InFocus Series: Meet Sr. Denise McMahon, Fiji

I come from a traditional Catholic Australian family with Irish roots. Growing up, the faith was important in my family. I was sent to Catholic schools and taught by the ‘Sisters’ who were influential in imparting our Christian heritage. I grew up as a child in the 1950s, a time in Australia when there were many refugees arriving from war-torn Europe. Our street was a veritable United Nations and my special friends were the Polish children. The Slavic tradition were particularly enriching and I was fascinated with their customs, religious symbols and celebrations, particularly enriching and I was fascinated with their customs, religious symbols and celebrations, particularly of Easter and Christmas, which they willingly shared with us.

My novitiate with the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary was on a beautiful property in rural Victoria. It had a magical, rambling garden leading on to rich farm land. The beauty of the environment was food for the soul. In the novitiate, we were taught the Ignatian method of mental prayer which was not easy. After profession and teacher training I was assigned to Bougainville, followed by Vantuatu, and then Fiji where I have been for the last twenty-five years. Although I remained faithful to daily personal prayer I always felt there was something more.

In God’s good time I was introduced to Christian Meditation by Fr. Denis Mahony, newly assigned to Suva. Soon after arriving he began teaching meditation with a series of Saturday teachings which a small group, including myself and two other community members were invited to. At the end of the six week course Father encouraged us to begin our own groups which we did. It was an act of faith. We had no idea who, if anyone would join us. On the first evening, a Peace Corps Volunteer, who had read the notice we had placed in the parish newsletter, arrived. From that time on our small group grew and was enriched by numerous people, both Fiji residents and people living temporarily in Fiji.

I have had the privilege of being part of the Fiji meditation community since its beginning. One of the most satisfying experiences has been the outreach to the schools. This year our schools’ team visited 53 schools, both primary and secondary, urban and rural. Meditation is now part of the daily school practice. We hope to continue to visit these schools each year for as long as we can. We know we are simply sowing seeds but note that children understand intuitively the prayer of silence and stillness and readily enter in to it.

As a missionary, I believe meditation is important in evangelization. The daily practice is a training time in learning to live the spirit of the gospels. At the centre we are one regardless of what faith tradition we belong to. Christian Meditation is one of the greatest graces I have received. Belonging to the meditation communities, both locally and world-wide has enriched my life and I am grateful to God.

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