Launch of Lenten Study Program 2006
Statement Released: Monday, February 06, 2006
I returned from holidays only this week. Weighed down by sciatica I went to New Zealand for 3 weeks, a bad mistake, because I returned with the sciatica twice as bad. Nevertheless lying in a bed at Stanthorpe for the last two weeks reading books proved to be my salvation, and the pain eased, not totally, but almost, after 2 months of torture. In the later stages of my recuperation in Stanthorpe I walked tracks and even managed to climb mountains. My brother, recently retired from a legal practice, accompanied me. He said to me one day “Do you remember those days sixty years ago when we cycled up early each morning in the middle of winter to serve on the altar in the small cold St Joseph’s Church?” To both of us in those days it seemed the most normal thing in the world, partly because we were asked to do so by Fr Bill Hall and may have got a kick in the pants if we declined, but most compellingly because suffering a little for our faith seemed a small price to pay for the privilege of it. We realised that today not only has the faith lapsed for so many but willingness to put ourselves out for the faith has also waned. Riding to Mass upon a winter’s morning seemed a small price to pay in those distant days.
Over the years the number of worshippers within our Church has dropped, not only in Stanthorpe, but throughout Australia and indeed throughout the Western world. Well did the English poet Matthew Arnold predict in his prophetic and marvellous poem “Dover Beach” written in 1867 that a decline in faith was starting at that time, a decline that to a certain extent has come to a completion now 140 years later. Likening the decline of faith to the ebb of the tide on Dover Beach Arnold wrote,
“The sea of faith
was once too at the full, and round earth’s shore
lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d,
but now I only hear
its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar.”
Faith in the Western world, as Pope Benedict has recently noted, has declined significantly under the pressure of our individualistic, very materialistic, and to a certain extent value-free culture. Perhaps the Church has become too closely identified with the establishment, perhaps, there is some hesitation by the Church in conveying adequately the vision of the Second Vatican Council, perhaps the Church is too quiet about indicating the cost of the faith, a notable feature of faith in the past. The Cross as we realise is an integral part of the life of Christ, which was certainly not all “resurrection”, just as the Cross must be an integral part of our lives as well if we are to follow in his footsteps.
In one sense the faith is always the same “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Nevertheless the Holy Spirit is always helping us to depth the faith more deeply and did so significantly at the Second Vatican Council. In the wake of our recent Synod the Archdiocese tried to pick up the theological essence of the Council in the Synod and placed its nine priorities under the theological direction of Jesus, Communion and Mission. The Archdiocese has already in the previous two years looked closely in the study programs at Jesus and Communion, and this year will endeavour to do so again focussing on “Mission”. The faith in its essence was never meant for ourselves alone, it is meant for all, it is meant to be shared. We cannot be Catholic without being missioners, not missioners in distant lands, which is still needed, but missioners at the heart of our culture. Through our Baptism we are meant to share the good news of Jesus Christ by our words and by our actions. It is good to look at our lives and wonder if we were asked what we believe, whether we could we give an adequate answer to other people. Such answers are all part of being a missioner. Yesterday I was being interviewed for an article in a local newspaper and the interviewer asked, “In your last five years as Archbishop what would you like more than anything else for this Archdiocese?” I replied that I would be very happy if I could depart from the leadership of the Archdiocese and realise that the Archdiocese is an evangelising Archdiocese.
This year the Archdiocese will focus its Lenten program on Mission and I would encourage as many people as possible to become involved in the study program. There is information about it in front of the Cathedral today and an opportunity will be provided to sign up for this important program. I recommend it to you and ask you to consider seriously participating in it.
Of course all of this is contained in the living word of God which we have heard today. The gospel has a graphic image of the Vine and the Branches. We need to be connected to Christ if we are going to bear fruit in our lives as Christ said “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him bears fruit in plenty.” The first reading gives the remarkable example of one who despite being an enemy of the Church became its greatest champion and its most remarkable missioner namely “Paul the Apostle”. Paul is a lesson for all of us that it is never too late to change our lives for the better regarding Jesus Christ. Finally the letter of John tells us not to play at religion when it says “My children, our love is not to be just words or mere talk but something real and active.” Can we all say, myself included, that our love is something real and active. I’m not so sure. However like St Paul let us try to meet Christ as he did, certainly not on the road to Damascus but in the study groups of the Archdiocese during Lent, and let us make a start today by opening our hearts in this Eucharist to the presence of Jesus Christ, in the Body and Blood of Christ, in the living word of God, and in each and every person who is present in this Cathedral. Let us seek to turn around the drift from Christ, that has happened and continues to happen, and that damages our Church and our society so badly.
May God bless you.
Archbishop John Bathersby