TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Mission and Outreach

During this past wet week, I trust you have taken time to reflect on the Mission and Outreach section of our contemplative dialogue – Building the Kingdom of God Together – Our Journey, in preparation for our diocesan synod.

You may recall that the Mission and Outreach contemplative dialogue invited us to reflect on the scripture passage about the man born blind (John 9:1-41). Bishop Bill shared with us our response to being missionary disciples by sharing with people our own story of our experiences of Jesus Christ and why we believe what we believe, and, as people of faith, why we then do what we do. The love of Christ impels us to act out of love.

The quote from Pope Francis (on page 26) speaks of the Church as a field hospital:

Sometimes, I speak of the Church as if it were a field hospital. It’s true: there are many, many wounded!

So many people need their wounds healed!

This is the mission of the Church: to heal the wounds of the heart, to open doors, to free people, to say that God is good, God forgives all, God is the Father, God is affectionate, God always waits for us ... we have to help and create organisations that help in this: yes, because the Lord gives us the gifts for this.

But when we forget this mission, forget poverty, forget the apostolic zeal and instead, place our hope in these human means, the Church slowly slips into becoming a non-governmental organisation, it becomes a beautiful organisation: powerful, but not evangelical, because it lacks that spirit, that poverty, that power to heal. (POPE FRANCIS HOMILY, FEB 2015)

I wonder how you and the parishes in which you find yourselves are measuring up. In Our Story (pages 28-29) section of the contemplative dialogue program, the following words spoke to me:

Two of the seven are reported immediately on mission, unable to be constrained to table service. They boldly and effectively declared the message near and far….and the word of God continued to spread and to gain followers.

Perhaps most effective is the evangelisation by those who live their faith attractively in everyday encounters and dare to personally accompany seekers on their journey. Good listening, along with words and deeds of understanding, acceptance and affirmation, are Good News to those in need.

We are reminded of that the face of our mission is captured in our understanding of our corporal works of mercy to:

  • feed the hungry
  • give a drink to the thirsty
  • clothe the naked
  • shelter the homeless
  • visit the sick
  • visit the imprisoned
  • bury the dead

If you look at the Foundational Statements (page 29) and the Concerns and Recommendations (page 30-31), you will see that the Synod Working Party and those who engaged with them have tried to reflect this call for us to go forth and bring the Good News of Christ into our community and the wider world.

I believe the works of mercy provide us with a measure from which to ‘examine our conscience’, both personally and as a community of followers of Jesus Christ.

As I listened to the many voices these past weeks calling for responsibility and accountability around consent and respect for women, I was disappointed that the idea of morals, intimacy and love does not seem to have been raised. The assumption is that from quite a young age, the act of having ‘sex’ has become normal, as boys and girls search for their identity. I believe humans have an ethical and moral obligation to care for the other and this seems to be missing from the dialogue. I am concerned about the slippery slope of moral decay when both men and women are treated as objects and are not empowered by those around them to become fully human and thus fully alive. I was very saddened to hear that children less than twelve years of age are exposed to pornography with the ensuing belief that this is ‘normal’. I would love all children to recognise that they are sacred and that their bodies are temples. There are people with whom I work, and who are genuinely concerned for their children, who are growing up in this world of access to information beyond their years.

I read the following in the Instrumentum Laboris, the Working Document for the fifth Plenary Council of Australia, about our Australian society:

  1. In recent decades, life has changed significantly. Australians have embraced technological and cultural change while maintaining some core values and beliefs. Church and society have been enriched by waves of migrants who live peaceably alongside the First Australians and those who have settled here over the past two centuries. Ours is an affluent, high aspiration, low tension society. Yet population shifts from rural to urban areas challenge cities to meet growing demands for basic housing and infrastructure, employment, education and healthcare needs. Rural areas face shrinking communities, social and economic stresses and new challenges from a burgeoning, transient workforce. Insecure employment, pressures on relationships, shifting family patterns and advancements in science and technology impact our daily life that is segmented and busy. Mental illness, sickness, loneliness and financial pressures afflict many Australians. Statistics reveals increasing rates of suicide, depression and anxiety, violent crime and disengagement from traditional forms of community. Fear of the future, distrust of institutional authority and the impact of climate change are part of the social reality for many.
  2. These changes are accompanied by dramatic shifts in the Catholic community and the practice of the faith. While rates differ from place to place, and are much higher amongst some rites and communities, only around 12% of Catholics nationwide regularly attend Mass. Among these, there are differing levels of acceptance of key Catholic beliefs and Church teaching. Secularisation, which can be manifested as lack of attendance at worship or adherence to Church teachings, has occurred even amongst the faithful and not just 'out there'. Vocations to priesthood, religious life and marriage have declined, and fewer Catholics receive the sacraments. For many families, sacraments are only cultural milestones, rather than a key element in the faith journey leading to discipleship and active participation in the Catholic community.

It seems we have much to consider personally, as a parish community, through our diocesan synod and then through the Plenary Council. I wonder if we have lost our credibility to have any influence on what sort of society we are becoming. I live in hope that our witness as missionary disciples will draw people to the desire to live as followers of Jesus Christ and live life to the full.

With continued thanks for the witnesses that you are, and for daring to keep the flame of faith alive in your hearts.

Follow mnnews.today on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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