Catholic Outlook Letter May 2013 of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP
In the February 2013 issue of Catholic Outlook I asked ‘Does God exist?’ and I suggested that faith and reason agree: God does exist! But would God bother speaking to me?
After all, I am only one of nearly 7 billion people currently living on earth. We human beings share this globe with perhaps 8.7 million other species. Our planet is only one of several in a solar system that is only one of 200 billion plus in the Milky Way Galaxy. Our galaxy is one of perhaps 200 billion or more in the universe.
Even if there is a God – or gods – why would we imagine He or She or It or They would want to talk to us?
One reason might be this: that if God made us the sorts of beings that naturally search for meaning, including a transcendent source of purpose and direction, if He made us the sorts of beings that naturally reach out to God, He would surely not make it impossible for us to find Him.
In fact, the God we discover by faith and reason is a God of love. His internal life is that of three divine persons, eternally relating to each other.
He creates and sustains a universe with conscious creatures that seek after Him. He intervenes in that universe with His constant providence and timely miracles. He redeems it through the sending of His Son as man.
So the God we come to know by faith and reason is not some distant, self-enclosed, aloof power, forever incommunicado and seeking only His own company.
Catholics believe that God does speak to humanity. As the Second Vatican Council observed: “It pleased God, in His goodness and wisdom, to reveal Himself and to make known the mystery of His will”.
God explains why it is that He speaks to us: He wants us to participate in His divine nature, as His adopted children. He wants us to have “access to the Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit”. (1 Tim 6:16; Eph 1:4-5; Vatican II, Dei Verbum 2; CCC 51-2)
In other words, God loves us so much that He wants us to have a personal relationship with Him. And any real relationship requires communication! Persons have to talk to each other if friendship is to happen. It’s not just a matter of ticking a box on Facebook.
God has spoken to us. This awesome reality is worthy of our pondering in the Easter season. He speaks through creation, through the sacred history of God and humanity, in the personal lives of believers and especially of the saints, in private prayer and public revelation through the Scriptures and Tradition, through the life and teachings of Jesus “the mediator and fullness of all Revelation” (DV 3, CCC 65), above all through His cross and resurrection. God never gives up on communicating with us.
If you want to be friends with someone you have to listen to them: ask any marriage counsellor! If you want to be friends with God, read and hear and ponder the Bible, study the teachings and immerse yourself in the life of the Church, take part actively in the sacred liturgy and pray to God every day. These are the places you will hear God speaking to you.
The positive response to God speaking is called Faith (CCC 142-4). Faith is the submission of heart and mind to God. In accepting God’s Word as true, as revealed, we want to grasp it ever more fully and live it ever more completely.
In this Year of Faith it is worth recalling not just what we believe as Catholics, but more importantly who we believe. The Act of Faith taken from the teachings of the First Vatican Council declared: “I believe these truths and all the truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches, because You have revealed them who can neither deceive nor be deceived.”
Not just to believe in Christ but to believe Christ is to have a theological virtue, a grace infused in us by God and allowing us to trust in that “wisdom that comes from above”.
It becomes a habit in the believer, “a stable disposition of the spirit, through which eternal life takes root in us and reason is led to consent to what it does not see” (Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi 7).
This is the engine of the New Evangelisation to which our new Pope Francis is so committed and to which he calls each one of us.
Does God want to speak to each and every one of the seven billion individuals now living on this small planet in this enormous universe?
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Catholic Outlook Letter April 2013 of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP
Habemus papam – We have a Pope! When Pope Francis appeared at the loggia of St Peter’s after being elected Bishop of Rome and 266th Universal Pastor of the Catholic Church he spent several moments considering the masses thronged before him.
With great humility, he asked the faithful gathered to pray for him – to bless him, as it were – before he blessed them. This simple, holy man will now lead us by example in the spiritual life.
It is interesting that most Vatican watchers didn’t have Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio on their radar. This is another proof of the saying Chi entra papa in conclave, ne esce cardinal, which in this case we might translate: “he who goes into the conclave – favoured by the Vatican watchers – as pope, comes out as cardinal”.
The Holy Spirit blows where He wills; the cardinal electors look for different things to the pundits; and so Catholics are not really surprised when they are surprised by papal elections!
What were they looking for in Jorge Bergoglio? I don’t know what was in the minds of 115 electors; but they knew the job description given us by Christ.
Jesus first called Simon to be a Fisher of men – the Pope must be a disciple-evangelist, following Christ and netting others to do the same.
Later He called him to be a Peter or Bedrock for the Church – and so the Pope must bind and loose on behalf of heaven, ruling and declaring the Faith definitively.
Lastly, Jesus called him to be a Shepherd, loving more than others do – and so the Pope must be a pastor guarding and guiding Christ’s flock.
What sort of a pope will he turn out to be? We will see. Some have suggested Truth, Beauty and Goodness, an interpretative key to what God is doing with the Church at this time.
If Blessed John Paul II was the Pope of Truth – producing the greatest volume of papal teaching of any pope in history – and Benedict XVI was the Pope of Beauty – exposing the glory of God in his profound theology and the beauty of worship in the Sacred Liturgy – then Pope Francis may turn out to be the Pope of Goodness – a man whose transparent passion for the poor and needy spills out into a renewed life of charity for all the Church.
Truth, Beauty and Goodness – the ‘transcendental properties of being’ and especially of The Being, Being-in-Itself, God – are precisely the things for which all humanity properly strives and which will most fulfil us all.
In taking his papal name from St Francis of Assisi, in asking the wealthy to eschew attending his inauguration and instead give the money to the poor, and in offering his Maundy Thursday for men in a detention centre, Pope Francis has already demonstrated that he is a man from the poor and for the poor.
The ‘option for the poor’ of the prophets, the Fathers, modern Catholic social teaching and, above all, of Jesus Christ, has already been a mark of the new pope’s ministry.
Another strong theme of his life so far has been the New Evangelisation. He here inherits from the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar popes a mission not accomplished.
As Archbishop of Buenos Aires he was acutely aware that the Church in Latin America can no longer rely upon the surrounding culture and institutions to support the transmission of faith.
The Church, he insisted, must become missionary again and that means she needs new men and women who embody the tradition and novelty of God’s kingdom, who are witnesses even more than teachers.
The transparent goodness of our Holy Father and, we hope, of all the faithful, is the greatest of all ‘preaching tools’, the greatest invitation to conversion.
As a religious myself, I’ve been asked what it means for him to be from a religious order – the first Jesuit pope. My own order, the Dominicans, have had four: Blessed Innocent V, a Frenchman, who was pope for five months in 1276; Blessed Benedict XI, an Italian who survived in the job only eight months before being poisoned in 1304; and two who lasted rather longer, the great reformer St Pius V (1566-72) and the equally ascetic Blessed Benedict XIII (1724-30).
Of these, St Pius perhaps best demonstrates what being a pope who is also a member of a religious order can mean: living with a certain humility or simplicity of life even in the Vatican Palace (he kept wearing his white Dominican habit and in modified form it has survived to this day as the papal dress); promoting spirituality and prayerfulness (Pius famously got Europe to pray the Rosary at a time when Europe was in danger of falling to the Muslim invaders); and the independence necessary to bring about much-needed reforms to purify the curia and the wider Church (it was Pius who instituted the Tridentine reforms in theology, liturgy, catechetics and seminaries).
Catholic Outlook Letter March 2013 of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP
For some reason good numbers always come to St Patrick’s Cathedral and parishes to receive the ashes on Ash Wednesday and to venerate the cross on Good Friday. Perhaps they like the gothic darkness of these occasions. More likely the ritual ‘speaks to their reality’, to the sin and anguish in their lives.
Whether at present, in the not-so-distant past or coming up in the future, we’ve all got our troubles: anxieties for ourselves or someone we love; physical or emotional pain; sickness or financial woes; a death in the family or, in due course, our own.
No one is exempt. Distress and death are great equalisers. Yet we don’t all respond in the same way.
The secular mindset sees suffering as something to be avoided at all costs, fixed quick by money, regulation, technology, drugs, whatever it takes. We might even kill the distressed person.
Just before Christmas, Belgian doctors euthanased 45-year-old twins, Marc and Eddy Verbessem. They had been born deaf and never married. They lived together, working as cobblers. Then they discovered they had genetic glaucoma and might gradually go blind. They felt they had nothing to live for.
Their GP agreed that such a life would be unbearable. The Belgian government agreed. So they were given lethal injections. A few days later the government announced it would allow minors and people with dementia to be euthanased as well.
The Brussels-based European Institute of Bioethics thought euthanasia was being ‘trivialised’ and there was no serious monitoring going on. Others said the government, doctors and some disabled people themselves were buying into the view ‘better dead than disabled’.
Christians suffer like anyone else. But we see these things differently. We know that the way we undergo such things can either ennoble us or demean us. We can choose whether to endure alongside Christ or else add to His load. Our paschal faith is in One who suffered all we do, not to glorify suffering but to transform it into love.
In the Christian understanding, therefore, to love is – among other things – to learn how to suffer: it means learning to be for another, for others, to be patient with yourself and with them, to persevere, even when things are tough, to turn those times into opportunities to love. Com-passion means suffering-with.
Married couples know this well; so do parents. Priests and religious know this well; so do faithful single people. Loving can be hard. It requires sacrifice, willing the good of the other, mutually giving each other 100%, not 5% or 50% or even 90%. Mother Teresa put it well: “If you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”
Christ loved us when it hurt Him very much. Even as He was being tortured to death He prayed: “Forgive them Father … Be with me in Paradise.” Holy Week is God loving us till the end.
Many misunderstood Jesus’ mission, teaching and destiny. His followers can expect no better.
The famous American Catholic televangelist, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, once said: “There are not 100 in the US who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.” Many misunderstand our views of redemptive suffering, dismissing them as sado-masochistic, weak, even harmful.
Or they blame the terrible crimes of some and mishandling by others on the whole institution and all its members.
Or they dismiss what our faith teaches about sex being for marriage and marriage for family as primitive or discriminatory. Law and re-education can be used as weapons against us.
When misunderstood like this, we should explain ourselves honestly, patiently, compassionately. There are times to speak – and times to be quiet also. Then, like Jesus, we pray: Forgive them Father. But what we must never let opposition or other suffering do is embitter us, make us cold, angry, defensive.
The dying Christ was ready for resurrection because of the way He suffered, without bitterness or recrimination.
As the NSW Bishops suggested in their 2013 Lenten Pastoral Letter, Sowing in Tears: Responding to the Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, our faith and sacrifices allow us to join in Christ’s com-passion, His passion-with victims in their suffering. By so doing we can be in solidarity, however inadequately, with ‘the little ones’ who have been hurt and with Christ who died for their healing and ours.
Questioning, Pi concludes, is useful. We must have our times in the garden of Gethsemane, like Christ anguished in prayer. Photo: 20th Century Fox.
Catholic Outlook February 2013 Letter of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP
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Does God exist? Many will remember a world-famous atheist declaring on national TV that this was a meaningless question. So why do people keep asking it?
Yann Martel’s prize-winning novel, Life of Pi, was recently made into a $120 million movie directed by Ang Lee. It is a fantasy adventure about an Indian boy who survives 227 days at sea after a shipwreck, mostly in a life-boat with a Bengal tiger. In the process he explores the question of God’s existence.
US President Barack Obama, who read the book with his daughter, declared it “an elegant proof of God – and the power of storytelling”. Whatever we think of the answers in the book, the question of God’s existence is irresistible, even to the mightiest on earth.
Related questions include: are we more than bundles of atoms and energy, flesh and blood? Are we also spiritual beings, with the possibility of some life after death? What kind of life? Do our lives in the meantime have any sort of purpose? Is there more to our loving, thinking, choosing – more to all our big questions and little answers – than the laws of nature and survival of the fittest? Does God want to say anything to me about these things? If so, how? Would He ever speak so directly to me as to become a human being and so definitively as to give me a religion to live by?
As we reflect upon the wonders of ourselves, our natural universe, our human communities, our histories and futures – the great stories – we realise how unnecessary it all is. I don’t have to be. Time was, when I wasn’t. Time will come, when I’m not. So too, all the rest of these things: why any of it? It all points beyond itself. If it can’t bring and hold itself in being then there has to be another explanation ...
I’m privileged to spend a lot of time with the young people of our Diocese. They are at that stage of life when they are asking the big questions. They lie awake at night thinking about them or spend endless hours discussing them. We have Theology on Tap, right here in a pub in Parramatta, for that very purpose.
They know, they tell me, that there has to be something behind it all. Everything we are and have owes itself to something outside ourselves. Everything comes to us, especially our very lives, as a gift.
That suggests a Giver, one whose that-it-is is included in its what-it-is. Philosophers call this ‘the first cause’ or ‘pure existence’. The Old Testament calls it “I am” or “The God of your fathers, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Ex 3:14, 6). Faith and reason agree: only this Being is ‘necessary’. Only this Being must be. Only this Being can pass on existence to everything else.
Forces in our culture distract or discourage us from thinking about such things. Worse still, they tell us we are self-creating, self-sustaining, self-redeeming. In this self-sufficiency we are, as it were, our own gods (cf. Gen 3:5). But the storms of life have a way of shattering such illusions and forcing the big questions back upon us.
As a child, young Pi Patel explored various religions. In the novel, when his teacher condemns all religion as darkness, Pi thinks “Darkness is the last thing that religion is. Religion is light.” He wonders if the teacher is testing him, like when he says “no mammal lays eggs” waiting for the boy to say “platypuses do”. When his father calls religion darkness in the film, Pi makes the sign of the cross and announces he wants to be baptised!
Questioning, Pi concludes, is useful. We must have our times in the garden of Gethsemane, like Christ anguished in prayer. “But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”
Recalling the days of floating lost at sea Pi says “it was hard, oh, it was hard. Faith in God is an opening up, a letting go, a deep trust, a free act of love – but sometimes it was so hard to love. Sometimes my heart was sinking so fast with anger, desolation and weariness, I was afraid it would sink to the very bottom of the Pacific”. Until he surrendered to God – like the One on the crucifix who had so disturbed him when first he entered a church.
Catholic Outlook December 2012/January 2013 Letter of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP
Fifty years ago, at the end of that momentous day when the Second Vatican Council commenced, Blessed John XXIII looked out from his window to see a huge crowd of waiting, hoping, needing humanity in St Peter’s Square below.
At that moment he inaugurated a less formal way of speaking than was customary for popes till then but has become commonplace since. He came to the window and spoke impromptu from his heart. The speech became known as the Discorso della Luna – the Moonlight Speech or the Sermon on the Moon.
A ‘lone voice’ in the darkness somehow spoke for the whole world. Even the moon, the Pope said, seemed to draw close to witness the spectacle of the 21st ecumenical council. A half-century later Pope Benedict XVI recently spoke from that same window before a torch-lit square and inaugurated a Year of Faith.
Right now our Church in Australia needs kindly light to lead her amidst the encircling gloom. She needs to be renewed in faith in that even more important jubilee, that in which we join the moon and stars drawing close to the spectacle of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem.
We also begin our new year a little earlier than others with Advent, the season of expectancy. Christ is coming, the lone voice of God in our world, and He will speak first in a baby’s cry and last in the cry of desolation from the cross, first in human language and later in signs and wonders. We look forward to that coming, at Christmas, at the end of time, at the end of our own lives.
Advent has its own ‘lone voice’, one ‘crying in the wilderness’. John the Baptist cried ‘Repent, get ready, Christ is coming.’ He pointed away from himself to the One-who-is-to-come, like Good Pope John who said from the window sill:
“My own person counts for nothing: it’s a brother who speaks to you, become a father by our Lord’s will. Altogether, fatherhood and brotherhood and God’s grace … express before heaven and earth: faith, hope, love; love of God, love of neighbour, all aided by the Lord’s holy peace … So let’s continue to love each other, to look out for each other along the way: to welcome whomever comes close to us, and set aside whatever difficulty it might bring.”
Such faith, hope and love despite the difficulties means Advent waiting is never mere passivity or sleepiness, like watching grass grow. No, the Baptist’s kind of waiting actually helps God’s kingdom come, by preparing the way, preparing hearts for the Christmas Lord, preparing ears to hear His voice.
Just as John XXIII looked out upon humanity at the inauguration of the Council, so too did God look out ‘from heaven’ upon all creation in its need and gave His answer, His last word, that New Testament of love that is Christ’s presence in the world.
That presence today is found in His people, His priests, His Scriptures, above all in His Blessed Sacrament that our golden Council called ‘the source and summit of the Christian life’.
What better way in this new Year of Faith to prepare for Christ’s advent than by going regularly to Mass. If we don’t go every Sunday, as we should, let’s resolve to try harder to at least give Him that hour each week. If we already do go on Sundays, how about going sometimes during the week as well?
Let’s also let go of the selfishness, laziness, grudges, whatever it is that is holding us back from throwing ourselves headlong into the life of God’s kingdom.
Our Year of Grace calls forth in us a receptivity to all God’s gifts; our Year of Faith calls forth a response that seeks to deepen and live our holy faith. Let this be our New Year of Faith resolution!
To you and all your loved ones every blessing in the Holy Season of Christmas ahead and in the New Year of grace and faith 2013. May Mary, Star of the New Evangelisation, light up any darkness in our hearts and homes and world.
Don’t forget to say grace before your Christmas dinner. Here’s one you might use:
God of Christmas and of every day, giver of all good gifts, we thank you for the many ways you have blessed us. We are grateful for each person gathered around this table. Bless us, our food and our company today. Bless those we love who are not with us.
With gratitude and love, we remember your humble birth into our lives and so pray for those without food or family or friendship at this time. We remember the stable in which you were born and so pray for those with no place to live.
We join your angels in giving glory to God in the highest and in praying for peace and goodwill on earth. Help us to see what really matters and to respond with faith, hope and love.
Make of our hearts a crib in which to place the Christ child. Keep us safe and close to you in the year ahead. For you are our Christmas Lord, now and forever.
Catholic Outlook November 2012 Letterof Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP
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The secular year winds inexorably to its close, with longer and hotter days, endless Christmas parties, shopping and preparations and the rest.
It’s the big slow-down towards the summer … yet suddenly the Church’s new year begins!
Just when we’re ready to wind down and take it easy, have a few drinks at the office parties, switch the mobile phone on to silent and take a snooze – at that very moment the Church’s liturgy says: ‘Wake up! Be on your guard! You do not know the hour.’
This can come as a bit of a slap in face. Why is Advent like that?
Well, one thing Advent teaches us is that God’s time is not man’s time. God exists in and as eternity, which means that there is no time really for Him or that all time is at once for Him, which is pretty mind-boggling for us. Advent suggests that we Christians, too, have to look beyond the here and now, the busyness and the leisure. Our personal diaries and our world’s calendars are not what ultimately matter.
The early Christians lived in daily expectation of Jesus’ return. We may smile fondly at their over-literal interpretation of Jesus’ words that they would be reunited soon, but maybe they were on to something.
We moderns tend to imagine the second coming as some infinitely distant event with little to do with us but, in fact, just like the 1st Century Christians, we live in a ‘middle ages’ – the space between Jesus’ resurrection and return – and the last judgement will not be arranged to fit neatly into our current work or holiday plans.
So Advent begins with ‘Stir Up Sunday’ which takes its name from the old Advent collect, but also from the practice of housewives stirring up Christmas pudding for the last time before the big day. It reminded people to stir themselves up, to be wary of complacency, not to slow down spiritually as the heat in Australia builds up, not to suspend the practice of their faith as the silly season begins.
We should keep our eyes on the new Jerusalem, for our long pilgrimage is almost over: the Lord’s unending day is dawning.
Perhaps this Advent message makes Christians sound like kill-joys to rest of the world each December. Why should we be tense when everyone else is trying to release the tension? Shouldn’t we be grateful we’ve made it safely – and perhaps successfully – through another year and are about to have a well-deserved break? Haven’t we earned a bit of a Christmas bonus, a bit of a break from God’s demands?
Isn’t Christmas supposed to be party time and if we start a bit early with office parties and finish a bit late with beach holidays, doesn’t that mean we are just stretching Christmas over two months, taking it more seriously as it were?
No, the Advent wisdom seems to be: we will not hear that Christmas message of joy and hope without appropriate preparation. Without a good Advent, Christmas will be reduced to hang-overs in paper crowns and indigestion wrapped in tinsel.
The great theologian St Anselm once asked ‘Why did God become man at Christmas?’ and he answered for the whole Church: ‘To redeem us; to save us from our sins.’
The Christmas message tells the whole world: we cannot go on just as before: everything changes because this divine babe is on His way. Christmas will offer us a new beginning and we can only grasp it if we convert now, if we stir ourselves up out of our slumber and smugness.
If we are spiritually asleep when the Christmas babe comes, He might just find there is no room at the inn of our homes, our lives, our hearts; they are locked and the householders asleep.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for prawns and champagne and Christmas puddings or whatever is your family’s equivalent. But if that (and indigestion and mounting credit-card debt) is all this season means for us, there’s not much sign that Christ’s first Advent changed anything ...
How do we stir ourselves up so that the pudding makers experience an expectancy like Mary did, and so we can prepare ourselves for Jesus’ coming like the prophets did?
Advent is New Year’s Day for Catholics. A time, then, for resolutions. Not like the ones people make and break at the new calendar year, but the kind that come from an honest self-examination, calling ourselves to account, allowing the bright light of the Christmas star to spotlight the darker sides of our lives so we can spring clean them away for the summer ahead.
Catholic Outlook October 2012 Letter of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP
“Catholics, Prussians, Jews and Russians – all are a curse, or something worse” – so wrote Marie Stopes, the eugenicist and founder of the birth control movement, in 1942.
Recently, scientists said they were a step closer to a contraceptive pill for men. Media pundits hailed the potential of the drug JQ1 that stunts sperm production in mice and is reversible like its sister drug, the female contraceptive pill.
But could women trust men to take the pill when it’s they who must bear the consequences? A spokesperson for the Marie Stopes Foundation told the ABC women not men are the ones needing more choice in this area.
Women – and girls. In the lead-up to a recent ‘Birth Control Summit’ in London the charity Save the Children declared that “pregnancy is the biggest killer of teenage girls worldwide.”
The international media dutifully parroted the claim that a million teens die from pregnancy and childbirth-related injuries or infections each year, ignoring the small print that only 50,000 actually die but the others are sick or damaged in some way.
Even 50,000 is obviously a worry, but nothing compared to the death rate in the same population from malnutrition and various diseases. But to recognise that would kill the headline.
Well, we might say, if such propaganda is intended to press for better pregnancy care, OK. But it’s not. The goal is more anti-pregnancy interventions and more education on the how to of sex and disease avoidance, but not on the why and when (and why not and when not) of sex.
At the summit itself Melinda Gates announced her foundation would pump $4.6 billion into family planning in the Third World. Just as ‘saving the children’ now means saving us from having children, so the way to save the poor will be to ensure they aren’t born anymore.
The ‘cursed Catholics’ on Marie Stopes’ 1942 list are still in the gun. In an unprecedented attack on religious liberty in the name of reproductive rights, the Obama administration is insisting that US Church employers provide insurance cover for sterilisation, contraception and abortion-inducing drugs for all their employees.
Here in Australia it’s hard to imagine how anyone could up the ante on birth control, there’s so much of it already. But the Therapeutic Goods Administration has found a way: the abortion pill RU486 will now be more widely available – through the Marie Stopes clinics.
Stop and think …
Might it be time to stop the aerial bombardment of Third World countries with condoms and the moral bombardment of First World women and children with birth control ideology? Does anyone seriously believe that decades of ‘the pill’, value-free sex ed and condom machines have increased respect for our sexuality and fertility? Will more methods of contraception and abortion really make people healthier and happier?
Or might there be a greater dividend by saving children from ‘recreational sex’? Even secular pragmatism counsels delaying onset of sexual activity, reducing the number of sexual partners, and encouraging fidelity. So why keep feeding the addiction to pills and promiscuity?
Marie Stopes, hero of the birth control movement, promoted contraception but thought abortion ‘a great evil’. She once prosecuted a man for using her name on an abortion clinic and required her nurses to swear never to assist or give information for ‘termination’. So she’d be appalled that clinics bearing her name will now distribute RU486 in Australia.
Stop and think, even Marie Stopes would say, before going further down the path of destroying lives and families …
Vatican II on life and love: Gaudium et Spes 52
This month we celebrate the golden anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. That great Council called the family “a school of deeper humanity”. To undermine the family is to damage humanity.
We are not mere lab mice, mindlessly engaging in sexual activity. Acts “proper to conjugal love … which are exercised in accord with genuine human dignity, must be honoured,” the Council taught. In “harmonising conjugal love with the responsible transmission of life,” couples must follow objective standards, not just personal convenience or sincere opinion.
“These standards, based on the nature of human persons and their acts, preserve the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love.” Cultivating ‘the virtue of conjugal chastity’, the faithful “will avoid birth control methods criticised by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the divine law.” Above all, they will eschew the ‘unspeakable crimes’ of abortion and infanticide.
“Human life and the task of transmitting it are not realities bound up with this world alone,” the Council concluded. “They cannot be measured or perceived purely in worldly terms, but always have a bearing on people’s eternal destiny.”
Catholic Outlook September 2012 Letter of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP
A few years ago I was interviewed by Vatican Radio in the company of an Italian Franciscan. The subject was the future of the family in Europe. The surprisingly challenging interviewer asked us why Catholic Italy had the lowest birthrate in the world.
As I fumbled about for an answer, my Franciscan confrere came to the rescue, announcing that it was surely because of the high number of celibate nuns and priests in Italy!
How I wish that explanation sufficed, but Italy today is every bit as much a victim of anti-family ideologies and pressures as anywhere else. A nation once famous for its love for children now has a voluntary one child policy more effective than that imposed in communist China with draconian threats.
Despite continuing babble about ‘population explosion’ and the need for fertility control from the likes of the Gates Foundation, much of the world now faces a population implosion, with birthrates well below replacement and the proportion of elderly people rising all the time while the numbers of younger people to support them declines.
At the bottom of this population collapse is not an epidemic of nunnery but rather falling marriage and fertility rates amongst those not committed to celibacy, and rising contraception and abortion rates, fuelled by secularism and materialism, a declining willingness to engage in the commitment and self-sacrifice that family requires, a radical misunderstanding of freedom and equality, and much else besides…
When people talk of ‘the vocations crisis’ in the Catholic Church they usually mean declining numbers of priests, religious and seminarians. But the graver vocations crisis in the Church today - or, more accurately, in certain parts of the Church today – is that in marriage and parenting.
A recent report of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Love Me Do, found fewer Australians now get married at all; if they do marry, they marry later (average age 30 for men and 28 for women); and only one-third now marry in religious ceremonies.
Eight out of 10 cohabit before marrying, even though this significantly reduces their marital ‘sticking power’, and fewer now stay married for the long haul. If they have children at all, most have very few.
Yet as the ABS noted: “Families are the building blocks of society, facilitating generational renewal, human interaction, and linking individuals to wider society as a whole.” They are “closely linked with wellbeing” and play “a key role in socialising children and shaping the future of society.”
Unsurprisingly, therefore, breakdown of marriage and family has been associated with a host of social problems such as spiralling rates of promiscuity, abortion, homelessness, mental illness, drug abuse, behaviour disorders and youth suicide; genealogical, cultural and ethical bewilderment; an ageing population without the economic base to support it; and much else besides.
What we are talking about here are not just social trends and statistics, but the tragedies of real people, people we meet every day in our parishes, welfare agencies and schools, and in our own families, struggling in their married and family life. The stories of people we know and love.
As the canary in the coal mine, such fragile family life surely demands some radical redirection before the social disaster becomes ever more apparent.
On Social Justice Sunday, 30 September, Australia’s Catholic Bishops will launch a Pastoral Statement on the Family, The Gift of Family in Difficult Times: The social and economic challenges facing families today.
It examines some of the social and economic pressures on families today: work demands, living costs, the consumer economy and so on. It demonstrates that this is a major social justice issue for our time.
Every Catholic (even in an order of ancient friars) has the vocation to support family life and especially to help those families experiencing crisis or need. Only by supporting stronger family life can we hope to plot a brighter future for humanity. Even the secular statisticians can see that.
But it will require God’s grace as much as our determination. The ‘domestic church’ is the family grafted on to the mystery of the bigger Church and thus made into a saved and saving community.
The family enacts its saving grace in umpteen daily tasks, in the witness of the spouses’ love, in their generous fruitfulness, in their dialogue with God in prayer and with humanity in service.
In this Year of Grace we pray that our families become true icons of the love between the Persons of the Trinity and that our community will support them in all justice.
On Sunday 23 September, married couples who are celebrating significant wedding anniversaries and their families are invited participate in Celebrating the Journey, our annual diocesan gathering.
I look forward to welcoming you at the 11am Mass in St Patrick’s Cathedral and to lunch in the Cathedral hall afterwards. Please contact CatholicCare Parramatta if you are coming on (02) 9933 0222 or email email@example.com
Catholic Outlook August 2012 Letter of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP: A Pastoral Message for National Vocations Awareness Week (5-12 August 2012)
The world needs priests because the world needs Jesus Christ.
Christ came to call us to repentance, to teach and heal us, to communicate the Father’s love and enable our union with God. His Church continues that work.
The Church is a communion – a community that seeks and enables spiritual union with God and the saints – especially through worship, proclamation and service.
Every community needs its leaders. Spiritual communions need spiritual leaders.
If communion for us comes through prayer and sacrament, we need leaders in worship – priests who sanctify us as Christ did.
If communion for us comes through receiving God’s Word, we need leaders in proclamation – priests who teach us as Christ did.
If communion for us comes through service in the world, we need leaders who animate and coordinate – priests who shepherd us as Christ did.
Put simply: no priests, no Catholic Church.
Of course deacons, religious and lay people – today more than ever before – engage in many aspects of the Church’s mission. Permanent deacons assist bishop, priests and people in worship, preaching and charity. Religious give us the witness of Gospel radicalism, in their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Married people build up the Church and community through rearing children. Lay people in parishes and Church agencies do much of the legwork of the local Church.
But no matter how many good things other people do in our world, the continuous real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the source and summit of the Christian life, depends upon priests. The continuous outpouring of divine mercy through Reconciliation depends upon priests. The continuous healing touch in anointing the sick depends upon priests.
More than ever our world needs priests who are courageous, passionate, hope-filled men; men who love God and people and want to bring them closer together; men who love the Church as the principal means of achieving that communion.
St John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, never felt worthy to be a priest, but he dared to be one because he loved the priesthood and knew God would always support His own. He once said that if we really understood the priesthood we would die not of fright but of love for it!
Like marriage, priesthood is a big decision, one with life-changing consequences. But like marriage it is not merely life-changing but life giving and fulfilling.
I love being a priest. It is the best of lives. When we truly give ourselves to Christ, to being His instrument in the world, we are offered real joy, freedom and friendship. Such graces far outweigh the challenges and struggles in every life.
The world needs men and women willing to lay down their life for others. The world needs the radical witness of religious, the service of deacons, the fidelity of spouses, the fruitfulness of parents, and more. All of those need the spiritual leadership of priests, men of faith, hope and love. The world needs such heroes. Are you ready to answer this heroic call?
This issue of Catholic Outlook (August 2012) includes a special feature for National Vocations Awareness Week (5-12 August 2012). Read the inspiring stories of men and women of faith who have answered ‘yes’ to God’s call.
Catholic Outlook July 2012 Letter of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP
It doesn’t seem all that long ago that we were hosting the world in our parishes, schools and churches, on our harbour, streets and racecourse, for World Youth Day 2008.
Certainly it seems like only yesterday that we were working so hard to get as many as possible to WYD Madrid in 2011. But believe it or not, we’re only a year away from the next festival of youthful faith and joy, WYD Rio in 2013.
This week-long marathon of grace, invented by Blessed John Paul II, allows the young people of the globe to unite and give witness to their faith in its true Catholicity.
“Incredible, amazing, staggering, phenomenal, overwhelming”: that’s how one American bishop and his pilgrims described the happiest and holiest week in the history of our city.
“Sydney was better than anyone expected,” he said. “A real experience of God’s Spirit in our lives. A real chance for young people to embrace their mission to give public testimony to their faith.”
Bringing the Holy Father by boat through Sydney Harbour to meet a few hundred thousand young pilgrims was one of the great moments of my life. It was a highpoint in many ways, including in the relationship between Church and society.
Everyone pitched in to help it happen, not just Catholics, not just Christians, but all sorts. Our Prime Minister paid tribute to the place of faith in our past and our future. Expectation built that our very own Mary MacKillop would soon be a saint. And many of our young people set themselves on a similar trajectory of grace.
It was an extraordinary time for our country, for many young people and one old pope. The theme was fulfilled: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses (Acts 1:8).
Next stop Madrid – under the title: Planted and built up in Christ, firm in faith (Col 2:7). Amidst challenging crowds there were beauty and tradition and so many graces.
Now to the not-so-new ‘New World’, to Brazil. From 23-28 July next year millions will gather amongst astonishing natural beauty and heart-breaking poverty, amongst architectural tributes to an ancient faith and evangelical challenges to a young Church.
Having received the Holy Spirit in 2008 and been built up in faith in 2010, our young people will gather under the missionary mandate: Go and make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19).
I hope and pray that more than ever of our young people will go, with the help of their families, schools, parishes, chaplaincies, ecclesial movements, diocesan agencies. We’ve launched a Pilgrim Volunteers Program to encourage all those sectors of our Diocese to sponsor pilgrims and to encourage would-be pilgrims to get more involved in those aspects of our Church. We’ve got our planned pilgrim routes up on the web at www.parrawyd.org
Of course, only a tiny fraction of our young people will go. They are the fortunate ones. Hopefully, it will make a difference not just in their lives but in those they touch on their return. But in the process of fundraising and formation for the next cohort of pilgrims, in the viewing of the great events through the old and new media, and in hearing the excited reports of the returnees, many more will be affected. That, at least, is my goal.
One of the most beautiful teaching moments during the World Youth Day in Sydney was the Vigil at Randwick. It began in darkness, and was gradually illuminated by a light taken from the Pope by a young Aboriginal woman out to the crowd. Fire as we know, is one of the symbols of the Holy Spirit, “the artisan of God’s work”.
Come Holy Spirit we prayed and pray again in this Year of Grace. Come fill the hearts of your faithful with the fire of your love. The Holy Father called on us to “Let the Spirit’s gifts shape you. Let them transform your families, communities and nations.”
Such was the hope of the Second Vatican Council whose Golden Jubilee we celebrate. Such is the hope of our Year of Grace. That a fire will be lit again in our hearts. That we will each contemplate the face of Christ and start afresh from Him. That the Spirit will renew the face of the earth and remake the face of the Church as the image of Christ.
World Youth Day does great things for young people, bringing their faith to life, enlarging their sense of belonging to the Church, setting them free to love and give themselves to the adventure of the Gospel. I pray that many of ours will make it to Rio so that they can in turn inspire the rest of us to be living Gospels for Western Sydney!
From Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, Catholic Outlook, May 2012
At 5am on 22 June 1535, the Lieutenant of the Tower of London woke a frail old man for his 9am execution. His response: I’ll go back to sleep for a while as I want to save my strength for the occasion!
When the Lieutenant returned at 9am, Bishop John Fisher was dressed in his best clothes for what he called his ‘wedding day’. From the New Testament he read Christ’s words: “Father, the hour has come: glorify your Son that he may glorify you, since you have given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to those you have given him. And this is eternal life: to know You, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I have glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work you gave me to do: now, Father, glorify me.” (Jn 17:1-5)
From the scaffold the old bishop asked for prayers for king and country, and for himself, and then he was beheaded. His naked body lay there all day until soldiers buried him without rites. His head was impaled on London Bridge, then thrown into the Thames.
If such a thing could happen to the greatest churchman in England, no one was safe: within three weeks his friend, the former Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas More, met the same fate. He would famously declare: “I am the King’s good servant, but God’s first.” In due course they would share the same feast day, Fisher’s ‘wedding day’, 22 June.
St Thomas More and St John Fisher: both were men of prayer and penance; both scholars and administrators; both intellectually sophisticated yet practical men. Though the powers of this world were against them, they remained hopeful to the end, with More telling his judges he hoped they might “hereafter in heaven all meet merrily together, to our everlasting salvation.”
Neither would allow that the Church should replace the state or the state the Church. Each had its proper place. As the pope could not determine the laws of England so the king could not define the laws of God.
Both men refused to check their faith in the cloakroom before entering the university, parliament or public square, as some claimed they should. For people of integrity such compartmentalising is impossible.
Why refuse to take the king’s oath, when such refusal would mean disgrace, dispossession, decapitation? Couldn’t they say whatever was required but with their fingers crossed, so to speak? After all, God would know where their real loyalties lay. So many advised them …
But More and Fisher would not lie, even to save their lives. Never to lie was, they thought, an absolute duty of any officer of the Church or the law, as of every Christian and indeed any person. Both knew the king’s first marriage was valid; to swear otherwise would be to assert a deliberate falsehood, intending to deceive.
That one might face disadvantage, ridicule, even death, for standing up for the truth is not alien to Catholic history. It is the stuff of martyrs and daily Christian heroism. In this golden jubilee year of the Second Vatican Council there will no doubt be much talk about the Council and conscience.
Well one thing the Council was unequivocal about was the duty to speak and live by the truth: conscience shows us how; it is never a route to convenience, evasion, false witness.
What else was at issue for Saints John and Thomas? Many things no doubt. One was the meaning of marriage. Could the state, by a simple act of parliament, change the definition of marriage for one man (King Henry) or for all? Could it make what is by nature, faith and reason a lifelong commitment, something more provisional – at least for the powerful?
The question echoes down the centuries, as new leaders would aim to change the definition of marriage again, this time to allow same-sex marriage. Once again, those who dare oppose the mood of the age will be branded bigots or worse.
Mercifully, none of us today needs fear beheading for standing up for the truth about marriage. But we would be naïve to think freedom of belief is always respected in this country and always will be. We must be vigilant. We must be clear and forthright about what is true, if compassionate and humble also when expressing ourselves.
Whether or not we are called by God to marry someone, all of us will one day have our ‘wedding day’ when we must say ‘I do’ to truth or falsity, when we must choose between true and comfortable, when we must vow ourselves to Christ or something less.
The Catholic Church opposes all forms of unjust discrimination. We deplore injustices perpetrated upon people because of religion, sex, race, age, etc. The Catechism calls for understanding for those with deep-seated homosexual tendencies for whom this may well be a real trial. “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” (2358)
But not every difference of treatment is unjust discrimination. Only women are admitted to women’s hospitals and only children to primary schools. Justice requires programs targeted to Aborigines, refugees, those with disabilities or reading difficulties, etc. Privileging or assisting particular people in relevant ways is not arbitrary but an entirely fair response.
Societies have always paid very special attention to the lifelong commitment of a man and a woman to live in mutual support and with a view to raising a family. Marriage is not the only kind of friendship or even the most important. (Friendship with God comes first.) But it is essential to the stability and future of society and so has rightly been given special protection and support.
Lately there’s been a campaign to remove any privileges particular to marriage and call other relationships marriages. Some are pushing to change the definition of marriage at law and include ‘same-sex marriages’.
Marriage was never easy but in recent decades people have become very confused about what a marriage is and how to live it. The sexual revolution of the 1960s invited sex without love, love without commitment, and sex and love without babies.
With the ’70s came unilateral, no-reasons-given, divorce-on-demand and thus marriage without permanence.
In the 1980s, IVF enabled the flipside of sex without babies: babies without sex. The post-moderns taught that male and female are merely social constructs.
By the 1990s we had ‘de facto’ marriages, civil unions, try-before-you-buy cohabitation, sex changes, you name it.
In the 21st Century permanence, sexual complementarity, even children, are all viewed as optional extras. All that’s left of the old marriage idea is emotional-sexual union: “It’s enough that people love each other.”
But if that’s all marriage is, it’s hard to deny it to any two people who say they love each other. It can’t be limited to a man and a woman. Or even two men or two women. How about polygamy? How about two siblings who want to marry? How about people who want to marry for, say, 10 years, with an option for renewal?
Right now, it’s same-sex marriage that’s on the cards. People say equality requires it; that it’s cruel to exclude someone from marriage who was ‘born that way’; that religions shouldn’t dictate marriage laws.
Yet no one is opposing our law’s refusal to call the close relationship between a man and his grandmother a marriage. So what makes marriage different from other kinds of friendships?
Three things are essential:
Marriage is ‘comprehensive’ in the sense that it involves a union of minds, bodies and wills, a sharing of lives and resources, a new identity as spouse and potential parent.
Our faith describes this as a man leaving his parents to join his wife so that the two become one (Gen 2:24; Mt 19:5-6; Eph 5:31). This kind of ‘one flesh union’ presumes a deep difference between men and women – physically and psychologically – so that each is incomplete without the other.
When ‘the two become one’ in marriage, each provides something the other lacks. This kind of comprehensive union is only possible between a man and a woman.
What’s more: only a man can enable a woman to become a mother; only a woman can enable a man to become a father. Only the union of a man and a woman can be fertile.
The intrinsic link between marriage and family explains why societies, including legal systems, take it so seriously. The union of a man and a woman is crucial if children are to come to be. And their lasting union is essential if children are to have the ongoing benefit of a mother and father.
Such a comprehensive union and dedication to children is secured by a permanent and exclusive commitment of spouses to each other and their family. Put simply: marriage makes more likely that kids will be reared by their biological parents. Thus deliberately short-term, open or child-free ‘marriages’ are no marriages at all. Neither are ‘same-sex marriages’.
The only reason the state gets involved in marriage – as opposed to other sexual relationships, friendships and commitments – is that the life-long commitment of sexually complementary persons has such a bearing upon children and thus the future of society. The state cannot produce the virtuous people it needs as citizens: it is the family, the ‘domestic Church’ that does this.
Tags: Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP Catholic Outlook Catholic Diocese of Parramatta
From Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, Catholic Outlook, April 2012
When people raise their glasses in a toast and say ‘Cheers’ or ‘Your health’ they might not realise that they are praying. When Jesus rose from the dead His first words were those same ones: Shalom, peace, your health. And then He showed us His wounds.
Ah, we might say, I like the cheers bit, but do we have to be reminded about the violence of this world? It seems we do.
Jesus shows His apostles His wounds to help them understand what sin does. Our resistance to what’s good and true and beautiful lacerates our own souls as much as Jesus’ body. “Crucify him!” is the cry that shame pours upon innocence in every age.
Sometimes other people hurt us, physically or emotionally, financially or morally. Sometimes we hurt them. And sometimes we harm ourselves. When we lash out at God and goodness, or just fail to be all that we could be and should be, it diminishes us, it leaves its wounds.
For all the goodness and beauty around us, we know that there is dysfunction in ourselves and our society, in broken relationships and a world that is not quite as it should be. Which is why we all need cheers, health, salvation.
But what really makes us happy? Love, above all, is what we are hard-wired for. We need friendships with God and neighbour. Deep and lasting friendships. Experiences, too, of health and beauty and truth, of work and play, of internal and external harmony. Evil fractures these things; grace restores them. Sin wounds and kills; grace cheers and raises from the dead.
Christ rose from the tomb to show that every break with God, each other, ourselves, can yet be healed. That nothing can separate us from the love of God. That whatever we’ve done He will have us back if we return to Him. Jesus opens His arms wide, not just to display the hurt of Good Friday and the healing of Easter, but to welcome back every returning soul.
We too are called out of the tomb of our anxieties, grievances and addictions. To be signs of hope and happiness.
It doesn’t come easy. Dietrich Bonheoffer spoke about the illusion of ‘cheap grace’, of imagining that healing always comes easy. Easter, he thought, shows it doesn’t. Our healing cost Christ His life. But He willingly gave His all for us.
From Bishop Anthony Fisher OP, Catholic Outlook, March 2012
When you hear the word ‘Lent’ what comes to mind? Giving up chocolates or alcohol or texting for 40 days? When I was a child Lent was a time when you gave up what you liked best and if you ordered a meat pie from the school tuckshop on Friday, you received an egg sandwich and a lecture!
Lent in those days was an exciting time. There was something heroic about vowing to give up things as important as chocolate, even if it was only for a few weeks. And there were meatless Fridays and only one real meal on certain days. You got to look and feel grave, even dismal, to match the black and purple that covered the statues and the priests in that season. My views of Lent have matured somewhat since then, but such childhood experiences are very formative.
Now, of course, I know a bit more about the history and spirituality of Lenten discipline. I know, for instance, that Lent was from early times a special time of intense preparation for those getting ready to be baptised at Easter. They made a retreat for 40 days, imitating Jesus’ retreat in the desert.
From the 3rd Century they were also joined by those who had committed notorious sins and were called to public penance. These penitents were reconciled with the Church in Holy Week. Desert hermits, monks and nuns, also engaged in asceticism of various kinds in the lead-up to Easter.
Why the self-denial? Sin, we know, damages us, our relationship with our neighbours and our relationship with God. Conversion and penance are about being turned upside down, inside-outed, spun around, away from sin and the harm it does and towards a more healthy lifestyle. Lent proposes three very helpful techniques for this.
One is fasting. We inherited this practice from the Jews and share it with the Muslims and others. It is said to have many benefits: schooling the passions, reducing lust, resisting the devil, teaching temperance, helping appreciate more what we normally have.
More recently, people fast for peace, to identify with the hungry, to take a stand against consumerism, to cleanse themselves of toxins or merely to lose weight. One way or another, fasting seems to help us get a handle on ourselves; to acknowledge our self-indulgence, our over-indulgence, our obsession with our own comfort; to confess that this diminishes us; and to co-operate with God in His project of healing our hearts. Fasting is good for our relationship with ourselves.
Almsgiving – that is, charitable giving to the poor such as Project Compassion – is another practice we share with all the world’s great religions. By giving we assist others in need; but we also try to restore a right relationship between ourselves and others. We try to face up to our selfishness, our unwillingness to share; we acknowledge the injustice and uncharity of a world in which so many starve or are otherwise neglected; we try by engaging in a little generosity to relate better to people. Almsgiving is good for our relationship with others.
Prayer is the third Lenten strategy. Of course, like the other two, it is an all-year-round practice. But in Lent Catholics try to do a bit extra: they make a good Confession, pray the Stations of the Cross, go to Mass on Fridays, or attend as much as possible of the Triduum ceremonies of Holy Thursday night, Good Friday afternoon and the Easter Vigil.
By prayer we try to face up to our neglect of the spiritual element in our lives, our unwillingness to share our time and space, our minds and wills with God; we acknowledge our spiritual lukewarmness, the practical agnosticism of so much of daily life; and we try to communicate better with the One who most loves us and wants to heal us. Prayer is good for our relationship with God.
Three broken relationships – with our God, our neighbours and ourselves – and three Lenten remedies. This is not self-medicating, mind you: Christ prescribes these medicines for our souls.
Tags: Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP Catholic Outlook Letter Catholic Diocese of Parramatta
Photo: Alphonsus Fok & Grace Lu
From Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP
Download an audio file of the Bishop's February 2012 Letter
Listen to an audio version of this Letter at Bishop Anthony's iTunes Podcasts
A belated Happy New Year to you! Liturgically speaking, of course, we began our new year back in November at the beginning of Advent. Our Orthodox brothers and sisters began in the middle of last month. The Chinese and Vietnamese celebrated it later in January. The financial world still has five months to wait ...
But for those of us who follow the Gregorian calendar, the year starts on 1 January, the traditional Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord – the day Jesus was given His name.
1 January was only adopted as New Year in much of the West around the time that Australia was colonised. Until then it had been on 25 March in most places – the Feast of the Annunciation and Incarnation. That day was the turning point of all history, the dawn of salvation, the first year of grace.
However, the world only got to see this dawn when the Boy was brought to the temple for circumcision and naming. It was the day Jesus first went public, the day His name was told beyond the extended family and a few rustic visitors.
The name ‘Jesus’ means God saves. Recently I was asked whether swearing was still a sin. I was interested that a young Catholic might think it OK to use bad language, including the names of God, to express strong emotions or simply as seafood filler for conversations.
A generation ago swearing was probably the most commonly confessed sin, not necessarily because it was the most commonly committed, but because people knew you shouldn’t ‘take God’s name in vain’.
Since hardly anyone desecrated the Blessed Sacrament or attempted to kill their parish priest, this was the most worrying example in ordinary people’s lives of a direct breach of ‘the God commandments’, the first tablet of the Law of Moses.
So why do we care what name we give God and how it is used? Why do we cringe when movie characters or our own children say ‘Jesus’ or use another name of God or the saints inappropriately?
One reason is surely this: the name of Jesus says in a word all that our faith says. It says that the God who came at Christmas and Easter came to save. It reminds us of all the blessings we thereby received. And it invokes His presence here and now.
Jesus promised us that: “If you ask the Father anything in my name He will give it you.” (Jn 16:23-26; cf. Mk 9:38-41; Mt 18:19-20) His very last words to us were: “In my name you will cast out demons, speak in new tongues, handle serpents, drink poison and none will hurt you; you will lay hands on the sick and they will recover.” (Mk 16:17-18)
Sure enough, on Pentecost Day, a paralytic at the temple gate asked Peter for alms. He replied, “Silver and gold have I none, but I give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” – and the man did (Acts 3:1-10). So we start our prayers and even our driving with “In the name of the Father, of the Son and the Holy Spirit ...”.
This issue of Catholic Outlook includes a pastoral letter to introduce the Years of Grace, of Faith and of Action.
Starting at Pentecost, the Church in Australia will implore the Holy Spirit to pour out His grace anew, just as the whole Church did before the Second Vatican Council. In this ‘Year of Grace’ we will seek ‘to contemplate the face of Jesus and to listen to His voice at a new depth’. There will be a number of associated activities throughout our country and diocese. In the meantime, we might all reflect on the graces we have received and still need.
A ‘Year of Faith’ will begin not just for the Church in Australia but throughout the world on 11 October. That is the 50th anniversary of the opening of a Council that Blessed John Paul II called ‘the single greatest grace bestowed upon the Church in the 20th Century’. We should all look again at the documents of that great Council and of the Catechism that followed.
Grace and faith are not for storing in barns! As faith responds to grace, so Christian service enacts faith. Here in the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta we have begun a process of ‘pastoral planning’. We will spend the next year or so thinking about how we can best serve the people of Western Sydney in the years ahead.
Faith in Our Future will be launched formally in our parishes on the weekend of 11-12 February and we have included information in this issue of Catholic Outlook to help get the conversation going.
Wise men brought gold for a baby who would be King, frankincense for a child who would be Priest, and myrrh for One who would die to save the world.
There were presents at the first Christmas. Angels brought songs. Shepherds brought lambs. Wise men brought gold for a baby who would be King, frankincense for a child who would be Priest, and myrrh for One who would die to save the world.
There were presents at the first Christmas and there will be this Christmas. Amidst the economic gloom our businesses hope for some bounce from all the present buying and giving.
But we must ask ourselves: how much more stuff do we really need? How many things do we have from last Christmas that we have not touched since? How many other gadgets, clothes, DVDs, or whatever have we accumulated in the meantime, or over the years, that we never even advert to?
Sometimes we keep them for sentimental reasons even if they are not useful. Or because we think we might use them later. But I wonder how much we are trapped in a culture of accumulating for its own sake, accumulating things that cost money we could be putting to better uses, things we could be sharing with other people instead of hoarding at home ...
Recently I heard a woman saying she spent a lot of money on clothes she didn’t need or even like, so she could wear them to impress people she didn’t know and who didn’t notice. Reflecting on that made her ask all sorts of questions about the sustainability of the consumer economy, the impacts on the natural environment and on the social environment, on people.
Behind those were even deeper questions about what we value – in our world, in ourselves, in others.
Our global financial uncertainty invites such questions. Christmas invites such questions.
There were presents at the first Christmas, but the focus was certainly not commercialism and accumulation of wealth. There was also the grinding poverty of a young couple living rough and giving birth in a stable.
There was the insecurity of a young family having to flee as refugees from the violence around them and the wise men taking a secret route out of that place.
There was a cosmic hymn of glory to God in the highest and a cosmic plea for peace and goodwill on earth.
As we attend Mass this Christmas, or listen to carols, or say grace at Christmas dinner; as we notice the different feel in the streets, the decorations, the frenzied shopping and Christmas parties, then the long, hot slowdown of the holidays; as we look at our families across the Christmas dinner table and open our presents with them, we might ask ourselves: don’t people matter so much more than things? What do I want for my loved ones? Who am I for them? What really makes us happy?
Christ the Lord is born to us at Christmas. God comes to fill our world with hope. A baby worthy of all gifts wants nothing more than our friendship. May God bless you and all your loved ones this Christmas and in the New Year of Our Lord 2012.
Don’t forget to say grace before your Christmas dinner. Here’s one you might use:
Tags: Bishop of Parramatta Catholic Outlook Lettters Bishop’s Christmas Message 2011
One of the artist’s most astonishing works, a Last Judgment.
Blessed Fra Angelico, the early renaissance Dominican and patron of painters, is my favourite painter. I recently gave two illustrated talks on the theology of his art for the Parramatta Institute for Mission. People in the audience said they felt transported to another world by his paintings.
One of his most astonishing works is painted for this time of the liturgical year – one year’s end and a new year’s Advent. It is a Last Judgment, painted in the 1430s for the Florentine Camaldolese convent of Santa Maria degli Angeli.
The detail demonstrates his skills as a young miniaturist, now experimenting in larger works with perspective, portraiture, architecture, nature painting – above all preaching through paint.
At the centre is, of course, Jesus. Not Jesus the teacher, healer or guide, not Jesus the enfleshed baby God or the dying Redeemer, though Angelico painted all these at different times.
No, this work is of Christ the King, Judge at the end of ages. His courtiers are the angels and saints, including a disproportionate number of Dominicans (Angelico has his biases!). At Christ’s right hand is, of course, the Blessed Virgin, her arms crossed on her bosom, turning to her Son and making her last intercession for miserable sinners.
The graves are smashed open below and the dead rising to new life. On the left side of the throne (our right), some are led to hell, by horrible demons that would have delighted and terrified the children.
Hell’s cauldrons are not a pretty sight: the dark horror of high gothic art and literature are here, with people gnawing their own flesh in boiling cauldrons, one for each deadly sin. There are ordinary people here, but princes too and prelates, and again, in disproportionate numbers in each cauldron, friars and clerics.
Four last things: death and judgment, heaven and hell. The readings in the November liturgies are full of foreboding of such things. Even as we peel away layers of fertile apocalyptic imagination we cannot escape the insistence of the texts that Christ will come again, in glory and power, to the angst of some and the consolation of others.
These texts are intended to confront us. Christ comes to us, or we to Him, to the ruin of some and when most are not quite ready. So there is anxiety in the artful texts: nations in distress, men fainting in fear, signs in the heavens.
We are not altogether prepared to be confronted with the whole truth about ourselves. Angelico’s Christ is encircled with an aura of bright-shining angels as if He were the Sun. His bright beams reveal the truth and beauty and goodness in each soul – and the more mediocre, more mundane, more sordid too.
For so many of these souls, as for us, so much is yet incomplete when judgment comes. So often we have been less than we could be or should be. The autobiography we’ve been writing since conception has its highlights and its regrets. There are places in ourselves, our families, friendships, workplaces, city where there is still so much to be done, so much promise yet unfulfilled, so many missed opportunities and wrong turns taken.
He declares unequivocally that He has come that we might have life, life to the full. The fullest participation in everything that is good is offered to us, if only we will embrace God’s holy will now, right now, and forever.
At the right side of the throne (our left) is one of Angelico’s most beautiful scenes: the heavenly gate. He fixes it in a beautiful renaissance garden, for the garden of Eden, God’s first gift to humanity after life itself, is also promised us again at the end.
Paradise Lost is Paradise Regained. Amidst all the beauties of creation Angelico places angels dancing in a circle; saints, the picture of health, clothed in glorious vestments; thousands streaming through the gates of heaven.
Tags: Bishop of Parramatta Catholic Outlook Letters Catholic Diocese of Parramatta
Photo: Alphonsus Fok & Grace Lu
From Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP Catholic Outlook, October 2011
“You cannot live your faith alone,” Pope Benedict told the 1.5 million young people gathered at Madrid’s Cuatro Veintos Air Base at the closing Mass of the 26th World Youth Day. “Following Jesus in faith is to walk with Him in the communion of the Church. You cannot follow Jesus alone.”
WYD11 was an extraordinary time of grace for 280 young Parramatta pilgrims. With graces come challenges. Scorching heat, water shortages, a double-capacity crowd pushing many pilgrims out, a thunderstorm rendering Communion tents unusable: there was plenty to evoke our catch cry ‘I am a pilgrim not a tourist’!
It is an adage I hope our young people will carry through life. St Mary MacKillop did: similar words adorn her tomb.
As if to prepare them for such challenges the young people celebrated the Stations of the Cross Spanish-style, complete with Holy Week tableaux from all around Spain – lots of blood and gold – and a young man chanting a haunting cry of Good Friday grief.
“Dear young friends,” the Pope said, “may Christ’s love ... encourage you to go in search of those less fortunate ... be sure not to pass by on the other side in the face of human suffering, for it is here that God expects you to give of your very best: your capacity for love and compassion.”
I saw this compassion in action. I was inspired by how well our young people looked out for each other, if needs be literally carrying each other. A number had disabilities, sickness or fatigue to contend with – the Young Order of Malta accompanied some with very significant disabilities – and all experienced the helping hand of Christ. The purifying effects of the pilgrim experience were very evident.
The Diocese of Parramatta had only ever had a few dozen participants at an overseas World Youth Day before. This time we had a few hundred – the second largest participation by an Australian diocese. This included more than 80 school students, more than 40 young teachers and more than 160 young adults.
For that I pay grateful tribute to our priests and parishioners, our Catholic Education Office and schools, the WYD Committee and our Youth Office, and the young people and their families, who all worked together to raise the funds and encourage participation.
Many describe it as the greatest experience of their lives (so far!) and as truly ‘life-changing’. They retell moving moments when they came to appreciate crucial things about themselves or God. Several intend to go to Mass weekly now. More regular prayer and Confession is also on their agenda. Some are discerning their vocations. All were struck by the size and universality of Christ’s flock and that Pope and Bishops take so seriously Christ's charge to Peter to ‘Feed my lambs’.
The official theme, the bishops' catecheses and the papal messages all focussed directly on faith foundations for young lives. At the Papal Welcome in Plaza de Cibeles the Holy Father walked through the gates of Madrid, was greeted by our very own Bethany Lentern, was treated to a performance by dancing Spanish horses, and then addressed the assembled youth.
In answer to the post-modern question “Do we really need foundations for our lives?” the Pope observed that “There are many who believe they need no roots or foundations other than themselves. They take it upon themselves to decide what is true or not, what is good and evil, what is just and unjust; who should live and who can be sacrificed in the interests of other preferences; leaving each step to chance, with no clear path, letting themselves be led by the whim of each moment.”
Christians, the Holy Father argued, have an alternative approach to life. We know “that we have been created free, in the image of God, precisely so that we might be in the forefront of the search for truth and goodness, responsible for our actions; not mere blind executives, but creative co-workers in the task of cultivating and beautifying the work of creation.
“God is looking for a responsible interlocutor, someone who can dialogue with Him and love Him. Through Christ we can truly succeed and, established in Him, we give wings to our freedom. Is this not the great reason for our joy? Isn’t this the firm ground upon which to build the civilisation of love and life, capable of humanising all of us?”
At the Vigil, amidst lightning, driving rain and the fall of the World Youth Day cross directly upon the head of one of the bishops, Pope Benedict refused to leave the stage.
Once things calmed down the Blessed Sacrament was exposed in the Toledo monstrance – the most beautiful in the world, made from the first gold brought back from the New World. The devotion of the young people was palpable.
Here they were reminded of the great truth of life: that God loves us. “This is what makes everything else meaningful,” the Pope said. “We are not the product of blind chance or absurdity; instead our life originates as part of a loving plan of God. To abide in His love, then, means living a life planted in faith.”
But faith is much more than acknowledging certain abstract truths. It is “an intimate relationship with Christ, who enables us to open our hearts to this mystery of love and to live as men and women conscious of being loved by God.
“If you abide in the love of Christ, planted in the faith, you will encounter, even amid setbacks and suffering, the source of true happiness and joy. Faith does not run counter to your highest ideals; on the contrary, it elevates and perfects those ideals. Dear young people, do not be satisfied with anything less than Truth and Love, do not be content with anything less than Christ ...
“May no adversity paralyse you. Be afraid neither of the world, nor of the future, nor of your own weakness. The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment of history so that, by your faith, his name will continue to resound throughout the world.”
In his closing homily the Pope cautioned young people against the temptation to 'go it alone'. Living individualistically risks “never meeting Jesus Christ or ending up following a false image of Him.”
“Having faith means drawing support from the faith of your brothers and sisters, even as your own faith supports the faith of others. I ask you, dear friends, to love the Church which brought you to birth in the faith, which helped you to grow in the knowledge of Christ and which led you to discover the beauty of his love.”
Growing in friendship with Christ and His Church, the Pope explained, requires "joyful participation in the life of your parishes, communities and movements, as well as the celebration of Sunday Mass, frequent reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation, and the cultivation of personal prayer and meditation on God’s word.
“Friendship with Jesus will also lead you to bear witness to the faith wherever you are, even when it meets with rejection or indifference. We cannot encounter Christ and not want to make him known to others. So do not keep Christ to yourselves! Share with others the joy of your faith.
“The world,” the Pope stressed, “needs the witness of your faith: it certainly needs God”. He exhorted the young people to be “disciples and missionaries who aspire to great things".
Our young people are a great cause for hope.Photography: Alphonsus Fok & Grace Lu
From Bishop Anthony Fisher OP, Catholic Outlook, September 2011
As I write this month’s letter, I am about to board my plane for World Youth Day in Madrid. Many of our 283 pilgrims will be travelling first with me to the Holy Land. We’ve never had more than a few dozen from the Diocese of Parramatta at an overseas WYD: this time we have a few hundred.
We must pay tribute to those who helped that happen. The parishes and schools have embraced the promotion and fundraising required. Our WYD Committee, youth office, clergy, youth ministers, Catholic Education Office, parish and school personnel, and would-be pilgrims themselves, have all been most generous.
For many of the pilgrims it will be the adventure of a lifetime, a point of deep and enduring conversion to Christ. For this we labour and we pray.
These young people are a great cause for hope. They and their peers will be the Church of Western Sydney in the years ahead.
At our recent clergy gathering we began a process of pastoral planning for the future. We heard that ours is the youngest Diocese in Australia, not just in canonical years but in the age of our people.
We have many young families and young adults. A higher proportion of these go regularly to Mass than elsewhere in the country. We have 80 active youth groups and ministries that would be the envy of many.
So there is much to be proud of, much to build on, as we celebrate our 25 years as a young diocese and plan a more ‘middle-aged’ future.
So before I jumped on my flight I celebrated a Commissioning Mass for our WYD pilgrims and leaders. Soon after, I celebrated a Mass for our 2011 priestly jubilarians. These include Bishop Bede Heather (60 years a priest), Bishop Kevin Manning and Fr Rod Bray (50), Fr John Boyle and Fr Ted Tyler (40) and Fr Peter Lamont and Fr Remegio Jamorabon MI (25). We gave thanks to God for their years of service and prayed that more might join them.
Sometimes our prayers are answered quickly! That very night I ordained Br Ruben Martello FSF as a deacon. Hopefully, among the fruits of World Youth Day will be more brothers, not just for our local friars and other religious, but for the ranks of priests and deacons of our Diocese.
At our clergy gathering we celebrated our first 25 years as a Diocese and the presence of Catholics in the region for 223 years.
Called to share in Christ’s mission of proclaiming the Gospel to Western Sydney, we affirmed our past, celebrated our present, and committed to working for a future in which the Diocese continues to thrive.
The Church in our region has a proud history and many strengths. It has a strong sense of its own identity, led by a committed clergy in partnership with religious and lay people who have had an expanding role.
Our ministries respond to needs and our structures match our ministries, forming and supporting both clergy and the laity to that end. There is a pioneering spirit and a culture of collaboration amongst our parishes and people.
Our gathered clergy also recognised the changing circumstances of our Church and world.
We are lucky to be in a growing part of the Church, with more and more Catholics in Western Sydney every year and new parishes, churches and schools on the near horizon.
But we are sensitive to the declining proportion of parishioners, especially youth, regularly attending Mass or Confession and engaging in the wider life of the parish and the Church.
All our people are subject to the increasing secularisation and even opposition to religion in parts of our culture. We face these challenges at a time when our clergy are ageing and their numbers declining.
Thankfully we have many ‘companions on the journey’. Many lay people are ready and willing to take on positions of co-responsibility in leadership and collaboration in service. We have many lay groups, very active in prayer and apostolate.
At our clergy gathering we celebrated the cultural diversity of our priests and people, which brings such a richness to our local Church. We also committed to caring better for ourselves and each other so that our ministry might be truly ‘generative’.
Now is the time for action. Bishop and clergy commit to shaping the future by giving expression to a shared vision developed with the whole diocesan community. This will require a process of conversation with our parish councils, parishioners, school families, school staff, movements, agencies and ministries. From this will emerge a pastoral plan which we will implement together.
In the spirit of the new evangelisation we want to reach out to families, to young people and to all those not strongly connected to their parish, or who are estranged from the Church.
We wish to work towards building the capacity of the Diocese through the promotion of priestly, diaconal and religious vocations, the strengthening of vocations to marriage and family life, identification of gifts among our people, and the formation and collaboration of all in diverse but complementary roles in the Church and the world.
From Bishop Anthony Fisher OP, Catholic Outlook August 2011
Last year, the Productivity Commission published a report on gambling which observed that gambling is an enjoyable pursuit for many Australians, helps support various sporting and charitable activities, and brings people together socially in clubs and pubs. Most Australians are not wowsers and neither are most Catholics. We don’t wag our fingers at harmless fun.
But sometimes gambling is far from harmless. Australia’s Catholic Bishops recently expressed themselves “painfully aware of the damage that problem gambling, especially problem poker machine gambling, causes for many people. It can lead to financial disaster, family breakdown and even suicide.”
The Productivity Commission estimates that there are around 115,000 ‘problem gamblers’ in Australia and another 280,000 at ‘moderate risk’ of gambling away more than they can reasonably afford.
The effects include mounting debt and financial hardship, crime and social isolation, marriage and family breakdown, mental health issues, and suicide.
Pokies seem to be particularly ‘addictive’. An estimated 600,000 Australians (4% of the adult population) play them at least weekly. Of these regulars about 1 in 6 are classified as problem gamblers and they account for 40% of the $12 billion lost each year on gaming machines.
They each lose an average of $21,000 per year to poker machines, which is a lot of money for a Western Sydney ‘battler’. Many lose a lot more than average.
So the Productivity Commission suggested that we move to a system where people set binding limits to their losses. Politics being what it is today, proposals and counter-proposal, threats and stalemates followed. There was a hue from the hotels and a cry from the clubs. Billboards on the M4 told us that ‘A licence to punt is un-Australian’.
So what does the Church have to say about this? Well the Catechism is clear that games of chance can be a form of entertainment and entertainment is a good thing (cf. CCC 2413).
On the other hand, you can have too much of a good thing. If you spend too much, you’ll be neglecting your family or yourself or the poor. People can even become ‘enslaved to the passion for gambling’. This is contrary to justice, charity and human dignity.
I’ve met some of the victims. Wives who first discovered their husbands had a problem when the bank moved to foreclose on their house. Families messed up by the breach of trust, the lies, the self-deception. Gamblers suicidal with shame and a sense that there’s no escape.
The Australian Church sees the damage gambling does close up. Just talk to anyone in the St Vincent de Paul Society or working for CatholicCare Social Services here in the Diocese of Parramatta.
That’s why the Bishops say in their statement that “problem gambling is never responsible. Nor is it in any way acceptable that a large percentage of gambling profits come from problem gamblers.”
We commend the efforts of our civil leaders to address the problem and we call on Catholic clubs “to lead the way in addressing problem poker machine gambling.”
The Church has no special wisdom on the best strategy to deal with problem gambling. But the argument that the common good is best served by measures such as mandatory pre-commitment seems strong. At the very least it might be trialed along with other initiatives and support structures.
Meanwhile, as a Catholic community, we must be there not just to preach and lead, but also to pick up the pieces. CatholicCare, through its Responsible Gambling Service at Blacktown and Emerton, is trying to address the devastating effects of problem gambling.
They told me a story of a man who telephoned the service desperate and suicidal. He had gambled away everything – his marriage, home, job, money, self-esteem. He was overwhelmed by debts, about to be evicted from his rented room, and about to have his car repossessed.
Our counsellor saw him immediately and suicide prevention strategies were put in place. Intensive work was done with him over the following weeks, both psychologically and financially.
I’m told he has now abstained from gambling for six months, is making small repayments on his debts and recovering his life. He continues to receive support from the service.
If you know a problem gambler, or a family being adversely affected by one, encourage them to seek counselling through our services: CatholicCare Parramatta tel (02) 8822 2222.
Tags: Catholic Outlook August 2011 Letter Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP Catholic Diocese of Parramatta
From Bishop Anthony Fisher OP, Catholic Outlook July 2011
When you complete the census form next month on 9 August, you’ll be participating in the centenary of census taking in Australia.
In antiquity, censuses were taken so rulers could tax people and conscript them into the army! The Old Testament records 10 such censuses and they were often far from welcome.
In New Testament times there was an imperial and a provincial census. St Luke’s Gospel sets the birth of Jesus in the context of a Roman census, which explains why Joseph took his heavily pregnant wife away from home and to ‘Royal David’s City’ of Bethlehem.
Nowadays, the census is about more than tax and military service. The Australian Bureau of Statistics says it’s interested in getting a good picture of who we are, how we live and so on: population, housing, family structures, ethnic background, incomes, geography, you name it.
This allows the experts to build up a rich picture of modern Australia, of each neighbourhood, even each household. And that helps government, business, community organisations and the churches to serve people better.
But while those other questions are compulsory, the one about religion isn’t. Some people just leave it blank. There are groups urging us to tick ‘no religion’.
So I exhort you to declare your Catholic faith – on the census as elsewhere in life – and if you are a Catholic, say so.
Why? In the census you identify yourself: name and address; date and country of birth; family, occupation, income etc. This describes your identity and that of our community.
Now, most Australians are believers. Most Australian believers are Christians. And Catholics are the largest group of Christians. It would be strange indeed if the profile of individual Australians and the whole community left out this crucial aspect of our identity.
Being a follower of Christ is every bit as central to our identity as the other questions. In fact, it qualifies all the other questions. Who am I? Someone with a Christian name. Where did I come from? A family who passed on the ‘Faith of our Fathers’ to me. What is my nationality? I am an Australian (or whatever …), but I am also a member of the human family and of God’s family; heaven is my real homeland. What is my occupation? Factory worker, taxi driver, mother, whatever, but all that is my vocation of living the Gospel in the world …
Always remember that you are a new creation. In Baptism you were brought into Christ. Declaring yourself a Catholic on the census form gives witness to that most fundamental characteristic of who you are.
Of course, the question is not about the quality of our faith or practice, how ‘hot’ we are for Jesus, how full on in our devotional life, how often we go to Mass or Confession, how often we serve others or work for justice or assist in some parish ministry, how much we give to the Church or to the poor. We could all do better on those scores! But the census question is about our identity, the who and why that explains why we do those things.
Apart from the truth value of this – that it gives us a more accurate picture of our population – and the witness value of this – that it is an opportunity to stand up for who you are – there is another good reason to say Catholic on the census.
We don’t want to be under-represented in social policy and advocacy for the services we offer. We want to be taken seriously when decisions are made about the future of our community. And numbers count here.
The census also helps parishes and the Diocese understand their local Catholic community: the kind of people we are, the needs we have, where the growth and movement is, what provisions we should make for the future (churches, schools, health and aged care, welfare services …). So identifying your faith in the census helps us help you.
When our young Australians go to World Youth Day in Madrid next month (including nearly 300 from our Diocese alone) it will be, amongst other things, so they can feel part of a bigger Catholic community.
During the Silver Jubilee Mass, His Excellency Most Rev Giuseppe Lazzarotto, Apostolic Nuncio to Australia, read the proclamation announcing St Mary of the Cross MacKillop as patron of our Diocese. Photography: Alphonsus Fok & Grace LuFrom Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, Catholic Outlook June 2011
After the recent royal wedding the next big event on the civil calendar will be Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee next year. We recall that at the Golden Jubilee Concert in 2002, Dame Edna Everidge famously introduced Her Majesty with the words, “The Jubilee Girl is here, possums”.
At 25 the Diocese of Parramatta has a long way to go to match the Jubilee Girl, yet Catholics were already well established in this area when her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, celebrated her jubilee. By then we already had parishes in Parramatta, Windsor, Penrith, Richmond, Granville, Rydalmere, Katoomba and North Parramatta.
Indeed, the first Catholics came to this area under the reign of Victoria’s grand uncle, George III, who was then styled King of Great Britain, King of Ireland, Prince-Elector of Hanover, Defender of the Faith, etc.
Increasingly maddened by the knowledge that he had ‘lost the American colonies’, the King was not much comforted when on his 50th birthday in 1788 his government presented him with the consolation prize of new colonies at Sydney Cove, Norfolk Island and ... Parramatta!
Why do we mark jubilees? Experts say there’s nothing magic about the big round birthdays like 100 and their parts, such as a quarter century. It’s just that the earth takes a year to go round the sun and there are 10 fingers on our hands to count its cycles.
Yet as Blessed John Paul II pointed out, human beings are creatures of time and our irrepressible longing to live forever is only satisfied when we meet the God who is beyond time but who came to meet us in time. God comes in time, on time, ‘in the fullness of time’.
“In Christianity time has a fundamental importance. Within the dimension of time the world was created; within it, the history of salvation unfolds, finding its culmination in the fullness of time of the Incarnation, and its goal in the glorious return of the Son of God at the end of time. In Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, time becomes a dimension of God, who is Himself eternal. With the coming of Christ there begin ‘the last days’, the ‘last hour’, and the time of the Church.” (Tertio Millennio Adveniente)
From this relationship we have with the Lord of time and in time arises the Christian duty to sanctify time. The Church does this through her liturgical year, which permeates the solar year with memories of salvation history, with the presence of Christ, and with the prospect of His second Advent.
Catholics likewise dedicate each week by beginning it with a celebration of the Lord’s resurrection and the Sunday Eucharist. They frame the day with morning and evening prayers. And they mark the days of their lives with a series of consecrations from Baptism to Funeral with First Communion, Confirmation, Marriage or Ordination in between.
Against this background the custom of jubilees is richer than street parties to mark long royal reigns or the endless circling of the earth. In the Bible jubilees and sabbatical years are times of celebration, emancipation, rest and contemplation. Jesus began his public ministry by decreeing a year of the Lord’s favour (Lk 4:16-30, after Isa 61:1-2) and this ‘year’ in fact described all of Jesus’ activity.
In our own small way our 25-year-old Diocese is celebrating a year of the Lord’s favour. The celebrations began with a beautiful Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral on the Silver Jubilee of the first bishop assuming responsibility for the Diocese.
It was great to have Bishop Bede Heather and Bishop Kevin Manning back with us, with Cardinal Cassidy, the Apostolic Nuncio, the bishops of greater Sydney, and so many of the priests and people of the Diocese.
As in the Great Jubilee Year 2000, the Church calls us to contemplate the face of Jesus, to receive the Holy Spirit, to reach out to the Father in faith.
We must be ready for another springtime for the Church, willing to be made holy for a new task, able to proclaim afresh the Gospel in Western Sydney – a new evangelisation for a new quarter century.
Against the backdrop of a Church already 2,000 years young, of a district now settled by Europeans for 223 years and of a land in the custody of Aborigines for tens of thousands of years, 25 years might seem rather few.
Tags: Catholic Outlook Letters Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP Catholic Diocese of Parramatta
The Holy Father holds a koala in Brisbane during his visit to Australia in 1986. Photo: The Catholic WeeklyFrom Bishop Anthony Fisher OPCatholic Outlook, May 2011
Actor-athlete turned scholar-pope. Destroyer of communism. Champion of human freedom. Advocate of peace and reconciliation. Jubilee Pope. Builder of the civilisation of life and love. Enemy of the culture of death. Teacher of faith and reason. Friend of youth and Father of World Youth Day. Defender of the poor. Voice for the voiceless. Living testimony to dignity in old age and sickness. True apostle. Faithful servant of God. Millennial pope. John Paul the Great.
It sounds like a Catholic litany, but these titles came from the world’s secular leaders and journalists in the days that followed the death of Pope John Paul II.
It was undoubtedly the biggest funeral in history. About four million people were there and billions more watched by television or the internet. The outpouring of grief and gratitude for this man and for the way he brought people closer to God crossed all boundaries and was genuine. Many at the time said ‘Santo subito’: sainthood now; already a saint!
Catholics like litanies, long lists of names to describe God or the saints and to ask for their help. It is a natural response to the fact that no one tag adequately captures the greatness of God and His best friends. Now we’ve added a new title to our late Pope’s litany: he is Blessed John Paul.
The New Testament offers a number of very moving vignettes of Jesus’ encounters with John Paul’s predecessor, Peter. ‘Come follow me and I’ll make you a fisher of men’; ‘Put out into the deep’; ‘Be not afraid’; ‘You are Peter, the bedrock on which I’ll build my Church’; ‘I give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven’; ‘What you bind and loose is done so in heaven’; ‘Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven’; ‘I have prayed that your faith will not fail’; ‘Confirm the brethren’; ‘Do this in memory of me’; ‘Feed my lambs’; ‘Go out to all the world and proclaim the Gospel’.
Peter and his successors respond on our behalf: ‘Lord, everyone is searching for you’; ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’; ‘Let us build tabernacles for you’; ‘Lord, to whom else could we go? You have the words of eternal life’; ‘Then wash me all over’; ‘You know I love you’; ‘I would lay down my life for you’.
In this conversation between the papacy and Our Lord we hear so many premonitions of John Paul’s life. He made his own the call to ‘Be not afraid’ and ‘Put out into the deep’. He followed, he fished, he taught, he absolved, he celebrated the Holy Eucharist. He left his own homeland to go out to all the world proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. He gave his all.
Pope John Paul II speaking with workers at the Seven Hills Transfield factory in 1986. Photo: The Catholic WeeklyThe longest pilgrimage of this Pilgrim Pope was the 30,000 miles through Bangladesh, Singapore, Fiji and New Zealand to Australia in 1986. In Sydney he held hands and danced in a conga-line with youngsters in jeans. In Melbourne he did impromptu Q&A with primary children. He visited Aborigines in central Australia and encouraged them in their struggle for recognition and reconciliation. He cradled a koala in Brisbane. And, best of all, he wore a hard hat in a factory in Seven Hills in the then-newest diocese he had created: the Diocese of Parramatta!
There he told the workers that he was one of them and that he admired their dedication to ordinary work. Jesus Christ Himself, he pointed out, “although the Son of God, chose to be an ordinary worker for most of his earthly life, toiling away as a carpenter in Nazareth.” Working people had made Australia great. They should never be thought of as mere resources. They should be given opportunities to contribute to the common good and receive their fair share. They should be assisted by technology not mastered or replaced by it.
“People need to work, not just to earn money for the necessities of life, but also to fulfil their calling to share in the creative activity of God. The human satisfaction that comes from work well done shows how profoundly the Creator has inscribed the law of work in the heart of man. The goods of the world belong to the whole human family ... We all need to feel that we are truly productive and useful members of our community. It is our right.”
Economics, the Pope told the people of Western Sydney, “cannot be separated from the ethical and social aspects of life in society ... the worker is always more important than both profits and machines”. As a sharing in God’s creativity and Christ’s service, human work should offer an “uplifting and exhilarating” experience of “working with the Creator in perfecting his design and plan for the world”
Now the Worker Pope, the Pope from Parramatta, is ‘raised to the altars’. Blessed John Paul II pray for us.
On the Vatican’s website you can read the speech Blessed John Paul II made in our Diocese in its entirety.
Christ is risen – Alleluia! As dawn breaks over the Grose Valley in the heart of the Blue Mountains, pilgrims venerate the World Youth Day Cross in 2008. Photo: Tony Jacques
From Catholic Outlook, April 2011
It might seem a bit early for me to be talking about Easter, but we Christians never tire of talking of Easter: it’s the turning point of history, the cause of our salvation, the reason there are Christians at all.
There’s another reason to talk about Easter right now. In the past few months we’ve really been through the wringer in our part of the world. Floods, cyclones and earthquakes have hit us again and again. The pictures of the ruins of the Catholic and Anglican cathedrals in Christchurch are etched on our memories even from the safe distance of Parramatta.
And people ask: Where was God in all this? Where was He in Jesus’ last days – in the melee in the garden, the conspiracy of the priests and politicians, the jeering of the crowd, the torture on the cross?
Where was God at Auschwitz? Where was He hiding during the recent natural disasters? Is there any more to this world than destructive natural forces and survival of the fit and fortunate?
At one time or another we all wonder at the problem of evil, whether natural or human. Sometimes we find half-satisfying answers, until something new guts us. Then we feel as the Mother of the Lord must have felt at the foot of the cross. We gape with mute incomprehension and impotence before the mystery of suffering.
Against the backdrop of these recent tragedies St Patrick’s Cathedral in Parramatta was full on Ash Wednesday and I predict it will be full again on Good Friday. Whether queuing for the ashes or ‘creeping to the cross’, people respond when the liturgy speaks so directly about evil, suffering and mortality.
Dust we are and to dust we shall return. No words, no answers suffice: as in true love, so too in suffering, body language speaks louder than words.
We stand by the cross and wonder at evil. But after the grief our gaping mouths and haunted minds, our sickened hearts and paralysed bodies can move on ...
We try in our little way to make some sense and to find some comfort. We conclude, as Christians must conclude, that storms and quakes and other evils are no ‘act of God’ whatever the insurers say; that no innocent person suffers by God’s active will; that even what God permits so as to allow us freedom costs Him greatly; that suffering and death are NOT the last word.
Jesus dies upon the cross in solidarity with all suffering humanity. God goes down into tomb with all those we’ve loved and lost. Jesus goes to the land of the dead, to speak the compassion of God even there. And He shows them and us the way out. We move with Him from the numbness, anger and disgust, to better feelings such as pity and hope. We come to trust creation again, to be reconciled with our enemies, to believe once more.
We too can know compassion, the compassion in own hearts for others who suffer, the compassion others show us when we are hurting. In the cross of Christ is the power to conquer sin, suffering and death. We find, as Australians and New Zealanders did amidst the recent natural disasters, that we can give of ourselves to others, even to strangers.
Where is God amidst these tragedies? With the victims, primarily, but also with those who respond with divine pity, and come to rescue and to care. Amidst the rubble of Christchurch city or of Christ’s church wherever it suffers, we see the Risen Lord digging desperately amongst the rubble, trying to save whom He can and proclaiming hope once more to all!
God bless you and your loved ones in the forthcoming Easter season. Christ is risen, as He said, Alleluia!
Yours sincerely in Christ,
(Most Rev.) Anthony Fisher OP
Your donation to Project Compassion will help Caritas Nepal to run Farmer Field Schools in rice and vegetable farming. The success of this program has enabled Kalarum to send his children to school (from left): Sita, Susma and Biplab.
From Catholic Outlook, March 2011
For forty days Christians go on a retreat they call ‘Lent’. In doing so, they imitate Our Lord who spent 40 days and nights in the desert before beginning His public ministry (Mt 4:1-11). We join Christ in the Lenten tasks of fasting, prayer and almsgiving, and so face up to our demons as He did.
But why did Jesus go on retreat for 40 days? Well, we know that Moses spent 40 days with God on Mount Sinai, so that seems to be a good length of time for a retreat with God.
We know that Jonah gave Nineveh 40 days in which to repent and so that seems a good length of time for us to spend repenting.
And we know that God made the rain last 40 days and nights in Noah’s time – with results not unlike our recent floods in Australia – and so that’s a good length of time to contemplate Baptism.
In the early Church, the catechumens – those preparing for Baptism at Easter – observed strict fasting and prayer throughout Lent while receiving their last catechesis.
In due course this practice was extended to all Christians, not just those preparing for Baptism and those accompanying them. It gives us all a chance to prepare better for Easter.
Lent is, then, a time to renounce some simple pleasures like chocolate or alcohol for 40 days, to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, to adopt other penances especially on Fridays, to give to the poor especially through Project Compassion, and to offer extra prayers and devotions (such as the Stations of the Cross).
Especially important is celebrating Confession. To make this easier this year we have arranged Second Rite of Reconciliation services in all our deaneries.
These will be at 7.30pm on:
We will prepare and make thanksgiving together. We will celebrate the sacrament individually. There will be plenty of priests on hand so it will not take too long. And I’ll be there to preach some short and hopefully helpful words of encouragement!
To come to Confession is important whenever we are conscious of having committed a grave sin. But it is a good practice, at least every Lent, even to confess our lesser sins.
Confession is like a concentrated dose of Lent.
Instead of 40 days it takes only a few minutes. But in those few minutes we join the Ninevites in repenting, we join Moses in spending time with God, we join Noah in contemplating the water (of Baptism).
In Confession we join the catechumens, praying in preparation for their Easter initiation, and we share in their excited expectation of release from guilt. Indeed the Sacrament of Confession has been described as ‘Second Baptism’ because it returns us to the state of grace of the newly baptised.
And like Christ after His Baptism and Lenten retreat, it makes us ready for a new ‘public life’, returning to the world renewed.
Confession is like a concentrated dose of Lent in another way too. Confession, like Lent, is about fasting, prayer and almsgiving. The prayer part is obvious: we pray to God for forgiveness; the priest prays the absolution over us; we give thanks to God in prayer for the new start we are given.
But there’s a kind of fasting in Confession too. We have to give up something – our attachment to sin, our bad habits, our exaggerated pride in ourselves. It is humbling. Sometimes it is hard. It’s a harder kind of self-denial than giving up chocolate.
Almsgiving, too, comes into Confession. The priest gives us a penance, often a prayer or some work of charity to do. Principally, this is to bring some repair to ourselves but it is also a kind of reparation to God and neighbour for the wrongs we have done.
So we are giving something to others in giving ourselves in Reconciliation. We are restoring friendship with them. We are renewing our baptismal promises to be there for them.
Confession is the highlight of Lent because there we hear that what Christ endured was all for us. The sinless One took away the sins of the world. He gave us a clean slate, a fresh start. He wants us to celebrate that very personally with Him.
Rachel’s Vineyard Healing Retreat is a confidential healing ministry for the many people who have been touched by an abortion experienceFrom Bishop Anthony Fisher OP, published in Catholic Outlook, February 2011
On Australia Day last month, citizenship was conferred, honours awarded and celebrations held all around our country. What were people joining, honouring, celebrating?
The Australian Bureau of Statistics recently published Australian Households: the Future. It distinguishes three types of family: couples with children, couples without, and one-parent families. The fastest growing unit is couples without children and this is projected to keep growing. Just how couples avoid children is not stated ...
The next fastest growth is in single-parent families: women bear most of the brunt, but by 2031, 17% of lone-parents will be men.
A shrinking share of households will have a Mum, Dad and kids.
A growing proportion of those who form households do not marry; if they do, it’s only after a long period of ‘try before you buy’ even though this significantly decreases the chances of their marriage surviving. Married or not, those who have children are likely to have one or two at most.
Whatever kind of family it is, the Church is there to help, through CatholicCare Social Services, our parishes, schools and many other ways.
Immigration drives our population growth in Australia and without it we would eventually stop replacing ourselves. For now a child is born here roughly every 2nd minute; someone dies every 4th minute; and a child is aborted every 6th minute.
As our population ages, the death rate will go up and as the culture of death advances, no abatement in our epidemic abortion rates is likely.
This month I will attend a meeting of the Pontifical Academy for Life, the Church’s principal bioethics group. Much of the program this year is devoted to the aftermath of abortion: children lost, women (and men) damaged, the demographic and cultural effects. Post-abortion trauma is increasingly recognised as an enduring after-effect of many abortions, despite abortion industry denials.
Worldwide there are now psychiatrists, counsellors and spiritual advisers specialising in bringing women back home to the Church and to some, peace of mind after this terrible experience. Rachel’s Vineyard is one example of this new ministry.
This follows Pope John Paul II’s ‘special word’ to women who have had an abortion:
“The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision.
“The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly.
“If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you His forgiveness and His peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord.”
The bishop and people of Parramatta join their call to the Pope’s: come back; be forgiven; you are always welcome among us.
So what kind of Australia do we celebrate? To the extent that we could agree on a list our core values might include:
You might want to qualify these ‘Aussie values’ or add some others. Some are virtues or excellences of character; some are principles or norms for living by, largely from our Christian heritage; some are, however, more dubious.
Tags: Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP Catholic Outlook letter Catholic Diocese of Parramatta
Christmas recalls us to the wonderful news that God has assumed our flesh, that He knows and loves us from the inside.
From Bishop Anthony Fisher OP, published in Catholic Outlook, December 2010
Two thousand years ago a pregnant teenager and her husband made their way to Bethlehem. Why? Because a dictator named Augustus who thought he was God said so, and his local puppet government and occupying forces said so too.
It was a violent, unequal world, where armies crossed to and fro, where little people were pushed from pillar to post by soldiers and bureaucrats and ended up homeless and poor, having their babies on the streets or in barns.
Soon our young couple had to move on again, to flee into Egypt, this time because the soldiers were after them, or after their baby, at the directions of another tyrant-king named Herod, one who found even newborn babies a threat. In due course he would turn Bethlehem into killing fields for infants.
There are more characters in the Christmas story: there are shepherds, who lived like swagmen or street kids in the fields. They were nobodies, their evidence inadmissible in court, their presence as unwelcome at inns as was Joseph and Mary his pregnant bride.
At the opposite end of the social scale, there were the philosopher-kings who came to pay homage to the newborn prince of Israel. But they too had to flee the killing fields and go home by a secret way.
You might say that not a whole lot has changed in the Middle East over 2000 years. All too often the streets still run with blood, communities are rent by rival factions with their own militias, foreign empires compete with insurgents and terrorists for influence, and there is plenty of passion about religion and politics but a shortage of live-and-let-live tolerance.
Looking around the world today, there are still many tin-pot dictators who think they are god and have weapons to prove it, plenty of terrified nobodies, voiceless people, oppressed women and dying babies.
So we might well ask: Christmas – all for what? After 2000 years of making so little apparent difference, why are we still drawn to the Christmas story? What is so compelling about its claim that God is forever one of us; that the Creator of the Universe is now also a creature of that universe; that ‘unto us a child is born’?
Perhaps it is this: that deep in every human heart we want more, we dream of more, not just more of the same, not just more presents and food, money and power, comfort and security. Much as we might accumulate these things and good as they are in right amounts, yet still our hearts crave for more …
Any half-sensitive soul yearns to transcend the limitations of our selves and our little worlds. Even in the most faithless of times, people hunger for some experience of that divine glory and earthly peace promised by the Christmas angels.
“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light,” Isaiah prophesied, “Those who live in deep shadow and despair, those oppressed by a heavy yoke ... to such as these a Child will be born.”
That’s good news, the best of news, not for the divine Cæsar or his bloody princes and generals; but for shepherds living rough in the fields, for the homeless and refugees, the pregnant teens and the slaughtered innocents, those yoked by drug addiction or depression, each one of us when we are living in any kind of darkness or difficulty: for us a baby is born!
Dare we dream that our world can change, that we can change? Christmas recalls us to the wonderful news that God has assumed our flesh, that He knows and loves us from the inside, in all our humanity, fragility, immaturity, suffering, failings. The first ‘word’ spoken by the Word-made-flesh was a newborn baby’s cry; His last ‘word’ before His death was the cry of dereliction from the cross. So God knows.
God knows, and God cares. Cares enough to leave the safety of heaven and join our human journey to the Father. Cares enough to come among us to teach and heal and lead and sanctify. Cares enough to share His life with us in the Scriptures and the sacraments and the daily life of the Church. Cares enough to do all in His power, short of turning us into His puppets, to draw us to Himself for an eternity of happiness.
Tags: Most Rev Anthony Fisher Op Catholic Outlook Letter Catholic Diocese of Parramatta
Bishop Anthony's Catholic Outlook Letter November 2010
Euthanasia is back in the news, with bills foreshadowed for our national and state parliaments and on our highways there are billboards promoting euthanasia.
Given all the confusion in the community it is important that Catholics have a clear sense of what we have to say about this issue. We are not in favour of preserving life at any cost. Catholics support people’s right to refuse futile or over-burdensome treatments. We also favour provision of the best pain management at the end of life. Too many people today die in unnecessary pain or loneliness or a sense of meaninglessness.
What we do not support is medical killing. To do so runs contrary not only to our Christian faith, but to the teachings of the Jews, Muslims and other religions, to sound philosophy, the common law tradition and the best traditions of health care.
The fact is: euthanasia cures no one, is neither therapy, nor care. It is killing someone and this is always a harm to the victim, the killer and the community. It is also a denial of God’s lordship over life and death and runs contrary to the sanctity of life ethic, which has been the cornerstone of our civilisation.
But what about compassion in dying? Were compassion for the suffering person the real concern, addressing that suffering head-on would be our first response. We would ensure that terminally ill, handicapped and frail elderly people have access to high quality healthcare, aged care, dementia care, community services and pastoral care. At the very least we would ensure that those in pain who are dying receive top quality palliative care.
The reality is: we are still a long way from providing those things to everyone who needs them in Australia.
When onlookers talk of putting granny out of her misery, they all too often mean putting granny out of our misery. Caring is not easy; people can be exhausted; carers and onlookers need community support.
Authentic compassion does not seek quick fixes where there are none. It is not the strategy of curing misery by killing the miserable. Rather it entails standing by those who suffer and investing our time, energy and selves in them, sharing in their suffering, offering the best care we can, and helping them to recover hope, meaning, and self-respect.
But don’t we have the right to decide when and how we die, as the euthanasia advocates suggest? Freedom, as Christians understand and cherish it, is never mere whimsy or assertion of self, but the opportunity to exercise moral responsibility, to serve the good of all.
Terminally ill, handicapped and frail elderly people have the same worth and dignity as everyone else and deserve equal protection of our laws. The state should never sanction their killing. The medical professions should never be complicit in it. That’s why no right of patients to ask their doctors to kill them and of doctors to kill some of their patients has ever been recognised by law or common morality or medical ethics.
How we protect and care for God’s ‘little ones’ – widows, orphans, refugees, the poor, sick and suffering – is the litmus test of a civilisation. But legalised euthanasia sends out a clear message that some such people are expendable.
Any culture that adopts that message will further reduce the opportunities and self-esteem of vulnerable people, undermine trust between patient and health workers, and put tremendous pressures upon both to go for euthanasia. In the name of ‘autonomy’ people’s real freedom would be reduced and their very lives – the premise for all autonomy – put at risk.
Doctors and societies that have practised euthanasia in a few ‘hard’ cases have gradually extended it from voluntary to non-voluntary, from the terminally ill to the physically sick, from the sick to the depressed, from competent adults to the unconscious and children, from being a last resort to being an increasingly common course for many patients. Evidence from ancient societies to modern ones such as the Netherlands is conclusive: the practice of euthanasia is profoundly corrupting and ultimately uncontrollable.
Make no mistake: this is a push for killing and with its legalisation many other kinds of killing become thinkable.
For all the billboards and slogans about ‘mercy killing’ and ‘dignified death’ we can forget that dignity is not recognised by telling the old, infirm or terminally ill through our laws how undignified we think their condition is, how we think they would be better off dead and how willing we are to bring that about. Mercy is not expressed by adding killing to the series of rejections already heaped upon many of the sick and dying in our community.
As the Co-ordinator of World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, I experienced some wonderful occasions with the Holy Father and as many as half a million young people.
There were also some quieter, more intimate moments. One was when Pope Benedict, on his first day of official engagements, came to the Shrine of Mary MacKillop in North Sydney to pray at the tomb with the sisters, exchange gifts and spend a few peaceful moments with them before his gruelling schedule of public events.
The Pope knelt in silent prayer at the tomb of this heroic Aussie girl and was, in his own words, “deeply moved”.
He was not the first pope to meet her. Pope Pius IX met her during her stay in Rome in 1873-74 and gave her great encouragement. Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI all visited her shrine.
But this time the Pope drew a multitude of young people after him, many of whom were to encounter Mary MacKillop and her story for the first time. By the end of World Youth Day she was a saint for the young people of the world.
This month the same Pope will join another huge crowd of Aussies, this time in St Peter’s Square in Rome. People of many nations will be present because six are being canonised and saints are universal patrons. During the magnificent Mass, portraits of the new saints will be unveiled on the facade of the Basilica as they are formally added to the canon of saints.
The Holy Father will speak of the new saints in his homily. He already knows Mary well. He was well briefed before he came to Australia and the sisters provided him with plenty of ‘bedside reading’ about their foundress while he was here.
At the Barangaroo, the Pope recalled the great missionaries who built the Church in Australia and the Pacific, many of whom were young people, at least to begin with.
“Their whole lives were a selfless Christian witness. They became the humble but tenacious builders of so much of the social and spiritual heritage which today still brings goodness, compassion and purpose to these nations. And they went on to inspire another generation. We think immediately of the faith which sustained Blessed Mary MacKillop in her sheer determination to educate especially the poor ...”
After telling us something about the new saints the Holy Father will make his solemn pronouncement. It will be something like this: “For the honour of the holy and undivided Trinity, for the exaltation of the Catholic faith, and for the increase of Christian life, by the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own authority, having sought divine help and the counsel of my brother bishops and after mature consideration, we discern and define that Blessed Mary of the Cross MacKillop is a saint and we inscribe her in the catalogue of saints, establishing that she is to be honoured with pious devotion in the universal Church, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
At that point there will, I expect, be a great cheer in Australia, loud enough to be heard at the other side of the world in Rome! It will be an emotional moment for her daughters, the Sisters of St Joseph, and for the many whose lives they have touched. I, for one, was first taught by Josephite sisters and like so many others owe a particular debt of gratitude to her family.
What will our new saint mean to ordinary people? At Government House Pope Benedict noted that “one of the most outstanding figures in this country’s history is Blessed Mary MacKillop ... her perseverance in the face of adversity, her plea for justice on behalf of those unfairly treated and her practical example of holiness have become a source of inspiration for all Australians.
“Generations have reason to be grateful to her and to the sisters ... for the network of schools that they established here and for the witness of their consecrated life.
“In today’s more secular environment, the Catholic community continues to make an important contribution to national life, not only through education and healthcare, but especially by highlighting the spiritual dimension of the questions that feature prominently in contemporary debate.”
God makes saints, many of them; the Church identifies a few for our imitation; it is our job to be them. Mary Helen MacKillop was not afraid to be a saint. Faithful, steadfast, compassionate, holy, and inspiring: these are some of the qualities in her that we will celebrate this month. May we imitate her life as we celebrate her eternal life with God.
Tags: Bishop Anthony Catholic Outlook Letters Catholic Diocese of Parramatta
The present site of St Patrick’s Cathedral and the surrounding area.
Bishop Anthony Fisher OP
Right next door to St Patrick’s Cathedral in Parramatta is a series of buildings from the old King’s School. Derelict for several decades now, and surrounded by hoardings and security gates, these heritage buildings are like a ghost town right in the middle of Parramatta.
Many people believe the Catholic Church owns the entire block but, in fact, we have less than one-quarter of it. For decades, the Diocese of Parramatta has had discussions with successive state governments about how this land and these building might be put to various good uses, compatible with the history and zoning for religious and educational purposes.
Some of the more beautiful buildings are now government offices. There are some suggestions that the rest might be renovated, at public expense, so the area becomes an arts precinct. Or it might just remain as is, becoming increasingly dilapidated.
The Parramatta precinct bounded by Victoria Road to the north, Marist Place to the east, the Parramatta River to the south and O’Connell Street to the west is one of great historical and community significance.
St Patrick’s has been the principal place of celebration for the Catholic community of Western Sydney since the convict days. The old church became a cathedral when the Diocese was established in 1986.
It was destroyed by fire in 1996. It was restored and extended and in 2003 it reopened as the new cathedral. There is a hall, presbytery and limited parking there as well.
I believe that by drawing together St Patrick’s and ‘old King’s’ there is a unique opportunity to develop the precinct to serve the educational, welfare, recreational and spiritual needs of Parramatta and Greater Western Sydney.
After two centuries of presence in the Parramatta district and on the eve of the silver jubilee of our Diocese, I would like to suggest that the Catholic Church could do some great things with the site.
We were the first to propose that a Centre for Arts and Culture might be housed in one of the buildings. We are willing to work with local and state governments on that and already have good links with the arts community in Western Sydney.
But Western Sydney has some even more pressing needs. If the whole site were entrusted to us we could provide:
The rebuilding of St Patrick’s Cathedral following the devastating fire and the restoration of the old presbytery, Murphy House, demonstrate the commitment of this Diocese to maintaining, restoring and responsibly using the lands and heritage buildings within its care.
We have the commitment and experience to develop the precinct around St Patrick’s in a way that responds sensitively to heritage, townscape and spiritual values, and provides wide-ranging benefits to the people of Western Sydney, including the poor for whom we have a special responsibility.
Tags: Bishop Anthony letters Catholic Outlook
Diocese of Parramatta Seminarians John Sultana (left), Thomas Hien Bui and Charles Nwaorgu.
Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, Catholic Outlook, August 2010
To my delight we have a new Marist community in Harris Park, with a vibrant group of religious consisting of Brothers Anthony Robertson, Tony Leon, Anthony Robinson and Michael Callanan.
Meanwhile, the Diocese of Parramatta has 10 seminarians, and some other Australian dioceses are also doing relatively well for vocations.
Please pray for our seminarians: Deacon John Watkins, Peter Kuraya, Arnulfo Tolentino, Nino Canete, Alfredito Dalogdog, Anthony Saliba, Galbert Albino, John Sultana, Thomas Hien Bui and Charles Nwaorgu.
Recently, I attended a number of conferences and meetings overseas and took the opportunity to visit my Dominican confreres.
The Irish Dominicans have had only a trickle of vocations in recent years. Yet amidst the outrage and dejection occasioned by the sexual abuse crisis, when ordinary human wisdom would tell us to expect a collapse in vocations, 13 novices entered this year!
They are fine young men who fill me with confidence for the future and they have lifted the spirits of the whole Order and the Irish Church.
In New York I found that the Eastern Province (one of four provinces of Dominican friars in the US) has 21 novices this year alone – the biggest number in decades – and many more students for the priesthood further advanced in formation.
In Nashville, Tennessee, where the Dominican Sisters were celebrating their 150th jubilee, I encountered more than 50 young nuns in formation, including two Australians – bright, articulate, fun-loving, God-loving women.
And on the day I returned to Australia three new novices and two new students joined the Australian Dominicans.
What’s going on here? Why, in a secular age, when faith and religious practice are waning; in a consumer age, when people are frequently valued only by what they own and control; in a non-committal age, when self-sacrifice is unpopular and life-vows seem impossible – why would vocations be on the rise in some places?
The principal answer, I am convinced, is divine grace. Vocations are a pure gift. No matter what we consciously do to promote them – or what we unconsciously do that undermines them – God makes the call.
Right now we need more vocations and God is clearly calling more young men to the priesthood, more women and men to consecrated life. God knows our need, He cares, and He responds. Mostly our job is just to get out of the way and let God work His magic!
That said, we must also cooperate with God’s grace. We must do what we can. That means being open to the possibility that it’s one of our own children or grandchildren, family members, friends or fellow parishioners who God is calling to priestly or religious life.
Daring to suggest a vocation to someone we think might have one. Praying for those who are discerning their vocations and those who are trying to live them out faithfully. Encouraging our existing priests and religious.
For young people it means being open to the possibility that God is calling you. Asking God for wisdom and courage, for a big heart and small fears. Seeking advice from wise people. Talking it through, thinking it through, praying it through.
Daring to take the first step by searching the net, talking to the Diocesan Vocation Director (Fr Paul Roberts), attending a discernment day or vocations retreat. Daring, in turn, to take the plunge. And being confident that God wants you, loves you, has great plans for you.
Some people have a nagging sense that God wants them to preach the Gospel, offer the Eucharistic sacrifice, lead and minister to God’s people, teach or care as His vowed collaborators.
No thunderbolts, no angelic visitations, just a growing clarity that this is where they could be most happy and do most to help others to experience ‘life to the full’.
Some take a good while to sort out that this is right for them. Some seek a kind of mathematical certainty they’ll never have or want the approval of everyone around them, which is unlikely to come till much later. Some delay for too long making up their mind and ‘go off the boil’. Some join ‘the Order of Perpetual Discerners’.
That’s not what we need here in Parramatta. What we need is young men and women of faith and daring, willing to embrace God’s call with full heart.
No priests means no Eucharist means no Church – simple as that. No religious means no spiritual heroes, no hidden service, no one totally consecrated to God and His people.
But with more priests and religious we will do great things in Western Sydney. Join me in this great adventure! Our seminary is waiting for you...
Visit the Vocations for the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta site
This month it is one year to World Youth Day in Madrid. There’s no better place to explore your vocation than on pilgrimage with two million other young people!
I ask every parish, migrant community, school and movement to do what they can to encourage their young people to join one of the Diocese of Parramatta’s pilgrimages to WYD2011.
Some young people will need our financial sponsorship; others need simple words of encouragement from us to dare to go. The rewards are enormous for every young person who attends World Youth Day and for those to whom they return. There might even be some vocations amongst them.
For more details, see our World Youth Day page on the Diocesan website.
Starting from next month we will have Eucharistic Adoration on the first Thursday night of each month in St Patrick’s Cathedral, specifically to pray for our young people and to pray for vocations.
For further details, see the Vocations feature in August Catholic Outlook. Please support this initiative by your attendance and prayers.
Tags: Bishop Anthony Catholic Outlook Letter August 2010 Catholic Diocese of Parramatta
Photography: Alphonsus Fok & Grace Lu.Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP Catholic Outlook, July 2010
Sixty years ago this month – on 22 July 1950 – His Eminence Norman Cardinal Gilroy ordained three men who would eventually become priests of the Diocese of Parramatta: Fr Eric Burton, Fr Les Campion and Fr David Scott. Ten years later, it was Fr Gerry Iverson’s turn.
Between them these men have served the people of Sydney for 230 years, longer than the time elapsed since European settlement! They have lived through the Great Depression, the Second World War, the Menzies era, Vietnam, the assassination of JFK and Martin Luther King Jnr, Vatican II, the first man on the moon, the fall of Communism, the establishment of the Diocese of Parramatta, so many new parishes, churches, schools, a new cathedral, and on it goes…
For 230 years these men have served and still they serve – even if two are officially living in ‘retirement’. Priests don’t really retire. They are priests forever ‘according to the line of Melchizedek’, priests of Jesus Christ. It’s ‘ontological’. It goes to the heart of your identity, your destiny, your DNA.
Six decades ago, when those young men lay prostrate before the altar for the Litany of Saints and then knelt for the Laying on of Hands and Prayer of Ordination, they could not have guessed how our Church and our world would change and how they themselves would change in the years ahead.
To some extent they gave themselves over to a great unknown. But they knew they could trust in the God of all time and space. They said to Him, like couples on their wedding day, like religious when they take their vows: whatever, whenever, however, I am for you, all for you, now and always. All for God, all for His Church, all for His people.
Priests are men of God. It is not their natural gifts people most admire, but their supernatural ones. No man makes himself a priest. Nor can he ever deserve to be a priest. We have done nothing, could do nothing, to earn this gift. God’s grace is pure gift, given in mercy and love.
When people are disappointed with their priests it pays tribute to the fact that they still look to us to be different. To be genuine representatives of something bigger, something better, something beyond. To be God’s men.
So a priest must be first and foremost a man of prayer and sacrifice, a man of the altar and the kneeler. His celibacy, his hard work, even exhaustion, his penances, his oft’ renewed, life-long determination to give his all – all speak of the love of God and his conviction of God’s love for him.
When tasked with building a new community, a priest does not start with nothing. He starts with God and the faith of those God is drawing to Himself. Our priests are men of God.
No man is a priest for himself! Priesthood is given on trust, to be shared. Priests are stewards of God’s mysteries. They do not hoard the Word of God and the sacraments, but pass them on to others.
For this they received Holy Orders. Our four priests were ordained – ordered – for service in a particular place, at a particular time. They accepted the call to serve God’s Catholic people, first throughout Sydney, and then in Western Sydney. The Church needed them there. And it was there that they built up the Church and sustain it still.
In building up the Eucharistic community priests are privileged to have many other priests, religious and especially lay people as collaborators. By their sacramental ministry, and especially by presiding at the Sunday Eucharist, they strengthen people’s faith and call them ever deeper into that communion with Christ and His saints that is the Church. Our priests give themselves generously to the Church.
But priests are not there just for the practising Catholics. Parramatta’s priests have a mission to all the people of these western suburbs, hills and mountains. A priest must be a preacher of the Gospel, an instrument of encounter with Jesus Christ, for people of all backgrounds, beliefs, life-stages. Our priests give themselves to all people.
At every priestly ordination in our Diocese, after the Bishop laid hands upon the head of the candidates, our four jubilarians laid their hands too on the man being ordained. This shows that every new priest is ordained to join a line of priests, a fraternity, a ‘presbyteral college’ gathered around the bishop of the Diocese.
Priesthood is no solitary existence. There is the brotherhood among our priests and it is no exaggeration to say that our four jubilarians have been exemplary in their service to their brothers. They have offered friendship, hospitality, support and example. They have truly built up the presbyterate of Parramatta.
We thank them for accepting God’s call to offer themselves for priesthood, for sticking with it in good times and in bad, and for the witness of their lives. May many more follow in their footsteps!
Tags: Bishop Anthony Catholic Outlook Letter July 2010 Catholic Diocese of Parramatta
Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, Catholic Outlook, June 2010
Jesus and His mates went boating on the lake. Exhausted from preaching and healing He fell into a deep sleep. There was a sudden storm and the boat took on a great deal of water. The disciples shook Jesus awake, saying “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”
Jesus rebuked the wild wind and calmed the raging sea. But then He rebuked His wild and raging disciples for their fear, asking “Where is your faith?”
Here, as so often in the Gospels, fear – rather than unfaithfulness – is the opposite of faith. Though the storm had passed, the disciples were still frightened, now of their Master’s awesome power. “Who can He be,” they wondered, “that even the wind and water obey Him?
‘Freedom from fear’ is the theme chosen by the Refugee Council of Australia for Refugee Week from 20-26 June. Fear is central to the refugee experience. The very definition of a refugee in international law is “any person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion is outside the country of his/her nationality” (UN Convention on the Status of Refugees 1951).
Freedom from fear is one of the highest aspirations of all people. Each morning the Church praises God for raising up Jesus Christ to save us from our foes, so that “free from fear” we might “serve him in holiness and justice all the days of our lives” (Benedictus). The UN Declaration of Human Rights likewise celebrates and exhorts nations to ensure freedom from fear.
“Do not be afraid” is a constant refrain of the Gospel. Angels tell Mary at the Annunciation and shepherds at the Nativity to fear not. Time and again, before and after His Resurrection, Jesus told His disciples to be not afraid.
Only after receiving the gifts of Pentecost were the apostles free from paralysing anxiety or the instinct to flee.
Many Australians can empathise with the refugee experience, of those like the disciples in their boats, often as afraid of the uncertainties ahead of them as of the threats behind them.
Many have been through this experience themselves or know people who have: I have refugees in my own family. Even if we haven’t been asylum seekers ourselves, we’ve all experienced fear at times and the desire, even the need, to escape.
So even non-refugees can grasp something of what it means to be so frightened that you are willing to leave everything you know, and many you love, to find freedom from fear in some new place.
Fear is found not only in the hearts of refugees but sometimes in the hearts of those to whom they flee. Sometimes there is good reason for anxiety: we want to be sure that asylum seekers are genuine and don’t have some other ‘agenda’; we want to do justice to those who have been queuing longest for refuge; we want to discourage the ruthless profiteers from people trafficking.
But if we are honest with ourselves, there may also be fear of outsiders here, and our leaders and media can reflect and magnify that in us.
Facing this issue squarely the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Refugees declared in 2004 that “The precarious situation of so many foreigners, which should arouse everyone’s solidarity, instead brings about fear in many, who feel that immigrants are a burden, regard them with suspicion and even consider them a danger and a threat. This often provokes manifestations of intolerance, xenophobia and racism.” (Erga migrantes caritas Christi, 6)
The English name for this publication is The Love of Christ towards Migrants. As we celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart this month, we are reminded of the wide embrace Christ extends to all and the merciful heart He gives us to love with.
Faith and mercy free us from that fear which prevents us from opening our arms and hearts to newcomers, especially the most desperate.
Sadly, there are those who whip up unnecessary anxiety in this area. The UN reports that in 2009 Australia received 6170 asylum applications amounting to 1.6% of applications received by 44 industrialised countries. Canada, a comparable country to Australia in many ways, received 33,250 applications.
Afghanistan was the single largest source country of people claiming asylum in industrialised countries but only 940 applications were made in Australia, 3.5% of the international total. Afghans are four times more likely to seek asylum in Norway than in Australia! So maybe we have less to fear than we think. Maybe those who do come will prove a blessing, like so many before them from other cultures.
Of course, there are difficult prudential and political questions in this arena. But ever since the Holy Family fled as refugees from Herod’s killing fields to the relative safety of Egypt, Christians have known the challenge of hospitality to the stranger.
Lord Jesus, rebuke the storms in our national lives, calm the waves of anxiety that threaten to engulf us, open our hearts to the stranger, so that free from fear we may serve You in holiness and justice all the days of our lives.
Tags: Bishop of Parramatta Catholic Outlook June 2010 Letter Catholic Diocese of Parramatta
From Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, Catholic Outlook, May 2010
Something extraordinary happened that first Pentecost Day. A band of confused, inarticulate no-hopers, cowering in a locked room, became a band of jubilant worshippers and public preachers the likes of which had never been seen.
Something filled and inspired them, united and empowered them, to stand up before all the world and proclaim that Christ is risen. It astonished people in those times and it astonishes us still: our word for this thing which happens to people sometimes is: ‘the Holy Spirit’.
We call the first person of God ‘the Father’, ‘Begetter’, ‘Creator’. The second we know as ‘the Son’, ‘the Word’, ‘the Saviour’, ‘Our Lord’. But the third has a veritable litany of names: ‘Holy Spirit’, ‘Light’, ‘Grace’, ‘Consoler’, ‘Counsellor’, ‘Advocate’, ‘Comforter’, ‘Healer’, ‘Renewer’, ‘Inspirer’, ‘Breath of God’, ‘Love of the Father and the Son’, ‘God’s Shalom’ (Peace or Presence) ...
Why does the Spirit have so many names? One reason is that no single name can adequately describe God. The other is that the Spirit comes to so many different kinds of people and changes them, as He did the apostles. There are a variety of gifts, given in particular ways to each Christian.
Often in the Bible the Holy Spirit is soft-spoken, a quiet breath, a light rain. He is God’s breath hovering over the waters at the dawn of creation and breathed into man and woman, giving them life, wisdom, humanity, divinity.
When Jesus appears to His terrified disciples after His Resurrection He recreates them by breathing God’s Spirit upon them again. At Pentecost the Spirit hovers over the Church and falls like a gentle dew from heaven, softening the earth – and the hearts of men – making them fruitful.
So the Holy Spirit, on this account, is gentle, the softening power of God. He enters into situations of anger, anxiety and division, and works reconciliation and peace.
As the Risen Christ pours peace and forgiveness into the hearts of his apostles He calls this calming balm ‘Holy Spirit’. The Spirit enters into troubled situations to quieten and pacify, to pour oil on troubled waters.
So, too, the Spirit enters into troubled hearts, full of anger, frustration and fear, and quietens, tames, reconciles them. In the beautiful Sequence for Pentecost we sing:
Thou of all consolers best,
Thou the soul’s delightful guest,
dost refreshing peace bestow.
Thou in toil art comfort sweet,
pleasant coolness in the heat,
solace in the midst of woe.
Yet this is only one side of the hero of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is not merely a gentle breath but a cyclonic wind, not only light dew but also burning fire.
Here the Holy Spirit is ‘the Lord’, a force to be reckoned with, he impassions, he drives: so that, filled with the Spirit, Christ is driven out into the desert to contend with Satan and his hordes; so that, filled with the Spirit, Peter and the lads are willing to take on the powers who had killed their Lord only 50 days before.
So this gentle, softening power of God is also an energetic, hardening power. He enters into situations of apathy and uncaringness and He stirs up, stimulates, breaks out. He drives disciples not to eiderdowned comfort but to martyrdom; He makes people line up, for or against.
This same Spirit enters into situations and relationships, challenging and invigorating them. He enters into untroubled hearts, self-satisfied, comfortable, weak-willed, stirring them up and goading them to action.
The Holy Spirit of Pentecost comes, then, in many different forms, both strong and weak, loud and quiet, challenging and alluring, heating and cooling, in each case changing people, giving new purpose, direction, character.
He comes in so many different forms because He comes to people who have such different temperaments, relationships, needs, to people who have such varieties of service to do. Whether zephyr or gale our job is to notice Him, open our doors to Him, receive Him humbly as a welcome wind, allow Him to do His work in us.
Each of us needs the Spirit to come in one or perhaps both these ways, to soften our hard hearts and harden our weak wills; to melt away our grudges and vices and all other obstacles to grace and mission; to breathe into us a newer, kinder temper; to come in power to give us renewed strength, hardened resolve, fire in our belly, a willingness to stand up and be counted.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful in the Diocese of Parramatta, and kindle in us the fire of your love!
View more photos by Alphonsus Fok and Grace Lu in our Media Gallery.
Tags: Bishop Anthony Fisher Catholic Outlook Letters Catholic Diocese of Parramatta
Last century we tried godlessness on a grand scale and the effects were devastating. Nazism, Stalinism, Pol-Pottery, mass murder, abortion and broken relationships: all promoted by state-imposed atheism or culture-insinuated secularism, the illusion that we can build a better life without God.
Yet more than a billion Christians will be mourning this Good Friday and celebrating this Easter Sunday. Christianity has proved itself both more vulnerable and more hardy than its enemies imagined. And in this our Church is the image of Our Lord: vulnerable to agony and death; yet resilient in suffering and bringing new life.
Sadly, the violence, abuse and unlovingness of many believers through the ages have driven some people away from God. Others are turned off by the tepidness of our faith, by our saying we believe in God but living as if we didn’t. We can kill God for other people by our hypocrisy or half-heartedness.
On the other hand the great Christian institutions of parishes, hospitals, schools and welfare, the great art and music, philosophy, science and morality, the lives of saints, the sacrifices of our families, and the heroic love of so many ordinary believers, all have their magnetic attraction.
At Easter we retell the story of God on the cross and risen from the tomb. We speak of faith and love amidst infidelity and despair. Above all, we sing of hope: hope that there is more than just blind forces of nature and the imposition of human wilfulness. The One who goes down into the tomb at Easter speaks to us of the compassion of God. And he enables us to join him in making a more compassionate world. God is alive and raises us up to new life!
God bless you and your loved ones in this holy season.
Tags: Bishop of Paramatta letters Catholic Outlook
In his homily for the Mass of Installation, Bishop Anthony paid tribute to tribute to Bishop Kevin as “a humble man of God and a good shepherd of God’s flock in Parramatta”. Mass photography: Bob and Michael Armstrong
From Most Rev Bishop Anthony Fisher OP, Catholic Outlook, March 2010
Many people have already paid tribute to Bishop Kevin Manning and more will do so in the months ahead.
There are the obvious achievements, such as leading this diocese as its second bishop through a period of rapid growth, so that it is now bigger than most Australian archdioceses; raising up the new St Patrick’s Cathedral from the ashes of its predecessor; welcoming to the diocese Pope Benedict, the World Youth Day cross and icon, the Indigenous message stick and, of course, the young people of the world in 2008; building bridges to other Christian communities and other faiths, especially the Muslim community in Western Sydney; campaigns for justice for workers, Aboriginal people, migrants and refugees, women and families; efforts to build up and diversify the body of priests, deacons, religious and lay ministers in the diocese ...
Behind all these achievements is a humble man of God and a good shepherd. I first got to know Fr Kevin Manning when he was General Secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. I was a young bioethicist, sometimes called to Canberra for meetings to advise the bishops.
Fr Kevin had his eye on the whole range of the Church’s activities and interactions with the community, in the ethics of family, health and life as elsewhere. He had a great devotion to Church teaching and to the people the Church is charged to protect and nurture.
I discovered his passion for the ‘battlers’, his very Aussie down-to-earthness and straight talking, his strong sense of duty and his genuine interest in people.
People who know him well highlight his deep humility, his balance of toughness and compassion, his good humour and an unfailing sense of the Church.
As I said at my installation as the third Bishop of Parramatta, Bishop Kevin has handed over to me with the pastoral staff a diocese in very good shape. We have so much to be grateful for, to God and to the clergy, religious and people of Western Sydney for what has been achieved in the building up of God’s kingdom.
And we thank you, Bishop Kevin, for being such a good pastor to the people of the Diocese of Parramatta these past 12 years and more, after the example of the Good Shepherd himself. We promise you our continued prayers for a happy retirement.
I love Lent. In an age of diets, work-outs, 40-hour famines for the Third World and the like we are rediscovering the ancient wisdom of fasting.
In an era of staff retreats, transcendental meditation techniques, the search for oases of peace amidst the bustle of work and commerce, the hunger for prayer is more acute than ever.
At a time of concerts for the victims of earthquakes, tsunami telethons, redistributive taxation and millennium development goals, we are more able and maybe more ready to engage in almsgiving.
Lent affirms these things, invites us to examine their ultimate purpose, helps purify us of the self-satisfaction that can creep in when we are doing good.
I’ve heard it said that Christians are an Easter people. I would say a resounding ‘yes’ to that, a ‘yes but’. We are an Easter people, but also a Lent people (and a Christmas people, an ordinary time people, an Advent people ...).
Some voices in contemporary culture – even some ‘spiritualities’ – emphasise prosperity, consumption, security, comfort, good times. Of course we all want these.
Jesus was no wowser: in fact he loved to party. But he also had plenty to say about fasting and self-denial (e.g. Mk 2:18-21; 9:29; Mt 4:2; 6:16-18; Lk 18:9-14).
His life, like ours, was not one-dimensional. It wasn’t all highs. Through Lent and Easter – which together make up the Paschal season – we explore with his first disciples the mystery of his identity and ours, the mysterious connection between life and death, suffering and hope, Cross and Resurrection. There’s no receiving without giving, no finding without asking, no feasting without fasting.
To my new friends, the people of the Diocese of Parramatta: I promise to fast, pray and give alms for you this Lent. I ask you to do this too, in part for me, that I might be a good shepherd for Western Sydney. God bless you in this special season.
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