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The Little Brown Book – Mary MacKillop’s Spirituality On Our Everyday Lives

Sue and Leo Kane; St Paul’s Publication, 2009; $23.95

AS the Catholic Church in Australia, in the 100th year since the death of Mary MacKillop, foundress of the Sisters of St Joseph, eagerly anticipates her canonisation, it is appropriate that access to the rich legacy of Mary’s spirituality be available to as many people as are interested.

The Little Brown Book, written recently by Sue and Leo Kane and delicately illustrated with iconic symbols of Mary’s experiences, makes access to Mary’s spirituality possible.

These joint authors with academic and personal interest in the spirituality of Mary MacKillop have prepared a journey of exploration into Mary’s spirituality for individuals and for members of groups.

The three instruments that they skilfully employ to involve the reader in this deep and spiritually rewarding journey are first the messages from Mary’s writings, either given to her mother, to another relative or to members of her congregation.

Second, from their own backgrounds in spirituality and education, the authors offer guided contemplation in anecdotal form, generated from values inherent in Mary’s written message or messages.

Third, a Scripture verse or verses with relevance to the spiritual values emerging out of Mary’s message concludes each exercise.

These brief poignant Scripture verses mirror in intent the spiritual values and Christian principles encapsulated in Mary’s written messages.

They are a precious enrichment in the exercise and draw the reader contemplatively deeper into imbibing elements of Mary’s spirituality, derived from her deep faith, trust and hope in the providence of God.

Seventy brief messages written by Mary are recorded for the reader’s exploration.

A mosaic of inter-woven values and beliefs reflecting Mary’s spirituality in living out the Gospel of love and service emerges as one contemplates the meanings behind Mary’s words.

The Gospel values and beliefs regarding God and God’s love of her and of all people, embedded in her written messages, become a device for anecdotal reflections guiding each contemplation.

The reflections on real-life experiences and situations, often drawn from the authors’ lives, but skilfully incorporating elements of Mary MacKillop’s beliefs and values, help the reader befriend her personality and her spirituality.

The process in which the reader engages stimulates them to question their own spiritual beliefs and values.

The authors apply this device throughout the exercises with skill, consistency and with sensitivity to differing human contexts.

Guided personal reflection on the principals of Christian living and on Gospel values and beliefs, characteristic of Mary’s spirituality, is a pastoral component of this truly delightful journey of exploration that Sue and Leo Kane have prepared.

Significantly, the didactic intent of their work is to enrich the lives of people by scaffolding a spiritual way of relating to God as a most significant influence in their life and then revealing guiding principles for living out that relationship in responsive love and service of others.

Mary’s spirituality is tangibly evident in her written communications. Amidst joys and sorrows, turbulence and challenges within her emotional life, and regular physical deprivations Mary’s spiritual values and beliefs remain constant and consistent.

“Learn more on God and less on ourselves,” Mary wrote encouragingly.

Mary’s written messages are transformational if one takes time to be immersed sincerely in the spiritually enriching process given by Sue and Leo Kane.

Among other things, her writings reveal a tender, cheerful, optimistic, prudent person of discernment and of deep commitment and unshakeable faith and confidence in God. No matter how difficult and uncertain things were for Mary, her written messages, reveal a spirituality of compassion, concern for others, forgiveness, trust in God and an inner peace derived from her secure identity as being loved and guided by her “good God”.

The rich legacy of Mary MacKillop’s spirituality revealed by the authors of The Little Brown Book indicates their scholarly grasp of Mary’s spiritual giftedness and her deep connectedness to Gospel truths revealed through their study of a particular group of writings held in the archives of the Sisters of St Joseph in Sydney.

In the concluding sections of this deeply researched devotional book, the authors have provided ways in which the contents may be applied for spiritual formation activities of people in small groups.

The process of spiritual journeying is explained. Reference to a website is given where further assistance is available.

This is highly recommended book for a wide reader audience and it must take an important place in the body of devotional literature promoting spirituality for everyday lives.

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