MY WORD: For young and old

As I look back over the year now ending and reflect on what has been good, encouraging and enlivening, I notice that the best things have mostly been to do with our young people.

Yes, I took pleasure in the restoration and dedication of St John’s in Maitland at the conclusion of our sesquicentenary of the real establishment of the diocese. And I was delighted to be able to bless and open a new church at Belmont, to announce new schools and to see us kick off St Nicholas Early Education Centres and new affordable housing. The Year of Mercy was a blessing, as was the ministry of Fr Richard, our Missionary of Mercy, around the diocese. But many of the best bits were to do with the growth in faith and service of our young folks.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was away for two days with those who have been chosen as student leaders in our Year 12 schools next year. I don’t know that I can really convey what was so refreshing about this group. We put it to them rather strongly that being recognised as leaders is a sort of calling, and that it’s not just about a job in their school but rather about how they as a group are leaders of their diocese in their generation. The thing is, they picked up that language and those ideas, perhaps more than any previous group. Their response to the idea that they had a God-given mission to use their gifts was such that Fr Brian and I felt unusually able to venture into risky waters, recalling what often used to happen with school leaders. Of the twenty young men from Sydney who started in the seminary with me, I ventured, three had been school captains and one the president of a national student movement. From my school class, five of us went to seminaries or novitiates, all former school prefects. Brian had similar stories. This notion, that once you start accepting calls to lead in your community you may find yourself seeing life as a response to such calls, didn’t seem to frighten this group too much. From a generation that is supposedly all about ‘What I want’, I found this deeply encouraging.

The other youth highlights I recall were the trip with some eighty of our young people to the Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Adelaide about this time last year and, of course, with the seventy who did the pilgrimage to World Youth Day in Krakow back in August. For our Australian kids, of course, a lot of the impact of these events comes from suddenly finding themselves in the midst of thousands or, at WYD, millions, of young people who believe and pray and worship and seriously try to live good Christian lives. It’s not what they’re used to in their generation here. But there is also what I call ‘the shock of the old’. At the ACYF that may just have been experiencing quiet Eucharistic adoration or benediction or the rosary prayed intensely, a sense of a Catholic inheritance they’ve never really known about. But in Italy or Poland, it’s the fact of standing where Francis of Assisi stood, seeing his room, his hermitage. It’s being beside the pool where Ambrose baptised Augustine. Suddenly these great Christians become real, their lives of faith take on new colour, and our world of shopping malls and Microsoft begins to look pretty banal. It’s a moving thing to see our young people realise that a life of faith is not just ‘going to church’, it’s a life of faith. And the thing is, they’re young enough to get it.

Another thing we put to the young leaders a few weeks ago was the ACYF mantra: ‘You’re not the church of tomorrow; you’re the young church today.’ And it is invigorating, as I’ve been trying to say, when you find yourself in the midst of that young church. They want to do better than we have done, and so they should. But they do still need something of ‘the shock of the old’. At the very least, they need to be astonished at what Jesus actually said and did, and to know something of what he and the Spirit have inspired men and women to do with their lives down the ages. Then they see how they have a place in that story, how they are called to write their chapter. Lord knows, they’ve got all the gifts and the generosity of spirit. I’ve seen it.

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Bishop Bill Wright Image
Bishop Bill Wright

Most Reverend William (Bill) Wright is the eighth Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and is the pastoral leader of more than 150,000 Catholics in the region.

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