The Power of Music and Hands - Alan Jones and Archbishop Anthony Fisher

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
27 May 2016

Archbishop Anthony Fisher interviewed
by Alan Jones

This morning Alan Jones spoke candidly with the Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher OP about some of his reflections and learnings during the time of his rehabilitation from a recent illness. Here is the transcript of the interview on The Alan Jones Breakfast Show, Radio 2GB:

Alan Jones: Something very different today but I hope equally illuminating. You may recall I mentioned recently, when the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher presided over two Easter Masses, what are called the Holy Thursday Chrism Mass and the Easter Sunday Mass, I said at the time that what he had to say was brilliant, it still is. He was of course talking the day before Christians believe that Jesus died, but he talked about Googling the phrase "Hand of God" and he said you get "photos of hand shaped astronomical phenomena, of Maradona's infamous goal against England in the quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup, and Michelangelo's Creation of Adam". He said "the Michelangelo painting - was painted in 1511 or 1512 as part of his Genesis cycle for the Sistine Chapel ceiling."

He said "It has a bearded God, the Ancient of Days, surrounded by His spiritual creation, and a youthful man, brand new humanity", Anthony Fisher called it "surrounded by material creation and Adam looks languorous, as if a lover just waking from sleep, as he gazes confidently at his Creator."

And then he said this. "Instead of the images of God shaping the man out of clay or giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to bring life into him that previous painters had used to represent the moment of humanity's birth, Michelangelo chose to focus on the hands of God and man." and then Archbishop Fisher said this, - "Hands of course have great significance: Friends shake hands, lovers hold hands, parents touch and tickle and wash children with the hands, we write, paint, play sport, make music, do manual labour, operate, nurse, drive, and so much else with our hands."

He said, "all our sacraments involve hands: pouring water, anointing with oil, absolving and blessing with the sign of the cross, holding hands as we make vows and exchange rings, calling down the Holy Spirit at baptism, confirmation and ordination with hands laid upon head and heart, calling that same Spirit down upon the elements in the epiclesis, holding the Eucharistic species at the consecration and again at their reception".

He said "Catholic hands are holy hands because they are for directing all creation to God;"

And he said, "I have come to appreciate the importance of hands much more as a result of my sickness."

At Easter Anthony Fisher said "My hands, being the first part of me to be affected by the Guillain-barré syndrome, are expected to be the last part of me to fully recover, to regain their strength and agility."

He said, "Very quickly I learnt how important hands are for the simplest things."

He said, "For hygiene, showering, eating. For scratching ourselves and blowing our nose and so much else that we take for granted when we are healthy." He said: "Even now after three months of care and rehabilitation it is a great struggle for me to do the simplest things with my hands. As a priest and bishop, I miss the use of my hands even more because they are so important to our ministry as priests."

He said, "At times I have wished that I had lost the function of my legs for much longer and had my hands back much sooner."

But he said, "These things are in the hands of God and there is a providence there we know, and I have great confidence that God will bring great fruit from this time of powerlessness and vulnerability for me."

He said, "Powerlessness comes in many forms. Certainly sickness and physical impairment are common forms of vulnerability, but there are many others which impact the daily lives of so many."

"There is loneliness and isolation, oppression, addiction, being subjected to abuse or violence, mental illness, obsession with money and material goods."

He said at Easter:
"May we acknowledge our own weakness, our powerlessness, our vulnerability in order to rely even more upon the hands of God, and particularly in this Year of Mercy we pray that the hand of God will be experienced by His people through their priests forgiving their sins and healing their souls."

Alan Jones: Can we ever hear enough from such a man who speaks with such clarity, conviction and scholarship? His Eminence the Sydney Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher is on the line. Good morning to you!

Archbishop Anthony: Good morning Alan.

Alan Jones: What beautiful, beautiful writing. You said, I have great confidence that God will bring great fruit from this time of powerlessness and vulnerability. In the light of what you've been through what do you think those fruits are?

Archbishop Anthony: I think that there have been some fruits for me, that may be more obvious as I look back at it years from now, but already I think I have had a lot of time to think about what people who have disabilities go through, because I have had a little glimpse of that through the paralysis in my arms and legs. Many people have that all their lives or for years and years and it just gets worse. For me it's just a matter of a few months and I'm gradually recovering...So I guess I have some sense of what they go through.

Alan Jones: You're only a young man and yet I remember you telling me when I saw you there at St Vincent's Hospital that this overtook you virtually in 24 hours.

Archbishop Anthony: That's right I went from being entirely healthy and normal to in 24 hours being paralysed from the neck down and even from the neck up, it was affecting my face and my breathing so almost entirely paralysed. It was very frightening it came very quickly, out of the blue.

Alan Jones: And has anyone explained to you why? Is there a cause for this?

Archbishop Anthony: It's very rare, so they are not entirely sure, but it's thought maybe some infection sets it off and then what happens is the body's immune system attacks your own nerves rather than attacking the germ. Whatever the cause, whatever shocks the body into doing that, it's one of those autoimmune conditions where your body is not doing what it should.

Alan Jones: Mmmm Yes, I saw you coming through the gates, the doors at St Vincent's and you had the wheelchair and someone looking after you but it was clear that the hands were still paralysed and in that address that you gave at Easter you said hands of course have great significance, friends shake hands, lovers hold hands, parents touch and tickle and wash children with their hands, we write, paint, play sport, make music, do manual labour, operate, nurse, drive, and so much else with our hands, and you said we put our hands to work in making a more just and compassionate world, beautiful writing but how are your hands?

Archbishop Anthony: Well they are gradually recovering, not as quickly as my legs have. I can do some very basic things. I still can't write and apart from signing my name at the moment and a little bit else...

Alan Jones: Can you scratch yourself?

Archbishop Anthony: I can scratch myself which is a wonderful relief (laughing)

Alan Jones:  It is yes, yes (laughing)

Archbishop Anthony: (laughing) as I indicated not being able to do that when I was first paralysed was quite a torment.

Alan Jones: Mmmm. You said at Easter powerlessness comes in many forms, certainly sickness and physical impairment are common forms of vulnerability but there are many others which impact the daily lives of so many, you said there is loneliness and isolation, oppression, addiction, people subjected to abuse or violence, mental illness, obsession with money and material goods you said even our own sinfulness and iniquity are reminders of our powerlessness. What have you learned from being critically ill?

Archbishop Anthony: I think, I was saying there a little bit of what I have experienced so far and that is how needy we all are in the end. We need each other and I think we need something bigger than ourselves and each other, we need God. At any time even when we are very healthy, there is going to be various kinds of suffering and challenges in our life and for many of us at one time or another there's going to be a more dramatic kind of suffering or challenge. It's going to be a sickness or a terrible grief from a death or some other collapse of...

Alan Jones: Yes, yes you alluded to that as well. I know you spoke, I heard you speak at Christmas in that magnificent concert at St Mary's Cathedral. You said "The laws of nature mean, that there will be some bad storms some terrible viruses, some disability after accident and many other examples of natural evils, we can't expect every negative experience, or bad choice, to be corrected by some miracle, some divine intervention. If they were, we wouldn't bother taking care of ourselves and one another." It's a wonderful message to us all to think of the other bloke isn't it?

Archbishop Anthony: I think that Christmas and Easter are both great challenges to think of what is the effect of my life on others, on our world and on particular others, people we relate to day by day.

Alan Jones: Mmmm. You said at Christmas, "Christmas words like joy and peace and goodwill can sound naive amongst the challenges of today yet, they're the deepest cries of the human heart at this very time, they are precisely what we most want and need." You said "As Christians and other minorities face terrible persecution in the Middle East and terrorists threat whole cities and civilisations, we might ask - "Can there be peace on Earth and goodwill amongst people?" How do you answer your own question?

Archbishop Anthony: I think we don't have a simple answer to that because it is a very real problem and the politicians and commentators and ordinary people are all scratching their heads about that, but what Christians say is - there is hope, that Christ brings hope, that something better is possible, human beings in fact are made for greatness, they are made for love and compassion and justice. We can do better than turning on our fellows with terrorist bombs or with ideologies of hate.

Alan Jones: Faith and optimism I guess. Because you're a leader and a pastor we know but you're also a teacher. What lessons do you think we need to learn, or the lessons that you have learnt in progressively overcoming your paralysis there's one [lesson] and what lessons do we need to learn?

Archbishop Anthony: I think that we are all vulnerable and therefore we all need each other. We all need a community or several communities, we all need God, we need help from outside or deeply within us, that there are problems in life that we can't just fix for ourselves and we are going to need to depend on others, and depend on God and there are problems in life that we have to decide how am I going to face them? Am I going to be resigned and...

Alan Jones: Yeah give up?

Archbishop Anthony: Brave and hopeful? Or am I going to become cranky and resentful and angry?

Alan Jones: …and choose the former, choose the former. You spoke magnificently at that Christmas concert but it was what you had to say, interspersed with glorious music, from the oldest choir in the country - St Mary's Cathedral choir. How important is music in the lives of people?

Archbishop Anthony: I think hugely important Alan, for raising our hearts and our minds to something better then we might be otherwise experiencing at the time, for feeling some of the deepest things. I had an experience with music I might tell you from my sickness, when I was in St Vincent's Hospital still recovering after the intensive care time one of the physios wrapped me up and said "we are going to escape" and he wheeled me out in my wheelchair to the Gelataria Messina, just around the corner. It was a wonderful experience for me, of getting out, back into the world, getting some fresh air and getting some gelato and there was music playing in that gelataria and suddenly I found one of my fingers moving to the beat of the music. Now at that stage nothing in my upper limbs had moved at all, but I am quite convinced now of the power of music, and I might say gelato...

Alan Jones: laughing

Archbishop Anthony: …as a kind of therapy for the soul and in my case for the body.

Alan Jones: Therapy for the soul. Dear me we need you, and we love your ideas, your capacity to formulate them and your preparedness to share with them. May God speed and I hope it is a full, complete and rewarding recovery and thank you for sharing some time with us.

Archbishop Anthony: Lovely to talk to you Alan and to the listeners!

Alan Jones: There he is, the Sydney Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher now he will be presiding over Mass on the Feast of Corpus Christi at St Mary's Cathedral on College Street in Sydney CBD this Sunday at 10:30 AM. Extraordinary scholarship isn't it? Just as I said earlier, right at the beginning it's very liberating to be able to hear from that the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher.

You can listen to the interview here.