On August 8, the Church in Australia celebrates the feast day of its patron saint, Mary MacKillop, also known as St. Mary of the Cross. In her lifetime (1842–1909), St. Mary MacKillop was influential and controversial in both the Church and in Australian society, particularly for her pioneering work in providing for the needs and education of the poor in Australia and being the founding member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart in Australia and New Zealand. Under the leadership and formation of St. Mary MacKillop and Father Julian Tenison-Woods, the Sisters of St. Joseph founded and ran numerous Catholic schools, providing education to children without distinction of race, class, or means, as well as orphanages and refuges for homeless and vulnerable women. The sisters also ministered to the sick and dying in hospitals, prisoners in jail, and patients in destitute asylums.1 St. Mary MacKillop’s great works were driven by her conviction that every human person is beloved of God and made for fullness of life in him. This conviction and action flowed from her own personal encounter with the love of Christ, particularly in the Eucharist.
What St. Mary MacKillop lived in her life was beautifully captured in the principles of Sacrosanctum Concilium: The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.2 In Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC), the Second Vatican Council sought to reform and promote the liturgical life of the Church (SC 1) so that she lives her true nature as the one who is redeemed by God (SC 2, fn 3), responding with love and worship of her God (SC 33). The Constitution explains that the Church’s members are those drawn into deep union with Christ, daily growing as temples where the Holy Spirit dwells (SC 2, fn4). In other words, the members of Christ’s Church are living tabernacles of God.3 Christ draws us into himself, making us beloved sons and daughters of his Father (SC 6),4 bringing the Father’s blessing and favor upon us, and thus the freedom, healing, and wholeness that comes with being the beloved.5 And this love of God we bring to a “scattered world” to inspire it to union with and in God (SC 2).6
Sacrosanctum Concilium expresses that it is particularly in the Eucharist that God achieves the redemption of the members of his Church while his Church glorifies her God “in the most efficacious possible way” (SC 10). Through the Eucharist we enter more perfect union with God (SC 48), and in a real way become tabernacles of God. Christ gives us the gift of his very self—body, blood, soul and divinity—in his sacrificial death and resurrected glory (SC 6; 47). We respond by receiving him into our body and soul and also offer ourselves in his Spirit made active in us, so that “he may fashion us for himself ‘as an eternal gift’” (SC 12). This experience is the foretaste of eternal union with God, which he has pledged to us (SC 47–48).
This communion with God can only occur if the members of Christ’s Church “ensure that they take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects” (SC 11). This is the heart of “active participation” in the Mass. To engage with our full person means the full consciousness, devotion, and collaboration (SC 48) in surrendering ourselves to Christ, who surrenders himself to us, to give us access to the God who loves us (cf. SC 47).
This “active participation” in surrender and receptivity to Christ is what drove St. Mary MacKillop.
In Mary MacKillop: The Ground of Her Loving, author Margaret Paton explains devotion to Christ’s Sacred Heart was the foundation of St. Mary MacKillop’s life (80). In Christ’s Sacred Heart, St. Mary MacKillop encountered the intense “blazing flames” of his love for us (82–83). This blazing heart is the center of Christ’s person, his choices and his actions of total self-giving to us (84). In her active surrender to Christ, St. Mary MacKillop experienced this intimately.
It was specifically in the Eucharist that Christ’s Sacred Heart—blazing with love, pierced through, crowned with thorns, poured out and offered to us wholeheartedly—was revealed and recalled to St. Mary MacKillop (85, 97). Here she entered into intimate communion with her Divine love and “surrendered to the total self-giving core of the heart of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist, his selfless anonymity and availability for all humanity in the Sacred Host and Precious Blood veiled in bread” (88). In her own words, Mary explains, “it was the tender and loving heart of my Jesus who spoke to me” (84). Ultimately, Christ’s Sacred Heart in his Eucharistic presence was the center of her life, her thinking, her affections, and her actions (88).
In Christ’s Eucharistic presence “she found inspiration, solace, strength to suffer and courage to persevere” (88). His heart was the “deep abyss” for her to “creep” into, where she could settle and her heart could be at home and not be “passion-tossed” (94). St. Mary MacKillop writes: “[Christ’s heart burning with] love makes the world a desert. When storms rage, when persecutions or dangers threaten, I quietly creep into its deep abyss” (94). Christ’s heart was a wide-open space for her to enter eternal peace, the refuge where their hearts melded, and she and God were completely one, and she before the God “all-seeing within her” (89) found where she belonged (94). In this she found the strength “to take the risk of loving totally no matter what life does to us” (97).
Her encounter with Christ in the Eucharist opened her to then birth Christ’s Sacred Heart into the world (96). It was an encounter totally given over to her, and all humanity, in blazing love, and it formed the basis of her generous, open self-giving back to God and all those God loves. In Christ’s Sacred Heart she experienced the union between Christ and his Bride, the Church and his welcoming heart, unified and made one in all parts of His Body (84). As Christ’s heart continually blazes in love for us, this unity with Christ, and to all in Christ, is not static, but dynamic. This is why St. Mary MacKillop experienced that in Christ’s blazing heart she was strengthened and recharged to “then be the wellspring of love to go out to the world” (84), bringing the living Christ, with his burning heart, from the Eucharistic table to the world (96).
For St. Mary MacKillop, the heart of Jesus in his Eucharistic presence “is large enough to hold all our hearts” in unity and “is the dynamic factor that breaks open our hearts to include the poor” (89). Nourished and driven by Christ’s Sacred Heart in the Eucharist, blazing with love for humanity, she provided education and assistance to her brothers and sisters in poverty (87), despite being criticized by some laity and clergy for doing so.7 In Christ’s blazing heart she educated Australian children, whether or not their families had a means to pay for this education, as each child in justice was to be provided with the opportunity to grow in his personhood through education, and no child was singled out for preferential treatment due to class or status, as each child was beloved of God and should experience being so.8 St. Mary MacKillop’s desire and work was to bring back all Christ’s beloved into the security of his Sacred Heart (95), which she knew so intimately. Her heart was one with his. Thus, she was blessed by Christ in return by all those she served (97).
In receiving Christ’s heart blazing with love for her, she also found the strength to forgive those who persecuted her. This was most evident following her excommunication by Bishop Sheil on September 22, 1871, for alleged insubordination in asking the bishop not to alter the Sisters’ Rule of Life to come under the rule of their local priest or bishop, but retain the Institute being ruled by central governance. Despite her excommunication and her sisters being evicted from their convent, St. Mary MacKillop did not speak ill of her bishop but maintained her heart of charity. Instead, St. Mary MacKillop allowed Christ to pave the way for her restoration to the Church. And this he did. On February 21, 1872, nine days before his death, Bishop Sheil lifted the excommunication, realizing his actions had been the result of bad advice and manipulation.9 St. Mary MacKillop encapsulated her response to this ordeal, and many other instances of persecution she experienced throughout her ministry, in the following words to her sisters: “Whatever troubles may be before you, accept them cheerfully, remembering whom you are trying to follow. Do not be afraid. Love one another, bear with one another, and let charity guide you in all your life.”10
Hearts at Rest
Australia is privileged to have a patron saint who lived, walked, and impacted our land as a living tabernacle of God. In her surrender to Christ’s Sacred Heart in the Eucharist she experienced and lived the reality that “God’s love is too deep for words to express.”11 In St. Mary MacKillop’s life we see that the most profound “active participation” we can give in the Eucharist is to open and surrender ourselves completely to Christ in his body, blood, soul, and divinity, in our body and soul. Here, we engage in active communion with our Redeemer, resting in his Sacred Heart and praising him. We offer ourselves to him to be penetrated with his Spirit, to then take him to those who need him when we leave Mass. This is the beauty of the moment of quiet contemplation after receiving Christ in the Eucharist. It is a profound moment of fulfilment of being in a Christian’s life. It is a truly felicitous moment, where one experiences the deep peace and fulfilment of being and doing what one has been created to be and do, as the redeemed beloved of God.12
Natalie Thomas holds a Masters of Theology (Marriage and Family Studies) from The John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, Melbourne, Australia, and a Masters of Philosophy by Research (Theology) from the University of Notre Dame Australia, Fremantle, Australia. She provides lectures and presentations in theology, particularly in the area of Christian Anthropology, in Perth, Western Australia.
Image Source: AB/Wikimedia
- “St Mary MacKillop’s Story – Challenges” and “St Mary MacKillop’s Story – Growth,” Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, Our Story. Accessed on 6 July 2022 at https://www.sosj.org.au/our-story/saint-mary-mackillop/marys-story/.
- Second Vatican Council, “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium.” Solemnly promulgated by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on 4 December 1963. Vatican website. Accessed 9 January 2022. https://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19631204_sacrosanctum-concilium_en.html. Herein referred to as “Sacrosanctum Concilium”.
- The idea that in the Annunciation the shadow of the Most High envelops and penetrates the tabernacle of the new covenant that is the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s is discussed in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Vatican City: Vatican Press, 1997), 697 and the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God, 8 May 1999. Vatican website. Accessed 20 January 2022. https://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/migrants/documents/rc_pc_migrants_doc_19990525_shrine_en.html. As the archetype of the Church, Mary is tabernacle of God as all the body of Christ are called to be God’s tabernacle. Sonja Corbitt discussed the human person as the monstrance of God in “How to be a Monstrance” at the Atlanta Eucharistic Congress, 22 June 2019. Accessed on 20 January 2022 at https://www.biblestudyevangelista.com/2019/08/26/how-to-be-a-monstrance-atlanta-eucharistic-conference-2019/
- Cf. Romans 8:14–17. St Paul’s theology of filial adoption in God’s redemptive work is discussed in David B. Garner, Sons in the Son: The Riches and Reach of Adoption in Christ (Philipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2016).
- Dr Bob Schuchts, Restoring the Glory series, (Tallahassee, FL: John Paul II Healing Centre, 2015); In William P. Loewe’s article, “The Kingdom Expressed in Deeds” in The College Students Guide to Christology, (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1996, 58–68), Loewe explains that Christ’s mission was to declare and establish the Kingdom of God that had come to bring healing, wholeness and freedom to humanity.
- Cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 2.
- Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, Our Story, “St Mary MacKillop’s Story – Challenges.”
- Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, Our Story, “St Mary MacKillop’s Story – Growth.”
- Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, Our Story, “St Mary MacKillop’s Story – Challenges”; and Christian Bergmann, “The History Behind Mary MacKillop’s Excommunication”, Melbourne Catholic, 5 August 2021, https://melbournecatholic.org/news/the-history-behind-mary-mackillops-excommunication.
- Mother Mary MacKillop’s letter to her Sisters, 12 January 1909, ‘St Mary MacKillop’s Story – Fulfillment,’ Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, Our Story. Accessed on 6 July 2022 at https://www.sosj.org.au/our-story/saint-mary-mackillop/marys-story/.
- Mary MacKillop, 6 August 1870. Accessed 20 January 2022 at https://www.sosj.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/2018-Web-version-MMK-of-the-Cross-6-July.pdf
- Karol Wojtyła (St Pope John Paul II) explains in The Acting Person, ed. Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, trans. Andrzej Potocki (Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1979) that felicity is happiness in the sense of fulfilling oneself through actions that conform to one’s structure of self-possession and self-governance as a personal human subject that is being, existing, and doing what one has been created to be, exist, and do: 174–179; Sacrosanctum Concilium, 30, states that active participation in the Mass includes taking part in acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence.