This year has posed many challenges, and many blessings, as we recognise how to work in the ‘bigger picture’ context of the Church, without losing sight of each of our local communities.
- We have celebrated, recently, the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s placing his 95 Theses upon the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral, challenging much of what the Church was teaching at the time.
- Bishop Bill has led dialogue with our brothers and sisters from different faith traditions and Christian churches.
- Lina’s Project was an initiative that offers us all an opportunity to move together towards healing and atonement.
- We have celebrated those who have ministered among us, especially Fr Richard Shortall sj, who has moved around our diocese offering a listening ear and a prayerful heart to many in communities which no longer have a resident priest and others who felt distant from the Church.
- Diocesan pilgrims spent 15 days in the Holy Land, walking in the footsteps of Jesus. One of the highlights was the celebration of Mass in the empty tomb, which for many, was a powerful experience of recognising that the tomb is empty, and in the angel’s words, “He is not here, he is risen.”
This year I celebrated my silver jubilee of priestly ordination. Twenty-five years ago I took as my motto, from St Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, “For all things give thanks” − and I do. This has been a time to look back, to remember, and to dream where we may be in the future. Both experiences are rather scary! I look at the possibilities at a time when vocations to the priesthood are not so forthcoming. As a priest of our diocese I have had many wonderful – and many painful – experiences. Through it all I have been conscious of the presence of God. I am grateful to those who have supported and challenged me over the years.
The Church I was ordained for has radically changed. The community is diminishing and ageing and we are continually confronted with the question, “Where are our people?” Society has changed in so many ways too. Loyalty to an institution, and I don’t necessarily mean the institution of the Church, is no longer valued, and people serve the community in many different ways, not necessarily in the church of their childhood.
Yes, we do have men in formation for priesthood, but the majority are not Australian-born, a significant development. This, however, is where we stand today. We are a Church of many cultures, many gifts and many people, all belonging to that which we call the Catholic Church, all sharing in the mission that belongs to Jesus. The mission is not ours − it is God’s mission. When we renew our baptismal promises, we recommit ourselves to the mission of God.
Recently I spent three days with the senior leaders of six of our secondary schools, an amazing group of young people. Whilst we were together I spoke to them about their role as leaders in the diocese, not just in their schools. At first it was difficult for them to see past their ‘patch’, but as the days unfolded this group began to speak in a voice arising not from a small territorial space, but from a much bigger place.
We too can become very territorial in our attitude toward, and our place in, the church. We share something very profound. We are many parts of the one body, sharing the one mission of Jesus and this is what we celebrate every time we gather as a faith community. We celebrate the empty tomb, the listening ear, the prayerful heart and the conversation that leads to understanding between people. I believe that God is in all these experiences.
You're invited to join others from the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle as we celebrate the Life of Brian and all that Bishop Elect Brian Mascord has done for the Diocese. Fr Brian's farewell party will take place at the Southern Cross Hall. Click here for more information and to register for the event.