Kate, at Australia Incognita, has been running a series of posts on the priest shortage, and on what needs to be done to address the problem. She has also addressed the so-called Wilkinson Report, published by “Catholics for Ministry” (go to their home page and click “The Death of Australian Catholicism?” at the top) and featured in yesterday’s Age.
Kate and Peter Wilkinson largely agree on current scenario, but very broadly disagree on the solutions. Just compare Kate’s suggestions in her extensive treatment with the list of objectives that Catholics for Ministry have posted on their home page. Chalk and cheese.
But in one sense, both Kate and Catholics for Ministry agree – please forgive me for this observation, Kate! They both propose the urgent adoption of a pro-active strategy to change the situation. The message is: Get Active!
Long term readers of SCE will know that this blogger proposes a very simple strategy indeed: Evangelisation and Catechisation. This is, I believe, the strategy of the Holy Father too, and can be seen in the intention to hold a Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation (the lineamenta for which has just been produced; see John Allen’s comments here).
But at a far deeper level, what is really needed within the Australian Catholic Churches (all 26 of them) – and indeed in every Church and every ecclesial community – is conversion to the Gospel. At root the priest shortage is a spiritual rather than a strategic problem.
On these lines, there is much to be gleaned from an excellent presentation by Cardinal Raymond Burke’s presentation to the Northwest Catholic Men’s Conference (go here for both the text and the audio). This section in particular I draw to your attention:
Addressing the challenge of Christian living in a totally secularized world, the Venerable Pope John Paul II called us to the new evangelization, to teaching the faith, celebrating the faith in the Sacraments and prayer, and living the faith, as if for the first time, that is, with the engagement and energy of the first disciples, of the first apostles to our native place. Before the grave situation of the world today, we are, he reminds us, like the first disciples who, after hearing Saint Peter?s Pentecost discourse, asked him: “What must we do?” Even as the first disciples faced a pagan world which had not even heard of our Lord Jesus Christ, so, we, too face a culture which is forgetful of God and hostile to His Law written upon every human heart.
Before the great challenge of our time, Pope John Paul cautioned us that we will not save ourselves and our world by discovering “some magic formula” or by “inventing a new programme.” He declared to us:
“No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance which he gives us: I am with you.”
He reminded us that the programme by which we are to address effectively the great spiritual challenges of our time is, in the end, Jesus Christ alive for us in the Church. He explained:
“The programme already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its center in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem. This is a program which does not change with shifts of times and cultures, even though it takes account of time and culture for the sake of true dialogue and effective communication.”
In short, the program leading to freedom and happiness is, for each of us, holiness of life.
The Venerable Pope John Paul II, in fact, cast the entire pastoral plan for the Church in terms of holiness. He explained himself thus:
“In fact, to place pastoral planning under the heading of holiness is a choice filled with consequences. It implies the conviction that, since Baptism is a true entry into the holiness of God through incorporation into Christ and the indwelling of his Spirit, it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethics and a shallow religiosity. To ask catechumens: “Do you wish to be receive Baptism?” means at the same time to ask them: “Do you wish to become holy?” It means to set before them the radical nature of the Sermon on the Mount: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48)”
In the end, it is only this “program”, this “strategy” that will bring new life to the Church. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the same work that the Church has always been engaged in. Kate suggests many things, in part liturgical, in part evangelistic, that can be done to turn things around in the Church, but what really needs “turning around” – converting! – are the hearts and minds of baptised Christians. I don’t agree with Kate that the Apostles had a “strategy” other than that given by our Lord “preach the gospel to all nations”. They didn’t spend a lot of time working this strategy out – they just did it, following the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
We are called to “just do it” too. Pretty simple really. Evangelise. Teach. Convert and be converted. “Be Holy as I the Lord your God am Holy.”