Welcome everybody to my place, this big old house called Wynberg, which means ‘vineyard’. It’s been the home of the Archbishop’s of Brisbane for about years and it’s seen a lot of things through those years. But I know for a fact that this is the first time ever that we have broadcast a Facebook Live session from here. It’s also the first time I’ve ever done it, you might be an old hand at this sort of thing, but I’m not. So thanks to those joining us live but also to anyone watching later on the rebroadcast.
For the next minutes we’re going to consider the question, ‘Why Jesus matters in modern Australia?’ and I mean really matters. I’m going to give some thoughts of my own over the next minutes and then I’ll take your questions whatever they are. I’m keen for your feedback throughout the livestream.
So I invite you to start by letting me know where you’re watching from you could be anywhere, so let me know where you’re watching. In fact we did a test run only a few days ago and we heard quickly from someone from Canada. So wherever you are, let me know where you’re watching from.
If you know some friends or family that would like to join in tonight, share this live stream post now, I’m going to share it now to my Facebook page to invite my friends to join in with us.
So the question then is, ‘Why does Jesus really matter in modern Australia?’ someone who lived over 2000 years ago. Well I was Archbishop of Canberra before ever I became Archbishop of Brisbane and I remember one day there, I had a group of young school leavers come to my place in Canberra for lunch. Two boys, two girls, outstanding young people and no free lunches at Archbishop’s house, so I said to them towards the end of lunch, “Okay, at the end of your years of Catholic schooling, who do you say Jesus is?” And it was a very good discussion but at the end of it all they agreed that Jesus was a great role model and they had to really strive their very best to imitate Jesus as a role model, who lived long ago and gave good example.
Now I said to them, okay that’s fine but if Jesus is nothing more than a role model, then it’s it’s hardly worth the effort, Christianity. We’ve got lots of good role models, we don’t need another one in that sense. If Jesus is only a wise teacher, who cares? Why does he matter now? Because we got lots of wise teachers. If Jesus is only a miracle worker again in the end, who cares? Because we have other wonder workers.
Now what makes the difference with Jesus, is the fact that he died on the cross. Now the death makes all the difference but it’s not the full story. Because what people like me believe, is that Jesus was executed brutally he was put in a tomb they saw him buried, stone rolled across the entrance to the tomb and they thought that was the end of the penny section, that was it. Full stop.
But then three days later they encounter him. In a way that they had never imagined. He wasn’t the same as before but he wasn’t just a ghost either because he ate fish with them and that sort of stuff. So he had entered some new dimension of existence but he was real, this wasn’t a figment of their imagination. And the stories that you find at the end of the Gospels, of them bumping into Jesus, as it were or he bumping into them risen from the dead are extraordinary stories and they give you the clue to what the Christian life is all about. They’re stories of encounter.
He walks through a locked door into a room where they’re gathered and yet he is a body. He’s there on a beach cooking fish for them for breakfast, this sort of thing. They’re weird stories and they’re not the kind of stories you would make up, if this was all just fiction or propaganda. They smack of reality and they’re odds stories because the experience was odd, it was weird and they didn’t know what to make of it.
Jesus matters then, not just as a good example or a wise teacher or a wonder worker, who lived all those years ago. Jesus matters because once he rises from the dead, he’s no longer the prisoner of time and space, he’s everywhere. You kind of drown in Jesus. So he is presence and power, here and now. And the Christian life is all about encountering him, as a kind of power in my life, that I can’t supply for myself.
In the midst of my weakness, I encounter him as a kind of strength, that turns even my weakness, into his kind of strength. Or where I am wounded, he touches me as a kind of healing power and presence and the wound becomes a fountain. From that moment of encounter, I become a disciple.
Now this is crucial, in other words someone who doesn’t just respect Jesus or admire Jesus or like Jesus, I become someone who absolutely is determined to follow Jesus wherever he goes, and he takes you into some strange places. I can say that I love him, which is weird language in one sense, given that I’ve never actually seen him but in fact the eye of faith does see him, and the ear of faith hears him because you see, the Holy Spirit opens the eye of faith and opens the ear of faith, and once you see him and hear him, with the eye and ear of faith, you see him and hear him everywhere, there’s nowhere that Jesus is not.
John Paul II, when he first became Pope, wrote a remarkable letter, to the Catholic people all around the world it’s called an encyclical letter and in that letter he said at one point, Christianity isn’t really a religion in any conventional sense, he said it’s an experience. And he’s right. An experience of what? He says it’s an experience of encounter. You encounter the risen Jesus, here and now and wherever and whenever. And that moment of encounter, is a moment of amazement, the Pope says. So the Christian life becomes an experience of amazement born of that encounter.
And the amazement comes because it’s only when you see and hear the risen Jesus, that you really come to understand the full, magnificent truth of who God really is. A lot of the gods whom we worship, are tinpot gods. But when you see the truth of who God really, is it’s a magnificent and amazing thing. But it’s only in seeing and hearing the risen Jesus, that you discover who the human being really is, and who you really are. He is more yourself than you are.
You want to know you are? Who I am? You better find your way to the Risen Jesus because he tells us the full truth of who God is, and who the human being is, who you are, who I am. And that is an experience of amazement. So that’s the Christian life and that’s why Jesus really matters, to people like me, certainly, and I hope to you.
So in the end if I’m asked, why Jesus matters in contemporary Australia, I’d give four reasons.
The first is that when he dies, on the cross, on the dark mountain Jesus enters every dark corner and dark depth of the human heart and human history. And what that says, is because he’s everywhere, in every darkness, there is nothing and nowhere and nobody that cannot be redeemed, that cannot enter a fantastic fullness of life. So that’s the first reason. He’s in every dark place and depth, the question is not, is he there? But, how can I see him?
The second reason I think why he really matters is that, when he rises from the dead, scars shining like the Sun, Jesus says to the cosmos that death doesn’t have the last word. Now there are many different kinds of death and you see it in a place like contemporary Australia, there can be a spiritual death, an emotional death, the death that comes with addiction, it goes on and on. And very often we inhabit a world, even in Australia, where death does seem to have the last word. And here comes Jesus, in the midst of all of that, saying, not true. The truth is that death has its power but it never has the last word. The last word in contemporary Australia and forever and everywhere, belongs not to death but to life and that is a crucial truth. So he matters for that reason too.
The third reason why I think Jesus really matters in contemporary Australia, is because in him alone, do we discover who God really is and who the human being really is. And in contemporary Australia, very often, we see the tiniest sliver of who God really is or we see a false god or we only glimpse the full truth of the human being and we think, is that all there is? But here’s Jesus speaking to us, the full truth of who God really is and who the human being really is and inviting us to see more. See one of the things that makes life feel claustrophobic for a lot of people in Australia, is that they don’t see enough, they see too little. But Jesus is the one who, in that moment of encounter, opens the eye to see more and more and more. It’s a kind of an infinite journey into an endless seeing. And that’s another reason why he matters, in a society which often doesn’t see nearly enough.
And then the fourth reason is that, in the encounter with him, we discover that the ‘nobodies’ or the ‘losers’ or the ‘least’, really do matter. Because they’re the ones in whom we find him. Remember what he says in the Last Judgement scene in Matthew’s Gospel? “As long as you did this to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.” To those who seem to be losers and there are a lot of people, in a culture like ours that so values success, who are regarded as losers, as nobodies, they don’t matter, they’re the least, who can be kind of thrown away part of the throwaway culture.
So think of all of those people who are marginal, who don’t matter and that’s where you’ll find Jesus in contemporary Australia and because he’s there, they matter and because he’s with them, he really matters. So because he’s entered every dark place, because he says life and not death has the last word, because he reveals the full truth of who God is, who we are, and because he says the losers the least are my brothers and sisters and they matter absolutely, we have reasons there for why he matters in contemporary Australia but not just in contemporary Australia, why he matters always and everywhere.
Enough from me, I’ve talked a fair bit, got on a roll, it’s over to you now, so questions from wherever.
One question that’s come in already says, “That’s all very fine, but how in real terms can I get to encounter Jesus in my life?” This is a crucial question, because there’s nothing vague about the Christian life, this life of discipleship, following Jesus, encountering him.
Again I’d make four points and they’re not hard to know, this is not rocket science.
The first thing is, you got to read the Gospels. Now there’s my poor old battered Bible but this has been traveling the world with me for God knows how long and it’s just about falling apart but it’s part of my journey big time. I’m gonna get buried with this Bible, I hope.
You’ve got to read the Gospels, I remember once meeting a young Chinese Catholic, he was a lawyer and he was a lay leader in the Catholic Church in China, I said to him, “Kevin, what advice would you give young people in Australia, in trying to be Christian?” Without a moment’s hesitation, Kevin said, “I would order them” in good old Confucian style, “I would order them to read the Gospel for five minutes every day.” And I said, “Kevin, why would you do that?” And he said, “Because how else would you get to know Jesus, than by reading the Gospels?” And I was very interested the other day to see where Pope Francis said the same thing in a message to young people in Argentina. You’ve got to read the Gospels and the Jesus you meet there is the real Jesus. So that’s the first thing read the Gospels. And don’t just skim read them, really read them.
The second thing is prayer and when I talk about prayer, I mean praying alone but I also mean praying in a community. So prayer that’s personal and prayer that’s communal. And prayer, remember, for Christians is primarily a listening you got to learn to listen, if you’re going to hear the voice of Jesus. So, read the Gospels, pray personal and communal prayer, find yourself a community you can’t do it on your own, none of us can.
Community can be a burden but it’s also a great gift. And it’s absolutely essential if you want to meet Jesus the real Jesus and not a Jesus who looks and sounds just like you. So that you end up worshiping yourself in the end. So find a community that can take you to the real Jesus.
And the fourth thing is serve the poor. Whoever they are, wherever you are, they’re there, sometimes hidden. And again Pope Francis has helped us see this, go in and encounter the poor and that’s where you’ll see the face of Jesus and hear his voice.
So read the Gospels, pray, go and meet the poor, these are some of the very practical concrete ways that will certainly lead you to encounter Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. But you have to be patient and you have to be ready for a surprise or two, that’s the other thing I’d say, because Jesus often surprises, he never disappoints but he often surprises, so you can’t be a prisoner of your own expectations.
Now we have questions from Suva, from Singleton, Tamborine Mountain hello Tambourine Mountain, from the Blue Mountains.
And there’s a question from someone who’s got the magnificent Greek name Theotokos, it means ‘God Bearer’, it’s usually the Greek word for the Mother of Jesus.
“Can you talk about Jesus in Australia without acknowledging the first peoples who have witnessed injustice, extreme suffering and loss of just about everything?” The answer is no and that’s one of the reasons I talked about Jesus identifying with, in a radical way, the poor, the least, the marginal.
In my experience I can think of no more marginal people in Australia than our indigenous peoples. We’ve been talking and thinking about reconciliation the need for it, in these recent days here in Australia but I think to go and meet indigenous peoples and I grew up in a world down in Melbourne, where I hardly saw an indigenous person or at least one that I recognized, when I was growing up. It’s a bit different up in Queensland where I am now.
But I think if we are talking about the least of the brothers and sisters of Jesus, in this country at least, we have to talk about the indigenous peoples of Australia. It’s a running sore at the heart of this nation and the churches have a bit to answer for too, in the way the indigenous peoples have been treated. And yet the churches the disciples of Jesus, I mean not these big faceless institutions. But the disciples of Jesus I think have got a crucial role in healing the running sore at the heart of the nation. Because of the power of the Gospel.
And so the answer is, we as disciples of Jesus, we really have to go and enter into the world that is so wounded. The wound of the world of the indigenous peoples of this country.
Jimmy, I don’t know where you are Jimmy, but you’ve asked, “Where do I encounter Jesus mostly?”
Scripture, I come back to this, I mean I was trained to teach Scripture, to study Scripture and it’s turned out to be not just an experience of study and teaching but an experience of hearing a living voice. And it’s been a huge part of my life. So for me, scripture is absolutely crucial in my encounter with Jesus.
These aren’t old words, these words come off the page like a blowtorch sometimes and there’s a living voice there. If you hang around long enough, you’ll hear it all right and it often in very surprising ways.
So the other thing for me is prayer. It’s become more and more important as I’ve got a bit older and I hope wiser. For me now it’s like the air I breathe and I spend about an hour each morning in prayer. And again that’s a listening to the voice of Jesus, kind of seeing his face too.
And then the service of the people. Some things I have to do as a bishop, I don’t like at all but I love what I’m doing and I love serving the people as a bishop. And in them, I encounter Jesus in all kinds of ways, particularly those who are wounded or feel overwhelmed by their weakness.
So the experience of the ministry as a priest and as a bishop that for me is a crucial part of my encounter with the Lord. At the heart of the Church. The Church can be a tough place sometimes, especially for people like bishops, but without the Church, I think what I would end up with would be worshiping me and not Jesus.
Sabrina. Hi Sabrina, your question “How do we bring Jesus to the youth, the future of the Church in Australia?” “It’s obvious,” Sabrina says, “that many churches aren’t engaging with youth.”
This is true Sabrina, wherever I go on visitation and I try and do as much of that as I can, at getting out into the communities, this is a question that I hear time and time again, how can we engage young people?
Now there’s no magic answers to that but I would say that you will never engage any young person by trying to bash them over the head with an ideological package or a merely a set of ethics or a philosophy, all that stuff, I think they just look the other way. But if you can, in some way, give them an experience of Jesus and that’s important, not just words about Jesus.
I know I’m speaking a lot of words here, but the crucial thing is to give them an experience of Jesus, the power of his love, that’s what can light the spark. To give young people an experience of Jesus, become that experience yourself, in the way you relate to young people. If we try and just give them institution or ideology, they’ll be turned off every time. If there’s a sense of alienation, no sense of acceptance and community, they’ll be turned off every time.
But if you can give them a glimpse of Jesus, that glimpse is enough to change their lives.
Mark, good name, your question “What advice would you give a lapsed Catholic scared of returning to the Church?”
Well first of all Mark, I’d have to say I completely understand why you’d be scared or apprehensive. I don’t know your story and what I do know is that every story is different, every spiritual journey is different and you seem to be a guy who is on a serious spiritual journey. I guess you were brought up Catholic but like so many, you decided at some point to take another path. But perhaps you’re feeling the attraction of Jesus himself to come back to the community of disciples. I hope that’s the way you see it.
Again if all you’re doing is returning to a big institution and an oppressive ideology, forget that. But you’ve got nothing to fear if coming back to the Church is coming to Jesus in a new way at this stage of your spiritual journey. Sometimes people are afraid when they say yes to Jesus, when they really follow him, they’re going to loose too much. But the thing is you lose nothing if you say yes to Jesus, you gain far more than you ever lose.
So if it’s the Lord calling you back into the community of disciples Mark, you’ve got nothing to fear.
So don’t see it as returning to this great big ogre institution, you know, ‘the Roman Catholic Church’ we are that, but we’re flesh and blood, all of us wounded, seeking the healing that only Jesus can bring. So all I can say is come and join us on the journey.
Matthew, your question, “How can we witness to Jesus at school or university?”
There’s no magic package to this or no instant program that I can sort of give you on Facebook live. The most important way for you to witness to Jesus Matthew, is to actually encounter Jesus.
Because you see that will change you, not overnight doesn’t work like that, but that encounter with Jesus will change you in ways that you yourself mightn’t recognize but others will. There’ll be something different about you. It’s the kind of difference that people in the Gospel sense in Jesus. They all recognized he was different. He wasn’t like the others.
This man teaches with authority and so on, they said. So it’s the same with the disciple of Jesus, people do notice a difference. You know if you really are a man of peace not violence, love not fear and if all of this comes from that experience of encounter with Jesus you’ll be doing all the witnessing you have to do.
But again I repeat Matthew, don’t try and do it on your own, it gets too hard, It was never meant to be something we do on our own. So witness to Jesus at school or university, absolutely crucial, but do it with others and just find your way to Jesus and he’ll do the rest. Pope Francis was asked the other day, “Are you trying to reform the Church?” He said, “No, I’m just trying to ensure that Jesus is at the center of the Church, and he’ll do the reforming” So just try and make sure Jesus is the center of your life. Not just as someone you respect or admire but someone you love and follow and he’ll do the rest.
Robert, “How do we keep growing young lay leadership in the Church?”
This is another really good question because I presume Robert, that you, and probably most of those tuning in now, are baptised. Now if you’ve been baptised, you’re called to leadership of some kind or another and young people, I think in a special way, are being called to leadership in the Church now.
One of the things you notice about the stories of the first Christians encountering Jesus, after he rose from the dead, is they always get a job. How do you know it’s the real Jesus you’ve met? You’ve encountered? Answer did you get a job? Because if you didn’t it’s not the real Jesus.
So Robert, I’d say I don’t know who you are or where you are but I do know that you are being called, I guess as a younger lay person, to lead in the Church, the only question is how. Now again let Jesus tell you.
It’s not just a bureaucratic or administrative question, let Jesus tell you what kind of leadership he wants you to have in his community of disciples. Therefore you’ve got to learn to listen to him but believe me if you learn to listen and it takes a bit of patience here I’m talking prayer Jesus will show you.
The other thing is you got to be in the Church, even your question has the words, you can’t do it on your own. So find a community which is a spiritual home, listen to the Lord and he’ll answer the very good question that you asked there.
JB, hi JB. “How can Jesus’ life and mission be actualized in the Plenary Council?”
Well the Plenary Council, I think as many people know perhaps all of you is a big decision that the Church is taken in Australia and under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Now it’s all about Jesus because again we’re interested in renewal in the church but not just as a political or bureaucratic or administrative thing the kind of renewal we’re interested in the Plenary Council is, how can we be Jesus in the real situation of contemporary Australia? Because that’s the core.
Now throughout this journey to the Plenary Council and beyond the key word is ‘listening’ and all of us the whole Church. When we talk about a plenary council, ‘plenary’ just means full and it means everybody.
So whoever you are out there, if you’re in this country at least, it means you. But we’re all trying to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit to know, what exactly we are being called to, at this time in contemporary Australia? What’s it mean for us to be a more prayerful Church? To be a more missionary Church? A more inclusive Church? A poor Church? A joyful Church? These are the questions at the heart of the Plenary Council and that’s how I am certain the Spirit will ensure that we do actualize the life and mission of Jesus, through the the grace of the Council.
Look there are more questions but I think we’re run out of time. I could sit here all night well not all night but it’s been a fascinating first experience for me.
I wasn’t sure what to expect but thanks for making it the real gift, to me personally, that it’s been. So wherever you are and whoever you are, thanks for joining me here tonight, here at Wynberg and thanks for your contributions, questions. And let’s hope we can do it again, this might be a good thing to do from time to time. It’s certainly been worth doing as far as I’m concerned and I hope it was for you too.
Just on a final note, I can’t go without talking about the big event of the week and that’s the first State of Origin game tomorrow night. Even if it down in Melbourne, which is foreign territory for rugby league. In fact we have to celebrate that nine of the Queensland players who are former students of our Catholic schools, doesn’t necessarily really mean to say Catholics are better at League but we’ve got of the from our schools.
So we’re very proud of those guys and with them and with everyone up this way we say, “Go Maroons!” Thanks very much for joining in, we’ll see you next time, God bless.