Dear Catholic People,
“The Church is alive! The Church is alive!” Pope Benedict’s spontaneous affirmation to a group of pilgrims not long after his election says it all. The first hundred days of the Holy Father’s leadership of the Church have been so positive, so full of hope, continuing the great encouragement of his predecessor: “Do not be afraid!” “Launch into the deep!”
Believing without belonging
Today as ever, only too conscious of the shadows cast by what seems to be an abandonment by many of the Church’s faith and practice and the moral demands of genuine Christian living, a lot of people feel dejected. There have always been some, very few, who wish the Church was dead. Many more say they cannot see signs of life in the Church. The majority in a society like ours, and throughout the Western world, are people who seem to be looking for something to believe in, some sort of spiritual way rather than a religious one. Amongst the baptised there is a change not so much to unbelief, as to a believing without belonging.
In a lot of the recent discussions of the Harry Potter phenomenon, the word ‘enchantment’ was often mentioned. The novels get young people in, into a world of wonder and fascination with amazing things and happenings. Readers are enchanted, and they come back for more. The phenomenon recalls my own experience of the Christian faith and the world of belief and Catholic tradition: it has always been to me, since boyhood, amazingly fascinating, wonderfully enchanting, a world which opens up layer by layer, vista by vista the more one is drawn into the truth at the heart of it all: the Person of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God. He is the unique point of access into that world beyond touch and sight, which opens up the huge adventure of prayer, the sacraments and the liturgy. It rolls out before us the challenge of living not merely for oneself, and of being one with a great company of the most wonderful human beings who have ever lived – and still do, in the glory of the saints and angels to which we are also destined. If this is not enchanting, stretching hope and desire to the fullest, what can possibly be? The fact is, I came upon this enchantment of faith in Christ and His beloved Church because I knew so many people who shone with the same enchantment, who lived by example the challenge of Christ’s way of holiness in the great tradition of Catholic Christianity.
Swimming against the tide
If we have a problem today I believe it is because we need so many more adult Catholics who can model the full strength of the faith to others. There are plenty who criticise its teaching, argue against it, neglect its practice, or put it aside in apathy. The result is large numbers of younger Catholics who know so little about the actual teaching of the Church there is no basis for enchantment, wonder, delight or real challenge. Thank God that the crisis of faith among our young people is counterbalanced by the growing witness of other youth whose power to evangelise and influence their peers has been activated by real Catholic adults. The greatest example is Pope John Paul II himself. His great initiative of the World Youth Days alone has given the Church a new young face that shines out in our secular culture. He was a great coach: he taught young people how to swim against the tide.
The task of parents and teachers
In our Catholic families and parishes, and in the resolute and accurate teaching of the faith by believing, practising Catholic teachers in our own schools, we have means of bringing our young people into that world of enchantment which is the Catholic life, more splendid and true than any world ever conjured up in a novel. “The Church is alive!” By the time this letter is published our diocesan pilgrims will have returned from World Youth Day with their stories and their photos – and their experience of Catholic faith and culture in the company of hundreds of thousands of their peers. We can look forward all over Australia to the effect of their shared vitality and enthusiasm – and they will bring us the big news of the city chosen for the celebration of WYD 2008!
Grace and peace be with you, and my blessing in Christ.
+ Geoffrey Jarrett
Bishop of Lismore.