It is such a long time since the Cathedral filled up with the sound of worshippers, joining in prayer and song and being able to see each other’s faces.
We are now going to enter our Lenten season and one in which Pope Francis, in his Lenten message, asks us to reflect on the following words of scripture:
Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up. So then, while we have the opportunity, let us do good to all. (Gal 6:9-10)
Pope Francis says that “Lent invites us to conversion, to a change in mindset, so that life’s truth and beauty may be found not so much in possessing as in giving, not so much in accumulating as in sowing and sharing goodness.” We are summoned to be God’s co-workers in actively bringing to life the grace of God’s bountiful goodness.
The Season of Lent calls us to place our faith and hope in the Lord, through prayer, fasting, almsgiving and works of mercy. It serves as a reminder to deeper relationships with all that we encounter. In his message Pope Francis says, “The soil is prepared by fasting, watered by prayer and enriched by charity.”
This Ash Wednesday Pope Francis has appealed for us to spend the day in prayer and fasting, for peace in Ukraine. I have no doubt that all of us are feeling the anguish and pain for the suffering of so many people. As part of his appeal, Pope Francis stressed: “Once again, the peace of all is threatened by partisan interests.” He appealed to those “with political responsibility to examine their consciences seriously before God, who is the God of peace and not of war, who is the Father of all, not just of some, who wants us to be brothers and not enemies.”
We were reminded in the second reading on Sunday from the first letter of St Paul to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15:54-58):
Never give in then, my dear brothers, never admit defeat; keep on working at the Lord’s work always, knowing that, in the Lord, you cannot be labouring in vain.
This passage of scripture is reflective of the ongoing our diocesan synodal journey over the past thirty years. Our diocese has been acknowledged in a report by historian Dr Damian Gleeson, on Australian diocesan pastoral councils, written for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. He found that while a significant number of archdioceses and dioceses have had pastoral councils since the Second Vatican Council, only five are currently operating, and the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle had shown the longest continuous commitment to a council, stretching from 1990. He indicated that:
Diocesan pastoral councils have generally had a solid track record of shared decision-making, respectful engagement between clergy, religious and laity by working in ‘harmony’ with the Ordinary (Bishop), and implementation of faith-focused and broad pastoral services across the Australian landscape.
Dr Gleeson indicated that councils flourished because of supportive bishops, effective executive committees that focused on mission to drive initiatives, strong partnerships maintained with parish and regional councils and relationships built with other diocesan organisations, as well as appropriate consultation and decision-making procedures.
This is our continuing hope in holding our diocesan synod, which of course is now on hold awaiting the appointment of a new bishop. There has been so much time and energy put into pastoral planning in our diocese. Many, many good people have dared to dream and reimagine what God is calling us to in this time and place. Just in the past week we held a combined meeting of all our pastoral councils:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Ministry
- Adult Faith Formation Council
- Council for Women
- Diocesan Council of Ministry with Young People
- Ecumenical and Interfaith Council
- Liturgy Council
- Social Justice Council
This combined meeting of all council members was an invitation for us to review the pastoral governance structures of participation of our diocese. It was a really good conversation with people who meet within areas of interest for them and our diocese, with the view to creating opportunities for our diocesan community.
As I listened to the final verses from Luke’s gospel reading on Sunday (6:39-45), I thought about our diocese, its history, and our wish to produce good fruit from the store of goodness in our hearts.
There is no sound tree that produces rotten fruit, nor again a rotten tree that produces sound fruit. For every tree can be told by its own fruit: people do not pick figs from thorns, nor gather grapes from brambles. A good man draws what is good from the store of goodness in his heart; a bad man draws what is bad from the store of badness. For a man’s words flow out of what fills his heart.
May our hearts be nourished during this Season of Lent, so that the good work begun in us will continue to flourish and build the Kingdom of God.