As the Questions Show, Carlton Parish Talks a Hit with Everyone

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
21 Feb 2018

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP was the first speaker in "The Challenges of our Times,"
a monthly forum on the relevance of religion at St Bernadette's Parish in Carlton.
Just as interesting as his talk were the questions that came afterwards from a packed audience...

Q. What can we do to instil into our young people the deepest of faith?

A. I think all of us of a certain age worry about our children and our grandchildren, and are they going to go to Mass? Are they going to know Jesus Christ? Are they going to know the beauty and truth and goodness of the Gospel and of the Catholic tradition? And be willing to embrace that and live that with a passion that we have, even if we have done so, each of us, imperfectly?

We worry about this, let me say that we've always worried about this, Saint Monica worried about this with her bad boy who ended up one of our greatest saints.

This has troubled many a parent and grandparent down through the ages.

But we shouldn't lose hope here. Only two months ago we had the Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Sydney.
It was a wonderful experience for our kids, I don't know if you know any young people who would've come back from it, who've talked about it, but just to give you two little stories - I could give you hundreds - but, one principal told me they brought a whole cohort from their school including kids that were very disconnected from church, including the brightest boy who was the school atheist.

He was kind of an evangelising atheist, he was trying to make the rest of the kids atheist too.

After one day at the Australian Catholic Youth Festival, he approached the principal and said "I'm really quite troubled. I'm scared that I'm becoming to believe in Jesus." After one day.

Now, I don't know what will become of that lad, I don't know where he'll go with his life, but you know, if it did it just for one kid, I'd say it's worth all the work. But who know how many it's touched in that way...

That was the first day. On the second day, we had these big plenaries - lots of song and dance and mime and talks and so on.

In the plenary at the end of the second day, we had Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction.

My guess is that most of the 15,000 or so kids that were there that night had never seen adoration before. For half an hour, in total silence, they were so reverent on their knees, it was so beautiful that the head of security who was not a churchgoer, I don't know what religion he had if any, had tears running down his cheeks. He was so impressed because what goes on in the Qudos Arena is not always quite so silent or prayerful as what he saw that night with those kids before the Blessed Sacrament.

Deep in them, whatever their disconnection, they're not coming to Mass on Sunday or only sometimes or whatever, deep in them there was a piety; they knew how you behave in front of Our Lord exposed in the Blessed Sacrament, and they loved it.

And of all the things that happened in those several days of that Youth Festival, the one they're most talking about since is Adoration.

So we must not lose hope for our young generation, for our young kids. There is still a deep goodness and idealism there which we have got to keep thinking all the time "how do we switch that on? How do we bring that out of them? How do we encourage that when there's a little flame flickering in them?" Never lose hope for them.

Q. What directives in Sydney have come from your office, to at least the Catholic schools, to have children going to Adoration in conjunction with Mass?

A. Ten years ago when we started down this path of having these events for young people, people would've said: "Don't try a thing like Adoration. It's too demanding, it's too hard. They can't be silent for half an hour. They can't be still for that long. They don't know what's going on. They'll end up talking, it'll be a fiasco."

I think John Paul taught us to have faith in our young people and their ability to actually make sense of these things. I think we can demonstrate to teachers, to education authorities, to parish priests, to parents and grandparents that it's not impossible to do this with our young people. It's not scary. It's not going to alienate them. It mightn't affect them all equally, but these things are worth trying.

I suppose if they are going to happen anywhere, it ought to happen first and foremost in our parishes. We can't be looking out elsewhere and pointing fingers at schools or at the wider community.

To begin with we've got to make sure that Our Lord is worshipped in the Blessed Sacrament, in the heart of every parish. And I hear that happens here at least twice a week, Adoration. I'm delighted to hear that.

That's a great thing if we make that more and more commonplace so it's not a weird thing that happens once every ten years at a Youth Festival but is ordinary life for us Catholics to be really people of Adoration who just love spending time with Our Lord.

Q. The challenges of our times seem insurmountable. Such a change like this requires Our Lord and Our Lady - and not just in our youth. Could you perhaps push for Eucharistic Adoration in every parish?

A. One of you plus God is a majority. So bring Him in every time, on every issue, whatever your challenge or the Church's challenge or the world's challenge. Bring Him with you to that challenge.

Go to Him in prayer, bring the world and all its needs, the cares of your hearts, to Him in prayer and then take him back out with you when you go back into that world.

And Adoration and Holy Rosary are two beautiful ways of doing that. I'm lucky, I get to live with the Blessed Sacrament only a few inches away from me. But you've not got too far to go, here to this parish, or to your parish, wherever you've come from, to be close to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament too.

Q. You mentioned that a Jewish school in England faced closure for not teaching about homosexuality. Is there any chance at all that our schools will be forced to close for refusing to teach new teachings on sexuality?

A. We, the Catholic community, Christians, and religious believers generally, should take this very seriously. There are serious threats to religious freedom.

In the Northern Territory, for instance, the Attorney General's department has put out a discussion paper proposing removing all protections for religious freedom from churches and other groups in the Northern Territory.

And there will be ideologues in every state, amongst the law profession or the Attorney General's department or in politics who would like to do that. I think that it's less likely that any time soon some bureaucrats are going to come and say to the Catholic Church "Your schools have to teach from tomorrow that this, that or the other ideology." It's much more likely to be more subtle.

So we have to be vigilant. We have to watch all the time what people are doing and be willing, as parents, as grandparents, as voters, as citizens, to stand up for our faith and our beliefs and our morals in these areas where these other people are trying to constrain us or dictate to us what we teach, what we preach, what we live.
The Church has made a number of submissions to the Ruddock Inquiry. Sydney Catholic Schools also put in a submission; there are lots of submissions from lots of different Catholic groups so they're not just hearing just the ones who want to get rid of all religious freedoms in Australia.

But there certainly are those who have that militant secularism who'd really like to stamp out religion from the public life altogether, to make it something very, very private that it's done behind closed doors and has no purchase on our daily lives and I think we have to be consciously resisting that.

I think the Ruddock Inquiry was established with some genuine goodwill that there might be some things that we can do to strengthen religious freedoms in Australia.

I'm not entirely confident that even if we get a good report out on the Ruddock committee, it's going to lead to any change of law or policy in Australia but we'll try.

Q. What are we supposed to do when Catholics and even Catholic priests were telling people to vote 'yes' for same-sex marriage?

A. I'm not going to excuse what some priests and other Christian leaders did during that debate, to undermine and confuse the message of the Christian faith about marriage, about true marriage. It shamed me, and I certainly did my best to lead as best I could. My message is not always welcome in the media and so sometimes even to get our message out is quite hard, whereas they'll gobble up anything from a priest that says anything against the Church's teaching on a thing like this.

Saint Catherine of Siena, who could be absolutely Australian in how plain-speaking she was about the failings of priests and bishops and even popes, she loved them anyway and she kept praying for them, and kept asking God to guide them back to the faith, to the truth, and make them better pastors, better leaders for the flock.

And so, just as I've said don't give up on your young people, please don't give up on your priests either. Keep praying for them and supporting them. When they get it right, when they touch you in something they say in their homily or do something a bit courageous, really praise and com-mend them. Encourage them for that, because maybe the only feedback they get back is from the person who's cranky at something they've said or done, and they don't hear the other side so much, so, do encourage them when they get it right and pray for them when they don't.

But sometimes, like Saint Catherine, you might feel moved to tell them- hopefully respectfully, you know, just as the way you'd like to be told if someone wants to tell you -  "Father, you got that really wrong, and you've confused people." Do your best to correct fraternally, lovingly; don't do it every day, on every topic, or they'll stop listening, but from time to time that might be in order.


The next instalment of "The Challenges of Our Times" talks will be on Wednesday, 14 March 2018, commencing at 7.30pm.
Bishop Richard Umbers will be the speaker.