Homily for 3rd Sunday of Easter 2006 - Week One of Sacramental Program.
There are 62 children in 11 groups beginning the five weeks of preparation for the Sacraments of Confirmation and First Eucharist. This morning we have five infant girls to baptise and this afternoon a wedding. Let us hold all these in our prayer today.
In and attempt to generate some interest in the program “Serving God's People” provided by the Archdiocese, I have written to a number of parishioners inviting them to think about taking part in it. It is open to anyone, however. The cost is being subsidised by the deanery from funds from the Synod of 2001. It is part of a Certificate III course in Pastoral Theology.
A couple of people remarked that they were busy enough and were a bit weary about the parish trying to recruit them for more work! I want to reflect on that a bit because it reveals something important.
You may be aware of the proposal at present for the Archdiocese to import priests from Nigeria. It is more than a proposal an agreement is being drawn up between our Archdiocese and a diocese in Nigeria. There is much discussion about that kind of strategy at present all around Australia. A mutual arrangement is being examined that will enable priests from one diocese to spend six years in our Archdiocese after some training and then they return home.
Against that background I note first of all the Pope's words to the bishops of Ghana last week that "the priesthood must never be seen as a way of improving one's social standing or standard of living." See the report on Cath News. For it can be a real temptation for some to raise themselves out of poverty that is endemic in much of Africa by seeking the priesthood with the status and security it can offer. It is an issue that needs to be taken into account. But there is no denying the sense of mission that motivates most priests who leave their home.
Secondly, it is very different now from the days when priests came in large numbers from Ireland. They were serving people of their own culture and language. To ask someone from Africa to fit in just because he is ordained is a big ask. Just ask Fr Jack what it was like for him in a new country. He has been here for quite a time now, however. There are real human issues here. The priest is not a machine for saying Mass which is the impression one gets sometimes the way people talk.
In Nambour we are pretty well insulated so far from the impact of the fewer numbers of priests being felt elsewhere. I say “fewer priests” rather than “shortage of priests”. Because it is not necessarily a shortage1. If each and every person uses their gifts then the mission can continue. Note, too, I am not talking about numbers of Masses either. If you think that is all the mission of the Church is about you would be mistaken. Some speak as if we can “mine” Africa for priests just as we have mined if for other resources to satisfy our insatiable Western need. We may need missionaries to come here to evangelise us but that is another issue. We can easily sit back in our pews oblivious to the rest of the world.
But no matter how many priests the Archdiocese imports from Nigeria or anywhere else we are still living in a Church in which lay people have taken on an enormous amount of pastoral work. That is not going to change. Awakened to the call of their baptism through the Second Vatican Council people have relished the ability to contribute their gifts of time and skill to the community of faith. It has been a real flowering of the Holy Spirit in the Church.
We all have been called to mission through our baptism. We are to be witnesses to the resurrection, as we heard in the Gospel today (Luke 24:35-48). For most people that mission is primarily through the daily work of their lives with family and in society. Increasingly, that mission is lived by lay people also within the structures of the Church itself.
One of the objectives I outlined at the beginning of the year from our Pastoral Council that I wanted to avoid calling for volunteers. The work and mission of the Church is not about doing jobs for the Parish or for Father. It is the responsibility of all to be Christ for the world.
Volunteers are the backbone and an essential component of so much that happens not only in the Church but in society in general. Yet the term “volunteer” is inadequate to describe what we mean when we call people to ministry in the mission of the Church. Our mission is our dignity and our responsibility, not just doing someone a favour. That is the case whether we sweep the Church or take communion to the sick.
With the Government hell bent on getting even the disabled and single mothers into the work force people have precious little time to share their gifts voluntarily these days either to soccer teams or to the Church. One of the things we should do is tell the message of Easter to families who are being so stretched even when we rejoice in a time of unprecedented wealth. “Peace be with you!” Jesus said. There is no need to be afraid if we cannot keep up with everyone else.
For all these kinds of reasons the Archdiocese is inviting people to have some training in pastoral ministry. Some have done so in the past and continue to seek such education. So many people are so committed and give so much they deserve and need support. Such support is imperative if there is to be any substance to what we do. Otherwise our ministries could become just the expression of our own ideas and prejudices or that of the Parish Priest of the time rather than be proclaiming the Kingdom of God.
So for those who undertake this segment of a Certificate III course there is no expectation that they do anything more. It is part of an ongoing attempt to equip people for the Church today and tomorrow. People may feel inclined to do something else as a result but that is their own choice.
The post resurrection message of Jesus to his disciples is “Peace be with you!” No matter what our fears of hesitations are Jesus' Spirit is with us to live the Good News and share it. The Acts of the Apostles we read during the Easter season is the story of that unstoppable Spirit leading the disciples to the ends of the earth. That Spirit has not deserted us.
1 For example, the ratio of priests to lay people in the U.S. in 1900 was 1:1001; in 2004, it was 1:1478. That does not look like a disastrous increase. If you compare it with 1940, however (1:614), it looks rather bad. So we grew up with the expectation of such a high ratio of priests to people and tend to think it is the norm.