was raised from the dead. The four Gospels all have differing accounts and they contradict each other. They were confused, not knowing how to describe what happened.

The first Gospel was written 80 years after the event. They were not written for people who didn’t know Jesus but for those who accepted the Jesus mystery into their lives. It was not a matter of proof but a reflection on what it should mean in their lives. What we take home is how God can enter into our lives in unexpected ways, giving us courage to live and share the good news.

The search for truth can never stop. It can’t be postponed. It has to be faced. That was what Christ did, a dying man reaching up for others, but finding no one there, finding only shadows, a lost figure in a dying landscape, unable to escape the doom that seemed to belong only to others. The resurrection of Jesus can never be a denial of death.

We have seen too many tombs in our own lives to know that our sorrows and those of our neighbours are not transient. The genocide in Darfur, the death of Iraqui civilians, the draconian I.R. laws in this country, the advent of a neo-McCarthyism and last and perhaps most importantly the ruthless and mindless destruction of our indigenous heritage, the oldest culture known to mankind—all of these events appall us.

We really know that human life is framed with public tragedy and each of us has known indescribable agony and pain. It is here that the mystery of the resurrection has meaning. It is not moving away from the experience and the reality of suffering but rather compassionately holding it so that God’s power to raise new life directs us. I am convinced that our world and our nation can only be saved by people with the compassion of the Christ figure.

The Resurrection is so full of meaning in all facets of our lives. Let me conclude with a metaphor used by the Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter in his acceptance speech. “If we look into a mirror we think the image is accurate, move an inch away and the image changes. We see a never ending array of images and reflections. What must be done is to smash the mirror. It is only on the other side of the mirror that truth stares at us”. It is precisely here that working with such a metaphor we are able to comprehend in some way the Christ mystery. This is ultimately the mystery of Resurrection, the supreme mystery of our faith.

John Hill

Friday, 14 April 2006


Reflection for Good Friday

In the talk at Alice Springs the Holy Father went on to say “Some of the stories from your dreamtime legends speak powerfully of the great mysteries of the human life, its frailty, its need for help, the closeness to spiritual powers and to the value of the human person. It is wonderful to see how people, as they accept the Gospel of Jesus, find the points of agreement between their own traditions and those of the Jesus of history”. But then John Paul brings us into the context of this Good Friday when he continues “So many of you have been dispossessed of your traditional land and separated from your tribal ways. Yet you have learned how to survive, whether on your own lands or scattered among the towns and cities”.

Aboriginal society is one in harmony with nature rather than one intent on plunder and conquest. The millennia during which they lived alone they found in the world about them not only beauty and harmony but signs of divine intent. Here lies the heart of their relationship to the land. We have learnt a beautiful lesson that a properly constituted ecological awareness can only be built on the foundations of the spiritual recognition of the holiness of the world around us. This was conferred by the immaterial and spiritual realities. The sacred was always materially incarnated in the realm of nature.

In the Gospel we are about to read, Pilate asks, ‘What is truth?’ This can only be experienced by the way that one lives life. For us this is in the context of the Gospels. It is to do with what Christ taught with the Sermon on the Mount. Such a lesson involves our whole being. It is solidarity with the dispossessed. And at the heart of this is the depth of compassion Jesus possessed within Himself.

Compassion is at the heart of our faith. It is what gives sense and meaning to Jesus being murdered by way of the cross. It is among the most beautiful presence a person can bring to the world. It comes when one can acknowledge one’s own vulnerability and woundedness. It is only then that one can experience the pain of the other. I feel that the greatest danger to our country and to our world is when people are unable to feel with compassion. It is compassion that will save our world.

Where better proof of that could be found other than in the figure on the cross. It is precisely here that we can start to comprehend the essence of Good Friday. Look at Mark, Matthew and Luke. They didn’t have Jesus in a lotus position like the Buddha telling us that God loves us and leave it at that.

No, for Jesus went much further. He served the poor in Galilee and then marched through to Jerusalem and literally broke down. According to Luke, He says, “If today you had only understood the things that make for peace”. He walked into the temple and turned over the tables and drove out the sheep and the oxen. An act of civil disobedience. This non violent direct action resulted in His arrest, trial, torture and execution. John places this episode more at the beginning of his Gospel describing Jesus as a troublemaker. For the rest of his life the authorities were out to kill him.

But why? Jesus called for an end to the entire cultic system. He was upset that God’s house had become a Coles/Woolworths. It was the culmination of His lifelong obedience to God and civil disobedience to imperial and religious injustice. Jesus was not passive or quiet or apolitical in the face of institutional violence which presented itself both in secular and religious forms. He had a long haul perspective of eternal life in mind. He always kept God’s justice, peace and reign foremost in His mind. He acted regardless of the consequences. He acted in the here and now.

That is what He asks of us His followers, that we too keep our eyes on the resurrection despite the temporary cost. We come back to this again — the resurrection. If Jesus is so zealous for God’s house and gives His life marching to Jerusalem to confront unjust structures which oppose the poor what does that mean for His followers?

It comes at a cost. We live in a society that pretends about lots of things. We cannot pretend about a suffering and a dying Christ. Here we have a dying man finding no one there, finding only shadows, a lost figure in a dying landscape, unable to escape the doom that seemed to belong only to others. Why? It is here that we use political language; the majority was not interested in truth but only in power and the maintenance of that power. It is here that we come to realise that the Christ in our lives didn’t die for our sins but was executed because he set out on a course that enhanced the deeply human with the touch of the sacred. No more duality only unity.

John Hill

Thursday, 13 April 2006


Prayers of the Faithful for Holy Thursday

Prayer 1:
Dearest Lord, let us look outside these walls and feel the heartbeat of a city in pain. The construction of roads and buildings, the toxic emissions from our cars, the media’s obsession with appearance and folly – these are transient tragedies that empty our collective soul of the rich spirituality that we all possess. Let us return to the land and embrace the pulse of the natural world. With complete sincerity and eternal love, we lower our heads and pray for the earth.

Lord hear us…..

Prayer 2:
Dearest God, let us enter each classroom in this nation and consider all teachers and pupils in their pursuit of wisdom. Time will pass and it is these kids who will lead our country. May they learn with passion and diligence, with curiosity and wonder. May each teacher instill their students with the unassailable belief that they are capable of shaping a fairer world, that they should be proud of their individuality and that life indeed is the greatest of miracles.

Lord hear us….

Prayer 3:
Dearest God, we leave this hall and shift our focus down the road to the Block. We walk amongst the kooris of Redfern and absorb the reality of their pain and despair. For thousands of years the aborigines cared for this land by living at one with the land. Now they lie hidden in the backstreets of poverty, forced to bare witness to the destruction of a place that gave them life. Beneath the broken bottles, broken faces, broken hearts and broken dreams, let us realize that we are all connected: that our lives are delicately intertwined. Our imagination will be the catalyst for integration not assimilation. May these contrasting cultures find a way to co-exist.

Lord hear us….

Prayer 4:
Dearest God, let us use our imagination to leave this service and courageously enter a world in desperate need of love and kindness. Give us the strength to embody the ideals we believe are necessary to make this a fairer world. May we never underestimate the impact we can have on those who surround us.

Lord hear us……

Jonathan Hill

Reflection for Holy Thursday

Today we celebrate the Last Supper.

Welcome to our little community here in Redfern. Today is a day that has a special sense of the sacred. We enter into a mystery of the Other. It is the God within our midst and we share in unraveling this sublime mystery. We partake of a meal but more profoundly we experience the sacred in a way that transcends words and proofs. We are part of a mystery that is beyond mystery. It is to use the words of Judith Wright “Where wisdom shells the words away, where the sun joins earth to watch the place at which these silent rituals are”.

Yet we know that we must break the shell within our own being for it is there that sadness and despair of beauty are laid bare. For when we are wounded we are tempted to close up instead of allowing a soft growing back over the opening. What we do is to grow a shell as a protection from the world that appears so loveless. What is so sad is that if we are hurting and we move back into the shell than self-protection can rob life of its vitality.

The theme and the essence for the next three days will centre on the land where we worship here in Redfern and see this in the context of the words that John Paul II spoke to our Aboriginal brothers and sisters at Alice Springs in November 1986. It ties in so richly with the rituals and the array of symbols that we have in our rich tradition for Holy Week.

“At the beginning of time, as God’s spirit moved over the waters He began to communicate something of His goodness and beauty to all of creation. When He created man and woman, He gave them the good things of the earth for their use and benefit and He put into their hearts abilities and powers that were His gifts. You have for thousands of years lived in this land and fashioned a culture that endures to this day. The spirit of God has always been with you. Your dreaming is the only way of your touching the mystery of God’s spirit in you and in creation. You must hold onto this throughout your lives. You have a lifestyle proper to your own ethnic genius or culture - a culture that the church respects and which you can in no way renounce. You lived your lives in spiritual closeness to the land and through this you have touched the sacredness of man’s relationship with God, for the land was the proof of a power greater in life than yourselves”.

The challenge put by the Pope was that for the message of the Gospel story to be effective and for the church to truly acknowledge the sanctity of the Aboriginal way we must needs learn to live the experience. It meant that we all attempt to integrate the Good News of the Gospel into the richness of Aboriginal culture. We draw from this beautiful and ancient culture the vision and the challenge to struggle for justice and freedom. As we well know, if we are to achieve this goal, it will mean conflict with the dominant society. That will include those Catholics who have allowed their faith to become subservient to the values and goals of that society.

If we reflect with the depth as that shown by the Gospels we will come to understand that the Aboriginal worldview is underpinned by a visionary geography. The dreaming is an ever present reality. It is ever present, unseen, the ground of being, of existence. For the doctrine of the aborigines is ingrained in their ritual and their art. This is nothing less than their sacramental relationship with the land itself. They conform their being to the demands of eternity for the person and the tribe were to be put into right relationship with the dreaming and with the natural world. This is the material vestment which clothed the eternal.

The Pope’s words challenge us to look at the way greed, racism and neo-colonialism caused and still cause suffering of the original owners of this land that we inhabit. What he is saying is in total contradiction to the way the Howard Government deals with indigenous issues or how Minister Sartor plans to take the people off their land, all in the cause of development for the gentry.

We have a picture of Mum Shirl above our altar and hopefully there will be one of Fr. Ted for the first anniversary of his death on the 17th of May. They were saints in the truest sense because they worked and were found in the acreage we call Redfern and beyond. But we must not use them to make them breeding grounds for saints. They are for us beacons of what can be.

It is for this reason that we need to refigure the otherness of God who is in no way in opposition to us and learn to live with a spirituality of the ordinary, of our humanness, of our breaking bread together.

Yet this can be very threatening for unless we are able to lose all for the Kingdom or for the fullness of the Dreamtime we can never experience the truly real. It is here that we need to explore the four elements of the ordinary — life, love, truth and death. It is in them that we too touch the mystery of God, which is the spirit in us and in all creation. It is in the Eucharistic meal that we are about to share in the fullest sense. It is in the words of Judith Wright’s ‘The Gumtree Stripping’ that we glean the reality for we “Split down and strip to end the season and be quiet and look for reasons past the edge of reason”. That is what tonight is about.

We all want to be found faithful on the day of the Lord and it is in the Eucharistic mystery that this fidelity can take place. We might need to move outside the circle of proverbial Catholicism to grasp what we so readily take for granted. When we celebrate the Eucharist we share the bread and the wine as the Body and the Blood of God. We are mindful that we are alive, enjoying the dwelling in the present moment.

The message of Jesus is clear in the Last Supper. The disciples had been following Him in person yet they had, it would seem, not been able to come into real contact with the marvelous reality of His being. When Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine, He said, ’This is my body, this is my blood. Drink it and you will have eternal life’. Isn’t this a beautiful way to awaken His disciples from forgetfulness?

Yet it is Christ’s gift in the Eucharist that allows us to resurrect in ourselves the grace of being able to touch the Kingdom of Life. We receive the life of Christ in our bodies. It is when the Minister of the Eucharist performs the Eucharistic rite that he or she brings life to the community. The miracle is that we eat and drink in mindfulness. If we allow ourselves to touch our bread deeply we become reborn, because our bread is life itself. Eating it deeply we touch the sun, the clouds, the earth and everything in the cosmos for when we touch life we touch the kingdom of God. Isn’t this what the Pope eludes to when he talks about the Universal Dreaming being a way of our touching the mystery of God’s spirit in all of us and in creation itself. That is what Jesus did when He broke bread and drank wine in the supreme Eucharistic feast with His disciples and what we are about to re-enact in these most sacred of moments. It is our way of touching the mystery of God’s spirit. When Jesus shared the Last Supper with His disciples He allowed them and all of us into the mystery of creation itself which is the ultimate dreamtime.

John Hill

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