Today I would like to do something different. A while ago, I asked everyone to commit to praying for vocations. I thank you for that. Today, I would like to propose something else. I would like to suggest that the parishes use this Easter season to pray specifically about our neighbourhood.
As we began discussing last year, the Archdiocese of Melbourne is in the middle of a major reorganisation. At the moment, we are in the discerning period. We need to work out what we want to be, given our changing circumstances. Over the next 1-2 years, there will need to be major structural changes throughout the Archdiocese. However, as we all know, the structural changes will be pointless if there is no life behind them. This is what I would like our communities to focus on over this Easter period. I think we need a period of steady prayer, steady thought and steady imagining before we even begin to have a proper discussion.
On that note, I would like to highlight briefly a few things for us to consider. Then, I want to suggest we use these readings today to set the scene for our reflection.
So, first, some things to consider.
Last year, we set out the changing situation of the church in Melbourne. We looked at the areas of growth, the areas of contraction, demography, and so on. We can come back to all of that. However, there are some concrete things going on right here which we should all be aware of.
First, both our schools, St Mary’s Primary and St Mary’s College, are beginning major plans. St Mary’s Primary has just completed a highly successful renovation. St Mary’s College is navigating the change to a co-ed school, and the decisions around development. I hope to have both principals come to speak to the parishes about these plans later in the year. However, there obviously needs to be cooperation between all parties, including parishioners. There are clearly many opportunities for us all if we do this right. We can encourage each other, support each other, work together on various projects.
Second, but related, St Mary’s Parish needs to refurbish and develop its parish hall. This is a huge asset that could really serve our community in any number of ways, including the two schools if we do it right. It could be a community centre, a childcare facility, a VCAL centre teaching cooking and hospitality, and perhaps offering a catered function space for all the weddings and funerals we have, as well as the parish functions. Likewise, St Colman’s has a huge school site on Carlisle St that is currently not being used. Again, this has huge potential. Both parishes have combined to form a New Directions Committee to investigate the possibilities. This will clearly, however, be a decision for both parishes. But we need good options to decide between. We probably need experts advice on what is possible. Again, I will get someone from this committee to speak to both parishes when things have progressed more.
Thirdly, coming out of COVID, a couple of things are quite obvious. People are starving for community, so we should give it to them. As parishes, we need to decide what we want to offer. The parishes are our homes, but we are not children in these homes. We are more likely parents. We are the ones who make these communities into homes for others. We make them so as to invite others to belong. We therefore need to get to know the needs of our communities, so that we can provide homes that feed our neighbours spiritually. We will need to investigate this properly. This is something we need pray about a lot. We need to get out there and meet people and take them to the Lord.
The other things coming out of COVID: it is quite clear that these tasks are not something that can be left to head office, or even the parish office. In the past, perhaps it was priests and religious who could do the heavy lifting. Not any longer. I think perhaps this might be God forcing us to value the baptismal priesthood better, as per the Second Vatican Council. These tasks, the ones we must do to be vital parishes, these tasks are properly communal. They require us to come together and stretch ourselves to create a true sacrifice, a true sacrifice that manifests love of God through love of neighbour. Which brings us to our readings.
As we use this Easter season to think and pray on all these things, as we try to imagine what community we want to invite others into, what community we want to pass on to the next bunch that come after us, perhaps we could keep three things in mind, one from each of our readings today.
The first point comes from our second reading. Our centre is Christ, the Living One, the Alpha and the Omega. Without him, we have nothing. All talk of rediscovering charisms, rediscovering missions, outreach or social justice is pointless if it is not rooted in him. Without Jesus Christ, we are no longer part of the living vine and whatever we start will eventually wither and die. And so in some way, everything we do must begin and end with the Eucharist. The Eucharistic community then must be the beating heart of any enterprise or adventure we embark on.
This involves all of us thinking and praying about our connection to the parish. If baptism truly is the most important thing in our life. If our membership of the body of Christ is the centre of our identity, is this what our life looks like. We all have other friends. We all have other groups we belong to. But what should be we doing together? How much time and effort should we be contributing to building the community and inviting others to join? This is something to pray about.
The second point comes from our gospel. All this talk of reorganisation can sound scary. In fact, it can sound negative. Falling numbers in the pews, not enough priests, a secular society, and an aggressively anti-faith governing elite. All this can sap the will. But we should not start there. We preach Christ who can walk through walls of fear. Who tells us do not be afraid. We preach Christ who turns wounds into moments of liberation and hope. We have the Good News that our community is crying out for. We need to act in hope. We need to find sources of hope that we can share. We need to build these sources, all based on Christ who is our hope.
And that leads to my third point from the first reading. It is ok to start small. In this historical moment, we have unprecedented access to information. With this comes an overwhelming sense of all the challenges facing the world. As we all know, that can lead to despair. But look at how the church began. In fact, perhaps as we work our way through the Acts of the Apostles in the Easter season, we can be quite deliberate in taking the concrete lessons for our parishes.
As I said, I think the first step is prayer and imagination. We should use this Easter season to do this. Only after this should we begin to plan. Whatever we do must be based on the Word of God, not an idol we have created.
So, let’s take this moment and those in the coming weeks to do this eucharistically. Let’s listen, let’s offer and let’s receive. All from love of God and all for love of neighbour.