Building leadership for mission

A week ago, I was asked to present a case study on our diocese entitled “Pastoral Planning and Mission Delivery” in which the two cases presented were looking at “Building Leadership for Mission – We are called to deliver the mission. How do we make this happen?”

Once again, the end of the weekend is here, as I sit to scribe my weekly message. Sometimes I find it hard to know where to begin. A week ago, I gave a presentation at a Broken Bay Institute (BBI), three day course titled “Church Governance and Leadership Course – Exploring Opportunities, Issues, Risks". I was asked to present a case study on our diocese entitled “Pastoral Planning and Mission Delivery” in which the two cases presented were looking at “Building Leadership for Mission – We are called to deliver the mission. How do we make this happen?” You are probably wondering what I covered in my presentation, and maybe even why I was asked. By way of an answer, I will break open for you my past three days in the diocese.

I have just returned home from a day at the Upper Hunter Regional Gathering. The Gathering at Aberdeen began with Mass for about two hundred people. Fr Richard Shortall SJ was the main celebrant, joined by Fr John Tobin and Fr Anthony Nguyen. The theme chosen for the Mass and the day was “Discerning our Paths”. Fr Richard has been with the Upper Hunter community during the month of August conducting his Retreat in Everyday Life. Discernment was the focus of this year’s Regional Gathering. How beautifully Fr Richard spoke of Ignatius of Loyola, our image of God, Desires, the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius, Movements of the Spirit and Making Decisions. This was all done in the context of the question “How do I know what God is asking of us?” After Mass, he broke open the process of discernment and then led us in the process of beginning to make decisions in three groups, for each of the communities that has a parish priest as its leader. It was great to sit with the people from Scone and Murrurundi parishes as they sifted through a proposal.

Amazingly, almost half the group had lived in Scone for only two weeks – they had come from Rockhampton and Wagga Wagga to work at the abattoirs. Their country of origin was the Philippines. They represent the changing face of the Upper Hunter and they spoke most impressively of cross-cultural exchange and enrichment. This was really powerful as the ‘old’ (long-term) residents sat with the new to explore the opportunities that the Spirit provides. These young Catholics came along because they were at Mass and then openly accepted the invitation to join the day. How brave, and yet how wise of them. Fr Richard’s strong invitation at the end of Mass to turn left when leaving the church and meet in the Tenison Woods Centre for morning tea captured their imagination. Fr Richard, Fr John and Fr Anthony demonstrated that their leadership comes because they are great men of faith. It was a splendid day because those who came were open to the possibilities of renewal, the generosity of St Joseph’s High School in hosting the event and the determination of the Regional Pastoral Council to keep on re-imagining.

Yesterday, Saturday, I gave a presentation on the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle to about thirty people from seven of our ten diocesan regions. These people have begun the “Formation for Ministry” program which is being offered again. I find it inspiring to be with people whose commitment to their parishes will bring them out for six Saturdays of formation to cover the topics – Spirituality for Ministry, Integrity in Ministry and Formation for Leadership. They recognise their need for ongoing formation as disciples who are called to serve their local parish communities. I recall one of the participants speaking passionately about our parishes being inward-focused when we are charged with going out on mission. The question that is frequently posed is around 'mission versus maintenance'.

On Friday, I accompanied Fr Brian Mascord (Vicar General) and Danny Egan (Parish Assistance Unit) to Gloucester to assist the Parish Leadership Team with the sorting and moving of their office from the presbytery to the new CatholicCare Offices in King Street. While we did not get to move physically the many files, documents and books, we sorted through many years of history. This leadership team works to serve the parish in the absence of a priest and we, ‘the Diocese’, are there to assist. Last week’s message was dedicated to the attributes of these leadership teams.

So if you look at my past three days, it is not hard to imagine what I broke open for the case study on our diocese at the Church Governance and Leadership Program. I think outside observers to our diocese wonder how we are getting on, in light of the media coverage they hear. We could be overcome by despondency, and yet as you read, I have not been surrounded by this sense over these days. People are engaging in a process of hope and renewal, while being mindful of the reality of the disgrace that comes from our historic sexual abuse.

In today’s liturgy, we finished the discourse from Chapter 6 of John’s gospel, which we have been reading over the past five weeks. Over these weeks, John has Jesus attempting to explain to his disciples who he is. Peter poses the question “Lord to whom shall we go?” Peter responds with this question, because Jesus asks them if they also wish to go away, as there were many of Jesus’ disciples who left him because they were unable to accept his teachings. Does that not have a familiar ring to it for many people in our post-modern era? Faith and belief are ridiculed in a world that is beginning to feel anti-religious. Peter exclaims, “You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.”

At Aberdeen today, the faithful ones, both the old (long-term) residents and the newcomers, proudly and boldly proclaim that Jesus is their saviour. They are holding tightly to their Catholic identity and searching for ways to make this real in our diocese. In my presentation about our diocese, I covered our Diocesan Pastoral Plan which had its origins in 1992/93 and I also attempted to explain our understanding of what it means for us to be disciples of Jesus. Our core understanding comes from our identity in Communio/Missio. We gather at Eucharist as a community, and we are sent on mission, so we can gather again to be nourished by Word, Sacrament and Community, to go on mission. This Communio/Missio as a way of life is embedded in the great mystery of our great faith – the one which the evangelist John has been breaking open for us in Chapter 6.

Communio/Missio is the driving force for our diocesan/parish way of life, for our decision-making, and by which our structures and systems are developed. In Deus Caritas Est Pope Benedict XVI wrote:

The Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility of:

  • Proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-Martyria)
  • Celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia) and
  • Exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia)

These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable.

(Deus Caritas Est 25)

So at baptism we are anointed as Priest, Prophet and King.

In Canon Law the church exists to Sanctify, to Teach and to Serve.

Fr Gerald O’Collins SJ, who also presented at the Church Governance Course, spoke of Beauty, Truth and Justice.

I will put all of this in a table for you so as to share my connections with our traditions, law and experiences.

We are anointed/missioned to:

Priest

Celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia)

Sanctify

Beauty

Prophet

Proclaiming the world of God (kerygma-Martyria)

Teach

Truth

King

Exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia)

Serve

Justice

What captured my imagination was the word 'beauty'. And Pope Francis writes of this in Evangelii Gaudium (167 and 168):

Every form of catechesis would do well to attend to the “way of beauty” (via pulchritudinis). Proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and to follow him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendour and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties. Every expression of true beauty can thus be acknowledged as a path leading to an encounter with the Lord Jesus. This has nothing to do with fostering an aesthetic relativism which would downplay the inseparable bond between truth, goodness and beauty, but rather a renewed esteem for beauty as a means of touching the human heart and enabling the truth and goodness of the Risen Christ to radiate within it.

If, as Saint Augustine says, we love only that which is beautiful, the incarnate Son, as the revelation of infinite beauty, is supremely lovable and draws us to himself with bonds of love. So a formation in the via pulchritudinis ought to be part of our effort to pass on the faith. Each particular Church should encourage the use of the arts in evangelization, building on the treasures of the past but also drawing upon the wide variety of contemporary expressions so as to transmit the faith in a new “language of parables”. We must be bold enough to discover new signs and new symbols, new flesh to embody and communicate the word, and different forms of beauty which are valued in different cultural settings, including those unconventional modes of beauty which may mean little to the evangelizers, yet prove particularly attractive for others.

As for the moral component of catechesis, which promotes growth in fidelity to the Gospel way of life, it is helpful to stress again and again the attractiveness and the ideal of a life of wisdom, self-fulfilment and enrichment. In the light of that positive message, our rejection of the evils which endanger that life can be better understood. Rather than experts in dire predictions, dour judges bent on rooting out every threat and deviation, we should appear as joyful messengers of challenging proposals, guardians of the goodness and beauty which shine forth in a life of fidelity to the Gospel.

That beauty has been my encounter over these past days, and beauty is not a rational concept, but exists in the part of our being that is without logical reasoning. Let’s keep building on our beauty and see what happens.

I am having two weeks away in the noble calling of being a mum and a nanna to our daughters and grandchildren who live on the Gold Coast. I know I will encounter beauty in the new life of our newest grandchild, in the life of our next generation, in our own children and certainly in the beauty of the Gold Coast. I hope you are able to immerse yourself in many moments of beauty that come your way over these coming weeks as we enter into the magical season of Spring.

Melissa Fenech and John Donnelly will write these messages over the next two weeks while I take a break.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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

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