I Proudly Attend St Mary’s in Exile (SMX)
Article by Tim Carter
When the Community of St Mary’s marched into exile, I as a long-time member, felt it was a community alive with zeal for the future. I believe that most of the people who marched were not blindly following Peter and Terry. It seemed they knew that the faith journey they had travelled so far would not allow them to stay in their Parish Church and accept the style of church that the Archbishop had ordered them to return to. To understand SMX I believe it is important to understand the nature of the Community of people who became St Mary’s Community.
St Mary’s started forming in the early 1980s with people who came from far and wide, most from beyond the inner suburbs. Many people who were unhappy with the slow progress in the implementation of the Second Vatican Council’s reforms in their own parishes were looking for a spiritual home. Peter Kennedy welcomed all. Under the encouraging leadership from their two Priests over years they developed a Liturgy and a social outreach and practices, suitable to the needs of their diverse Community. It was not just a Community of Catholic Christians. For almost thirty years it was a catholic (embracing all) Community of people who were inspired by what they understood of the life and work of Jesus of the Gospels.
Good Liturgy was the cement which bound together the Community at St Mary’s. Through our Liturgy we endeavoured to express our spiritual hopes and aspirations, to seek solidarity with one another, and a sense of collective connection to that Mystery, that One Life, that is at the core of our lives and binds us together as a Community.
St Mary’s was a Eucharistic community with regular meaningful, community-inspired Eucharistic Liturgies that made being part of the weekend Masses at St Mary’s look-forward-to events. On almost all of our weekly Mass Sheets there was that call-to-action quote from Micah; this is what Yahweh asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God.
For me this was at the guts of St Mary’s appeal―a Community of Followers of the Way of Jesus.
That wonderful spirit-inspiring recessional hymn, We are Called, which often sent us home spiritually uplifted, was a reminder that Micah was an important outreach at St Mary’s.
We learnt that Faith is not about what you believe but about what you do. Our Faith Journey and the Scripture was addressed without presenting the message literally.
The regular acceptance of all archdiocesan dues paid by St Mary’s surely could be taken as Archdiocesan approval of their source.
The Archbishop declared that it’s a clerical Church; we make the rules, you obey or you are no longer a member of the Roman Catholic Church. For most of my life I never realised that Roman was essential to being recognised as Catholic. We were told we were Catholics, and on the census and official forms we were to declare ourselves as Catholics and not Roman Catholics as those Protestants insist on naming us. I cannot recall ever seeing a Sign Board outside any Catholic Church declaring it as a Roman Catholic Church.
The Archbishop stated that he would not talk to St Mary’s Community; and he wanted no letters from its members. As the Archbishop, it is he who directs Peter as to what is required, and Peter is then responsible to direct the laity (us) to obey. His command was for us to give blind belief, based on ignorance and the rigidity of tradition. He would have no dialogue with us or seek our concerns. This is an Archbishop whose own condition of appointment is an oath of blind, unquestioning, obedience to the Pope and his Roman Curia, fully aware that by doing so, he will be restrained from addressing or discussing with his people, what is most needed here in his own diocese. Surely, an abysmal model of a Good Shepherd!!
The Roman hierarchs’ judgement on St Mary’s was totally materialistic. The sincere expression of faith and good works by the laity at St Mary’s had no value in their eyes. For them religious materialism, judged by dogmas, rules and rubrics took precedence over spiritual sincerity. Knowing how church hierarchs use every means to ensure that the parishioners, who pay for the buildings and their maintenance, have no say in how they are used, reclaiming the occupancy of St Mary’s real estate would have also played a large part in the eviction.
I left St Mary’s, and walked that Walk to the TLC, because I knew for me it was the right thing to do. It was for me a symbolic turning point in my life journey.
I knew we were bringing with us into exile the Eucharistic Liturgies, as well as all else that St Mary’s had going for it.
I knew we would be leaving behind the soon-to-be compulsory new English Language Liturgy, the result of Cardinal Pell’s retranslation victory in the liturgy wars. Many Liturgy and Language experts point out that this remake of the old Mass contains scriptural blunders, awkward syntax, gross Latinisms, ill judged shifts of register, superfluities, cultural inconsistencies, arbitrary quaintness, obscure terminology, Jacobean officialise (be pleased to grant). It is fixated on rubrics and legalism, the exclusive sacrificial role of the priest, no inclusive language, or any use of feminine descriptions when referring to God.
I was glad to be leaving behind the temple police and their authoritarian masters with their insistence on their clerical-imposed rules and rubrics, and all their distorted Church teachings on numerous other issues.
After the euphoria of the walkout from St Mary’s has died down, what now?/where to? are concerns that would be in the minds of most thinking people. I believe there was then in the Community a positive feeling of Hope.
I believe we would all claim ownership to what we brought with us into exile.
We are now as our name implies, St Mary’s in Exile (SMX) – a community on its own, in exile, with the need to feel we are treading on firm ground.
However people forced out from under very restrictive church/clerical control/ temple police interference are quite rightly guarded and questioning when further new changes are imposed on them without their having been part of the process that instigated these changes.
We are not looking for answers, but if we are seeking to continue to be a spiritual community, we need to continue to ask the right questions.
A Community, itself a Web of Life, is a group of people who surrender some of their own authority for what they perceive as the common good of all.
Democracy is the most favoured governance structure in our times but there is an inbuilt hostility to democracy inherent in clerical leadership. To a certain degree this has also happened in leadership at St Mary’s, and it still has residual effects on our Eucharistic leadership style.
Leadership and authority are certainly needed but can only be justified by an authentic, transparent governance body which is put in place by a democratic process and not one that is imposed by “someone”, or “some group”, either clerical or lay. The desirability for democratic processes is surely inborn in most of the members who are now part of SMX.
No community can survive without some formalisation of its structure. This also applies to a Faith Community, such as SMX. The important principle is to ensure that whatever structure is erected, it has as its function the facilitation of the purposes of the particular society. While most of those who marched were relieved to have moved away from the rigid, highly centralised structure of Benedict XVI and his temple police, clerical hangovers certainly came with us, and I believe it is a divisive issue which is causing harm to our growth. Sadly this principle, so far as SMX is concerned, has become obscured by the lack of community building catechesis on the part of our homilists.
Community building is something all must actively participate in. It must be an ongoing activity.
You have to be a very sure and confident person to be prepared to sit back and allow the direction of your spiritual journey to be shaped by others without any input of your own. SMX members’ sense of spiritual freedom has been sharpened by recent events. They would consider themselves no longer a flock of blind sheep.
Nobody should be made to feel that they are giving up their cultural religious tradition. All are on a journey of living life to the full, at peace with the questions, not dogmatising any answers.
It is important to be in touch with the “Spirit” alive and present in the community. Occasions, for “hearing “all voices should be held regularly: not necessarily aiming at adopting all proposals but to ensure we have heard a broad consensus of opinion. All should be able to feel that they have been heard.
Breakfasts, dinners, etc, in a café, restaurant or football club, may certainly be good social occasions for those who have the money and the transport to get to them, but are those places suitable venues for our only community building activities?
Important aspects of the life of the Faith Community at SMX which remain to be considered include: a suitable introductory statement to that part in our Liturgy that we call Prayer of the Faithful; strengthening SMX’s support for the work of Micah; leadership within the Community. This is paramount and needs to be addressed by the Community. Teams of Elders is a model worth looking at.
Our homilies as with our rituals should continue to inspire, challenge, enable and encourage our human longing for company as we make this journey through life, addressing our needs and capacities to face up to the burdens of life: birth, death, breakups, homelessness, violence, and abuse, enabling us to make and cope with significant changes in our lives.
We have been inspired and challenged over the years by Peter and Terry, and other homilists who have shared their faith experiences with us and have encouraged us to endeavour to reflect gospel values in our lives.
Presenters such as Judith Lucy are entertaining as speakers at an SMX social function but are surely not suitable at our one-a-week community liturgies. Perhaps the Community needs to reflect on what part homilies are to play in our Liturgies.
A number of people have expressed concern at Peter’s denial of the historical Jesus. I take it as nothing more than Peter openly questioning where he is in his own faith journey as to what the word Jesus means for him. It is perhaps not a public questioning that others at SMX are prepared to express. Personally I leave the Jesus, as proclaimed in the Creeds of the Church, to those whose blind faith compels them to express acceptance.
However, I believe that the research and study by the Jesus Seminar, and other scholars, reveals a figure of no resemblance to that depicted in the Nicene Creed, but does go a long way towards validating an historical Jesus that inspired his earlier followers, and lay behind some of the teaching contained in the early Christian writings.
From these scholars we learn that Jesus spoke often in parables. He lived close to nature and was inspired by its beauty and harmony, which were a revelation of the love and providence of God towards all.
Sri Lankan theologian, Tissa Balasuriya, points out that the teaching of Jesus is very clear in his words and deeds as reported in the Gospels, without the philosophical complications of later theologies.
Jesus was a societal rebel who preached and practised a message of radical equality. He was more radical and threatening than any political revolutionary leader of his time or since because he espoused absolute equality in a society completely segregated by deep-seated exploitation. The poor, the weak, the ignorant, the women, the children, the publicans, and the “sinners” (people suffering physical and mental illnesses) were all exploited in different ways by the rich, the powerful, the local elite and the foreign rulers. Religion, too, aided and abetted in this ill treatment.
Jesus dethroned the prevailing values of money, power, and prestige, and group selfishness. Instead he proposed sharing, service, love of the human person for what it is, and a universal solidarity.
When Jesus spoke about “love” it was not something vague and romantic. It was something concrete and challenging. Loving the neighbour meant working to end injustice, and the unjust structures, that prevented people from living dignified lives.
Jesus was not crucified because he preached some vague “sermons” about loving God and your neighbour, and about dying for the sins of mankind. Crucifixion was a political and military punishment. Jesus was executed as a rebel.
The central teaching of Jesus was that God is love. Jesus in his ministry did not act out of any awareness whatsoever that the poor, the sinners, whoever, had lost God’s friendship. It was quite the opposite. He wanted people to rid themselves (turn from, convert) any ideas, attitudes, or religious practices that suggested God was not close to them in an unconditional loving way. Jesus was not concerned with changing any attitude within God. He was clearly focused on changing their wrong images of God. The healing activities of Jesus were not so much miracles of physical transformation but were liberating declarations that sick people were fully acceptable members of society rather than untouchables, afflicted by God for some sin.
Whether Jesus was the Son of God, or went up to heaven, or was born of a virgin is really of no importance to the life of the earthly Jesus that the Jesus Scholars have pondered over and whose myth has inspired many for two millennia.
It was through Constantine, centuries after the death of Jesus that the Christian power-players were invited to be part of the Imperial power structure, and so the hierarchy began to create for themselves a respected place in the authority pattern of the Empire. So Jesus needed to be “enhanced” and “cleaned-up” somewhat.
Joseph Chilton Pearce proposes that Jesus was retroactively fitted out with a mythological story, including a reason for his life through a long organic process of imaginative growth that allowed many storytellers and chroniclers to add their imaginative pieces. In the long and often bloody turmoil over whose mythical interpretations of Jesus would be accepted, religious culture was strengthened.
Pearce writes that Christianity turned Jesus from our evolutionary model into the greatest tool of culture. Converted into the Christ, Jesus became the Great Mediator. No longer the model of higher development, Jesus as the Christ became a go-between, mediating between the wrath of Jehovah and the same old, sinful, victimised and helpless human. The Church, having invented this new additional mythical role of the great mediator for Jesus, so as his heir, it takes on this new and powerful role. With this extraordinarily efficient means of cultural and social control in its hands, the Church has fought ever since to be its sole guardian.
It took less than five centuries after the death of Jesus for his self-described “successors” to have jumped into bed with the Establishment. In fact they eventually became the very same oppressive Establishment that Jesus himself had struggled against. Nothing in the Jesus Story validates their authority.
From then on Jesus, that Joy of Man’s defining, became part of their Godhead, and a rich, well developed, “divinely inspired” Christology, with its corresponding Christian Dogmas and Ethics, has become part of the fabric of Western Civilisation, but sadly in the process the human Jesus of the Gospels has been changed beyond all recognition.
There is one important fact that we here at SMX should bear in mind. I believe it authenticates our existence as SMX. The Second Vatican Council was an Ecumenical Council where over 2500 of the world’s bishops gathered together with the Pope and formed the largest magisterium of the Church ever to exercise its teaching authority. Most of its decrees, deliberations and decisions received the authoritative approval of over 90% of the bishops in attendance. By Church teaching and long held tradition, decisions of Ecumenical Councils, its vision, its principles, and the directions it sets are binding on all the Church, and are to be implemented by all ― the Pope, his Curia, the Hierarchy, the Priests and Religious, and the Laity.
The spirit of the Council which took hold in the imagination was that voiced by John XXIII, who said in his opening speech that the Church is called to serve the World, not condemn it. He went on that today the Bride of Christ prefers to use the medicine of mercy rather than severity, that she considers that she meets the needs of the present age by showing the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnations. Pope John said that the Church, that changeless and perfect thing Catholics have relied on, needed catching up with the times (aggiornamento), what he called in his opening address a leap forward.
Unfortunately there is a small powerful ultra conservative rump within the Church who has not accepted the opening of the windows of the Church as envisaged by John XXIII’s Council, and has been working through the last two pontificates to restore the centralism which the Council clearly wanted to dismantle. Their resistance covers all the major matters raised by the Council.
So perhaps we need to be in touch again with the non churchy, radical Christianity which was lived and proclaimed by Jesus. He was strong and uncompromising in his stand against injustice and the abuse of power by religious and civic leaders. The way he lived was a challenge to others for he was breaking through the taboos of his environment. Now that the ultra conservative leaders of the Church have succeeded in winding back the liberating influences of Vatican II it is time to choose between a Jesus Faith and a pre Second Vatican Council Church. This we have been freed to choose at SMX.
As many of the traditional Christian absolutes fall out of focus I am more and more confronted with the Divine Mystery of Creation; the sacred aspect of the natural world. One is filled with the sense of the truth that nature is a living, interdependent, and mutually beneficial interaction of individual and socially organised things. I am not writing that I do not believe in God. But for me, the word God takes on another meaning. I am not denying anything; I wish only to live with the Mystery. This I have been freed to believe at SMX.
Without the need for any creedal-based responses, this spiritual landscape of Nature demonstrates to me the connectedness with the Divine at the heart of all this Creation. It somehow now appears a little easier to understand that, as a creature, I belong to and am a part of, this great cosmic story, this Mystery of Life. This eternal, ever-present moment, this eternal unknown, is beyond our human words and images, energising, holding everything in connectedness and relationship.
Eckhart Tolle writes that the essence of our Being is this eternal, ever-present One Life beyond the myriad forms of life that are subject to birth and death.
Proactive support for Life in all its forms, not just for the unborn, is now easily espoused. Within this I have been freed to live at SMX.
Bridget Mary Meehan’s reflection on Dr Robert McClory’s book, Hijacking of Vatican II, is timely for us here at St Mary’s in Exile (SMX):
For many Catholics there is no turning back, only moving forward together. The Spirit of God is in the People of God and continues to speak today through the movement for a more just Church and World. One example, the Roman Catholic Women Priests Movement provides another vision of a more open, just and inclusive Church…… I think we are creating a bridge for the “faithful” to cross from the present paradigm to a church where all are welcome to receive sacraments and celebrate inclusive liturgies and where all are called to share their spiritual gifts in a community of equals in service of God’s People. We the people of God are the Church, as Vatican II taught.
I believe St Mary’s in Exile (SMX) also provides another vision of a more open, just and inclusive Faith Community ― the Spirit blows where it will.
5th January, 2012.
I read and glean widely using whatever sources which come to hand, not so much to form my ideas, but to prop up the opinions I have already formed. This paper is for private reflective use at SMX.