Four Reflections


  • Meetings of the National Commission allocate time for a "Pastoral Discussion".
  • These discussions usually prove to be frank and far ranging, and provide a backdrop to many of the subsequent deliberations and decisions of the Commission.
  • For the meeting in January 2003, four members of the Commission undertook to put in writing some thoughts that might provide a springboard for our discussion.
  • The contributions (following) are meant to be just that - not academic or "definitive" statements, but thoughtful (and thought-provoking) discussion starters.

by Bishop Justin Bianchini (Bishop of Geraldton WA)

This was seen to be very important at our last Commission meeting and we included under it the fact that priests are Disciples of Jesus who in turn is their model of Ministry.

We have also often spoken of the nature of Priesthood and need for a good theology of priesthood. These are very important however, different theologies may or may not affect Priests' lives. Different theologies can be a source of debate and division. What is needed for completeness and effectiveness is a good Spirituality.

Spirituality of priesthood is about the mystery of priesthood ? how it is lived, how ministry is carried out ? in such ways that it deepens priests' relationship with Jesus and with the Trinity. In turn priests are empowered more and more for Mission. It is in this process also that priests fulfil God's call for them to holiness.

Spirituality of priesthood is about priests relationship with Jesus. Priests become more aware of that relationship (Jesus working in and through them) as well as the fact that their ministry deepens that relationship.

Spirituality of priesthood can be a real source of union among priests. It is akin to faith, which is also about a relationship with Jesus. All priests have this faith and, when shared, it becomes a source of inspiration and union for them.

Spirituality of priesthood has a lot to do with ministry. Vatican II emphasises how priests become holy through their ministry. Since Jesus is the model of ministry for priests it is important to ask, How did Jesus do it?" We know Jesus exercised his ministry as a Priest, Prophet and King.

Priest. As a Priest Jesus ministered forgiveness, healing, life etc. He eventually gave his whole life on the cross. Priests who are celebrants of the Eucharist, are asked to live out the spirituality of that Eucharist by giving themselves for the people of God or as the Rite of Ordination states: "know what you are doing, and imitate the mysteries you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord's cross"

Prophet. Jesus exercised this role by evangelising in different ways.

a) By his actions (e.g. eating with sinners, washing the disciples feet etc.)

b) Proclaiming the power of the kingdom. (Confronting evil, healing, empowering people, Resurrection etc.)

c) He gave new experiences of God (e.g. God was a loving Father and close to us etc.)

d) Gave new understanding of the truth that people already believed. (any instruction that Jesus gave e.g. the farewell discourse).

King. Jesus exercised this role as a Shepherd and Servant. By being a shepherd and a servant of the people of God, priests exercise very much their spirituality.

Prayer is certainly central to the life of a priest. Spirituality is very much connected with prayer, and so as priests we need to reflect on and pray about the Eucharist and Sacraments, (becoming what we celebrate) the Word of God, (drinking it in and applying it to life) the image of shepherd. (How is Jesus a shepherd for me and how am I a shepherd for others?)

A lot of what I said implies going back to Jesus and the Gospels. How Jesus WAS ? BEING How Jesus ACTED ? DOING How Jesus PRAYED ? PRAYING

P.S. I was very taken by a quote from Chiara Lubich that I read recently. It was from a short meditation of hers written in the mid I950s and is all about evangelisation. She wrote:

"This is the great attraction of modern times:
to penetrate to the highest contemplation
while mingling with everyone, as one person
next to others.
I would say even more:
to lose oneself in the crowd
in order to infuse it with the divine...
I would say even more:
made sharers in God's plans
for humanity,
to embroider patterns of light on the crowd,
and at the same time to share
shame, hunger, troubles
and brief joys with our neighbour."

+Justin Bianchini
17th July 2002


Note: This reflection is not a learned treatise on Management and Leadership. For this I can commend the most excellent paper by Fr Frank Devoy "Collaboration, Consensus & Communion: Matters of Character & Heart". This paper is a well researched and prepared document, containing much of practical relevance.

"The Church always comes to be locally. It does not occur on some abstract universal level or in diocesan or parochial planning offices. It occurs when, perhaps as a result of our efforts, the word of God is preached pertinently and effectively, when the liturgy is celebrated joyfully and attractively, when a genuine community of reconciliation appears in our broken world. The real action takes place outside our offices, where the drama of sin and grace is played out in the lives of people".

Fr Joseph Kornonchak ? The Church: God's Gift, Our Task
(from an address given in 1987 & reprinted in The Mix, June 2002)

I like this statement as it emphasises the significance of the local Church and the critical importance of the leadership ministry of ordained clergy. Fr Joseph was also the keynote speaker at the National Forum - Vatican II. Unfinished Business, held at Hunters Hill, July I2-14 2002. At this Forum, Fr Joseph further made the point that, by the end of the 2nd Century, an ordination rite was in place in the early Church. However, at that time, one was ordained for leadership and, in virtue of being leader of the community, also presided over the Eucharist - the community's prayer. Over the course of the centuries, this has changed, so typically now one is ordained to celebrate the Eucharist and then a community placement is found.

We all know people we respect as effective leaders but we can't always define what leadership attributes we value in them - often it is an innate ability that we recognise. Furthermore, just because a person is placed in a leadership role it does not follow that he/she is an effective leader. It is necessary to consider leadership qualities before appointment and then to provide support and training where needs are apparent. A successful leader will use a variety of management styles, depending on circumstances. A crisis demands firm and decisive action. Preparing for change - building a new church, planning a special liturgy, integrating two parish communities etc - requires a consultative and inclusive approach. It is also important to make one's own views - and, where appropriate, those of the bishop - visible at an early stage, to avoid difficulties later.

I will describe three contrasting leadership styles I have observed in different parishes I have known in the past 20 years:
  • Example 1: a humble faith-filled priest, very pastoral and with a clear vision of how the parish community should adapt to new challenges. He was consultative and collaborative but also willing to risk unpopularity to lead people forward. But ultimately he was able to have people feel included in decision making and respect his leadership.
  • Example 2: a priest, new to parish ministry, having spent many years in seminaries and formation. A great preacher and confident in liturgical detail. He was initially inclined to dictate his requirements without prior consultation. But he did listen and observe and, over several years, was sufficiently open to people that he modified his leadership style and was then much appreciated and loved by the community.
  • Example 3: a priest of great experience, very attuned to pastoral needs and a very decisive man of action. He consults sufficiently but not widely and is known for his great pastoral touch and wonderful homilies. This priest is much respected, loved by many, but others can find him a little overpowering.
At a recent Sunday homily I was impressed by the following points made regarding leadership in ministry:
• to listen, but to instruct also,
• to allow time for people to learn, grow and develop,
• to recognise things are rarely black & white - there are delicate pressures and balances in a community,
• to always appreciate and reward service - affirmation.

There is also a need for maturity in one's own personal faith and a developed spirituality of priesthood - people must recognise 'goodness' in their pastor. It is essential to show trust and to be sufficiently humble to ask for advice when uncertain. Finally, in times of crisis, strong leadership must be shown. This means to be present with the community, sharing their pain and joy. A leader goes where the people are, to journey with them - this is especially so for young people today.

I would like to finish with a quotation from the conclusion in the paper by Fr Frank Devoy:

'The call for laity to participate and collaborate in the life of the church stems from their Baptism. For that reason (rather than an overextended clergy) participation and collaboration are fostered The gifts, abilities, and talent of so many of the laity in so many facets of their lives are precious to every parish and diocese. Priests have both the responsibility and privilege of honouring God's call to the laity which arises from Baptism, and they have the duty of availing themselves of a proper mode of participating and collaborating with them. Central to a priest's disposition to participate and collaborate is his level of trust and openness."

Denys Goggin, September 2002.


For as long as I have been ordained there has been talk of trying to describe the spirituality of the diocesan priest. At the same time there has been a parallel attempt to define an Australian spirituality. Limiting spirituality to concise definitions and neat descriptions is an activity fraught with danger. Our desire to contain spirituality within external parameters points to our real difficulty with spirituality in general and our own spirituality in particular.

The danger is that we will begin to believe that we don't have a spirituality because we are unable to describe or define it in a way that satisfies anyone. The difficulty we have in both understanding and expressing our spirituality comes in no small way from the changing cultural situation of mainstream religions in the western world and especially in Australia. As priests we do not know where we stand in our own communities or in our society in general.

I was ordained in 1984. In the early years of my priesthood I worked in a large suburban parish. There were seven Sunday Masses mostly well attended. The parish had two primary schools. The priests were called on to assist in any one of five nearby Catholic secondary schools. There were lots of baptisms, weddings and funerals. There were plenty of things to do and days passed quickly with little reflection about what was going on. It was clear what my role and responsibilities were as a priest. As well as the "busy-ness" of life, society as a whole both respected and supported my role and identity as a Catholic priest.

Eighteen years later it seems to me that we find ourselves living and working in a society and a culture that in no way provides support for our role as priests. Being an agent of one of the large institutional religions does not, any longer, provide us with a place or a status within Australian society. As priests we can no longer rely on the institution to give us an identity or a reason for being.

At the same time our "busy-ness" no longer helps us to make sense of our lives. There are many priests in Australia who are just as busy, if not more so, than I was in the mid '80's. Priests are overwhelmed with expectations to perform. Finding themselves having to celebrate the Eucharist and to preach many times on Sundays as well as too often on weekdays leaves them tired, frustrated and almost resentful about the reality that at one stage in their lives made sense to them.

The attempt to define and describe spirituality only adds to the frustration. Neatly packaged spiritualities are no spiritualities at all. Fundamentalism provides our society with a certainty that many people search for amid the frenetic pace that seems to be so much a part of the Australian way of life. People consult tarot cards and clairvoyants to be certain about the future. Our Pentecostal brothers and sisters seem to be having success where we are supposedly failing. Both politicians and leaders of churches look to some past golden age to provide both a secure and a clear way forward in the midst of the confusing and uncertain times in which we live.

In terms of spirituality, descriptions and definitions need to be replaced by discovery. It is easy to describe the reality of our world. It would be just as easy to define a spirituality that would provide a certainty for us if we were prepared to stick to its rules. However, our situation invites us to discover our own reality and, in doing that, to give expression to what I suspect is a very rich spirituality.

Whenever I am asked to give my understanding of the meaning of spirituality I want to talk of that which makes sense of my life. I have to be prepared to journey into myself and discover the driving force of my life. For me as a believing Christian, that driving force is Jesus Christ.

My relationship with Christ has a history and it finds its expression in ways that reflect my personality, my temperament, my emotions and, indeed, my sexuality. I love Christ passionately. This is my spirituality.

This spirituality is informed and nourished by my life as a Catholic. It is this spirituality that led me to respond to God's initiative in my life and to answer the call to be a priest. I can deal with most things that happen in my life for as long as I am clearly focused on Christ. As a human, as a man I do struggle. I have times of being fearful. I worry about being taken for granted and not being appreciated. Sometimes I feel undermined and I struggle with my anger when confronted. At times these struggles blur my focus on Christ. Through prayer, reflection and quiet the focus is restored.

Why have I spoken so personally? I have done so because I believe that the only clear thing we have to offer is our relationship with and our response to Jesus Christ. I also believe that these realities are the things we are most reluctant to speak about and share with others. We look for a spirituality from outside because we are so overwhelmed by life that we don't trust enough to take the risk of discovering that which does, in fact, make sense of our lives. In other words we don't find either a spirituality of diocesan priesthood or an Australian spirituality because we are not prepared to discover that very reality within ourselves.

My growing understanding and appreciation of my relationship with Christ enabled me to commit myself to priesthood. As a priest I am called to lead the Christian community. I do this effectively not because I am the most skilled administrator or the best preacher or the most competent communicator etc. I lead the community when I model Christ for the community. And I only model Christ when I know and love Christ.

Leadership and spirituality go together for the priest. Our spirituality supports, nourishes and informs our leadership. So often we fail because our leading of the Christian community is an exercise in fulfilling the expectations of others. Priestly leadership is about being an icon of Christ in each and every circumstance in which we are called to minister. To do (or rather to be) this we must be prepared to discover Christ.

Priests as leaders are called
to proclaim with authority the Word of God to assemble the scattered People of God, to feed this People with the signs of the action of Christ which are the Sacraments, to set this People on the road to salvation, to maintain it in that unity of which we are, at different levels, active and living instruments, and unceasingly to keep this community gathered around Christ faithful to its deepest vocation. (Evangelii Nuntiandi No.68).

This is an impossible task for anyone who hasn't or is reluctant to discover in themselves the presence and power of Christ.

As priests we struggle to lead amid the complexities and ambiguities of our life situations. I suggest that this struggle emanates not so much from a lack of spirituality but rather from a reluctance to take the journey of discovery that is demanded if we are to come to a real spirituality that makes sense of our lives. How prepared are we to love Christ passionately? How serious are we about spirituality and leadership?

Fr Mark Freeman
17 December 2002


Transparency and accountability: What is it about these qualities that attract me so strongly? When I read Bishop Michael Malone's report at the July meeting of the National Commission for Clergy Life and Ministry and participated in tile ensuing discussion it was the call to accountability and transparency that caught my energy in mind and heart.

Through my years of working within our Church I have worked very closely with many clergy, men whose commitment and work ethic I have admired and never questioned - men who strive to walk the path that Jesus walked and live a life strong in Gospel values. They were not perfect and the best of them would not aspire to perfection but to a life lived in the fullness of humanity. Why then do many clergy continue to project a persona of untouchable unaccountability? I wonder is it a fear of not measuring up in the eyes of the people to whom they minister or is truly a trip of power and control?

We cannot deny that the past few years have brought pain and shame to many of our clergy, men who have had to watch and listen as story after story of abuse and misconduct by some come to light within our parishes and on the pages of our press. The people of the Church are angry and confused; trust is shattered, perhaps for many never to return.

We could say nothing and pretend to go on as before. I hope not. It is time for transparency and accountability to take root in our Church as never before and begin a new way of being in our world. Transparency implies, indeed means, that all can be seen. It also means that understanding is dear and 'of such a kind that the truth behind is easily perceived.' (1) We, clergy and laypeople alike, are all flawed and to some degree fearful of the openness that transparency reveals. We must all embrace the challenge. It is the challenge to which Jesus called us, for he too, had to make the choice between the clerical structures he inherited and the vision of God he carried in his heart, between his tempted ego and his authentic essence.(2)

This time of crisis has also caused many to pause and reflect on just what really does matter for us as Catholics today. It is time to question, a time for honest communication, not a time for denial and closed doors. If we as Church continue to do this it will be to our peril. 'Only a passion for the truth, both personal and collective, only an openness to the Spirit of truth, offers the promise of freedom, health, and ultimate salvation.' (3) It is only the truth that will restore trust within our Church.

Accountability for me is centred on taking responsibility and being able to explain one's actions. This is not always easy but it is essential to any healthy relationships. I am not talking about the sort of hierarchical accountability that our Church practises, but the round- table accountability that brings forth communion within a home, parish or diocese. It springs forth naturally from honest dialogue, which does not always require answers but good questioning and compassionate listening. For many, to be accountable seems to bring with it fear and self doubt. When practised well, accountability helps those involved to explore their actions honestly and come to blossom with their own goodness.

This prayer helps me to make some sense of my own explorations.

Prayer for a Questioning Heart
It seems to me Lord
That we search
Much too desperately
For answers
When a good question
Holds as much grace
As an answer.

You are the Great Questioner.
Keep our questions alive
That we may always be seekers
Rather than settlers.

Guard us well
From the sin of settling in
With our answers
Hugged to our breasts.

Make of us
A wondering
Restless people
And give us the feet of pilgrims
On this journey unfinished
References: (1) The Australian Dictionary. Oxford University Press.
(2) The Tablet. 30 Nov.2002 Pg 2. Viewpoint Fr Daniel O'Leary.
(3) Sacred Silence. Donald Cozzens. The Liturgical Press. 2002. Pg.34.

Mary Cameron
17 December 2002
  • Created: 24 August 2008
  • Modified: 23 April 2009