Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP spoke at the National Pastoral Planners Network Conference which I attended towards the end of April. The Conference was titled: The Spirit of Truth Will Set Us Free – Exploring hope in the reality of parish life. Fr Timothy’s talk was: Exploring hope for mission: Building Dynamic Leadership flowing from Baptism.

Fr Timothy has the gift of being a great storyteller and so I am not able to capture his essence in what I share with you. If you can, I would recommend that you read some of his books.

Anyway, he began his talk by saying that we presently have a crisis in leadership in the Catholic Church and in this case he was referring to the laity. We are all baptised and many of the laity remain passive. His talk invited us to empower the laity in their baptismal responsibility, a process which he indicated would be messy. He aligned it to the Spirit hovering over the chaos, not only at the beginning of creation but also presently. He challenged us to think of leadership beyond management, business and administration and to see leadership as a call to liberate our imagination; to encounter leadership as a work of grace. We need to attend to the daily task of delighting in people.

His invitation to us was based around the story of the Prodigal Son/Father. This story is about adventure, engagement, acceptance and generosity. The father had confidence in his son and so we should have confidence in our young people or anyone who returns home to us. If leadership is about control, then we will not experience the following:

  • Leadership as stepping towards the other
  • Leadership as casting off our dignity
  • Leadership as taking the first step into the vulnerability of the cross
  • Leadership as the courage to reach out
  • Leadership as walking in the shoes of the other
  • Leadership as cherishing the dignity of the wounded

If we really dare to preach the Gospel, then we will be misunderstood. Good leadership is about rejoicing, it is about living the joy of the Gospel and doing life differently. It is about being and becoming.

In a conversation during the week with one of my work colleagues, who is from a different Christian community, she expressed her sadness and frustration that many who profess faith in Jesus do not really live it. To use the words of Pope Francis, they are ‘sourpusses’. She is of the belief that our workplace should be a very different place of encounter with the other and the Other. I attempted to talk with her about this great time of change in the Catholic Church. She is keen for us to be a people of faith in action and I believe this may assist, if only the Spirit will send us generous people. Our diocese and parishes need to be places of mission and outreach, of service. People need to see Christ in action.

Our Covenant celebration on Wednesday night at the Cathedral was an experience of joy and hope. We celebrated what we have in common with our Anglican brothers and sisters, and lamented that we are still no longer able to fully share. Many people travelled from the Central Coast and the Diocese of Broken Bay and enjoyed just being with each other. We have come such a long way in the past fifty years and I think this reminded me of being patient and yet hope-filled. There was a 94 year old lady with us who has been to every celebration of the Tri-Diocesan Covenant since 2008. Imagine how life has changed for her and imagine the changes she has had to make. We have a wonderful faith which is good to transmit because it enables people to live life to the full. We shared our common belief in the Truth – “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6)

Fr Timothy Radcliffe invited us to fall in love with the Truth. I think the following poem, which was shared with us at the conference, is a wonderful invitation:

Fall in Love

[attributed to Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ (1907 – 1991)]

Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekend,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

“Your Word O Lord is truth” (John 17:17) is core to our way of life. So Truth is revealed to us in the Word, in the teachings of the Church and in the experience of our lives. Timothy Radcliffe invited us to a deep attentive listening, especially in this time of crisis or chaos. But as we recognized last week, at Pentecost, the Spirit is with us.

And this weekend, we remember The Most Holy Trinity, our God as mystery, as love, as relationship. The Collect is most beautiful:

God our Father, who by sending into the world the Word of truth and the Spirit of sanctification made known to the human race your wondrous mystery, grant us, we pray, that in professing the true faith, we may acknowledge the Trinity of eternal glory and adore your Unity, powerful in majesty. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Each day we bless ourselves with this truth. We are called to be in relationship with our God, with each other and with all of creation. We search and seek this truth as a holy people. Everything we encounter is holy, and is a revelation of our God. Our ministry of the baptised is that of discipleship. In seeking the Truth, I think we need to shift our focus from that of Eucharist to that of Baptism. Baptism gives us a new identity in the life of the Church and we are called to share God’s mission to the world. It is by witnessing believing people in the world that humans desire to live as they do. I wonder if others see this in us and desire what we have been graced with:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20)

I hope my reflection from attendance at the conference invites you to ponder.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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