Wednesday, 25 June 2008

"Will you be my witnesses"

Thanks to an alert reader, I've learnt that the Australian Bishops put out a pastoral letter last weekend. It doesn't seem to be on the Bishop Conference website, or many diocesan ones for that matter, nor has it featured in Cath News. And I didn't get given a copy!

This is a really important pastoral letter for Australia.

I can't remember hearing of a bishops' conference in recent times standing up and say we should all be out converting people.

What is really amazing about this document is that although all the publicity has been about lapsed Catholics, the letter makes it clear that the real aim goes a lot further. It identifies two target groups - non-Christians, and non-Catholics (including the lapsed).

The bishops should be commended for this initiaitve, and they deserve our wholehearted support.

There are a few odd bits in it, but it is an important starting point:

"World Youth Day provides a powerful theme, You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses (Acts 1: 8). Through the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to witness to Jesus Christ, which means we ought be inviting as many as possible to share in the forgiveness and salvation Jesus has won for all of us. In their emphasis on the new evangelisation, recent Popes have stressed this same message. [So the Pope's visit should be a spur for evangelisation. Good start]

While many in the world have never heard of Jesus, in our own society many
have heard of him, but not responded
.[So. Non-Christians are the first target group. Actually I think many in Australia have heard of him in such a vague, woolly and misleading way that I suspect 'invincible ignorance' is a real issue.] Others in our society have begun to believe, but their faith in the Lord Jesus has waned, especially in terms of their relationship with the Church, the Body of Christ. [This is nicely worded - it kind of implies that the main target group are the 86% of those who claim to be catholics on the census form, but don't actually attend Church or believe what Catholics are required to believe. But it clearly also encompasses other Christians not in 'full' communion with the Church.]

The reasons for this are many and varied. [Let me suggest a few - the wreckovation that destroyed the liturgy and practice. Child abuse. A failed education system. Destruction of religious life. Undermining of the clerical vocations. Anti-Catholic propaganda, etc.] Whatever the reason, this has resulted in a situation where the Church community is impoverished because of their absence. While we address this letter to the community of faith worshipping the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in the Eucharistic celebration, it is really our brothers and sisters, who are absent from our worshipping community, who are the subject of this letter.

Jesus Christ lives in his Church

Many of us, bishops, priests, grandparents, parents and others feel a deep personal pain, anxiety, even guilt at this loss. [And there are some people who should feel very guilty indeed for the damage they have done to the Church.] Have we failed in being true witnesses to Jesus? Have we resisted the power the Holy Spirit has given us?

A further concern is that our brothers and sisters are not regularly in touch with the Mystery of our salvation, which is the risen Christ, and therefore, they are somewhat removed from that very full manifestation of the love of the Father that is made present in the Church. [What a classic circumlocution! What we mean here surely is something about being in danger of going to hell....!]

While the Spirit blows where he will, and Jesus comes to us in our ordinary everyday life especially through the poor and needy (Mt 25), Jesus’ command to “Do this in memory of me” is only carried out in the Church. [So action on social justice is not enough] We recognize that the Mass lies at the very heart of our Catholic faith. The sacraments too, which many who are distant from the Church still seek, are a further encounter with Jesus that is not present elsewhere. The sacraments are really the most intense and intimate expressions of that life-giving community of disciples, that fellowship in Jesus, which is the Church. This is the work of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It is in the Church that Jesus and the Father have uniquely come and made their home (Jn 14:23).


What can we do to address this situation? Firstly, we must ensure that our parish communities are genuinely welcoming and respectful. [This is important. Catholics, traddie or otherwise, are very bad at this.] Why should people come back to us, if the welcome they receive is no better than it was previously? Secondly, we need to go in search of those who are no longer with us, like a shepherd reaching out to the lost sheep (Jn 10). [Remember all that stuff about rejoicing over the one sheep lost that was found....]

This is much harder, but it is perhaps even more necessary. It will involve a variety of
approaches. It runs the risk of rejection, but that is a risk which the new evangelisation demands [Oh how I hate that term!]. Many of those to whom we want to reach out
could be just looking for or waiting for, even unconsciously, a word of
welcome, encouragement or invitation
.[Well, I suspect mostly it will take a lot more than that!]

The right approach is essential. Only slowly can one broach the delicate questions of faith and conscience with those we are seeking. [Agreed. It will mostly take a long time and a lot of patience to get to this group.] Jesus himself, the Good Shepherd, is surely the model for us in this regard. The approach will often take the form of allowing them to tell their story in a context of sharing our faith. Whatever form it takes, it should arise from their need, not ours.

Sharing hope

Who is to meet this challenge? Every member of the Church. We are all responsible.

No one can excuse themselves from this responsibility, because it flows from the Baptism that we all share. Some of the faithful feel that they do not have the necessary theological training to make such an approach or to engage in deeper conversation about the faith. St Peter tells us, Always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you have. (1 Peter 3:15). Sharing your faith with people is sometimes better and more convincing than theological argumentation. Faith speaks to the heart, and the heart responds to God. [OK this section is a bit weird and to me seems possibly even dangerous. 1 Peter 3:15 is usually is usually cited as the basis for apologetics, a rationale for having your arguments at the ready, not as a basis for sharing some kind of 'faith experience' instead! And in my experience, people in this situation do actually have some theological questions that need to be worked through. If we are going to evangelize, we do actually need to know our faith.]

Our personal witness can also be supported by other means: strategies and programmes designed for this purpose; prayer and bible study groups; effective use of the media and modern technology. There are now many Catholic websites, some interactive in a way that could be helpful in making and sustaining contact with people. It is important that parishes and other communities explore which strategies and programmes are most suited to their particular situation. [I think a lot more creativity is required in this area, but...]

We Bishops have just commissioned a new programme called Reconnect. It invites all Catholics to reconsider their participation in the life of the Church. (Contact 1300 4 FAITH – 1300 432 484). World Youth Day will challenge all those who have Jesus in their heart to
reflect more deeply on their relationship with him. It may well be the occasion
for many to turn again to the family of the Church
. We must continue
to reflect on its theme: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes
upon you and you will be my witnesses (Acts 1: 8).

When Pope Benedict XVI, the Vicar of Christ on earth, celebrates Mass at Randwick, it will be a unique expression of our Catholic faith. We invite all to join us in the family of the Church around our chief Shepherd. Let us boldly witness to our faith!

The Catholic Bishops of Australia
22 June 2008


Felix said...

This statement won't be very productive unless the bishops tackle the root causes.

Specifically, the statement resolutely ignores the fact that Catholics have not been taught, and don't know, their Faith.

The statement says we need "bible study groups".

Such groups can be worse than useless if the participants don't know the Faith.

And, if the group is run by a priest or nun, they probably teach that Scripture is full of inaccuracies and that you can't believe Catholic doctrine.

One other caution. "Firstly, we must ensure that our parish communities are genuinely welcoming and respectful." As long as this doesn't mean accepting, for example, the rainbow folk on their terms.

Yes, the above is a negative response. But, given their Lordships' track records, I suggest it's realistic.

David said...

1. I agree with Felix that "bible study groups" should only be run by those whose orthodoxy is beyond question. A good rule of thumb is that priests in non-clerical garb and nuns in pants suits ought to be banned from catechizing, and indeed, sent to an orthodox institution for re-catechesis.

2. One group that has not been dealt with in the bishops' statement are those Catholics who go to Mass regularly, receive Communion at least weekly and haven't seen the inside of a confessional in years. Some of them want to invent priestesses, most are on the pill and a goodly number, think, like one aging "spirit of Vatican II" lady said to me a while ago, "why should I go to confession, when I can never think of any sins to confess?".

These people need evangelization as much, if not more, than the wiccan, bhuddist or lutheran down the road.

2. I admit to being one of those former-protestants who wants to convert every heretic, and warm his hands by huge bonfires of protestant libraries. Speaking as a convert, this nonsense about "sharing faith" being better than "theological argumentation" is, as Father Z would say, "B as in B; S as in S". Having become convinced of the intellectual bankruptcy, internal contradictions, historical ignorance and general stupidity of what often passes as protestant "thought", I needed to be convinced of the trutch of the claims of the Catholic Church. When I hear someone wanting to "witness" or "share faith", I reach for the aspergillum and the holy water "Get thee behind me Protestant!". "Sharing faith" only works when the sharer is totally grounded in the Catholic and Apostolic faith; knows the teachings of the Church Fathers and great councils (no, we didn't "start again" with Vatican II!), the writings of the great Saints of the Church and the Holy Popes. Otherwise, the only fruits of such "evangelization" will be the three-quaters-protestantized contracepting (or same-sex partnered) "pro-choice" individuals who "feel" that it is their "right" to give a sermon or do a liturgical dance in a leopard-print g-string, or even act as an "extraordinary minister".

3. The exhultation of "feelings" exemplified by the tone of the statement (especially that bit about 'sharing faith') exemplifies the feminization of the Church in these benighted times. The great combatants against heresies in the past - the Dominicans, the post-Tridentine Jesuits, where not afraid of intellectual rigour - they never shied away from calling a heretic a heretic, and explaining why... Now, so many of our bishops and Catholic theologians and liturgists are about making people feel good, self-esteem and "affirmation". Guess what? It doesn't work. If one can get the same sense of inner peace from smoking wacky tobaccy under a pyramid and hanging crystals from your ear-lobes, why would one bother with the difficult teachings of Catholicism?

4. If the "creative" evangelization process that the bishops foreshadow involves more quasi-protestant "discussion groups" and "house churches" or whatever, it won't do anything. What we need is to get people back to regular practice of the faith. That of course, means regular worthy reception of the sacraments. The best place to start is at the confessional. Get them through the confessional doors, with a good confessor, and in my opinion, you're half-way there....

David said...

Another thing that worries me is that in many places, the radical nuns, "with it" priests and "I'm a priest prophet and king now" laymen who:

a) ruined the liturgy,

b) ripped the "Catholic" from Catholic Education and Catholic Charities,

c) invented the Woodstock Mass, the Clown Mass, the Puppet Mass etc,

d) devalued and metaphorically speaking castrated the sacred priesthood, and drove down vocations thereto,

e) think of Holy Mother Church as just another "social justice" movement

f) have re-written the 10 commandments so that "loving fornication" and sodomy are OK, but voting for a right-of-centre political party is a mortal sin,

are in many cases, the very same people who will be responsible for implementing decrees like this from the ACBC.

They all need our prayers.

PS. Apologies for ranting and raving.

Cardinal Pole said...

Thanks for blogging on this, Terra, but I am not at all impressed with this Pastoral Letter and am even less impressed with the way we are seeing it implemented, e.g., the newspaper advertisement "Catholic? Been Away?", available at:

As an earlier commenter pointed out, the Letter's tone is all about feelings and 'affirmation', reinforcing the secularist objection to religion as a mere 'crutch' to help one get through life. We need to present, vigourously and lucidly, the 'truth claims' of Christianity, not just the benefits to one's psychoogical welfare.

More on the Letter's suggestions for implementation:

1) "we must ensure that our parish communities are genuinely welcoming and respectful"
This is code for visitors to Church being mobbed by all manner of 'welcomers', 'ushers' and 'commentators'.

2) "The approach will often take the form of allowing them to tell their story in a context of sharing our faith"
Code for group-therapy style 'faith sharing' and 'Bible study', as another commenter pointed out. Presumably it will involve relating Holy Writ to one's own life and how it 'speaks to you' rather than what it means objectively in the context of Tradition. It will fail or even backfire because the laymen are uncatechised and the priests and religious are modernists.

3) "Whatever form it takes, it should arise from their need, not ours"
That's not what the newspaper advertisement implies.

4) What about those of us who can no longer participate in the Novus Ordo Mass with a clear conscience?

The bigger question here is: what exactly are people being welcomed back to? In most parishes Mass has degenerated into a circus.

This Pastoral Letter and the woeful "Catholic? Been away" are just another episode in the post-Vatican II paradigm of 'the Church on Her knees before the world'. How sad.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Felix et al....In the effort to bring people "back home", I fear that the faith offered will not be orthodox Catholicism. It is not just lay people who will make a hash of expressing their feelings re why they have hope in Christ(note it is still always feelings, not reasons--alas, gone from the local parish world are any kind of apologetics--how many Catholics will reach into a jacket pocket for a copy of Peter Kreeft's fine short apologetics text?) . The most well-meaning will, through little or no fault of their own promote error (given years of misleading modernist leadership coming from those who produce these pastoral letters). Some will, of course, do so knowingly, but do not think of it as error--at least one Novus Ordo priest I know of has instructed converts according to his very modernist understanding of what the Church teaches, so that converts are brought in via some very murky doctrinal "false pretenses",including stress on the primacy of an UNinformed conscience ("Come as You Are" says the modern church song, not "Come and be Formed"). Thus, they believe they can continue on doing whatever they had been doing or believing, such as not really having to accept the Immaculate Conception or the Real Presence beyond metaphor and symbol. People need the Truth (whole Truth and nothing but the Truth)and even yearn to hear it. We can be welcoming and positive and fulll of compassion, but Love and Truth are two sides of the same coin. Without Truth, we may as well be limp Protestants, welcoming and overly accomodating just to fill the pews. And, wet pews don't get filled, do they? Who'd want to sit in them?

Also, as far as greeting newcomers goes, it is wonderful to do so, but it has to be real. If one is sorrowful or penitent or simply contemplative before or after Mass--none of which is necessarily Jansenist--false cheerfulness will make any newcomers apprehensive! People can tell when a smile is a mere show of teeth.