To take in the soaring canopies of trees and to enjoy my experience of that spaciousness. To notice the crunching of shoes on soil and rocks, and to advise young ones about placing each step strategically and with purpose. To allow the thick grey ocean of fresh air to awaken my spirit. To hear the gentle patterns of rain on my backpack and jacket and let quiet joy bubble to the surface.
2. How teamwork creates belonging.
The teaching staff accompanying students on camp were a close-knit team. We enjoyed responding to each day. We knew the thrill of working together to ensure our students had a good and uplifting learning experience. We laughed with good humour over food and supported each other in our foibles. All told it was a belonging to a collaborative, close-knit team.
3. How disconnecting from tech allows us to reconnect with life
Enjoying the natural environment meant being disconnected from tech and its tasks. This fact alone allowed me to reconnect to people and place and self. I allowed the experience to bring renewal to my spirit. Now, on returning to the world of tech and tasks, I am more intentional.
I had several joyful encounters with Australian journalism icon Caroline Jones between 2013 and 2015. The dynamic, generous, gracious, warm Australian Story host died this week. The ABC have published a beautiful tribute. She was 84.
Our encounter began with conversation via tweets and direct messages. I had been a Jesuit novice from 2011-2013 and one day after moving home, I told her of my decision. She replied “Thankyou for letting me know James. God bless you on your way and keep Tweeting.” Later that year, Caroline reached out to me to see how I was going.
“Within the bounds of possibility”
As the new year 2014 began, Caroline wrote to me “Dear James, I hope that 2014 is to be a good year for you. Yes, the image of lighting one small candle is a very appealing one, and seems within the bounds of possibility, doesn’t it ?”
Later that January she invited me to attend a Mass celebrated by Jesuit Fr Paul Coleman one Sunday and to go to a cafe for “morning tea” afterwards.
We met for morning tea again six months later and spoke about faith and life, dancing and reading, her life and my hopes. We followed up our conversations with warm emails and sharing of links to On Being interviews and books.
In July 2015, after sending Caroline an update on my plans, Caroline wrote “Very envious of your planned studies for this semester ! And a teaching Dip Ed next year sounds like a great idea !!!” Caroline Jones was always a great encourager.
Who are you? Caroline Jones interview
In awe of this amazing person, about that time I listened to and transcribed part of a 2013 interview Caroline had with ABC Perth journalist Geoff Hutchison. “Who are you? Caroline Jones” is an extraordinary conversation still available to download. I was especially moved about her insights into listening, the nourishment of spirituality, and the affirming nature of her community of faith:
“I think we find nourishment for the spirit in many ways. For me, through my belonging to a community of faith. I don’t see religion particularly as a private thing. I love to belong to community. For me, my faith has introduced me to a sort of family of spirituality which is very enjoyable. We also find spiritual nourishment – or I do – in music, in dancing, in friendship – in so many ways.”
Here is my transcript of part of the interview. The opening response speaks of her program “The Search for Meaning”:
May Caroline Jones rest in peace. I experienced your great goodness. Farewell and thank you!
On the morning of 15 January I read of my appointment to the World ExCo. Soon after, I wrote this reflection:
What is a community if not a home for love between and among people, seeking the good of each other and growing together?
What is CLC if not a community formed in God’s presence which seeks to extend goodness and hospitality to help people feel at home in the world?
What is church if not a community where the People of God discover themselves as beloved before all else, encourage each other to live in the light of this deep truth, and help build a longer table for all to enjoy life’s feast?
Who am I if not a space for the divine presence to live and move and be known, a person in whom life is growing slowly but surely as a Eucalyptus sapling, a home for goodness and mercy to meet and justice and peace to embrace?
On 14 January 2022 I was appointed to the CLC World Executive Council. Co-opted alongside a fellow young person named Daniela (from Colombia/Netherlands), we will serve on the ExCo until the next CLC World Assembly is held in August 2023.
Christian Life Community is a world community of ordinary people who gather regularly to share faith and life. As members of small local communities, we become companions on the way. Animated by Ignatian Spirituality, we walk with each other towards fullness of life in God’s presence (see John 10:10).
Discerning the way to Yes
During two weeks discerning the invitation, I spoke with wisdom figures and friends. I looked closely at saying no.
Ultimately I was very moved by the stirrings of joy and consolation which I felt when imagining saying yes, and especially when sharing the question with companions from the CLC Asia-Pacific Animating Team. There was a quickening of spirit and an energy and enthusiasm for our common life in CLC, where people on different paths journey together.
My Ignatian journey and CLC
My experience with Ignatian Spirituality began as an 11-year-old student at a Jesuit high school learning about “Inigo” Loyola. I now have a number of Jesuit friends.
Some years ago I joined a CLC community in Melbourne. We moved through different life seasons, encouraging each other to listen to the renewing presence of God among us. I believe this is the CLC way: to help one another respond to the Spirit at work in our experiences, friendships and choices.
In my work as a Religious Education teacher, I invite high school students to grow attentive to God’s presence in their lives. Thanks to CLC, I feel comfortable encouraging these students in their spirituality.
Young people and CLC
Australia is a pluralist and secularising society whose prevailing culture views religion with scepticism. Young people close to CLC in Australia may at times feel a certain hesitancy about engaging in church, yet there is a spiritual hunger below the surface which CLC helps us understand and meet. We are each on a personal journey to integrate our spirituality with our public-facing lives.
Feeling at home in a CLC local community, I came to feel at home in the world. Good and true friends are like diamonds.
Click here to read the letter sharing this news with the World Community of CLC.
I delivered this talk for the Christian Life Community Asia Pacific online gathering for the start of the Ignatian year on Saturday 15 May 2021.
We start this Ignatian Year in the middle of a global pandemic. Like Ignatius in 1521, our lives have changed course this year. Just as for Ignatius, God is calling us through our experience.
Our beloved Ignatius was hit by a cannon ball 500 years ago this week, while leading his fellow soldiers into battle at Pamplona. Returning to his family home in Loyola to recover, his injuries confined him to a bedroom and he was reliant on the care of others. He asked for books to read: tales of soldiers like him who excelled in chivalry, power and glory. Ignatius accepted the only books available: The Lives of the Saints and The Life of Christ. He began to imagine and daydream over his desires for the future.
Ignatius’ active imagination left him feeling tired. However there was a difference between the two kinds of thoughts he experienced. The desires and dreams for personal glory with armour and romance gave him temporary delight which soon faded away. The desires and dreams toward giving service to God left him feeling deep satisfaction and joy for a long time.
God spoke to Ignatius through his experience. The reflective Ignatius discovered the movements of the heart which lead to God and away from God – his initial grasp of ‘the discernment of spirits’. As insight dawned, Ignatius listened deeply and so heard God’s call. He responded to this call with an open, generous and trusting heart.
The painful injury and long recovery gave Ignatius an opportunity to begin life again. Who he was, what life was for, and how God moved, could all be seen from a new perspective. Ignatius walked away from Loyola as a pilgrim.
This graced story of God at work through injury, pain, transformation and recovery can help us to live this time of pandemic. Pope Francis writes in Let us Dream: “A ‘stoppage’ can always be a good time for sifting, for reviewing the past, for remembering with gratitude who we are, what we have been given, and where we have gone astray. These are moments in life that can be ripe for change and conversion. Each of us has had their own “stoppage”, or if we haven’t yet, we will someday: illness, the failure of a marriage or a business, some great disappointment or betrayal. As in the COVID lockdown, those moments generate a tension, a crisis that reveals what is in our hearts.”
As with Ignatius’ experience, this pandemic has placed a stoppage on our former lives. We no longer travel to the same rhythms as before. We have been at home much more than usual, just like Ignatius at Loyola. Our communities and members have experienced pain, grief, lost jobs, upheaval for livelihoods, long lockdowns, family members contracting the virus, and the deaths of loved ones. Countless things have changed for us, some we do not understand. We have encountered our faith from a new perspective. Some CLC communities rightly describe this pandemic as a defining time in our lives.
In this meeting let us listen to God at work in our hearts. Let us open ourselves to hear God’s call. Let us reflect deeply and share with trust in each other.
We ask God our Lord for grace, that we may live this time with open and generous hearts. Saint Ignatius, pray for us!
The Spirit will surely move a new thing among the people gathered at the first session of the Plenary Council in nine days’ time. 278 delegates from around the country will meet online to discern ways forward for the Catholic Church in Australia. The Plenary process, begun by the bishops’ conference, kicked off in 2018 with an ambitious local level “communal discernment” project involving 222000 people.
Local and national groups
Each local group spent time in active listening and intentional speaking, discerning their responses to the question “What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?” 17500 submissions were prepared and a small team wrote a 300 page report “Listen to what the Spirit is saying”. Out of that report came six national themes for discernment.
Six “Discernment and Writing groups” formed in October 2019, to listen for the Spirit within a particular area of church life. This involved sitting with and sifting all the perspectives and experiences both at the grassroots and within each group.
Prayer (personal and communal) was essential. A second round of “Listening and Discernment” was happening concurrently at the local level. Hundreds of short submissions were then sent directly to the six national groups, who each prepared a 5000 word thematic paper. [Note: I was part of the Prayerful and Eucharistic group.]
Final preparations for the Plenary Council
Bringing it all together, a working document was drafted, and out of that formed the agenda questions across themes of ‘conversion, prayer, formation, structures, governance, institutions’.
The 278 delegates have been preparing via formation sessions since June. Most recently the expert advisers (‘periti’) to the Plenary Council have been named, from scripture scholars to legal minds, and church historians to social justice experts.
The fact that the Council is happening for me is a sign of hope, so I’m just going to let the Spirit emerge as we go and I’m not going there with any preconceived expectations, I’m just going into it ready for what comes. Everyone has different hopes from it, but I think if we just go into it, ready to take on the journey then I think it will be really good.
The delegates go to the Plenary Council asking the People of God in Australia to pray for and with them. I am reminded of the Christian Life Community Asia Pacific Assembly in Korea 2019. When a leader from the Animating Team called on the Holy Spirit with confidence, we then had five to ten minutes of quiet prayer, asking the Spirit to be with us in our conversations.
This moved me greatly, and I felt encouraged to a deeper trust in God’s Spirit moving among the community. The Spirit can speak through each person (through you, through me), in the spaces between us, and deep in each of our hearts:
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful. And kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And you will renew the face of the earth.
The Plenary Council preparations have given the People of God in Australia an experience of “communal discernment”. This way seeks to follow the presence, movement and action of the Holy Spirit working within a group. It presupposes that each participant is discerning God’s presence, movement and action personally in their own life. As such the work of communal discernment draws deeply from the well of Ignatian Spirituality.
Nourished by the Scriptures and at Eucharist, we can ask for the grace to know where we are being drawn as a community. [At heart, we are drawn by God towards love and deeper into relationships, whereas we are driven to fear and mistrust by a contrary spirit.]
On the larger scale, this way of proceeding has been called “Synodality” within the Catholic Church. Pope Francis and the Synod of Bishops have asked the global church to prepare for a 2023 synod looking deeper at this way. For Australia, at least, this path is being trod. May the work of the Plenary Council be fruitful.
The sun shines bright for everyone, people who notice and people who imitate: being a light for loved ones, bringing a candle to a friend’s darkened room, holding out a torch for strangers.
Walking barefoot on the sunlit beach, we who notice prepare to join others in the project of re-making co-creating loving this spectacular spacious wounded home for grace and doubt—our world—while swimming in the surf between the flags and among the participants of daily life who, conscious of it or not, renew and restore with all their being and effort, and sometimes miss the mark.
While we swim near one another, each one’s name sealed upon their heart, we may do well to turn and say hello, or not, and cover our eyes with goggles and dive under the next breaker. This ordinary ritual—ocean swimming—prepares us to swim the more extraordinary channels of suffering and helpless fear angst worry and illness which one day will come our way.
Meanwhile, teams of lifesavers—sitting on the sand and walking the beachside breakers—watch on, ready to intervene if necessary, poised to save a person struggling in the water, hands bouncing above head with distress and terror.
When this very situation unfolds, coffee-drinkers at the seaside cafe notice a commotion down on the water, and the quick ripple-effect of human solidarity and protection fills the sky with clouds of concern. The man, in his 30s, is saved from drowning, and splutters up water when reaching the shore. CPR is not necessary, but they will check on him in the hospital, just to be sure.
Our eyes play witness as ocean, land and air overflow with compassion and leaves flutter in the breeze. Several lifesavers are off to a barbecue, murmuring to each other as the sun retreats, expressing wonder at all that had happened in the light.
The individual who killed 51 people at prayer in Christchurch Mosques on Friday 15 March 2019 is Australian. As Shakira Hussein wrote in The Saturday Paper on 12 December last year:
For me, and for many other Muslims living in Australia, the Christchurch attack has always felt like an Australian crime that happened to take place in Aotearoa…
There needs to be a moment of reckoning that the man behind the Christchurch massacre is an Australian. He was born here, and it was in this country that his hatred and racism developed at a young age.
Christchurch massacre: an Australian crime, The Saturday Paper, 12 December 2020
Hussein was reflecting on the crime soon after the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Terrorist Attack on Christchurch Mosques on 15 March 2019delivered a report to the New Zealand Governor General entitled Ko tō tātou kāinga tēnei: This is our home. In their end note the commissioners write “Out of the terrible events of the 15 March 2019 terrorist attack has come the responsibility to reflect and learn.” We in Australia must take time to reflect on the report’s findings, which deserve solemn and sober reading.
The terrorist was formed by life in Australia
Throughout their report, the commissioners describe the Australian terrorist as “the individual”. In a section entitled Part 4: The Terrorist, they outline the individual’s life trajectory “from childhood in Australia through to the terrorist attack in New Zealand.” The Report Summary observes:
The individual is a white Australian male who was 28 years old in March 2019. He displayed racist behaviour from a young age. His life experiences appear to have fuelled resentment and he became radicalised, forming extreme right-wing views about people he considered a threat. Eventually, he mobilised to violence.
The individual arrived in New Zealand on 17 August 2017. As an Australian, he was entitled to live in New Zealand. Within a few days of arrival, he moved to Dunedin and from this time, his life was largely devoted to planning and preparing for the terrorist attack.
The report tells a story of relevant aspects of the individual’s life and formation in Australia.
The individual … was twice dealt with by one of his high school teachers, who was also the Anti-Racism Contact Officer, in respect of anti-Semitism. This teacher described the individual as disengaged in class to the point of quiet arrogance, but also well-read and knowledgeable, particularly on certain topics such as the Second World War …
The individual told us that he began to think politically when he was about 12 and that his primary concerns have been about immigration, particularly by Muslim migrants into Western countries. In his manifesto he said that he had no complaints with ethnic people, if they remained in their places of birth. Those on the far right, particularly ethno-nationalists (as described in Part 2, chapter 5), sometimes assert similar views while disingenuously denying being racist. Aspects of the individual’s life are consistent with his description of his views.
Part 4 The Terrorist: Chapter 2 The individual’s upbringing in Australia
From far-right radicalisation to violence
The commissioners observe “the individual’s political thinking was far right in nature and showed many of the signs of ethno-nationalism”. Describing the process whereby a person moves from ‘radicalisation to violence’, they write:
Most people with extreme right-wing views do not act on these views through violence. The process through which people develop commitment to a particular extremist ideology is called radicalisation. The process through which an individual comes to see violence as a feasible tool to address their grievances is called radicalisation to violence ...
Radicalisation is almost universally acknowledged as a group phenomenon in which social relations and networks play a key role in preparing people to commit extremist violence.A person may come into contact with extremists in a multitude of ways, such as through existing networks of friends and family, public outreach by those involved in these groups or, increasingly, online engagement. When someone with generalised grievances comes into contact with individuals or groups who are able to provide a wider framework through which they can understand their grievances, extremist worldviews can be reinforced …
Participation in a group enables a range of processes that may facilitate the use of violence, including a solidifying of dehumanising thinking, an increased perception of crisis and belief in the use of violence as a legitimate tool.
Part 2 Context Chapter 5.4 Radicalisation to violence
Unfortunately, extreme right wing groups are more organised, sophisticated and security conscious than before. These groups are becoming increasingly ideological; more aware of and committed to specific dogmas, philosophies and views, many of which support or glorify violence. They draw from a diverse variety of ideas and they are attracting a younger membership who display few overt signs of their extremist ideology.
Far-right radicalisation via the internet
In September 2020, ASIO Deputy Director-General Heather Cook “confirmed right-wing violent extremism now accounted for between 30 and 40 per cent of its current caseload in counter-terrorism work. This compared to between 10 and 15 per cent prior to 2016.” A report in the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Cook ‘saying the way in which extreme right-wing extremists were using the internet to recruit the “young and vulnerable” was similar to the methods deployed by Islamic State at its peak, adding the strategy was being used “to good effect”.’
Now one month after the violent insurrection at the United States Capitol, governments and media platforms are renewing their conversations about curtailing far-right extremism on the internet. The social media app “Parler” which hosted extremist views and conversations has been removed from Google, Apple and Amazon platforms.
In part 2 chapter 5.3, the commissioners observe the ways the internet has incubated far-right thinking:
One of the most notable changes in the right-wing extremist movement has been its movement from the streets to the internet. In previous decades, the extreme right-wing mostly organised on the streets in gangs or protest movements. Today, extremism has substantially, although not completely, moved from physical meetings and street activism to the internet and social media.
Part 2 Context Chapter 5.3 The nationalist far right, the radical right and the extreme right-wing
Social cohesion and safety for all
Violent far-right extremism is a volatile phenomenon which requires a whole-of-community response. The Royal Commission meditated at length on social cohesion as a factor which may protect against similar terrorist attacks in the future.
For the commissioners, social cohesion is “where people feel part of society, family and personal relationships are strong, differences among people are respected and people feel safe and supported by others.”
The commissioners found that social cohesion actively discourages far-right violence:
Social cohesion can contribute to preventing or countering extremism. This is because cohesive and resilient communities are better placed to resist and counter the risk of radicalisation and mobilisation to violent extremism and terrorism. Tolerant, and ideally inclusive, societies are more able to address and prevent the polarisation and disenfranchisement that can contribute to a rise in extremism.
Part 9 Social cohesion and embracing diversity Chapter 1 Introduction
The commissioners invite the New Zealand public to conversation about social cohesion as a way to build a more robust democratic society where residents readily respect each and every community. Such a society guards against extremist violence.
These reflections have implications for all Australian governments, communities and residents. Australia certainly has a way to go before we may more universally hold together peacefully the values of diversity and democracy.
Here are some of the commission’s recommendations which should be read closely in Australia.
Australia-relevant report recommendations
We recommend that the Government:
Develop and implement a public facing strategy that addresses extremism and preventing, detecting and responding to current and emerging threats of violent extremism and terrorism …
We recommend that the Government:
Create opportunities to improve public understanding of extremism and preventing, detecting and responding to current and emerging threats of violent extremism and terrorism in New Zealand …
We recommend that the Government:
Invest in opportunities for young New Zealanders to learn about their role, rights and responsibilities and on the value of ethnic and religious diversity, inclusivity, conflict resolution, civic literacy and self-regulation.
We recommend that the Government:
Repeal section 131 of the Human Rights Act 1993 and insert a provision in the Crimes Act 1961 for an offence of inciting racial or religious disharmony, based on an intent to stir up, maintain or normalise hatred, through threatening, abusive or insulting communication with protected characteristics that include religious affiliation.
In the explainer prefiguring recommendation 40 from ‘Part 9 Chapter 4 Hate crime and hate speech’ a new offence was drafted: Every person commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years who:
with intent to stir up, maintain or normalise hatred against any group of persons in New Zealand on the ground of the colour, race, or ethnic or national origins or religion of that group of persons; and
says or otherwise publishes or communicates any words or material that explicitly or implicitly calls for violence against or is otherwise, threatening, abusive, or insulting to such group of persons.
The findings and recommendations of the New Zealand Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Terrorist Attack on Christchurch Mosques on 15 March 2019 should give us pause. I encourage Australians reading this post to read the report. As the neighbouring nation whose communities shaped this terrorist, we must be willing to read, learn, and be changed by what we learn.
We who are seek to build peace do well to reflect carefully on the causes of violence, and consider what happened in this case. After reading the parts of the report I was drawn to, I am engaged in the following questions:
Are our communities capable of stopping persons who are radicalising before they turn to violence?
What strategies do we have to redirect such persons and their energies?
Do our cities, schools, workplaces, sporting clubs and communities truly value diversity and difference?
What will we do to build a more robust democracy which is confidently pluralist in nature?
We can all contribute to building communities which embrace difference, nourish respect, encourage mutuality, and build solidarity among all. Our responsibility to the common good demands no less.
CLC is a lay community and public world association of women and men shaped by the spirituality of St Ignatius of Loyola. It is a way of Christian life for people drawn to attend to the presence of God in their lives.
Until two years ago I had lived all my life in close quarters with family within the Greater Sydney area bound by the Blue Mountains and Bondi. When for several months I experienced a deep and returning desire to move to Melbourne, I discerned this as a divine invitation. I arrived in July 2016, turned 29, and began a Masters of Teaching at ACU.
I experienced a newfound freedom. I was blessed with my friends. But there were challenges, and I felt adrift. Thankfully, soon after arriving I was twice invited to go to a Christian Life Community (CLC) group for young-er people. On the second invitation I responded with a tentative yes – and one Wednesday evening in the Spring I arrived for a 7pm start.
I discovered a group of some seven people, each from varied backgrounds and di[erent stages of life. I noticed a familiarity with one another, and a warm welcome for me the newcomer.
Soon I was introduced to a way of reflection and sharing which would make a lasting impression on me.
We begin by ‘checking in’ with how we come. We pray with Scripture and silence. We speak on how the prayer resonates with how we are each travelling personally. We listen attentively over two rounds of sharing. At the end of the meeting there is a ‘check out’ where again we name how we are.
In my first semester I studied for five Masters level subjects. I was flat-out, stressed, and fatigued. After a couple of fortnightly Wednesdays, CLC became a non-negotiable in my calendar. Each gathering was a safe resting place for my spirit.
I remember one night I turned up discouraged and tempted to despair. At the time I didn’t realise I was experiencing what St Ignatius of Loyola called ‘desolation’ (the felt absence of God). During the meeting this began to lift. I then noticed myself feeling renewed in the following days. In time I saw desolation as part of my journey to an Easter faith.
Pattern of sharing
Another evening we were reflecting on Pope Francis’ ecological encyclical Laudato Si’. Members spoke with an attentiveness to the land we live on and reflections on how we respond to people experiencing homelessness. The pattern of our sharing reminded me of the Pope’s line quoting Latin American theologian Leonardo Boff on hearing ‘the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’. I found it incredible that within one meeting we heard those cries together.
Now I am coming up on two years with my CLC group. We have supported each other in tremendous loss and abundance. We have reflected on how we live our personal call. We have welcomed two newborns, and one has been to a meeting. We have participated in events with the wider Victorian, Australian, and global dimensions of our Christian Life Community. We are also prayerfully considering our response to Plenary Council 2020.
Belonging to a community
As I experience work beyond university, I take heart that I can continue to gather with my CLC group each fortnight. I am grateful to have a discerning community where I am held, lifted up, and reminded that I am both loved and called. Ultimately, I belong to a community alive to the call of Christ, generously responding in the particular situations of our personal lives, and coming together for inspiration and renewal.