Philippa Martyr: Set priorities, and all else follows

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Well-meaning priests will often baptise children with very few questions and no follow-up in a vague hope that faith will magically stick to the child and family. PHOTO: CNS/Vatican Media
Well-meaning priests will often baptise children with very few questions and no follow-up in a vague hope that faith will magically stick to the child and family. PHOTO: CNS/Vatican Media

If we’re really serious our focus is the reality of Jesus and His love – and what it means for us in daily life

I promise that I won’t spend the rest of the year complaining about the Plenary Council’s Framework for Motions. In fact, I’d like to praise one particular section of it.

Section 61 of this document is a very honest assessment of how most Catholics engage in sacramental life in Australia today. I’ll let it speak for itself.

“In Australia today, receiving the sacraments is sometimes approached more as a cultural milestone than a moment in ongoing faith formation that unites us with Christ and with each other. It can be more a process of certification than incorporation.”

Indeed. Have you ever attended one of those odd parish Masses which are suddenly brimful of people, none of whom seem to know what’s going on?

“Parents who desire for their children to be baptised often have little ongoing involvement in the life of the parish.”

This happens when Catholic school children are being prepared for the Sacraments. All the parents are told to come to Mass, and they and the kids stand up and make promises to come to Mass and take the whole thing seriously.

The next week, Sunday Mass is half-empty again. It fills up with another king tide of Catholics when the kids receive the Sacrament in question. And then the tide goes out again.

Section 61 rightly spots the root cause. “Parents who desire for their children to be baptised often have little ongoing involvement in the life of the parish.”

We know that parents may want their child baptised for a range of reasons that have nothing to do with God.

What’s sadder, of course, is that many of us have unbaptised children in our own families. (And no, it’s not all right to baptise them secretly without their parents’ consent. Please don’t do this unless the child is in danger of death.)

There are just 600,000 or so Catholics here who go to Sunday Mass regularly. This is a tiny number – only around 10 per cent of all Catholics in Australia. Photo: CNS/Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic
There are just 600,000 or so Catholics here who go to Sunday Mass regularly. This is a tiny number – only around 10 per cent of all Catholics in Australia. Photo: CNS/Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic

Well-meaning priests will often baptise children with very few questions and no follow-up.

They also have a range of reasons for this, including a vague hope that faith will magically stick to the child and family.

This is dropping the ball. Section 61 says that this problem instead “calls for the continued formation of all in a renewed understanding of the centrality of sacramental and parish life.” This might include some of the Church’s priests and deacons.

Then there’s the Eucharist – the Mass (with or without individual reception of Holy Communion) and the practice of Adoration.

“There are just 600,000 or so Catholics here who go to Sunday Mass regularly.”

Section 61 says, “The Church professes the Eucharist to be the source and summit of all sacramental life. Thus, celebration of the Eucharist … offers opportunities for spiritual growth. “

Opportunities for spiritual growth? Really? Perhaps this lightweight approach to the Real Presence is what lost us so many Catholics in the first place.

There are just 600,000 or so Catholics here who go to Sunday Mass regularly. This is a tiny number – only around 10 per cent of all Catholics in Australia.

Sadly, even some of these receive Holy Communion out of habit, with no real preparation.

This is the very thing St Paul begs us not to do, because we’re eating and drinking our own condemnation (1 Corinthians 11:29).

By 2028, we will have more data about just how fast the Church is shrinking at parish level. Perhaps this might spark a bit more enthusiasm for the living, pulsating, loving Body of Christ present in all our tabernacles.
By 2028, we will have more data about just how fast the Church is shrinking at parish level. Perhaps this might spark a bit more enthusiasm for the living, pulsating, loving Body of Christ present in all our tabernacles.

The lack of understanding of – and belief in – the Real Presence is an appalling gaping wound in the Australian Church.

And we will look anywhere but directly at it.

It’s much easier to look at things like our lack of cultural sensitivity and our need to enhance competencies in synodal practice.

Or maybe planting more native trees and ridding our parishes of single-use plastics.

The ACBC has asked for a Eucharistic Congress to take place in Australia in 2028. This is six years away, which is plenty of time to lose more souls.

“He is God-with-us – but for some reason, we aren’t really interested in Him. Perhaps we need to ask some questions about this at the next Plenary Council sessions.”

But at least it’s better than suggesting we hold an ecumenical Season of Creation service.

By 2028, we will have more data about just how fast the Church is shrinking at parish level. Perhaps this might spark a bit more enthusiasm for the living, pulsating, loving Body of Christ present in all our tabernacles.

He is God-with-us – but for some reason, we aren’t really interested in Him. Perhaps we need to ask some questions about this at the next Plenary Council sessions.

Perhaps the sessions themselves need to start with a daily hour of Adoration for all participants. This would allow the Holy Spirit to speak very freely, should they choose to listen to Him.

The Blessed Sacrament is our light and life and our reason for existing.

There is no point in reducing our Catholic carbon footprint if we aren’t running on the unquenchable fire of Love Himself.