Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ
This is our Golden Jubilee Year as a diocese, established by Pope Pius XII in November 1954.
It is a time to recall our mission, which is to fulfil the farewell command of Jesus:
Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptise them… and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you.
We renew our commitment to this command by asking: ‘How effectively are we fulfilling this mission?’
At Pentecost in 2002, I published a Pastoral Letter asking the question: ‘Where is the Spirit leading our diocese?’
The overwhelming concern expressed around the diocese related to the decline in religious practice, particularly among the young. Through discerning the signs discussed in the 2002 Pentecost Pastoral Letter, it is clear that the Spirit is calling us to respond to this decline.
The Church’s pastoral strategy for doing so is called ‘new evangelisation’. Broadly speaking, new evangelisation comprises the basic steps Jesus used to proclaim his Gospel, and to call people to faith. However, it has its own priorities and emphases.
Our Jubilee year will be celebrated by beginning the process of implementing new evangelisation in the parishes of the diocese. The steps will take two to three years to implement fully.
Who is new evangelisation for?
New evangelisation is for two groups of baptised people. The first are those who no longer practice the faith, who reject the Church, and even may reject Christ and his Gospel.
The second are those who are churchgoers, but whose faith is based more upon devotions and sincere feelings than sound understanding, or whose understanding of the faith has grown little since their school years.
Who are the new evangelisers?
All churchgoers who relate with those needing new evangelisation, including parents and grandparents, brothers, sisters and friends, work colleagues and sports club members, are called to be new evangelisers.
I ask each churchgoing Catholic in our diocese to join in our implementation of the steps of new evangelisation.
What is the Pastoral Letter about?
This is an abbreviated version of the 2004 Lenten Pastoral Letter which discusses in detail the first new evangelisation step. Everyone concerned about this decline in religious practice across the diocese, or in a loved one or friend, is invited to read the full Pastoral Letter (www.bunburycatholic.org.au).
THE FIRST STEP: OPEN THE DOOR OF THEIR HEARTS
People need openness to an idea before they will accept it. The same is true of Christian faith.
The first new evangelisation step seeks to ‘open the door’ in the hearts of those no longer engaged in religious practice. It involves two activities: persevering prayer, and the witness of Christian love.
St Paul taught that, ultimately, it is God alone who can open people’s hearts to the faith. He wrote:
Be persevering in your prayers… asking God to throw open a door for us to announce the message…
I ask every Catholic to pray explicitly each day for those who have given up religious practice. I further ask that all who can do so to give thirty minutes each day for this purpose.
While some, such as parents of young families, may find half an hour difficult, most who go to Mass seem to me to be older, and so not to have such a time problem.
Is giving up perhaps just one TV programme too much for the faith of those who have given up religious practice? Particular for the faith of our children and family members?
The prayers could be formal or informal, the Rosary or reading the New Testament – or any combination each person likes.
The Witness of Christian love
Many think of Christian witness simply as good example. But really it is the life of a Christian that is given over to God and neighbour – not just to neighbour. Without this love, the most heroic expressions of goodness and human love for others have no more lasting effect than ‘a gong booming or a cymbal clashing’ .
What, then, is Christian Love? A story from early Church history perhaps best illustrates the answer.
CHRISTIAN LOVE – A GIFT OF THE SPIRIT
Around 300BC, the Roman Emperor Diocletian initiated the most systematic persecution of Christians. Roman soldiers would move through towns incognito, spotting those who showed out of the ordinary love for each other and for others, especially the needy, and arresting them on suspicion of being a Christian.
If this happened where you live, would you and the other members of your parish be recognised by Diocletian’s soldiers? Would you be arrested, or has your parish community become so anonymous by its lack of action that no one would be noticed? If the Roman soldiers could not identify members of your parish community, is it likely that your parish is giving the witness needed to lead others back to religious practice?
Christians arrested in Diocletian’s times often suffered cruel tortures before dying. How could they risk showing Christian love? The answer lies in the following Christian truths.
A personal gift of God
Christian love is God’s love, received through Baptism. St Paul explains:
… the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit…
God’s love has divine power. This love can change the lives of those who receive it, empowering them in many ways. However, its influence in their lives and relationships depends upon whether they develop it through the following ways.
Christian love empowers a love for God and others that is beyond the capacity of human love. It is:
… love of God above all things for God’s own sake and our neighbour as ourselves for love of God
The question then arises, ‘how is this loved developed?’
Nourished by the Eucharist
Spiritual gifts need spiritual nourishment, just as our bodies need material nourishment. The spiritual food Jesus gave us is the Eucharist. This is needed, therefore, to nourish Christian love. Without this, a person’s Christian love remains underdeveloped.
Living the Great Commandments of Jesus
Christian love needs to be ‘exercised’. Jesus taught that, to do this:
You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind.
You must love your neighbour as yourself.
The first of these Commandments ‘exercises’ our love for God – and without this, we lack the spiritual strength needed to keep the second.
Within the Christian community
Every Christian is baptised into the Church community – they Body of Christ. To blossom fully, Christian love needs to be exercised in this community as well as individually.
Needs renewal after sin
Sin weakens our relationship with God, the source of Christian love. To restore the strength of this love after sin, we need to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The quality of our communication affects our human relationships, and the quality of our prayer affects our relationship with God – the source of Christian love. Without daily prayer, our Christian love weakens and our human weaknesses strengthen.
How Christian love can affect us
Christian love can stir us to think and feel as Christ did, to develop Christ-like attitudes and perspectives. It can strengthen resolve and give courage in times of temptation.
Christian love can move us to respond to those in need, and empower us to show heroic love – especially towards those we find it difficult to love. It strengthens against selfishness, and empowers too to keep God’s Commandments.
THE LOVE OF CHRIST
Christian love empowers us to love like Jesus. But what was Jesus’ love like? We can see six facets or faces of his love.
Obedience to his Father
Jesus explained and showed that love for his Father means always obeying his Father’s will. This was the first face of his love. He said:
I seek to do not my own will, but the will of him who sent me.
Prayer and worship
Jesus taught and demonstrated the need for daily prayer. He worshipped also in the Temple and in Synagogues. Prayer and worship were the second face of Christ’s love.
The night before he died, Jesus washed his disciples’ feed. He did so to teach that the third face of his love is humble service.
Love of the Good Shepherd
Jesus likened himself to a good shepherd who seeks those who have become lost, and no longer are part of his flock. This is the fourth face of his love.
Jesus welcomed all, including those his society rejected or thought worthless.
A love that challenges society
Jesus loved by challenging the social institutions and trends of his time when these conflicted with God’s laws. The question for us, his followers, is whether they do the same.
Do we reflect the faces of Christ’s love
Diocletian’s soldiers could identify Christians because they reflected the faces of Christ’s love in their lives. Those who have given up their religious practice need to see these faces in us as parishes and as individuals.
DO THEY RECOGNISE US BY OUR LOVE?
A parish whose members go to Mass on Sundays, but who are not a community of love, cannot fulfil its mission. Nor can it be a community of new evangelisation. Pope John Paul II described a parish as:
… the ‘family of God’, ‘a fellowship afire with a unifying spirit’, ‘a familial and welcoming home’, the ‘community of the faithful.’
To fulfil this ideal, a parish needs to reflect the six faces of Christ’s love. The full Pastoral Letter suggests possible strategies for doing so.
Parish Pastoral Councils
Parish Pastoral Councils are asked to suggest parish pastoral plans for improving their parishes as new evangelisation communities that give the witness of Christian love. A programme to assist them with this task will be released after Pentecost Sunday.
It is crucial for Parish Pastoral Councils to recognise that they are called to serve their entire parish – not just the minority of attend Masses.
SOME ARE CALLED IN SPECIAL WAYS
Some in our parishes are called to special new evangelisation roles. These include:
- the churchgoing spouse, whose marriage partner has given up religious practice
- the churchgoing parent(s), whose child (or children) has given up religious practice
- churchgoing single people, whose parents, family members, friends or acquaintances have given up religious practice
- those called to celibate love, whose calling is to reach out with the availability Jesus showed, to those who have given up religious practice
- the suffering who, like Jesus on the cross, can offer all they endure physically and psychologically for the salvation of those who have given up religious practice
- Catholic school staff, who need to do all that they can to make the Witness element of their school’s evangelisation plans effective.
The Holy Spirit is calling us to pray with perseverance, and to give the witness of Christian love, to those in our diocese who have given up religious practice. May we all respond so that, across our diocese, all can see us implementing the first steps of new evangelisation.
The Most Reverend Gerard J Holohan
Bishop of Bunbury