This will be my last message to you for a month as I am going on holidays. I am going to spend some time in Fiji with my husband, Allen, our children and their spouses and the grandchildren. There will be eighteen of us together! I am looking forward to this, given that we live in various locations along the east coast of Australia. I know that the younger children will have fun with each other, and the parents will enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of just being and spending time at the pool bar.
While I am on leave, the following people have taken up my invitation to be guest writers for this weekly message – Fr. Brian Mascord (the Vicar General), Sr. Patricia Egan (staff member at the Tenison Woods Education Centre and member of the Diocesan Adult Faith Formation Council), Jane Dunn (Director of the Tribunal) and Maryanne Hacker (member of the executive of the Diocesan Council of Ministry with Young People). I am grateful for their generosity in saying ‘yes’ to my request and I am sure you will enjoy reading what they have to share.
The past week has seen me involved in many aspects of diocesan life. On Tuesday, we celebrated 50 years of Caritas in Australia at St. Mary’s High School Gateshead, with students from eight of our high schools who participated in a day titled, “Justice in the Marketplace”. Students visited a number of ‘stalls’ representing service providers to the community, based on the principles of Catholic Social Teaching. The students were excellent and returned to their schools motivated to do more with the other members of their school communities in the area of social justice. One of the presenters of the day commented that we are in good hands with these young people.
On Friday night, about 150 people gathered to hear Bishop Geoffrey Robinson speak about our church and the challenges it is facing in our modern age. He made it clear that we do not exist in isolation. We are influenced by mainstream society and our hope is that it is influenced by us. He was adamant that we need to change, but his strongest message was that we need to get back to the person of Jesus and make this our prime mission.
And so I wish to share with you some further input from the book Rebuilt by Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran, who presented at the Proclaim Conference a few weeks ago. You can find their presentations and other sessions from this Conference on http://www.proclaimconference.com.au/resources
You may recall that their basic premise about parishes is that they exist to make disciples. I hear you ask ‘what does that really mean?’ And so I share with you some of their thinking from pages 68-71:
1. Disciples Love God
And they do it in the three ways. In Matthew 22:37, Jesus tells us, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
This is a specific strategy. Our minds hold our thoughts and direct our feelings. Our hearts hold our feelings and direct our lives. Our souls hold our lives and direct our destinies. What we worship shapes our thinking, feeling, and living. A disciple is set on displacing the idols of false worship – money, power, pleasure, sex – and restoring God to his proper place. Our thinking, feeling, and being are more and more engaged in a relationship with him.
As Catholics, the Eucharist is “the source and summit” of our Christian life and worship because it is Christ himself. Disciples bring a “full, active participation” to the Eucharistic celebration each week. But “source” and “summit” necessarily mean there has got to be something in between.
Disciples match corporate worship in church with daily quiet time. Disciples are growing in the love of God’s word in scripture, obediently spending time there to learn it and learn to hunger for it. Daily Mass, Eucharistic adoration, the Liturgy of the Hours, Marian devotion, especially the Rosary, and regular disciplines of Confession, penance, giving, and fasting can be serious tools for the mature disciple. On the other hand, a few minutes alone with God each day, away from texting and technology, can be a great place to start.
2. Disciples Love People
Jesus also commanded, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”, in Matthew 22:39. To love your neighbour as yourself, you’ve got to, well, love yourself. Disciples love themselves not by indulging themselves, but rather by taking care of themselves.
Jesus invested time in his own self-care. Time and again in the gospels he withdraws from the crowds and even from his friends for quiet time alone. There he refreshes himself and renews his relationship with the Father. Obviously he pours himself into the lives of others, but only after he allows himself to be filled up. That's the example disciples follow.
While modern society pushes people to their limits, disciples preserve margin in their schedules. Because it is in the margins that rest and refreshment are found and relationships happen. Disciples accept the responsibility to care for themselves in other ways, too, building the energy and resources they need to live as God commands. Physical exercise and good nutrition are part of the process. A weaning away from self-defeating habits like alcohol abuse, nicotine addiction, anger mismanagement, and bad behaviours like gossip, profanity, or pornography, are what disciples do too. As Matthew Kelly aptly sums it up, what we’re talking about is a lifestyle change.
Our self-care is preparatory to loving one another. The Church we read about in the Acts of the Apostles was so attractive precisely because they loved one another in a selfless, wholehearted way. And Jesus promises that love like that will be the definitive identification of his followers (cf. John 13:35). It is the most evident fruit of the Holy Spirit and powerful proof of the truth of the message we preach. As Rick Warren says, if congregations actually love one another, “you’ll have to lock the doors to keep people out”. Disciples love others beginning with those closest to them each day: their families first of all, but also their co-workers and friends.
Their love also finds expression in a specific local church family where they make a commitment and stick to it. People who drift from parish to parish are sometimes just playing games with God and avoiding their real responsibility when it comes to giving and service.
Loving one another is about patience, kindness, and gentleness (cf. Ephesians 4:2), as well as care for others that takes the form of ministry (cf. John 15:12). Eventually their love reaches out to everybody they meet, and it finds expression in service and mission.
3. Disciples Make Disciples
From the beginning, the whole pattern for being a disciple is making disciples. When Jesus called the first disciples, he made a single promise to them: They’d be disciple makers (cf. Matthew 4:19). That’s what they did and that’s what disciples always do. The Church is in the disciple making business, because we live our faith and grow in our faith by sharing our faith.
As you know I have been working with several parishes as we try to address the change that is with us and the change we need to participate in. Today, Sunday, I facilitated a gathering of the parishioners of Cessnock and Kurri Kurri. Fr. Tony Potts is keen for these parishes to openly address the issues which face them. They do have a wonderful mission statement:
We, the people of the Coalfields Pastoral Area, aim to be a Christian Community bound together in prayer. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are committed to live by Gospel values. Striving to be a community which reflects Christ’s presence in our lives, we welcome, care for, and support each other in faith. In this way we grow as disciples of Christ, actively reaching out to each other and to other people within the wider community.
There was a real sense of hope with those who gathered, and the Mass at Holy Spirit, Kurri Kurri, before the gathering, was wonderful. I encourage you to give it a go one Sunday. It was clear to me that there are many involved in making Sunday worship a meaningful experience for those who come. Fr. Tony knew many people by name and engaged with them during the Mass. I certainly do not understand why that Church is not full, because what I sensed was a great sense of joy and connection.
I encourage each of us to not spend too much time and energy on analysing the ‘problems’ we are facing and attempting to find solutions. Let’s focus on the Christian message and live this out well, by gathering and being formed in our faith and then by being witnesses in our everyday lives. This is what will capture the imagination of those who are seeking. We have become lost in our institutional reality, and stressed by trying to blame others for what is not ‘working’. The real message is to be authentic and follow Jesus, and the Spirit will take care of the rest through us and within us.
My next message to you should be on 21st October. In the meantime please hold me and each other in prayer.