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Asia Pacific Augistinian Conference

Joseph Farrell OSA: Good counsel – a gift of the Holy Spirit

Fr Joseph Farrell O.S.A. is the Vicar General of the Order of St Augustine in the 2013-2019 term of office. What is published here is his homily at the opening of the Provincial Chapter of the Australasian Province at Sydney, Australia on 21st July 2014. Resident at the General Curia in Rome, Fr Farrell came to Australia as president of the Provincial Chapter. The Australasian Province includes communities within eastern Australia and in the Delegation of Korea.

The readings which we proclaimed today in our Mass are readings which come from a selection of options for the Mass of the Holy Spirit. They remind us of the promise of the gift of the Spirit.  A gift which Jesus left to us, the Church, to guide and direct us as we grow and discover more and more what we are called to be as church. We have these readings, at the beginning of our Chapter gathering and as we use ritual to install our new Prior Provincial, we rely on the ancient wisdom which these readings provide for our reflection and prayer.  We call upon the Holy Spirit to be our guide and fill us with the power of God's love which we give witness to in this celebration of Eucharist.

I am a proud alumnus of an Augustinian secondary school, Msgr. Bonner High School (Philadelphia, Pa., USA).  Our Freshman English class included a section on Ernest Hemingway.  Although we all read The Old Man and the Sea, I didn't remember much about it.  Recently, I was able to visit with our brothers in Cuba and while in Havana I was reminded that Ernest Hemingway spent a good deal of time in Cuba. This, renewed my interest in Hemingway and on one of my recent flights from Rome I read, once again, the classic story of determination and courage.   Having the opportunity to read it as a fifty-year- old man gave me a different perspective than when I read it as a 14 year old eenager.   When I was a freshman in high school I connected more with the boy in the story than with the aging Santiago.  In 2014 Santiago and I have much more in common than we did in 1978. 

As I reflect more and more on the adventure of this Old Man, I can see the presence of each of the seven gifts of the spirit. Experience, age, relationships all assist Santiago in being open to the gifts so present to him in his life. There is one gift in particular on which I would like to elaborate today.  Since we are celebrating Chapter as members of the Australasian Province of the Mother of Good Counsel, we will focus on the gift of Counsel. What a gift.

There is a beautiful dialogue which Santiago, the Old Man, has with himself as he faces the expected and unexpected challenges which lie ahead of him. He is worried about the upcoming challenges which he will face in order to preserve what he worked so hard to get. He has already lost some of his prized possession and is lamenting the fact that he does not have what he really wants in order to protect his precious catch. Hemingway, places these words into Santiago's dialogue with himself.  "Now is no time to think about what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is." He then adds, "You give me much good counsel", he said aloud, "I'm tired of it." How could he ever be tired of "good counsel"?  Perhaps it is because the "good counsel" he received. "Think of what you can do with what there is" is more difficult and tiring.  It is easier to think about what he does not have and to wish for something that is not there. Over and over in the first part of the journey at sea, the Old Man pined with the words "I wish the boy were here".  "I wish the boy were here."  I wish the boy were here."  

Because of the very fact that the boy was not there, the Old Man was compelled to look at his task in a different way, he was challenged to look at new ways of patiently waiting for the right moment to bring in the giant marlin. He had to think more clearly about each carefully planned step on the process of catching that fish.  His knowledge of the sea and his experience of life assisted him in discovering the right time to act.  Instead of relying on the traditional strength of his hands, he was forced to find other sources of strength (his feet, neck and back, for example) which he employed in unconventional ways to reach his goal with fortitude and determination.  He demonstrated his piety in offering Hail Mary's and Our Father's in exchange for divine assistance and his Fear of The Lord in respecting the "bargaining" contract he set up with God.  

Today, we come before this altar to ask for those same gifts, especially for the gift of good counsel.  As we look to the future of this province, the Order of Saint Augustine and the Church, let us not follow the somewhat "easier" road of focusing on what we do not have. "I wish....., I wish....."  Let us focus on what we have and "and what we can do with what there is".  Let this good counsel, make us tired in a good sense. Let it inspire us to look honestly at our present reality and discover perhaps, in unconventional ways, creative ways of doing things with what there is, because what there is can create miracles. 

Now, for those of you who remember the story of the Old Man and the Sea, you will also remember that the Old Man is not able to bring his "catch" to shore.  If the final goal, or as the theologian Paul Tillich, names it ultimate concern, of Santiago was to become rich and famous on the gigantic catch, then the story would be a tragic tail of failure. The reason why this story is not a tragedy is because the ultimate concern is so much more than catching a fish. The ultimate concern was not about winning something or defeating something else.  It is about reaching one's potential, it is about courage, and determination, it is ultimately about what can be accomplished with what there is wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord.

We ask God this morning to inspire us as Chapter members to recognize the gifts we have as individuals and in community so that we may work toward our communal ultimate concern as a province. We offer this Eucharist as a thanksgiving for what we have and pray for the good counsel to use these gifts wisely on our way to God.  

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