Philippa Martyr: Putting trust in a limited oil supply can’t ever pay off

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Students at Our Lady of the Assumption Primary in North Strathfield work in the classroom. Catholic education should be at the forefront of this new evangelisation, from primary school level upwards (159) says Philippa Marytr. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

So far, the Instrumentum Laboris has shown us what the Church in Australia is like now, and an image of what it could be. Part IV of the Instrumentum is ‘Going Forth’, a plan for how we might engage better with the world we were sent to save.

But most of the Instrumentum makes it clear that we can’t do this unless we do some massive internal repairs first. Engaging with the world is something we’ve done way too much already, to the point where Australian society has remoulded the Church here to suit its own beliefs.

So how can we save the world? By engaging with it – but also being brave enough not to compromise on our patrimony. This is the perennial balancing act in the Church, and in Australia it’s clear we have compromised too often.

“You can’t be confident about proclaiming the beautiful truths of the Catholic faith if you’re ashamed of them.”

Catholic education should be at the forefront of this new evangelisation, from primary school level upwards (159). Unfortunately, its witness has been lacklustre. You can’t be confident about proclaiming the beautiful truths of the Catholic faith if you’re ashamed of them, and don’t live them yourself on a daily basis.

It’s not like we didn’t have the money to do great things. Instead, it’s like the life has gone out of the Church, as the living stones – the people – have lost interest (166).

Unless we renew from within, our evangelisation will be what Jesus condemned in His usual blunt language: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are” (Mt 23:15).

Archbishop Anthomy Fisher OP blesses a child outside St Mary’s Cathedral in 2019. The Instrumentum Laboris – the main working document for Plenary 2021’s discussions – has identified the Church’s teaching on sexual morality as a significant issue affecting how Australians view the Catholic Church Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP blesses a child outside St Mary’s Cathedral in 2019. The Instrumentum Laboris – the main working document for Plenary 2021’s discussions – has identified the Church’s teaching on sexual morality as a significant issue affecting how Australians view the Catholic Church. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

The Instrumentum says that this falling-away isn’t because people’s attachment to Christ has grown lukewarm. It says that it’s because cultural norms and expectations have changed and no longer support our Catholic faith.

We were foolish virgins if we trusted in the limited oil supply of cultural and social support. This is what happens when you over-engage with the world, and don’t nurture your spiritual patrimony.

We’ve preached a Gospel of Nice in Australia for a long time: that it’s nice when you’re nice, and Jesus is happy when you’re nice, and it’s not nice to be not nice. So when things aren’t nice any more, people stop coming to Mass and stop identifying as Catholic.

“The truths about sex, love, and marriage can … be modelled by courageous, Spirit-filled Catholic families and individuals as a path of freedom, rather than slavery.”

The Instrumentum has already identified the principal difficulty: the Church’s teaching on sexual morality. This teaching isn’t going to change. People’s resistance to it isn’t going to change.

The truths about sex, love, and marriage can be expressed and taught better. They can be modelled by courageous, Spirit-filled Catholic families and individuals as a path of freedom, rather than slavery. But it is never going to be nice. It’s going to be challenging – not peace, but a sword that can divide husbands and wives, employers and employees, clergy and parishioners.

In summary? The Instrumentum is honest, but challenging. We have a lot of work to do.

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