Bishop Anthony Homily: CCD Annual Mass 2014

10/09/2014

Homily - Confraternity of Christian Doctrine Annual Mass and Presentation of Certificates, St Patrick’s Church, Blacktown, Friday 5 September 2014
Photography: Alphonsus Fok

Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Confraternity of Christian Doctrine Annual Mass and Presentation of Certificates, St Patrick’s Church, Blacktown, Friday 5 September 2014

Introduction

Welcome to this special day for the CCD in the Diocese of Parramatta as we give thanks for its work in Western Sydney.

I welcome especially the parish clergy. I am pleased to acknowledge the presence of Paul Worthington, Director of the CCD in this Diocese, Jim Eves, former regional coordinator of the CCD Holroyd/Parramatta Deanery, as well as Directors and CCD staff from surrounding dioceses. I also welcome several officials representing the Catholic Education Office of the Diocese.

Above all, I welcome and thank all the hard working catechists, and their friends and family!

The more liturgically aware will have noticed the violet vestments. No, it is not yet Advent and so you do not have to count the shopping days until Christmas! Today is an ember day, a traditional day of fasting and penance; no doubt the morning tea afterward will reflect this!

Homily

Homily - Confraternity of Christian Doctrine Annual Mass and Presentation of Certificates, St Patrick’s Church, Blacktown, Friday 5 September 2014
Photography: Alphonsus Fok

Several years ago, I caused some consternation at a Vatican conference by revealing that I keep a lady in my car… I explained to my Roman audience that my lady-friend likes to instruct me on the way I go in life – an experience familiar to the husbands here today! “In three kilometres, turn left,” she commands. “Make a U-turn if possible,” she pleads with greater firmness, “you are going the wrong way”. “Coming up, on your right, you have arrived,” she says, gloating at her success. She is, of course, a global positioning satellite. I would be lost without her calm voice telling me where to go. She can be wrong at times due to mechanical faults or wrong information and she has never really grasped how awful Sydney traffic is. But I ignore her at my peril!

Now, the conference at which I was speaking was on the subject of Conscience and my opening thought was that many people think conscience is like a GPS navigator: a sort of angelic voice, distinct from our own reasoning, which comes from outside us, even if we hear it inside our head or heart. Texts like today’s epistle might give that impression: that conscience is God’s voice in our heads saying “wrong way” or “you have arrived” (1Cor 4:1-5). On this view the sat-nav of conscience is generally trust-worthy but the driver is still free to obey or not the authoritative even nagging voice.

Conscience is like that, isn’t it? No, I explained: if we experience voices apparently from outside us but intruding into our ordinary reasoning processes, commanding or complaining, we should probably see a doctor or an exorcist!

Homily - Confraternity of Christian Doctrine Annual Mass and Presentation of Certificates, St Patrick’s Church, Blacktown, Friday 5 September 2014
Photography: Alphonsus Fok

St Paul was in many ways the author of our Western conception of conscience. He was heir to the Old Testament tradition about the heart which God probes, converts and recreates so that it interiorises His law. He was also heir to the philosophical wisdom of the Græco-Roman world, with its teachings on natural law and prudence.

For St Paul, contrary to the GPS-style conscience, conscience is not some special faculty different from or external to the rest of human thinking and choosing, nor is it some secret wisdom given only to a few. Rather, as the Second Vatican Council echoed in its teaching, conscience is the human capacity to know (and so choose) the good through that universal knowledge of God’s law internalized by each individual as an ‘inner tribunal’ or guide, accusing or approving behaviour, in prospect or retrospect (GS 16).

Does that mean our consciences are infallible? Can we reasonably talk about “the primacy of conscience”? Shouldn’t we just follow our conscience and all other voices – even the Church’s – be damned? In the moral life, that’s all that matters, right? Well, in today’s first reading, Paul doesn’t think so. Paul says my conscience is clear, it does not reproach me at all. Then he says, “But that does not prove that I am acquitted: the Lord alone is my judge.” The judgments of conscience may be accurate or mistaken, rather like the records of memory; conscience may falsely accuse us or remain silent when it ought to speak or even be dulled or rendered inoperative through ignorance or repeated sin. We might wonder at the moment what the conscience of the I.S. terrorists beheading and crucifying Christians, even children, are saying to them…

Homily - Confraternity of Christian Doctrine Annual Mass and Presentation of Certificates, St Patrick’s Church, Blacktown, Friday 5 September 2014
Photography: Alphonsus Fok

The fact is: though by virtue of our human reason, we can and should be able to think through what is the right thing to do in each situation, yet by vice of our inhuman sin we have damaged ourselves, our own ability to think these things through and follow our own best judgments faithfully. When Christ, the bridegroom-host of the party of salvation came among us (Lk 5:33-39), He found He had more to do than pat us on the head for following our lights: he had healing, redeeming, instructing work to do, to renew the whole human person, including our consciences, so that we can “put on the mind of Christ” (1Cor 2:16). We all need to be reminded of that natural wisdom about right and wrong which is shared by all people of good will and right reason; and we need that supernatural wisdom revealed in Christ and passed on in Scripture and Tradition to motivate and clarify and confirm and expand upon that innate wisdom.

Conscience is our rather high and mighty name for the human mind’s last best judgment about what to do in the here and now. As our last best judgment we rightly follow it. But if we want what we rightly follow to itself be right, we need to be sure the maps are accurate. If we want to give truth primacy rather than our own wilfulness, we must listen to God’s word mediated by the Magisterium of Church which like conscience is a rather high and mighty word for a rather simple idea: the Church’s last best judgment about what Christ teaches us to be and do.

So as Catholics understand things, the magisterium is fundamental to conscience-formation. The word derives from the Latin magister, which means teacher, master or catechist. While the Church sometimes exercises her teaching office through hierarchs in pointy hats, she more often relies upon families, schools and lay catechists to do the transmitting and interpreting of the truth in love, especially to those who are young. Today we celebrate the work of the CCD in our Diocese and we recognise in particular those with jubilees of service, those retiring from service and those receiving special blessings; we also delight in more recent labourers in the vineyard, our secondary school student-catechists and participants in the training course. We praise and thank all the magistri here in Parramatta, helping to form young minds not by issuing orders like a sat-nav but by offering that vision of the good life and those teachings which Christ our one best guide has given us.

Homily - Confraternity of Christian Doctrine Annual Mass and Presentation of Certificates, St Patrick’s Church, Blacktown, Friday 5 September 2014
Photography: Alphonsus Fok

You catechists are my arms and voices in our state schools; you are, in St Paul’s words, “stewards of the mysteries”, helping to ensure that our young people encounter Christ and so receive more than any secular ethics course could give them. A good secular ethics course might tell them what is right to do – though often it only provides a smorgasbord of choices: but it cannot provide the motor to make them want to know and do the good; no, the best motivator is the encounter with Jesus Christ and the grace of conversion we hope they receive in SRE. A good secular ethics course might provide various directions and ways of thinking through ethical puzzles: but it is unlikely to encourage a child to interrogate their own preferences and the judgments of their peers and subculture; SRE, however, challenges the wisdom of this age and the relativism of the young. A good secular ethics course might point to the right thing to do in some cases: but it will not give you the grace to do it, especially when it is hard or countercultural; SRE, on the other hand, points our young people towards that Word and sacraments that empower them to be heroes, to be saints. Fan as I am of secular ethics, it is no substitute for formation in faith and conscience. I thank God for your wonderful work in Western Sydney and I pray that He may continue to bless it and through it keep building up His Kingdom here in the hearts of young Parramatta!

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