MARY MACKILLOP LECTURE BRISBANE

MARY MACKILLOP LECTURE BRISBANE

By Bishop William Morris, DD

The excommunicated one

 

Centuries ago when mapmakers ran out of the known World before they ran out of parchment, they would sketch a dragon at the edge of the scroll.  This was a sign to the explorer that he/she would be entering unknown territory at their own risk.  Unfortunately, some explorers took this symbol literally  and were afraid to push in to new Worlds.  Other more adventurous explorers saw the dragons as a sign of opportunity, a door to virgin territory.

Each of us has a mental map of the World in our heads that contains the information we use to guide ourselves in our day-to-day encounters.  Like the maps of long ago, our mental maps also have dragons on them.  These  represent things that, for whatever reason, we don’t want to do or push beyond. It is the fear of something that stops us.  Sometimes these dragons are valid.  Sometimes, however, they prevent us from discovering something new.

Fear is one of the most debilitating emotions there is…….elections are won on fear, people are controlled by fear, when we fear something or someone we stop living for we lose the ability to relate to ourselves……that is we stop living in our truth……our relationships with others, the World around us and God are stunted.

We need to break out of the ghetto of suffocation that fear puts us in and breathe the air of the Spirit “breathing where The Spirit pleases” which means that the windows must be open and we must expect the Spirit to come from any direction.  The error is to lock the windows and doors in order to keep the (Holy) Spirit within our house.  The very action of locking doors and windows is fatal.

 

There is a story told of a great guru who had many followers and some came along the way to enlightenment fairly quick and some it seemed to take forever, but eventually they all got to the point of enlightenment and when they were ready to move from being novices and followers into being masters in their own tradition, he gave them a mantra and when they came before him he said,  this mantra that I will teach you will allow you to discern the truth no matter what is going on around you, it will keep you from despair when you see what reality is, it will give you great peace and it will save you.  Then when he told them the mantra he also promised them to secrecy, because the things of the spirit do not belong just to anyone.  Well one day, it was an ordinary student, he had gone through all the rituals and it came time for him to learn the mantra.  When he was told the mantra he repeated it over and over until he had it down pat and then he was promised to secrecy and he gave his oath like all the others.  But after he had learned the mantra he asked the guru, what will happen if I tell somebody this mantra.  And the guru looked at him and said, it will do for anyone who hears it the first time you speak it what it does for you, it will give them the ability to see the truth no matter what is going on around them, it will give them great peace in the midst of strife, it will save them, it will give them joy, it will do all the things that is does for you, but you will lose your soul and you will be outcast from the community forever.

The man thought about it for a few minutes and left the guru’s house, he journeyed immediately to the largest city, he gathered a huge group of people around him and promptly

told them the mantra.  Now in this large group of people that listened were many of the disciples of the guru who knew that he had disobeyed the master and that he had betrayed their faith to just people.  So they immediately went back to the guru and said, what are you going to do to him?, how are you going to punish him for betraying us and for disobeying?  The master looked at them and said, I don’t have to do anything to him, he gave away everything he had, now he loses his soul, he is outcast from the community, but now that man is my master because he knows the one important thing, compassion for the people – we are invited to follow…..to serve.

…..As followers of Jesus, everything that belongs to us is given as gift to the community, that means, everything we know about the scriptures, everything we know about prayer and spirituality, everything we know about relationships…..As followers of Jesus, everything that we have been given belongs by right to someone else and we are just servants, when we have done all that we have been commanded to do…. and all that we have been commanded to do is build a new kingdom in the midst of all the kingdoms that exist on earth.  Our kingdom is to model peace and justice, it is to model new relationships, there is to be no poor among us and those who are outcasts and rejected in all the kingdoms of the World find a haven among us.

This echo, this vision has long played itself out in the hearts of many as they lose themselves in the relationship of love with their God, “ a God who will take care of us all”   in the words of Mary of the Cross,  “Our Good God”.

To capture this vision and to honour the canonisation of Mary MacKillop and as a tribute to the ministry of the Sisters of St Joseph in the Toowoomba Diocese we commissioned artist, Jan Williamson, to paint an image of Mary MacKillop that would be unique to the Diocese.  Jan used the words of the hymn “Women for Today” by Michael Henry for inspiration.  It’s the image of a young Mary who through her dreams, her vision of bringing the message of Jesus to the lives of everyday people, would invite all across the Diocese to envisage how we too might live the message of Jesus in our everyday lives and into the future.  The image invites us to reflect on how we might take up the challenge to find the sacred in the secular, to be ever attentive to the movement of God’s Spirit in the World of our time.

I personally love the image for I think Jan has captured Mary’s strong Scottish ancestry in her facial features and gleaming auburn hair.  We see Mary envisioning her life in Christ depicted in the poor and destitute, the vulnerable, the children with no shoes, the schools bringing light to their life.  We also see Mary in her humanness as she rides the plains with windswept hair.  If you look at the painting closely you will see the image of the blue braid monogram which graced the Sisters’ original habits:  the three J’s for Jesus, Joseph and John the Baptist.
These are set within the Ave Maria Symbol depicting her love for Mary the Mother of God.  Depicted through scatterings of brush stroke Crosses is Mary’s name in religious life and now in Sainthood, “Mary of the Cross”.

Pauline Wicks in her book, “God Will Take Care of Us All” A Spirituality of Mary MacKillop, reflects on the fact that while Mary’s spirituality comes largely from the influence of her family and the French school of spirituality, she responded to the unique personalities and conditions of the colony in which she lived in an extraordinary way, and this makes her life worthy of imitation.

 

Pauline went on to speak of Mary’s confidence in the will of God.  Because she was convinced that God was good and worthy of her confidence she could accept whatever happened in life as an act of love from the “dear good God”.  She wrote to Wood’s in April 1870. ‘now my confidence will  be grounded in the Will of God’ which shows Mary’s deep trust in God’s care and guidance.

God’s will can be described as emanating  from the point where our desires and God’s desires for us commingle……God’s will is intimately present to the unfolding process of one’s becoming whole.  Mary identified her own desire to live a life “entirely consecrated to the service of God”  as being one with God’s desire for her.  She saw in the unfolding of events in her life a confirmation of the will of God and prayed that “our dear Lord’s holy will be ever welcome.”

This reflection form Pauline Wicks really excited me for it echoes the call of Jeremiah and the conversion of Paul.  For both Jeremiah and Mary, and I think it is important to remember that Jeremiah has the only developed theology of Vocation in Scripture, so for Mary and Jeremiah a vocation is not doing what one thinks God wants of a person – it is doing what God wants.  A Vocation can, in fact it must, begin by responding to apostolic opportunities.  Yet such a response is only the occasion, not the meaning of a vocation.

In the most profound level of the heart, a vocation is a personal union with a God who seeks all women and men in peace and love.  Both Mary and Jeremiah understood that a vocation must not degenerate into personal ambition, but rather it loses one’s self  totally in God, there to find one’s self again in the union of all creation with God.

The question is:  How is such an interior conviction to be established?  In Jeremiah’s case, anyway it demanded that apostolic dreams crumble like paper houses.  Somehow he had to sustain repeated failures and constant difficulties.  Only then would he confess, deep within his heart – My desire for God must be none other than God’s desire for me.  I can really hear Mary here.  It flows out of that close relationship she had with her ‘good God’, her constant awareness of God’s presence which she speaks of constantly in her letters.  For both Mary and Jeremiah, here is the consummation of personal union with God and purest love.  I want what God wants, and only what God wants can ever answer the desires and possibilities of my life.

I believe what sustained Mary and Jeremiah was that hidden, inarticulate intuition where God is present, compelling one ever onward, seeking  what the person herself/himself cannot yet understand.  Trusting one’s intuitions means trusting that hidden inspiration of God.  Trusting intuitions therefore means that complete surrender to God.

In Margery Williams children’s story, The Velveteen Rabbit, there’s a delightful conversation

between the well-worn velveteen rabbit and the skin horse which illustrates this:

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender.  “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out-handle?’

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “it’s a thing that happens to you.  When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.  “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at one,” said the Skin Horse. “You become.  It takes a long time.  That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges or have to be carefully kept.  Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.  But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

It was because Jeremiah and Mary were true to themselves and were Real in that Loved sense, they could cope with rejection and remain totally faithful to their good God.  When Jeremiah came out of the shadows of Anathoth  in answer to God’s call he was accepted by a people who were experiencing freedom for the first time for many years with the collapse of the Assyrian Empire.  After experiencing success in his preaching ministry for six years he started to feel the rejection by his people as they did not want to be reminded of their responsibility in their relationship with their God.  I have not got the time to go into the full history of Jeremiah and the Israelites, it’s suffice to say he had a rough time, e.g. his family tried to kill him, he was thrown down a well, put into stocks etc.

His love for God did not waver, but he wanted to know in his prayer that if he was doing what God wanted him to do; why was he not being accepted?  Why does not the way of the just flourish?  Why does not my way flourish….the way I understand your will?  The answer comes I think in some of the most beautiful lines in Scripture: Ch 12……….Let me paraphrase:  You Yahweh know me and see me, you explore my  heart with me, you explore walking with my footsteps as I plunge into the darkness of my life…You God are there with me.

Isn’t that beautiful, if that does not make your heart sing I don’t know what will.

It reminds me of Chapter 1, Nos 2&3 In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.  I take this translation from Bill Heubschs’  ‘Vatican II in Plain English

With a most profound wisdom and goodness,

            God created the whole world

            and from among all of creation

            God chose us humans to share in the divine life,

            to have an eternal walk with God

            arm in arm

            heart to heart.

            And although we have stumbled along

            and at times have even lost our way,

            God has not abandoned us.

            Instead, God remained radically present,

            eventually expressing the depth of parental love

            through Jesus Christ.

            Jesus Christ is the one around whom the Church Gathers”

Jeremiah’s love relationship with God, his prayer and spirituality, his response to hardship and rejection is the mirror which has helped me see into Mary’s life.  For I believe the surest indication that one is following the intuition of God’s will in vocation in life is the ability to be at peace in the midst of darkness and mystery because then is the moment when God is most present, sweeping one beyond the ability to put into words,  sweeping one beyond the horizons of the intellect, allowing the heart to seek, the ever deeper and mystical union.  In such a seeking of mystical union one finally arrives at the meaning of what God intended before one was conceived or born.

From her letters it seems quite evident that Mary’s devotion to the will of God in her life came early from her mother Flora.  As she reflects on her early childhood she says “as far back as I can remember, He gave me such a sense of His watchful presence that I would feel reproved for my smallest faults”.  Mary reflected on the wonderful ways God’s watchful presence guided her.  “My good God watched over me and guarded me when I did not try to guard myself”………and God “taught me to lean upon Him alone”.

After the Holy See had granted central government to the Institute, Mary became more conscious than ever of God’s care, that He did take care of all, and Mary could live more than ever in the knowledge that “God would take care of us all”.  This understanding, this acceptance having been with her from her earliest years, and in the most trying of situation helped her to remain confident and at peace.  She trusted in God’s providence and knew that, now and always her confidence would be grounded on the Will of God and nothing could separate her wishes, thoughts or desires from God’s will.  So often God’s will for her brought suffering and the Cross.  This devotion to the Cross was another dimension of her spirituality.

Her words and thoughts echo those of Paul in his letter to the Philippians.  Paul says he fears nothing….Why?  because he knows that in every circumstance God will be present with him, taking care of him.  Paul’s trust fills him with such confidence that he is able to say:  “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me”. Philippians 4/13

Paul’s conversion was a total transformation and like Mary he was conscious  and consumed by the presence of God.  Jesus, for Paul, was God filling in the gaps………Christ is what we can’t do……….to love unconditionally, to forgive, to show mercy and compassion, to pray, to breathe in union with all creation.  We are embraced in the dance of the Father, Son and Spirit.  Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant………..a Unilateral Covenant………where God fills in all the gaps and all we have to do is get out of the way.

Each of us are wounded healers.

The mystery for Paul was found in the folly of the Cross, the foolishness of the Cross, the scandal of the Cross, Paul resolved this tension not by trying to rest on one side and forget the other, not by affirming or denying either side but in the tug of war between the two……..the Cross and Resurrection, life and death, the letter of the law and the Spirit of the law, weakness and strength, i.e. he lived in the Paradox,   he was a both and thinker, he was a Mystic.  This is where I think we get it wrong and Paul and Mary got it right for Religion is a Mystical matter not a moral one.

To be wise and free, to  be graced, for grace means, that which is free, we have to live in the Paradox as Mary did, hold both sides and resolve the tension.  That is why I believe she was at peace in rejection.  She knew who she was in God, she knew her true self, she was true to herself.

Getting to know Mary a little better over the last few months I believe Mary like Paul, was a Mystical Thinker.  She held the Cross and Resurrection in tension, found the balance between the two and became wise and free.

We need to protect the limitlessness of God by refusing all definitions as final.  It takes great courage to remain open under the controlling pressure to be certain.  Mary’s constant awareness of God’s presence and love enabled her to remain open, to be surprised by her Beloved, and to confess in prayer deep within her heart……My desire for God must be none other than God’s desire for me.

In every age the Spirit leads us to ask new questions, for God is found in the breath of life and the heartbeat of creation.  If we are to discern how to evangelise our culture, the World of today, we need to listen with the three ears of  1)Scripture  2)Tradition with vision (Tradition without vision leads us away from truth and 3) the Word/Creation/Society.  [Sensus Fidei]

Response by Bishop William Morris to the Australian Catholic Bishops Statement

24 October 2011
Response by Bishop William Morris to the Australian Catholic
Bishops Statement of 22 October 2011.
The statement of the Australian Catholic Bishops contains inaccuracies
and errors of fact evidenced by the documentation relating to the issues
concerning myself and a number of Vatican Dicasteries.
The Statement made by the Australian Bishops invites me to tell my
story which I will publish in the foreseeable future.
I stand by my original statement which I gave to the Australian Catholic
Bishops dated 2 May 2011, which I restate below.
“I had been hoping that I would never have to write this letter to you as it had always
been my desire that the difficulties experienced between myself and the
Congregations for Bishops, Divine Worship and Doctrine of the Faith would be able
to be resolved. Unfortunately without due process it has been impossible to resolve
these matters, denying me natural justice without any possibility of appropriate
defence and advocacy on my behalf. This has been confirmed in a letter from Pope
Benedict stating ‘Canon Law does not make provision for a process regarding
bishops, whom the Successor of Peter nominates and may remove from office’.
“It has been my experience and the experience of others that Rome controls bishops
by fear and if you ask questions or speak openly on subjects that Rome declares
closed or does not wish to be discussed, you are censored very quickly, told your
leadership is defective, that you are being unfaithful to the Magisterium, that you have
broken communio and you are threatened with dismissal.
“I have never seen the Report prepared by the Apostolic Visitor, Archbishop Charles
Chaput; I have never been shown any of the “evidence” that was gathered except for
an unsigned memorandum handed to be by the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop
Ambrose de Paoli, which was filled with errors. There has been no canonical process
to establish a “Grave Cause” for removal; the accusations that my doctrinal teaching
contains errors and that I have a flawed pastoral leadership has never been backed by
facts except by some broad statements based on my Advent Pastoral Letter of 2006
which has been read inaccurately and interpreted incorrectly and used against me.
“In a letter of 12 November 2009, I pointed out to Pope Benedict that such evident
defects in the process, distortion of facts and a lack of care for the truth, which has
characterised this whole process, cannot be of ‘God’ when the truth is not respected
and exactness is not preserved. Pope Benedict responded by focusing on the matters
raised in my Advent Pastoral Letter of 2006 which addressed local pastoral questions
and matters which are in ferment generally across the Church. I quote from his letter;
‘In your Advent Pastoral Letter 2006 – besides containing some very questionable
pastoral choices – there are at least two options presented that are incompatible with
the Catholic faith:
a) Ordaining women in order to overcome the priest shortage. Yet, the late Pope
John Paul II has decided infallibly and irrevocably that the Church has not
the right to ordain women to the priesthood:’
b) “recognizing Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting Church Orders”. But according
to the doctrine of the Catholic faith, ministers from these communities are not
validly ordained and therefore do not share in the Sacrament of Holy Orders;
and as such their actions are not joined to the ministerial priesthood.’
“How it can be said that my Pastoral Letter teaches these things is beyond me when it
purely refers to the fact that these are among many questions being discussed
internationally, nationally and locally. To me this shows a total misreading and
misinterpretation of what my Pastoral Letter is saying. Pope Benedict further states
that my leadership of the priests and faithful of the diocese raises serious questions
and that the diocesan bishop must above all be an authentic teacher of the faith, which
is the foundation of all pastoral ministry. This is said without any foundation or
proof. I have also been told that it is the bishops role to support the Pope in whatever
he says without question, to teach from the Catechism and the documents of the
Church and not to ask questions about topics that have been declared definitive or
closed. I ask you, where is the Spirit in this? I was also told by Pope Benedict that I
am too practical and it is the will of God that I resign.
“The whole process has relied on the presumption that I would be compliant and
resign. However, I cannot do so in conscience because my resignation would be
based on my acceptance of a lie. My resignation would mean that I accept the
assessment of my being unfaithful to the Magisterium and breaking communio. I
absolutely refute and reject this assessment. I do not accept that there is any grave
reason for me to resign and the conditions of Canon 401 §§ 1,2 not being met, it
would be dishonest of me to suggest that they had.
“To negotiate a way through this stalemate I was offered an extra-diocesan position,
to be artificially created, in which I was told I could continue to serve the Church in
Australia in another ministry more in keeping with my gifts and talents. As I have
been denied natural justice and due process, in conscience I could not accept such an
artificially created position for in Australian culture it would be seen and ridiculed for
what it is – a sinecure.
“Given the circumstances that there is no canonical process regarding bishops, that
there is no separation of powers and the Successor of Peter nominates bishops and
may remove them from office, makes my position as Bishop of Toowoomba
untenable. I have never wavered in my conviction that for me to resign is a matter of
conscience and my resignation would mean that I accept the assessment of myself as
breaking communio which I absolutely refute and reject so it is out of my love for the
Church that I cannot do so. I have never written a letter of resignation.
“To find a way through this moral dilemma I asked Archbishop Philip Wilson, when
he met with the Holy Father in January 2010, to affirm my position that I would not
resign and put forward a proposal that I was prepared to negotiate an early retirement.
My proposal was that I would retire at seventy but this was found to be unacceptable.
The other possibility was to retire in eighteen months depending on whether or not the
sexual abuse cases I was dealing with here in the diocese were finalised. It became
evident that more time would be needed to finalise these cases and to pastorally care
for the victims and their families. Unfortunately this extension of time was denied,
the eighteen months was reduced to fifteenth by Pope Benedict and my retirement
would be announced on Monday 2 May 2011.
“I wish to thank you for your friendship and prayerful support over the eighteen years
I have been a member of the Australian Episcopal Conference. I have deeply
appreciated your prayers and support during that time and I will miss you. I am sure
our paths will cross sometime somewhere in the future and as the quote below says,
‘If we should bump into one another, recognize me’.
“A Quote from ‘A Man for All Seasons’ an alternative ending:
“In the London production of this play at the Globe Theatre the play ended as follows:
“Instead of the CROMWELL and CHAPUYS entrance after the HEADSMAN’S line
‘Behold – the head – of a traitor!, the COMMON MAN came to the centre stage,
having taken off his mask as the executioner, and said:
I’m breathing………Are you breathing too?…..It’s nice isn’t it? It isn’t difficult to
keep alive friends…………….just don’t make trouble – or if you must make trouble,
make the sort of trouble that’s expected. Well, I don’t need to tell you that. Good
night. If we should bump into one another, recognise me.’ ”
William M Morris, DD
Bishop Emeritus of Toowoomba

Letter to Parishioners

BISHOP’S HOUSE
73 Margaret Street
PO Box 756
TOOWOOMBA QLD 4350
Australia
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ
Just over eighteen years ago on 10 February 1993 I was ordained as your
Bishop, responding to an invitation from Pope John Paul II. On that day I
told you a story about an old priest who was invited by a couple whom he
had married twenty-five years previously. Also invited to the celebration
was a friend of theirs who was a Shakespearian actor and quite famous
around the theatres of London. As often happens at such celebrations
those who have certain gifts are asked to entertain the group and so our
Shakespearian actor was asked to do just that.
A conversation occurred between himself and the guests as to what they
would like to hear him recite, finally the elderly priest suggested that he
might like to recite the 23rd Psalm….The Lord is my Shepherd. He
responded by saying that he would do so if the priest would recite it after
him, which he willingly agreed to.
The actor began his recitation and as he finished reciting the words of the
Psalm the voice of the little old Padre could be heard. A deep silence
spread throughout the room as the priest recited the Psalm….and when he
had finished there was a hush that enfolded the room and a number of
guests had tears in their eyes.
The Shakespearian actor, seeing this, turned to the priest and said; I am
an actor, a very good one and I know I have the skills to hold people’s
attention and to capture their imagination, but the difference between you
and I in reciting this Psalm, is that I know the words but you know the
Shepherd.
It would be my hope that as I say good-bye to you as your Pastor, that we
can both say, because of our relationship over the last eighteen years we
all know the Shepherd a little better.
I came to the diocese from the Gold Coast with little knowledge of this
wonderful Local Church, or you the people who are the Local Church. I
found welcome, friendship, encouragement, challenge, prayerful support,
a home among you and a real sense of belonging. It is with true sadness
therefore that I write this letter to you.
While the overwhelming majority of you have been supportive of me and
have worked collaboratively with me to ensure the ongoing life of the
diocese, and its mission to be a bearer of the Gospel to the wider world, a
small group have found my leadership and the direction of the diocese not
to their liking.
While I have tried to deal with all people fairly and to involve all in the
ministry and mission of the diocese I have not always been able to
succeed. Some of those who have been disaffected by my leadership
have exercised the option of making complaints about me, some of these
complaints being based on my Advent Pastoral Letter of 2006 which has
been misread and I believe deliberately misinterpreted. This led to an
Apostolic Visitation and an ongoing dialogue between myself and the
Congregations for Bishops, Divine Worship and Doctrine of the Faith and
eventually Pope Benedict. The substance of these complaints is of no
real import now but the consequences are that is has been determined by
Pope Benedict that the diocese would be better served by the leadership
of a new bishop.
I have never seen the Report prepared by the Apostolic Visitor,
Archbishop Charles Chaput, and without due process it has been
impossible to resolve these matters, denying me natural justice without
any possibility of appropriate defence and advocacy on my behalf. Pope
Benedict confirmed this to me by stating “Canon Law does not make
provision for a process regarding bishops, whom the Successor of Peter
nominates and may remove from Office”. This makes my position as
Bishop of Toowoomba untenable. I have never wavered in my
conviction that for me to resign is a matter of conscience and my
resignation would mean that I accept the assessment of myself as
breaking communio which I absolutely refute and reject and it is out of
my love for the Church that I cannot do so. I have never written a letter
of resignation.
To find a way through this moral dilemma I put forward the proposal that
I was prepared to negotiate early retirement. As Canon Law does not
make provision for a process regarding bishops this seemed the only
course open to me. I do so with profound sadness knowing that I still
enjoy the support of the vast majority of the people and priests of the
diocese. The Consultors are aware of all the facts as I have met with
them on a regular basis to keep them up-to-date with what was
happening. Through them, the priests and the pastoral leaders, you will
be given the full story.
To the entire Diocese I say a heartfelt thanks for your support, friendship,
love and prayers over the last eighteen years. You have been a great gift
to me it has been a privilege to serve you.
I make my own the words of St Paul to the Phillippians:
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in
every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the
gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one
who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day
of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you,
because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace
with me, in the defence and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my
witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.
And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with
knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that
in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the
harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory
and praise of God. (Phil: 1:3 – 7a, 7c – 11)
Whatever the future holds for me you will always have a place in my
heart and prayers. I thank you once again for your love, friendship and
support, you will always have mine, and until we meet again may God
bless you with every good gift.
Your Brother in Christ
William M Morris, DD
BISHOP OF TOOWOOMBA

Bishop William Morris’ Retirement from Toowoomba

Bishop William Morris’ Retirement from Toowoomba

On 1 May, 2011, the Diocese of Toowoomba learned that Bishop William Morris would commence early retirement. An event surrounded by much controversy and under pressure from Vatican Officials to resign, Bishop Morris instead chose early retirement. Bishop Morris stated “I have never wavered in my conviction that for me to resign is a matter of conscience and my resignation would mean that I accept the assessment of myself as breaking communio which I absolutely refute and reject. . . “.

Bishop Morris’ retirement came as a culmination of some 5 years of communication with Vatican Officials after the publication of his 2006 Advent Letter. It seemed to a small group of parishioners, some may call zealots and “the temple police”, Bishop Morris’ leadership was not satisfactory and so they voiced this displeasure directly to the Vatican. The 2006 Advent Letter became the final straw, and as Bishop Morris believes, deliberately misunderstood and misinterpreted. After an Apostolic Visitation, the results of which have never been published or made available to Bishop Morris, the conclusion was drawn that the Toowoomba Diocese would be better served by new leadership. Many believe that Bishop Morris has been denied justice in this process.

There has been a great outpouring of support for Bishop Morris across the Diocese of Toowoomba as parishioners come to terms with the shocking news. Support has also come from across Australia and from across the globe. There have been thousands of letters, cards, phone calls and emails received to give thanks and support to Bishop Morris. To round off the support and these troubling events, a Thanksgiving Mass was held at St Patrick’s Cathedral on Sunday 28 August, 2011. The mass was a chance for the Diocese to give thanks and move on from this chapter in it’s story to new growth as the wait for the appointment of a new Bishop begins.

Bishop Morris is also starting a new chapter. He has enjoyed retirement to the family home in Brisbane. However not one to rest on his laurels, Bishop Morris has remained as busy as ever.

 

Biography

Biography

When Bishop William Morris was appointed the fifth bishop to the vast Diocese of Toowoomba in 1993, he brought with him nearly twenty-five years pastoral, administrative and leadership experience to his new See.

Born in Brisbane, the only son of the late William Alexander and Sylvia Morris.  Bishop Morris was educated at St Joseph’s College, Gregory Terrace, before beginning his studies for the priesthood at Pius XII Provincial Seminary, Banyo.

He was ordained priest of the Archdiocese of Brisbane on 28 June, 1969 in St Stephen’s Cathedral, Brisbane.

His appointments, prior to Toowoomba, have included Sunnybank, Nambour, Mt Gravatt, Goodna and Surfers Paradise.  During the years 1979 to 1984 he served as Secretary to Archbishop Rush, in Brisbane, and also as Diocesan Director of Vocations.  Bishop Morris’ Episcopal Ordination took place in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Toowoomba, on 10th February, 1993.

Bishop Morris has completed an Ad Limina Visit with Pope John Paul II and a Synod of Bishops Conference for Oceania, held in Rome.  He is currently on several Committees including the Australian Catholic Social Justice Committee.

On 1/5/2011 Bishop Morris announced his early retirement as Bishop of Toowoomba. Read about the events here.

 

Coat of Arms

The coat-of-arms combines the arms of the Diocese of Toowoomba with the arms assumed by Bishop Morris. These are displayed side by side in the procedure known as impalement with the diocesan arms on the dexter side of the shield.

The diocesan arms are green with a gold sheaf of wheat enscribed with a white disc on which the Greek letters Alpha and Omega are written. This is in allusion to the fertile Darling Downs where wheat is a major crop. The letters Alpha and Omega refer to the fullness of God in Jesus Christ, and are from the Book of Revelation: “I am the Alpha and the Omega” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. (Rev. 1:8)

The disc with the letters Alpha and Omega indicates the relationship between the wheat and the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

The serrated division between the upper and lower parts of the shield alludes to the Dividing Range which is a feature of the Cathedral city:

The upper section is white with a red diagonal cross, being the cross of St. Patrick, the patron of the Cathedral.

Bishop Morris’ arms are blue with an anchor flanked by the letters Alpha and Omega in gold. This is in allusion to the motto, “Christ is my Hope”, the anchor being a symbol of hope and the letters Alpha and Omega representing Christ.

The line dividing the upper and lower sections of the shield is also serrated but in this case there are fewer serrations as it alludes to Lamington National Park, one of the Bishop’s favourite holiday places.

The upper part of the shield is white with an open book having a red cover. The book represents the Scriptures and emphasises the Bishop’s role of spreading the Good News to his people.

 

Advent Pastoral Letter 2006

 

Advent Pastoral Letter

2006

Bishop William Morris

 

17 November 2006

Dear Priests, Pastoral Leaders, Pastoral Associates and Parish Pastoral Councils

At the start of this year [23 January 2006] on the recommendation of the Diocesan Pastoral Council and the Council of Priests, I wrote to you about the new Policy and related Procedures for the appointment of Priests and Pastoral Leaders in our diocese.

With that letter I included a copy of the:

a)                  Ministry Appointments Policy and Procedures document;

b)                  Timeline covering the years 2005 to 20013 and

c)                  Background Comments on the history of making appointments in our diocese and on the key elements in the new Appointments Policy.

I would encourage you to read this material again.  It remains the basis for implementing our Diocesan Pastoral Leadership Plan over the nine year period that will draw to a close in Easter 2014.

This letter invites you to look to the future with hope.

Our new Diocesan Pastoral Leadership Plan with its associated Staffing Plan and Appointment Policy for Priests and Pastoral Leaders is a transitional measure covering nine years, beginning Easter 2005.  As with any interim measure, it calls into  play uncertainties and worries.  We do face an uncertain future with regard to the number of active priests in our diocese and we have yet to design what shape priest staffing may take at Easter 2014 when this transitional period draws to a close.

But this in-between time is not all doom and gloom!  Already we have witnessed a flowering in lay-led ministry at a local level:  Pastoral Councils are being established or consolidated, Finance Councils are being resourced and inserviced, Liturgy Committees and Baptism, Marriage, Funeral, Confirmation and Eucharist, Social Justice and Ecumenism ministry groups are being developed, St Vincent de Paul Conferences and Care and Concern Groups continue their works of compassion, School Boards are in place in many schools.  In several Parish communities Priests already work side by side with Pastoral Leaders, Pastoral Associates, Co-Workers and coordinators.

This interim period invites us into deeper faith in God’s Spirit at work in our own time, trust in one another and hope for the future. We undertake this task together as best we can with the human and material resources we have to hand. We know this transitional time is neither ideal nor preferable but necessary: we accept the pastoral situation of our own day and work within it as people of faith and hope.

The immediate task before us is to develop the procedure for making appointments of priests in the diocese in the light of the discussion, discernment and appointment decisions made in these last twelve months. The new Ministry Appointment Policy and Procedures for Priests and Pastoral Leaders addresses this task.

The long-term task that remains as yet unaddressed is the development of a priest Staffing Plan for Easter 2014, once again within the wider context of a vision for Diocesan Pastoral Leadership. Current information on ages and numbers of priests currently working in the diocese presents a challenge.

      In parish-based ministry in 2014, there will be:

  • 65 years and younger: 6 priests with 3 in the 61-65 year group
  • 66-70 years                  8 priests (with the option to retire)

      In diocesan ministry in 2014, there will be:

  • 65 years and younger:  2 priests
  • 66-70 years                   2 priests (with the option to retire)
  • 71-75 years                   1 Bishop

We may well be moving towards a Staffing Plan that places two Priests in the larger towns or communities in each of the six regions, one priest 65 years or younger and the second priest from the older group (66-70), with the surrounding faith communities served by an increased number of Pastoral Leaders.

Given our deeply held belief in the primacy of Eucharist for the identity, continuity and life of each parish community, we may well need to be much more open towards other options for ensuring that Eucharist may be celebrated.  As has been discussed internationally, nationally and locally the ideas of:

  • ordaining married, single or widowed men who are chosen and endorsed by their local parish community;
  • welcoming former priests, married or single, back to active ministry;
  • ordaining women, married or single;
  • recognising Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting Church Orders.

 

We remain committed to actively promoting vocations to the current celibate male priesthood and open to inviting priests from overseas.

What is certain is that Easter 2014 is irrevocably approaching!

Please take some time to give these matters serious thought and reflection.  In Advent this year, we begin preparing for the second three-year period of our Pastoral Leadership Plan by asking the priests two questions:

a)                  where are you willing and able to work for the next three years?

b)                  where would you prefer to work for the next three years?

Responses will be collated and used as the basis for discussion and discernment at our next Presbyteral Forum, to be held during Lent 2007.  From the Presbyteral Forum will come advice on Priest Staffing for the period 2008 to 2010.  As a pilgrim people who journey in hope we need to remain open to the Spirit so that we can be agents of change and respond wisely to the needs of all members of the local Church of Toowoomba.

I am aware of the pain of many of our brothers and sisters in the Diocese who are affected by drought.  Let us hold each other in prayer knowing our God is with us.  I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all the joy and peace of Christmas and every blessing for 2007.

Your Brother in Christ

WILLIAM M MORRIS, DD

BISHOP OF TOOWOOMBA

Advent Pastoral Letter 2002

Diocese of Toowoomba

Advent Pastoral Letter 2002

 

Bishop William Morris

in collaboration with

Sister Catherine White, osf, Director of Liturgy

 

 

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

 

Today’s readings begin the new liturgical year and begin to unfold unfold for us the Gospel according to Mark.  The warnings in the Gospel we have just heard have probably touched many hearts across our nation today:- “Beware, keep alert; be on the watch. Keep awake.”  The tragedies that have unfolded before our eyes in recent months have taught us a bitter lesson: that indeed we do not know when the time will come.

 

Since September 11, 2001 the world has been a different place.  We have learnt that we can no longer take for granted life as we have known it for many decades.  The Bali bombings, the seemingly endless drought and the fierce bush fires which raged through our regions reinforced the feeling that our lives are fragile and vulnerable.  We feel powerless and unable to comprehend and all that we can do is give our support and our presence to those most affected.  Only time will ease the pain.

 

Christmas breaks into our consciousness like a light on a dark horizon.  The flavours of Christmas: family and friends gathered together; prayers of expectation and hope; images of gentleness and love, the giving of gifts and the celebration of life, all combine to make Christmas a special time – a time of surprises!  Birth however commonplace and certain, remains the greatest human mystery of all because it draws us to celebrate life itself – in all its mystery, simplicity and complexity.

 

As Christmas draws near our hearts go out to those who have lost family and friends and of the pain that comes with an empty place at the Christmas table.  Experiencing a sense of loss with other families reminds us all that nothing is as precious to us as the lives of our loved ones.  No possession, no position, none of the privileges that we enjoy in this bountiful country would ever be worth more to us than the lives of those we love.

 

I heard one fireman from New York say that now he never leaves home with tension or bitterness in the air – just in case he does not return.  I have heard many voices say how much more they now appreciate their loved ones and the simple things in life.  Tragedy and the loss of life has brought home to them that in the end the only things that really matter in life are our family and friends.

 

Grief is all the harder to bear when a sense of ‘if only’ lingers: if only I’d said “I’m sorry”; if only I’d said that I loved him or her”.  “If only I had taken more time to be with my children….” Even death is less overwhelming where there is a sense that the person has lived a rich and full life, and is supported by a close and loving family.

 

Christmas reminds us of the importance of all the significant relationships in our lives.  It is a real celebration of life!  The Son of God came among us so that we might have life and have it to the full.  The child born in the manger is the one who has come for the life of the world.  Jesus is the life of the world.  As Christmas nears this year I encourage each of you to celebrate the gift of life that we have, and the gift of life that we give to each other.

 

I encourage you to take time to celebrate the gift of life in your families.  Set aside times to be present to each other and to affirm how loved, and how greatly appreciated is each member of your family and each friend.  Make birthdays special events in your homes.  Take the time to affirm the gifts, the talents and the achievements of others.  Be present with each other as if tomorrow might never come.  As children grow to maturity, take time to really celebrate each of life’s milestones.  Meals, a time for being together in a positive enjoyable way can become moments of celebration.  Family celebrations can be built around a school graduation; a sporting success; a new car; the passing of a driving test; a first job.

 

Rituals need to be celebrated when life is painful and hard.  Let us take time to mark the death of a pet; the departure of a child to boarding school; the death of a family relative or friend.  Let’s take time to say farewell to a well-loved home or property – recalling the events of life celebrated in that place, and naming our feelings at letting it go.  Simple rituals of sorry and forgiveness can be held to end an argument, or to leave behind some hurtful experience.  In this way we can savour the events of our lives, rather than experiencing life hurtling us along.

 

The story of Christmas tells a tale of humanity turned upside down by the birth of a child who was to be the face of God’s love for all generations.  Christmas is the time when we really experience that God lives among us, and is experienced most profoundly within our relationships with family and friends.  At Christmas as we gaze at the tiny figure in the crib we are often drawn to the paradox that this same child grew to be tortured and to lose his life in a most cruel way.  The human mystery of life and death come together in the child born in a stable of humble parents.  We get a glimpse of the most profound meaning in life and discover that it is life itself.

 

Christmas invites us to celebrate life in its every aspect – the simple ordinary aspects of our lives: the highs and lows, the successes and failures, the happy and sad moments of our family life.  Let us find ways that we can gather together with family and friends to savour the important moments in life.  Let us come together to laugh and to cry – to celebrate life as it is in that moment.

 

My friends, as Christmas draws near may this most holy of feasts bring us hope and peace and love.  As we hear the story of God’s love for us made visible in Jesus, may we learn to allow God’s love to become visible in the love that we have for others.  As we ponder the mystery of the Messiah, the Lord of life, born in a stable, may we be moved to find pleasure in the simple things of life.  As we contemplate the love of God made visible in the person of Jesus, may we delight in the love of God made visible for us in our family and friends.  Only then will we truly touch the divine depth of our human lives.

 

Only then will we understand the mystery of the Incarnation, that Christ came among us, and continues to come among us, so that we might have life and life to the full.

 

I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all the joy and peace of Christmas and every blessing for 2003.

 

Your Brother in Christ

 

WILLIAM M MORRIS, DD

BISHOP OF TOOWOOMBA

 

 

 

Advent Pastoral Letter 2000

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ

As the Jubilee Year draws to a close, I would like to bring my Advent greetings to you by a way of a story. There are only two really important rules to remember when you hear a story: all stories are true – some of them actually happened. The second rule is all stories tell you the truth about yourself whether you want to hear it or not. So, on that note, I begin with a story called The Meaning of Christmas.

Once upon a cold Christmas Eve, a man sat in reflective silence before the flames flickering in the fireplace, thinking about the meaning of Christmas. “There is no point to a God who became human,” he mused. “Why would an all-powerful God want to share even one of his precious moments with the likes of us? And even if he did, why would God choose to be born in a stable? No way! The whole thing is absurd! I’m sure that if God really wanted to come down to earth, he would have chosen some other way.”

Suddenly, the man was roused from his musings by a strange sound outside  He sprang to the window and leaned on the sash. Outside he saw a gaggle of snow geese frantically honking and wildly flapping their wings amid the deep snow and frigid cold. They seemed dazed and confused. Apparently, due to exhaustion, they had dropped out of a larger flock migrating to a warmer climate.

Moved to compassion, the man bundled up and went outside. He tried to “shoo” the shivering geese into the warm garage, but the more he “shooed”, the more the geese panicked. “If they only realised that I’m trying to save them, “he thought to himself. “How can i make them understand my concern for their well-being?”

Then a thought came to him. “If for just one minute, I could become one of them, if I could become a snow goose and communicate with them in their own language, then they would know what I’m trying to do.”

In a flash of inspiration, he remembered it was Christmas Eve. A warm smile crossed his face. The Christmas story no longer seemed absurd. He visualised an ordinary-looking infant lying in a manger in a stable in Bethlehem. He understood the answer to his Christmas problem. God became one-like-us to tell us, in human terms, that we can understand, that He loves us, that He loves us right now, and that He is concerned with our well-being.

Christmas is a story about humanity. In Jesus, we discover God’s love for all of humanity made visible. Jesus’ life of inclusive love and creative self-giving gave flesh to God’s Word of love for the world like Jesus, we must discover that God is found and glorified within our human lives. Our God may surprise and greet us in the piles of unwashed laundry as well as in our Sunday best.

This Christmas, the Gospel of John will once again invite us to live the Incarnation: “In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning and all that came to be had life in him and that life was the light of the world, a light that shines in the dark, a light which darkness could not overpower, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…”

The Incarnation reminds us that the Word of God dwells among us, in the ordinary, everyday situations of our human lives. It reminds us that we cannot remain indifferent to the world around us, and we can never be apathetic to the issues that face our human family at the turn of the new era.

The message of Christmas is an invitation to respond more fully to the life of the world. The Christ child was grown up and risen to new life. We who follow him now continue his mission. The Word now takes flesh in us. The light of the world now chines through us; the darkness’s now overcome by us. We must allow the light of our lives, the Christ light, to burn brightly against any structure, any institution  any mind set and any activity which denies or diminishes the dignity and self-respect of every man, woman, and child. Whether it is on a global stage, national issue, or simply in the way we relate to each other in our homes, parishes and places of work.

On 1 January next year as we celebrate 100 years of federation, we step out into a new century of nationhood. The difficult issues we face as a nation will remain with us, but we will go forward with confidence knowing that we have a great future ahead of us. As this Jubilee Year draws to a close, we, the Church of Toowoomba, step out on a journey onto an unknown future.

Like Mary and Joseph  the shepherds and magi, we step out together in faith and courage. We step out in the company of our Christian brothers and sisters. While we carry with us some difficult issues for which we are yet to find a solution, we step forward in thanksgiving and we hope because we truly give flesh to the story of Christmas  We are the eyes and ears, the hands and feed of Christ for our world. This is what we celebrate at Christmas: the birth of the Christ child two thousand years ago, and the birth of Christ today though the lives of those who are courageous enough to live the message of Christmas.

May the blessings of Christmas be many for each one of you and for each member of your family. May the glad tidings of other angels bring you the gifts of peace, courage and hope for the New Year 2001.

Your Brother in Christ

William M Morris, DD

Bishop of Toowoomba

Advent Pastoral Letter 1999

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ

Let the trumpet sound across this land, and across the world, for today is the advent of the Jubilee of Jesus Christ.

While God’s Word, the Good News, gives us hope, we know that at time the world can be a frightening place. We frequently hear with dismay of natural disasters. We fear the escalating violence that occurs throughout the world, and are shocked to hear stories of atrocities in East Timor. We experience discrimination, consumerism: a widening gap between rich and poor. Tidal waves, floods and earthquakes take hundreds of lives. Then we hear people proclaim doom and gloom and some even predict the end of the world.

Yet even a curosy reading of history tells us that such events have always been a part of the human experience. In every age, and particularly at the end of each millennium, prophets of doom and gloom have been with us. Even Pope John XXIII had cause to say: In the daily exercise of our pastoral office, we sometimes have to listen much to our regret to voices of persons who … see nothing but prevarication and ruin. We feel we must disagree with those prophets of gloom. As Christians we are not overwhelmed by them, since our hope rests in Christ’s resurrection promise never to abandon us. We believe that all time belongs to Christ, and every age is in Christ’s care!

In recent years the present Holy Father has frequently called upon us to prepare to celebrate the Year 2000. Today, this first Sunday of Advent, marks the beginning of the Holy Year, and it begins our final preparation for the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ. On Christmas Eve after the three loud knocks on the Holy Door, the voice of the Pontiff will ring out across St Peter’s Square: Open to me the gates of justice! The Holy doors will swing wide open symbolising the opportunity to step into a new time of grace and salvation with Christ, our Saviour.

In his letter The Coming of the Third Millennium the Holy Father described this time as a new springtime of Christian faith. We who live in the Diocese understand this image. Each September our hearts lift at the wonderful flowering of life and colour. People come from near and far to see the trees and blossoms, closed for winter, burst open with colour and perfume. Winter crops lift their heads in golden maturity, while wildflowers and green grasses borne out of winter rains, bring hope to hearts across western plains. The call to a new springtime of faith invites us to revitalise all that is wilting, closed and dormant within the Church, and to burst open into a deeper and more intense living of Christian discipleship within the Church. Today I encourage you to take up this challenge with enthusiasm and hope.

The Holy Father has said that we can find no better way of entering this graved time, than by a renewed commitment to the teachings of Vatican II, and to applying them as faithfully as we can, to every aspect of our lives. The second Vatican Council has been a great beginning leading us to the threshold of the new millennium.

Today we experience this new growth, brought about by the Holy Spirit  as signs of hope: more collaborative Church structures, evangelisation, ecumenism, social justice, and a new understanding of the mission and shape of the Church in the modern world. These are heralds of the new springtime of our Church.

In our Diocese, I see evidence of this new springtime in the initiative that have flowed from our first Diocesan Gathering last year. While some prophets of doom and gloom raised their voices against that gathering  the first that has resulted from it has shown that the Spirit was truly among us. I see new growth and life in:-

  • the establishment of a Diocesan Pastoral Council and Diocesan Youth Council;
  • the active role of the laity in various ministries in the Church, and the ordination of three young priests;
  • the search for meaningful liturgies and celebrations as well as ecumenical gatherings and initiatives;
  • the pastoral care provided in our hospitals, nursing homes and parishes;
  • the many opportunities provided for adult faith education;
  • a new sense of being a Diocesan family; and
  • the work of the Social Justice Networking and the Aboriginal Apostolate.

There are but a few among many.

In this Holy Year, let us not take heed of the prophets of gloom, but of the signs of new life that fill us with hope for the future. As we rejoice and nurture these signs of hope into a new springtime within our local Church in the Toowoomba Diocese, may each of us discover many and simple ways to live as disciples of Jesus. For God’s Spirit has anointed each of us and God has sent us to our sisters and brother who live in our local Church: to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners, and to proclaim a year of God’s favour.

So, that all these things begin with renewed vigor in this, the Year of the Lord’s favour, I invite you to open the door to Christ, and step over the threshold of the new millennium into a new springtime of Christian life. Blessed be Jesus Christ, for He is our hope and our salvation: yesterday, today, and forever. Amen

In this spirit of hope, I take this opportunity to wish you all the joy and peace of Christmas, and every blessing for the New Year 2000.

Your Brother in Christ

WILLIAM M MORRIS, DD

BISHOP OF TOOWOOMBA

Advent Pastoral Letter 1998

Diocese of Toowoomba

Advent Pastoral Letter 1998

 

Bishop William Morris

in collaboration with

 

The Diocesan Ministry for Pastoral Vision

and

The Diocesan Liturgical Commission

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

VISION OF CHURCH IN THESE TIMES:

An ancient people tell the story of a prophet who ran through the town with a flaming torch. “Prophet, where are you going with that torch?” the people called.  “To burn the temple down,” the prophet shouted back.  “But why would you ever do anything like that?” the people cried.  And the prophet answered as she ran, “So that you will finally learn as a people to pay less attention to your temples and more attention to God.”

 

What are the temples that attract our attention and prevent us from finding God in the midst of our everyday lives?  As we begin thin Advent season, we are once again challenged to listen to the voice of God, waiting to be heard “in the joys and the hopes, the griefs and anxieties1 of our brothers and sisters.  Let us to be caught up in the one great act of giving birth to the dreams and hopes for this time.

Context for the Church of this Era:

Thomas Merton reflects that ‘we are living in the greatest revolution in history, a huge spontaneous unheaval of the entire human race’ and we are the people graced and gifted to be living in this time.  We can try to swim against the current or we can learn to embrace it and find the God who is waiting in this teeming chaos.  As members of Christ’s body, the Church, we will have ‘to speak to and live in whatever world God gives us or humanity creates’ (Thomas Reece SJ).

Ours is the time of courageous waiting.  As Pope John Paul II states in the document Redemptoris Missio “As the third millennium approaches, God is preparing a great springtime for Christianity’. (no. 86)   Before the springtime we need to sit in the waiting. One of the tasks of Jubilee is to ‘let the land lie fallow’.  This space of waiting is filled with any feelings and emotions – it is a time of uncertainty, disorientation, anxiety, anticipation, expectancy.  Learning to wait is just not empty time that must be marked until things happen; it is a time when God provides us with all kinds of lessons to be learnt along the way.  By waiting reverently and with keen sensitivity to the pressing needs of our times, we serve the truth as it unfolds in our midst.  Waiting is at the heart of the Advent season.  Advent images that speak to us of the waiting include the farmer or gardener waiting to see the fruits of their sowing, the expectant parents awaiting the birth of their child, the people of rural Australia waiting for the end of the drought, reading the stock exchange hoping for a change in the economic climate and watching the new day emerge from the womb of the dawn.  As today’s second reading reminds us ‘the night is almost over, it will be daylight soon’.  In this experience of waiting, we as Church are being called into a new place.

In preparing for the Year of Great Jubilee, we have been invited to reflect on the nature of the God we, Christians, profess we believe in.  Ours is a Triune God – a God who is in relationship, creating, reconciling and empowering us into community.  We cannot but be in relationship with our God, with one another and with our world.  Ours is the era of the world website, the global village, the world market.  Our lives are profoundly interwoven with all of these realities.  At no time has the image of church as community been more significant.

No parish or faith community in the diocese exists for itself.  Together the parishes and faith communities of the diocese make up the local church of Toowoomba.  ‘The church is her true self only when she exists for all humanity…She must tell all people, whatever their calling, what it means to live in Christ, to exist for others.’ (Dietrich Bonhoffer)

Reconciliation – the Task of Mission:

Reconciliation is one of the main thrusts of this final year of preparation for the Great Jubilee.  To be a community of reconciliation, we need to be a community of memory and a community of hope.  Communities of memory hear the story of a people, the fount and source of their identity.  Communities of memory are marked by hospitality, truth-telling and connection.  Communities of hope are about coming to a new place from which a new society is constructed.  They are marked by allowing people to come to terms with their past and working with them to build a new and just society.  A community that acknowledges the scars and works with them to find life.

This message of reconciliation seems apt for so many of the situations we encounter in our world today.  Here in this diocese, these are some of the important situations that call for the ministry of reconciliation: -

  • reconciliation with our  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters … as Pope John Paul II said in Alice Springs … The Church of Australia will not truly be the church until…
  • reconciliation with other Christian churches …  The Council of Fathers felt the need to be beg pardon of God and of their brothers and sisters for the sins committed against unity.
  • reconciliation between the diverse expressions of the Catholic Tradition within our Diocese – one that honours the difference and respects the dignity of each person.
  • reconciliation with our brothers and sisters who feel alienated from our parish communities and form the wider diocesan family of the church.

The ministry of reconciliation calls us to be communities of hope.  We cannot do this unless we are a prayerful people creating a church that is prophetic, speaking in the words of the Gospel to the injustices of the day.

As I move about the diocese, I see many signs of hope – the Diocesan Gathering and all the work that went into its preparation involving parish communities and organisations right across the Diocese, which speaks of the life in our parish communities, the care and the concern people have for one another, charitable organisations, hospitality, a thirst for justice and knowledge, a thirst for spirituality and prayer, the witness of Catholic schools, a desire and a willingness to take up roles in ministry, a searching for how to be church today, a wanting to be involved in the wide community and the missionary life of the church, and others too many to mention.

I have a strong sense that seeds are taking root and a new way of being church is emerging.  This church is being built on the memory of the past – a memory that has the ability to empower to bring the past into the present so as to influence and empower it and to provide hope for the future.

I encourage you in all your efforts to be church.  God blesses you in this.  I conclude with the words of Oscar Romero: ‘We know that every effort to better society, especially when injustice and sin are so ingrained, is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us – Let us all do what we can. ‘

Ad if we, like the prophet, are caught running through our communities with a burning torch, what shall we reply?

I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all the joy and peace of Christmas and every blessing for 1999.

Your Brother in Christ

WILLIAM M MORRIS, DD

BISHOP OF TOOWOOMBA

1.             Vatican II – Church in the Modern World.