Why not wake up to Grace?

Sr Louise Gannon, who grew up in Merewether, is a Sister of St Joseph, a teacher, a liturgist, an inveterate tester of new recipes and always, a gracious presence. Perhaps that’s why she’s also the local Co-ordinator of the Australian Bishops new initiative, the Year of Grace.

Why not wake up to Grace?

1. What is the Year of Grace and from where did the idea come?

The Year of Grace begins on 27 May, the Feast of Pentecost, and runs until Pentecost 2013. I don't think anyone would be surprised to know that the Bishops have been reflecting on the Australian Church, considering seriously both its challenges and its blessings. In this context they've been wrestling with how to lead the church into the future.

The Year of Grace is the outcome of that reflection. And personally, I think it is at once a simple and brilliant initiative! Essentially the Year of Grace is an invitation to everyone in the church to join the Bishops in refocusing our lives on Jesus. So they're calling us back to the heart of our identity. Any group - business, sporting group, welfare agency, family - needs to stay focused on what is at the heart of its shared life or work, particularly when times are tough.

The primary aim of the Year of Grace is to know Jesus. The Bishops describe the year as more about prayer than study; more like a retreat than a program; more about conversion or change than education. You could say it is a year long pilgrimage in which we are invited to declutter, to travel lightly and more slowly, so that we wake up to what is around us, and become more attentive to God's presence.

A key skill for the Year of Grace is listening to God's word - in prayer, in scripture, in liturgy and in life. Of course, listening to God is risky business. The co-ordinator of the Year of Grace in Hobart has called it 'a year of living dangerously' because who knows what God will ask of us?

The Bishops are inviting us to ask of everything: What has this got to do with Jesus?

Imagine asking this of every item on a meeting agenda. Imagine what new focus it might bring to the discussion. Imagine pausing to ask that question the next time you are asked to do something and you're not sure how to respond. Imagine pausing to consider it the next time you get trapped in one of those conversations that is more about knocking someone down than building someone up. What might happen if you pause to ask it when your teenage child is in trouble? What would life and our society be like this time next year if all who believe in Jesus paused to ask that question once a day throughout the Year of Grace?

2. Is it just for Catholics?

'Yes' and 'no'. Jesus doesn't belong to Catholics, so there's an invitation for all Christians to refocus on Jesus and develop their relationship with him.

The Bishops have let the other Christian churches know about the Year and they are inviting us to consider its ecumenical possibilities. I know some of our priests have already talked about the Year with other ministers in their area and the response has been very positive.

I think too that the Year of Grace could be a reminder to us, as individuals, as groups, as members of any religious tradition, to push the pause button and consider what we need to do to refocus on what is at the heart of life. We could all shape the Year of Grace focus question to speak to us: What has this got to do with - love, compassion, justice, peace, truth, community - fill in the blank.

3. What's your understanding of the term 'grace'?

I saw grace the other day. A woman who had spent endless hours in a volunteer capacity planning an important event was spoken to in a rude and ungracious way. She responded with great grace. When I talked to her she said, "When someone is less than nice to me, I think that maybe the last person who spoke to them may have been hurtful and I am just the next one in the chain. The chain can always stop with me."

For me, 'grace' captures a simple and wonderful truth - God loves me, as I am, and is with me, always and in everything. God won't stop loving me, no matter how badly I stuff up. Everything in life is God's free gift, from the beauty of nature to the faces of family and friends and the strangers I meet each day. God is with me in all the tough parts of life, strengthening me to be more than I imagined I ever could be: in pain and sickness, in loneliness and broken relationships, when life doesn't go the way I hoped and when I am treated badly or unjustly. And God is there for everyone in the same way.

4. How might people respond to this opportunity?

The Year of Grace is an invitation so it is up to individuals and communities to decide if, and how, they wish to respond. As Bishop Michael Putney says, there is no program, just a thousand opportunities! That's its challenge and blessing. No one is telling us what to do. It is up to individuals and communities to work out how they can refocus on Jesus so our lives and all our doings emerge afresh from him.

I am amazed at the initiatives people are already taking. There are conversations happening about grace and faith and spirituality and people are asking questions they wouldn't have asked without this year.

In practical terms, a community might respond simply by using the Year of Grace focus question - What has this got to do with Jesus? Individuals might commit to asking that question every day. People might build some quiet time into their day, even five minutes. Some might make a retreat. Families might make a pilgrimage to their sacred places and tell the children the stories that have formed the family over generations. There might be some division or hurt in the life of an individual, a family or a community that would benefit from some healing action.

There will be some organised events, special liturgies and national e-conferences in which people will be invited to participate.

5. What are your hopes for the Year of Grace in our region?

I hope that we seize the opportunity the Year of Grace gives us to 'wake up' to the grace that is all around us and that this might help us to live more gracefully. I hope too that the Year of Grace will be an opportunity for the Church of Maitland-Newcastle, marked by scars and blessings, to undertake a spiritual journey into its heartland where it will wait and listen for God's fresh start and new direction.

To find out more about the Year of Grace visit www.yearofgrace.catholic.org.au, P Louise on 4979 1135 or E louise.gannon@mn.catholic.org.au

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