Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Susie O'Brien on Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Mary MacKillop "Without All the Hoo-Haa"

For many Catholics here in Australia the big news at the moment is the Vatican’s recent approval of a decree recognising a second miracle attributed to the intercession of Mary MacKillop (1842-1909), an Australian nun set to soon to be declared the country’s first saint.

I appreciate the perspective of columnist Susie O’Brien, and find myself in agreement with much of what she writes in the following op-ed from today’s Herald Sun newspaper.

(NOTE: The illustrations that accompany this post are from the website of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart.)


Our Saint of the Outback

By Susie O’Brien

Herald Sun

December 22, 2009

Was I the only one who cracked a smile over the weekend while reading that the [Roman] Catholic Church had decided that a nun who died a century ago recently saved the life of a seriously sick woman through the power of prayer?

Don’t get me wrong. I am happy the woman has recovered from her inoperable cancer. But I don’t think the nun, Mary MacKillop, had anything to do with it.

Besides, even if you buy the “dead-nun-saves-sick-woman story” (and isn’t it funny we didn’t see that headline anywhere), just how is it considered to be Mary’s miracle? The sick woman did the praying.

Surely she should get most of the credit – not to mention her doctors and family.

But according to the Catholic Church, this is Mary’s second miracle, putting her in line for elevation to sainthood.

In case you don’t know much about her, Mary MacKillop was born in Fitzroy in 1842 and spent much of her life doing good work for needy women and children in Penola, South Australia.

Last week’s official confirmation of the miracle by the Vatican follows decades of lobbying by her followers, who are keen to see her become Australia’s first saint.

While Mary certainly should be commended for her good work, it’s hard not to be somewhat cynical.

One thing’s for sure, the real winner in this process is the Catholic Church.

Recent popes seem to have cottoned on to the fact that announcing new saints in new countries works miracles for shoring up support for the church.

The late John Paul II beatified Mary MacKillop in 1995, even as he created more saints than all the other popes combined since the 16th century. Almost 500 saints got a guernsey under his stewardship.

Under the current Pope, Benedict XVI, the saints have kept marching in. But the pontiff lowered the bar, decreeing that two miracles – rather than three – would be sufficient. On Sunday, he approved the decree confirming the second miracle, clearing the path for Australia's first saint.

It’s the religious equivalent of the fairground cry of “every child gets a prize,” except it’s probably more like “every country gets its own saint.”

And the publicity is heavenly.

You watch the millions of dollars in free publicity the Catholic Church will get between now and next year as the Australian media goes Mary-mad.

In fact, the whole story has already been huge, because it coincided with the Christmas once-a-year-religious sentiments flowing around this week.

And take Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson, who recently said Mary would have “had a little smile on her face seeing the good news spread by text messages.”

“If she was alive today, she would certainly have been on Twitter and Facebook,” Archbishop Wilson said.

Come on. Twitter? Texting? Facebook? Sounds more like a blatant ploy to make the church appeal to a younger generation.

In any case, it really would be a miracle if the modern Catholic Church saw Mary MacKillop as a true role model for those doing good work.

And let’s not forget the real Mary MacKillop (as opposed to the one the Catholic spin doctors are about to Photoshop a halo on) actually fell out with the church.

In fact, she was once excommunicated.

Yes, that’s right. The church she committed her life to nonetheless struggled to understand her way of life or work, which included working in remote areas helping the most vulnerable, including the aged poor, people released from prison, orphans and neglected children.

So I’m not anti-Mary. Far from it. It’s just the process that bothers me. Why can’t we celebrate the life and legacy of a great woman without all the hoo-haa?

Indeed, I do acknowledge how much individuals such as Mary can provide inspiration for others.

Take Melbourne’s bravest twins, Krishna and Trishna, who have just been released from hospital after marathon surgery to separate them. Their guardian, Moira Kelly, has credited Mary MacKillop with helping to save the girls.

But can prayers really cure cancer, as Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell claimed this week? I don’t think so.

What’s important is faith, not adherence to narrow teachings.

And when I see people blindly accepting Mary’s “miracles” as if they are real, it’s hard not to be sceptical. Until this week a miracle cure was something you’d see on late-night TV or on current affairs shows, not a major part of serious journalism.

I also object to the Prime Minister and other politicians jumping on the Mary bandwagon to try to appeal to religious voters.

Our democratically elected leader recently met the Pope in Rome in the hope of talking up the chances of “Aussie Mary” becoming a saint.

While it may accord with his personal beliefs, it’s got nothing to do with his official role, so he should butt out.

It makes you wonder what Mary would make of all this.

No doubt she’d hate all the extravagant claims and posturing, and would surely want to just get on with helping others – which sounds like a good idea to me.

“There where you are, you will find God.”

- Mary MacKillop, 1871

Recommended Off-site Links:
Blessed Mary MacKillop
Mary MacKillop’s Remarkable Life - The 7:30 Report (ABC, December 21, 2009).


Brian R said...

I also liked the following quote in another Herald article
A Jesuit priest, James Martin, author of My Life with the Saints, suggests that the excommunicated nun's imminent canonisation should give heart not only to religious women in the United States undergoing a ''visitation'' by the Vatican but for divorcees and gay women disenfranchised from the church. He playfully suggests MacKillop might be regarded as the patron saint of troublemakers, a reminder that being in trouble with the church hierarchy is no barrier for holiness and a lesson to contemporary Catholics that holiness should not be conflated with unthinking, uncritical or blind obedience.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Wonderfully insightful quote by James Martin. Thanks so much for sharing it, Brian! And a happy Christmas to you!



colkoch said...

Merry Christmas to you Micheal and all those 'down under'. Or should I offer a Mary Christmas?

I suppose a hundred years from now many of our contemporary sisters working on the margins will also be credited with 'miracles' and canonized.

But maybe the Church will have undergone a real conversion/transformation and that will be the real miracle we all celebrate. I know it's the one miracle I pray for.

Anonymous said...

But can prayers really cure cancer, as Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell claimed this week? I don’t think so.

Boo, Hiss! Tell this statement to the millions who pray for healing, both spiritual and physical. What a buzzkill...

Man, what a cynical article! The fact is we do believe in miracles. What gives? Ms. O'Brien sounds like a cranky lady.

Mareczku said...

Thanks for telling us about Sister Mary MacKillop. This was an excellent article as always. That is very interesting that she was once excommunicated. Thanks, Brian for the quote. Have a blessed and joyful Christmas with your family, Michael.

Chandan kumar said...

Thank you for mentioning sister Mary's Stories. You can also read Mary Mackillop quotes here. We have mentioned 33 of her famous quotes. Thank you.