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 4: HOLDING THE TENSION BETWEEN THE OLD AND THE NEW
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 into exile, who 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.
The priesthood is not meant to be a numbers game. The strength of our mission does not depend on a cast of thousands. Quality, not quantity, marks our presence. It is substance and not the size of the group that makes the difference. Hence, this time of diminishment can be a blessing in disguise as it makes us reliant less on ourselves but rather on the power of God. Diminishment allows us the precious opportunity to learn the power of vulnerable trust and to seek the will of God in situations of crisis. Diminishment is not a time for activism, cynicism or nostalgia. Diminishment is not a time to apportion blame to certain individuals and groups, or to engage in the battle of ideology: the conservatives versus the liberals, the pre-Vatican versus the post-Vatican, the restorationists versus the “Gaudiem et Spes” generation, those who espouse the hermeneutics of continuity versus those who favour hermeneutics of rupture etc. No, it is rather a time for deepening our commitment, a time for grounding ourselves in the immensity of God’s love. It is a time of silent hope, discernment and mysticism.
The time that we are living in can be likened to Holy Saturday in the Gospel. It is the day of God’s concealment, of the great solitude of Jesus. It is a time of ambiguity, of mourning and yet hoping for good news; it is a liminal interval, a time in which one stands between the old and the new. Mary Magdalene who went to the tomb of Jesus that day is a symbol of the church in mourning. In another way, she also stands for us, who have entered a Holy Saturday of our own. It is our dark night of the soul, as the mystic John of the Cross would call it. We priests, can be a bridge between the old and the new. Our task is to live the creative tension between the pain of the present and the hope of the future.
St Paul talks about the hope of the future through the metaphor of childbirth. “The whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now” (Romans 8:22). In a sense, we priests, have to bear those labour pains. The delivery of new life necessitates the ability to live the creative tenstion between the pain of the present and the hope of the future.
Pope Francis in a recent address stated that he wanted pastors who can “imbue hope” and “have sun and light in their hearts, to lovingly and patiently support the plans which God brings about in His people.” For him, the ability to imbue hope is intimately linked with the stripping of oneself and of beginning anew. In other words, our priestly vocation is the embodiment of the Paschal Mystery. We can only reframe a harsh reality into a vision of hope for our people when we ourselves have the courage to live in that liminal space, that darkness of Holy Saturday, that interim ambiguity that lies between the old and the new.
Part 5 will be published tomorrow.
To read Part 3 of Bishop Vincent’s address, click here.