Sunday, 25 March 2012

Having a stoush for Christ!

I have to admit that I've been remiss this year, in not doing a hunt through the various Lenten Pastoral Letters issues by our bishops for any spiritual gems. 

But someone drew my attention today to this one from Bishop Jarrett, and it is pretty hard to imagine that anyone else's can possible measure up to this wonderful call to action (though do please let me know if you think your bishop's is particularly worth highlighting).

So please, do read it, and feel inspired to make these two weeks of Passiontide a particularly intensive time of preparation for Easter.

So here it is, with a few comments from me marked in red, plus by bolding (and thanks to the reader for the alert).

Bishop Jarrett's Pastoral Letter to Brisbane Archdiocese

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Christ's faithful, the Laity, Religious, and Clergy of the Archdiocese,

As Lent commences, I write with words of challenge and encouragement for all of us to take to heart.

To make a good Lent, the best approach to these 40 days would be to see them as our last Lent, and this our final Easter before we come to the eternal Paschal Feast to which our faith looks forward, the entire hope and promise of our Christian profession. [Look to heaven, and treat each day as if it could be our last - because it could indeed be!]

The first prayer of Ash Wednesday's Mass employs stirring and striking military terms: "campaign," "battle," "weapons."

We are now on a campaign of Christian service; we are to battle against spiritual evils, arming ourselves with the weapons of self-restraint, among others "with holy fasting."

The ashes invite us to conquer evil and do good, to stand strong and free against that engulfing modern tide of an illusory and superficial life-style bound down by moral mediocrity.

Each year the Gospel of the First Sunday of Lent places before us, as a warning, the seductive assault which Satan made even upon our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Satan has nothing to lose because already he is the loser, and as Scripture tells us, he goes about the world in great rage, knowing that he has but a short time. (Apoc 12:12).

His lies and deceits were exposed by our Lord as we hear in the gospel dialogue, but they are still willingly listened to and believed in our own day, and we live with the terrible consequences.

Part of our problem in society as well as within the Church is that we've put aside, perhaps as a bit of an embarrassment, that military metaphor of the Christian fight, the fight against the supernatural enemies which surround us. Their leader and crafty strategist is the Devil.  [And for an example of the kind of fifth columnist attack on this traditional language of Scripture and the Church, you need go no further than this aCath Blog.]

"Be watchful," says St Peter, "your adversary the Devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith" (I Peter 5:8-9).

St Paul also warned about the wiles of the Devil: "we are not contending against flesh and blood . . . but against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." The Apostle ends his letter with a rousing challenge to the Christians of Ephesus to get out and fight, with the belt of truth, the shield of faith, and armed with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (6:11-18).

Time was when we Catholics in Australia were never afraid of a stoush for the cause of Christ and His Church, in our local community or in a wider arena. But for the most part, with outstanding exceptions, can we say that we have become blighted with timidity, afraid to be different from the secularist influences around us, even sometimes within our own institutions, or even to differ from Christian brothers and sisters of other persuasions with whom on some issues we must disagree? [There is an important message here to those who are trying to suppress legitimate internal debate, which includes conservatives and liberals alike.  Within certain limits, vigorous debate and disagreement is a sign of health, not something that should be shied away from.]

And why so frequently the sounds of silence in the face of the smart diatribes against Christianity, and especially Catholicism, from opponents who are more clever than we are in working the popular media? Is Satan demanding to have us, and sift us like wheat, as he did St Peter? Should we not swiftly turn to the Lord, that our faith may not fail, and gain from Him the strength to strengthen others? (St Luke 22:31-2).

Your bishops are quite properly expected to make a public stand and to exercise what influence they can, for instance, in the face of demands to change the definition of marriage, of pervasive internet pornography and the cultural battles around us in defence of human life. Would that we had the backing of that 26% of Australians who own to being Catholics! [True, but I think the bishops have to take some responsibility here for (continuing) the failure to actually teach the faith in recent decades...As has become in evident in the US and Ireland of late, you can't allow heresy to flourish unchecked and then suddenly expect the laity to stand up and fight when the Church is actually confronted with the consequences of its failure to confront secularism over the last several decades.]

Surely we can only witness with a sense of betrayal those, especially if they are in public life, who profess to be Catholics but who misconstrue or abandon the Church's witness to Christ's teaching, or who have never known or understood it, and side instead with the pressure groups whose aim is to sideline Christianity, indeed any religion, from public debate on moral questions.[Again, there are things that the bishops could do as teaching moments - like excluding such politicians from communion - but have decided not to...]

If more of us who are baptised members of Christ's body took our membership seriously, used our faith to think with, and overcame our fear to let the Word of God judge us and challenge us, we would begin to know and love God powerfully enough to get into the fight against His adversaries and ours.

We must not be afraid of the comparison of our Christian baptismal call with an enlistment for service and engagement in a combat - a fight towards an ultimate and assured victory which is God's alone but which in a particular place and moment depends on us. It's a long, messy and wintry campaign and there's always another battle ahead.

The Devil is the most subtle of tacticians in getting individuals on his side before they know it, in discrediting the Church, destroying morale and enticing desertion.

Battles have never been won so much by great leaders as by great soldiers, the ordinary people in the trenches who conquer their fear of going 'over the top.' [Hmm, I think that is debatable - while we can certainly all do great things, great leaders are surely needed to inspire and support those ordinary people in the process.] Lent puts a focus on our individual and more convinced conversion to the greatest of all causes.

We can put ourselves on the winning side in the smallest of ways: turning from sin and making a good confession in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, resolving to take up prayer as a real weapon for the fight (what a marvellous opportunity we have in visits to the Blessed Sacrament, and extended periods of public Adoration), and challenging our self-centredness by a generous giving of alms to those in need.

The way of the Cross is central to our Lenten journey.

The Cross is the shining sign of the whole army of Christians setting out over these forty days on the march to Easter. We struggle together, not alone, with renewed effort against evil, against Satan and 'the sin that clings so closely' that we each bear within (Hebrews 12:1): and all with the happy certitude of sharing in the triumphant victory of the Lamb once slain: The Lord is Risen!

With my prayers and blessing for the march ahead, and please pray for me.


Victoria said...

Weren't those blokes in the trenches led over the top by their officers?

The bishops have presided over the implosion of orthodox religious education in Catholic schools for the last forty years; the consequences of this have been obvious for many years. The bishops have been more concerned about the protection of gay, indigenous, illegal whales than the collapse of the Faith in Australia.

R J Stove said...

When I read the episcopal reference to us ordinary Catholics (i.e. lay yobs in the pews, who often - like, quelle horreur, myself - don't even have doctorates) being expected to go over the top, I found myself thinking, not for the first time, of Captain Blackadder's immortal words: "Clearly, Field- Marshal Haig is about to make yet another gargantuan effort to move his drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin."

I have never been able to find out whether the deathless lament ascribed to Napoleon III during the worst disasters of the Franco-Prussian War - "I am their leader, which way did they go?" - was actually uttered by him, or was a myth propagated by enemies after his downfall. What has long been obvious is that this query, whether genuine or invented, enshrines the principle (if you can call it that) on which the Australian episcopate has operated ever since Cardinal Gilroy retired, despairing of Newchurch, in 1971.

Kate said...

Victoria - While priests and bishops are the most obvious source of 'officers', I see no reasons why lay people can't also act here! We perhaps need some new Joan of Arc's to arise!