From John’s Gospel (18:33-37) the following words come from the mouth of Jesus in response to a confused Pilate:
‘Yes, I am a king, I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.’
What does Jesus mean when he says, “Yes, I am a king”? I will share with you some of the words from the Preface for this feast:
…he might accomplish the mysteries of human redemption
and, making all created things subject to his rule,
he might present to the immensity of your majesty
an eternal and universal kingdom,
a kingdom of truth and life,
a kingdom of holiness and grace,
a kingdom of justice, love and peace.
There it is! This is what the universal kingdom is, a kingdom of truth, life, holiness, grace, justice, love and peace. This reminds me of the theme for our Diocesan Synod, Building the Kingdom of God Together. This kingdom calls us to seek out truth as described in the prayers we pray each day at Mass, if we could just but listen with our ears and our hearts.
At our baptism we are anointed as priest, prophet and king and when a Bishop is appointed as the shepherd of a diocese, he takes on the role of teaching, sanctifying and governing. This governing or kingly office is one of service. Through our baptism and through ordination we are anointed to serve, to make real God’s kingdom each moment of every day.
It is the person of Jesus who has shown us what kingly leadership looks like and it is the Holy Spirit who continues to guide us.
As you know, it has been a big week for our diocese with the death of Bishop Bill and the preparations for his funeral. I have been blessed to receive many messages of condolence, with people writing to me of their experiences with Bishop Bill both personal and from afar. They saw him as a faith-filled, humble, good man who led a ‘one with’ not as ‘one over’. During these past two years of the live streaming of Mass, many grew in their appreciation of his ability to break open the Word with such meaning. For me, he was at his best on the sanctuary, while celebrating and praying the Mass. It was during these times that I was able to grasp his deep intent for our Diocese and indeed the community. He offered his life, in the hope that we, the people of God in the Catholic Church, would witness to the goodness of God as lived out through Jesus Christ.
Clearly, we are participating in shifting a culture in our church, and Bishop Bill was part of that shift. This major cultural shift is not easy for any of us, as we discover what servant leadership looks like, and requires of us. His wish for us was that we would all get out there and get our hands dirty, or in the words of Pope Francis, to take on the smell of the sheep.
It seems to me that firstly, we must be able to articulate this with language – compassion, justice, love, mercy, holiness, grace, truth, faith, hope and love. Then we need to meet people who exercise these values in leadership so we can emulate them and be mentored by them. At times we meet people who intuitively know how to act but do not have the words. We rarely recognise these prophets among us and yet they are there. Bishop Bill may have been one of those people who lived servant leadership, while not having the words for it.
I think we are struggling to fully realise what we know innately. It is my hope that our Diocesan Synod, the Plenary Council and the Bishops Synod on Synodality will guide us on the path of being more authentically the people God has called us to be, through the person of Jesus. And with this in mind, I share with you part of Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of the Poor (14 November), in which he invites us to be a safe harbour for those we encounter:
“The poor you will always have with you” (Mk 14:7). This is a summons never to lose sight of every opportunity to do good. Behind it, we can glimpse the ancient biblical command: “If one of your brothers and sisters… is in need, you shall not harden your heart nor close your hand to them in their need. Instead, you shall open your hand to them and freely lend them enough to meet their need… When you give to them, give freely and not with ill will; for the Lord, your God, will bless you for this in all your works and undertakings. For the needy will never be lacking in the land…” (Deut 15:7-8, 10-11). In a similar vein, the Apostle Paul urged the Christians of his communities to come to the aid of the poor of the first community of Jerusalem and to do so “without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7). It is not a question of easing our conscience by giving alms, but of opposing the culture of indifference and injustice we have created with regard to the poor.
In this context, we do well to recall the words of Saint John Chrysostom: “Those who are generous should not ask for an account of the poor’s conduct, but only improve their condition of poverty and satisfy their need. The poor have only one plea: their poverty and the condition of need in which they find themselves. Do not ask anything else of them; but even if they are the most wicked persons in the world, if they lack the necessary nourishment, let us free them from hunger. ... The merciful are like a harbour for those in need: the harbour welcomes and frees from danger all those who are shipwrecked; whether they are evildoers, good persons, or whatever they may be, the harbour shelters them within its inlet. You, too, therefore, when you see on land a man or a woman who has suffered the shipwreck of poverty, do not judge, do not ask for an account of their conduct, but deliver them from their misfortune” (Discourses on the Poor Man Lazarus, II, 5).
And so, we end another liturgical year and begin a new one. Over the coming four weeks, I have invited four different people to write these messages as I take an extended break. This will bring you up to Christmas and then Dio Update takes a Christmas break.
I am conscious that most of you will read this on the eve of Bishop Bill’s funeral. There is great sadness across our diocesan family, and I ask that you take the time to feel our loss, to mourn his passing and to pray for him and for our diocese. In this lead up to Christmas, I invite you to think about us as a family. Sometimes we love being part of this group while at other times it just does not seem to work for us.
Let’s pray that Bishop Bill will continue to guide us.
Director Pastoral Ministries
23 November 2021