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From Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, Bishop of Parramatta
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Statement of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, Bishop of Parramatta
Thursday 14 March 2013
Bishop Anthony Fisher OP today welcomed the news of the election of Pope Francis as Bishop of Rome and Universal Pastor of the Catholic Church.
“Habemus papam - we have a Pope! The Catholic Diocese of Parramatta cheers with the rest of humanity at the happy news,” the Bishop said.
Pope Francis, formerly Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio SJ, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, is the first Jesuit Pope. He is also the first Pope to come from Latin America. “He is a deeply spiritual man who is highly respected as a theologian and an intellectual. He is a humble man and a great defender of the poor. In his first words as Pope, Pope Francis spoke of building fraternity, love and trust,” Bishop Anthony said.
“In July this year, I will lead a group of 250 young people from the Diocese of Parramatta to Rio de Janeiro where we will meet Pope Francis at World Youth Day. More than 2 million people were already expected to participate and, with a new Pope from Latin America, I am sure many millions more will be coming.
“Please offer your prayers for Pope Francis, today, in the days ahead and throughout his pontificate.”
Yours sincerely in Christ,
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Play the YouTube clip above to watch the 2013 Lenten Message of the Bishop of Parramatta, Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP.
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Bishop Anthony’s 2013 Lenten Message
“Those who are sowing in tears will sing when they reap”– Psalm 125:5
My Dear People,
Lent words are ‘re’ words: re-pent, re-turn, re-cover, re-pair, re-new. We are all called to repentance, not just the great sinners, because all are affected when any member is sinful or suffering. The Body of Christ is wounded.
Yet for all the bruised purple, Lent is a season of hope. It ends not with death but with rising from the dead.
It’s against that backdrop that the Catholic Bishops of New South Wales have this week issued a pastoral letter on the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and the issues that have led to it.
The terms of reference for that Commission recognise that children deserve a safe and happy childhood and that institutions such as the Church can help that to happen.
But, sadly, children have sometimes been violated by those supposed to care for them and leaders have sometimes failed to respond appropriately.
We must not put our heads in the sand about any of this, or try to minimise or explain it away. The fact is that our own Diocese has known cases of child abuse.
Even if many are ‘historic’ cases, and even if we have improved the way we respond, the damage has been done and there is a public perception that the Church has not addressed this issue adequately. This has, in turn, damaged the credibility and mission of the Church.
The Royal Commission is to be welcomed as an opportunity for victims to obtain a just hearing, for processes within institutions to be scrutinised, and for the whole community to understand abuse better and find ways forward.
The Church has established a Truth, Justice and Healing Council to ensure that we cooperate fully with the Royal Commission. There are three things we should keep in mind as this progresses.
First, these terrible sins and crimes, and their mishandling by Church authorities, have done great damage to the victims and their families. Here I make my own the apology Pope Benedict XVI made during World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008.
He acknowledged the shame which we have all felt as a result of the sexual abuse of minors by some clergy and religious in this country. He said he was deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured. These misdeeds, which constitute so grave a betrayal of trust, deserve unequivocal condemnation.
The Pope urged us to work together to combat this evil and to ensure that victims receive compassion and care, perpetrators are brought to justice and all young people enjoy a safe environment.
We must listen to people’s hurt and respond with humility and compassion. We must continue to proclaim the preciousness of every child and young person and to insist that all abuse is contrary to the laws of God, the Church and the state. We must repent where there has been institutional failure and resolve to do better in the future.
Secondly, child abuse is not the whole story of the Church – far from it. The Catholic Church has long played an important role in our society. Holy priests and religious have worked tirelessly for the glory of God and the good of their people.
Vast numbers of people are supported by the Church’s activities in parish life, education, welfare, healthcare, ministry to young people and migrants, aged care, service to the poor and marginalised.
Young people of our Diocese are very engaged in some of these works. There is deep faith and compassion amongst our people of all ages. We should not lose sight of this amidst the current consciousness of failures.
Thirdly, the current crisis is an opportunity for purification of the Church – a Lenten return for each one of us. This Lent, and the years of the Royal Commission ahead, must be a time of reviewing past performance and examining the whys and wherefores; of prayer and penance and purification; and of improving our act on many levels.
So, this Lent and going forward I join the other Bishops of New South Wales in calling for prayer for the following intentions:
In their pastoral letter the Bishops list a number of ideas on how we might do this. This Lent and beyond we recognise that spiritual and moral failures of some members of our Church demand a spiritual and moral response from us all.
I undertake as your Bishop, in addition to my daily prayers, to engage in an hour of Eucharistic adoration each Friday and invite our clergy and religious to do likewise.
I ask you to consider joining us, by regular participation in Mass and Confession, frequent, worthy reception of the Eucharist, and prayerful reading of Holy Scripture.
One simple response would be to pray daily the Hail Holy Queen as both abuse victims and the Church pass through this ‘vale of tears’. We will also have periodic prayers of the faithful in Mass for these intentions. Together we might also engage in some penance, such as Friday abstinence from meat, for these intentions.
Wounds in the Body of Christ, even ones for which we are not personally responsible, will only be healed by our cooperation with God’s grace in acts such as these.
Lent began with the Prophet Joel declaring: “Before the altar let the priests lament. Let them say: Spare your people, Lord! Do not make your heritage a thing of shame.”
Faithful priests, religious and lay leaders risk being ashamed and demoralised by our present troubles and they need our prayers and support at this time.
The Royal Commission will enable some people to raise, at last, issues from their past. I encourage all victims of abuse to contact the police. Assistance is also available from the Diocese.
The Bishops of New South Wales recommit themselves and their dioceses to justice and compassion for victims and their families and to full cooperation with the Royal Commission, the police and all other relevant authorities. We will also be re-examining all our internal processes to ensure that they are the best we can have.
Our Sunday Gospel recalls Jesus’ 40 days of trials in the desert. In Lent, the Church is united to His struggle by 40 days of fasting, prayer and charity, hoping thereby to join Him in His victory over sin, death and the devil.
By our own sacrifices we 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 damaged and with Christ who died for their healing and ours.
Though the Church in Australia will weep through the course of the Royal Commission, it’s my prayer that she will emerge humbler and holier. After pruning comes new growth, after the cross comes the resurrection. This is our paschal hope. As the psalmist promises: those who are sowing in tears will sing when they reap.
With the other Bishops of New South Wales I thank our priests, religious and all of you for your fidelity and perseverance in these hard times. And we pray for you the Good Friday prayer: “May pardon come, comfort be given, holy faith increase, and everlasting redemption be made secure, through Christ our Lord.”
Bishop of Parramatta
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Tuesday 12 February 2013: A Statement from Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, Bishop of Parramatta, on the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI
Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, the Bishop of Parramatta, said that the resignation of Pope Benedict is a time of grieving but thanksgiving for Catholics.
“The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on health grounds is a cause of great sadness for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, but also of great gratitude. This Pope has given his all,” Bishop Anthony said.
In Pope Benedict’s only visit to Australia in 2008 he began his time in the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta resting for three days in Kenthurst.
“Australians will remember him first, as the World Youth Day Pope, joining the young people of the world in Sydney in 2008. Here he engaged as a great teacher and spiritual grandfather to half a million young people. He also made his historic apology to victims of clergy child abuse while he was here in Sydney.”
The NSW Bishops will repeat the apology to victims tomorrow in their Lenten Pastoral letter.
“Secondly, he is the Pope who canonised Australia’s first saint, St Mary MacKillop. He recognised in her a woman of great faith who helped to build this country through education for the poor. This great spiritual leader is a holy man himself and therefore readily recognises holiness in others,” Bishop Anthony said.
“We thank Pope Benedict for giving himself heart and soul to the task of bringing Successor of Peter despite declining health. We now pray for Australia’s elector, Cardinal George Pell, and the other Cardinals who must choose a new Pope, that they will be inspired by the Holy Spirit to find us another great spiritual leader.”
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Statement to the People of the Diocese of Parramattaconcerning the Whitlam Report
17 January 2013
In July 2012 it was alleged that a former priest identified as ‘F’ had committed acts of child sexual abuse in his home Diocese of Armidale and in our Diocese of Parramatta and that these accusations had been mishandled by both ecclesiastical and civic authorities. You will recall that Bishop Michael Kennedy of Armidale and I commissioned the Hon. Antony Whitlam QC to conduct an inquiry into these matters.
Having been received by the New South Wales Police, the Whitlam Report is now available for public circulation. The document will be posted on the Diocesan website today. I attach a summary of its key observations.
Bishop Kennedy and I accept the report and thank Mr Whitlam for bringing his expertise and sound judgment to these complex matters. Both dioceses provided Mr Whitlam with full access to diocesan records and he was free to interview anyone he deemed relevant to the inquiry. I give my heartfelt thanks to all those who participated in this inquiry. Our hearts go out to the victims of child sexual abuse. Some members of the Church have committed grave sins and some leaders of the Church have made grave mistakes. I renew my undertaking personally to pray and do penance and my call to the Catholic clergy, religious and laity also to engage in prayer and penance for the victims and for the necessary purification of the Church. I repeat my profound apology to all victims of child sexual abuse and my continuing commitment to work to bring them justice and healing for their pain. The Diocese of Parramatta is committed to ensuring the safety of all children and vulnerable people in our care. I encourage all victims of abuse to contact the police; assistance will be available from the Diocese (ph 8838 3411), including the Catholic Education Office (ph 1300 661 015).
Counselling is available to victims and their families from the special service that has been established by CatholicCare (ph 9933 0233). I will continue to co-operate fully with the police and all other relevant authorities in any related inquiries or investigations.
You are very much in my prayers in these difficult times. May the Child Jesus, Whose Coming we have recently celebrated, guide us in our struggles to protect all young people and to remain everfaithful to His call to conversion and holiness.
Yours sincerely in the Good Shepherd
Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP
BISHOP OF PARRAMATTA
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Play the YouTube clip above to watch the 2012 Christmas Message of the Bishop of Parramatta, Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP.
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God is so tiny!
We think of God as big, bigger than anything. More powerful, infinitely powerful. Everywhere, in everything. Ancient, everlasting.
Yet at Christmas He is a tiny baby. At Christmas He is as powerless as the most powerless human being. At Christmas He is in a crib in nowheresville. At Christmas He is brand new.
Christians call Jesus ‘the Word of God’ because He is God speaking to us, God communicating His love for us. Yet His first communication was the cry of a newborn baby!
By choosing to become one of us, a helpless child in a crib, Jesus allowed us to see how noble is the human being. Sure, we are limited. We make mistakes. We sin. Our Church at the moment is ashamed of crimes even in its own ranks.
Yet the baby Jesus shows us that we are made for more and better than this. God came in the image of a human being to remind us that we are made in the image of God. God made Himself one with us so that we might be raised up to being one with Him.
And God, made a tiny baby, will always side with the little ones in our world: the unborn, disabled, dying. The refugees, unemployed, those in detention. The lonely, anxious, sick of body or heart. The victims of violence, child abuse or neglect.
For all the voiceless He is the Word. For all the powerless, He will use His power. Where others strike, He will show mercy.
The newness, innocence, vulnerability – the sheer tinyness of God in a crib in Bethlehem – says all this to us.
I pray that the infinite yet tiny God, the vulnerable yet all-powerful God, the ancient yet newborn God, will bring you hope this Christmas.
May this most innocent and purest of babies call us back to innocence and to love for Him and all His little ones.
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Statement to the People of the Diocese of Parramattaon the Royal Commission into Child Abuse
17-18 November 2012
My Dear People
This week the Prime Minister announced a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse in institutions including the Church. She did so with the support of the Catholic Bishops of Australia. The Church has undertaken to cooperate fully with the Inquiry.
I know I speak for our entire Catholic community when I say that our hearts go out to the victims of child sexual abuse, the ‘little ones’ whom Christ most loves, and to their families. Sexual abuse is to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. We are ashamed of past failures and determined to do better.
I want to assure you, as I did in my pastoral letter of two months ago, that we now have in place a rigorous process for dealing with complaints of abuse and that we work closely with Police and other authorities. We put victims first. With the help of this Royal Commission and other independent inquiries we hope to learn new ways of ensuring that every child is safe in the future and that victims of past offences are assisted.
I encourage all victims of abuse to contact the police. Other support is available to victims and their families via CatholicCare counselling at 9933 0233.
Recent scrutiny has included some fair complaints, as well as some very unfair slurs on all Catholic leaders, clergy and religious. As you are probably also aware, charges have been brought against two persons involved in education in our diocese. I know this has been upsetting for many of you; it certainly has been for me. This is truly a time in ‘the valley of tears’ for the Church in Australia.
Some of our clergy and religious may well be feeling demoralized at this time. I therefore ask you, dear people, to encourage and support them in their vocations. They share your faith and life, they want to make a difference with you for the Lord, and they stand with you against all that harms young people. Pray that they may be ever more closely united with Christ, the Good Shepherd, feeding His sheep and lambs.
Please also be assured that every Confession remains inviolable. If someone is abusing the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a priest may refuse to hear their confession or refuse them absolution; he may also rebuke those whose sins are grave and bid criminals turn themselves in. But no priest will break the sacred Seal of Confession between God and the penitent. I commend you all to the loving protection of Our Lady whom we hail as “our life, our sweetness and our hope to whom we cry in this valley of tears”.
With my prayers and friendship in Christ
Most Reverend Anthony Fisher OP
BISHOP OF PARRAMATTA
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2012 Advent Message of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, Bishop of Parramatta, Sunday 4 November 2012
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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 the 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 the 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.
Dear Federal Member of Parliament,
As you know, before the Commonwealth Parliament are two bills that seek, by legislative fiat, to redefine the foundational social institution that is marriage. The Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012 and the Marriage Amendment Bill 2012 each proposes to repeal and replace s. 5(1) of the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth). The effect of such repeal and replacement will be that, for the purposes of Commonwealth law, the legal definition of “marriage” may/will include homosexual unions. Such changes are likely to affect the whole fabric of Australian law and society.
In light of the proposed legislative developments, I write to you not only as a concerned citizen of Western Sydney but also as the Bishop and spiritual leader of the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta. As you may be aware, the Diocese of Parramatta covers most of Western Sydney. This includes an estimated 330,000 Catholics served by 49 parishes, 83 schools, many healthcare and aged care institutions, several welfare agencies, multiple youth groups and other institutions and ministries. The views I present, however, are by no means restricted to those of my particular faith. What follows appeals to the common witness of humanity across most, if not all, religions, cultures and civilisations in human history, and not to any idiosyncratic belief of Catholics alone.
Marriage has been understood throughout Australian history and until now in Australian law as the promise of a man and a woman to live exclusively and for life as husband and wife.
The proposed change of the definition of marriage to allow ‘same-sex marriages’ is a sensitive, difficult and important topic in the Australian community. It calls for careful deliberation about the common good for the Australian nation and discernment of what is truly just.
It has been repeatedly asserted that the law as it currently stands unjustly discriminates against same-sex couples by not allowing them to marry. We (hopefully) all agree that equality in human dignity and equality before the law ought to be guaranteed by law and promoted in other ways in our society. It is unjust to discriminate against people on the basis of age, religion, race, sex, etc. unless these are relevant: but age is relevant when it comes to voting or superannuation, religion is relevant to employment in Church schools, race is relevant in various programmes to forward the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, sex is relevant on admission to a women’s hospital, and so on. To equate opposition to ‘same-sex marriage’ with opposition to, say, Indigenous enfranchisement, is radically to misapprehend or deliberately to misrepresent the arguments of those who support the classical understanding of marriage. Indeed it is deeply insulting to suggest, as some have done explicitly or implicitly, that the vast majority of Australians until now, who have supported the classical understanding of marriage, are guilty of an ingrained prejudice akin to racism.
Retaining the classical definition of marriage, as it currently stands in the Marriage Act, is not unjust discrimination. It is a requirement of justice and the common good that we treat different cases differently. Simply stated, marriage between a man and a woman is different from other human bonds because it involves a ‘comprehensive union’ of spouses, a special link to children and a pledge of permanence and exclusivity. No other kind of relationship, including relationships between same-sex couples, siblings, close friends, parents and children, etc., qualifies as marriage because, unlike marriage, they are not unitive and procreative in kind.
Opponents of this view of marriage argue that it is love or commitment that is the only essential ingredient of marriage. On this view, the sexual orientation of the two people in the relationship is irrelevant. But the state has no reason to regulate, and in fact has no business in regulating, merely emotional relationships. It is not the business of the state to say who may be friends or to recognise friendships per se, even highly committed, life-long friendships. If emotional connection were the sole criterion by which the state is to determine what constitutes marriage, it is difficult to see why, say, two maiden aunts who have lived together their entire lives and are deeply committed to each other, could not marry. A similar thing could be said about a three-way sexual relationship. The list could go on.
Some opponents of the classical definition of marriage will insist that like marriage, but unlike two maiden aunts, same-sex couples are not only emotionally committed to each other but also sexually engaged with each other. But, again, we may doubt the interest of the state in such matters. And again, if emotional and sexual connection were the criteria by which the state is to determine what constitutes marriage, it is difficult to see why, say, a three-way sexual relationship that is loving and sexual could not be permitted. There are already advocates of polygamy in our community. The list of ways the understanding of marriage might be ‘stretched’ goes on.
Rather, the state has an interest and obligation in recognising and protecting marriage as classically understood because of the inherent connection that this sort of union has with producing and forming the next generation. The best available social science indicates that children tend to do best when reared by their married biological parents.
Growing children require the constant love and support of their mother and father who themselves are bonded to each other in a monogamous, committed, lifelong union. One often hears that parents in same-sex relationships do just as well as other parents at raising children – the ‘makes no difference’ thesis. However, this is far from settled in scientific research. A recent study by Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas presents new and extensive empirical evidence that there are differences in outcomes between children raised by their married, biological mother and father and children raised in same-sex relationships. It reaffirms — and strengthens — the understanding that the gold standard for raising children is still the intact family founded on marriage of a man and woman who are both spouses to each other and parents to the same children.
Based on overseas experience, religious leaders like me, along with many concerned citizens, also have grave concerns about the effect that the proposed changes would have on the religious freedom of Australian citizens. If the proposed changes were accepted, pressure will be brought to bear on faith-based schools and other institutions to accept and to teach that this form of union is equal in worth to a committed, monogamous and heterosexual union sealed in marriage. Likewise, such schools and agencies will likely be required in future to employ people in ‘same-sex marriages’ whatever the supposed protections or exemptions presently envisaged for faith organisations.
Pressure will undoubtedly be brought to bear on marriage celebrants to assist in such unions. Many other limitations on freedom of religion and discriminations against people of faith are likely. This is an unacceptable infringement of the freedoms of thought, association, worship and religious practice which Australians have, until now, proudly respected.
I strongly encourage you not to support same-sex “marriage” and to oppose the mooted legislative amendments. To do otherwise would be to act against the common good and the interests of all Australians.
Yours sincerely in Christ
 See Ten Principles on Marriage and the Public Good, signed by some seventy scholars, which corroborates the philosophical case for marriage with extensive evidence from the social sciences about the welfare of children and adults. THE WITHERSPOON INSTITUTE, MARRIAGE AND THE PUBLIC GOOD: TEN PRINCIPLES 9–19 (2008), available at
 How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study, Mark Regnerus, available at:
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A Pastoral Message about Vocations
from Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, Bishop of Parramatta
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?
Today’s readings open with the words: “Doom for the shepherds who allow my flock to be destroyed and scattered – it is the Lord who speaks!” (Jer 23:1). They are challenging words to hear at any time, but in our current context they echo forcefully around our parish churches.
We were all shocked by the terrible story of ‘Fr F’ reported recently on Four Corners. It has resulted in public scrutiny of his behaviour while serving in his home Diocese of Armidale, of his time in our own Diocese of Parramatta, and of the adequacy of the Church’s response to allegations about him. It has reignited public condemnation of clerical abuse and criticism of the way it has sometimes been mishandled.
I would like to state my own position clearly on this matter. All sexual abuse within and without the Church is a grave sin before God, a crime and to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. I am acutely aware that the harm it does to victims is incalculable and often irreparable. Child abuse must be eliminated from our Church and everything possible done to bring justice and healing to the victims.
As you will have heard, Bishop Michael Kennedy of Armidale and I have decided jointly to commission an independent inquiry into the matters recently drawn to public attention. We have appointed a distinguished lawyer and former Federal Court judge, Hon. Antony Whitlam QC, to conduct this inquiry. We are determined that justice be served in this case. For many years the Diocese of Parramatta has enjoyed a close working relationship with NSW Police and the NSW Ombudsman which we value greatly. At this critical time we will be co-operating fully with the Police to ensure that any criminal conduct is investigated and dealt with appropriately.
These are times of soul-searching for all Catholics. It is my prayer that this wound in the Body of Christ can be healed radically, now and for the future. I call on all Catholics in our Diocese to pray and offer penance for the purification of the Church from this and all sin, and in particular for the victims of such grave misconduct (cf. Pastoral Letter of Pope Benedict XVI to the Catholics of Ireland, 19 March 2010, n. 2).
I urge you, my dear people, to love and to support your priests, the vast majority of whom are dedicated men, loyal to their mission as priests, and do not deserve to be tarnished by association with the perpetrators of these crimes. Our priests need your prayer and support more than ever at this time.
In our first reading the Prophet Jeremiah dreams of a virtuous descendant of David who will be the Good Shepherd for us. He also promises that God will raise up other shepherds after the heart of that Good Shepherd, shepherds who will care for us and whom none need fear. Sure enough, in St Mark’s Gospel, we see the advent of that Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who takes pity on a crowd who were “like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6:34). As He was the model for His apostles, so He is the model for all true pastors. We turn to Him in prayer today. I will pray for all of you in this difficult time that we may adhere ever more closely to the Person of Jesus Christ.
Yours faithfully in the Good Shepherd
(Most Rev.) Anthony Fisher OP
Bishop of Parramatta
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Terms of Reference for the Independent Inquiry
Dear Member of the NSW Legislative Council,
I write to you as a citizen and as the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta.
The Diocese of Parramatta covers most of Western Sydney including an estimated 330,000 Catholics in 49 parishes served by 83 schools and many other institutions and ministries. I write concerning the Notice of Motion that MLC Cate Faehrmann recently put before the Legislative Council calling for the legalisation of same-sex “marriage”. The motion asks the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia to “amend the Commonwealth Marriage Act 1961 to provide for marriage equality”.
Equality in human dignity and equality before the law are foundational principles for Australian society. Unjust discrimination should of course be condemned.
Nevertheless, equality and justice demand that we treat different cases differently. A proper understanding of the nature of marriage shows that privileging monogamous heterosexual unions in the institution of marriage is not unjust. Indeed, to change radically the definition of marriage and what is recognised as such, in the manner proposed, would be to affect, and be unjustly discriminatory towards, the millions of Australians who have married on the basis of the classical understanding of marriage.
Only a relative few would avail themselves of the opportunity to “marry” if the law were changed, but many more would be adversely affected.
The common good requires, and justice demands, that the civil law regulate marriage as a unique union. Marriage between a man and a woman is different from other human bonds (however valuable they may be) because it involves a “comprehensive union” of spouses, a special link to children and a pledge of permanence and exclusivity. No other kind of relationship qualifies as marriage because it does not meet these criteria. I note that this is not a peculiarly Catholic view of marriage. Rather it is common to all religious traditions, many philosophical systems and every major culture in recorded history.
If the legal definition of marriage were changed in the manner proposed, it would reduce marriage merely to sentimentality and to sex. It is not clear however what reason the state has in regulating merely emotional relationships. Indeed, if emotional or romantic connection is the sole criterion by which the state is to determine what constitutes marriage, it is difficult to see why, say, two sisters who have lived together their entire lives, could not marry. A similar thing could be said about a carerdependent relationship. Rather, the state has an interest, and obligation, in recognising and protecting a committed, monogamous and heterosexual union geared towards procreation precisely because of the inherent connection that this sort of union has with producing and forming the next generation. The best available social science indicates that children tend to do best when reared by their married biological parents.1 Growing children require the constant love and support of their mother and father who themselves are bonded to each other in a monogamous, committed, lifelong union.
Finally, based on overseas experience, religious leaders like me, along with many concerned citizens, have good reason to believe that our people will be adversely affected by the present proposal. If there is a change to the legal definition of marriage, pressure will be brought to bear on Catholic schools, agencies and other institutions to teach and to accept that this form of sexual union is equal in worth to a committed, monogamous and heterosexual union sealed in marriage. Likewise, such schools, agencies and institutions will likely be required in the future to employ people in such “marriages” whatever the supposed protections or exemptions presently envisaged for faith organisations. This is an unacceptable infringement of the freedom of association and religious liberty, including not only freedom of worship but also freedom of religious practice.
Support for this Motion will necessarily derogate from the common good. Marriage as a unique bond between man and woman for life, geared to the procreation of children, requires protection and support in law.
I strongly encourage you not to support this Motion.
Yours fraternally in Christ
Statement of the Bishop of Parramatta, Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, on Pope Benedict XVI’s appointment of Right Rev Monsignor Robert McGuckin VG EV as the sixth Bishop of the Diocese of Toowoomba.
The Holy Father has appointed Right Rev Monsignor Robert McGuckin, until now Vicar General of the Diocese of Parramatta, as Bishop of Toowoomba. I am confident that the priests and people of the Diocese share my delight in this appointment.
Since his ordination in 1973 he has served in several parishes of the Archdiocese of Sydney and, from its inception in 1986, of the Diocese of Parramatta.
An expert in Canon Law, he has served as a lecturer, judge and president of the Canon Law Society. He has long been a member and is presently Judicial Vicar of the Regional Tribunal for New South Wales.
In the Diocese of Parramatta he has been Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia since 1997, serving with great diligence and dedication. He has also served as Episcopal Vicar for Religious (1991-2011), Episcopal Vicar for Health and Welfare (2010-12), member of the Council of Priests and College of Consultors (1994-2012), and on several other committees.
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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.
For some of us it might not seem all that long ago that we took part in World Youth Day 2008, the happiest and holiest week in the history of Australia! For others of us it will seem only yesterday that we were getting ready to attend or help other people attend World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid.
Well, believe it or not, there’s another one around the corner and it will be very special. From the 23rd to the 28th of July next year, millions of young people from around the world will descend upon Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to join the Pope in only the second ever World Youth Day in South America.
Given that South America has the biggest Catholic population of any region of the world it might surprise you that the last time it was held there was in 1987, in Argentina, when a million pilgrims joined Blessed John Paul II in the first World Youth Day ever held outside of Rome.
One reason I suspect it’s taken so long to go back to South America is that for much of the world that means going ‘down under’, to the Southern Hemisphere, with its seasons and calendars apparently upside down and its distances seeming so far.
But World Youth Day in Sydney showed the world that nowhere is too far in the 21st Century and that the Southern Hemisphere sports some great Catholic hosts!
So now we are gearing up for Brazil, a land of spectacular beauty, extraordinary culture, friendly people and more …
Brazil has the biggest tropical rain forest in the world. A huge coastline like Australia, with amazing beaches, mountains, rivers and waterfalls.
Like Australia, its most famous city is famous for its harbour. Rio’s harbour is almost as good as Sydney’s but has one big advantage over Sydney: a huge statue of Christ the Redeemer built on a mountain to preside over it!
That’s because Brazil is the largest Catholic country in the world. Around 143 million of its 193 million people are Catholics. Many of the others are Christian also.
Rio is soon to be host to the Soccer World Cup and the Olympics, but bigger and better than either of these will be World Youth Day 2013.
World Youth Day calls together young people of every nation and language, gives them the spiritual experience of their lives, and then sends them out to change the world. So it’s a great choice of theme for this World Youth Day: Our Lord’s invitation to “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matt 28:19)
Those of us who go to Rio, like those who took part in Sydney or Madrid, will come home better disciples and willing to help others be disciples of Jesus Christ.
Having organised Sydney’s I know about World Youth Days, from the inside out as it were, and I know what great things it can do for you. It brings people’s faith to life, it enlarges their sense of belonging to the Church, it sets them free to love and give themselves to the adventure of the Gospel.
Hearts are awakened. Ideals are strengthened. Vocations blossom. New futures are opened out …
Deep in their hearts our young people want that. Deep in our hearts we older people want that for them. So together we must see to it that as many as possible have this World Youth Day experience.
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A Christmas Message from Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, Bishop of Parramatta , December 2011
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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 yet. But I wonder how much we are trapped in a culture of accumulating stuff for its own sake, stuff that costs money we could be putting to better uses, stuff we could be sharing with other people instead of hoarding at home...
Recently I heard a woman saying she spent a lot on money on clothes she did not 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 the world, in others, in ourselves.
Our global financial uncertainty invites such questions. Christmas invites such questions.
There were presents at the first Christmas, but 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. 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 church services this Christmas, or listen to carols, or say grace to give thanks for all we have received; as we notice the different feel in the streets, the decorations, the frenzied shopping, the Christmas drinks, the holiday heat and roads; 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? What do I do for them? What really makes me happy?
Lenten Message from Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, Bishop of Parramatta
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'The Temptation of Christ' (1854) - Ary Scheffer.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 the 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 something better, a more healthy life-style. 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; to 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’s 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.
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One of the artist’s most astonishing works, a Last Judgment.
Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, Bishop of Parramatta
Blessed Fra Angelico, the early renaissance Dominican and patron of artists, 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 art.
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, 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.
The heavenly gate.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.
But Advent’s punctuation is no gruesome full-stop or even an exclamation mark, but a return, the return of Jesus, a new paragraph with the One who is God-with-us, God-for-us, God-one-of-us, the God which every human heart most fundamentally craves and to whose return in glory unready Christians have nonetheless always looked forward, in expectant prayer.
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 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.
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In the past few months we’ve really been through the wringer in our part of the world. Floods, cyclones and earthquakes in Japan, New Zealand and Australia have hit us again and again. The pictures of the ruins of Christchurch's Catholic and Anglican cathedrals 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 Parramatta cathedral 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.
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24 December 2010
A few years ago a university student from our Diocese of Parramatta took a year off uni and went to Nepal as a volunteer English teacher. She was assigned to a senior high school. As Christmas approached she was aware of whisperings among the students and then discovered that they were trying to work out how to celebrate Christmas for her. They thought there should be a party but weren’t quite sure why. One student came to her after class and said, “We know Christmas is important for you and we know it’s about a god. Is Santa Claus your god?”
Well, who is the God of Christmas? Who is your god at Christmas? Is he the same as the god of Christmas shopping, Christmas office parties, Christmas decorations, the god of Christmas Day gluttony, abandoned Christmas wrapping, the Boxing Day boats and cricket, the long Christmas holidays in the sun?
I suppose my answer is yes and no. Yes, because I don’t want to devalue Christmas cheer, even if it’s sometimes celebrated in less-worthy ways. It’s a good thing that our culture remembers that Jesus’ birthday is worth celebrating. Christians can be proud that the civilisation we built dates itself from the year of His birth, takes a public holiday for the occasion each year, and recognises it with all sorts of celebrations.
But the risk is that we can forget that the word Christmas means Christ’s feast. We can be so caught up in our feast as to forget His, to forget what it’s all about. The commercial Santa can take the place of the Child Jesus and the saints – including the original Santa Claus, St Nicholas, who was a faithful disciple of Jesus, as was our own brand new Aussie saint, Mary MacKillop. We can forget what it is that attracted our forefathers to Christ and His Christmas, and what still draws even non-Christians to this season.
Joy, Love, Peace. These are the highest aspirations and the noblest achievements of human beings. But we easily forget their real meaning, their real cost. All sorts of cut-price imitations are available. What we call happiness and harmony can be uninspired, tired, empty. That’s why we need Christmas every year. We need to recover our hope and our ideals. We need to learn again not only who God is and how to relate to Him, but also who we are and of what we are capable, by God’s power.
But sometimes God seems very far away, so far we doubt his existence or relevance. Sometimes His grandeur provokes our resistance, because it makes us feel puny and threatened. Pope Benedict XVI suggests that this is why God chose to become a child at Christmas. “He made himself dependent and weak, in need of our love. Now, this God who has become a child says to us: You can no longer fear me, you can only love me.”
I invite you to come to church this Christmas and bring with you any family and friends who haven’t been for a while and even people who’ve never been to Church. Come yourself and bring others with you so that together we might renew our faith, hope and love – for the world, our families, ourselves.
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Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, Bishop of Parramatta.Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, Bishop of Parramatta
Just a week out from the election the ABC joined the debate over population with a program called Population Puzzle and a follow-up Q&A. An example of what’s criticised in the commercial media as “cash for comment”, the show was financially underwritten by its star, the anti-population campaigner Dick Smith.
Endorsing the ALP’s shift away from “Big Australia” towards a smaller “Sustainable Population”, the national broadcaster gave Mr Smith a platform to dump on growth capitalism and its insatiable appetite for imported skilled labour. Greens leader Senator Bob Brown was as trenchantly anti-population as ever, while the Opposition, though more pro-population, joined the auction to be the party toughest on migrants and refugees.
The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, keeps telling us that Western Sydney is already suffering particular “stress” or “congestion” from population. With roughly two-thirds of the extra 1.7 million people projected for Sydney by 2036 expected to make their homes out West, we are told that we are already over-populated. But how would we know?
All parties now want to slow Australia’s immigration rate and “get tough” (or even tougher) on asylum seekers. Incredibly, some people also want to reduce Australia’s family sizes – already among the world’s lowest.
A range of interests, prejudices and genuine arguments collide here: the perennial fear of newcomers; a view of human beings as “pollution” of an ideally people-free environment; fear of a boat-borne “Asian invasion”, complete with people smugglers, queue-hoppers and terrorists; anti-capitalist and anti-development feeling; Malthusian nightmares of people over-breeding and over-consuming resources.
There is also: the sheer costs and complexity of providing for ever-expanding cities; evasion of responsibility for urban planning and infrastructure; annoyance with peak hour congestion and other symptoms of rapid city growth; the ongoing climate apocalyptic; and anti-family and anti-child attitudes.
There are some serious issues here, as well as prejudice and paranoia. Slogans and spin driven by such passions are no basis for sound policy.
It is a paradox that in this “nation of migrants” anti-immigration feeling is never far beneath the surface – nowadays a surface coat of green paint. There is a similar paradox in the rhetoric about the need for population control in the world’s least-populated continent.
Hostility to “population” is hostility to people – people in the abstract, rather than particular people, and especially to babies, especially poor people’s babies. While contraception and abortion have allowed the West to enjoy a copulation explosion at the same time as a population implosion, there are still too many people around for some.
Whether it’s green Australia instead of white Australia, or sustainable population instead of population control, Australia is again said to be “full” or to have nearly reached “carrying capacity”.
Yet the fact remains: Australia has close to the lowest population density in the world. Most of our country by far is uninhabited or barely so. By the standards of Manhattan we could all fit into the Canberra area and leave the rest of the country as farms and national parks. Not that everyone wants to live as cheek-by-jowl as New Yorkers.
My point is simply: Australia – including Western Sydney where I live – is nowhere near population overload. Our problem is a lack of appropriate planning, infrastructure and services to match our population.
Christ’s entry test for crossing the border into heaven was this: when I was hungry, lonely, a stranger, desperate, did you welcome me? (Matthew Chapter 25).
Australians can be proud of how hospitable they usually are to newcomers and grateful for the ways those newcomers have enriched us.
To close the borders of our country to all but a favoured few (with the right skills) would diminish us not just economically but culturally, morally and spiritually.
To close the borders of our homes to all but a favoured few babies is also impoverishing. Australia can allow and should support larger family sizes than the present rate of one or two children per family.
Governments, churches, business and the community must play their part in addressing the big infrastructure shortages in the cities, as well as providing incentives for decentralisation.
It is not beyond human wit to find ways of doing this without destroying ecosystems, running out of water or being trapped in carparks called motorways.
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What must I do to inherit eternal life – a young man once asked Jesus. What’s my life for? What’s it all about? Is there more to life than what I’ve got now, what I’m doing now?
These are a young person’s questions, important questions. We get our whole life to discern our vocation and try to live it. But we only get one life to do it in. So it’s personal and it’s urgent.
Good Shepherd Sunday is a special chance to ask these big questions with the Church’s help, with the help of the Good Shepherd Himself. Take your hopes and dreams and issues to Him in prayer. Have a look at our vocations website. Talk to a priest about it, especially Fr Paul Roberts, our Diocesan Director of Vocations.
The priesthood has taken a beating lately. The terrible crimes of a few have damaged the credibility of all. What do we, as a Church, do about that? We hang our heads in shame before God and the world. We repent and do penance. We seek forgiveness from the victims and justice and healing for them. We seek to make sure this does not happen again.
But we never give up on the priesthood. What would that be saying to Christ whose priesthood it is? What would it be saying of the countless powerful and beautiful things Christ has done through His priests? What would it say to people of all ages who need the help of Christ’s priests?
The Church makes the Eucharist and is also made by the Eucharist, so without priests we are nothing. We need more, happy and holy priests:
We need priests who are:
We need priests alive with Christ and giving their all.
I love being a priest. I love being a religious. There’s no better life. It brings you close to God and close to His people. And you bring God and people closer to each other. What a privilege! What a grace!
The Diocese of Parramatta needs you. Either to be a priest or religious, or to support those who should be. Don’t be put off by the bad wrap some people give the Church. You know that most priests and religious do a superb job: loving, serving, striving and living for Christ and His people.
Don’t be put off by thinking you’re not holy enough or learned enough or articulate enough or prayerful enough. If you have a passion for God and the things of God, if you care about people and the future of our world, the priesthood or consecrated life will give you what you need. God will give you what you need.
The people of the Diocese of Parramatta want you to lead and serve them!
May Christ the Good Shepherd bless your search. May His Blessed Mother accompany you. May St John Vianney and our soon-to-be St Mary MacKillop inspire you.
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