This message is being written on the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of our liturgical cycle. This year we will be listening to the Gospel of Luke and using this as our lens to journey with Jesus and his disciples so as to gain a clearer insight into our God and the ongoing call to discipleship.
Upon arriving home from Mass on Sunday night, I turned on 99.7 Rhema FM to listen to our first broadcast in the Hunter of The Journey Program, a Catholic radio program which will be broadcast each Sunday night between 6.30 and 7.30pm. During the one hour broadcast, there is a number of presenters who provide short but meaningful messages for the listening audience, interspersed with good music. If you would like to listen to this program you can go to the Rhema FM website and do a catch-up on the program. It’s our hope that you will listen to this program and invite others to do the same. Rhema FM is a Christian family radio station which provides programs and music for living life to the full. By next year some of the content of The Journey Program will be local, with Bishop Bill providing some of the Gospel reflections. The producer of the program, Jude Hennessey, from the Diocese of Wollongong, speaks joyfully of faith, hope, love and life as these are the elements of the program. I hope you take the time to tune in.
We are now attempting to deliver the message of Jesus through a variety of media – parishes, schools, CatholicCare, Aurora, media, mnnews.today, our website, social media, radio and personally. Of course the best way to spread the message of Jesus is through our face-to-face encounters and taking those opportunities to let people know the reason for our inspiration and joy, our compassion and mercy.
I was grateful to Tracey Edstein who took care of last week’s message. She wrote beautifully about the Year of Mercy and more information on this can be found on our diocesan website. I hope to see lots of people at the Diocesan Opening of the Year of Mercy and the launch of our 150 year Celebrations of the Diocese. This will take place on Sunday 13 December at 4pm at the Sacred Heart Cathedral, followed by food, the sacrament of penance and entertainment. Please come and invite others to join you. Pope Francis is inviting us to be merciful.
On Saturday, we had another of our open Diocesan Pastoral Council meetings. This time we gathered with about 40 people from Blackbutt and Eastlakes Regions. The conversations which emerged were varied, but there was a real sense of wanting those who are disconnected to reconnect with the church gathered. We are the poorer because of their absence. It felt good to be with those who care deeply about their faith and the faith of others.
This week about 100 people from our diocese will be attending the Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Adelaide. Bishop Bill will be there with our young people, to celebrate all that is good and wonderful about being an Australian Catholic now. Please pray that the three thousand who gather will be renewed, empowered and enlivened to live the Gospel each day. We have much to be grateful for.
I am also really conscious that from November 30 to December 11 the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, (COP 21 or CMP 11) will be held in Paris. It will be the 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 11th session of the Meeting of the Parties to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol (CMP 11). According to the organizing committee, the objective of the 2015 Conference is to achieve, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, a binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world. The less than two degrees target seems to be a goal worth achieving.
Pope Francis has published an encyclical called Laudato Si, intended, in part, to influence the conference. The encyclical calls for action to combat climate change. The International Trade Union Confederation has called for the goal to be "zero carbon, zero poverty", and the general secretary, Sharan Burrow, has repeated that there are "no jobs on a dead planet".
On Sunday many rallies involving thousands of people were held across Australia in support of this Conference and the need for world leaders to take seriously the health of our planet. Pope Francis’ encyclical reminds us that earth is our common home, and that we must care for it. Pope Francis calls on the entire world to take action to embrace what he called “ecological conversion”. We need to take seriously the moral and spiritual imperative for environmental and social action. The encyclical calls us all to embrace a new lifestyle that respects all of creation, and asks our leaders to commit to effective global agreements. You can find this encyclical on the internet, on our diocesan website or you can purchase a hard copy. I have come across a lovely copy of an Australian Group Reading Guide to Pope Francis’ Laudato Si by Bill Huebsch and Trish Hindmarsh called Care for our Common Home. I certainly encourage those of you in parishes to get some copies and break it open in small groups during 2016. We are planning a seminar on Laudato Si in the diocese in May.
Pope Francis writes very boldly about humans’ capacity for consumption in both Laudato Si and Evangelii Gaudium.
We, as humans, need to have a conversion of heart and mind. The solution to many of our global problems lies beyond politics and technology, to a change in humanity. We need to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, and asceticism which entails learning to give, and not simply to give up (n9). We are being called to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbours on a global scale. Peace, justice and righteousness in the place of violence is possible. As Usman Mahmood says in yesterday’s Newcastle Herald:
There is a great need for the strong to treat the weak with dignity, respect and justice, and for the weak and poor to show gratitude and adopt the ways of truth and righteousness in utter humility and total sincerity.
At the conclusion of Laudato Si, which is both joyful and troubling, Pope Francis offers two prayers. The first, I will share with you, as it invites us to pray to a God who is the all-powerful Creator,
A prayer for our earth
All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.
And so I finish with the words from our Sunday’s second reading from St Paul to the Thessalonians (3:12 -4:2)
May the Lord be generous in increasing your love and make you love one another and the whole human race as much as we love you. And may he so confirm your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless in the sight of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus Christ comes with all his saints.
Vice Chancellor Pastoral Ministries