Pope Francis and the challenge of being church today
Ann D Clark Lecture delivered by Most Rev Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, Evan Theatre, Penrith Panthers, 18 August 2016
Part 2: Launch into deeper waters
I have a particular interest in the biblical experience of the exile. My personal story of being a refugee, my struggle for a new life in Australia, coupled with my Franciscan heritage have all contributed to the sense of hope which was the legacy of the exile of old and which should inform and enlighten our present exile experience. Like the prophets who accompanied their people, interpreted the signs of the times and led them in the direction of the kingdom – the arc of salvation history if you like – we must do the same for our people in the context of this new millennium.
Our story, the Judeo-Christian story, is a narrative of hope in despair and of reordering human relationships in the light of unfolding revelation. It began with the story in Genesis where the seed of hope was sown and a promise of redemption was made in the face of sin and brokenness. The story of the great exile likewise puts in bold relief how hope was born in a situation of utter vulnerability. In the light of this experience, there occurred a paradigm shift in the way the people related to God and to others. A vengeful, jealous, petty and tribal deity gave way to a much more expansive vision of the divine: a truly universal and all-embracing God. As a consequence, human relationships and social structures were reordered in a way that was consonant with the evolving consciousness.
The Judeo-Christian story finds its ultimate expression in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus – the source and the ground of its hope and renewal. But it also continues to unfold throughout history, especially at its pivotal moments. Thus, when persecution forced the church to disperse from her Jewish home, she learned to welcome the gentiles and became a refuge for the persecuted. When she came out of the catacombs into an imperial Christendom, places of learning, contemplation, prayer and solidarity sprung up in response to the thirst for authentic discipleship, hope and renewal.
Now we find ourselves in yet another pivotal moment in history. Just as the Berlin wall collapsed, the walls of Christendom too have been blown away by the wind of secularisation. We are forced to move out of our catacombs into the open, into the new unfamiliar world of post-modernity where nothing is taken for granted as far as faith and belief go. Like the disciples on the Sea of Galilee, we are roused by the Spirit of Jesus to launch the Barque of Peter into deeper waters (Luke 5:4).
My episcopal motto, ‘Duc in altum’, is a perennial test of radical discipleship. It is a call like that of Abraham and Sarah, to leave the familiar and the comfortable, to go to the unknown destination. It is a theme made with urgency and constancy by Pope Francis. It is a church that dares to risk the new frontier rather than a church that is anchored in a safe harbour. The Barque of Peter is once again pushed out into deeper and more treacherous waters. Here, in the new exile and inhospitable landscape, we must learn to walk with others: other faiths, other traditions, other voices, including those who oppose and are critical of us. We learn to be the humble servants of the Kingdom and the sacrament of God’s love and presence in the world.
To read the full text of the Bishop’s lecture, click here.