Bishop McKenna at Stannie's Speech Night

Bishop Michael McKenna was the Guest of Honour at the Annual Speech and Presentation Night of St. Stanislaus' College in Bathurst on 9th November 2013. This is his address....

It is always an act of pilgrimage for me to return to this place where I began my ministry as bishop four and a half years ago. I acknowledge the original custodians of this land, the Wiradjuri people and their elders past and present. I also remember the first Bishop of Bathurst, Matthew Quinn, who founded this College in 1867 and, before he died here, invited the Vincentian Fathers to care for it. I am grateful that they are still here and continue their generous commitment to this important work.

It is good to share this evening with you: students, staff, teachers and leaders past and present and your families. Together, we celebrate the community that is “Stannies.”

I would like to say a word tonight about “community”. Properly understood, it is the antidote to the fantasy of self-sufficiency, a fantasy into which we are all prone to fall from time to time.

No individual has the resources that he or she needs to exist, let alone to live fully. At the beginning and end of our lives on earth, we are totally dependent on others. In between, the relationships of support and assistance are more complex; but they are there: and we are in trouble if we forget them. To belong to a community is to be part of an exchange of gifts. Giving and receiving, we can build together something greater than the sum of its parts.

What is true about the fantasy of individual self-sufficiency is also true for communities. No community has within itself all the resources it needs to survive and live, and it is in trouble if it forgets that.

The Church has been well described as a “community of communities”. Parishes, schools, health and welfare institutions, groups and movements, religious congregations, families, dioceses -  only flourish when they keep alive their links to one another: giving and receiving: building a larger community of faith. Even the whole Church on earth is not a community “entire of itself”: we are joined with those who have gone before us. And, in Christ, we are joined to the divine community, the Holy Trinity, “in whom we live and move and have our being.”

As bishop of a local church, I have the responsibility of tending to our bonds with the universal Church. Every five years, I send a report to the Pope about the life of our Diocese of Bathurst. One of the chapters is entitled “General Assessment and Outlook for the Future.” I would like to quote a couple of paragraphs from my report of two years ago:

In a particular way, because it touches all groups, the family is where renewal must begin.  It is often remarked that our culture and economy are not “family friendly.” Pressures from outside, we hear, can often be too much for marriages and families to bear. But we also know that there is a fragility within many homes; and unless it can be healed and strengthened, then even the most benignant social environment will do no good. The renewal of the domestic church has to be our pastoral focus.  If we could begin to do that, how many dead branches in the Church would begin to bud with life again! 

If we may talk of the Church as comprising Word, Sacrament and Community, it is clear that a weakness in one of these components affects the others. The small community that is the family struggles to survive without growth in knowledge of God’s Word, participation in the sacraments and communion with the larger Church, including other families. It cannot provide these from its own resources and it is our task to build those bonds of love.

Our Diocesan Assembly this year discussed this as one of the major topics. Now, Pope Francis has called a meeting of the Synod of Bishops next year with the theme Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelisation. This Extraordinary Assembly will be followed up in 2015 with a General Assembly on the same theme.

I have already distributed copies of the Synod’s preparatory document to our parishes and groups in the Diocese. Our initial response will incorporate what we learnt in the Assembly process, with the addition of contributions from priests and people in the coming weeks. I invite you to be part of this work and pray for the powerful guidance of the Holy Spirit in it.

I would like to conclude by congratulating everyone who has contributed to tonight’s celebrations and another year of achievements for St Stanislaus College. May it continue to flourish as a community in the community of the Church.

+M J McKenna
Bishop of Bathurst
9th November 2013

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