Wednesday 24 April 2024

Archbishop Farrell: the Church needs people – from new generations – to lead new generations on the way of Christ

We gather to graduate forty-five people who completed the yearlong Certificate course in Catechesis. First of all, I want to thank you for giving your time to take this course which ran for eight months on seven Saturdays, and with small group work during the week.

In our culture, time has become more and more precious; all of us seem to have more and more demands on our time.  Generously, you have given of your time – to engage with your faith.  Catechesis is about encounter with Jesus.  It is less about a book or course and more about experience.  The adult journey of faith sets the pattern and the pace for this ministry.  Any methods we use today must help adults to share their faith with their children easily and confidently in order to build up households of faith.  Importantly, you have done something that requires a degree of freedom and courage: not everyone who is a person of faith has the freedom to own their faith as you do.  Your engagement witnesses to a generosity of spirit and a generosity in time, as well as to an ownership of your faith, as faith is not only just expressed in conviction and devotion, important as these are, but primarily in what we do, in how we live.  To use the language of the Scriptures: you are confessing with your lives, what you hold in your hearts (Romans 10:8–10)

Our Church is Changing 

Even twenty years ago, hardly anyone here could have imagined an evening like this.  Our country has changed, our lives have changed, and the expression of our faith – which is an expression of our lives – has changed.

In this evening’s Gospel we have this powerful image of the Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd, is not only concerned about his sheep, but leads his sheep.  Sometimes on a day like today, a day we call Good Shepherd Sunday, and pray particularly for vocations to priesthood and the religious life, we might fall into the trap of thinking that the first call of this evening’s Gospel is to be like the Good Shepherd.  But if Christ is the shepherd, then the first call of the Gospel is to listen to His voice: ‘I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me’ (John 10:14) 

Jesus continues, “those who know the shepherd listen to His voice.”  The shepherd will lead them to new pastures.  This is happening among us.  Our Risen Lord – the Good Shepherd – is leading us to new pastures.

A New Time – a different way of being Church – the Journey with the Lord 

The Church happens in our lives.  As we change, our Church changes.  We are called to recognise how the Church is changing, and discern where the Good Shepherd is leading us.  Our lives are a journey, and our faith is a journey too.  The Church is our journey in faith together.  As Pope Francis is always pointing out, we are on our journey of faith together.   As in any real journey, there is going to be a lot of discovery and surprise; there will be difficult times; and we will change as we travel.  Like the great journey of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, through the desert, to the Promised Land, the journey of the Church is not an easy journey.  Like theirs, and Christ’s, the journey of the Church is filled with risk and loss.  But it is real, and shapes us into the people of God.

Fear Not little flock… 

One of the contours of this new place we are brought is the diminishing number of priests available to serve in the parishes and other ministries in the Archdiocese, and a reducing number of people who celebrate the sacraments regularly, and the increased resources required to maintain the existing parish infrastructure.  As you can understand, this means that it is no longer possible for me to appoint a resident priest to every parish.  This has consequences for the appointments for priests in ministry.  The partnership of parishes will therefore necessarily deepen their ties to each other, cooperate more fully in providing sacraments and pastoral care, and require a much greater involvement of the lay faithful in the partnerships of parishes to enable them to fulfil their mission and ministry.   This will permit us to continue to serve the communities which is after all what we are about.

This real journey confronts us with something new, but something we do not clearly understand.  We feel perplexed, even that the Lord has abandoned us.  We feel that we have lost our way.  These are important parts of our journey.  Fear not, little flock,” says Jesus, “for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32)  The kingdom is a gift.  This can be a very painful learning for us – in your memory of huge numbers, and of a secure, strong Church.  But Jesus’ flock is a little flock.

Let us not forget that Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd.  He does not call Himself the ‘strong Shepherd,” or the “powerful Shepherd,” or the “victorious Shepherd.”  No, He is the good Shepherd, and those who follow Him are called to become like Him: meek and humble of heart (Matt 11:20), working for justice and close to the poor (Luke 4:17–21), listening to their cry (Mark 10:47–49), and listening to the cry of this Earth, our Common Home.

It will always be a little flock that takes the way of Jesus to heart; it will always be a little flock that will have the courage to follow Him, and the generosity to give as He gives.

What is needed 

To follow this way, and to endure on that road, we need not only courage and character, conviction and strength, but we also need a spirit of poverty, a humble, open heart that allows God to be God.  This is the heart of Jesus, this is the Shepherd’s heart: “come to me, all you who labour and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.   Shoulder my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt 11:28–29)   Jesus’ heart is a heart filled with simplicity—that allows God to be God, and permits His Father in Heaven to lead Him along the way to life (Matt 11:27, John 6:66–69).

On this Good Shepherd Sunday, let us pray the good Shepherd who leads his flock, that his Father would raise up women and men to hear his call – to witness to God’s kingdom and its newness, its passion, its freshness, and its freedom.  The Church needs people – from new generations – to lead new generations on the way of Christ, to guide and empower their peers to receive the gift of God, the gift of life in its fullness, and its joy, and its hope.

This is not about who will say our Masses, or who will ‘teach the faith.’  This is not a prayer that seeks people to carry on what we have known.  That would be a very self-centred and impoverished prayer.  Let us pray for people – young women and men, who would “hear His voice,” entrust themselves to it, and witness to it, and show us all how God is near.

May the Lord open our ears to hear His word, and our hearts to embrace it.  May He bless you in your service as catechists.  And may He bring us all to know His voice and follow Him.  In this troubled world of ours may we too “listen to His voice; may there be only one flock, and one shepherd.”