God has shown his favour to the woman born Mary Helen MacKillop by confirming her sanctity and presence with him in the glory of heaven. Through the authority of the Church and in particular an authentic exercise of the infallibility of the Roman Pontiff, we now acknowledge Mary as St Mary of the Cross. The canonisation of St Mary of the Cross on October 17th marked the first raising to the altars of an Australian and we accord to St Mary the veneration that is her due as one of the Saints of God.
As priests, we rejoice in the fruitfulness of God’s grace in St Mary and look to her as a model of faith and seek her intercession in our priestly work.
One of the unique features of St Mary was her close co-operation with and inspiration by Father Julian Tension Woods. The life of St Mary bears witness to the close cooperation between priests and religious that has marked the life of the Church in Australia. We are all well aware of the struggles that St Mary had with certain members of the clergy and episcopacy, but it never lessened her love for the priesthood or for the chief shepherds, the bishops. The truth is that at heart St Mary and her Josephite Sisters and the clergy of the Church were about the same thing: the spreading and nurturing of the Catholic Faith in a generous and practical service of God and others.
The deep desire of St Mary, in response to God’s call, was to be a consecrated woman religious. She wanted to follow Christ poorly, chastely and obediently under the patronage of St Joseph and entrusted herself and her Sisters to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. She was inspired to found this new religious family that enabled women religious to bear witness and exercise their apostolate in the harsh and remote setting of outback and rural Australia. It was in this setting that deep bonds of esteem, appreciation and cooperation grew up between the Josephites and the clergy.
The event of the canonisation of St Mary of the Cross encourages the members of the Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy to renew our appreciation of the gift of the Religious Life to the Church. The Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests reminds us:
Particular attention will be reserved to relations with the brothers and sisters engaged in a life of special consecration to God in all their forms, showing them a sincere appreciation and a real spirit of apostolic collaboration, respecting and promot- ing their specific charisms. He will cooperate, moreover, so that the consecrated life always appear more luminous for the benefit of the entire Church and more persuasive and attractive to the new generations.
In such spirit of esteem for the consecrated life, the priest will give particular care to those communities which, for various reasons, are greatly in need of good doctrine, of assistance and of encouragement in the faith. (n. 31)
St Mary of the Cross is offered to us as a model of faith in the fullness of her life as a consecrated woman religious. Her sanctity was the fruit of the intense living of her baptismal calling and her calling as a Religious Sister. We should not and cannot separate St Mary from her vocation as a religious woman. We can therefore hope and pray that from her place in Heaven, St Mary of the Cross can intercede for an authentic renewal of the Religious Life here in Australia. As priests we know the irreplaceable importance of the witness of the religious life. We should know this in our own spiritual life and in the life of the Catholic Community. Mother Mary of the Cross MacKillop brought practical gifts of compassion and education to the remote communities of our nation, but she first of all gave witness to Christ and His Church in and through her Religious witness. We must never reduce the Religious Life of the Church to a series of tasks or apostolates. In the end, Religious are a witness to the call to holiness. Priests belong to the very constitu- tion of the Church, but we are not called just to exist but to grow in holiness. Consecrated Religious are connected to the Church’s call to holiness. In the canonisation of St Mary of the Cross, the people of Australia have a model of right living, deep faith and generous service presented to them. Christ’s faithful also acknowledge one of our own who has been affirmed as sharing the heavenly life of the Most Holy Trinity and who is a model of faith and life for our own pilgrimage of faith.
In the years ahead priests will need to draw deeply on the life and witness of St Mary of the Cross as we prepare homilies and talks on her spiritual inheritance to us. My hope is that as bishops, priests and deacons we will not reduce St Mary of the Cross to a mere emblem of pioneer Australian life or a woman who battled the forces of power. I pray that we will over the years come to know the full-blooded reality of the consecrated Australian Religious woman who sought to please and serve God in all things and who was inspired by God to establish a new religious family in his Church.
St Mary of the Cross, pray for us!