Luke’s Beatitudes (Lk: 6:17, 20-26) remind us that our lives are blest, because God is present and active, and it is up to us to encounter God and to seek God’s respective companionship. So, this week I will share with you some of the encounters I experienced in the past week as part of my role in the diocese. Many of these involved my thinking about faith formation and what we are being called to, individually and as a diocesan community.
I begin with Saturday’s graduation ceremony for the fourteen people who completed the Christian Formation Course last year. The scripture chosen for the ceremony was from Matthew 5:13-16 about salt and light:
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
I had the honour of teaching two of the units to this diverse, committed group of people who were hungry for the content and experiences provided by the units offered. They were open to being transformed and are now committed to living a dedicated Christian life, of salt and light. They shone with pride in receiving their certificates and I know they will continue to explore ministry in their local parishes or workplaces.
The Christian Formation Course was begun by the Lochinvar Sisters of St Joseph in 1996. Many sisters have generously given of their time and skills to help form people in our diocese for ministry. I believe this has been a great blessing to our diocese. I am conscious that this came about because of the 1992/93 Diocesan Synod with its associated Ten Theological Principles, one of those specifically addressing Faith Development as a Lifelong Process:
To grow to Christian maturity and participate fully in Christ's mission, all of us - clergy and religious as well as lay men and women, youth and children - must continually deepen our understanding of the faith through formation that is faithful to the Scriptures and Sacred Tradition.
Formation is not the privilege of a few but the right and duty of all ... Possibilities of formation should be proposed to all, especially the poor who can be a source of formation for all. (Pope John Paul II, Christifideles Laici, 1988)
What is interesting for me is that this was identified as a need thirty years ago, and we are still identifying the same need now. The following paragraph is the “Summary of Responses” from our Second Session of Synod, held in May of 2021:
Diocesan respondents to the Plenary Council and our Synod Listening and Dialogue recognised that while the faith formation of children has been a priority, many Catholics have had little or no ongoing faith formation since leaving school. While faith formation opportunities are available in the Diocese, few access them. There were calls for a Faith Formation Centre with adequate resources of finance and personnel to provide face-to-face and online formation opportunities in a wide range of topics for a wide range of people appropriate to their stage of faith development and their life circumstances. Respondents expressed concerns about the role of our Catholic schools, the formation of staff and parents, and the need for better communication and collaboration between school and parish communities. The process of selection and training of candidates for the priesthood and the enculturation of overseas priests were also issues of concern.
The synod document went on to quote from “A Framework for Formation for Mission” from the National Catholic Education Commission:
The intention of formation for mission is to enable:
- deeper relationship with God, church, self, other, creation
- greater engagement between individuals’ lives marked by “accompaniment” in the service of others
- a culture of dialogue
- stronger commitment to the ministry of teaching and parenting
- a deeper call into missionary discipleship.
Our Synod Foundation Statements reflect our ongoing synodal journey in the area of Formation and Education:
- We believe formation in faith is an essential and life-long process and the heritage and responsibility of every Christian.
- We understand that formation for mission is respectful, experiential and relevant, building on participants’ personal stories and everyday realities.
- We are nourished and inspired by formation that is scripturally rich and ecclesially grounded, and deepens our relationship with Jesus, the living Word of God.
And so, it is with this strong backdrop, I share with you some of the other elements of my past week, relating directly to the pursuit of faith formation and education in our diocese.
The mangers in Pastoral Ministries, (Worship and Prayer – Louise Gannon; Formation and Education – Rose McAllister; and Mission and Outreach – Brendon Mannyx), and I have been meeting, imagining how best Pastoral Ministries can serve our parishes, diocesan agencies, and the wider community. We are keen to grow missionary disciples across the diocese, who are both inwardly and outwardly focused on Jesus’ mission of faith, hope and love, in response to the listening and dialogue of the Plenary Council and our own synodal journey.
On Friday I met with the nine young people who are part of our Pastoral Placement Program for 2022. Their enthusiasm in being part of this Program and exploring ministry is wonderful. Their growth in faith and their willingness to share this with others will be made possible with our support and that of their parishes along with the support they will give to each other. We are very blest to have them with us.
Another significant meeting for the week focused on formation pathways for people called to ministry and who work professionally in the Catholic Church. We are attempting to imagine what a collective approach might be for those who are engaged in helping us realise our vision, mission, and culture. This is exciting work as we attempt to map out a way to develop and form people professionally, spiritually and in faith.
The Synod Working Party will continue to meet throughout the year as we await the appointment of a new bishop. This Working Party has a number of Focus Groups that will maintain the ongoing work of synodality which began more than thirty years ago in our diocese. The ‘Church without Walls’ series will continue through the year, and I hope many people from across the diocese will take part in the diocesan Lenten Program – Continuing the Journey of Building the Kingdom of God Together. Here is an opportunity for you to join with others in the faith journey of Mystagogical Reflection.
Another blessing in the past week was the continuing dialogue around the proposed new Resource Centre which we are hoping will be approved by Newcastle City Council in the not-too-distant future. We are imagining that this will provide the community with a lovely facility for reading, meetings, conversations and for nourishing their spirituality and faith-life.
Our Ecumenical and Interfaith Council meet monthly and at their meeting during the week we began to explore Judaism as part of our ongoing formation for this year. This group of people looks for ways to engage respectfully with other Christian denominations as well as people of other faith traditions, because we have so much to learn from each other.
I hope you are feeling equally as blest with your daily encounters either at work, in ministry, with your family or friends.
Director Pastoral Ministries
15 February 2022