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Called to be a joyful, hope-filled and servant community for all in Plenary spirit

He’s my brother: Fr Edward Flanagan, the Irish-born priest who founded Boys Town in Nebraska, talks with a group of boys. Photo: CNS

The Plenary Council 2020 has delivered six national themes for discernment for discussion. Br Damien Price has written a reflection on each of the six themes.

LONG before I had ever heard of Labour politician Richard Marles I knew what a snow globe was. 

As a small boy my father had a snow globe, which he used as a paperweight on his desk.

The snow globe depicted the famous scene of Irish-born Father Edward Flanagan, founder of Boys’ Town, meeting a young boy in the middle of a snowstorm in Omaha, Nebraska, carrying on his back his younger brother. 

Fr Flanagan (played by Spencer Tracy) asks that now famous question, “Isn’t he heavy?” and got the even more famous reply, “Oh, no Father, he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.”

My father, Frank Price, had never heard of a plenary council, but if he had he would have said yes, three times yes to ours being a joyful, hope-filled and servant community. 

Every morning Dad would slowly ride down Faust Street to the Catholic church.

After paying a visit he would go to work in the local toy shop and, as his hobby, post spiritual books to all and sundry. 

This same man, broken by years of mental illness, was dearly loved in town as a kind man; Meals on Wheels and his beloved Vinnies. 

I grew up with images of my father welcoming at our toy shop the homeless tramps who went from town to town looking for work and knowing that Vinnies was always good for a welcome and a meal.

For many years Adele Rice led the community of Milpera High School at Chelmer helping to create a place of welcome, acceptance and hope for recently arrived refugees.

Adele’s cheerful smile and warmth of greeting made arrival in a strange land much more bearable for many a fear-wrapped refugee. 

Our Edmund Rice Flexible Learning centres are Australia’s biggest provider of schooling for those excluded from mainstream schooling, and Rosies, Eddie’s Van and Orange Sky were all birthed from our Church with feet of clay. 

Bishop Myriel, in Victor Hugo’s famous novel Les Miserables, without a thought gives the expensive candle sticks to Jean Valjean much to the ire of Inspector Javert, and St Teresa of Kolkata challenges us to “never turn your back on the poor for if you do – you are turning your back on Jesus Christ”. 

Fr Flanagan, Adele, Dad, Bishop Myriel and Mother Teresa were all known for or were depicted as people of joy.

Rosies, Eddie’s Van and the Orange Sky laundry are remarkable for their warmth of welcome for those doing it tough. 

A 20th Century Jesuit reminds us: “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God”.

Fr Flanagan’s Boys’ Town was famous in depression-ravaged America as a place of welcome, acceptance and joy. 

I’m led to believe that at the height of the AIDS epidemic when the Sisters of Charity opened up a whole ward at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney people were astounded at the atmosphere of joy that the ward had in the midst of so much pain and heartbreak. 

The atmosphere at Corpus Christi at Greenvale in Melbourne – a community for alcoholic, long-term unemployed and homeless men – was the same. 

In the midst of so much pain – joy. 

Joy, the fruit of love, commitment, selfless giving and a profound sense of the dignity of all.

Joy built on love births hope – a joy and a hope that this world cannot give. 

This hope in the midst of pain and suffering dances intimately with the story which is Calvary. 

What is God asking of the Church in Australia today? 

That when people look at us they see servant people whose attitude towards refugee, homeless one, planet, orphan or lonely is simply “he ain’t heavy; he’s my brother – she’s no burden – she’s my sister – and she/he carries me as well”. 

Then we will be people of joy; beacons of hope and the Church we are always called to be.

Christian Brother Damien Price is a former teacher in Brisbane schools including St Joseph’s, Gregory Terrace; St Patrick’s College, Shorncliffe; and St Laurence’s College, South Brisbane. He continues to work with schools across the country.

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