What the world desperately needs most from the Church is saints.
This is my understanding of what Sebastian Condon was saying in a column in The Catholic Weekly a few weeks ago. And who can dispute that? Just look at the history of the Church. Even when combined together the work of committees and organisations is utterly outclassed by the personal holiness of one single saint. Hence the incessant call of St John Paul II, Benedict, and now Francis to holiness for the sake of others, if not ourselves.
This does not mean, and Condon underlines this, that bureaucracy is an evil. Families and parishes – the two single most influential seats of the Church’s mission – receive much of the fruit of bureaucracy. Spare a prayer for those who work and suffer – for Satan does not like their efforts – for us in Catholic offices around the world.
But a word of respectful disagreement about noisy evangelisation.
Thank God somebody does it. We aren’t all called to street evangelisation – but we are all called to discomfort for the salvation of many: “Go from your country and your kindred and your Father’s house” (Gen 12:1). The Incarnation is that very thing – when the co-eternal Son left his Father’s house to discomfit himself “unto death, even death on a cross” for others.
It’s not a new thing. Jesus spent three years doing it – having deeply personal conversations with strangers in the street. The apostles did the same. The stories of the saints are littered with such experiences.
And in a world where it has become dangerously easy to simply shut out anything I assume I don’t like, ‘disruptive’ public evangelisation – conditioned by charity, prudence and union with the local bishop – is a real act of mercy to our neighbour, who may well otherwise go their life without.
In a society chock-full of impersonal unasked-for offensive advertising, the Church renders a service to colour a tiny bit of it in the proposal of the attractive nobility of Christ through a charitably interested in personal and genuinely human encounter.
Hopefully it’s not noise. The Kingdom of Noise is the domain of Screwtape’s father below. Bosch’s trumpeters do much to highlight this distressing expression of Hell. It might be better characterised by that scene towards the end of 1968’s Oliver! As the bedroomed sleeping Oliver is awoken by the outside call of the rose vendor, disarming by its noble simplicity and respect for his freedom, so do those who take time on the streets unexpectedly interrupt the habitual mode of existence of those they meet there.
And characteristic of the action of saints, such activities hit well above their weight. Once, concluding a pre-mission repast with my fellow missionaries in the local pub (the Gospel accounts are, after all, often coloured by the presence of alcohol!) I was on my way out when a lady, noticing my collar, asked if I was a priest.
Confirming this was so, we had a good brief conversation reminiscing about her youth in a Catholic school. My companion had the foresight to invite the lady to the church which served as our base for the evening.
Madam thought this unlikely, and while we both warmly welcomed her while letting her feel totally free, the lady was understandably keener to pass the evening with her friends. I found her, hours later, kneeling in adoration clutching a paper with a bible text, silent tears anointing her cheeks.
I don’t know what will happen to her or anyone: but I do know that street evangelisation is important to non-Christians. And that through it people meet God.
Weekend to meet need of every marriage for support
Eliza and Michael McCumstie know that married bliss doesn’t come automatically for couples after the excitement of the wedding day.
Four years after their wedding, despite their best intentions and being blessed with two children, they found themselves struggling. “We didn’t have many married couples our age to talk to, and the ones we did seemed to be very happy together,” Eliza said.
“What’s not often talked about is that marriage can be really hard and it can be really lonely when things are not going so well.”
“From the moment we got there, it was such a welcoming environment and the retreat was so lovely and was a real turning point for us.”
Eliza searched online for Catholic retreats for married couples and came across a Love and Truth retreat being held near them in Melbourne by the Emmanuel Community.
“From the moment we got there, it was such a welcoming environment and the retreat was so lovely and was a real turning point for us,” she said.
“We liked that it wasn’t just someone teaching theology to us, but a couple who were also prepared to share their own story about the kinds of trials they have faced in their marriage and how they came out the other side. That was very refreshing. It was good to meet other couples at different stages of their married lives as well.
“We realised that although we were going to Mass on Sundays we hadn’t really been inviting the Lord into our marriage and our daily lives. Now our spiritual lives are very different today and that’s why our marriage is stronger now at nearly 11 years than it was back then.”
Now being held for the first time in Sydney, a Love and Truth retreat will run from 26-27 June at the Mt Carmel Retreat Centre in Varroville, near Campbelltown.
It provides an opportunity for all married couples to come closer to God, strengthen, nourish and renew their marriages.
Mary and Peter McGregor will deliver the talks at the retreat. Peter told The Catholic Weekly said that while engaged couples are required to have lots of marriage preparation, there’s little support from the Church available in the months and years after the wedding day itself.
Presentations on the weekend will focus on the nature of married love, how God is the source of a couple’s married love, and how a couple’s differences can help them grow in love for each other.
“What couples will hear on the weekend will not just be theoretical, but will include ‘testimonies’, that is, witness from personal experience,” Peter said. “We know that the couples who come will receive a lot from the presentations, but even more from the Lord, not just through the talks, but through prayer, sharing, and time together.”
Overnight event will ask for outpouring for Pentecost
By Dominic Lawrence
A Pentecost retreat asking for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit will be held in Varroville on the weekend of 22-23 May.
The aim of the Christian life is to acquire the Holy Spirit – so says St Seraphim of Sarov. What does this mean? Is it really possible for us in the twenty-first century? And if so, how is it done?
The approaching solemnity of Pentecost provides clues to answering these questions, as it reminds us how essential the Holy Spirit is. It calls us to remember the apostles, sitting fearfully in the upper room behind locked doors, even though they have witnessed the greatest event in the history of the world: the resurrection of Jesus, which has won for them their salvation. It is only when they receive the Holy Spirit that the apostles are transformed, boldly proclaiming the good news.
This feast, then, should prompt us to ask ourselves: am I a pre-Pentecost disciple, fearful and closed in on myself?
This feast, then, should prompt us to ask ourselves: am I a pre-Pentecost disciple, fearful and closed in on myself? Or am I a post-Pentecost disciple, open to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life and seeking the good of others and their salvation?
As Catholics, we are blessed to have already received the Holy Spirit at Baptism, and to have been strengthened by Him again at Confirmation. The Christian life, then, is a call to enter more deeply into the graces we have received through these sacraments, so that we may truly be filled with the Holy Spirit.
For though we may have received these sacraments, we sometimes tend to grow cold in the spiritual life and freeze over, losing access to the graces available to us. So we need to ask for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that He may come with His fire, as at Pentecost two-thousand years ago, and defrost us, filling us with the joy, courage, zeal and freedom that the apostles so wonderfully displayed in Acts.
This Pentecost, the Emmanuel Community in Sydney is hosting an overnight retreat to ask for this outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and to provide Catholics with an opportunity to enter more deeply into this special solemnity in the life of the Church, through Mass, Eucharistic adoration, Confession, praise and talks.
The Emmanuel Community invites you to attend this new upper room, in the bold expectancy that the Holy Spirit will come with His transformative power and His gifts. If the Holy Spirit worked wondrously through those fearful, weak and wounded apostles to spread Christianity to the world, just think what He could do in our lives if we let Him!
The great Father of the Church, St Jerome, died in Bethlehem in 420AD. A “hot tempered character,” Jerome utilised his passion for truth and his knowledge of the Scriptures for the building up of the Church. Famous for his saying that “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ,” Jerome is a great ambassador for a new springtime in the promotion of Scripture as the Word of God.
Almost 1600 years after Jerome’s passing, Pope Francis offers to us in his new Apostolic Letter, Aperuit illis a reminder of the centrality of the Scriptures for the Christian life. This is not before time!
For many of the Catholic faithful the Sacred Scriptures are a daunting and unapproachable mystery, replete with archaic language and concepts, littered with names and places that could well be from a Tolkien novel.
In the end, for many, the Bible is deemed too long and wordy to bear opening and thus it becomes just another monument to a lost culture gathering dust on the bookshelf.
This general reluctance to engage with the Scriptures extends into the field of Catholic education. As a former high school teacher and a current teacher of teachers, I write with some experience on this point. While there are some wonderful exceptions to the rule, the average Catholic school teacher has at best a rudimentary understanding of the Scriptures and this shows in the way these sacred texts are often taught.
What we find is that too many students leave our school system, through little fault of their own, with little to no understanding of the meta-narrative of the Scriptures and a fear of opening the Bible which is based on ignorance of correct methods for interpreting the text.
Other faithful Catholics, often charismatic in spirituality (though of course all baptised Catholics have been given charisms!), are eager to jump into reading the Scriptures.
Many of these feel comfortable to open the Bible daily to receive words from the Lord. Often these people are comparatively well formed in the Scriptures, perhaps through the influence of Bible-based ecumenical groups or churches. Others, however, lack awareness of the context of the passages they read or they fail to grasp well the literal sense of the text. This can be dangerous as it can lead to erroneous and damaging interpretations that can draw people away from orthodox doctrine or into making poor decisions.
The faithful are dependent for the most part on their pastors to teach them how to open up the Scriptures. Many of our priests, good and faithful men that they are, have been ripped off in their formation in the Scriptures. Many of these priests were subjected to dry, overly scientific and analytical exegetical (interpretive) techniques in their seminary years. They were often discouraged from recognising the truth that it is the Holy Spirit who is the true author of the Scriptures.
As a consequence, any thoughts that our loving Father could speak to them through the Scriptures were regarded as pious and unscientific; rather, the text was to be dissected to the nth degree to discover what it really meant. Those who reacted to this ‘formation’ retreated to purely spiritual interpretations that treated the Scriptures on their merits without really engaging with the fact that they are historical documents written by men who “made use of their [own human] powers and abilities.” Many homilies today reflect this formation.
So what can we do to combat this ignorance of Scripture which, as Jerome tells us, is ignorance of the One with whom we are called into friendship – the Word made flesh, Jesus?
In the first instance, it seems necessary to promote a narrative approach to teaching Scripture. By this I mean formation in the big picture of the Scriptures and their place in the history of salvation history, God’s saving plan for His children. The Great Adventure Bible Study and the accompanying book Walking with God stand out as exceptional resources for teaching the Bible narrative.
It is vital too that the faithful are taught how to pray with the Scriptures.
They are not simple history texts that need to be committed to memory in order to win trivia nights or battles with those who think differently to us!
The practice of lectio divina is recommended by the Holy Father. This ancient way of entering into the mystery of the Word is ideal for coming to the sure knowledge of the spiritual sense of the text. In this way, God’s heart which burns so much for us can speak to our own hearts, giving us sure knowledge of the meaning of the written word.
The promotion of Scripture Study groups in parishes needs to be a priority. This would require first of all that leaders for these groups are well formed for the task. Resources can help, but more important is that leaders be chosen from among those who are willing to follow the dictates of Dei verbum: that the Scriptures be read as a unified text authored and inspired by the Holy Spirit; that they are read within “the living Tradition of the Church”; and that they are read in the faith that they speak God’s Word.
Better formed laity should lead to more worthy celebrations of the liturgy. The liturgy is, of course, the traditional place of encounter with the Word. Here it is proclaimed, just as it was in Old Testament times, for all the people to hear and reflect on. What a privilege we have to hear God speak to us directly every time we come to Mass!
In his latest Apostolic Letter, the Holy Father recommends better formation of lectors in order that the faithful may hear the Word proclaimed more clearly and powerfully. This would need to be accompanied with the pastorally difficult task of asking some current lectors to step aside. Not all people have the gift of proclaiming the Word satisfactorily.
Another way the Scriptures can be better utilised for the building up of the Church is in the sacramental liturgies outside of Holy Mass. Every liturgical rite includes a proclamation of the Word, but frequently this is omitted or downplayed to the detriment of the rite. Perhaps we can look more closely at how we support our priests at Baptisms, Second Rites of Reconciliation, and funerals, so that the Word is proclaimed with the dignity it deserves.
It was perhaps fitting that this Jerome passed from this world at the place of the birth of the Word made flesh, for Jerome knew better than most that “God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion.”
Today we have the opportunity to correct some of the mistakes of the past, to help people to fall in love again with our God who speaks to us as a loving Father, especially through the Scriptures.
The Bible is a book of love, but loving words are not always easy to hear. Let’s make every effort to demystify this text and to empower people to read it wisely and faithfully. A Scriptural springtime beckons!
Dr Kevin Wagner is a lecturer in Theology on the Broadway campus of the University of Notre Dame, Australia, and he is, with his wife Helen, co-responsible for the Emmanuel Community (Communauté de ‘Emmanuel) in Sydney.
A group of Sydney Catholics are gently but confidently taking Jesus Christ to the streets of Redfern each month.
The outreach run by the Emmanuel Community is a shared passion with the parish priest of Catholic Community of City South Father Paul Smithers. On Friday 13 September around 40 members of the Emmanuel Community and others gathered on Redfern Street outside of St Vincent de Paul Church for the regular ‘mission night’.
While half of the group remained outside to sing praise hymns and offer a friendly greeting, chat, or even the offer of a prayer to passersby, the others prayed for their efforts before the Blessed Sacrament.
Reconciliation was available and people deciding to enter the church had an opportunity to light a candle, pray quietly, take a short scripture passage home, or simply pause for a moment before going on their way.
“Our aim is not to get people to come to into the church, some do, but we hope they will have an encounter with Jesus either through our presence outside or anything they encounter inside,” said the Emmanuel Community’s Helen Wagner who believes she has never had an unfriendly reaction to its unique style of street evangelisation.
“Even if someone doesn’t want to engage very much with us but only takes away an impression of a friendly smile and a ‘hello’, that is still valuable,” she said.
“It might be an important step towards building a bridge of trust with the Church.”
“It is a ministry of simply being present to talk to those passing by on the street,” he said. “They don’t push faith, they are a gentle presence for the curious. Some people even take the step to come into the church to spend a little time in quiet prayer.
“WE HAVE A GREAT GIFT TO SHARE. WHY HIDE IT?”
Last month the Catholic community of Waterloo, Rosebery and Redfern celebrated the 160th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of the Shrine of Our Lady of Mt Carmel in Waterloo, at which Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP said he trusted that “new adventures” in the parish, including in evangelisation and formation, would bear fruit.