The first of two gathering sessions for the Plenary Council is soon upon us. It is the first such gathering in Australia in 80 years, and distinctive because of the greater participation of lay people. We have asked various community members to share with you their thoughts on the upcoming Plenary Council, and why each of the different themes are such an important consideration for the church at this time.
Toni Janke from Centacare Family and Relationship Services shares her thoughts on institutions – how might we better see the future of Catholic social services, agencies and health and aged care ministries as key missionary and evangelising agencies?
I believe it is vitally important for us to consider this question as part of the Plenary Council discussions given that Catholic social services, agencies and health and care ministries play a key role in working with the community and could potentially play an even greater one in assisting with mission and evangelisation in the future.
As front-line services, we provide an essential link (sometimes the only link) between individuals, families and communities and God as the coalface of the Church. Indeed, our very charter as Catholic social service agencies is to serve vulnerable people with our community. We are funded to provide specialist and targeted support for individuals, families and communities who are often struggling and in need of specific services. e.g. counselling, domestic and family violence, aged care, disability services, mental health, housing/homelessness, in prisons and hospitals etc.
This is, and always has been, our primary mission – our preferential option to serve the poor and vulnerable in our community, wherever we find them. As Catholics, we are called to do this by virtue of our baptism, enshrined in the Gospel and entrusted as Christ’s disciples to go out into the world and serve others.
Never has there a greater time in our history for reach out to others who so desperately need support. Yet, as the church of the future, we cannot be complacent, arrogant or judgemental. We need to change and meet people where they are. We need to break down the systemic barriers that prevent healing, justice and empowerment of those most in need in our society.
In so doing this, we share in the love and joy of Christ – not merely as part of our own commitment to God, to social justice and to serve others, but to genuinely convey that healing love of Christ that allows an opening for a transformative experience with God; a personal encounter that is grounded in faith, to and for the glory of God.
As lay people, we have a powerful opportunity and responsibility to open our hearts and hands in responding to the call as missionaries and evangelisers, not in the formal, conventional sense but as practical, grounded, down-to-earth, grass roots workers, with all our faults, humanness and limitations.
I believe we have to think more broadly, outside of the traditional ways of evangelising and preaching from the pulpit at Sunday masses. We cannot rely on clergy alone to do this important work. Times have changed.
Having said this, I also believe that we should not be deliberately seeking to evangelise or covert others against their will. We should never deny our services to those who are not Catholic or wish to access our services without fear of being ‘converted’ or preached at. We must lead by attraction, welcoming and working with others to grow and live fully in love and light of their own truth, albeit that love, light and truth that we know as Christ.
In our agencies, we encounter many people every day who may or may not need (or even be looking for) God in the lives. However, we make it possible for others to experience the saving love of Christ, whether that is something profound and transformational or simply an opportunity to deepen their own faith and spirituality.
As a Catholic employee, I am passionate about my job and being able to go to work each day to make a real difference and be of service to others. We provide services to families, men, women, children and young people from all walks of life who are often experiencing difficult and quite complex challenges in their lives. We are called to be a voice of hope, to offer love and kindness and to be an advocate for change, healing and restoring hope and peace in the lives of others.
Indeed, the very heart of our work is fundamentally about connection and relationships. We are designed as human instruments – to be and do all that God ultimately wills and to carry out that vision for the future – accountable, open, transparent and authentic, never forceful, self-righteous or coming from a place that asserts superiority or a better-than thou attitude. Humility is key and God is charge here, not us.
These are the issues we must ponder as members of Plenary Council – challenging, yet very real issues that face the Church, our Church of the future.