Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta – Address at the Manly Reunion Gathering at DOOLEYS Lidcombe Catholic Club, Lidcombe, 30 August 2017
THE PRIESTHOOD IN AUSTRALIA
Reflections on its future in the light of the Royal Commission
PART 3: HAVING THE SMELL OF THE SHEEP
Pope Francis constantly calls us to move beyond the security of status quo and take the risk of going to the peripheries. The church must be the church of the poor and for the poor. The Church must go out of itself, in order to be close to those in need. Conversely, the church that does not go out into the world keeps Jesus imprisoned.
If one can detect the direction of Pope Francis’ pontificate, it has something to do with the movement from security to boldness, from being inward looking to looking outward, from preoccupation with the present status and safeguarding our privileges to learning to be vulnerable, and learning to convey God’s compassion to those who are on the edges of society and the church.
Hence, our challenge is to accompany people from the margins into a journey towards the fullness of life and love. It is to embrace the call of the Vatican Council to identify with the joys and hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of those who are poor and in anyway afflicted. It is to be the bearer of joy to those who are most deprived of it. To do this, we must be able to live in and to bridge the yawning gap between the ideal and the real, between what the church teaches and how the people respond.
Pope Francis challenges all of us to divest ourselves of clericalism and elitism, to return to the purity of the Gospel. His constant call to the Church, to be less concerned with itself and to be more outward looking encourages us to walk with our people in the ambiguities and complexities of their lives. The self-referential church steeped in a culture of splendour is in stark contrast with the church of the poor and for the poor. It is the latter that we must endeavour to serve if we want to pattern ourselves according to Jesus the prophet, who spoke from the margins. The new wine of God’s unconditional love, boundless mercy, radical inclusivity and equality needs to be poured into new wineskins of humility, mutuality, compassion and powerlessness. The old wineskins of triumphalism, authoritarianism and supremacy, abetted by clerical power, superiority, and rigidity, are breaking.
It is a vocation of the Christian leader to be with his people in their hopes and struggles, anxieties and fears. He/she is to be a Malcolm in the Middle who occupies liminal, peripheral and precarious places. It is not easy to be in the middle, and to be loyal to both ends of the spectrum, to belong to the Church of orthodoxy and yet also to minister in the world of the unorthodox. It truly involves being, as the saying goes, between a rock and the hard place. Yet, that is the calling of the leader, because we are meant to be at the coalface, in the messiness of it all, faithful always to the Gospel. We are sent to the strong and the weak, the wholesome and the broken, the churched and the unchurched, the pious and the impious, the normal and the bizarre. We are sent to them through the gate, who is Christ. We are sent often from the inside out and not from the outside in. Like Christ in his ministry among the sick and the lost, we are called to meet God in the most unlikely people and places.
Part 4 will be published tomorrow.
To read Part 2 of Bishop Vincent’s address, click here.