"Rebuild My Church"
Dear Friends in Christ,
Eight hundred years ago, a young man went into an old church to pray. St Damian’s, just outside Assisi, was in bad need of repair, but it was quiet. And it had a beautiful crucifix, which you can see on the cover of this letter. As the young man prayed, looking at the figure on the cross, he heard Christ call him by name. “Francis, rebuild my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.”
Francis thought he understood, and went off at once to get building materials. He and his friends did repair St Damian’s, as well as several other old churches. As they travelled around, unburdened by possessions, they also began to preach the Gospel to anyone who would listen. Their simple, joyful lives persuaded people more than their words.
When Christ called Francis of Assisi to “rebuild my house” he was talking about the Church, not just her buildings. What Francis and his companions did with bricks and mortar was a tangible and visible symbol of a deeper work of renewal they were beginning.
Today, in Bathurst, we can see our Cathedral “falling into ruin”. Years of water and salt damage are causing the sandstone to crumble, the brickwork to crack and the foundations to be threatened. We have now begun the work of rebuilding it. But I pray that what we are doing with bricks and mortar will become a tangible and visible symbol of the deeper work of renewal that Christ’s house, his Church, needs here and now.
Before we began planning to restore the Cathedral, we made a careful study of what was causing the building’s problems. Repairs had been made in the past, but then had to be done again, because the basic problems had not been dealt with.
What is true for repairing buildings, is also true for attempts to rebuild and renew the Church.
As with a building, it is easy enough to see the outward defects in our Church life; and I have written about them in previous pastoral letters and more recently in my message for Child Protection Week. But also, as with a building, it is necessary to go deeper, to find what is causing the defects we can see.
With patience, good technical advice and money, basic problems in a building can be identified and mended. To identify and remedy basic problems in the life of the Church needs more: it needs God’s grace of wisdom and discernment.
At the beginning of the Year of Grace, I announced my intention to call a Diocesan Assembly as an event of faith and a renewal of mission. I want it to be a time of formation for all who are willing to begin and continue the work of rebuilding Christ’s Church here and now.
At the beginning of my ministry here three years ago, I said I am only a bishop and talked about our co-responsibility in mission.
There are some things that a bishop can do and some things he can’t do. The same may be said for every member of the Church. There are some things that only you can do, so you must do them, or else they will not be done.
The mission of the Church is entrusted not just to the bishop or the clergy or the religious. It belongs to all of us, each playing his part or hers, not blaming others when things go wrong, but always asking “what can I do to make it better?”
The Assembly will move ahead through three stages: first in each parish during Advent, then in regions during Lent, and conclude in Bathurst on the weekend of 17-19 May 2013, the feast of Pentecost. There will also be working groups on particular topics, which will establish lines of communication with all who want to be involved. More detailed information will be flowing soon.
At the conclusion of the Great Jubilee for the beginning of the Third Millennium, Blessed John Paul II invited us to turn our thoughts to the “larger and more demanding challenge of normal pastoral activity.” In Novo Millennio Ineunte, he asked every local church to “confidently plan the stages of the journey ahead.” He said that “it is in the local churches that the specific features of a detailed pastoral plan can be identified.” It is not a matter of inventing a “new program.” The plan already exists in the Gospel and the living Tradition. But it must be translated into pastoral initiatives adapted to the circumstances of each community. He listed seven pastoral priorities to guide this work:
1 Holiness; 2 Prayer; 3 The Sunday Eucharist; 4 The Sacrament of Reconciliation;
5 The Primacy of Grace; 6 Listening to the Word; 7 Proclaiming the Word
I hope that, as we progress, the outlines of a practical diocesan pastoral plan will be fashioned, ready to be launched at Pentecost. The representatives that parishes send to the diocesan gathering will be formed and commissioned to return home and contribute to its implementation. The Pentecost gathering will also be, please God, a real moment of communion and joy in the Spirit, who alone can inspire and encourage us on the journey.
Like St Francis, our task begins in prayer, because it is only through prayer we learn what our task is. The Year of Grace is all about that awareness that we are in the presence of God, who looks at us in love, who speaks to our hearts, who waits for our Yes.
For the Son of God, Jesus Christ…was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. (2 Cor 1:19-20)
Our Lady of the Central West, St Patrick, and St Mary of the Cross, pray for us!
Bishop of Bathurst
Ember Day, Spring 2012