Monthly Archives: August 2011

Ten Years Since Tampa

The WYD Cross at Baxter Detention Centre

It’s ten years today since the occupants of the Tampa were denied entry into Australia.

The following is an excerpt from my book of stories about the Australian  Journey of the World Youth Day Cross and Icon.

It tells the story of the WYD Cross’  journey to the Woomera Detention Centre.  I’m re-posting it today because I don’t think we should forget about the Tampa, or about Woomera and Baxter and places like them as the debate about refugees continues.  We are capable of so much more…

The [World Youth Day Cross and Icon] arrived in Woomera on the evening of October 10, 2007.  Our team of seven had swelled to fifty for the ‘Great Crossing’ pilgrimage. This special stage of the year-long Journey of the Cross and Icon involved traversing the country from Darwin to Port Augusta over six days with a contingent of young people from all over the country.

Those organising our pilgrimage walk at Woomera…chose the cemetery to speak about the former detention centre, to which we were to process with the Cross and Icon next. Bishop Hurley began and, when he could no longer continue, Fr Jim Monaghan, who had been stationed there when the detention centre first began housing asylum seekers, shared about his experience and the experience of the parishioners.

Fr Jim asked us to look around and ask ourselves why an Australian Government would put people, other human beings, here, in the desert. He spoke laconically of people with mental illness, of people with sewn-up mouths, of suicide attempts by guard and guarded alike, and of children standing at the barbed wire, looking out into the surrounding desert. He spoke without rancour or bitterness, but with a quiet passion, stating that what had happened there was wrong. ‘It dehumanised everyone who came into contact with it’, he said. ‘The refugees, the Australian guards, everyone.’ It was his clear appraisal that all the people in this situation were human beings made in the image and likeness of God, who, therefore, possessed a dignity that this situation simply stripped from them.

Fr Jim then went on to describe briefly what the parishioners of Woomera did to restore and nurture the dignity of those behind the fences. They visited people who had no-one to visit them. When they weren’t allowed to visit, they wrote letters and gave clothes. Bishop Hurley told the story of a woman who had written to a Muslim woman who had been incarcerated in Woomera. When they were finally able to meet, they instinctively knew who the other was. ‘They were both mothers, and so they could recognise each other’, he said. Both the bishop and Fr Jim made it clear that they did not try to distinguish between those who were subsequently found to be genuine refugees and those who weren’t. It was their conviction that even those who were illegal immigrants still possessed a dignity that demanded a more humane treatment of them. They did also point out however that, officially, eighty per cent of all those imprisoned in Woomera were judged to be genuine refugees.

As I listened, I cast my mind back to the time which these men were describing. I had been living in Canberra, where conversations about asylum seekers swirled around with questions of policy and how to protect borders. The conversations I recalled were such a contrast with the direct response of the people of Woomera and the Diocese of Port Pirie. Their response was not born of ideology, politics, or fear. It came from the Gospel. It came from listening to Jesus’ words: ‘I was naked and you gave me clothing … in prison and you visited me’ (Matt 25:36). In a modern state, conversations in Canberra about border control and illegal immigration may well be necessary. However, in a country such as Australia, it is also not too much to hope that such conversations will be tempered with justice and compassion.

Australia is capable of better. In 1977, one of the many boats from Vietnam that made it onto Australian shores was captained by twenty-three-year-old Hieu Van Le. He wrote that: My first sight of Australia was through the dawn light and an early morning mist across Darwin Harbour … We chugged clumsily into the harbour, and saw coming towards us a small boat with its outboard motor showing all the speed and agility that our boat lacked. There were a couple of blokes in it, just dressed in singlets and shorts, fishing rods sticking out in the air. This was nothing special for them, they were having a normal day – out to do a bit of fishing. As they came past they waved and called out ‘G’day mate … Welcome to Australia!’ and then just sped on past to get on with the fishing they had set out to do.

Hieu Van Le went on to describe what he learnt from that first experience of Australians: ‘I learnt … that deep down “G’day mate” meant something about a society that fundamentally believed in helping, in shared responsibility, that if we are not actually all in the same boat, we are all in the same harbour’. Hieu Van Le is now Lieutenant Governor of South Australia. The empty detention centres at Woomera, Baxter and Port Hedland all stand as mute witnesses to a period when newcomers to our country did not receive the G’day that Hieu and his companions did. At the same time, I think we can be proud of our brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Port Pirie who demonstrated, with others around the country, that Australians still believe in a G’day that denotes a genuine welcome and real care, especially for those most deeply in need.

The Woomera detention centre closed some time before we arrived there and so we were there now to pray. Our prayer included an act of memory: to remember and acknowledge what had happened there in our very recent history. The WYD Cross stood before the detention centre as a sign of the depths of inhumanity that we are capable of, and it tells of an innocent man imprisoned, tortured and murdered. The Cross stood as a sign of solidarity with all those who had suffered and been demeaned in this chapter in our history – asylum seeker, prison guard, and nation.

Our prayer concluded with the planting of a tree outside the detention centre.
As a hole was made in the hard red soil, it seemed very much like an act of hope
to be planting in such a barren landscape. The parishioners assured us that they would water the tree. Fr Tom Rosica’s words echoed in my mind as he recalled the WYD Cross’s journey to Ground Zero in 2002: the visit of the Cross and Icon to Woomera and the planting of this tree were also acts of defiance, because they were acts of hope. The Cross is the Tree of Life because it proclaims that in the darkest moments of the human story, acts of love, peace and compassion can also grow…

Is There Such a Thing as Catholic Leadership?

Earlier this year I spoke to student leaders from all of the Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Melbourne about the challenge of being a Christian leader in the light of the theme for World Youth Day 11: ‘Planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith’ (Col 2:7). The reflections that follow were developed in the light of that conversation with those school leaders.

One of the most popular books on leadership in recent years was written by James Kouzes and Barry Posner. The opening line of the book reads, “The Leadership Challenge is about how leaders mobilize others to want to get extraordinary things done in organizations.” From this line we get a pretty good working definition of what a true leader is. Great leaders are able to harness the energies of a group of people, tap into their motivation to achieve something worthwhile, and focus that motivation upon a task that is worth their commitment. These abilities are the hallmark of all good leaders, whether we think of Pope John Paul II, Gandhi, Martin Luther King or even Simon McKeon, the 2011 Australian of the Year.

If we define leadership in these terms, then it raises the question about whether there is any such thing as a distinctively Catholic kind of leadership. To put it another way, does being a Catholic make a difference to the way in which we lead? And to push this line of questioning even further: is it an advantage or a disadvantage to be a leader motivated by the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

My first response to these questions is to say that a Catholic leader (and paradoxically, only a Catholic leader) can truly say with the pagan playwright Terence (d. 159 BC) “Nothing human is alien to me”. This is because a Catholic leader knows that Jesus Christ reveals what it means to be truly human (see Gaudium et Spes 22). This is the foundation of the inclusiveness that should mark every Catholic school, but it is also the litmus test of what must be rejected as incompatible with our true humanity. If as leaders in Catholic schools we do not regard Jesus as the model and exemplar of true humanity then we must ask ourselves what our alternative standard for truly human behaviour is. If leaders’ standards here are implicit and ill-thought out, then they run the risk of opting for a measure of true humanity that corresponds to the standards of the noisiest in our culture – the media and the market.

To put it another way, if leaders in Catholic schools want to fulfil Kouzes and Posner’s definition and motivate others to achieve extraordinary things in their schools then they will seek to build their leadership on the foundation of Jesus Christ because to do so is to lead through love. Love is the only power that can truly change the world. To exercise power without love is actually anti-human and so we look to God as the ultimate source of all love and the source of true change. In so doing we lead in a way that is consistent with the authentic humanity of everyone in the school, from the students to the teachers to the administration staff. As Chris Lowney suggests in his book on leadership based on the insights of St Ignatius Loyola, leadership based on the Gospel will thus be heroic leadership. To love as Christ loves and to lead in the light of that love requires heroism, even if it is of the unheralded kind.

Our Catholic faith therefore will inform how we mobilize others; it will shape why we want to achieve something and it will declare what qualifies as a truly extraordinary accomplishment. Being a Catholic leader should mean that we aim higher than anyone else, because our vision settles for nothing less than human beings fully alive. Our organisations also ought to be places where people want to work and make their contribution because the constant motivation for what we do is the love revealed in Jesus Christ and the dignity of every human being made in God’s image. There is such a thing as Catholic leadership, and it should make us the most effective leaders around. The final questions to pose then are these: If our schools are not organisations that excel in producing men and women that are truly alive, then why aren’t they? And as truly Catholic leaders, what might we do about that?

<This article was originally written for beingCatholic, Choicez Media’s e-journal for Catholic educators>

WYD Rio in 2 Years? A Couple of Things to Think About

Pope Benedict XVI announced yesterday that the next World Youth Day will be held in Rio de Janeiro in 2013.  It will be the second time that WYD has been held in South America, as Buenos Aires hosted the second WYD in 1987.  As the demographic centre of Catholicism moves south, it is very exciting that the youth of the world will gather in Brazil in two years time.

But it is only two years away.  At a practical level that means that Australian Diocesan Youth Ministry Coordinators and other youth ministry leaders will need to start gearing up for Rio pretty soon after they get home from Madrid.

I am also reminded of a passage from a letter that Pope John Paul II wrote to Cardinal Pironio on the occasion of the WYD seminar held in Czestochowa, Poland in 1996.  John Paul II wrote that

World Youth Day is the Church’s Day for youth and with youth.  This idea is not an alternative to ordinary youth ministry, often carried out with great sacrifice and self-denial.  Indeed it intends to actually consolidate this work by offering new encouragement for commitment, objectives which foster ever greater involvement and participation.

It seems to me that there is a very real risk that Australian preparations for WYD in Rio could swamp the ‘ordinary youth ministry’ that ought to be taking place, consuming our time, resources and energies that need to be devoted to the day-to-day mission of evangelising young people.

A second announcement at WYD in Madrid also has significant implications for youth ministry in Australia.  At the Australian Gathering, the Senior Projects officer for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Malcolm Hart, announced that plans were underway for a National Youth Day for Australian Catholics.  The first such gathering is proposed for 2013 also, and is intended to take place every two years after that.

I am excited about a National Youth Day.  I think it gives young Australian Catholics an important opportunity to gather together to celebrate and deepen in our faith.  Like WYD it will give young Australians the opportunity to discover that they are part of something bigger with many other young people in the Church.  It will also be a great celebration and intensification of our unity. And as an Australian event it will be more accessible to far more Australians than an overseas World Youth Day will ever be.  I think it has great potential for building and developing Catholic youth ministry here.

I think that there should always be plenty of young Australian Catholics at every international World Youth Day, and we should in no way abandon our commitment to WYD.  But preparations for those WYDs cannot consume all of a diocese’s, parish’s or a community’s youth ministry resources if Catholic youth ministry is to fulfill its mission in this country.  It is my very real hope that the Church in Australia at every level and young Australian Catholics will get behind a National Youth Day.  But we do need to think very carefully about how and where we devote our time, energy and resources to make sure that WYDs and a National Youth Day are working in concert to support the grass-roots work of youth ministry in Australia.

The Divinity of Christ, the Papacy, and 1.5 million young people

Photo from S+L Media

Like all Catholics and indeed most Christians all over the world, the 1.5 million young people who gathered with the Pope for World Youth Day in Madrid listened to the Gospel passage from Matthew 16:13-20.

The story begins with Jesus asking the disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’  The disciples tell Jesus that others are calling him John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets.  If we were to ask people in 2011 in Australia, Spain, or perhaps any other country in the Western world, the actual answers would be different but the sentiment would be basically the same: popular opinion now as then considers Jesus to be a wise figure, a guru, a noble  teacher – and that’s all.

In fact, as I listen to people today the most common position is probably summed up by the title of Philip Pullman’s book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ:  Jesus was a good guy, noble, nice and now very dead.  As far as Pullman and indeed many of our contemporaries are concerned, the divinity of Jesus is a fantasy dreamt up by the Church at  a much later date and a terrible distortion of what the ‘real’ Jesus was on about.

In the Gospel though Jesus is not content with popular opinion.  He wants an answer from the people who have walked with him, from those he has chosen and called to follow him.  And so he asks the disciples, ‘Who do you say I am?’.  We’re told that Peter then spoke up.  I think that implies a deathly silence after Jesus asked the question.  No one was game to speak for a moment or two.  And then Peter declared, ‘you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’

It would be a mistake to think that Peter’s profession of faith here means that he understood precisely what Son of God meant in the technical language that would be used in the 4th century to define Jesus’ divinity.  It’s anachronistic to think that Peter had access to language that the bishops at the Council of Nicaea employed to unequivocally affirm the divinity of Christ in AD 325 in the statement popularly known as the Nicene Creed.  But that’s precisely the point: the bishops at Nicaea weren’t saying something new about Jesus when they declared that Jesus is ‘the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages’.  They were expressing the consistent faith of Christians from Peter down to their own time.

What the bishops were trying to do in AD 325 was to clearly articulate the Church’s belief in Jesus’ divinity because a man named Arius had denied it, and so the Church needed to re-state what Christians had always believed.  As a consequence they came up with the statement above and the following to describe what Christians believe about Jesus:

God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.

From Peter to Nicaea to our own time: to be a Christian is to believe that Jesus is the Son of God.  It means that in the man Jesus of Nazareth God is completely and uniquely present.  Our faith hangs on this, because our faith is based not simply on Jesus’ teaching, but on who he is.  If Jesus is only a human being, then what he says might be interesting, it might be profound, but his teaching can be no more important than the legacy of any other teacher, leader or prophet.  But if Jesus really is divine, then his teaching is universally valid and relevant for every human being.  More than that, if Jesus really is divine then it is through him that we are able to share in the very life of God.

Many of Peter’s contemporaries found this to be a scandalous claim.  People today find it scandalous too.  It is the ‘scandal’ at the heart of the Christian faith.  But as the encounter between Peter and Jesus tells us, to believe that Jesus is the Son of God is ultimately the result of God’s revelation, of God’s self-giving communication that resounds in the hearts of those who are open to it.

What has this got to do with a gathering of 1.5 million young people in Madrid this weekend?  Simply this: that in Benedict XVI the successor of Peter is still speaking up, still declaring, in spite of many voices that ridicule and deride him for doing so, that Jesus is divine.  This is the deepest purpose of the papacy: to profess, in continuity with Peter’s declaration, that Jesus is the Son of  God… and to invite others to do the same.

For Insomniacs and Pilgrims – A WYD reflection

World Youth Day week is about to start in Madrid, and I’m confident that all those who are going WYD have already arrived in Spain.  Which makes it possible for me to share the reflection for pilgrims that I was asked to write for the WYD Journal that all Australian pilgrims received.  For those of you who aren’t attending WYD, here is a little reflection on what I think awaits our Aussie friends.  This week, why don’t we make a little pilgrimage of our own to a church we don’t normally visit, and pray for the pilgrims.

Dear pilgrim,

I’d like to think that right now you are thousands of metres up in the air, and that far below you the lights of Dili, Delhi or Dubai are winking up at you. Everyone else on the plane is asleep, and you have picked up your World Youth Day Journal and have begun to thumb through it (ok, so I know that you may actually be reading this in your bedroom before you leave, or maybe even after you have arrived home from Spain.  If that’s so, humour me a little and pretend that you are on your way to Europe, and the whole adventure still lies ahead of you).  I hope you have a lot of fun!  In fact, I’m sure you will have an amazing experience.  And you never know, it might just change your life.

No doubt that even before you left Australia, your group leader had already fed you the line: ‘you’re a pilgrim not a tourist’.  It’s one of the things group leaders say to prepare you for the worst that your journey will bring: long queues, big crowds, cold showers, school floors.  It’s more than just a line though.  You really are a pilgrim.  You have joined a countless queue of people throughout history who have made a journey to a sacred place.  So welcome to the club.  Here’s the thing though: you are currently travelling thousands of kilometres in order to visit breathtakingly beautiful and important places, but the most sacred journey a pilgrim undertakes is actually a journey of the heart.

In the past, people went on pilgrimage for lots of different reasons.  Some definitely took it all very seriously, and prayed the whole way, and no doubt got really excited when they arrived in Jerusalem, Rome, Santiago de Compostela, or whatever shrine or religious hotspot they were aiming for.  We know from the history books that lots of other people went on pilgrimage because it was really the only form of tourism that they had available.  They wanted to see the world, and pilgrimage was a respectable way of leaving everything at home behind in order to check out somewhere new.  Not much has changed.  There are some of you who know exactly why you are going to World Youth Day.  You are hanging out to go to Mass with a couple of million other young people and the pope.  That’s great.  But there are others who somehow also got the chance to come and it seemed like a great opportunity.  You might not be all that sure about all the religious stuff that’s going on.  My tip, whether you are a WYD groupie or a complete WYD newbie is this: pay attention to your heart.  As you experience all that this 21st century pilgrimage has to offer, listen to what the deepest part of you is telling you.

That’s because you aren’t on this plane by accident.  God got you here and whether you know it or not, God has some very definite purpose in mind for you over the days and weeks ahead.  So, as you have a fantastic time experiencing all that Spain (and whatever other countries you visit along the way) has to offer, keep listening to your heart, and keep paying attention.

In particular, listen to what your heart is telling you when you hear the stories of faith from the other young people in your group, and when you meet other pilgrims from other parts of the world.  Listen also to the witness of the stones, stained glass and art of the cathedrals and churches that you visit.  They are ‘words’ set in stone and sand and paint that can speak to you of previous generations’ faith and love.  When you take a moment on the bus to write in your journal, when you stop for a moment’s silence in a church, as you sit in a plaza (that’s Spanish for ‘square’) and have a coffee, when you are speechless at the sight of the natural wonder and beauty before you, and even when you find yourself in conflict or struggling with someone or something on the journey, stop again and listen to your heart.

And when you’re at the WYD vigil and everyone has lit their candles, and all you can see in every direction are flickers of flame held aloft by young hands from all over the world, and as you realise then and there that you belong to a universal family called the Catholic Church, listen to your heart then too.  You aren’t alone.  There are so many young people like you who are listening to their heart at that moment too.

I’m going to spoil the surprise and tell you what’s going on: In all those moments it’s someone knocking on the door of your heart that you can hear.  That’s because your destination at end of your pilgrimage is not a place, it’s a person.  The goal of this journey is a meeting, an encounter with Jesus Christ.  He is alive, risen from the dead, and that means he is the answer to the deepest questions, the deepest desires and longings of your heart.  He wants to be the source and foundation of your lives as you are planted and built up in him.  He wants you to be firm in your faith in him, because he is the sure hope, the solid ground on which you can base your lives.

Vaya con Dios, peregrino (that’s Spanish for ‘go with God, pilgrim’).  Vaya con Dios.

Responding to Phillip Adams

Phillip Adams’ column in The Weekend Australian this weekend warrants a response.  It’s entitled Killers for Christ and contains a litany of instances of violence perpetrated by Christians.  Adams then (rightly in my opinion) points out that Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik’s links with ‘historic’ and ‘contemporary Christian fundamentalism’ are irrefutable.  Adams’ column finishes with this sentence:

We cannot be surprised if, once in a while, an individual, or an entire nation, see Christianity in the militant terms of Onward Christian Soldiers and massacre or invasion as their sacred duty. Christians must speak out against such madness. Jesus would want it.

No argument from me there, Phillip, I completely agree.  Murder in the name of Christ is always a reprehensible betrayal of Christ’s message, and Christians have at times dramatically failed throughout history to be faithful to their Master’s teaching on this matter.

But the implication of Adams’ column is that Christians might find speaking out against violence and massacres difficult to do.  Just to reassure those who think this might be true, here is a line from Pope Benedict XVI’s statement at the news of the Norwegian atrocity:

Let us pray for the victims, for the wounded and for their loved ones. To all, I wish to repeat the urgent call to abandon the way of hate forever and to flee from the logic of evil.

A couple of other points really do need to be made.  Firstly, I don’t think that Christians should ever attempt the indefensible, and it is undeniable that Christians throughout history have been guilty of murder and violence.  And it is also true that at various points in history, that violence has been sanctioned by the leadership of the Church rather than condemned.  These are all shameful episodes in the Church’s history.

Adams notes that Christians worked for the abolition of slavery and the end to apartheid.  What he fails to mention is that church leaders also roundly condemned the invasion of Iraq, and that Christians also denounced the Holocaust and the conflict in Northern Ireland.

The tenor of Adams’ article is that Christianity is somehow a religion of violence rather than of peace.  Adams states,

the religion based on the peaceful, forgiving teaching of Jesus has been, and remains, more militant than Islam. For millennia Christians have been slaughtering Jews, Muslims, Hindus and each other – in the millions.

I think that attempting to compare whether atheistic regimes, Muslims or Christians have been guilty of more atrocities is macabre. The truth of the matter is that people have been slaughtering each other for millennia, and the perpetrators have been people of every religion and those professing no religion.  To argue that the faith with the smallest body count against its name is somehow superior is an abhorrent conversation.

Violence in the name of Christianity will always be contrary to Christian faith, and a betrayal of the message of Jesus.  While I would want to strongly affirm that millions of Muslims are peaceful, good people who would repudiate violence as firmly as I would, it is a matter of historical record that Muhammad had recourse to violence to further his religious goals.  While the majority of atheists no doubt similarly reject violence the major proponents of atheistic regimes in the twentieth century also possess blood-stained hands.

I think Adams is right: due to some of the regrettable episodes in history we sadly cannot be surprised if an individual chooses to draw upon those episodes to cast Christianity in militant terms.  But to draw such a conclusion will always involve a misinterpretation of Christianity.  Christians have no trouble rejecting such recourse to violence, and we have no trouble saying so.

Why am I a Catholic? A Letter to K

A funny thing happened to me the other day. I got a letter, and I mean a letter, not an email, facebook message or sms, but a real letter with a stamp on it and everything from a twenty-year old.  I know, it floored me too.  And it included a self-addressed stamped envelope and a blank piece of paper so I could reply.  The letter went more or less like this:

Dear Fr Chris, I was wondering if you could do me a huge favour.  If possible could you please respond to the question, ‘why are you Catholic’? on the enclosed paper.  God bless, K

So I hopped onto Facebook to ask K if she would mind if I posted my answer on this blog.  No, I wasn’t oblivious to the irony of that either.  K said it was ok, so here it is:

Dear K,

Thanks for writing to me, it was great to hear from you. And thanks for letting me post my response to your question on this blog.

Why am I a Catholic?

I’m a Catholic because I believe that Jesus of Nazareth is Emmanuel: God with us.

I’m a Catholic because I believe in the God that Jesus Christ reveals to us: a God of unfathomable love, beauty and goodness.

I’m a Catholic because I believe that Jesus also reveals to us what it means to be truly human.

I’m a Catholic because I believe that the Spirit of Jesus has been given to me through baptism.  And as a consequence of the Spirit’s power at work in me, I know, as the deepest truth of my life, that I am so completely loved by God that the only Son of God was crucified for me and rose from the dead so that I might  participate in the very life of God.  This means that I experience myself as forgiven, loved even in my blackest moments.  And it means that I believe I have already begun to share in the Love that is God.

I believe all this because I have discovered an inexpressible joy that bubbles up when I least expect it, a joy that emerges when it should least be present, because it is the joy of knowing that even death has been defeated by the One who was raised from the grave.

I’m a Catholic because I believe that all of what I have described above is possible because of the mediation of the Church.  It is in and through the Church that I have met and continue to meet the risen Jesus.  I experience the saving love of Jesus in her Sacraments and in the Scriptures.  I experience the saving love of Jesus in the witness of those saints present and past, those publicly canonised and those hidden and almost unknown.  In the Church’s prayer and in her action on behalf of the weakest and most vulnerable and rejected members of the human family I meet Jesus the Lord.

I’m a Catholic because the journey is better with friends; in fact they’re indispensable.  Being Catholic means we’re in it together.  And there’s more laughs that way.

I’m a Catholic because Catholicism takes both my brain and my body seriously.  As a Catholic I neither have to leave my mind at the door of the Church nor pretend that I am an angel or merely a spirit.  The Catholic faith has real intellectual depth, and yet it is not a religion of the elite but is good news for those who can become like little children.

The Catholic faith provides the only response to the reality of human suffering that comes close to doing justice to the mystery of human misery that I see in the world. For only Christian faith says that God cared enough about our agony to join us in it. And my faith does justice to my deep sense that such suffering should not be by promising that it will end, for our destiny is a life free from suffering and pain, where every tear will be wiped away.  My Catholic faith commits me to the alleviation of suffering wherever I find it too.

I’m a Catholic because it offers a message of sanity and hope when many are peddling messages that are anti-human and destructive.  I’m a Catholic because our faith tells me that me, you and this world are all fundamentally good, but radically damaged, and that Jesus Christ is the Healer who can return you, me and this world to wholeness and harmony.

I’m a Catholic because I value the teaching office of the Church.  That’s not because I can’t think for myself, but because I trust in the wisdom that has been distilled over two thousand years and because I believe that the Lord promised to continue to guide and care for his Church.

I’m a Catholic because I know that I need to be challenged to truly love others as Jesus has loved me. The teaching of Jesus continually puts forward an ethic of radical loving that is at the same time deeply merciful and compassionate.  Being Catholic means that I am challenged not to be content with mediocrity or superficiality.  God means to make me whole, holy, truly human.  And he won’t be content until I am.

I know too that the Church’s witness to all of this is often disfigured and that her members all too often obscure rather than proclaim the truth of God’s saving love.  I know that I too don’t bear witness to Jesus as faithfully or as fully as I truly desire.  That means that I cannot say that the Church’s failures are simply ‘out there’ , because I fail to love as radically as  the Gospel calls me to too.   The Church has never been completely faithful to her mission to bear witness to Christ.  And so the Church always needs to be renewed through the power of the Spirit.  But I’m convinced that the light of Jesus still shines in and through his Body the Church.

Dear K, I’m a Catholic because the Catholic faith claims that Love is the meaning of the universe.  I find that immensely beautiful… and true.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation in Youth Ministry

Happy Feast of St Jean Marie Vianney.  St Jean Marie spent long hours in the confessional, and so I thought it might be fitting to honour his commitment to the Sacrament of Reconciliation today.  The audio file comes from a workshop that I presented at the Australian National Youth Ministry Convention in October 2010.  The topic was on the importance of the sacrament of reconciliation in youth ministry.

In the workshop I tried to place the Sacrament of Reconciliation within the context of the new evangelisation: the evangelisation of those who have been baptized, but are not committed to their faith or the Church.  I argue that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is an indispensable dimension of our ministry with young people.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is about freedom.  Why don’t you go to the sacrament today?  St Jean Marie Vianney would get a kick out of it.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation in Youth Ministry

Thanks again to XT3 for the file.

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