December 2016

Going inward in order to go outward

Marie Milne says her life as a Good Samaritan Oblate underpins all areas of her life. “For me, it’s about going inward in order to go outward,” she says.

BY Debra Vermeer

For Marie Milne, the decision to become an Oblate of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan was another mysterious movement of the Holy Spirit in a life where she has always felt drawn to God and always been a questioner.

“The thoughts were always there with me,” she says. “I was fascinated by the whole idea of God and how that concept played out in my life and I was convinced it was all connected to how you treated others.”

Born in Jamberoo, a small township in the New South Wales Illawarra characterised by green rolling hills and dairy farms, leading down to the nearby coast, Marie married a local farmer and they still live on the property they have farmed throughout their married life, on the outskirts of nearby Kiama.

Marie grew up Anglican and says her parents were very involved in the local church.

“My mother was a superb musician who played the organ for over 50 years. Her whole life was giving to the community through what she considered was God’s gift to her, her music,” she says.

“I vividly recall her singing a Negro spiritual with the words, ‘If I can help somebody as I pass along then my living shall not be in vain’. From that, I understood that life was about being of value; about trying to make the world a better place.”

However, Marie says she wasn’t a fervently religious child, “and I really questioned things as a teenager”.

When Marie married her husband John, a Catholic, she considered becoming Catholic but didn’t.

“I decided not to do it just because it was convenient, but I did go to Mass and the nudge toward Catholicism persisted. Once again I hesitated as I had so many questions, which for me were huge hurdles to overcome.”

As Marie’s eldest daughter began at the local Catholic School, the nudging became more intense. Encouraged by the Josephite Sisters and the local priest, she became heavily involved in the school and parish, and undertook a variety of courses including an extensive adult faith program run by the Wollongong Diocese.

“Eventually, I was playing [the organ] at two Masses every weekend and it seemed I was involved in everything in the parish. I suppose most people would have assumed I was Catholic, but I wasn’t,” Marie laughs.

“The point was that I could opt in and opt out. I hadn’t really committed to anything!

“One night, I woke suddenly with a startling clarity of thought, which was, ‘What are you waiting for?’ Two days later I became a Catholic. In the end, it was as simple, and as difficult, as letting go! For me embracing this dynamic reality we name God was not about certainty but about living into the questions, into the not knowing and the not having to know.”

This experience, Marie says, has had a lasting legacy; one central not only to her decision to become a Catholic but to her ongoing spiritual sensibility. The years that followed led to her involvement in a rich tapestry of Church life – from liturgy, to Antioch and adult education.

After years of teaching music at the parish school, Marie made the decision to enrol in an education degree at Wollongong University.

“My daughter was a student at the same uni and although we were not in the same course, we do share some very fond memories of this unique time together,” she says.

A few years later, after becoming the religious education coordinator at another school, Marie attended a faith formation course at Mount St Benedict Centre in Pennant Hills.

“That was where I first met the Good Sams,” she says. “The team was led by [Sister] Anna Warlow and included [Sisters] Margaret Ann Kelly and Veronica Griffith along with a Mercy sister and several lay women.

“I felt that I’d found a group of women who were walking to the same beat as me, but whose spirituality was expansive; people whose knowledge and experience far outweighed mine and whose faith did not protect them from life, but led them more fully into it. These women really walked the talk.”

For Marie the course proved to be another of life’s turning points, and a subsequent invitation for her to join that team was a gift that enabled her to deepen her contact with the Good Sams and grapple with the implications and possibilities for living out the Parable of the Good Samaritan in her own life.

Accepting a further invitation from the Good Sams, Marie joined the Good Samaritan Oblate group at Carlingford, near Pennant Hills.

“Pat O’Gorman, Beth Riolo and I would travel after work to Sydney for meetings and that is where I first came into contact with the Rule of St Benedict,” she says.

“There was something about Benedict’s personal invitation that found an echo in my heart and I knew I’d found a spiritual home.”

Marie says she loved the deep Gospel roots of the Rule and its practical application.

“The Rule provided a framework for life, somewhat like a coat-hanger that I could hang my faith over and it would give it shape. The Rule possessed a clarity that I found both accessible and challenging,” she says.

“Another aspect that appealed was that it didn’t tell you what to think. Often doctrine appears to be about conformity of belief, instead this was about what I felt mattered; about unity and community and living with Christ at the centre of one’s life. I find a real spirit of freedom to living The Rule that enables me to grow.”

Marie became a Good Samaritan Oblate more than a decade ago and continued driving up to Sydney for meetings, until Sister Christine Manning helped support the formation of an oblate group in Wollongong. After that, Wollongong-based Sisters Rita Fitt and Joan Miles joined the group and now Sister Sue Barker is involved.

“We’ve met in different places over the time, in our homes and more recently at the Wollongong Convent,” says Marie. “We pray the Office, share in lectio divina usually based on a section of a designated book, and conclude with a simple meal which has become an important and enjoyable element of our time together.

“For me the spirit of co-responsibility evident in our group exemplifies Good Sam partnership in action.”

Marie has also developed a strong connection with other oblates, including the women from outback Western Australia who became oblates this year.

“It was wonderful to be able to share a time of reflection on aspects of the oblate life with Elaine, Kathy and Bev when they visited me for a sort of mini-retreat early in 2015,” she says.

“In more recent years I have been fortunate to be able to use our home for a variety of gatherings as we have the space, the opportunity and a beautiful natural setting. It’s a little ministry of hospitality that Benedict has helped foster.”

Marie says her life as a Good Samaritan Oblate underpins all areas of her life.

“For me, it’s about going inward in order to go outward,” she says. “The balance of Benedictine spirituality has been very helpful to me because I can tend to rush off and act in the moment.

“It impels me to act but grounds my actions in the Gospels. It gives added meaning to my involvement in the parish social justice group – a small but very vibrant group, which focuses on issues such as the environment, refugees and the situation of women and girls around the world. Recently the group has made efforts to start a climate action network which will be interfaith and community based.”

The group’s commitment to financially support Timor Leste began when Marie and some of the social justice group visited the fledgling country with Carmelite priest Father Paul Gurr in 2004.

The devastating poverty left a lasting impression, highlighting as it did the need for practical assistance and awareness-raising – a need that as Marie says, unfortunately continues to this day.

Marie believes there is great power in a group of people united by a common vision. She is the coordinator of the Jamberoo Spirituality in the Pub which organises a program of speakers who promote conversation around a range of contemporary spiritual issues and is also involved with a small group of local women who gather to discuss feminist theology.

“It’s really a way to inform ourselves and support each other as we strive to be women in the Church and world today,” she says.

“That too links back into my connection with the Good Sams because I see them doing the same thing. They are shining lights who provide a living witness because they’re out there being women of the Church today and standing their ground with dignity, love and a deep and abiding commitment to Christ.”

The Good Samaritan story continues to be a guide in how she approaches her life, says Marie.

“It seems more relevant than ever in our current climate of division and mistrust. But you can’t be the Good Samaritan unless you are willing to see Christ in each situation and act as he would act,” she says.

“It’s about allowing ourselves to come close enough for our heart and our lives to be touched by the stranger. That’s what Christ did, and that’s what we’re called to in our own little ways.”

Debra Vermeer

Debra Vermeer is a freelance journalist working in both Catholic and mainstream media.

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