At the end of last week’s message, I shared with you the sentiment of the love that many of us have for God, each other, creation, and the Catholic Church. This week we have uploaded on our diocesan synod website a video from Fr Timothy Radcliffe whose book, Alive in God – A Christian Imagination I have referred to in some of this year’s messages. In his video, he speaks of our capacity as humans to imagine, and I include this quote for you, from his book, to ponder as we prepare to gather and discern: The title he has given this part of his book is - At Home in a Corrupt Church.
I was in Australia for the summer of 2018, where the Church is deep in this crisis (sexual abuse). I met the head teachers of the Catholic Schools in the State of Victoria. I am deeply grateful for how they approached this with open eyes and deep faith. One of them quoted Carlo Carretto (1910 – 1988), who had been the national president of the Catholic youth movement in Italy in the early 1950’s, before becoming a little brother of Charles de Foucauld. Carretto wrote an ‘Ode to the Church’, in a book called I Sought and I Found, in response to a book by an atheist called I Sought and I Did Not Find. What Carretto said sums up the ambiguity of the Church, my home but not yet my home, revealing and concealing God:
How much I must criticize you, my church and yet how much I love you! You have made me suffer more than anyone, and yet I owe more to you than to anyone. I should like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence. You have given me much scandal, and yet you alone have made me understand your holiness. Never in this world have I seen anything more compromised, more false, and yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous, and more beautiful. I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face – and yet how often I have prayed that I might die in your sure arms! No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you, even though not completely you. Then, too – where would I go? To build another church? But I cannot build one without the same defects, for they are my own defects. And again, if I build another church, it would be my Church, and not Christ’s church. No, I am old enough to know better. I shall not leave this Church, founded on so frail a rock, because I should be founding another one on an even frailer rock: myself. And then, what do rocks matter? What matters is Christ’ promise, what matters is the cement that binds the rocks into one: the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit alone can build the Church with stones as ill‐hewn as we are.
Faced with all the ambiguities of our home/non-home, many like my friend, leave. Yes to Jesus and No to the Church. Yes to spirituality and No to institutional religion. I believe that because God has made his home with us, we must stay. The last words of Matthew’s gospel are ‘Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age’ (Mt. 28.20). God’s abiding presence is not dependent on our remaining faithful to God. But if we remain, despite the temptation to turn our backs on the sometimes sordid institution, we are signs of our God who will not go away and because of whose presence we can still call the Church holy, despite everything.” [Radcliffe OP, Alive In God – A Christian Imagination (Bloomsbury, London, 2019) p. 212 – 213]
In our Sunday readings, we listened to the proclamation of love and service. “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12). We go on to hear that we have been chosen and therefore commissioned to go out and bear fruit that will last.
This reminds me of the recent commissioning rituals, by Bishop Bill, for membership of the Synod, that have taken place around the Diocese. Surely, these commissionings are impelling us to love one another.
I include here the blessing prayed on the Members of Synod taken from the Letter of St Paul to the Ephesians 3:16-21. Bishop Bill prayed:
Having taken up such a responsibility we stand in need of God’s blessing.
This then is what we pray as we stand before our Abba God, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.
Bishop Bill then extended his arms over the people and continued.
May God, out of the riches of divine glory,
strengthen you inwardly with power.
through the working of the Holy Spirit.
May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith,
so being rooted and grounded in love,
you will be able to grasp fully,
the breadth, length, height and depth of Christ’s love,
and with all God’s Holy ones,
experience this love that surpasses all understanding,
so that you may be filled with the utter fullness of God.
May the Holy Spirit enlighten your minds,
that as the Church of Maitland-Newcastle
you remain centred on Christ,
seeking always to live as missionary disciples,
building the kingdom of God together
in this place and time.
To God - whose power now at work in us
can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine – be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus through all the generations, world without end, Amen.
Our diocese began its synodal journey towards the end of the 1980’s with the Renew program. I believe there were many people who gathered in small groups in every parish around the diocese, breaking open the wisdom of the Second Vatican Council and looking for ways of living it here in our diocese. This then led to the Diocesan Synod of 1992/93 and the development of the Diocesan Pastoral Plan. Since then, there have been many assemblies and gatherings with people coming together from across the diocese to keep alive the vision of the Council and the Diocesan Pastoral Plan.
Once again, we are going to gather to keep pursuing this spiritual renewal to ensure our communities are faithful to the person and mission of Jesus, seeking to be missionary disciples. Pope Francis, in Evangelii Gaudium (n. 27) insists that ecclesial renewal must be shaped by a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelisation of today’s world. In the same paragraph, he quotes his predecessor John Paul II; “All renewal in the Church must have mission as its goal if it is not to fall prey to a kind of ecclesial introversion”.
The question that is facing us is how best to foster this missionary spirit, and then what actions will be adopted to build the Kingdom of God, here and now.
Please keep praying for the spirit of Pentecost to come.