On the 18th of October, Josh Low from the Archdiocese of Perth Communications Office gave a training to youth leaders on a relevant and poignant topic that all Catholic face in today’s society. Here are the transcript and some images from the presentation.
It can be pretty hard to think about evangelising at this time in our life as Catholics, as we receive news of terrible and scandalous behaviour within our Church.
Whether about the Royal Commission, the accusations against Cardinal Pell, the Grand Jury report out of Pennsylvania, the mess involving one of America’s top Cardinals, and the ongoing “he said this, he said that” accusations by a former Papal Nuncio about Pope Francis, and the Holy Father’s continued silence, things can seem pretty grim.
It’s gotten so confusing/murky/troubling that even a friend of mine (a practising Catholic even once said to me; I don’t even know if I can look at priests the same and not have any doubts)
After all, that’s what the central mission of the Church is to bring Good News to all parts of society as we‘ve understood since St Pope Paul VI’s apostolic exhortation On Evangelization in the Modern World.
The central purpose of the Church, remains in helping people to have an encounter with Jesus Christ, and the joy that He brings.
So how do we spread the Good News to those around us and evangelise, while there are so many hurting victims, and dismayed, disappointed and scandalised Catholics?
I think the first thing necessary is to acknowledge the pain and suffering of victims. The joy we believe in cannot come at the expense of ignoring them.
Joy flows from a commitment to truth and justice, and we must always advocate for the lowly, especially those harmed by those who represent the Church, or supposedly do.
We must take note of their open wounds, but we must also never forget that what we are called to do is to proclaim the one true remedy for their wounds: Jesus Christ.
Of course, this is easier said than done.
When putting this talk together a quote by the Venerable Fulton Sheen came to mind…
“Judge the Catholic Church not by those who barely live its spirit, but by the example of those who live closest to it.”
When we look back even to the time of the Apostles – among the men who surrounded Jesus, was Judas. Even among the apostles that Jesus himself chose, was one who betrayed Him.
I don’t think it should be a surprise to us that there have been, there are and may well continue to be people who will try to undermine the Church and destroy its credibility.
Because if you destroy the credibility of an institution, in a practical world you basically render anything they say flawed.
How then do we rise up in the face of this human messiness that has tainted our Church?
I think it begins with us. If we want to take the bad news about the Church and replace it with the Good News, it begins with us.
A priest I spoke to when all the scandals were breaking put it very simply. Focus on your own sanctity, and help those around you to get to heaven. There is no better time for us to become saints.
Where sin abounds, grace abounds much more. (Romans 5:20)
We’re at a unique point in the Church’s history. One full of trouble and concern, but yet, one with an opportunity to reform our Church back to the time of the apostles, and as our Archbishop says frequently; to return our Church back to Christ.
We need to remember that our faith is one found in Jesus Christ, not in the human body that make up the Church.
Going back to the quote by Fulton Sheen – if we want people to judge the Church by those who live closest to it, each one of us has to be one of those people living closely to the teachings of the Church.
The call to holiness is emphasised so strongly in the latest Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate; we are all called to be saints.
If people are going to judge the Church by those who lived closest to it, we have to be those people, because others may not necessarily know about the saints or the lives of saints or even anything about the Church.
So we have to live our lives glorifying our God as instruments of His grace, so that by us striving for holiness, those around us may be inspired to do the same.
And when it seems difficult to do (which at some point it will) – Who can we look to for inspiration? The saints we already have.
Fortunately, we have a plethora throughout the history of our Church that we have as examples to look up to. Just take St Pope JP2 whose feast was yesterday for example, a man of living faith.
If we want to show the world what our Church really stands for, then it will take a lot of work.
We have to work hard together to rebuild the Church, help it regain its credibility, a credibility that has sadly been lost in the wake of all these scandals, and we need to remember that everything is in God’s hands, and in His time.
And a quote by St Ignatius of Loyola emphasises how we should carry ourselves in our work.
“Pray as if everything depends on God, work as if everything depends on you.”
“There is no need to wear yourself out, but make a competent and sufficient effort, and leave the rest to him who can do all he pleases.” St Ignatius
Last year I was able to travel to Rome to interview a bunch of people, one of which was the Official for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith – his name is Fr Tad Oxley.
Fr Oxley said that the situation in Australia calls us to rely more on God and less on the institutional dimension of the Church itself.
He spoke about the Royal Commission and the situation here, and the difficulty of living in a secular society in the face of accusations against the Church.
To quote him directly:
“What do we do when the institution of the Church kind of gets crushed by that?
“What happens is that then we need to be more faithful to the fundamentals, which is Christian holiness, and allow ourselves to rise up and say yes to God,” Fr Oxley said.
“We are going to need to rise. How? Although we’re called to bear witness in the public square, we can’t rise by fighting but by the holiness of our own lives in which the Spirit will call us to say what we believe when we’re asked.
“Otherwise we’re lights of charity and love. When we need to testify to the truth, we will and the Holy Spirit will enable us to.”
We have to be ready to defend our faith; our Church (with love and charity of course). But that means we need to be informed. For example, did you know our Archdiocese has an agency that supports victims of sexual abuse? Or that the Safeguarding Office here in Perth was the first one set up in Australia and has become an example for other states to follow?
We have to be equipped with knowledge. When we are more well informed about our Church, the reasons why we believe what we believe, the steps taken to combat the infection that the devil tries to poison our Church with, we will be more able to address any questions/concerns that others we come across may have about the Church.
Follow the news that happens about our Church – not just within our Archdiocese or in Australia but for the whole world.
Some good sites to read up on Catholic content
Be involved in spreading the message of the Gospel not just in person but through social media – but try not to get into debates! (always take it away from the keyboard and offer to chat in person. If they decline, that’s ok – you tried)
And most importantly, prayer and staying close to the Sacraments. We can only give what we receive, and we can’t lead our young people if we are not nourished ourselves.
What has kept the Church together throughout the centuries, and what keeps it together now, is the experience we have of the presence of God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
This experience, which is a saving experience, happens when we unite, coming together as the Church to receive the sacraments that identify us as members of God’s Kingdom, and hear the Word that frees us from the slaveries of our lives.
The Church is not a criminal conspiracy even though the actions of a few of its members throughout the centuries might make it look that way.
The Church is the living Body of Christ. It’s a community of people experiencing salvation through Jesus Christ in the gradual transformation of lives through His grace.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” (Mt 28:19)
We evangelise because what we carry with us is the promise of Christ’s glory and victory to a world that is hurting.
We evangelise because we offer people a way to understand their personal experiences and journeys through life, through the lens of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
We evangelise because we are the forefront of the Kingdom of God, proclaiming justice, peace and mercy as we struggle against the current to bring these values into reality.
Jesus has encountered us in our sinfulness and begun the transformation of humanity through the gift of his Spirit. That is why we evangelise.
We dare not take our eyes off of this core of our proclamation and Catholic life.
The world, whether it realises it or not, is in desperate need of this vision of hope, brought about by God’s Kingdom.
We dare not look away because we are the living Sacrament through which God continues to work in the world; a Sacrament whose reality cannot be erased or destroyed even by the worst behaviour of its members.
To proclaim Jesus Christ is to proclaim the One who triumphs even in brokenness and death.
Like every other institution, the Church is full of imperfect people, full of the same humanity.
Too many have sinned and committed horrible crimes, but many more have not.
Some have violated the vows they made in commitment to the Church and the Gospel, but many more do not.
We may have our doubts, complaints, questions and concerns, but what we also have is hope. Most importantly, we have the gift of Jesus; a gift that has been given to us to be shared with the world.
It would be so much easier if we could evangelise without any opposition, whether from within or outside the Church.
If only the beauty of our message could reach out, unhampered into the heart of every person and the desert of human longing.
If only the message of God’s love and salvation in Jesus would not be tainted by the crimes, errors, sins and blindness that so often occurs in our lives.
But this is not the reality. Our reality is a Person (Jesus) given to us, marred by our sin and triumphant in resurrection, who even now, continues to pour out his Spirit upon us, in spite of the many ways we obscure or fall short of God’s love.
We have been and will continue to be called to walk with trust and hope in the midst of darkness, knowing that ultimately, evil is left powerless.
The reality we have, is Christ living in each one of us, calling us to redemption.