An Interview with Natalie Acton – Being Catholic

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catholic identity In the great podcast interview Jonathan Doyle talks with Natalie Acton who has had a rich and varied journey in Catholic service. Natalie shares her experiences working on large diocesan projects as well as an exciting new direction working with the Sisters Of Mercy.

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JD:            Welcome to the Being Catholic Podcast.  I’m sounding quite amused at the moment.  I’m just talking to a fantastic Catholic woman who’s doing some really interesting stuff in the life of the Church.  This week we are talking with Natalie Acton.  Natalie welcome to the Being Catholic Podcast.

NA:           Thanks very much.

JD:            Natalie just said that, you know, she was a little bit nervous; she said ‘I don’t quite know what I’m going to say’ and I said well that’s never stopped me before [h].  So you know, I remember Abraham Lincoln famously talked about a young senator and he said, ‘He’s inebriated by the exuberance of his own verbosity’.   So, I’m sure we are going to have lots to talk about and Natalie is in the midst of a big transition in her work, from working at a Diocesan level to doing something even bigger.   So Natalie, basically you’ve been working in recent years as a Project Officer with The Diocese of Broken Bay doing some really…

NA:           That’s right.

JD:            ….stuff with the Synod, and you are about to embark on a new adventure with the Sisters, or the Institute of The Sisters of Mercy for Australia and PNG.  So tell us a little bit about this transition.  Have you started with the Institute yet or you’re in the process?

NA:           I have actually; I’m in my third week in my new role there, so it’s been a great learning curve over the last couple of weeks.  And it is quite a different role to the one that I have had before, but I have great hope that it’s going to be very enjoyable and stimulating and I think really worthwhile work.  So yes, I am looking forward to the challenge.

JD:            Have you been up to PNG before?

NA:           I’ve never been to PNG before.

JD:            Ooohh… Are you going?  Are you going to get up there at some point?

NA:           I imagine that that may be on the cards at some point – I don’t think it’ll be one of the first things that I do thought.  But it may be down the track.

JD:            Well yeah, I hope you get there.  My wife Karen and I when we were pretty newly married while I was still teaching and we took four boys from O’Mara School on an immersion to Bougainville, and just a remarkable experience you know?  Just…look all these years later…just such a…you know they had been through the Civil War and we were at a school where students who had been fighting in the Civil War were coming back to start their schooling.  Now they were like in their 20s.  The are doing some interesting work up there and I noticed, I listened to an interview during the week on the radio, and some huge challenges up there for women in general [NA: Mm] and they talked about, you know, there’s quite a market for selling babies.  Like, you know, women caught in terrible circumstances and you know, so there’s obviously a huge need for the work the sisters are doing up there.

NA:           Yes, yes there is.  And they are working, there are Sisters of Mercy who are local Sisters of Mercy, and also some who come from Australia to work at those Ministries there.  So as I said they are engaged in a few different programmes up there, all working with the local community.

JD:            Well it’s amazing isn’t it?  You know, the bad press that the Church tends to get across a whole range of topics – you know, some of it justified – but you know we don’t often hear of the incredible work being done by lay people and religious around the world.

NA:           Well, yeah, the Institute of The Sisters of Mercy, Australia and PNG has 46 Ministries attached to the Institute, about…just over 900 Sisters and there are 10,000 people employed in those Ministries, so there’s an enormous amount of good work that goes on and then I am, you know, of what we are about.  So as I said, I was surprised when I came to the Institute to see the size and scope of the type of work in all types of different realms; in healthcare, in age care, education, advocacy work, family services – you know, the depth and breadth of social enterprise, social work is covered by the Institute, which is, as you said, the story that sometimes goes untold unfortunately.            

JD:            Yep.  And it’s, just the infusing of the Gospel into that, you know at the most basic level.  Why would 10,000 people devote some part of their lives to that?  And I remember a great story of when Mother Teresa was interviewed by a BBC journalist and the question was, you know, ‘Why do you do all this?’ and you know she was very old at this point, she reached over, grabbed his hand and grabbed each one of his fingers and for each of his fingers and his thumb she said you know, ‘You did this to me’.  So you know, the Sisters are obviously still…you know there’s obviously a strong Gospel, Christological basis to their work.

NA:           Well the Mathayan reference that you just made, you know, ‘doing this to the least of those does this to me’ was one of the key Scriptures obviously that inspired Catherine McAuley, who founded The Sisters of Mercy; that’s one of her key, the key pieces that she reflected on, and in that spirit, you know there’s so much work that goes on today that holds that true.  You know the dignity of each person to live their life to its full – whatever that might be, whatever God intends for them, in the circumstances in which, you know, they find themselves and we encounter them.  So it’s interesting that you mentioned that, because it is one of the key Scriptures that influenced Catherine McAuley.

JD:            Yeah.  You know and the other interesting thing as you mention her is…you know the other sort of critique against the Church is that it’s…you know it’s misogynist and all sorts of stuff, but the role of women in the life of the Church, you know Catherine of Siena right through.  This morning I was watching Robert Baron’s Catholicism stuff, his DVD Series and you know he’s going through Katharine Drexel, Therese of Lisieux, Mother Teresa; you know just these amazing women.  Have you had much of a chance yet in your work to learn a bit about Catherine McAuley’s story and what animated her?

NA:           Well I have actually in taking on the role.  I mean I’ve been immersing myself in her story.  And it’s an amazing story actually.  She was a lay woman who founded The Sisters of Mercy almost…you know, not intentionally, but it became part of what was essential in order to continue the Ministry.  But she was, obviously growing up in Ireland at the time, Catholics weren’t able to hold positions in government, they weren’t part of the accepted social set, and so her father, because he was a builder and had skills that, you know, the gentry and the Protestants appreciated, he was able to find his way into society.  Unfortunately he died when she was only five, but he was a strong Catholic and even though Catholics were not accepted, because of his skills he was accepted into society more generally.  But he had a great heart for the poor and for taking you know poor children into his home and instructing them and also providing for their needs.  And Catherine remembered that, even though she was only five, and eventually as time went on – unfortunately their family fortune was lost – and so she found herself staying with relatives over time, and then eventually ended up…was invited to live with a family called the Calligans who were – the mother was a Quaker.  And it’s interesting you mention women in the Church in that Quaker influence of the significance of women, but also their scriptural base, was something that heavily influenced the life of Catherine McAuley, even though she was a Catholic and held her Catholicity, even at the time that she was living with a Protestant family, she was heavily influenced by that…the daily reading of Scripture and also women taking for themselves the initiative to live the Gospel.  And so that influence of the people that she lived with for over 20 years – eventually she was left their fortune and at 44 years of age she found herself with the equivalent of what would be today about 3 million Euros, and she decided to take that money and to found a home to take care of, to educate young women, also to minister to the sick poor, people that weren’t you know able to be cared for, in hospitals, and also to provide them with…you know those that were dying, a dignified death, with some peace and also she was looking at young women who were servant-girls, who she had come to know in the time that she was living in this other home, she’d come to know the servant girls – who many of them unfortunately at the hand of their masters found themselves in compromising positions.

JD:            Sure.

NA:           And so she set out to found a home that would look after these young people and those that were disadvantaged in Dublin society.  And so in founding this house that she built on Baggot Street, a young woman of 44, not married [h] – you know it was a very counter-cultural thing to be doing[h] – and she hoped that other young women inspired by what she was on about, would join her – and they did.  And eventually, you know it came to pass over time that the question was raised, you know, should she be…are they a religious Order, are they not a religious Order?  And eventually at age 52 with the encouragement of the local clergy she took vows or wedded formation with the Presentation Sisters, because it became obvious that if she wanted the work to continue she would have to form, found a religious Order, as they were living very similar to a religious life as it was.  And so it’s quite amazing that at that age she was prepared to go through an novitiate and then at the end of that she founded The Sisters of Mercy.  So it’s a pretty interesting story about someone who…

JD:            Yeah.  But just listening to that last part you said there, the humility necessary at that age to start an novitiate, like to actually, you know, to really just start from scratch and build from scratch.

NA:           Well…I guess that’s the thing that is amazing, because she was a woman of means, she has been running this enormous house – and actually she built it in the middle of the rich part of town so that the poor would be visible to the rich and I think that’s a really interesting characterism of hers; it’s not just about you know rich people giving hand-outs to the poor, you know off to the side, but to have the poor amidst them….

JD:            Yeah. 

NA:           …amongst them [h].

JD:            I saw a um, you know there’s a Priest in Sydney, Richard Umbers, and he tweeted the other day – it was just a devastating Tweet.  He said, he goes, ‘You say you love the poor’ and then the next line it goes, ‘What are their names?’ [h]

NA:           Yeah [h].

JD:            And I was just like oh-oh [h].  I’ve gone… <ah, it’s a really good one.

NA:           That’s a good point.<

JD:            But listening to you talk about it, it’s like there’s this sort of explosion of activity isn’t there?  Like how God finds these individual people who, you know maybe have talents and gifts but you know, they’re not walking the world’s stage, and this kind of explosion of activity.  And the other thing you mentioned was, which I wanted to say is a Holy Spirit thing, is you know, watching this documentary this morning he was talking about Mother Teresa and he said you know that women or other people were drawn to it and works of God tend to…people find them attractive and get drawn to it.  And that seems to be what’s happened for her; that people were drawn to it. 

NA:           Exactly.  Well, I mean at 52 she went through the novitiate and then, that was a 14-month novitiate, and then founded the Sisters of Mercy, they were able to establish their own religious Order.  Within 10 years there were 14 different foundations around Ireland and two in England.  So within…when you look at what she accomplished in such a short amount of time…

JD:            Yeah.

NA:           When I first read her story, you know, you look at someone who is in her mid 40s and then in less than 20 years has established this enormous great work, which obviously continues today and I am sure that was never her intention.  And back then, before the days of Skype and Tweeting and emails, you can imagine what it took to run 14 Foundations [h]. [JD:Yeah]  A lot of carriage-riding, let’s put it that way, and steam trains [h].

JD:            Well it’s amazing.  I have spoken at McAuley Catholic College in Grafton and just, you know, you see these people who never see, you know the impact that their lives have all these years later.  But all I can say is any Sisters of Mercy listening to this you made a good decision hiring Natalie who’s only been there three weeks and she [NA: [h]] knows this story backwards.  So that’s good…

NA:           I’m going to apologise for anyone who knows it better than me and, you know, I think I’ve painted the general picture with broad brushstrokes.

JD:            No, you’ve done very well.  No this is all a set-up, the Sisters said to me, ‘Jonathan, could you interview Natalie and test her on her knowledge of Catherine McAuley [h].  So far so good, you’re doing well…

NA:           [h] Tick.

JD:            Well yeah, tick [h].   Hey look, I just find it really interesting.  I was sort of taught by the MARIS Brothers and they have just had a huge impact on my life and you know the stories of these people; you know McAuley, Champagne for the Marists, you know?  You know that God just gives us these men and women that just do this amazing stuff.  And so, but now before this you did some really interesting stuff with the Diocese of Broken Bay.  So they had this Synod and you were really involved over four years, [NA: Yes] sort of in that Synod process, and the website and you mentioned that you know you are really happy with the end result.  So give us a few key points: what did you learn in the journey there?

NA:           I think the best thing about the Synod was it gave us an opportunity to listen, and I think we probably don’t do enough of that on the whole, I think as a Church, and as individuals.  We want to talk to people and share the Good News, but I think a lot of the good news is about listening.  And so we’d spend a lot of time listening and it was very freeing to me; when you are the Project Co-ordinator of a Synod I was always aware that it was never really my Project; it belonged to the people of the Diocese and the Holy Spirit.  And so I went to a lot of meetings which was incredibly freeing, with all my questions ready and absolutely no answers.

JD:            [h] Yep.

NA:           And I was astounded how many times people said things or ideas grew that were absolutely fantastic, out of an openness you know, and an emptiness, and that was one of the things I learnt out of the Synod is it’s, you know a corporate model would be to, you know, go to a meeting and you kind of have an idea where you want to go – we did have a direction, it wasn’t like we had no direction at all – but we were very open about where things would take us.  And I found that openness really freeing, but also very life-giving.  You know we were, we found participation from people that we never expected, we heard, some of the best insights came from the most unlikely people?  You know not people that would consider themselves to be ‘Church people’ or practicing Catholics, but they absolutely laid down for us some of the most insightful ideas about what it is to be ‘Church’ and I think that was one of the great learnings that I took from it.  And the other thing that we did was we engaged a Spiritual Advisor as part of the process pretty early on, and I think there’s a danger with things like a Synod, it can become almost like a very corporate, strategic planning exercise, and our Spiritual Advisor I think really kept us on track with what it is we are meant to be doing here and whose voices we are meant to be listing to and whose mission we are on.  [JD: Yeah]  And I think that was a really, really great gift to us and to many of the people who participated who got something from that process.  So they were the things I guess I learnt during the process from being to end, but it was also great to, you know we asked people about what their hope and vision is for Church in the future and I think it was great…we got over 6,000 responses to interviews and surveys and things; so we had a pretty good sense of where people were at.  But also then as a second part of it, we let people tell us what their vision was and then rather than thinking about what we could possibly do, we decided to actually go and look for places where it was actually happening, and you know, as you mentioned in the opening of the interview, there is so much good work that goes on in the name of Church and so we sat and journeyed with people who are doing that good work.  And we learnt so much about what it is to be Church from watching them doing activities that they wouldn’t consider to be religious or holy, or even…you know they wouldn’t name it in those terms; but I think we could learn so much from them about what it is to be Church.  I mean an example was we spent some time with our Centre-care [.? 17:10.?] staff who work with young people with a disability, and preparing them – it’s a transition to work programme – and they way they…the patience they have for working with individuals, the way they accept people for what they are and look to you know, use their own giftedness to bring it forward.  Their programmes are person-centred rather than organization-centred.  I think it’s just as a church…those three things, if we could do things better we’d be better at doing our Ministry [h], you know if we learn how to…

JD:            Well no, listening to you and reading your responses – I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but there’s a theme that comes up for you in how you talk and in what you’ve written – is this idea of…you actually spell it out at one point, you talk about listening intently and in that Synod process obviously this listening was so central.  Tell us a bit about that; it seems to be something really important for you.

NA:           Well, I mean I think God is speaking.  God wants to be revealed.  God is not a secret God.  You know God became incarnate so that we could see, feel and experience God’s very presence among us, and so I think with that in mind that God constantly comes to us, runs to us if we believe the Parables, the Prodigal Son, and those sort of images that Scripture conjures for us – both in the Old and New Testament actually – that God desires union with us, and it’s a matter of us being aware and open to the points at which we might intersect with that invitation or we take it up.  And I think those invitations can come, you know quite frequently; there are so many invitations and if we’re not listening intently I think we miss them.  [JD: Yeah]  And you know in inter-personal communication it can often be you know what I want to say and really the times that I’m not talking I’m thinking about what I’m going to say next – you know you don’t really listen.  I think we’re…our human condition prevents us from being good listeners, but I think that in a spiritual context listening is one of the greatest gifts we have, because if you don’t listen we can’t hear God speaking in the many different ways that God invites us, and then you can’t accept the invitation if you’ve never heard it in the first place.

JD:            And I guess we are living in a time where – you know I recorded a podcast for another one of my sites this morning about you know email overload – you know we are dealing with so many inputs into our lives [NA: Yep] and I have written a couple of blogposts on this site, Being Catholic, just encouraging teachers to make that time for silence.  Like I am on a silence crusade[h], like you know I have a very young family and a lot of business interests, but I literally get up every day at 4am and I have this beautiful space in the house and I just, I’ve got a sort of karma-light background and  just that…you know and what does God say?  Well pretty much, I don’t know, but it’s the fact that I turn up and that over time, you know there’s movements of the heart towards certain things over time.  So thank you for that because I think that listening intently is crucial both to our big picture work and also our personal spiritual lives.

NA:           I have to also confess that our Spiritual Advisor as part of the Synod is a Sister of the Good Samaritan and they are engaged obviously with the Rule of Saint Benedict, so I have done a bit of reading on the Rule of Saint Benedict and the first, the Prologue says: ‘Listen with the ear at the Heart and I think that is absolutely a critical piece of practice for anyone seeking to deepen their spiritual life is the capacity to listen and, you know, listen…silence is great for getting that deep listening but also I think we have to be aware that you know God speaks in the context of the creative world around us, in the people that are in our lives and to sort of be looking for the, you know looking for the invitations that we have – which are so easy to miss – every day.  You know they come in our prayer life, but also in the context of our dealings with other people.

JD:            Yeah, and you mention this also too in – and I am reading from your stuff here – you said ‘God is at work outside of our Church, in other faiths, in the secular world, in nature’ and you know, people find this terrible, but I get to play golf a lot, [NA: [h]] because I’ve built a life where I almost killed myself working too much…/

NA:           It’s a spiritual quest I think [h].

JD:            Well that’s where I’m going with this Natalie [h].  I spent years killing myself working way too hard and I sort of burned out and you know, it’s no big secret to share that with people that I hit a phase of life with a young family and too much travel and you know, exhaustion, and I married an incredible woman many years ago who took it upon herself to encourage me to go and play golf – a lot[h] – and so a lot of husbands are going ‘Where do we find such people?’ [h].  But she has been amazing and I got to, you know I go out there a lot and the Ministry of that solitude and silence and the extraordinary beauty of…you know I live here in Canberra and the golf course here is amazing and every day just being in that presence is a huge part of the healing that’s come into my own life, so…  And  you mentioned that I guess in terms…/

NA:           Yeah, what I find…

JD:            Go on.

NA:           Sorry, go ahead.  I’m not listening to you very well, ‘cos I’m taking minutes/my notes [.? 22:32] [h].

JD:            [h]  No I just think it’s great how you mentioned you know how God is speaking in nature and people and other sort of…and we are often not attuned to it. 

NA:           I think nature is one of those things to me, whether someone is…would claim to be a person of faith or would claim to be a person of no faith, or you know to be of mixed faith or whatever, whatever leaning people have towards the spiritual, I would…anybody confronted with a beautiful, picturesque, amazing scene takes that deep breath in and to me that is, you know, that is an organic prayer that naturally… come…I mean I love the beach, the beach is my sacred space and I find I put my feet in the sand and most people would do this; you get to the beach and you breathe in the salt air… [JD:  [h] Yeah]  You sort of put your feet down and you go [in-breath] ‘Ahh’.  I mean to me that is just an organic response to the majesty of God, that’s right there, and anybody responds that way, whether they would be of faith or not faith – some people wouldn’t call that a prayer – I call it a prayer.  I think it’s a response to an invitation.

JD:            Oh absolutely.  There was a beautiful photograph in the Australian newspaper, the magazine section last Saturday, and I flicked it open and instant judgment, there’s this sort of lady who’s quite a bit older, and she’s standing there in a swimsuit in the water and I’m going ‘Well, what’s so amazing about that photograph?’  They have a little section at the start of each weekend of a particular photograph, and I read on and it was the most profound thing; the photograph was taken on a Saturday morning the day before this woman had scattered the ashes of her husband in the same place and she was just coming out of the ocean.  [NA: Ahh, ahah] And she shared a story like you know, just about this whole process and she finished by saying you know the ocean is deeply spiritual, deeply calming for me.  And so again, in our busy lives we are missing a bit of this and I hope people listening can…I’m just always talking about making time for these kind of encounters.  Now, speaking of encounters you had another interesting one which was you went to both Turkey and Rome with a group of…<not just Christians.  

NA:           That’s right.<

JD:            It wasn’t just Christians was it?  Tell us about it.

NA:           No we went, it was an inter-faith, inter-cultural tour I guess – or pilgrimage I would call it because I considered that I was a Pilgrim – and we went to Turkey, which I guess was more home turf, you know if you want to call it that, for the Muslims – it’s a predominantly Muslim country – so obviously you’ve got mosques everywhere, you’ve got the Call To Prayer, you know five times a day starting at 5am in the morning, it’s as I said a predominantly Muslim country.  So we went to Istanbul and then we also went on a day trip to KONYA which is where Rumi’s tomb is, and we were able to see the Whirling Dervishes [.? there. I don’t know how.? 25:24]  many people would have seen or heard of those before…/

JD:            Ahah.  That’s Sufi, Sufi stuff isn’t it?

NA:           Yes, Sufi mysticism.  Which absolutely…those men were amazing and it was a great experience if anyone wants to see…again that’s like deep connection with the Sacred.  And it was, that was fantastic.  So we went to Konya and Istanbul and then we went to Italy, to Rome, and to Assisi, which was I guess more the Catholic [h] experience.  And we had the opportunity, we travelled with the group – we were together the whole time – so we not only did some tourist visits and things like that, but also had time together in the bus, had shared meals and things like that, so we had an opportunity to sort of quiz each other about you know what we are thinking, what we are feeling and some of the practices or understandings that we had about each other’s faiths.  So that was really, it was a wonderful, wonderful tour and such a great opportunity – I was so glad to be part of it.

JD:            What’s your best memory from it?

NA:           Um…my best, I’ve got two really good memories so I don’t know if you’ll indulge me a couple of minutes to share two because I probably couldn’t narrow it down…

JD:            Go for it [h].  Go.

NA:           The first one was in Turkey we had some time before we were waiting to go to the bus and it was the time of prayer, obviously the Muslims pray throughout the day and it was the time for the midday prayer, and the women in Turkey weren’t permitted to go to the mosque and so the women in our group asked permission of the Muslim women if we could join them in their prayer room, because they were participating, they were going in a prayer room which is in the park.  Because it’s a Muslim country there are prayer rooms everywhere and there happened to be one at the park.  So they said we could join them.  So we sat at the back of the prayer room and you know, again we had spoken to them about this and it was okay with them, and it’s a prayer room so we were praying.  So we read our daily Scripture and prayed our hourly prayer for that time, and they prayed at the front of the room their prayer for that time of the day and I think it was just a really, um…intimate experience of the Sacred.  As I say we were praying our prayer, they were praying their prayer and it was a real privilege for them, you know, to let us into their space to hear them, and obviously they were praying in Arabic so we couldn’t understand all the words that they were saying, but as I said, you could sense the Holiness of that moment and as we both experienced – you know had our own experiences of God in that moment.  And then toward the end of the prayer they prayed in English and it was interesting to hear some…how common, you know that they pray…it was more like what we would call an ‘intentional’ prayer, they were praying intentions – obviously the rubrics are a little bit different – the way they express them – but it was so interesting to hear that amidst those two very different experiences their intentions, and what they pray for, what they hold dear was almost exactly the same [h] as what we would be praying for, for ourselves.  And at the end of the experience we just got up and hugged each other because there was nothing else you could do, and walked out of the room together; it was just a beautiful experience I think of mutual respect, not trying to encroach on each other’s practices, but being able to share them in a common space. [JD: Yep.]  And as I say, and to a sense there was something that was very similar, or very um…it was the same experience for us.  So that was the first one.  The second one was I had never been to Rome before and I went to St Paul Outside the Walls, which is one of the big Cathedrals, it was the first big church we went to, and I was wondering around and I found my way into a little side chapel and I was quite amazed that it was the Chapel dedicated to Saint Stephen, obviously one of the men that Paul martyred.  And I’m thinking here I am in a church that is to honour Saint Paul and yet, here, held in that, is probably the source of his shame.  You know? [h] I can imagine once he was converted he wouldn’t have been proud of that life and yet there it was, all in the breadth of, of you know his relationship with God.  You can’t erase that bit can you?  You can’t pretend it never happened, but you can be converted and become bigger than that experience and I found that to be a profound experience for me, realising where I was and getting the sense of God looking at the whole of us – as God does – accepting the whole of us, as we are, and you know all those little meanders that we take off the track [h]…

JD:            Yeah.  I don’t take any of those, I hear other people do [h] yeah [h]. 

NA:           [h] Yes.  I’m taking plenty.  And yet that’s all part of our story, in the journey to God isn’t it?  [JD: Yeah, yeah]  It’s all part of our relationship; it can’t be erased.  It just becomes something that we grow on and from

JD:            Ah, it’s like, yeah I mean Karen my wife at the moment is having a huge experience with Henry Nouwen’s work and that whole wounded healer concept of…you know that it’s the wounds of life that if they are channeled, if they are redeemed become so powerful for reaching and you know serving other people.

NA:           Yeah, I had a sense in that place that, you know, I was held in a gaze that looked at every part of me and it was loved.  And it was just a great experience.  So that was my second one [h].

JD:            Oh yeah.  I have just done a podcast this morning with a fantastic guy Darren Lewis who runs and incredible ministry called ‘Fathering Adventures’ where they put on weekends for fathers and sons, and he just talked about this absolutely embedded desire for daughters and sons to have experienced the affirmation and the love of the Father and I think that exists for all of us at the ground of being doesn’t it?  The most fundamental move. [NA: Ahah].  Now something else you mentioned that was in one of your answers, you said ‘I feel passionately about the fact that every person is created with a deep desire for God’ and you mentioned that too, in that prayer-room experience, you know regardless of different comparative religion studies, that there was this fundamental movement of two diverse groups of people towards the sacred.  And you know, in Latin we talk about Capax Dei, you know that we are that which has the capacity for God.  [NA: Mm]  In your answers that seems to be kind of a way forward for you doesn’t it?   Like a sense that you know everybody wants that relationship whether they can articulate it or not.  I mean that seems to be pretty important for you doesn’t it, that we have this desire for God and that we can, you know there’s things we can do to deepen it?

NA:           Well, you know, my Christian faith would tell me that that’s a fundamental truth – that God created us for union with God.  Now I don’t think everybody might express it in the same way; some people may not articulate it at all, but you do see in people’s lives that they strive for the good. [JD: Yeah]  You know they look, they appreciate the sacred.  As I said everybody, no matter who, can get into nature and know that there is something fantastic about that, majestic about that.  Everybody can experience that awe.  You know you see it in the way that people care for each other.  I can think of an example.  I was…one day I was…inside my house and one of my kids was riding around the front yard on their scooter and I’m hearing him ride around in the background noise and then all of a sudden I hear that slap on concrete of young person – you know, that….any teacher will know that < sound…/

JD:            That sound [h].

NA:           …it’s like a smack on concrete of human flesh.

JD:            Ahhh.  Yep.

NA:           And I’m thinking that’s a bad fall.  And I ran to the window and my next-door neighbour, who is a young man, you know when I say young, in his…I imagine he’s in his late 20s – he’s got one of his kids in the back yard…  Anyway I hear the smack on concrete, I look out the window, he has already leapt the fence [h] to attend to my son.  He’s there before I am, and I’m thinking he was in his back yard doing his own thing.  What in him draws him to respond to the need of a human being like that?  You know he didn’t even think, he had literally jumped our fence which is you know, a five ft fence – he’s a tall man[h] but you know, that to me, that speaks of that deep, deep connection that we have with people which we believe comes through Jesus and our deep desire for good and for God.  And you know you see evidence of that all the time and I think part of our work as a missionary Church is to name those experiences for people in the way that we see them; to share our story the way that we would express those things as we come across them.

JD:            Yeah.  I wrote a blogpost yesterday on, you know von Balthasar, the great Catholic theologian and was sort of saying that, you know, with truth, beauty and goodness you’ve got to get them in the right order.  And he said that if you want to reach people, you know, the way isn’t through apologetics first, the way is through beauty.  And he said that it’s the encounter, that the person encounters the divine, finds it beautiful and you know, the title of the article was ‘Reason Enraptured’ like that it’s like the first movement, is the encounter with God in some sort of beauty or emotional response.  And I think maybe that’s where we’ve got to spend more time, is talking to people about what they have already experienced.  You know those moments like at the ocean or different places – I think that’s a really important way into people’s lives.

NA:           Mm. Well and it takes a bit of confidence to do that sort of thing and you know, as I said, when you step onto the beach and you take that deep breath, I mean I consider that a prayer.  [h] You know it’s an in-built prayer that everybody has got [JD: Yeah].  You breathe in and go ‘Mmmm, ahhh’ you know and that…[h]

JD:            Yeah, I know that feeling.

NA:           And so it’s those sort of… You know to me if we could get better at articulating those sort of experiences in people and then… and then so much of our tradition in you know the Church in terms of our liturgical practices and other things, they resonate with those experiences, that’s where they came from.  [JD: Yeah]  And so if we can help make those connections, you know I think it helps to draw people to see that the, you know the practices that we have, liturgical practices, I mean the Eucharist makes sense when you have experienced hospitality, when you are in touch with the hospitality God offers you, when you have experienced the hospitality of community [JD: Yeah], you know?  And it obviously, it creates it as well.  But to me the resonance of the experiences of everyday life, I think we could do better at drawing those lines for people. 

JD:            Yeah, yeah, that’s a great point.  So now, last big question from me: what are you looking forward to about this next season, this next sort of adventure you have embarked upon – what are you excited about?

NA:           Well…[h]  Well that’s a good question. 

JD:            Yeah.  The Sisters are listening [h].

NA:           Yeah I know, that’s what I’m very nervous about [h].  Look I think what’s exciting is that like so many places or like so much of our tradition, the Story of the Sisters of Mercy is a fantastic story; like it’s…[JD: Yeah] you know I started reading and reflecting on this, and it’s a new story to me, so I am still enraptured by it, I think it’s a fantastic story of a person who received that invitation and responded – with complete abandon – to found something amazing.  But then those invitations have continued to be issued and people still are responding to them, just in different ways.  And so I am looking forward to being part of that story, and to working with the, you know the great amount of people who are doing excellent work in this Institute who I am sure I am going to find very inspiring as I come across them.  And I’m looking forward to developing you know, a part of my own faith as part of it as well.  <So…

 JD:           Yeah.<  Well I hope you get up to PNG and if you’ve got a moment of boredom look up, go on to YouTube and do Qantas Python New Guinea or just Qantas Python, because there was a flight that went to New Guinea about six months ago and a massive python was caught on the wing and they are videoing this and it made it all the way to PNG.  I mean I don’t know if it was alive when it got there [h] but anyway, that’s a…

NA:           That’s very scary.

JD:            Yeah, but I hope you get there; it’s a beautiful place.  It’s a country in big turmoil and change in it’s way but it’s great that the Sisters are there and…

NA:           Mm.

JD:            So Natalie, listen, thanks so much for your time, thanks for sharing the journey with the Synod and I just love these interviews, I get to meet and talk with some really interesting people and everyone’s got their stories and just sharing – the stories you shared about being on the Pilgrimage was memorable so thank you [NA: Yep, thank you] and we’ll get this up on line and the Sisters can listen to it and hopefully you’re still employed at the end. [h]

NA:           Yeah, look that’d be great [h].  That’d be a good outcome for me, thank you [h].

JD:            No worries.  Natalie thanks so much for your time.            

NA:           Okay, bye-bye.

JD:            Godbless, bye.

 

[Ends]

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Going Deeper is a weekly online staff formation formation program in Catholic identity and Catholic teaching on education. It inspires, educates and challenges every Catholic teacher to deepen in their personal faith and knowledge of Catholic teaching so they can fulfil their noble vocation within the great mission of Catholic education.