Intense discussion about reform in the Catholic Church has accompanied the first weeks of Pope Francis’ pontificate and finds additional impetus here in Australia with the commencement of a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
There are varying opinions as to what ‘reform in the Church’ ought to look like, about the priorities that should occupy the Church’s present and future energies and the limits or extent of change.
Some interpret ecclesial reform as a return to a past condition or purer ideal; others conceive of reform as a development of what already exists; while yet others promote versions of reform which near on ‘revolution’, a movement toward a future altogether new with scant connection with what went before.
The variety of responses to the issue of reform can be expected because the question of change always engages a particular understanding of the Church’s identity.
Despite developments in the Church’s self-understanding at the Second Vatican Council, including the retrieval of the Church’s identity as mystery-sacrament and its eschatological character as ‘pilgrim’, it is clear that a rather juridical, one-dimensional and institutional view of the Church remains pervasive.
Fifty years after the Council, the idea of the Church as sacrament, an organism ‘unfolding in history and already breathing within the eternal’, is yet to be fully appropriated by clergy and laity.
The consequence is that contemporary talk of reform usually centres on ecclesial structures and not very much else.
This focus on hierarchy is understandable to the extent that failures in Church governance and moral leadership stand at the heart of the Church’s present woes. However, an exclusive focus on structure can be rather naïve in that it assumes that change needs only take place in the ‘head’ and not in the ‘body’ of the faithful.
What ultimately sustains the Church’s holiness and mission is not good administration and policy, as essential as these are, but the conversion of disciples, a common calling that makes a demand on each and every member of the communion.
Indeed, reform that restricts itself to the overhaul or remodelling of bureaucracies ‘out there’ can fast develop into a means of evading self-reflection closer to home, including a neglect of the ordinary Catholic parish.
It is the parish, after all, which remains the primary experience of the Church’s communion for most Catholics and is the surely the most immediate opportunity for the new evangelisation. For many, the parish is Church and so these communities warrant attention on the question of reform.
The 2006 National Count of Attendance revealed that just 13.8% of Australia’s Catholic population attended a weekend Mass and showed a disproportionate number of women and older attenders among these.
The 2011 figures are expected to be released any day now. We are unlikely to see any improvement in Mass attendance though the good news may be that we have at last ‘bottomed out’ and arrived at the so-called ‘faithful remnant’ that sustains our Church in and out of season. In a word, the data may tell us that things can only get better.
While decline in parish participation can be partly attributed to clericalism and maladministration, it can also be ascribed to a weakening of the ecclesial fabric within parish community itself and to stagnation in the imagination of what such communities can offer its members and those beyond it.
In my experience, one of the underlying factors that seriously impedes the ability of our parishes to achieve their potential is a lack of focus on what is, at bare minimum, a two-fold mission – to facilitate the growth of discipleship and the making of new disciples.
To address the first commitment, our parishes are rarely understood, organised or experienced as communities of learning and so are not always organised to enable lasting growth. There is of course the sign value and grace of sacramental encounter as well as the hearing and preaching of the Word, the latter of which varies in quality and focus.
Apart from these, however, the primary exposure of most Catholics to the content of faith can be, quite alarmingly, the parish bulletin.
To my knowledge, far too few parishioners engage in any form of spiritual reading outside the context of liturgy and while many lay men and women are experts in their own professions and fields of study they may never read a work of Christian theology in any given year.
Without practical initiatives to cultivate an adult, learned faith, one cannot expect an increase in commitment or passionate outreach to others.
To grow in discipleship also means to grow in prayer. However, once again, we find few opportunities in parishes where the ways of prayer are actively taught and can be learned. If our parishes and homes are to be ‘schools of prayer’, a notion vigorously promoted by John Paul II, then we need to recognise that many, including ourselves, ‘do not know how to prayer as we ought’ (Rom. 8:26).
Learning to pray, as even the first disciples of Jesus did, presupposes effort on the part of the faithful and witness and teachers of prayer in each of our local communities.
Taken as a whole, parishes can often assume their people are growing in faith and so be occupied with maintaining a fixed schedule of groups and activities while the reality may be that no growth is actually taking place.
If communities are growing the faith of their people, their relationship with Christ and his body, the Church, then one could reasonably expect to find evidence of such growth.
Indicators of parish growth would include an overflow of laypeople capable and trained for ecclesial ministry, the growth of missionary outreach including proclamation, service and faith-based advocacy for justice in the wider community, increasing numbers of young people and adults seeking to be baptised into the life of Christ and his ecclesial body, and our existing disciples maturing every year in biblical literacy and in their familiarity with tradition.
Without attention to the effectiveness of our parishes in nurturing this kind of adult faith, and without taking seriously the changing demographics and emerging needs in our midst, it is possible that our parishes are offering programs and activities for people that no longer exist.
Organisational memory can be a gift, reminding a parish of its identity and the best of its traditions. However, such memories can also be a liability and stifle growth if they are allowed to slip into nostalgia for parish practices that were helpful in quite a different time for altogether different people.
It is clear that if our parishes are truly growing the faith of their disciples, they will soon begin to attract more disciples into its communal life in Christ.
When disciples experience growth, they will go on to become better witnesses and attract others to the same faith that they have received and lived. Evangelised disciples, then, are the baseline for any evangelising Church.
While Church reform must touch upon the universal structures that shape, organise and facilitate the life of a universal Church, it must also challenge and find practical expression in the life of our local communities, including our Catholic parishes.
Without that change, talk of reform can tend to remain only at the level of abstraction and blunt the radical edge of conversion and missionary discipleship that stand at the heart of the Gospel for us all.
Daniel Ang blogs from Parramatta, NSW. He also writes at www.timeofthechurch.com and can be found on Twitter @DanielAngRC.
Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources." } -->
BY DANIEL ANG Intense discussion about reform in the Catholic Church has accompanied the first weeks of Pope Francis’ pontificate and finds additional impetus here in Australia with the commencement of a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to
BY STEFAN GIGACZ
“Lest we forget,” a local woman said to me in her strong French accent over lunch yesterday near the Western Front battlefield town of Bullecourt.
It was her way of entering into the spirit of Australia's big day in the region.
For my part it was an opportunity to retrace the footsteps of my own grandfather Robert Coleman, who spent two years in the trenches from 1916-18. Until recently I thought he had actually participated at Bullecourt until I managed to reconstitute the calendar of his life at the front from documents available online at the magnificent Australian War Memorial website. But it turned out that he was recuperating in England during the Bullecourt battles after falling ill in the freezing winter trenches.
Yesterday's (unofficial) Anzac lunch was organised by a group including Colette and Claude Durand who have been commemorating the 1917 battles known to Australians as First and Second Bullecourt since long before the now annual Australian pilgrimages began.
Claude explains more of their pioneering story on the website http://www.bullecourt.fr/.
“Our story, in which we develop our close relationship with Australia,” Claude writes in his francophone influenced English, “begins when my wife, Colette Durand, and I arrived in Hendecourt as school teachers in September 1972. “Back then, it was possible to find Australian 'rising sun' badges and Australian shoulder badges in the ploughed farm fields around Bullecourt. We were interested to know why!”
Together with the late Jean Letaille, the then mayor of the town, and in contact with the then Australian Ambassador to France, John Rowland, they launched what has now evolved into a key moment in the Embassy's Anzac Day program each year.
Over the years, in a barn on his property, Jean Letaille also gradually developed a homespun museum with relics of the battles dug up from local fields, even including tank tracks. With assistance from the Australian government, that too has now developed into the Jean and Denise Letaille Museum in the town.
But now, sadly, the official commemorative events have grown so important that the locals who launched them are starting to feel that their role has been somewhat sidelined.
I got to meet Colette, Claude and their friends and family thanks to Bill Twitchett, an Aussie originally from Murwillumbah but now resident in Arras for some 37 years and one of the few Australians who lives permanently in the region.
After post-graduate studies in architecture and town planning, Bill ended up working for the Diocese of Arras as their architectural advisor renovating ancient churches and abbeys and occasionally building new ones for some 30 years.
In fact, he was originally invited to Arras by the late Bishop Gerard Huyghe, a dynamic bishop who played a significant role at Vatican II particularly in the drafting of the Decree on the Renewal of Religious Life, Perfectae Caritatis.
“In 1976, Bishop Huyghe invited me to join a mixed community of religious and lay people known as the Centre for Culture and Faith,” Bill told me. Sadly the community did not continue after Huyghe's retirement, but Bill stayed on in the region, developing a new centre and community devoted to ecological and urban renewal known as Le Pavillon.
(In one of those providential coincidences of life, I first met Bill about three years while giving a talk at the Institut Marc Sangnier in Paris. Learn more about Bill and his work on the website he is developing to record some of his lifetime of work.)
And so, after a great meal, we all moved on to Bullecourt for the official ceremony at 1.30pm with Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr. And Mr Carr did not disappoint with his speech clearly reflecting his own personal interest in Australian military history.
The current bishop of Arras, Mgr Jean-Paul Jaeger, followed up with a prayer. Finally, after much wreath laying by Australian and local dignitaries, several hundred Aussie pilgrims, including students from Queensland, and local French people began the march up to the Digger statue that stands one kilometre outside the town.
I only got to talk to a couple of people on the walk, the first being a somewhat lonely German army representative, who lamented the lack of commemoration of other World War events and battles. The other was Bishop Jaeger, originally from Lille, where Cardinal Achille Liénart had confirmed him, and we reflected together on the extraordinary influence of the great cardinal on the French church and Vatican II.
By the time we made it to the Digger monument, the sun had taken its toll with a couple of students being revived by the pompiers after collapsing under the warm spring sun.
So after even more wreath laying, I headed back to Le Canberra Bar in town for a drink with Bill. There he told me that he is now on an Arras church committee studying how to commemorate the forthcoming centenary of the Great War.
Well, one thought came to me inspired by today's events and by Pope Francis' strident affirmation that the Church is not an NGO. Moreover, not only is the Church not a non-government organisation, for all its faults, it is emphatically not a government organisation either.
And perhaps the role of the churches in the forthcoming celebrations could be to focus on rebuilding the people to people links that Claude and Colette Durand and their friends have worked so long to promote.
Lest we forget those who remembered our soldiers while we in Australia had forgotten them.
Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.
" } -->
BY STEFAN GIGACZ “Lest we forget,” a local woman said to me in her strong French accent over lunch yesterday near the Western Front battlefield town of Bullecourt. It was her way of entering into the spirit of Australia's big day in the
- Blogwatcher - What happened to the Irish Church?
- Cathblog - Emergency learning
- Cathblog - Pentecost and the hero’s journey
- Cathblog - The virtue of flawed heroes
- Cathblog - Cyberspace: Our New Meeting Place
- Blogwatcher - Students and bishops aim to stop to child ...
- Cathblog - The sacramental essential of matrimony
- Cathblog - Rethinking World Youth Day
- Cathblog - My Best Homily! (If I do say so myself...)
- Blogwatcher - Cardinal versus Cardinal