Opening Address by Dick Fields
Good afternoon. Thanks to each one of you for making the effort to be present with us today. Last year we gathered to acknowledge our 25 years in existence since Timirí was founded in 1989. Our Theme for the day was ‘Remembering, Celebrating and Thanksgiving’. We had an enjoyable and meaningful day. People attending our Gatherings discover there is always a genuine welcome with the opportunity to meet and make new friends. It is a special occasion to find time and join with other like-minded people to experience reflection, to share our thoughts and feelings and through ritual, music and prayer to sense the Mystery of God present within and around us.
Each year when we are preparing for this day we are often challenged on what the theme might be. On most occasions we often feel the ‘Spirit is moving in our midst’ when some word or event inspires the theme for our Gathering. This year we met in the Province Centre Marino on the 30th September to plan for our day. At the beginning of our meetings we always spend some time in reflection and prayer. On this occasion Mary Shanahan led us in a reflection called “Presence, Freedom and Consciousness” and a passage from Luke 9: 57-62. Our reflection and sharing moved us deeply and for some it was an emotional experience. It was raw a times where stories were recounted of hurt and intolerance experienced by so many people we knew and still know. It touched those at our meeting and inspired the theme for our Gathering today. After the reflection which lasted longer than usual, all those present unanimously agreed on the theme, “God’s Mercy, Compassion and Healing”.
In March 2013 an unknown Cardinal from Argentina was elected Pope. He took the name Francis after St Francis of Assisi and from the moment he stood on the balcony in Rome, he spoke with humility and kindness. At the end of his first encounter with the people he asked them to pray for him which was an unusual request coming from a Pope. Immediately the people present in St Peter’s Square and watching on TV all around the world knew they were listening and seeing a shepherd who was going to show, by his actions, that he really believed in the Lord’s loving mercy. I was touched by his humanity and his expressions. I had waited all my life for a Pope like him.
Every Pope tends to develop a signature line, a phrase that seems to sum up the message they are trying to teach the church and the world of their times. For John Paul 11 it was “Be not afraid”. For Benedict XV1 it was “Reason and Faith”. The catch phrase for Pope Francis seems to be “God never gets tired of forgiving us”. It is a reminder that our God is a God of mercy and compassion. Reflecting on the accusations directed at Jesus in the Gospels of consorting with sinners, Francis said: “Jesus forgets. He has a special capacity to forget. He forgets, he kisses, he embraces and he only says,”Neither do I condemn you, go and from now on sin no more.” He also said, “the Lord never gets tired of forgiving. “Never,” Francis said. “We are the ones who get tired of asking him for forgiveness”.
Pope Francis has shown by his actions, even more than words, that he goes out of his way to encounter people who need compassion and mercy. He reaches out to them the same way the compassionate ministry of Jesus reached out to the lost, to the lonely, to the young, the sick, the poor, to strangers, to sinners, to all mankind and to teach them the truth. The compassion and mercy of Jesus was empathy not sympathy. Pope Francis’s mission today is to live the gospel of mercy and compassion wherever he goes. This belief, I am sure, inspired him to announce in a homily on the 13th March 2014, “I have decided to call an extraordinary jubilee that is to have the Mercy of God at its centre. It shall be a Holy Year of Mercy. We want to live this year in the light of the Lord’s words “Be merciful just as your father is merciful”.
Our Gathering today with the theme, God’s Compassion, Mercy and Reconciliation challenges us to respond to this invitation, to acknowledge and believe in it but most importantly to live it. Let us realise humbly that compassion and mercy are God’s love within us.
- Dick Fields