It’s all right for Jesus to say, ‘I’m telling you not to worry about your life’. It wasn’t quite so straightforward for the woman who we celebrate this morning. She had plenty to worry about and she had a heap of anxieties, not least of which was fighting with Bishops. Yet it was not only with Bishops! She had the anxiety, and it lingered, of the estrangement with Fr Julian Tenison Woods with whom she had worked so closely. And then she had endless problems with her own health. You only have to read some of Mary MacKillop’s numerous letters to know just how many worries and anxieties that she had. She must have felt often like the woman from the Sidonian town who we heard from in the first reading from the book of Kings. She again is, as it were, crushed with worries and anxieties. ‘I have no baked bread, only a handful of meal and I am gathering a stick or two and will prepare this for myself and my son to eat and then we shall die.’ Mary MacKillop at times must have read that and known exactly what it felt like. And yet the extraordinary thing, and surely one of the greatest signs of her sanctity, was that none of this crushed her. In many ways it made her. In other words, the wound became a fountain.
Paul says in his letter to the Colossians always be thankful. Mary MacKillop would have heard those words, read them, and have pondered them, but she lived them. Beyond all the worries, beyond all the anxieties, she was, and remains, a woman who was and is unfailingly thankful. Again, it pours forth from her pen in her letters, but it also pours forth from her heart in a great fountain of gratitude which springs from the wound of worry and anxiety.
Mary MacKillop has this most extraordinary trust in the providence of God. She was at the same time not one to wait around passively. She was an extraordinary doer. An extremely capable woman, but again, beyond all her capacities and energies, there blazes at the heart of Mary MacKillop this trust in the providence of God and a trust that never failed her. She may have been on the brink again and again and again, but mysteriously and marvellously Mary MacKillop never goes over. Her trust in providence, strange as it may seem to us and extremely risky as it may have been, never failed her and her sisters. It was that fact that grounded her gratitude. All her worries and anxieties, which should have destroyed her, and certainly destroyed her work, in fact had the opposite effect. That’s why she stands forever as Mary of the Cross, the Cross of the Lord Jesus. There are many crosses in the world but all bar one of those crosses destroys the human being. The only cross that has the opposite effect, it creates the human being, is the cross of Christ. And she never forgot that. The name that she bore in religion was and will be forever St Mary of the Cross. That which should have destroyed her in fact created her, just as the crucifixion should have destroyed the Lord Jesus but did not. It only provoked the eternal thunder of the resurrection.
The prophet Elijah is a crucial figure in the biblical story and he appears at a time when Israel is beset by a kind of amnesia, forgetting their God-given identity as a community of slaves set free and set in the world to say that slaves can in fact become free when Pharaoh says ‘once a slave, always a slave.’ With Israel in the grip of this amnesia, forgetting what God has done, forgetting who she is in the mind and plan of God, Elijah rises up to focus the people on what is true and to be a servant of remembrance. Mary MacKillop was surely that and remains so to this day. One who focuses us upon what really matters, and what really matters is the truth of what God is and what God does. That God has set us in the world, no less as a community of slaves set free in a world where Pharaoh will always say ‘once a slave always a slave, abandon hope’. In that sense she not only echoes the prophet Elijah, she stands forever as witness of the resurrection.
In the Gospel of Matthew we are told Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb on Easter morning and she is accompanied by a woman who is called simply ‘the other Mary’. I like to think that the ‘other Mary’ is in fact Mary MacKillop, who goes with Mary Magdalene and there, in the morning light, meets the risen Christ. She therefore stands forever, not just as a doer, not just as a woman who was beset by worries and anxieties and somehow survived the torment. She stands as much more, that’s why we named her saint. She stands forever as a witness to the Resurrection. Touching the little ones of her own time, those on the margins and those overlooked, with the power of the resurrection. Raising them out of a kind of living death and leading them into the life which is so big and so full that we call it eternal life. That same witness that Mary MacKillop gave has never failed in those who are her sisters, and I greet in a special way this morning Sr Moya Campbell and all the Josephite sisters…. Our prayer this morning is that witness, the witness of a woman who trusted in providence, who was not crushed by her burdens, and who in the end saw the risen Christ and lead others to him.
Most Rev Mark Coleridge