They were safe because they were behind fences and I am sure they are moved from paddock to paddock only when their shepherd, along with his trusty sheepdogs, determines when they need fresh pastures. The shepherd really takes care of his flock and in our sometimes harsh environment – floods, fire and drought – we see the devastation of how the shepherd (farmer) feels when his stock is lost or needs to be destroyed. The shepherd loves his animals and the sheep trust the shepherd.
Here in Australia we have firsthand experience of shepherds and their sheep. Interestingly, in Canon law the word pastor is used to denote those who lead us. Canons 383, 384, 387 and 394 outline the role of Bishop as the chief pastor of his flock, the people of the diocese. As pastor, the bishop is:
- to be concerned for the wellbeing of the faithful entrusted to his care
- to show special concern for his priests
- to have personal holiness which will enable him to promote the holiness of others
- to see in a special way to the proper celebration of the sacraments
- to promote apostolic activities, co-ordinating them where necessary.
On Saturday, we began another course in Integrity in the Service of the Church. More than 20 people gathered, from many parishes across the diocese, for the commencement of the eight units which make up this formation for those involved in parish and diocesan ministries. I felt a deep sense of pride as they stood to introduce themselves and explained the many ministries in which they are voluntarily involved – Mass co-ordinators, teachers of SRE, Sacramental team leaders, RCIA, music ministry, taking communion to people in hospitals, their homes or aged care facilities, parish administrative tasks, St Vincent de Paul Society, proclaimers, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, greeters, pastoral care workers, small groups etc. Many of these good people are involved in multiple ministries, and clearly most of their time is spent giving generously and graciously to the work of the church in their local communities.
The five key principles found in the document Integrity in the Service of the Church are:
- Church Workers are committed to justice and equity
- Church Workers uphold the dignity of all people and their right to respect
- Church Workers are committed to safe and supportive relationships
- Church Workers reach out to those who are poor, alienated or marginalised
- Church Workers strive for excellence in the performance of their work.
It was wonderful to hear them present their feedback to the whole group on what these principles mean in the context of parish life. Many spoke of deep listening, harmony, compassion, reaching out, proper conduct, excellence and justice.
We are well served by these people who are intentionally engaged as Jesus’ disciples. They each have a disciple’s heart and have a strong desire for this heart to be informed and formed. It is such a privilege just to be with them and to remember what it means to be a pastor – the one who cares for the sheep both inside and outside the paddock. It is indeed hard to tend to our ‘lost sheep’. I know we are all called to pastor with our chief pastor.
On Friday, I gave a presentation to the principals of our diocesan schools. I had been invited by the new Director, Michael Slattery, to speak about the pastoral ministries of the diocese so that the principals in turn, could impart this good news to their school communities. We are not able to be Christians on our own, as individuals - we are called to minister in community and with community. Gary Christensen, Acting Director of CatholicCare, also spoke to the principals about the work of CatholicCare and all they do to reach out to those who may be struggling, in order for them to feel connected and safe. We are indeed attempting to be the hands, heart, feet, voice, eyes and ears of Christ in the Newcastle, Hunter and Manning regions.
I hope many of you are connecting with what is going on in our diocese through our many media channels – the diocesan website, mnnews.today, Dio Update, Facebook, Aurora and of course parish bulletins. We rely upon you to be our voices to the wider community.
Next Saturday, one of our open Diocesan Pastoral Council meetings for the Newcastle area will be held at Broadmeadow. The purpose of these gatherings is to provide people with information and then to have conversations with local communities in an attempt to imagine and discover together how we can do things better or differently. These community gatherings are important for our own diocesan life but also in preparing for the 2020 Australian Synod.
While driving this week, I was listening to music from ‘A Songs of Inspiration’ CD and heard the following song which touched some deep part of me in this Easter Season, and so I thought I would share it with you. I just wish I could embed the music into the words as it makes them so much more powerful. Those of you who have computer access may find it on YouTube.
Deep Peace (Bill Douglas)
Deep peace of a running wave to you
Deep peace of the flowing air to you
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you
Deep peace of the shining stars to you
Deep peace of the gentle night to you
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you
Deep peace to you.
I am sure this is what we are called to be and to do, and so is our world. As the Gospel from John for the weekend concludes – “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly.” Many do not have life abundantly, and so I conclude my message with this prayer for peace and abundant life for all who inhabit our beautiful planet.