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Finding God’s Traces

Michael McGirr

Preface When I was a teacher in a Catholic School, I remember a student confronting one of the older staff members at the end of the Year Twelve graduation Mass. ‘That’s it,’ he said with a grin. ‘That’s the last Mass I go to in my life. I am finished with religion. I am finished with God.’ ‘Ah yes,’ said the other teacher, ‘but God hasn’t finished with you.’ The transition from school to what lies beyond is a big one. A lot of the structure and sense of purpose which comes from going to school every day, participating in organised sport and preparing for exams is suddenly gone. It is an exciting time, full of opportunity and possibility. It can also be a time of anxiety. Not everyone knows exactly what they want to do with their lives. For some, it takes a number of years to find their niche, to work out what their adult contribution will be to the human family. As Christians, we believe that God has something specific in mind for all of us, something that only we can do. Many of us also hope that God has a specific person in the picture for us as well, someone whom we can love deeply and allow to love us and who will nurture us through all that lies ahead. But these plans often become clear slowly.We have to be patient and open and humble enough to pray for wisdom. When he was elected to the papacy in 2005, Pope Bendict XVI described himself as a humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord. The same can be said of every Christian, each of us with a unique job description! As you leave school, your teachers hope that their efforts will provide you with a range of resources for coping with work, study, travel, friends, family, landlords, ATM’s, bad music and parking inspectors.They hope that you will keep learning. The Christian community hopes that one of the resources you will find to fall back on will be your faith.

This small book is something to take with you. It provides something small to ponder for every day of the year, something to remind you of the quiet depths of Catholicism. It is called Finding God’s Traces because, in a sense, we would like you to move into the future as detectives, always on the lookout for clues as to what God might be doing, searching for evidence of where God may be at work. There are a couple of ways you might use this book.You might take a few quiet minutes to think and pray about what it offers for each day.There may be periods of your life in which it is more helpful in this way than at others. The book also has an index so you can find something relevant to a situation, problem or person which may be of interest or concern at any given time.The book follows the year as it was in 2004 with Easter on April 11. Of course, Easter moves as well, so after the index there is a table of moveable days. My hope is that Finding God’s Traces will help you find prayerful moments and grow in your own spirituality through all that lies ahead. As it reflects what the church has to say on a range of topics, may this book remind you and others of the values and choices that give life, themes which we hope will stay with you from school. May it also help you to keep hearing the words of Jesus and encourage you to build around them a life of truth, generosity, compassion, service and love. Special thanks are due to Christine Burke IBVM, Linda McGirr, Con O’Donovan, Jenny Scott, Richard Leonard SJ, Mark Dowell, and the Heads of the Australian Jesuit Schools who sponsored this project.

Michael McGirr


JANUARY 1 Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. — Luke 2:19

Many people make some kind of New Year's resolution which is often broken within a few days and forgotten not long after. Hopefully we can laugh a little at ourselves when this happens. It's silly to think we are going to change our character with a single decision. Human growth is made up of many small decisions and the same is often true of growth in faith.We mature slowly; God is more persistent than dramatic. It makes more sense to pray humbly for the help to live each day as God would hope rather than to try and have the whole year organised before it has even begun.We are more likely to come to understand and accept ourselves better that way. Catholics begin the year by remembering Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Mary was a woman who understood the meaning of the word resolution but she understood it a little differently than most of us. She knew that God had made a resolution about her: 'the Almighty has done great things for me'. She also understood that God has made a resolution about every human for every day of every year: 'his mercy extends from generation to generation'. Our sins do not flow from lavishness of spirit: they flow from huddling in the cave of fear, away from the great plans of God's creativity, his largesse.To ask Mary that she pray for us sinners is to ask that she help us walk with freed hearts, with resolute spirits.And to ask that she pray for us 'now and at the hour of our death' is to be realistic about how we are, and who and where. —Peter Steele SJ, Bread for the Journey

JANUARY 2 You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day. — Psalm 91:5

Somebody has counted 365 occasions on which phrases such as 'don't be afraid' , 'fear not' and 'have no fear' occur in the Bible.That is one for each day of the year.Those phrases occur in all sorts of situations, often at key moments. When the angel tells Mary she is to be the mother of Jesus, she is encouraged not to be afraid.The shepherds who are in the fields near Bethlehem when Jesus is born are also told not to be afraid.When Jesus calls his disciples from their nets, he gives them the same message as he does yet again when he appears to them after he has risen from the dead. Indeed, each of the four gospels presents the story of the Resurrection in a different way. But one theme they have in common is that people who encounter the risen Jesus, all of whom have reason to be anxious by normal standards, are urged to live without fear. Fear is a prison. Of course, leaving your fear behind is easier said than done. But at every step of our lives, big and small, God's invitation is to trust, to step out boldly. One of God's most constant messages is 'don't be afraid'. God says it every day of every year. Those who love to be feared, fear to be loved. Some fear them, but they fear everyone. — Jean Pierre Camus (1582-1652)


MARCH 13 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom. — Colossians 3:16

The Holy Spirit is active in every human life as a guide, a teacher, a friend and an encourager. But the Holy Spirit seldom tells us precisely what to do.We have to make our own decisions and take responsibility for them. Christian living is an intimate partnership between us and the Holy Spirit, one in which the more we hand over to the relationship, the more we become truly ourselves.The Holy Spirit does not turn people into duplicates of each other.The Holy Spirit invests only in original works of art.Two Christians may believe the same things, but they respond to the Spirit in different ways.

The tradition that comes from the apostles makes progress in the Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on ... the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel rings out in the Church — and through her in the world — leads believers to the full truth and makes the Word of Christ dwell in them in all its richness. — Vatican II, Dei Verbum

MARCH 18 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.Then God said to Noah, 'Come out of the ark ...' — Genesis 8:15-16

You can argue for a long time about whether or not the story of Noah and the Ark is 'historical' or belongs to another realm of truth altogether.The story, however, resonates with modern life. In periods of insecurity, people will always build arks.Those arks could be certain investments, such as gold, the price of which rises whenever a fresh war starts.The ark could be a home in which you feel safe. It could be a job which is undemanding but secure. It could even be a relationship in which your partner serves mainly to prop up your insecurities.The ark is a symbol of a small world in which few are saved and the majority left to drown. In some ways, the greatest act of faith Noah makes is not to go into the ark but to leave it. He does not know what lies ahead, only that God promises to stand by him.

Whenever I groan within myself and think how hard it is to keep writing about love in these times of tension and strife which may, at any moment, become for us all a time of terror, I think to myself: What else is the world interested in? What else do we all want, each one of us, except to love and be loved, in our families, in our work, in all our relationships? God is Love. Love casts out fear. — Dorothy Day


MAY 12 You shall not set your desire on your neighbour's house or land, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour. — Deuteronomy 5:21

It is easy to see people as the sum total of their possessions. When we are getting to know somebody, we ask about their job.We might talk about the car they drive or where they went for their holidays or what sort of computer they use. Sometimes we think we are really getting to know them when they start talking about their mortgage or the clothes they have just bought. Before long we are tangled up in all kinds of mixed emotions about someone else's situation in life: their attainments, their good luck and so on.The boundary between us and another person gets blurred.We see ourselves in their shoes and start to lose sight of ourselves. In a way, the tenth and final commandment encapsulates all the others. It is an invitation to relate to people as people and to do so with an inner peace and security which comes from being a child of God. Our only true belonging is with God.

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried. — G.K.Chesterton

MAY 27 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. — Galatians 3:28

On May 27, 1967, Australians finally voted to include aboriginal people in the census of the Australian population. Up until then, aborigines had the right to die for Australia in war, as numbers of them had, but not to be counted among the citizens of the country they died for.The change, to our credit, was approved by 91% of the population.

... one afternoon on the way home from church I asked (mum) whether God was black or white. A deep sigh. 'Oh boy ... God's not black. He's not white. He's a spirit.' 'Does he like black or white people better?' 'He loves all people. He's a spirit.' 'What's a spirit?' 'A spirit's a spirit.' 'What color is God's spirit?' 'It doesn't have a color', she said. 'God is the color of water. Water doesn't have a color.' — James McBride,The Color of Water


AUGUST 8 Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. — Matthew 6:33-34 Today is the feast of the first Australian to be beatified, Bl Mary MacKillop. She has always been a figure that both religious and non-religious Australians have been able to relate to. Her parents were separated, her health was often poor, she made friends regardless of their personal beliefs and she was misunderstood by those higher than her in the church even to the point, at one stage, of being wrongfully excommunicated. Above all else, she was a realist. She was impatient with members of the order she founded who claimed to move on a higher spiritual plain because they had 'visions'. For her, the Kingdom of God was something you worked for and the work was often tough. By the same token, the real world in which she lived was a place in which she experienced hope. It was this hope that enabled her, in 1865, on the urging of her spiritual director, to move to a small town and start a school for those whose educational opportunities were limited. Such schools, scattered far and wide, became a familiar part of the work of her Sisters of St Joseph and an icon of the church in Australia. Secular Australia has ample cause to be grateful to her. For the Christian community, the debt is even greater. Her life and work helped to transplant the message of Jesus to a new country and make it feel at home here. She trusted God even when there was plenty to worry about. She never gave up. Do what you can with the means at your disposal and leave all the rest calmly to God. —Bl Mary MacKillop, 1888

AUGUST 9 ...We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every person's conscience in the sight of God. — 2 Corinthians 4:2 On August 9, 1890, John Henry Newman wrote his last letter. His note to a niece who wanted to visit him said simply 'I am sometimes engaged with the doctors'; a couple of days later he was dead. Newman was 89 years old and had been writing for most of his life: books, tracts, novels, diaries, poems and lyrics. Above all, he wrote thousands of letters.They are evidence of his capacity for friendship. For him, friendship was the context in which he explored and articulated his understanding of Christianity. He believed that God communicated with each individual and that the structures of the church were designed to help that communication, not control it. He believed that the God's main vehicle of communication was the individual conscience.This does not mean that an individual could do whatever they decided was best; every person was obliged to listen openly to others, especially to those with profound experience of spiritual issues - and this meant especially to the church.

Conscience is not a long-sighted selfishness, nor a desire to be consistent with oneself; but it is a messenger from him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches us by his representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal vicar of Christ. — John Henry Newman


NOVEMBER 11 How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, — Isaiah 52:7

Armistice Day recalls the end of World War I at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. It was supposed to have been the war to end all wars.Yet human beings are slow to learn. On November 11, 1944, the surgeon Weary Dunlop was entering the last phase of his long imprisonment, along with thousands of others, on the Thai Burma Railway. He had learned that all violence is futile. He wrote in his diary: But courage, mon ami:That is the real foundation of life.When this black page turns I shall find enchantment somewhere, somehow. 'To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.' That is why violence is so futile. Nothing is so destructive to a cause as violence wielded on its behalf.We have learned much of the inadequacy of material things, much of tolerance, much of endurance, even if it be only to endure failure in the commerce of life hereafter.There is plenty of courage all about us, even in the most maimed and damaged human beings. — E.E.Dunlop,The War Diaries of Weary Dunlop.

NOVEMBER 21 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek.The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, 'Do not write "The King of the Jews", but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews'. Pilate answered, 'What I have written, I have written'. — John 19:19-22 The last Sunday of the Church's year is dedicated to the feast of Christ the King. It is an opportunity, before Advent begins another Christian year, to touch once more the core experience of our faith.There was a sign on the cross of Jesus which said 'the king of the Jews'.When you see a crucifix these days, it is often represented by the initials INRI (which represent in Latin 'Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews'). Pilate, who had the sign put up, was being ironic. Nobody looked less like a king than Jesus on the cross. But we believe that this is how God chooses to show leadership in our world. It is a reminder that a Christian sees the world differently. Sometimes, common sense values are turned upside down.

I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love even when I cannot feel it. I believe in God even when he is silent. — words found on the wall of the cell of a Jewish prisoner after World War II

Finding God's Traces  

Finding God’s Traces is a book of daily prayerful reflection by the acclaimed author Michael McGirr. This beautifully bound publication is d...

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