An Open Letter to the Catholic Laity of Australia
Dear Brother/Sister in Christ,
I write to you as an Australian brother in Christ to express my deep concern about several key challenges that are facing us all as Catholics. As you may be aware, a recent petition was addressed to the Catholic Bishops of Australia on the specific issues that I wish to highlight.
These specific issues are:
- The acute shortage of priests in many of our Churches in Australia;
- The even more acute crisis of the religious life;
- The increasing drift of young people from the Church;
- The lack of encouragement for lay Catholics to identify, recognise and utilize their spiritual gifts for the service of the Church and world.
It is obvious to most Catholics that there is a major crisis of evangelisation and catechisation in the Catholic Church in Australia. Many lay people and priests, and some bishops, have acknowledged that there will be no solution to the major pastoral problems the Australian Catholic Churches are facing without full, conscious and active evangelisation and catechisation—although there are others who are in denial about this.
This fear of faithful evangelisation and catechisation is limiting the Church’s capacity to bring the gospel to secular Australia. It is at the root of the crisis vocations and the transmission of the faith to new generations. Yet the Church can never ignore Christ’s Great Commission to proclaim the gospel to all nations, to baptise in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and to teach everyone to keep his commandments.
We lay Catholics cannot assume that the full responsibility for this crisis of evangelisation and catechisation belongs with the bishops. We have been given the Spirit of God at our Baptism and Confirmation. We have all, young and old, men and women, lay and ordained, been called and gifted to serve Christ in the Church and in the World. While ultimate pastoral responsibility in the diocese belongs to the bishops and is exercised by our priests, we too have a role in bringing the Gospel to our society and in catechising a new generation of Catholics.
Many lay people have already sought education in theology, liturgy, scripture and pastoral care. But we are all gifted with talents in some way to serve the Kingdom of God in whatever context God has placed us.
I am therefore asking you all, individually and as a whole community, to:
- Acknowledge that there is a major crisis in of evangelisation and catechisation in the Catholic Church in Australia, and to resolve to be a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem;
- Acknowledge that there is no doctrinal or theological barrier to the active service of all the baptised in the Church—we each have a particular vocation within the Church, and the Holy Spirit has given each of us the gifts which are necessary to fulfil this vocation;
- Take practical steps toward identifying your vocation and putting your spiritual gifts into action;
- Never be ashamed to preach the Gospel, and to specifically proclaim the name of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for our salvation: Preach in words as well as in actions–actions may be sufficient to show God’s love, but are not sufficient to proclaim the fullness of the Gospel that has been revealed in Christ;
- Commit yourself to the faithful catechisation of those in your care—especially if you are a parent or a teacher; and to being an apologist for the faith among your friends and relatives;
- Seek out opportunities to grow in your own spiritual life: through scriptural, theological and pastoral training programs; and find a way of putting your gifts to work in your parish;
- Always be ready to help others identify their Spiritual gifts and to encourage them to follow their vocation; this especially applies to your children, your students, and to other young people, and to those in whom you see the gifts for priesthood or religious life;
- Take special care to include young people in the life of the parish; value them enough to speak the gospel clearly to them and to teach the authentic Catholic faith to them;
- Never criticise the Church in the presence of a young person, but help them to see the beauty and splendour of the Catholic faith;
- Pray for our bishops and priests.
The challenge of this crisis of evangelisation and faith which we are currently facing in the Australian Catholic Churches can be met. We have the Holy Spirit. We are the Church. We will not expect others to do what is our duty. We will not be afraid to put out into the deep, proclaim the gospel and teach the faith.
Yours in Christ,