Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, an Australian community, in a worldwide religious congregation.
Jesus loved with a human heart: with him we proclaim his love to the world.
We work to discover through advocacy, healing and reconciliation, God's presence in our world.
We are to be on earth the heart of God. God has no other heart but ours.
- Published: Monday, 14 December 2015 08:32
JAMES MAHER MSC REQUIEM MASS REFLECTION
Reflection on the Word - Requiem for James Maher msc
OLSH church, Randwick, Dec. 10th, 2015
Lis Teggelove RSM
1st Reading: Is. 43: 1b, 18-19: (the Road in the Wilderness)
Resp. Psalm: Ps. 139: 1-6, 13-14, R. v.24)
2nd Reading: 1 Cor.13: 1-13 (the Supremacy of Love above all other gifts)
Gospel: John 15: 1-5, 9-17 (the Vine and Branches)
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The readings to which we have just listened, were deliberately chosen by James for this celebration of his life and death and life!
Before I share any thoughts I might have about them, may I invite you, in a few moments of silence, to ask yourself :
* What touched me as I listened – is there a word or phrase or image that
lingers with me?
* How does that speak to me of the James I know (as brother, confrere, uncle,
Whatever I share here comes from my experience of James, whom I have known only for the last six years: from the time he went to Melbourne to take up his Masters studies in Theology – and was diagnosed with cancer in the midst of it. A significant period of his life!
I had the immense privilege of being invited by James to be his spiritual director - to be entrusted with his spiritual journey, his inner experience of what was happening in his life. Whilst normally a spiritual director would hold in confidence what was shared, for this occasion James encouraged me to say whatever I wished!
The love-relationship between God and ourselves, as described in the readings, was a predominant feature of James’ life! It began long before James himself was conscious of it! “It was you who created my inmost self, and put me together in my mother’s womb.” (Ps. 139) The Opening Prayer he composed for his Final Profession, stated: “In baptism, his parents declared for him, their faith in you as the meaning and centre of life…”
I have no knowledge of how this relationship unfolded throughout his early life. At a certain time, however, as a young man still, apparently James recognised a sense of dissatisfaction with the way his life was moving - he felt there should be something “more”. Uncertain as to where the future might take him, he decided to take a trip overseas, to visit, among other places, Taize in France (a popular pilgrimage for young people at the time), and the Holy Land.
Here, James spent some time around the Sea of Galilee…the place where Jesus, at the beginning of his public ministry, chose the first of his disciples - Peter and Andrew, James and John.
It was here that James Maher, too, heard the insistent call of Jesus to follow him
The lyrics of his song, “The Call”, from the album Heartvoice, surely express something of what he experienced at this time:
You are the one that I love.
Yours is the hunger I feed.
Yours is the life, yours is the living,
You are the one that I love….
Hear the call I’ve given you,
Though at times it pierces you.
It will not fade as other voices do.
The heart of you remains with you;
My choice of you, my claim on you.
Embrace your life so others may live too.
There, in Galilee, he knew a deep desire for his life “to be fruitful”, finding himself spontaneously saying to God “Open me up like a can of peaches!” When James related this story not long ago, he laughed, saying “I don’t know why it had to be peaches, but I suppose they’re fruit! The desire for his life to bear fruit remained a recurring thread, woven throughout his life!
James’s consequent decision to become a Religious, to join the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, opened up a way of being to which he was strongly attracted, grounded in a spirituality of the heart, and manifested in “a spirit of love and kindness, of humility and simplicity, hospitality and a sense of humour”.
How powerful James’s words, spoken during his Final Profession ceremony:
“I desire to know our God more intimately, and I long to bear fruit that will last
amongst God’s people…..I am ready to commit myself. By my profession I wish to proclaim that the love of God, revealed in the Heart of Christ, is the driving force in my life.”
We can see why he might have chosen the story of the vine and the branches for today’s Gospel! The image portrays the deep connection between God and ourselves – the intimacy of the vine and the branches abiding in one another – allowing life and love to flow freely between us.
The invitation to intimacy has the power to attract us, or to cause us to back off, in doubt or fear.
Something written by a favourite author, Thomas Merton, spoke of this to James:
“God seeks himself in us, and the aridity and sorrow of our heart is the sorrow of God who is not known in us, who cannot find himself in us because we do not dare to believe or trust the incredible truth that God could live in us, and live there out of choice, out of preference. But indeed we exist solely for this, to be the place God has chosen for his presence. God’s manifestation in the world. God’s epiphany.
But … we fail to believe it, we refuse to believe it. It is not that we hate God, rather that we hate ourselves, despair of ourselves…
(A Book of Hours p.154)
Love is about giving, and receiving!
James recognised God’s deepening invitation to allow himself to be loved!
Choir at the Requiem Mass. [Photo Brett Adamson]
Today’s Gospel reminds us that for love to flourish - for the vine to grow healthy and strong, and bear plentiful fruit -– branches need to be pruned, and dead branches removed.
There can be no genuine love without suffering!
“Love hurts”, writes psychologist Gerald May. “ It requires sacrifice, and it feels risky and often frightening. True love for God and for others can be so beautiful and require such vulnerability that it can seem, at times, too much to bear.”
James was not exempt from suffering, as we know!
Many of us saw for ourselves the terrible ravages inflicted on his body by the cancer which invaded him; he knew debilitating fears, disappointment, helplessness and loneliness; and there was the endless regime of visits to doctors and specialists, of hospital admissions, and the constant subjection to tests and treatments with all their horrific side-effects!
Shortly before James was due to go into hospital for the stem cell transplant at the beginning of this year, he, together with one of his sisters and a friend, composed a prayer which family, friends and confreres were invited to pray for him. Part of the prayer says:
“Loving God, the suffering in our lives and in the world is a mystery that breaks our hearts and can break our spirits. Yet in the midst of it is a call to hope and to healing that defies logic, and opens our hearts to the possibility of a purpose and meaning beyond our knowing.” (Prayer for J)
A purpose to suffering? A meaning to suffering?
I was struck by the wording: “…the suffering in our lives and in the world breaks our hearts and can break our spirits…”
Did suffering break J’s heart? It very definitely did, as he realised while making a mini-retreat in the middle of June this year.
By then he knew that the transplant had not got rid of the cancer, and that nothing more could be done for him except by way of palliative care. He was “devastated, angry, and sad as hell!”
His suffering however was not solely occasioned by his own physical and emotional fragility! He was also deeply conscious of the pain of others – particularly that of his beloved family and friends, suffering because of what he was going through; the pain of the family of one of his friends, killed in an accident some years ago; the suffering caused by grave injustices in the world; of relationship difficulties experienced by some of his friends…
All of this, and much more, broke James’s heart…. to the point where he felt overwhelmed, that it was “too much”!
Did that weight of suffering break his spirits? - I believe not! He struggled to find meaning, as we too may, by contemplating Jesus, one also beloved of God - who too experienced intense suffering in his life. In a scripture passage with which many of us are quite familiar, it is written of Jesus that “…sadness came over him, and great distress. He said to his companions, Peter, James and John, ‘My soul is sorrowful to the point of death….and going on a little further he fell on his face and prayed “My father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it”.
James too was beset by fear, sadness, disappointment, loneliness, helplessness and anger, as he struggled to accept his limited-life reality.
In his prayer, he felt called to be with Jesus in Gethsemani - to be Jesus!
These were days of intense pain and darkness, and there was nothing I could do or say to alleviate any of it. I could only encourage him to stay with Jesus…. while I could only keep watch with him in prayer and love.
However, in the very midst of his pain and darkness James found God had not abandoned him, but was actually suffering with him.
He knew again the truth of the words of a song he’d written earlier: (2014)
“On a wilderness road,
Love breaks through in quiet ways,
Love breaks through in mysterious ways,
Love breaks through in glorious ways”.
It was love, only love, that gave meaning to Jesus’ experience…and to James’!
Suffering and dying are generally not realities we humans want to think about, let alone experience! Jesus was no different - the Gospels record him begging God to let the agony pass him by. For James too, there was no “easy” surrender to the inevitable! He wrestled with the question “Why?” It forced him to ask himself what he really believed – about himself…about God...?
Was he himself somehow responsible for contracting the cancer??
Did God cause his suffering??
Does God allow suffering in people’s lives to punish them??...
His deep questions continued to unfold, each possible answer raising more questions, perhaps ultimately all pointing to one general question – How does God, who is supposed to be loving, act in our lives and in our world?
His reflection at the time led him to conclude:
“God does act in space and time;
God does act in the concrete realities of our lives!
God set forth the creative process, and in general allows it to unfold.
Neither is God separate from it! – strength, courage, hope, love and peacefulness are given.
The givenness of it makes me call it grace!
When he asked me to share something of his experience, James said:
“I want to encourage people in their faith and life. What has happened to me happens to all – everyone at some time in life experiences suffering. We ask “Why?”...We struggle to believe…”
Within a given situation, how we respond may bring about new life!Loss is a step to hope.
James with the choir, Randwick
His poem, “Autumn Easter” recently set to music and included at the end of his latest album reflects his belief:
“There is a gift from beyond, perhaps,
in this fraying transparence of flesh….”
“Something new can come,
though only through the dying,
And not just in the image of the old,
But truly new,
As yet unseen.” (Autumn Easter, 2011)
James was delighted to finish his latest album several weeks ago, and to know it would be out before Christmas.
He entitled it:
“Hidden Within the World – Songs of Loss, Hope and Transformation”.
The songs, he said, are an expression of “the mystery and grace hidden within life”.
Barely six weeks ago, reflecting on his life, James noted :
“My time in Melbourne was a particularly rich time of my life, despite living under the shadow of the cancer. I was growing in insight and understanding through my theology studies, and I was making a very significant spiritual journey at the same time. In fact, the journey of grace was the foundation of it all…it is truly my NEW FOUNDATION.”
So it is James’s journey of grace we celebrate today! A journey expressed in a life which bore abundant fruit – as we can testify, and as witnessed by many others!
I am immensely grateful and blessed to have known James -
a warm-hearted man, so truly human,
a man so deeply in love with his God and fellow human beings -
…truly a missionary of the loving heart of God!
Whilst we know we shall mourn the loss of James’s physical presence and love among us, let us rejoice that he – now beyond suffering – knows the fulness of love in the intimacy of oneness with his God.
OBITUARY NOTICE IN THE NEWCASTLE HERALD
MAHER, REVEREND BROTHER JAMES LEO PIUS MSC At home Kensington NSW 03.09.1963 - 06.12.2015 JAMES died peacefully at home in Kensington on Sunday, 6th December, surrounded by his family. JAMES was a much loved and respected member of the Society of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, son of PETER and MARGARET MAHER (both dec'd, Maitland), brother and brother-in-law to ELIZABETH and JUSTIN LEVIDO, BARBARA and MICHAEL PUNCH, DAVID MAHER and GITA MATHUR, DANIEL and ANNE MAHER, and treasured uncle to all their children.