Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta – Address to Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta System Leadership Day, Rosehill Racecourse, 25 January 2018
Forming students and communities for the Reign of God
Part 5: Conclusion
There is a sense that we are being cut loose from the safe and secure moorings of the past. As we launch ourselves anew into the deep, we grow in the awareness of Paschal rhythm. We realise what needs to die and what needs to rise. We must learn to live as a minority in the midst of a secular society. We must learn to influence it not as lords and masters but as fellow pilgrims. We must learn to engage with others and to act as leaven in a critical and disbelieving world. We, Catholic leaders, are meant to be that crucial yeast in critical times. We are meant to transform our schools into a refuge for the poor, an oasis for the weary and a hospital for the wounded.
Catholic education is not meant to be a numbers game. It is our substance, and not our size that makes the difference. Hence, this time of diminishment of the institutional church can be a blessing in disguise as it makes us less reliant on ourselves but on the power of God. Diminishment allows us the precious opportunity to identify with the “remnant faithful”, to learn the power of vulnerable trust. It is not a time for cynicism or nostalgia. It is a time for deepening of commitment, of grounding in our core values.
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 liminal interval, a time in which one stands 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. The Catholic Church in this country will face diminishment and decline as a result of combined forces such as the secularisation of our society, the institutional malaise and of course, the impact of the Royal Commission. There will be collateral damage that will impact adversely on Catholic education. And that’s alright as long as we, like the midwives during the slavery in Egypt, know how to deliver and nurture new life in the face of painful transition.
The Church is being reborn in ways beyond the traditional structures. Like the river that has changed its course, we have a choice to make. It is not in yearning for or holding on the known and the familiar but in reimagining the future and venturing into the unknown chaos like the old Exodus that we shall find new life.
The Paschal rhythm summons us to a discipleship of humility, weakness and vulnerability, of dying and rising in Christ. As the Church, we must die to the old ways of being Church which is steeped in a culture of clerical power, dominance and privilege. We must abandon the old paradigm of a fortress Church which is prone to exclusivity and elitism. We must learn to rise to Christlike way of humility, inclusivity, compassion and powerlessness.
May we be like the prophets for our people during this our contemporary exile. May we be strengthened to walk the journey of faith with them, proclaim the message of hope, the signs of the new Kairos and lead them in the direction of the Kingdom.
To read Part 4 of Bishop Vincent’s address, click here.
To read the full text of Bishop Vincent’s address, click here.