TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: We need shepherds who will lead

I have returned home from being up north where I welcomed a new grandson into the family and where I spent just over a week at the Proclaim Conference. The past week of caring for two little ones and ensuring our daughter was supported once she arrived home from hospital has been very busy and yet at the same time life-giving. There is nothing quite like being in the role as key nurturer to take you mind off ‘work matters’. I think I call this the spirituality of presence or, as Pope Francis calls it, the art of accompaniment. I recognise it takes a good deal of energy to live in the moment.

On Saturday night I went to Mass at Sacred Heart Church which is part of Surfers Paradise Parish. The priest who celebrated the Mass with us was an older man who spoke gently and with conviction about the readings which you may recall were about sheep and the shepherd. The shepherd has an enormous amount of responsibility in caring for the flock. As I listened to the First Reading from Jeremiah (23:1-6), I wondered about our own shepherds and the words that were spoken:

But the remnant of my flock I myself will gather from all the countries where I have dispersed them, and will bring them back to their pastures: they shall be fruitful and increase in numbers. I will raise up shepherds to look after them and pasture them; no fear, no terror for them anymore; not one shall be lost – it is the Lord who speaks!

I hope this gives you great hope when we sense the flock has been scattered in our own lifetime. I am sure this aspect of church life will form a significant part of the conversation at our own Diocesan Synod and the 2020 Plenary Council.

It is Mark 6:30-34 that give us a glimpse of what we need to do when we are sheep without a shepherd: So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them at some length. Jesus recognised their spiritual hunger, while at the same time taking his disciples to a quiet place to rest and pray after a busy mission.

The priest who presided at the Vigil Mass reminded us that this is how we need to view the Mass as a quiet place of spiritual renewal and nourishment not as a chore to be ticked off the weekly list. I now wonder if the Mass is for those who have been on mission and who need time to reflect, to nourish and to be renewed before going back out on mission.

Last week we heard in the Second Reading from St Paul to the Ephesians (1:3-14) that:

“…before the world was made, God chose us in Christ, to be spotless, and to live through love in his presence……..” Such is the richness of the grace which he has showered on us in all wisdom and insight.

When exploring the word proclaim with us at the Proclaim Conference, Archbishop Mark Coleridge used the term to mean ‘to cry forth the Good News of Jesus Christ’.

This proclamation is a way of life, an experience of amazement and liberation, not a religion. He used the story of the boys who were rescued from the cave in Thailand, their inability to rescue themselves and their total reliance on others for their liberation from being captives in a cave.

He equated that to our ‘plight’ as human beings as we await salvation from our own ‘captivity’ by the one who sets us free, Jesus Christ. Powerfully he spoke of the diver who lost his life from a lack of oxygen while taking oxygen to the boys. I invite you to reflect on the images of those boys and their rescue and its similarity to our own salvation story of suffering, death and resurrection.

We have this great message of living life to the full but we seem to lack the joy of passing it on in a way that others will receive it with enthusiasm. I think the key question is: How is your parish church or school offering the experience of God?’ If it is just Sunday Mass followed by weekly masses, then this is not enough.

The Proclaim Conference provided us with a four stage tool of engagement plan:

Stage 1: Reflect – explore key areas as they currently are in your parish/community

Stage 2: Investigate – what do we need to know to nurture growth in these areas?

Stage 3: Plan – Building on what we have learnt – how can we achieve growth?

Stage 4: Take Action – Implement a renewal plan

Cardinal John Dew in his presentation quoted Maya Angelou – The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned. You might recall that the theme of the Conference was Make your home in me (John 15:4). I am sure that in these rapidly changing times, parishes just don’t know how to provide that place called ‘home’ because people are lost and do not necessarily know what it is they desire at that deeper reality.

Like the prophet Jonah, we are constantly tempted to flee to a safe haven. It can have many names: individualism, spiritualism, living in a little world, addiction, intransigence, the rejection of new ideas and approaches, dogmatism, nostalgia, pessimism, hiding behind rules and regulations. We can resist leaving behind a familiar and easy way of doing things. Yet the challenges involved can be like the storm, the whale, the worm that dried the gourd plant, or the wind and sun that burned Jonah’s head. For us, as for him, they can serve to bring us back to the God of tenderness, who invites us to set out ever anew on our journey. (Gaudete et exsultate 134)

So how do we invite people in so that as they know and believe that Jesus has a home in them, and they in him. It is from this home base that everything begins towards a future, it is not a place of staying locked-in and locked-up. What are those opportunities for going out, going beyond our comfort zones, going out to the peripheries, going out and being with and for people?

I will finish there for this week as I seem to have asked a lot of questions that do not have simple responses. However, our renewal will require shepherds who will lead.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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