Inspiring and supporting faith together
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