Homily – Annual Pilgrimage to Eden

1 Kings 17:8-16, Colossians 3:12-17, Matthew 6:25-34

Dear friends, just a few days after we have celebrated the Solemnity of Mary MacKillop throughout Australia we now gather here at Eden to pray for her intercession but also praying in the companionship with her mother Flora who continues to be highly respected and revered in this fair town of Eden.

Mary MacKillop, apart from all her many gifts, will always be considered a woman of profound prayer. Sister Maria Casey, a sister of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart and who served as the postulator for the cause of the canonisation of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, Australia’s first Saint, described Mary MacKillop’s life of prayer as follows.

She assigned herself “Mary of the Cross” as a significant title in her life because of her many trials, including troubles from ill health, which brought her into close union with her crucified Lord. A woman of prayer, she described herself as a natural contemplative whom God had called to constant action. Her love for the Eucharist was well know. She constantly sort to do the will of God and once wrote, “To me the will of God is a dear book which I am never tired of reading, which has always some new charm for me”.

I suppose given this beautiful setting here at Eden, we could reflect on where Mary MacKillop received this beautiful contemplative dimension in her life.

Clearly, it was given to her by the Grace of God. We would also think that this grace was channelled to her particularly through her family and parents, and in a special way by her dear mother, Flora.

Let us recall a little bit about the life of Flora MacKilliop.

A Josephite sister, Sr. Bernadette O’Sullivan, who is well known and loved due to her pastoral ministry at nearby Nimmitabel NSW, wrote a lovely book about Flora, published in 2012. In this book she writes that:

“Flora (MacDonald) MacKillop (1816-1886) arrived in Melbourne from  Scotland in 1840 and in July of that year she married Alexander MacKillop. St Mary of the Cross was the eldest of their eight children. From promising beginnings family and fortunes declined demanding of Flora courage, patience and forbearance. Her deep faith and trust in God sustained her through the poverty, hardship and times of homelessness when she and her family depended on relatives for a home. While St Mary acknowledged her mother’s example and influence, Flora was able to call herself ‘a truly blessed mother’, as she said herself, she had ‘raised all her children for the glory of God’.”

What a beautiful tribute to St Mary MacKillop’s mother, Flora!

When we prayerfully contemplate the First Reading from today from the 1 Kings we could perhaps see the resonances of Flora MacKillop in the light of the faithful widow gathering sticks at Zarepath, a Sidonian town.

Of the little that she had, she was more than happy to accommodate hospitality for the prophet Elijah, without necessarily knowing his Godly significance.

Even with her meagre resources, there was a need there and she responded to it.

We can think of Mary MacKillop’s famous expression “never see a need without doing something about it.” It could well be that Flora MacKillip taught her saintly daughter this important expression.

All of us can learn from both Flora and Mary MacKillip about placing our full Gospel attention on the present moment. So many of us are worrying about the future or the past that we forget about living the Gospel in the present moment.

For this reason we could well do to recall the essential message of today’s Gospel from Matthew. Here Jesus tells us “don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

It seems that the MacKillops lived this out to the full!

All of this certainly represents to my way of thinking what we might describe as the Marian dimension of Christianity and especially the Catholic Church.

We seem to be coming out of an epoch when we perhaps over stress the Petrine dimension of the Church with the necessary hierarchical structure of the Church. Of course all of this dimension must be in full harmony with the softer and more Charism centred Marian dimension of the Church. We look to Mary the mother of God as the quintessential exemplar of this dimension.

Over the centuries the Church fathers have seen that Mary could be symbolised somewhat by reference to the moon. Late at night the moon can give us a beautiful translucent light to guide our way in the darkness of the night. We all know that the moon of itself does not give off light. The moon is the great reflector of the sun. This is the essence of what we mean by the Marian dimension of the Church, all of us are called to reflect the light of Christ in our everyday lives. All of us share in the “moon dimension” of our life! .

We particularly remember today how Flora MacKillop exercised this Luna ministry!

I am so delighted that this is the second year in a row now that we have initiated a Diocesan pilgrimage to this revered site of Flora MacKillop.

My hope and dream is that it will become indeed a natural pilgrimage centre not just for this Archdiocese but throughout Australia.

Pilgrimages are definitely showing an enormous resurgence in today’s Catholic world. We hear so much of people going to do the “Camino” in Spain, or even going to visit the Churches that Mary MacKillop visited in the days that she was in Rome. We also know that North Sydney, were Mary MacKillops tomb is to be found, is becoming an extraordinarily significant pilgrimage site for Australians of faith or no faith.

Why not, in this part of the world, can we not have a pilgrimage site here at a place that the MacKillops would always hold close to their hearts.

We recall that on a Sunday evening in May 1886 that one of the fastest steamers in Australia was on its way between Melbourne and Sydney and floundered of the coast of Eden. There were 86 passengers and crew on board the Ly-ee-Moon.

One of those who perished in the disaster was Flora MacKillop.

Flora’s body was taken to Eden. Eye witnesses have reported that “with touching pathos of the smile of peacefulness which rested upon the poor cold face, and of the complete absence of the indication of any death agony”, in relationship to the body of Flora MacKillop.

Later Mary MacKillop herself wrote to her brother Donald and spoke of her mother’s body after this disaster off Eden.

She wrote to Donald that “Flora’s was the only body found anywhere without being injured by either the rocks or sharks. The scapular she had so loved was on her neck. How it remained on seems miraculous and is, I believe. Jon says she looked as if she were asleep.”

Sister Bernadette O’Sullivan comments “The preservation of the body with the scapulars still intact was indeed miraculous when one views the wild and treacherous seas and rocks at Green Cape.”

I will leave it to Sr. Bernadette to describe more fully these important factual matters.

Suffice to say, as we now continue our Mass, that we do pray to Jesus in the company of all the Saints. We pray particularly in the company of our Australian Saint Mary MacKillop. Here at Eden we pray with even greater intensity as it still has a lived experience of the hospitality of the wonderful people of this town to the drowned body of Mary MacKillop’s mother, Flora.

I am sure Mary MacKillop would not mind if we also not only prayed with her but also prayed in the company of her mother Flora.

Who knows in the future, a growing devotional cult towards Flora MacKillop might event suggest that she should be considered herself to be raised to the altars of Sainthood. In regards to that matter, we leave it entirely in the hands of the Holy Spirit upon whom we place our trust as we now continue our Mass.