I found myself linking Paul’s instructions to the words that have been spoken to us over the past month from theologians – James McEvoy, Richard Lennan and Richard Gaillardetz. These men, through their readings, studies, thinking and reflecting have provided us with some amazing and valuable insights as to what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, as lived out in the Catholic Church.
Let’s begin with some of the words from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
Before the world was made, God chose us, chose us in Christ, to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in God’s presence. (1:40)
Such is the richness of the grace which he has showered on us in all wisdom and insight. (1:8)
He came to bring the good news of peace, peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near at hand. Through him, both of us have in the one Spirit our way to come to the Father. (2:17-18)
I, a prisoner in the Lord, implore you to lead a life worthy of your vocation. Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience. Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one Body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope when you were called. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is Father of all, through all and within all. (4:1-6)
I want to urge you in the name of the Lord, not to go on living the aimless kind of life that pagans live.…… You must give up your old way of life; you must put aside your old self, which gets corrupted by following illusory desires. Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution so that you can put on the new self that has been created in God’s way, in goodness and holiness of the truth. (4:17, 22-24)
Never have grudges against others, or lose your temper, or raise your voice to anybody, or call each other names, or allow any sort of spitefulness. Be friends with one another, and kind, forgiving each other as readily as God forgave you in Christ. (4:31-32)
Try, then, to imitate God, as children of his that he loves and follow Christ by loving as he loved you, giving himself up in our place as a fragrant offering and a sacrifice to God. (5:1-2)
Be very careful about the sort of lives you lead, like intelligent and not like senseless people. This may be a wicked age, but your lives should redeem it. Do not be thoughtless but recognise what is the will of the Lord. (5:15 -16)
Sing the words and tunes of the psalms and hymns when you are together, and go on singing and chanting to the Lord in your hearts, so that always and everywhere you are giving thanks to God who is our Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (5:19-20)
I have no doubt that the theologians who spoke with us, are attempting to make sense of the mystery of God to us, through Jesus Christ in our time and place, the same way in which Paul was providing the members of the early Church with the guidance required to be followers of Jesus Christ. Paul was making Jesus real and relevant, and it is time for us to make Jesus Christ real and relevant again. We are more than a people who gather for worship on a Sunday.
The three theologians spoke of the community of the baptised, and dismissed the presence of two classes of people – the laity and the clergy. We are all called to be disciples and to live God’s mission, our vocation, in the world, according to the gifts that we have been given. There is an urgent need for renewal and we were reminded that this will hopefully be possible with the imaginings of the Plenary Council.
Clearly, pastoral leadership seemed to be at the forefront of what was delivered by each theologian. This leadership is to be dynamic and relational - not of a power over, but power with, of empowering with an emphasis on service. Ordination does not give someone new powers, but one is ordained into a new relationship. We are called to be the body of Christ, in service to and for each other.
While engaged in deep thought as they were speaking, I realised that the apparent removal of theology from public discourse has lessened us as human beings, and this ongoing diminishment of capacity for humans to engage in dialogue about meaning and purpose will impact on our capacity in all other areas of human endeavours and development.
Just for your own contemplation about what I am trying to say, I will list for you the fields of studies of faculties that are available for most people to study at one of our universities – anthropology, history, philosophy, the arts, medical science, economics, business, law, engineering, education, health sciences, architecture or the built environment, agriculture, veterinary science, social sciences, music, fine arts, political sciences. This list is not exhaustive, but my thinking is that without an invitation for students to study more broadly about humanity and its ongoing need to search for meaning, we will be deficient, like those who do not eat a good balanced diet.
I think Paul in writing his letters to the early Christian communities was very aware of what happens to those who do not have a higher purpose for their lives. Paul found this higher purpose in the person of Jesus Christ. He had a major conversion experience and lived his life following that way of life.
Just as Paul went out to those on the highways and byways, Pope Francis reminds us that this is what we are called to do and to be. I recall the words from some of our new staff at the recent staff induction when they indicated that they wished to work for an ‘organisation’ that was striving to make a difference in the lives of others. Most of those who spoke are working with us in finance, property and human resources. They want to be part of making a difference, or as Pope Francis aptly names it, accompaniment.
One image that has remained with me is that of our Cross. The vertical arm reaching up and down from God to humanity, the horizontal arms reaching out in communion, in relationship with humanity and God’s creation and then from that the multi-directional rays of outpouring, of being sent into the world. It is from relationships that we are sent and to which we return.
We are definitely being invited to be a listening and healing church. One of the speakers spoke of the quiet revolution that is taking place – I don’t know about that, but I am living in hope and in constant prayer.
The following headings were provided for us to ponder in this new model of pastoral leadership:
Pastoral authority serves a synodal Church
Pastoral authority exhibits doctrinal humility
Pastoral authority is committed to ecclesial decentralization
Pastoral authority relies more on evangelical witness than on disciplinary decree
Pastoral authority is concerned with the formation of conscience
I have already written too many words for you to digest so I will sign off and hope to see you at some of the Animator Training sessions for the Plenary Council and Diocesan Synod that are being conducted across the diocese.