GRASSROOTS EVANGELISATION IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN AUSTRALIA
We are all called to evangelise. I write from the standpoint of an Australian Roman Catholic convert.
It is hard to be a Catholic in these days of rampant media coverage. Every perceived misdemeanour in the Church is splashed across the papers and aired in confrontational debates on T.V. worldwide. Serious crimes of child abuse and paedophilia, perpetrated by a small percentage of priests, or hot issues like denial of communion to openly gay Catholics are all seized upon by the media.
The secular world relishes the opportunity to take issue with Church doctrinal matters which are in opposition to what they would have us believe should be a morally free thinking society. Consequently, the credibility of the Church comes into question.
This is a sad situation for the majority of good Catholics, trying to live holy lives, who in their experience have only found positive nurturing from dedicated Priests.
The disillusionment and outside pressures have become so great that many have left the Church, and among those who remain many are ashamed to admit to being Catholic. I do not belong to those groups. I believe in love, hope, and forgiveness of sin; I believe in the Church, and the power of the Holy Spirit to heal and guide us in these difficult times.
Pope John Paul II said: “Be not afraid!”
These are simple words with much meaning. We should not be afraid to say we believe, even though all around us may not. We should not be afraid to evangelise and spread the Word of God to others who may thirst for what we have. We should not be afraid to act on God’s behalf.
Pope John Paul II expresses the following words in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio:
“I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the
Church energies to a new evangelisation…No believer in Christ,
no institution of the Church, can avoid the supreme duty: to
proclaim Christ to all peoples.” (para. 3)
“God is preparing a new springtime for the Gospel.” (para. 86)
The good news is there exists in Melbourne, Australia, a remarkable team of lay people who form the Catholic School of Evangelisation under the direction of Bishop Joe Grech. Their aim is to spread through the whole of Australia and overseas establishing schools in each of the 28 Australian Dioceses.
In the past we have thought of missionaries as Priests or dedicated lay people who have gone off to distant lands to alleviate suffering and teach the gospel message. But now there is a need for grassroots evangelisation starting with the community already in the Church. Some people may be lukewarm with their faith or suffering from the pressure of secular values constantly forced upon them. They need renewal of the spirit, a Pentecost fire to burn within them, so they can become true evangelists by expression of their own faith as a witness to others.
As a lay parishioner, I attended two weekend courses run by the Catholic School of Evangelisation. I didn’t know what to expect
from the first “New Life” course, but after the initial speaker’s vibrant delivery, I was excited.
As part of the dynamics I was given a red paper heart with the words from the Song of Solomon written inside:
Song 2:4 He has taken me to the banquet hall,
And his banner over me is love.
At the end of the course those words prophetically rang true for me. Two days had transformed me in the spirit under the talented guidance of the team of evangelisers. Their own deep conviction of the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives was evident. They challenged us to evaluate where we stood in the light of God’s mercy. Were we truly fulfilled? Did we have peace or were we anxious and fearful? Did we need the salvation of Jesus? All questions lukewarm Christians need to ask themselves.
I had gone away from the “New Life” course enlivened and deeply grateful for the dedication and love so freely given from a team of lay people who were following their heart and God’s Word.
I craved for more of such transformation in the Spirit so when a follow-up “Emmaus” course was announced I was first to enrol. On the weekend it was to be held it was delightfully warm and sunny. A good weekend to spend on a boat on the Gippsland Lakes where I live! I had the choice, but I chose to journey the road to “Emmaus” and I wasn’t disappointed.
The course was expertly conducted. Again about fifty people attended. We all participated in a friendly and communicative way. Some shared intimate life experiences, giving insight to others of the struggles people encounter in their lives, and the need of strong faith in the Holy Spirit to help overcome what often seem insurmountable difficulties.
Each session of the course was preceded by joyous song, dancing and prayer. People relaxed into an accepting, friendly, supportive group to listen, and learn the meaning of “Seven Images from the Bible,” “Seven Effects of the Word,” and “Seven Commandments of the Word.”
In one session we dressed up in clothes that would have been worn by the Jews in the Old Testament times and played out a scene in the Synagogue acting the parts of the prophets. This was fun, and we gained a fuller understanding of the bible texts about the coming of the Messiah, Jesus.
With great sensibility to the Spirit, the local Priest gave a talk on the meaning of “Emmaus” before he celebrated Mass for us. This engendered a special reverence as we partook of the Eucharist.
In fitting conclusion to profound learning we were all presented with a Certificate of Attendance having completed the “Emmaus Course” by the School of Evangelisation.
In a climate of fast change, every increasing competition and moral decline, there is fertile ground for evangelisation. What better way to begin than start at the grassroots with people already practicing their faith so that they may strengthen and lead others to New Life in the Spirit.