Farewell to a good shepherd

5 March 2010

From Bishop Anthony Fisher OP, Catholic Outlook, March 2010

Many people have already paid tribute to Bishop Kevin Manning and more will do so in the months ahead.

There are the obvious achievements, such as leading this diocese as its second bishop through a period of rapid growth, so that it is now bigger than most Australian archdioceses; raising up the new St Patrick’s Cathedral from the ashes of its predecessor; welcoming to the diocese Pope Benedict, the World Youth Day cross and icon, the Indigenous message stick and, of course, the young people of the world in 2008; building bridges to other Christian communities and other faiths, especially the Muslim community in Western Sydney; campaigns for justice for workers, Aboriginal people, migrants and refugees, women and families; efforts to build up and diversify the body of priests, deacons, religious and lay ministers in the diocese …Behind all these achievements is a humble man of God and a good shepherd.

I first got to know Fr Kevin Manning when he was General Secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. I was a young bioethicist, sometimes called to Canberra for meetings to advise the bishops.

Fr Kevin had his eye on the whole range of the Church’s activities and interactions with the community, in the ethics of family, health and life as elsewhere. He had a great devotion to Church teaching and to the people the Church is charged to protect and nurture.

I discovered his passion for the ‘battlers’, his very Aussie down-to-earthness and straight talking, his strong sense of duty and his genuine interest in people.People who know him well highlight his deep humility, his balance of toughness and compassion, his good humour and an unfailing sense of the Church.

As I said at my installation as the third Bishop of Parramatta, Bishop Kevin has handed over to me with the pastoral staff a diocese in very good shape. We have so much to be grateful for, to God and to the clergy, religious and people of Western Sydney for what has been achieved in the building up of God’s kingdom.

And we thank you, Bishop Kevin, for being such a good pastor to the people of the Diocese of Parramatta these past 12 years and more, after the example of the Good Shepherd himself. We promise you our continued prayers for a happy retirement.

It’s Lent

I love Lent. In an age of diets, work-outs, 40-hour famines for the Third World and the like we are rediscovering the ancient wisdom of fasting.

In an era of staff retreats, transcendental meditation techniques, the search for oases of peace amidst the bustle of work and commerce, the hunger for prayer is more acute than ever.

At a time of concerts for the victims of earthquakes, tsunami telethons, redistributive taxation and millennium development goals, we are more able and maybe more ready to engage in almsgiving.

Lent affirms these things, invites us to examine their ultimate purpose, helps purify us of the self-satisfaction that can creep in when we are doing good.I’ve heard it said that Christians are an Easter people. I would say a resounding ‘yes’ to that, a ‘yes but’. We are an Easter people, but also a Lent people (and a Christmas people, an ordinary time people, an Advent people …).Some voices in contemporary culture – even some ‘spiritualities’ – emphasise prosperity, consumption, security, comfort, good times. Of course we all want these.

Jesus was no wowser: in fact he loved to party. But he also had plenty to say about fasting and self-denial (e.g. Mk 2:18-21; 9:29; Mt 4:2; 6:16-18; Lk 18:9-14).His life, like ours, was not one-dimensional. It wasn’t all highs. Through Lent and Easter – which together make up the Paschal season – we explore with his first disciples the mystery of his identity and ours, the mysterious connection between life and death, suffering and hope, Cross and Resurrection. There’s no receiving without giving, no finding without asking, no feasting without fasting.

To my new friends, the people of the Diocese of Parramatta: I promise to fast, pray and give alms for you this Lent. I ask you to do this too, in part for me, that I might be a good shepherd for Western Sydney. God bless you in this special season.

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