Pastoral Letter to the People and Decision Makers in the Diocese of Bunbury
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ
I want to begin this, my first Pastoral Letter to the Diocese of Bunbury, by expressing sincere thanks to all who have made me so welcome in the Diocese. I have wonderful memories of the welcomes given to me everywhere I have been.
Travelling around the diocese, I have been struck by the many signs of the influence of the Holy Spirit in the Diocese. I will share some brief examples. It is these that led me to choose Pentecost Sunday for this Letter.
There are the personal dedication and pastoral commitment of the Priests, the committed service of Deacons, and the many dedicated pastoral associates. There are the lay parish leaders and parish workers, some of whose parishes survive because of their loyal determination in difficult circumstances.
Then there are the many catechists, Catholic school leaders and teachers. There are the St Vincent de Paul Society, members of other organisations, and Catholic hospital pastoral carers. Within the Diocese too are spirituality centres and renewal groups.
Finally, there are those involved in adult education and the liturgical renewal of the Diocese, including the Diocesan Choir, and all who contribute to the financial and other aspects of diocesan and parish administration.
I am conscious that many of these signs of the Spirit’s influence are the fruit of the ministries and leadership of my predecessors, the most recent of whom is Bishop Peter Quinn. I hope that my own ministry will be as fruitful as those of my predecessors.
The Pentecost Experience
These signs of the Spirit’s influence help us appreciate the meaning of the great Feast of Pentecost. Today, we celebrate the day when the Holy Spirit filled the Apostles. This was the day when the Church instituted by Jesus Christ finally became a visible reality.
At Pentecost, the people in Jerusalem could see this reality. They could recognise in this community signs of deeper realities they could not see – Christ’s presence among them in a new way, and the Holy Spirit.
A Diocese is a community of parish communities. Like the Church community in Jerusalem, each parish community and the Diocese as a whole, is called to be an effective sign to all people of the presence of Christ among them, and of the Holy Spirit.
THE SPECIFIC PURPOSE OF THIS PASTORAL LETTER
The specific purpose of this Pastoral Letter is to reflect upon the most basic question every diocese needs to keep asking. This is:
How do we discern where the Spirit is leadingour Diocese at this stage in its history?
After travelling around our diocese, and listening to priests and people, I can see that many questions need to be faced:
- how can we continue the present number of parishes, given the shortage of priests and financial resources?
- how can we reach out more effectively to those who no longer practice or have any interest in the faith?
- how can we better respond to the deeper human heart yearnings of teenagers and young people?
- why have there been no vocations to the priesthood or the religious life for nearly a decade?
- where can we find the resources needed to provide adequately for the faith needs of scattered families?
We cannot find answers to these and other important questions without the Holy Spirit. A diocese that follows the lead of the Spirit will grow stronger. A diocese that does not will weaken.
I am addressing this Pastoral letter first to all Catholics in the Bunbury Diocese. I invite each of you to join me in re-examining how effectively we allow the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen us in our daily lives and decisions.
Let us all pray for the Spirit to help us see where God wants us to go as a diocese. Every praying Catholic has a contribution to make to parish and diocesan reflection and discussion.
But, I am addressing this letter in a particular way to decision-makers at all levels of our Diocese. I call upon them to re-examine how effectively they listen to the guidance of the Spirit in their decisions. This includes:
- diocesan consultation bodies
- diocesan organisations
- parish Pastoral Councils
- Catholic school Boards and leaders
- Decision-makers in our Catholic Hospital
- all other organisations and associations in the Diocese of Bunbury
The length of this letter is substantial because its basic question is substantial. It is longer than most Pastoral letters. However, if a Bishop is restricted to short letters, he would not be able to consult the people in his diocese on substantial issues.
The letter is reflective in nature, and so is meant to serve as a stimulus for prayer and reflection for the people and decision-makers in the diocese.
Why is this question important?
The question of where the Spirit is leading us is vital for two reasons.
First, the Holy Spirit gives a diocese all the guidance it needs to fulfil its mission from Christ. This does not mean necessarily that the future immediately becomes fully obvious, or that all questions are answered completely. It does mean, however, that the next step the Spirit is calling the diocese to take will become clear if we truly listen.
Second, the Holy Spirit gives a diocese all the spiritual gifts and resources it needs to fulfil its mission. Again, this does not mean that these gifts are fully mature. Gifts may appear first as potential for the diocese to develop. To recognise and develop these gifts requires listening for the Spirit.
Not to ask the basic question of this letter would mean leaving important diocesan decisions to purely human decision-making. We could be at the mercy of human tendencies to misunderstand, to become confused, to allow strong emotions perhaps to have too much influence over our thinking. We could fall victim to social trends and pressures. Further, we could find ourselves divided by points of view that reflect self-interest, reluctance to change, and unwillingness to let go.
The need to reflect upon more basic questions
To answer the question “Where is the Spirit leading the Bunbury Diocese?”, we need to reflect together – but especially decision-makers at the various levels in the diocese – upon more basic questions. The answers to these questions together, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, will point to the answer to the broader question.
These questions are the focus of the five parts of this Pastoral Letter:
- What is our mission as a Diocese?
- What is the Holy Spirit doing in the Church today?
- Where is the Spirit leading our diocese – Consultation?
- How does a diocese recognise this guidance?
- How do we know that it is the Spirit leading us?
WHAT EXACTLY IS OUR MISSION AS A DIOCESE?
God the Father sent Jesus Christ, the Son, on a mission. This was to preach the message of God’s love for the human race and to bring people back to God. Jesus gave his Church the task of continuing this mission. It is the Holy Spirit who leads and guides the Church as it goes about this task.
For any diocese to discern its mission, it needs to do two things. First, it needs to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit so that is can recognise what God is doing already within the diocese. Second, the diocese needs to consider how to cooperate more fully with the Spirit by playing its particular part in the mission of the whole Church.
The Signs of the Times in our Diocese
The Church goes about its mission of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus by building upon the work that God is doing already in the world of today. Signs of this activity are called ‘The Signs of the Times’1.
Signs of the Times are all around us. These are signs of God’s presence and purpose. Signs of the Times are not social trends, such as growing violence or the current decline in family life.
Many people make the mistake of not looking for signs of God’s presence and purpose, which can be found all around them. This can lead Christians to become discouraged and to think that their mission is too difficult.
Jesus was very critical of those who, instead of seeing signs of God’s presence and purpose in Jesus, demanded that he perform special miracles to show who he is. On one occasion he told them [Matthew 16:3]:
You know how to read the face of the sky
but you cannot read the signs of the times.
The first practical step towards discovering our Christian mission as a diocese is to look for Signs of the Times in our diocese. Like the rest of the Church, we need to draw confidence from these signs. As the early Christians knew [Acts 14:17]
[God does] not leave you without evidence of himself in the good things he does for you.
Signs of God’s presence
God is the source of all love and goodness. Creation is one example of this love and goodness, and so is a sign of God’s presence.
Human beings are signs of God’s presence wherever they express love and goodness. Every loving and good human word, gesture and act is the result of the Spirit’s influence in a person’s heart. Each reminds us that every human person has been created in God’s own image and likeness [Genesis 1:26-27].
In our diocese, there are countless Signs of the Times. We see them in loving families, couples struggling to remain faithful in their marriages, caring parents, and in the idealism of our young people.
We see these signs too in the many people who contribute to the quality of life in their communities. We see them in emergency rescue and life-saving services, and in those who care for the homeless, the elderly, the sick and those in prison. These are a few of many examples.
One of our tasks is to affirm these signs. Another is to build upon these signs, for example, by inviting those who behave in such ways to recognise that their actions are signs of God’s influence in their lives.
Signs of God’s Purpose
God’s purpose is to draw every human being into closer personal relationship with the Creator. Every person ultimately has been created to seek, to know and to love God 2. God’s purpose is achieved fully in all who enter heaven after they die.
Personal oneness with God brings about three effects. The first is growing personal inner harmony and peace within the individual. The second is growing harmony and peace between the individual and others, and the third is growing harmony and peace between the individual and the rest of creation 3.
It is God who created the human heart to yearn for growing inner peace and harmony at these three levels. God did so for one basic purpose. This is that people feel drawn into closer personal relationships with God. In the words of St Augustine 4:
You made us for yourself, O God, and
our hearts are restless until they rest in you.
In our diocese, we see the Spirit’s activity in all who seek a closer personal relationship with God. Many follow different pathways, including through creation and different religions 5.
Jesus came to call people into the most intimate of all personal relationships with God. This is the relationship he, the Son of God, makes possible with God the Father, the relationship of ‘adopted children of God’ [Romans 8:14-16}.
We receive this relationship through Baptism. It grows as a baptised Christian relates with God in the ways Jesus revealed. He gave these ways to his community in this world, the Church 6.
We see the Spirit’s activity also in all who seek harmony and peace within themselves, as well as with others and the rest of creation. We see the Spirit’s action in the hearts of all who yearn for Christian unity. We see the Spirit’s influence in all who strive to promote the good of their communities, and of the wider Australian society, as well as social justice.
In our diocese, we see examples also of what happens when people ignore God’s purpose. When they drift from God, instead of drawing closer to God, often people show signs of inner disharmony and conflict.
Common examples of inner disharmony and conflict can include personal confusion, lack of direction in life, and inner stresses. So might be the various addictions, including over-work, alcohol and drugs.
Social disharmony and conflict can also be signs of people drifting from God. We think of marriages breaking down, family separation and serious family conflicts. Then there are the different forms of violence and abuse, as well as unjust discrimination against minorities and lack of sympathy for the plights of many indigenous Australian and asylum seekers.
Another of our tasks as followers of Christ is to help all whom we know are seeking greater inner harmony and peace within, or with others, to understand that these yearnings were placed in their hearts by God for a purpose – to lead them into relationship with their Creator.
Equally, we need to help all experiencing personal confusion and disharmony within themselves or in their relationships to understand that their basic problem may be that they are drifting from a personal relationship with God.
- What examples of Signs of the Times can we see in
– our community
– those our organisation serves
– our parish
– our church organisation
– our members?
- What Signs of the Times can our parish/organisation nurture?
- Do people in our town community see the link between tensions within and with others as possible symptoms of drifting from God?
THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH AND THE MISSION OF OUR DIOCESE
Before finally leaving his followers, Jesus commanded them to continue his mission. For example, he said [Mark 16:15; Matthew 28: 19-20; John 20:21; Acts 1: 8]:
Go out to the whole world; proclaim the
gospel to all creation.
Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptise them…and teach themto observe all the commands I gave you.
As the Father sent me,
so am I sending you.
You will receive the power of the Holy Spiritwhich will come upon you, and then you
will be my witnesses… to the earth’s
Jesus fulfilled the mission for which he came at the level of individuals by calling people to accept the power of the Kingdom of God into their lives. He fulfilled this mission at the societal level by challenging social structures and trends in his society that prevented it developing as God intended.
Calling all to accept the Kingdom of God as Jesus did
The Kingdom of God is the Gospel term for the power of God that Jesus offers all who are willing to accept it into their lives. The greatest demonstration of this power was his Resurrection from the dead. It is the power of God’s re-creating love.
Christian experience over the past two thousand years has been that this power can change all who accept it, so that they become more loving and good at all levels of their lives. For example, Christians have found this power:
- empowering them to live God’s Commandments
- recreating their ability to love others, especially after experiences of betrayal and abuse
- healing them, most commonly of inner hurts
- raising them above resentments, to forgive
- replacing guilt with inner peace
- empowering them to rise above temptations and sinfulness
- replacing selfishness, resentments and judgementalness with love, forgiveness and compassion
- strengthening couples struggling to keep their marriages and families together
- moving them to work to end injustices and to overcome oppression in its many forms
The greatest of all personal experiences of the power of the Kingdom are the forgiveness of sins and being strengthened spiritually within to resist all temptations to evil 7. These experiences empower us to overcome the obstacles that make it hard to draw closer to God.
The power of the Kingdom of God can heal the sinfulness that is part of the human condition. Sinfulness the ultimate cause of inner conflict, personal failings and weaknesses. To fulfill our mission as a diocese, one task is to make known to others the power of the Kingdom of God, and to invite them to draw upon this power for their lives.
Jesus spelt out the basic requirement for drawing on the power of this Kingdom [Mark 1:15]:
Repent, and believe the gospel.
To ‘repent’ means to turn our hearts to God, to obey the Commandments of Jesus which are the heart of the Ten Commandments,, to seek God’s forgiveness for all our sins and to strive to overcome all future temptations, human failings and weaknesses.
The core of the ‘gospel’ is the new experiences of God that Jesus revealed. All of his other teachings relate in one way or another to how to enter into these experiences. These experiences of God, along with the beliefs needed to experience them, are identified in the Apostle’s Creed, the Seven Sacraments, the Vision and Commandments of Christian morality, and the Lord’s Prayer 8
How to proclaim the Kingdom in Practice
Jesus modelled how to call others to accept the Kingdom of God. He did so by action and word.
Proclaiming the Gospel of Christ through action is called Christian Witness. Christians are called to give this witness in three basic ways 9:
- by being present to others, especially to children and other family members, the sick, those others reject God and all with special needs
- by striving to behave in loving ways to all for God’s sake, including those they dislike or who reject them
- by speaking and behaving in ways that teach by example the Commandments of Jesus and the Ten Commandments.
Jesus proclaimed his Gospel also in words. He discussed, answered questions, taught in formal ways, debated and explained. Christians can proclaim the Gospel through words in countless ways. These include offering a Gospel perspective in:
- conversations with children, with friends and neighbours, and with others we meet in different walks of life
- discussions about contemporary issues at work
- letters to the editor
- political debate and lobbying
- teaching or explaining.
To discover where the Spirit is leading our diocese, we need to be doing all that we can to proclaim the Kingdom of God in the ways Jesus showed us.
As part of our efforts to discover where the Spirit is leading us as a diocese, we need to reflect upon questions related to the Christian mission. For example:
- How can we more effectively explain and invite others in the Bunbury diocese into the experience of the promise of the Kingdom of God, and how it can change people’s lives?
- How can we be more ‘present’ and loving to our young people and to those in need?
- How can we explain the Gospel perspective on current moral issues more effectively?
- How can we help married people to appreciate the Christian promise in an age when so many seem to find married life too challenging?
Decision makers in our diocese need to ask:
- How is our parish ‘present’ in our local community?
- How well informed are our parishioners on the promise of the Kingdom of God?
- Through what ways do members of our parish community proclaim the Gospel?
- What do those who meet the Church in our Catholic organisations, including Catholic schools and our Catholic hospital, learn about the Gospel?
Challenging Society as Jesus did
When God created human nature in the image and likeness of the Creator, God intended that human societies also reflect the Creator. Because every human being has been created in this way, deep within each of us is the potential to reflect God in our daily lives, for example:
- to love in ways that reflect the loving God
- to do good in ways that reflect God’s limitless goodness
- to be merciful in ways that reflect God’s mercy
- to be just in ways that reflect God’s loving justice
- to have concern for those others reject, as God has special concern for the rejected
All that is noble in human behaviour stems from its likeness to God. This potential is the foundation of all that is good and noble in human societies, communities and organisations.
The likeness of a society to God is reflected in many ways. These include:
- care for the young, the sick, the elderly and all in need
- protection of the vulnerable, including unborn human beings
- concern for genuine reconciliation with its indigenous people
- compassion for those who suffer, including exiles, refugees and asylum seekers
- forgiveness of those who repent of wrong-doing
- acceptance of those who are different or strangers
- justice in its economic life.
A society grows in its reflection of God to the extent that individuals within it strive to reflect God. Everyone can do so if they draw upon the power of the Kingdom of God by repenting and believing the ‘good news’, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Human sinfulness weakens our likeness to God
However, human beings frequently fail to reflect God. Instead they reflect selfishness, injustice, greed, biases, weakness in the face of temptations, and other failings that are signs of human sinfulness.
As human sinfulness weakens the ability of its members to reflect God, sinfulness also weakens this potential in society. For example:
- selfishness and self centredness weaken community
- greed tempts people to place material gain and financial profit before service and community responsibility
- avarice weakens honesty in business relationships
- unjust discrimination causes indifference to the sufferings of minorities.
- prejudices lead to sufferings
- failure by society to respect human dignity leads to decline in the attitudes needed for service.
Followers of Christ are troubled by signs of sinfulness in Australian society. For example, there are:
- the legalised killing of unborn children
- the harsh treatment of asylum seekers
- business fraud
- tolerance of the high mortality rate of Aboriginal infants and children
- the preying by older sexual predators upon teenagers too young even to vote
- the growing gap between rich and poor
- the growing acceptance of scientific research being allowed to proceed without adequate ethical debate.
Following the example of Jesus, the mission of our diocese is promote the teachings of Christ in Australian society, particularly in the South Western portion of our country. This includes affirming activities that reflect the noble in human nature, and challenging those which do not.
We are called to work towards these ends always through democratic means. These include sharing the Christian perspective in discussions, debates, letters to the editor, comments on talk-back radio and conversations in the family, at work, and at community, political and all other levels in society. We need to acknowledge and join with other Christians in our efforts, and with all of good will.
We in the Diocese of Bunbury need to identify appropriate ways of fulfilling our Christian mission in our democracy. At times this requires courage, as was the case for the earliest Christians in the face of persecution. As Jesus warned [John 15:20]
A servant is not greater than his master
One obstacle to democratic participation
A major obstacle against promoting the Christian perspective through democratic means is the requirement of political parties at national and state levels, that members of parliament normally vote according to ‘the party line’. At times this prevents members from following their consciences in representing their electorates.
Permission for members of parliament to vote according to their consciences is given only occasionally. Hence, excessive political influence can be exercised by vested interests. Many today would suggest that rural Australia has suffered much in a variety of ways because of the excessive influence of powerful economic and media interests over political decision making.
Electorates whose members otherwise would vote differently from the ‘party line’ are effectively disenfranchised. This fundamentally undemocratic feature of Australian political life means that often there is not an ‘even playing field’ for those trying to promote Christian values through democratic means. As a result, vested interests seeking laws that oppose Christian values can all too easily prevail.
This problem seems to be particularly acute at present. Powerful interests seem determined to attack fundamental Gospel values.
Two examples of Gospel values some reject
One foundational Gospel value that is under attack is the dignity of the human person. Human beings can be aborted to solve the problems of their parents. There seems to be a concerted effort in some quarters to destroy embryos for stem cell and other research, even though there are other sources of human stem cells.
There is no medical need to use embryonic stem cells to develop cures for debilitating diseases and spinal damage. There appears also to be little reflection on the close link between the significant financial gains to be made by researchers and their corporate sponsors, and calls to permit embryo-destroying stem cell research.
The diminishing value of the human person is accompanied also by a decline in the value of service to others. Service organisations report decline in membership, banking and other services are withdrawn in the interests of profits, and employees are sacked after even long periods of loyal service.
Diminishing respect for the human person has led to increasing home invasions, domestic violence and decline in respect for the poor, the elderly and those in need. Attitudes towards indigenous Australians and asylum seekers are incompatible with Christ’s love for them.
A second example of a Gospel value under attack is the scriptural vision of marriage and family. This is being undermined in a variety of ways. Methods range from advocating other ‘life-styles’ to taxation policies.
The family is the most basic cell in a healthy society. Where the family is in trouble, so is society. We see this in troubled young people, relationship difficulties, growing violence, and drugs that are used by so many to anaesthetise troubled hearts and emotional wounds.
Our mission as a Diocese is to do all that we can to promote the Gospel in Australian society. Only as we seek the Spirit’s guidance as we try to do will this become clearer.
To discern where the Spirit is leading us as a diocese, we need to reflect upon questions such as:
- What signs of the noble in human nature do we see in our community?
- What needs challenging from a Gospel perspective because it is contrary to the noble in human nature?
- What are ways our parish community/organisation can do this?
- How can we support our local members of parliament to follow their consciences when what they believe to be best for our communities differs from the ‘party line’?
WHAT IS THE HOLY SPIRIT DOING IN THE CHURCH TODAY?
Many today are troubled by what they see in the changing Church. Over the past half century, there has been a serious decline in religious practice in affluent parts of the world. World-wide, the Church has grown by thirty eight percent over the past twenty years 10. Yet, in Australia and many other countries, younger generations increasingly see the Church as irrelevant.
Though certainly a major crisis, this is not the first time that the Church has gone through such a crisis. Nor is it the greatest crisis in Church history. Certainly, it is unlikely to be the last!
The Divine and the Human in the Church
To understand what is happening in the Church today, we need to recall three basic principles. First, the Church is both divine and human.
It is divine because the Risen Christ, who promised to remain with it until the end of time, is divine [Matthew 28:20]. It is divine also because Christ, the Head of the Church, shares the Holy Spirit with every one of its members. The Spirit comes to dwell within each though Baptism.
The Church is human because Christ, its divine Head, is also human, and because its members are human. Church members bring to the Church all their human sinfulness, their failings and weaknesses. Yet it is for these members that Christ instituted his Church. In his words [Luke 6:31-32]:
It is not the well who need the doctor, but the sick. I have come to call not the upright but sinners to repentance
The second principle for understanding what is happening in the Church today is that God never imposes on human freedom. God graces and works through human beings to the extent that they convert freely to God.
The divine shines through the Church wherever its members ‘repent and believe the gospel’ [Mark 1:15]. Then they are empowered by the Kingdom of God to live as Jesus taught. They experience God in all the ways Jesus revealed. They are moved by the Holy Spirit to promote the Christian mission.
However, since its beginning, there have been times when people have drifted from God. As their relationships with God weakened, the human weaknesses and sinfulness in the Church seemed to prevail over the divine. For example, it was human confusion, weaknesses, and other signs of sinfulness that led to so much corruption and wrong doing in the period now called the Dark Ages that many thought Christ had left the Church and the end of time had come! Another example is the period of corruption and abuses that sparked the Protestant Reformation.
The Divine Reasserts Over The Human
The third principle for understanding what the Spirit is doing in the Church today is that the divine always reasserts itself over human weaknesses in the Church. This happens as a core of members strengthen in faith.
History shows that the faith of Church members is tested when human weaknesses seem to be dominating the Church. Many give into social trends and pressures that conflict with the Gospel. For others, the trial may be the decline in religious practice itself. Others again may begin to imagine that the Church is dying.
History shows too that the human in the Church, including Popes, Bishops, priests and religious, can become so confused that the Gospel is not proclaimed adequately. This weakens the faith of many others to such an extent that they cannot resist the faith challenges that come from within the societies in which they live.
Yet while this is happening, others, often a core minority, keep responding to the Holy Spirit despite their trials of faith. As it is tested, their faith strengthens and deepens. Despite as their faith strengthens, so does their responsiveness to the Spirit. It is through them that the divine in the Church gradually shines again.
The periods in Church history that followed the Dark Ages and the Reformation are good examples. These were periods in which great saints emerged within the Church. Saints Francis of Assisi, Dominic, Clare of Assissi and Thomas More are a few of the better known examples.
The Divine Reasserting Itself in the Church Today
Today, we see the divine in the Church reasserting itself once more over human weaknesses and sinfulness. To recognise this, we need first to recall common reasons why so many in the Church may have drifted from the Gospel of Christ. Then we need to study signs of the renewing action of God.
Church Members Drifting From God
The world today poses many challenges to Christian faith. One is affluence and the pace of life that affluence brings.
Jesus warned that Christian faith would be ‘choked by the worries and the riches and the pleasures of life’ [Luke 8:14]. He warned also that it is impossible to ‘be the slave both of God and of money’ [Luke 16:13]. This means that if religious practice was growing in today’s materialistic and secular Australia, Jesus would have been mistake in saying these things.
Two further examples of challenges to faith today are science and technology. These increase human control over nature and life. However, they tempt many to imagine that they can lead lives independently of God. It is impossible for anyone succumbing to this temptation to enter into the relationship with God that Jesus makes possible.
These are three of many social challenges today against Christian faith. To give into them is to fail to respond to the Holy Spirit. This is why many today are drifting from God, giving up religious practice and may even no longer consider the Gospel of Christ relevant.
The faith of others is tested by this. Parents, grand-parents, young people and even priests and religious can become discouraged, some even wondering whether the Church is in fact dying. Some too seem to have a sense of panic and despair.
Yet there is a growing core whose faith is strengthening. There are new converts to our faith, the many laity who feel called to serve in the Church’s works, new movements that reflect the Spirit of the Second Vatican Council and many other examples.
Signs Of Renewal in the Church of Today
The Holy Spirit’s response to the Reformation was to inspire the Pope of the time to call the Council of Trent. This Council resulted in the deep renewal of the Church, and the ridding of the abuses and excesses that were in conflict with the Gospel.
As with other eras in the Church’s history, a Council has been central in the renewal of the Church by the Holy Spirit today. On 25th January 1959, the elderly Pope John XXIII –allegedly elected as a care-taker Pope – announced that he was calling the Second Vatican Council. He later declared that this initiative was the result of the movement within him of the Holy Spirit.
Pope John had seen that the Church was no longer proclaiming the Gospel effectively in an increasingly scientific and technological world. He saw this as a root cause for the growing decline in religious practice.
The Council Bishops too concluded that, to address the accelerating decline in religious practice, the ways the Church was proclaiming the Gospel needed renewal 11. In their view, the need was 12:
to seek out more efficient ways of presenting (Gospel truths)
to people today – provided the meaning and understanding
of (these truths) is safeguarded: for the deposit of faith is one
thing, the manner of expressing it is quite another.
The Council called for many changes. One memorable example was restoring the language of the people to the Mass and the sacraments. The Lord, after all, had instituted the Mass in the language of the Apostles. The Council recognised that the divine in the liturgy had been obscured for anyone unable to understand Latin.
It is not possible to deal here with the many changes called for by the Second Vatican Council. Some, however, need to be recalled by a diocese seeking to follow the Spirit’s direction. These are:
- the Council’s call for personal conversion
- New Evangelisation
- renewal of the Church as community
- renewal of the parish as a faith community
- the renewal for the vocation of the laity
- working towards greater Christian unity
The Council call for personal conversion
Personal conversion is fundamental for Christian faith. It is fundamental also to cooperating with the Spirit as the Spirit reasserts the divine in the Church.
Prior to the Council, Christian faith was thought of in terms of ‘full submission of a person’s intellect and will to God who reveals’ 13. This led to the neglect of some of the essential requirements for proclaiming the Gospel that Jesus had given to his Church. It led also to undue emphasis being given to the intellectual element of the Christian Gospel, to the neglect of other important elements.
The Council Bishops realised that this thinking needed to be broadened. As a result, they renewed Catholic teaching on the meaning of faith to include commitment of the ‘entire self’ to God, and the need for heart–felt response to the Holy Spirit 14 Christian conversion requires complete personal response to God.
To fulfil its mission, therefore, our diocese must focus upon the need for full personal conversion to Jesus Christ and his Gospel. We need to develop strategies to call others to this personal conversion, as well as to keep striving daily to deepen this conversion in ourselves.
The Council’s call for complete personal conversion is easy to understand as a concept. However, what it involves in practice has not been as clear. Since the Council, therefore, the Church across the world has been seeking a renewed understanding of what personal conversion means.
Also, in those places where religious practice has declined, the Church has sought to understand the reasons why this is, and how it should respond.
The response where many have given up religious practice or who have lost interest, drifted from or even rejected Christian faith, is referred to now as New Evangelisation. To discover where the Spirit is leading us as a diocese, we need to study how to implement New Evangelisation. This will be the subject of a later Pastoral Letter.
The starting point for any New Evangelisation activity again must be personal conversion at every level of the diocese – Bishop, priests, deacons, religious and laity. Responding to where the Holy Spirit is leading us is an essential element in this conversion. Hence, the need for this Pastoral Letter as a first step.
Renewal of the Church as a community
The Second Vatican Council realised that, for the Church to fulfil its mission in the world, it needed renewal as a community. It had developed in ways that weakened the community intent of Jesus.
What is unique to the Church community is that, in Christ, each member is ‘filled’ with the Holy Spirit through Baptism and Confirmation. As a result, they have a communion relationship with God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The Council recognised that, within the overall community of the Church, there are many communities. Each is Catholic to the extent that its members share the beliefs and practices that make it possible for them to experience God in the ways Jesus revealed.
Key communities are the parish, the family and the Catholic school 15. The family is ‘the domestic church’, the first Church experience every child needs.
Renewal of the parish as a faith community
Many of us will remember the preconciliar focus on parish as a place where people attended Sunday Mass. The renewal of the Second Vatican Council has led to the parish being understood as a faith community with sufficient members of mature faith to proclaim the Gospel in all the ways given the Church by Jesus 16.
This understanding restores the responsibility for proclaiming the Gospel to the entire parish community, not to the priest alone. The implications of this parish renewal for our diocese are best discussed in the context of New Evangelisation.
Renewal of The Vocation of the Laity
The Spirit led the Council to recognise that, to fulfil its mission, the Church needed to restore the vocation of the laity. This had declined over the centuries from what Jesus originally intended. The Church’s mission in the world would be unachievable unless laity responded to their distinctive vocation, and the Church functioned fully as Jesus intended.
Working towards greater Christian Unity
One of the greatest tragedies of the Christian religion is the division that exists between Christian Churches. This is the opposite of the Last Supper prayer of Christ [John 17:21].
May they be one
The painful history of Church divisions is a sign of human sinfulness among Christ’s followers. The call of the Second Vatican Council for Catholics to work towards greater Church unity is another sign of the Spirit renewing the Church. There is a longer way to go on the journey towards reunification between some Churches than others. From a Catholic perspective, the basic problem is that other Churches do not accept all the experiences of God that we believe Jesus left us, or all the beliefs needed to enter into these experiences [see (18) above.
We come to know another human being better if we take all possible opportunities to experience them personally. And we come to know God as revealed by Jesus more fully by opening ourselves to all the experiences of God that Jesus left us.
The secret to Church unity is for every Christian to open themselves as fully as they can to the experiences of God in which their Church believes. Then, as each relates with God, God will draw them closer to each other.
We need to join Christ daily in his Last Supper prayer, ‘May they all be one’. We need to deepen our conversion so that our hearts open increasingly to all the experiences of God that Jesus has given us – and let God draw us closer to others who are also Christian.
The renewal of our Diocese
Pope John Paul II has emphasised many times that the Council, which he refers to as ‘a treasure’ of the Church , is the work of the Holy Spirit 17. It is inevitable that the changes initiated by the Council will prevail eventually, for the divine will always conquer human weaknesses.
Change is not always easy. In the Church it is only the non-essentials that the Spirit calls us to let go.
Pope John Paul has called on each diocese in the Church ‘to examine itself in the reception given to the Council’. We need to heed this call in the Bunbury Diocese if we are going to discern where the Spirit is leading us.
To discuss where the Spirit is leading our diocese, we need to ask questions such as:
- How is our parish/organisation promoting the personal conversion needed to cooperate with the divine renewal in the Diocese of Bunbury?
- Through what ways is our parish/organisation seeking to cooperate with the Spirit in the renewal of our diocese?
- How effectively is our parish growing as a faith community?
- Through what ways is our parish proclaiming the Gospel to young people and others, apart from Sunday Mass?
- How effectively do our parish/organisation’s liturgies nurture personal conversion?
WHERE IS THE SPIRIT LEADING OUR DIOCESE? – CONSULTATION
The Spirit is leading our Diocese by working in all who are praying, worshipping and living as Jesus taught. We have received the fullness of the Spirit, like the Apostles at Pentecost, through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.
Consultation in a Diocese
Every member of a diocese has gifts of the Spirit needed to contribute in some way to discovering where the Spirit is leading us. The Spirit stirs different thoughts in different people. All are needed.
A diocese discovers where the Spirit is leading it as its members pray and reflect together on the questions and issues the diocese faces. The process for doing this is called ‘consultation’.
Through consultation, then, the Bishop gathers the ideas and insights the Spirit stirs in the people, Deacons and Priests of the Diocese. This is different from the ‘normal’ meaning of consultation.
Consultation in the Church is not concerned about democracy, or numbers who hold a particular point of view, but discerning the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Hence, consultation in the Church respects the particular gifts the Spirit has given those in different roles in the Church.
Consultation for discovering the Spirit’s guidance is more concerned with listening than arguing. It recognises that no individual or group in the Church has alone all the necessary gifts.
Without consultation, the guidance and gifts the Spirit gives a diocese for its mission cannot be fully recognised. Bishops and Priests need the ‘data’ the Spirit gives the diocese through the people, and vice versa.
To understand how consultation in the Church works, we need first to recall:
- how the Spirit communicates to individual Church members.
- the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Experiences of the Spirit in ordinary daily life
Normally, the Spirit works in responsive believers in quiet ways. The experiences of Christians over the centuries teach that the Spirit communicates with us ‘intimately and personally’ 18.
We experience the Spirit as ‘inner movements’ 19. As the Lord promised [John 14: 17]:
.. you know him
because he is with you, he is in you.
The Spirit normally is experienced as guiding and strengthening. Ten examples are offered.
If I am married, the Spirit is seeking to guide my spouse and me in living the daily joys, sorrows, questions, difficulties, stresses, hurts and other realities of Christian marriage. The Spirit is seeking to strengthen us from within in times of disappointment, disillusionment, unfaithfulness to ideals and temptation.
The Spirit will always offer the divine guidance and strengthening for the challenges needed in raising and sharing Christian faith with children and for playing my proper role in their adult lives. If I need to care for my grandchildren, the same promise of the Spirit will remain true.
These experiences will be ours to the extent that we pray, worship and live as Jesus taught. They are the experiences of responsive believers.
If I am a responsive teenager, I will have experiences of the Spirit guiding me in questions such as “Who am I?” “What should I do with my life?” “What is the secret to healthy relationships?” “Why am I not the person I would like to be?”
The Spirit seeks to strengthen me when peers pressure me to take drugs or to disobey God’s laws in other ways. The Spirit seeks to strengthen me too when I am afraid or tempted to do wrong.
Retirees or the ill
If I am responsive retiree or someone suffering illness, I will experience the Spirit guiding me in questions such as “What is the purpose of my life now?” “How can I help my grand children return to the practice of their faith?” “What happens after death?” “How should I spend my remaining years?”
The Spirit will console me too when I suffer, and strengthen me in times of loneliness, isolation, illness or disillusionment or depression.
If I am a responsive parent, I will have experiences of the Spirit guiding me in all aspects of my vocation in the upbringing of my children. This includes conflicts with teenagers and deciding whether I should go along with what other parents permit. The Spirit will strengthen me when I need to take a stand, even if I am afraid my child might leave home.
A religious Priest, Brother or Sister
If I am a Religious, I will experience the Spirit guiding me in my understanding of the vows of obedience, poverty and chastity. The Spirit will strengthen me too in the living of these vows. Moreover, through the special spiritual gifts or charisms of my congregation, the Spirit will guide and strengthen me in the fulfilment of the purpose for which the congregation to which I belong we founded.
Those suffering adversity and disappointment
The Spirit seeks to help in a special way those who suffer reverses. When Jesus proclaimed himself ‘anointed (or filled) with the Spirit’, he recalled his mission as spelt out by the prophet Isaiah [Isaiah 61:1; cf Luke 4: 18-19]:
“He has sent me … to soothe the broken hearted.”
Adversities may include unfulfilled marriage hopes, loss of employment, broken relationships, the death of a loved one, a recurring serious illness, mistakes – even crimes – of the past, and family estrangement. In every experience of evil, the Spirit seeks to turn all to good.
The Spirit guides the responsive (and, where necessary, the repenting) Christian towards a renewed life and hope. The Christian will receive new insights and understanding. The Spirit will give the inner strength needed also to rise above disappointment, disillusionment, guilt and any other obstacle towards a renewed life.
Other ways of life offer other examples. Provided we are responsive, we will have experiences of the Spirit giving inner healing where there are hurts, hope where there are regrets, and peace where there is conflict, and even guilt.
In the life of each of us, the Spirit offers insights, guidance and paths through problems. Living as a Christian is far from easy in today’s society. Yet, as we strive to do so, the Spirit helps us to recall and to understand, and strengthens us as we seek to apply the words of Christ to our lives today.
Experiences the Spirit offers those involved in Church activities
The Spirit offers special guidance and strengthening to those involved in the various Church activities. This happens as they reflect and pray about the questions and the challenges that arise through their service.
A Catechist or Religious Education Teacher
If I am a parish catechist, or a Religious Education teacher in a Catholic school, the Spirit offers special insights into the meaning and possible ways of teaching the message of Christ. The Spirit will strengthen me within as I face the challenges, questions and even the lack of student cooperation that is often associated with teaching religion today.
A health worker in a Catholic hospital
If I am a health worker, the Spirit seeks to help me see in those I care for the Christ who said [Matthew 25: 40]:
Whatever you do for the least of these brothers of mine,
you do to me.
As well as learning to see Christ in them, the Spirit guides health workers to respond to the sick in Christ-like ways. In a rationalist marketing age, those they care for will not feel they are seen as ‘clients’, but as loved and cared for the same way as were those healed by Jesus.
The Spirit seeks to guide health workers too in questions such as ‘Why illness and death?’ and ‘What is the meaning of suffering?’ The Spirit seeks to strengthen them in all the frustrations, stresses, hurts and disappointments that health care can involve.
Serving parish needs
If I care for the church buildings, belong to the Parish Pastoral Council, serve as an acolyte, or take care of liturgical preparations, if I help administer parish or diocesan Church finances, or help in numerous other ways, the Spirit seeks to guide me in all the questions that arise through my service.
There may be questions of faith, questions of pastoral practice or many other possibilities. Similarly, the Spirit seeks to strengthen me to rise above whatever challenges or problems my service brings.
Whether what the Spirit seeks in fact in my experience will depend upon the extent to which I pray worship and live as Jesus taught.
The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit
To discover how we are meant to fulfil the Christian mission in the South-Western portion of Australia, we need to see the people, the communities, the questions and the challenges from a Gospel perspective. To make this possible, the Spirit gives us seven special gifts.
The Spirit of Wisdom
God alone is all-wise. This Spirit promises responsive believers the growing ability to see everything as God sees, as could Jesus.
Jesus demonstrated this Spirit when he saw the prophesy of Isaiah that the promised Messiah would bring good news to the poor, was being fulfilled in himself [Luke 5:16-22]. He demonstrated it also when he saw the repentance in the woman everyone else rejected as a sinner [Luke 7:36-50]. Finally, he demonstrated the Spirit of Wisdom when he saw the heart-felt love of God in the widow who gave her two small coins to the Temple collection [Luke 21:1-4].
The Spirit of Wisdom empowers the responsive believe to see, for example, the Signs of the Times. They see God’s influence where good comes out of evil or evil being replaced by good. They see examples of the love and goodness of God in others and themselves.
The Spirit of Wisdom overcomes tendencies to see only the dark side of life. Those who respond to this gift leave behind negative self images and inclinations to see only the negative in life situations. Blindness to the goodness in others is replaced by insights, and they realise that no situation in this world is irredeemable.
The Spirit of Wisdom empowers responsive diocesan, parish, Catholic school, Catholic hospital and other decision-makers so see the challenges, problems, issues and questions they face as God sees them.
The Spirit of Understanding
This Spirit promises responsive believers the growing ability to understand, as Jesus did, the meaning of God’s actions.
Jesus demonstrated this Spirit when telling his Apostles about his coming sufferings, death and resurrection, and the meaning of these events [eg Mark 8:31-33; 9:30-32]. He demonstrated this gift also when he explained the meaning of his sufferings and death to the disciples on the road to Emmaus [Luke 24:13-35]
Responsive believers experience the Spirit of Understanding as they see, for example, what God creating human beings in God’s own image and likeness can mean for human behaviour. They experience this Spirit when they recognise that God is loving and supporting them through others [see (21) and (22) above].
The Spirit of Understanding empowers responsive decision-makers at all levels of a diocese to discover the meaning of God’s actions today, particularly in areas of their responsibility. They can discover the meaning of people’s experiences by reflecting upon these experiences within the framework of Signs of the Times, the Church’s mission and the renewal of the divine in the Church. The Spirit of Understanding brings a faith dimension to every decision under consideration.
The Spirit of Right Judgement
This gift of the Spirit empowers responsive believers to judge the true value of everything, as could Jesus.
Jesus showed the Spirit of Right Judgement in his parables warning against false values. The parable of the man foolishly hoarding possessions is one example [Luke 12:13-21]. Others include his parable about the need to be prepared always for death, especially by developing God-given talents and by caring for those in need [Matthew 25:1-13, 14-30 and 31-46].
Responsive believers find the Spirit of Right Judgement helping them to base major decisions upon values that really matter. This gift is particularly important when making judgement about life priorities, future careers, whether one should marry or become a priest or religious, or the best interests of children.
Without this gift, people are more inclined to be confused about who they are and life values. They are more vulnerable to social, peer and media pressures and trends.
The Spirit of Right Judgement empowers decision-makers in the diocese to base their discussions and decisions upon true values, particularly the values of the Gospel. It helps them too to recognise when they are being influenced by values that are in conflict with the Gospel. These values can blind people to where the Spirit is leading.
The Spirit of Courage
This gift of the Spirit empowers a responsive believer increasingly to do as God wants when this is not easy, as did Jesus. It promises an inner strength that overcomes fear.
Jesus demonstrated this Spirit on many occasions. They include when he continued to proclaim the Gospel, even though people were rejecting him, complaining and walking away; his agony in the Garden the night before he died; and his forgiveness of the thief despite his own agonies while dying on the cross [John 6:51-66; Luke 22:39-44; 23:39-43].
Responsive believers find the Spirit of Courage empowering them gradually to overcome difficulties and temptations against living as Jesus taught. They are empowered also to resist social and peer pressures to do wrong, and even to die for their faith.
Though this gift, their faith in God can continue to grow despite illness, sufferings and adversity. Without the Spirit of Courage, it is harder to resist and overcome pressures to do wrong. Believers are more likely to surrender to temptations than overcome them.
The Spirit of Courage empowers decision-makers at all level to make decisions that are difficult. Individuals are empowered to express their views when this is not easy, perhaps because they go against the trend.
The Spirit of Knowledge
The Spirit of Knowledge leads responsive believers to know God better, and to gain new insights into God.
Being the Son of God, Jesus was one with his Father and the Holy Spirit. This Spirit empowers believers to know God better by studying the scriptures and by reflecting on their own experiences of God.
As the written Word of God, the scriptures reveal much about God. And our personal experiences seen through the Signs of the Times, also invite us to draw closer to God. As people come to know God better, they learn how to relate better with God.
The Spirit of Knowledge empowers responsive decision-makers in the diocese to know and recognise the inner movements of the Holy Spirit better. Gradually it becomes easier for them to distinguish the Spirit’s influence from the other inner influences that affect every human being.
The Spirit of Reverence
This gift brings responsive believers to a growing awareness of God’s closeness and love. Jesus demonstrated this gift on many occasions. They include when he praised his Father because people understood his teachings, turned to his Father before raising Lazauis from the dead and prayed for the forgiveness of those who crucified him [Luke 10:21-22; John 11:1-44; Luke 23:33-34].
Responsive believers grow increasingly aware that God is close to them and loves them. They realise that they can never be alone, even if everyone else disowns them.
The Spirit of Reverence empowers responsive decision-makers to grow in their awareness that God is present with them, and loves each of them personally. Even when problems seem overwhelming and solutions seem hard to see, those who respond to the Holy Spirit never feel God is distant or disinterested. They are consoled and encouraged by the God of love who never leaves them.
The Spirit of Wonder and Awe
This Spirit increasingly moves responsive believers to love God as fully as they can in return for all God’s gifts to them. If follows the Spirit of Reverence and all the other gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus demonstrated this Spirit when he stated his determination to live his entire life as God the Father wanted [John 5:30, 4:34, 6:38]. He demonstrated this Spirit also when he made certain he had done everything his Father wanted before dying [John 19:28-30]
Responsive believers find this Spirit deepening their awareness of God’s personal love for them, and moving them to love God in return. Like Jesus, they want to give their lives to God by keeping God’s Commandments and by trying always to follow their vocations or life – callings from God.
Without this Spirit, people would live God’s laws only out of fear. They would rationalise what they did not like about Christ’s teachings.
The Spirit of Wonder and Awe in God’s presence moves decision-makers at all levels in a diocese to be motivated increasingly by a personal love for God. This keeps them going even when others seem not to appreciate their efforts. If moves them too to recognise the good things God is doing in their area of concern.
The Spirit has given our diocese other gifts.
The vision of the Spirit guiding and strengthening responsive believers and decision-makers through the Gifts of the Holy Spirit is an inspiring one. Yet while true, we would be deluding ourselves if we failed to recognise that the effects of human sinfulness and weaknesses also affect our decision-making.
These effects include confused ideas, biases and negative attitudes. They include bad habits, undisciplined emotions and attractions that weaken us in the face of temptations. They weaken human beings and groups in the face of social pressures and trends, and media and social attitudes.
Jesus, who wishes for us all the blessings of the Holy Spirit, foresaw this. He structured his Church so that he, as its Head, could himself continue to help personally his followers to overcome these kinds of weaknesses. He does this through the Bishop, Priests and Deacons of the diocese. These play essential roles in diocesan consultation.
How does Christ support his followers personally?
The Gospels offer many examples of Jesus personally helping his disciples to live his message. Examples include him:
- calling them aside to rest, on their return from spreading his teachings [Mark 6: 7-13, 30-32]
- revealing who he really is in the Transfiguration, to encourage them in their fears about following him [Mark 8: 34 – 9:8] teaching them patiently after misunderstandings [eg Mark 10: 32-40; John 14:8-21].
- correcting them when they confused his teachings with the prevailing ideas of society at the time [Mark 10:35-40].
To continue supporting his followers after his Ascension, Jesus called Twelve from among. He gave the Twelve special spiritual gifts in addition to those other followers would receive through Baptism and Confirmation. Through the Twelve, Jesus himself would serve personally his faithful followers.
Jesus named the Twelve ‘Apostles’, and appointed Peter their head [Luke 6:13 and Matthew 16: 18-19]. Together, they understood that they were to hand on to others the special spiritual gifts that Jesus had given to them.
The gifts given to Bishops, Priests and Deacons
Today, those who have inherited the special spiritual gifts of the Apostles are called Bishops. Like the Apostles, with Peter as their head, Bishops form a College with the Pope, the successor of Saint Peter, as their head.
This College is called the ‘Magisterium’ of the Church. Its members succeed the Apostles as the authoritative teachers in the Church in Christ’s name.
Since earliest times, Bishops, for the sake of the mission of the Church, have shared some of the spiritual gifts they inherited from the Apostles with others. Priests receive sufficient of these spiritual gifts to serve the Church as co-workers with their Bishop.
The Bishop, as a member of the Church’s Magisterium, shares in the teaching authority and gifts the Pope and Bishops have inherited from the Apostles. Priests share the gifts needed to teach the Gospel in union with the Bishop.
Deacons receive the spiritual gifts they need to assist the Bishop and Priests of a diocese in many ways, including by teaching and preaching the Gospel, and by assisting with liturgical celebrations and by service in charity.
Christ’s plan within the Diocese of Bunbury is to support personally all the members of his Church through its Bishop, Priests and Deacons. They have special responsibilities in consultation in the diocese.
Basic Consultation structures
In its renewal, the Church has recognised specific bodies to help discern where the Spirit is leading a diocese. Three are diocesan bodies and two are parish bodies.
The diocesan bodies are:
- the Council of Priests
- the Diocesan Pastoral Council
- the Diocesan Finance Council.
The diocesan bodies are appointed by the Bishop. Each helps the Bishop to discover the Spirit’s guidance in its own way. Each needs to respect the need of the Bishop to consult at times the other bodies before making decisions.
The parish bodies are:
- the Parish Pastoral Council
- the Parish Finance Committee.
The Diocesan Pastoral Council
The purpose of the Diocesan Pastoral Council is to advise the Bishop on the pastoral works, questions and issues in the diocese as a whole
The Council of Priests
The role of the Council of Priests is to advise the Bishop in the governance of the diocese. Its focus is the pastoral welfare of the people of the diocese.
Diocesan Finance Council
The purpose of the Diocesan Financial Council is to advise and assist the Bishop on all aspects of the material resources of the diocese. The Bishop is required to consult the Finance Council on some matters by Church law.
The Parish Pastoral Council
The purpose of the Parish Pastoral Council is to assist the Parish Priest in discovering the Spirit’s guidance on pastoral matters of the parish.
The Parish Finance Committee
The purpose of the Parish Finance Committee is to assist the parish priest with his financial administrative responsibilities under Church and diocesan law. The stewardship of the material goods of the Church ultimately is the responsibility of the Bishop. The Parish Finance Committee needs to assist the Parish Priest in fulfilling his responsibilities to the Bishop of the Diocese in this area.
HOW WE KNOW THAT IT IS THE SPIRIT LEADING US?
When Christians pray, worship and live as Jesus taught, the Holy Spirit influences the development of their personalities. Gradually they change to become more like Christ. Increasingly, they see, hear and respond as Jesus would in their life situations.
The ways the Spirit changes responsive believers are called the ‘Fruits of the Holy Spirit’. St Paul identifies them as [Galatians 5:22-23]
Love, joy, peace
Patience, kindness, goodness
Trustfulness, gentleness and self-control
As noted already, decision-makers who live as Jesus calls find the Spirit affecting their personalities. As each individual member of a decision-making body changes, so does the group.
However, the Fruits also give us principles for recognising whether it is the Holy Spirit or human weaknesses that are influencing the discussions and debates of a consultation body in the diocese.
Jesus demonstrated that the love the Spirit makes possible can be heroic in its concern for the good of others. His love for the human race moved him to give his life for the redemption of all. In his words [ John 15:13]
No one can have greater love
than to lay down his life for his friends
This is the kind of love that sustains relationship commitments and endures relationship trials. It is the opposite to rivalries, disrespect and efforts to dominate.
Decision-makers know that they are under influences other than the Holy Spirit where, for example:
- views reflect selfishness and self interest
- respect for individual members of a consultation body is undermined by power-groups
- decisions are made before the views of all are considered
- members of decision-making bodies are determined to get their own way, and so do not listen genuinely to others
- members of consultative bodies are treated, or allow themselves to be treated, as rubber stamps
The Spirit’s Fruit of Love deepens a sense of service in consultation structures. It moves people to work together, and never to discriminate, manipulate or use others.
Jesus demonstrated the joy the Spirit gives because he could always see the action of God and recognise the Signs of the Times. In the words of Luke’s Gospel [Luke 10:21]:
Filled with joy by the Holy Spirit, (Jesus) said, ‘I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to little children.
This means that a decision-makers are not following the Spirit’s influence where there is:
- low morale
- the sense that all is lost
- undue anxiety caused by adversity
- little effort to try and understand issues in the light of the Signs of the Times, the mission of the Church or what the Spirit is doing in the Church
- the inclination to ‘give up’.
This Fruit of the Spirit is experienced as inner harmony and well-being. Ideals and emotions harmonise, and emotions do not take control. This is the peace promised by Jesus in the Gospel of John [John 14:27]:
Peace I bequeath to you,
my own peace I give you,
a peace which the world cannot give,
this is my gift for you.
Consultation groups are not following the Spirit’s influence when emotions are running high. Indeed, strong emotions should always be suspect where the Spirit’s influence is being sought.
The Spirit’s influence will always bring harmony between people. Indeed, this harmony is so essential for cooperating with the Spirit, and disharmony is so destructive, that St Paul urges [Ephesians 4:3]:
Take every care to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together.
Anger and tensions within ourselves or within groups are the opposite to the peace the Spirit brings. The Spirit’s influence is also ignored where efforts are made to dominate or to manipulate discussions.
Patience is the ability to endure like Christ. Jesus showed this patience often, including with his followers when they seemed not to understand his teachings [eg Mark 8:16-18].
A diocesan and parish consultative body is not following the Spirit’s lead where:
- members are unwilling to tolerate the views of others
- there is discouragement at the magnitude of a task, or because progress seems slow
- irritation at others personality quirks and failings.
Patience is needed sometimes to wait until the Spirit’s guidance or gifts become clear. If can mean postponing a recommendation until the last moment when it is needed.
Patience resists temptations to rush decisions, or to silence differing points of view. Impatience can tempt people to make premature decisions. It gives rise to the temptation to short-circuit consultation and to leave out some who have the right to a say, either because they are affected by the decision, or because of their experience or expertise.
Jesus demonstrated the spiritual Fruit of Kindness every time he was moved by people’s difficulties. We think of the cripple by the pool, the widow mourning her only Son’s death, and the woman condemned by others [John 5:1-9; Luke 7:13-17 and 36-50]
The Spirit’s influence in Church decision-making is seen where members of consultative bodies never lose sight of the pastoral dimension in their discussions. Every Catholic decision-making body needs to work constantly to ensure that the pastoral remains foremost in its members minds.
The mission of the Church is to people loved by Christ. Every decision must relate to the advancement of this mission.
Church decision-making bodies are not under the Spirit’s influence when members speak a treat each other harshly, or if they reflect harsh attitudes towards others, especially those in need.
Jesus always reflected goodness in his words and actions. This led the rich young man to call him ‘Good master’ [Mark 10:17].
To discover where the Spirit is leading, those involved in consultation within the Church need to be striving to live each day as Jesus taught. They need to be people who pray and keep the Commandments. Sin damages our ability to recognise the Spirit’s influence within.
All involved in Church decision-making need to examine their consciences when there is serious disagreement to see whether their views and the ways they are being expressed are consistent with the ways of Christ.
There should never be any hint of wrong doing or injustice in Church decision-making or practices. Nor should there be any hint of unethical practices, tolerance for violations of God’s Commandments or gossip.
The Holy Spirit gradually develops responsive believers so that they can be trusted to fulfil responsibilities and promises. Jesus demonstrated the Spirit of Trustfulness when he remained true to his mission, despite temptations by the Devil, opposition by Jewish leaders and the unfaithfulness of Peter [Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 11:27, 12:12, 18; Luke 22:61].
Church consultation bodies reflect trustfulness when members fulfil their responsibilities to prepare for and to enter into discussions and debates. They do so also when members play their parts in the implementation of decisions. Members will be faithful also to official Church teachings in their discussions.
There will be no power-plays, nor efforts by minorities to impose their views on the majority. Every member will be able to trust that others will listen respectfully to their point of view.
Jesus demonstrated the Gentleness the Spirit develops in responsive believers on many occasions, varying from his treatment of children to his care for the woman others wanted to store to death [Mark 10:13-16; John 8:10-4].
The influence of the Spirit in consultation bodies will be reflected too in the sensitivity of members in discussions related to those in need, including the sick, the poor, the elderly, single parents, and those others reject. Members will be sensitive also to each other.
This Fruit of the Spirit brings the ability to direct thoughts, feelings and emotions so that they never lead to wrong-doing. Jesus demonstrated Self-control, for example, when he tried to save Judas from the sin of betraying him, and when he continued to explain himself to Philip at the Last Supper [Luke 22:21-23 and 48; John 19:9].
The Spirit is not influencing a consultative body if members allow emotions to lead them to speak to, or treat others, in ways that are not Christ-like. The same is true if members allow pride, jealousy, resentments or anti authority attitudes to colour the opinions and ideas they express. There is no room for jealousies and rudeness where there is the Spirit’s Fruit of Self-control.
Our diocese will grow stronger as we cooperate fully with the Holy Spirit. This requires that we follow the Spirit’s lead.
Let all decision-makers at all levels of our diocese ponder together the questions dealt with in this Pastoral Letter. I will be grateful if every decision-making body in the diocese allocated up to half and hour per meeting over a series of meetings to discuss in turn each of the questions raised.
I ask all Catholic to pray fervently that where the Spirit is leading us in the future becomes clearer. May our diocese flourish!
God bless you all
Most Reverend Gerard Holohan
BISHOP OF BUNBURY
1 General Directory for Catechesis (GDC) 32
2 Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 1
3 CCC 374-379, 400, 1469
4 Confessions of St. Augustine [1,1,1]
5 CCC 843
6 CCC 775-776
7 GDC 101
8 GDC 122
9 Second Vatican Council Decree on the Churches Missionary Activity 11-12
10 Vatican Statistical Year Book (2001)
11 Second Vatican Council Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (GS) 7
12 GS 62; cf GDC 135
13 cf Second Vatican Council Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (DV) 5
14 DV 5
15 Second Vatican Council Decree on the Lay Apostolate
16 GDC 258 (c)
17 Pope John Paul II: Novo Millenio Ievnte 57
18 CCC 683
19 CCC 687