Faith in Our Future Blog - March 2013
On the 21st March, 2013, I spent the morning with the parish secretaries of the Diocese, sharing with them the emerging vision of our Diocesan Pastoral Plan, Faith in Our Future. Here are a few comments which may be of interest to our many subscribers and consultation participants:
“It is certainly a new and exciting time for our Church with the recent election of Pope Francis as our new Bishop of Rome, our new pope. Even in these early days, Pope Francis has brought fresh energy and a renewed spirit to a Church that faces challenging, but also promising, times. It is with that same sense of renewal and Spirit-led possibility that we have been hard at work developing a Pastoral Plan for the people of God here in Parramatta.
I was in touch with many of you in 2012 as we launched our diocesan-wide consultation process. We travelled around the Diocese over eight months and held 29 consultation events for our 49 parish communities. Around 2,000 people took part in these and the contributions from our lay people were both passionate and thoughtful. Our people also took part in the process by making online submissions to our website. This is where we have been.
We are presently in the final stage of our pastoral planning process, developing recommendations with our agencies and for our parish communities as well. We are very conscious of your role as parish secretaries of our Diocese, an integral, indispensable ministry in community life. Without your giftedness and practical know-how, our communities would not flourish as they do and so we need to let you know what is happening and also seek your wise advice.
A first question to address is the ‘why’ of our Pastoral Plan, “Faith in Our Future”. The name of our developing Pastoral Plan says it all. The one goal of this entire project is as simple as it is all-encompassing: it is about faith.
So it is not about buildings or structures, as important as they are; it is not simply about the number of clergy we have in the Diocese or our financial plans as important as they are. Our Pastoral Plan is about inspiring and supporting faith in Jesus and his Gospel for the life of the whole Church. It is about putting the relationship with Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, afresh at the centre of everything that we are as his disciples, as the people of Parramatta, and expressing his life and message in everything that we do.
In the midst of challenging times for our Church, it is important to maintain that the scandals that have arisen are not the fulfilment of who we are as Church but a grave contradiction to it. The true nature and life of the Church is found in those who follow Jesus faithfully. This is what it means to be Catholic, a person of living faith in Jesus Christ.
And this applies as well, of course, to our parishes. What does it mean to be a parish of faith, to be a community that is faithful to the person and message of Jesus? It means many things but if I had to summarise it in only two points I would choose these:
· Growing in faith – this means conversion to our Lord Jesus, coming to know him as a person and understanding his message, his Gospel;
· Sharing our faith – it means spreading the Good News that we have received, being witnesses to the life that this Risen Jesus offers us and our world.
So, ideally, every parish community – and I’m sure ours are already doing so – should be growing in its faith and sharing its faith. Every parish should be fostering mature disciples which means, every year, our people are becoming increasingly literate in the Scriptures, more inspired by their sacramental encounters with Jesus, more involved in community life and committed to the justice that Jesus revealed through his own self-sacrificing love. As well, every one of our parishes must be sharing its faith with the wider community and making new disciples, baptising more and more people every year, evangelising people into the story of Jesus so that they can be witnesses and sharers of his life for others.
However, like any human community, we need to make concrete plans to achieve these goals. As a parish, as a diocese, wanting to grow is not enough. We need to plan to grow. We need to be explicitly organised to grow the faith of our members and we need to be well-prepared and organised to evangelise new people into the life of Jesus.
In fact, a long history of Church research reveals that making no plans for growth results in little or no growth every time. So without plans, our communities will not grow. If there are no plans to engage the faith of our people in ever new and ancient ways, that offer people God’s Word and life through creative and intentional initiatives, our communities will not realise their greatest potential as agents of the Kingdom. Indeed, a lack of planning does not leave communities where they are but can actually speed their decline.
So to grow and to evangelise – that’s why our Pastoral Plan matters. “Faith in Our Future” will give our people, our families, each one of us, a common vision to work toward and will provide fresh support and initiatives to engage in a twenty-first century Gospel mission.”
I was also asked by the parish secretaries about the gifts and challenges of collaboration, of working together. I suggested that openness to working together demands conversion on the part of all communities and all people, a conversion that places ‘mission’ above all else include our own preferences and self-interest. We do not exist for ourselves as parishes or disciples but rather we exist to draw people into encounter with Jesus, to promote the Kingdom of God he offers and really makes present.
Of course, we often hear objections to collaboration - collaboration can be seen as ‘too complicated’ and too difficult to organise, there are different agendas and ways of doing things that seem irreconcilable, people can be threatened by a sensed loss of control, even of identity, and there can be suspicion of the supposed benefits of working together. Finally, collaboration takes energy and a spirit of generosity – that is, it demands something of us rather than leaving us where we are. In other words, it takes real courage to collaborate.
More positively, however, collaboration opens opportunities for persons and communities to realise goals they could not achieve on their own, particularly when resources are limited and conditions can be difficult. Collaboration allows communities to make the most of the diverse gifts embedded in communities that are indeed different; it allows us as a mission-focused Church to minimise duplication in pastoral life and activity. Then, there are the basic and compelling Gospel imperatives to share and draw on the diverse gifts of all the baptised rather than the few, as well as to provide combined and stronger witness to our Church as a communion. Indeed, working together can be a basic expression of the call of Jesus to hospitality, to be open to one another and to be open and receptive of the difference the ‘other’ can make in our lives.
Thank you to all the parish secretaries who participated in this recent gathering with such commitment and a clear love for the communities they serve. Disciples such as these embody the hope of renewal and growth for our entire Diocese as we plan for our future in faith.
Yours in Christ,
Posted by Daniel Ang at 12:19 PM Comments (0) Permalink
It is with great joy that the Diocese of Parramatta receives the news of the election of Pope Francis as the 266th Bishop of Rome. Bishop Anthony Fisher OP shared his delight and asked the people of Parramatta to pray for the newly elected pontiff:
“Habemus papam - we have a Pope! The Church in Parramatta cheers with the rest of humanity at the happy news. 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. Please offer your Masses and prayers for Pope Francis, today and in the days ahead.”
Pope Francis chose his papal name in memory of St Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), known throughout the generations as a man of peace, a champion of the poor, steward of creation and inspiration for Christian reconciliation. The life of this twelfth-century mendicant friar provides a fitting backdrop for the elevation of the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, to the Petrine Office. This ‘new’ Francis in our midst fills the Diocese of Parramatta with hope, for the renewal that the Church has undergone in every age.
Much closer to home, we hope and pray that our Diocesan Pastoral Plan will also be a source of renewal so that the Gospel we have received finds a true home in our families, parishes and vocations. There is a bright future for faith in our Diocese.
The then-Archbishop Bergoglio underlined the significance of our faith as something that is to be shared, remarking recently on the Year of Faith inaugurated by his predecessor:
“Benedict XVI has insisted on the renewal of faith being a priority and presents faith as a gift that must be passed on, a gift to be offered to others and to be shared as a gratuitous act. It is not a possession, but a mission. This priority indicated by the Pope has a commemorative purpose: through the Year of Faith we remember the gift we have received. And there are three pillars to this: the memory of having been chosen, the memory of the promise that was made to us and the alliance that God has forged with us. We are called to renew this alliance, our belonging to the community of God’s faithful.”
We pray and hope that our Diocesan Pastoral Plan will bring a renewed awareness and commitment to our faith as a living gift, as the life of Jesus Christ being received and passed on from one generation to the next.
We pray in gratitude and in hope for our new Pope Francis and for our Church!
Yours in Christ,
Posted by Daniel Ang at 4:23 PM Comments (2) Permalink
This season of Lent reminds us of the need to match the faith that we live with the Gospel mission we have been called to fulfil. It is a season of repentance and conversion in which we measure the ‘gap’ between our reality and our promises as disciples, between the quality of our witness and our best hopes for our faith into the future.
As the Bishops of NSW shared in their recent Pastoral Letter for Lent, the present time is ‘an opportunity for the purification of the Church – a Lenten return for each one of us personally and all of us collectively’ (Sowing in Tears). We are called to return to Jesus, as the source of our life and the one who ‘sends’ us out to be his witnesses in the world (John 20:21, Acts 1:8)
Our developing Pastoral Plan will seek to promote and support this conversion here in the Parramatta Diocese. By offering a vision for our Diocese as a whole, for our parishes, youth groups, religious and the ecclesial movements that form our Catholic community, our Pastoral Plan will seek to bring our best hopes into the present, inspiring and challenging each one of us as disciples to grow in our faith and extend this faith to others as bearers of Good News.
While the Pastoral Plan will offer many practical recommendations to strengthen the life and mission of our communities, at the heart of every structure and every pastoral initiative is the question of conversion.
The heart of renewal in the Church is a renewed belief in Jesus Christ and the mission of his Church. Only conversion to Jesus’ person and his message can lead to a heart for service and a heart for evangelisation. Only when people begin to grow in the Gospel can the Church begin to grow.
In this way the Pastoral Plan hopes to be a question not only for ‘others’ but for each one of us in our various vocations: ‘How can we be a part of a stronger and more vibrant faith here in the Diocese of Parramatta?’
Of course we need plans. Wanting to grow is not enough; we need to plan to grow. Growth does not happen without goals, without making plans and defining strategies. However, if we do not grow spiritually then all else will be in vain. Lent calls us precisely to this conversion, a deepening of our discipleship as Christians and as a community of discipleship, as a Church.
Our Pastoral Plan will also seek to strengthen the mission of the Church. This mission of evangelisation is at the heart of the Gospel as we see in Jesus’ Great Commissioning (‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’; Matt. 28:19).
It has been remarked that the Church is the only community organised primarily for the benefit of its non-members! That is, the Church exists for mission, for the spread of the Gospel to those who do not know Christ or could know Him better.
Pope Paul VI made this clear throughout his pontificate, including his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, in which he writes of the Church, ‘She exists in order to evangelise, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace’ (EN 14). As this same Church, how do our homes, our parishes, our communities of faith open the door of faith to others? What do we offer others when they arrive at that door and how do we ensure they know and feel their home is with us?
Through your feedback at our consultations held last year and through research into the best practices in Australia and abroad, the Pastoral Plan will offer a variety of recommendations for keeping the mission of Jesus before the eyes of your community and to empower its people to live the mission of evangelisation with purpose and creativity.
The Pastoral Plan will likely be launched in the second half of 2013. It will not be a timeless theological statement but provide common pastoral priorities and recommendations as a source of inspiration and direction for parishes and the many complementary groups and ministries of our Diocese. It aims to promote conversion and mission and calls for your faith and engagement to make a real, genuine difference in and beyond our communities of faith.
You can keep in touch with developments throughout the coming months through our website and also send in your comments and best advice through the contact details available there.
With every blessing in this season of Lent,
Fr Paul Marshall and Daniel Ang
Pastoral Planning Team
Posted by Daniel Ang at 2:19 PM Comments (0) Permalink