I have written previously of the joy of visiting the Upper Hunter and seeing a region working collaboratively. There were 18 people at the meeting with people from each of the parishes - Murrurundi, Scone, Muswellbrook, Denman and Merriwa - sharing proudly the accomplishments of their communities and schools. There were also representatives from some of the Catholic schools in the region who shared the activities of the beginning of the school year. We also spoke of the fires of last weekend and the support being provided by parish and school communities to assist those affected. They certainly demonstrate a great sense of connection to each other and the wider community.
On Saturday the Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) met to discuss some of the matters emerging from the DPC meetings held last year in the regions. This was a ‘meaty’ meeting and more work will be done on the topics covered. We began our meeting with the following hymn by David Haas, the words of which had great meaning:
Come Lord Jesus,
send us your Spirit,
renew the face of the earth.
These lyrics spoke powerfully to all of us, in light of our discussion and the present reality unfolding with the Royal Commission.
On Friday evening we celebrated the wonderful achievements of many catechists in our diocese. These men and women teach Special Religious Education in our State Schools, are involved in the Sacraments of Initiation Program in our parishes and also participate in Children’s Liturgy of the Word. Seven people received a papal blessing for 20 years of service while one lady, Patricia Allen from Maitland, was presented with an award for 40 years of teaching SRE. This is always a wonderfully gentle evening with people coming
forward humbly, yet proudly, for having served the call of their baptism with joy. Before blessing the catechists Fr Brian Mascord said:
The ministry of catechists is foundational to the life and mission of the Church. You serve in this ministry by virtue of your baptism when you were presented with the light of Christ; accepted the Gospel as your rule of life; were signed with the cross; were immersed in the waters of baptism and clothed in Christ.
As catechists you joyfully share your faith in, and love of, Christ with the children you meet. You are a living sign of God’s encounter with his people, leading children to know that God is with them always – showing them the light of Christ and leading them in their new life.
This year I encourage you to deepen your relationship with God through your personal prayer, reflective reading of the scriptures as well as our communal celebration of the Mass. I suggest these practices in order that you might give witness to children and families of your encounters with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our amazing God.
The catechist is a person of faith who leads others in understanding the faith teachings according to our scriptures, tradition and teachings of the church. They are a witness of Christ in the community and it is through them that others encounter Jesus Christ, God made flesh. The primary goal of a catechist is to model God’s love to others. The theme for our diocesan catechists this year is Encounter.
On Friday, I also met with the Diocesan Caritas team as we keep our preparations for Project Compassion moving.
On Thursday afternoon I attended the Hunter Ecumenical Social Justice Network meeting where representatives from the Uniting, Anglican and Catholic denominations met to discuss joint initiatives in the area of social justice. One of these initiatives will be the Give Us a Sign campaign which will run through May in support of the First Peoples of Australia. Last year the campaign was on peace and in 2015 it was about refugees. The purpose of this campaign is for churches and schools to display signs of support and hope for the particular issues that have been identified.
On Wednesday our Ecumenical and Interfaith Council met, followed by the Social Justice Council. I attend these meetings and once again there are plans for many inclusive and supportive events for the year ahead, highlighting the issues facing us and our need to respond with courage.
Tuesday evening saw the Called to Serve Mass – Go Out and Spread the Good News - celebrated at the Cathedral. In spite of the rain, the Cathedral was full with our clergy, teachers, support staff and their families who participated fully in the Mass. This is certainly a joyous celebration of Catholic education. Those who teach and serve in our Catholic schools are also catechists who commit themselves to the mission of Jesus Christ. Dr Michael Slattery was commissioned as Director of Schools for our diocese. Michael was presented with the Gospel, a scroll representing NSW education legislation and the Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, our diocesan patron.
At this Mass, a number of awards were presented and the following chorus was sung:
We are called to act with justice,
We are called to love tenderly,
We are called to serve one another;
To walk humbly with God.
Once again this hymn was written by David Haas.
The following words were said by Fr Brian before the staff of the schools and the Schools Office made their commitment:
Each year the Catholic Schools community gathers in response to the call to serve that each of you hears.
This call comes from God. It is heard in your own heart, in your family, friends and the wider community, who recognise in you the gifts and qualities that enable you to be a good Catholic educator.
The ministry of Catholic education in the Church of Maitland-Newcastle stands on the diverse contribution of its 2,250 staff.
Together, you reveal the face of Christ to your colleagues, students and their families.
And so at the beginning of this new year, on behalf of Bishop Bill, I call you to serve the mission of Jesus Christ in the ministry of Catholic school education.
I trust you are getting a sense that this week many have re-committed themselves to be holy, by loving others. This theme of being holy, formed the message coming from the readings for this Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time. From the book of Leviticus (19:1-2, 17-18) the Lord speaks to Moses saying, “Speak to the whole community of the sons of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.’” In the first letter of St Paul to the Corinthians (3:16-23), Paul reminds his readers that the Spirit of God is living among them, that the temple of God is sacred and that they are God’s temple. And then in the Gospel (Matthew 5:38-48), Jesus turns the Jewish law and customs on their head by instructing that those who are his disciples must be ‘perfect’, that is go beyond normal expectations in all things. Jesus refines the law, insisting that we go beyond the law with great generosity of thought, word and deed. It is to our hearts that scripture must speak and make its home.
What a privileged week I have had, to be surrounded by hundreds of people who have committed their lives to being holy and sacred. It is their faith and witness to Jesus that beckons others to hear God’s call, to respond, to follow, to serve and to be disciples. I invite you to look around and to see the goodness around you. People are prepared, you are prepared to encounter Jesus and to go out and spread the Good News. These are our blessings, this is what gives us hope in all that is painful and challenging.