Information Bulletin 76

DECEMBER 2005

{/slide} {slide=Introduction} Dear brothers in ministry
This is my last note to you, after four rich and personally rewarding years. Towards the end of this year I have had some health problems which, on top of fatigue, prompted me to finish up in this national position. I look forward to a good break in the New Year, and then to returning to my own diocese.
In my last report to the bishops, I said that I was more than ever convinced of the importance of the Commission for Clergy Life and Ministry, and the role of an executive officer, who can keep a national eye on the issues, and keep them on the boil.
I am very happy that Fr Frank Devoy, PP of Byron Bay NSW, has accepted the appointment to take over this role for twelve months, until a permanent replacement is made. Frank served as Diocesan Director in his home diocese of Lismore, and has been a member of the National Commission. He has also worked with clergy in various places around the country and has a very good understanding of the issues that face us as clergy.
My warmest greetings and thanks to you all.
Peter Brock, Outgoing Executive Officer
{/slide} {slide=Prayer and Spirituality}

The Prayer and Spirituality of the Diocesan Priest

In September 2005 our National Commission sponsored a two-day gathering to reflect on this topic. The meeting took place at Kensington NSW, with 24 participants from Australia and New Zealand. These included a cardinal, other bishops, priests (both religious and diocesan) and lay people. Those taking part have been giving retreats to diocesan clergy, or are diocesan directors of clergy life and ministry or spiritual directors from diocesan seminaries. Participants also included the women members of the National Commission.
Here are just a few comments made on each of the major sessions.
The Lectionary, our Constant Companion (Each day we grapple with the Word of God as we prepare to break open the Word at Mass. What part does this play in our spiritual life?)
· The Word is a given to us. We don’t choose it. We are subservient to the Word of God
· The Lectionary is “the Bible in dialogue form”, with comments on a spirituality of dialogue (interaction) and a spirituality of repetition (deepening)
· Our relationship is with Jesus (not just with the words of Jesus)
· “The Word is living. I don’t have to bring it to life – I just must make sure I don’t kill it”
· The importance of visual imagery – “The Scriptures are not so much written, as drawn!”
· “When desperate for a homily, do I go to a commentary or do I go into the church?”
Praying the Psalms (How did Jesus pray this psalm? What does it mean to me as I pray it? What part do the psalms, and whole Prayer of the Church, play in our spiritual life?)
· The psalms are meant to be prayed together
· They are the daily prayer of the Old Testament and of the New Israel
· Prayer of the sick person, prayer of the angry person – even if, now, it’s not “me”, I’m giving voice to someone else who is sick or angry at this moment.
Celebrating the Eucharist within the Parish Community (We do this on Sundays, weekdays, and for special and ritual occasions. What part does the Eucharist play in our spiritual life?)
· The Eucharist is the experience of engaging with Christ – Augustine’s saying: “We become what we consume”
· The Eucharist must give practical impulse to working for justice and those in need
· Is the Mass only and always the primary and indispensable source? (for some in Corinth, it was actually destructive)
· Has “ritual’ replaced “symbol”?
· “A priest can feel ‘Massed out’ at times”.
Listening to the women who are with us: (What have you heard us say so far? How does our spirituality look, to you? How do you want us to be holy?)
· You have a vision and sense of global church
· You make efforts to plant seeds; people work hard on their homilies
· You are men of prayer; visiting the sick; sense of justice and fairness; men who “know the village”; you have outside interests; you share the Good News
· Spending time with the Lectionary: do you prepare your homilies with others?
· Have you considered spiritual direction by cheap, Sunday-night phone calls, or by email?
· “I have heard you ask the question: ‘what is it that captures our heart?’”
Participants also selected the following four “Interest Groups” for further discussion: Seminary Formation; Personal Relationships ~ Spirituality; Spiritual Companioning; Paschal Mystery ~ Priesthood.
A final forum (“What have we learnt? Where to from here?”) ranged very widely. Here are some of the comments made.
· “The gathering has given me more fire to keep on reading about priesthood, praying about priesthood, etc. I have also been helped by those of the ‘common priesthood of the faithful’ who have shared with us”
· We need to expand this conversation into our own dioceses
· Do we need to listen a lot more on the question of “how do you want us to be holy?”
· The importance of priests praying with people, as well as for them
· Collaboration is hard work (though essential).
{/slide} {slide=Reflections on 4 years in ministry}

Some Reflections on Four Years in this Ministry

The first thing I would want to say is that I've really enjoyed it.
I said to one of the bishops during the year that it has been like one big long sabbatical for me. All I had done as a priest for 30+ years was "ordinary parish work", so this was a complete change of lifestyle. I always hate leaving any place, and it was hard coming to Canberra, away from family and many friends. (And I never acclimatised to the Canberra winter). But, as Jesus foretold, the vine-dresser prunes away, and new growth comes. So I've found it a very enriching and enjoyable time.
I've had to learn and think about all sorts of issues that I hadn't needed to think about before. For example, ministering in a remote diocese was completely beyond my experience. What is it like to be hours by road from the next priest, or ten or more hours by road from the cathedral? And how does one minister in the Aboriginal communities, e.g. in the Kimberley and the Northern Territory? I would often think "how on earth could I survive as PP of this place?" At the other end of the spectrum, the capital city dioceses were also a whole new world to me – some parishes with 10,000+ Catholics; presbyterates of several hundred priests, where every time they have a clergy gathering they all have to wear name tags.
And just to see the whole country was a great experience. Before I started in the job, I'd never been to Tasmania, or to anywhere between Perth and Darwin. My job description says that part of the role is "to coordinate a movement with national vision". I found it very rewarding to support the national meetings of the diocesan directors in Sydney in June each year. At these meetings, almost every diocese in the country is represented, with very fine priests. The
other members of the Commission also attend this annual meeting (i.e. the two bishops, the religious and the lay people).
I should also mention our neighbour (and great sporting nation) New Zealand. These Information Bulletins go to most of the New Zealand dioceses and a couple of years ago I was invited to attend a gathering of diocesan priests at Blenheim, in the Archdiocese of Wellington. Again, it was my first time across the Tasman. Each year since then, two NZ diocesan priests have joined with our Australian diocesan directors in their annual meeting.
My contact with the Ukrainian Eparchy gave me a new understanding of the richness of the life of the Catholic Church in Australia. Along with all the Eastern Churches, they have a great deal to offer to enrich our lives, both as Catholics and Australians.
It was also a privilege to get to know the clergy of the Military Ordinariate, who minister in a uniquely demanding way to our service personnel and their families.
In preparing recent papers for the Bishops Conference, I've had to think a lot about the Permanent Diaconate, and all the issues associated with welcoming priests coming to Australia from overseas. (These papers are now on our website)
I was always made welcome by the clergy attending the conferences of the National Council of Priests and the Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, and I thank them for that.
I must say too that the bishops have been very supportive, hospitable and welcoming. I have an increased understanding of the difficulty and complexity of their ministry, and honour them for the way they strive to carry it out. {/slide}
  • Created: 01 December 2005
  • Modified: 23 April 2009