My dear Catholic People,
“Love and marriage, love and marriage, Go together like a horse and carriage . . . You can’t have one without the other.”
Laid back in the dentist’s chair the sound of the old Frank Sinatra song played quietly in the surgery, taking my thoughts away from the immediate procedure to the world of Australian social and religious values of forty years ago. There came to mind all those young people in their early twenties coming to see the priests about vowing their love into marriage, in the days when few would have dared to live together first and would take pains to hide the fact if they did. Then the 1960’s cultural revolution broke upon our western societies. Its effects continue. Today, those who wait until marriage are more the exception, and for the rest, if having one without the other is seen as a problem, it’s the Church’s problem not theirs. For all the Church’s great effort to maintain the natural and Christian ideals of marriage and family, both are in trouble on every side. The consequences are appalling, the suffering caused is great. Some hits swiftly, but much is yet to impact particularly in a huge future increase in lonely old age.
In my journeys and visits around our communities, I have taken part in many conversations with both clergy and laity when people have asked me how I see the present state of our mission in the Church and what vision and hopes I have for the future. To what objectives is God pointing us to direct our energies?
In presenting any programme we cannot overlook the modern Church’s own perspective which she has presented ever since the Second Vatican Council itself pointed the way forward. That approach has been spelled out, consolidated and especially finely shaped by the teaching of Pope John Paul II. It’s there for everyone to see in his constantly repeated call forward to “The New Evangelization”, which leads on to his vision of ‘a new springtime’ as the Church advances into the third Christian millennium.
Evangelization has been the Church’s business from the first moment Christ our Lord commanded His apostles and followers to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them . . and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” It’s hardly new, it’s constant. What is new, as it has been in every age, is ‘today’. It’s the sort of cultural and social environment of today that makes our task a ‘new’ evangelization.
“In countries with ancient Christian roots, and occasionally in the younger Churches as well, entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church and live a life far removed from Christ and His Gospel. In this case, what is needed is a ‘new evangelization’”. So wrote Pope John Paul in 1990. While evangelization is the very soul of the Church’s activity in every age, what makes it ‘new’ for us today is the encounter with modern western secular culture with its own challenging characteristics, ranging from apathy to antipathy and even hostility to the Church.
The local parish community is the front line of the new evangelization, where priests and people work together to arrest and reverse the trend to loss of faith and alienation while the Church is still able to strike a responsive chord. Active encouragement to those who have drifted away to return; programmes of study and formation which present clear and accurate Catholic teaching founded on study of Scripture and tradition; strong and well-prepared celebration of the Liturgy which is both sacred and God-centred; strengthening the identity of Catholic schools as religious schools whose heart and focus is Jesus Christ, living in the sacramental life of the local parish — these are all within a parish’s capacity and many of them, thank God, are already well part of our experience and effort.
On the wider picture of the diocese, the encouragement of priestly vocations within our midst is a top priority for everyone. The availability of Sunday Mass and the celebration of the Sacraments for the benefit of the greatest number of the Catholic faithful of the diocese is a pastoral objective above all others.
The sacramental, pastoral and spiritual leadership of a Priest in each parish is an indispensable necessity to which the Diocese is committed. Until such time as local vocations are sufficient, priests born elsewhere, and educated elsewhere, will continue to be welcomed and valued in the diocese.
In the time ahead, any changes to the configuration and boundaries of existing parishes should proceed organically from consultation and discussion at local levels, and proposed to the Bishop through the Council of Priests, taking into account the number and age of priests and the availability of lay collaborators according to the Church’s understanding.
Questions to do with the dignity of human life and the protection of the vulnerable are at the cutting edge of the Church’s intersection with today’s secular culture. Following the initiative of the Australian Catholic Bishops last November to increase financial and human assistance for women facing the dilemma of abortion, the diocese through a lay apostolate in this area will especially fulfil a Gospel imperative.
The Council of Priests and the Diocesan Pastoral Council are the two primary bodies within the structure of the diocese which collaborate with the Bishop on initiatives of evangelism and pastoral strategy. The evangelization and catechesis of young people and their engagement in the sacramental and community life of the parish and diocese must be pursued with urgency, especially through peer-to-peer ministries. A new momentum of faith and appreciation of the Church’s gifts is building up among young people and must be recognised. Through these forums also we should be holding in review such areas as our apostolates among Catholics of indigenous culture, and recent migrants and refugees.
Forty years of change and so many values seem to have gone the way of the horse and carriage! The times may appear troubling and the prevailing culture threatening, but we have been through all that time and again in twenty centuries, and produced ranks of saints and martyrs in each struggle. The New Evangelization today is indeed a wide perspective for our engagement, each within our baptismal calling in the Church and in our very own place. When St Paul proclaimed Jesus Christ as LORD, he reminded us all down the ages that the power for the task is not ours — it streams from the Risen Christ. Gloriously risen from the dead and triumphantly ascended to the heights of heaven, He ever lives to make intercession for us who carry on His earthly mission.
I wish you all a share in this glory and power abundant in the celebration of Easter in your families and parish communities.
Grace and peace be with you, and my blessing in Christ.
+ Geoffrey Jarrett
Bishop of Lismore.