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Vol 39 No 1

God does care!

Charles Hill

Richard Colledge

Joseph Grayland

Cardinal Idris Edward Cassidy

Paul Babie

Elaine Wainwright RSM


Kevin Mark



Harry Morrissey MSC, To Grow a Parish: Unearthing the Human, Debut Publishing, Australia, 2004. (Paperback), pp. 207. ISBN 1 876329 25 4.

(Available Debut Publishing order hotline 1800 625 399; info@debut.com.au; PO Box 213 Noosa Heads, 4567; also from Fr H. Morrissey MSC, 1 Roma Ave, Kensington. NSW 2033, ph. 02 9662 7188.)

 In the early years of Harry Morrissey’s ministry, knocking on doors was looked on as an essential part of a priest’s ministry in a parish. It took up most of the morning, continued in the afternoon and a visit or two in the early evening wasn’t unusual. Through it Father got to know his people, who in turn had little inhibitions about telling their story and expressing how they felt about things in the parish. Although delighted to see him they could even give a bit of ‘a serve’ to Father if they felt it was needed. This grass-roots ministry was very dear to Harry Morrissey and from it he learned much about people, their potential and their limitations, their Spirit inspired wisdom and gifts and at the same time the compelling need for ongoing adult education. He kept his ears to the ground, he listened and he noted.

His reporting of what they were saying is spot-on. It has an authentic ring about it. His quotes from young and old would resonate with any pastor who is really in touch with the grass-roots. He is a shrewd and intelligent observer and is obviously widely read. He corroborates his observations with interesting and apposite quotes from papal documents and an extensive range of other reliable sources, including Cardinal Newman and Yves Congar.

His own long experience in parishes in various parts of Eastern and Central Australia and the witness of his various authorities from John XXIII to Marie Farrell RSM have convinced him of the importance of recognising that this is the age of the laity or as Congar says, the hour of the laity is now. Morrissey takes this important step forward as he outlines what this could mean in treating the major problems facing our Church today. Most people (apart possibly from the Roman Curia) are aware that our Church is haemorrhaging and that major surgery is called for. The jury is still out, however, regarding the type of surgery that may arrest the ailment. In fact not many of our Church ‘doctors’ or prophets or pastors are game to come up with a radical and credible prescription. To his great credit Morrissey has, and I think if the Church can be convinced to give it a try, it could turn things around.

He believes the way the Church has been living and sharing the Good News, parishwise and schoolwise, hasn’t stopped the leakage. Although many of our parishes and schools are a credit to their pastors and teachers, they tend to be run on a model that is failing. The low percentage of adult parishioners and Catholic youth who are committed to the Church is getting lower. The signs of the times call for a new and radical approach. Morrissey quotes John Paul’s New Evangelisation: ‘not a re-evangelisation, not a recap of past good years and methods but a re-thinking from out the roots of our tradition.’
He is echoing the Holy Father’s call ‘for the elemental turnabout of a people of faith.’ Indeed people of faith, Catholic laity, who are in touch with their own humanity, whose religion is integrated with their culture, parents, families…are at the centre of Morrissey’s solution.

Do we (clergy) really trust that the Spirit is with the laity? If we are not increasingly giving the laity responsibility for their communities, and for their children’s faith too, then we need to examine our own openness to the Spirit (56).

He has some probing and insightful things to say about our Catholic schools and their relationship to the children’s parents and the parish community. Aware that 95% of pupils (his figures) no longer go to Church after they graduate (and many long before they graduate), he doesn’t start by pointing the finger at anyone.

Distinguishing ‘Catechesis’ and Religious Instruction (RI) he sees Catechesis as the original ‘Yes’ to faith and the faith experience, pertaining primarily to the home and the parish community. The knowledge content is the primary responsibility of the school’s RI department which should present it ‘with the same seriousness and the same depth with which other disciplines present their knowledge’ (General Directory for Catechesis). Notwithstanding the effort and the money and the talent of so many dedicated people, the failure of the Catholic School to deliver for the Catholic Church is analysed at length by Morrissey who has diligently put together his own unique pastoral diagnosis. This, I feel, needs to be studied by all stakeholders.

He sees the home, the parents and the parish community as the key but neglected, elements in the Catholic scenario. The Church lost a legendary resource in letting the parents go on being bypassed as the first and best leaders of their children for experiencing and embracing the person of Jesus of Nazareth (p.97). The essential place for giving (Catholic school children) a true human focus for this way of living is home and parish (p.119).

He goes on to say: when a school respects the inalienable priority of the family and the crucial place of the local parish community for the child’s experience of Incarnation in our world, that school will have a valued place … If a school is jealous of its sway with parents or if it is content with being used by parents as a substitute for their neglect, or being used by the parish as a labour-saver, that school, without being aware, will diminish the faith of families (cf p.120).

He even questions whether the one hundred and more years of spoon-feeding at Catholic schools have inadvertently led to Catholics losing their gift for being creative in the formation of their children for life with faith (cf p. 140).

Having placed all our RE eggs in the school basket, which, we’re beginning to realise is just too small and too leaky to bring them to life, we now need an adult basket, a new adult approach. Adult religious education is the neglected element:

In the Australian Church we have never really had any tradition of on-going, life-giving faith foundation for adults. As a result there has been no pattern of equipping parents to lead their children into the ways of the faith. Only a close family bonding and an articulate wise ecclesial community around us will appropriately source this adult process (p.110).

Adult Catechesis must include human development, hence Unearthing the Human (sub-title of the book).

The only realism left for us in a damaged world is to be unearthing the human, those traces of God seen in our world if we take time to notice and wonder. And those traces of God seen in people especially when they come together (cf p. 148).

That coming together and being in conversation, he sees as an essential element in adult religious education. We forget the ancient wisdom that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ or as the Directory puts it ‘Catechesis is essentially ecclesial’.

He sees ‘Basic Ecclesial Communities (BEC)’ as the best way forward—the parish sub-divided into neighbourhood groups—a community of communities! This process of changing what a parish is, compared with what it has been, is not new. The Adelaide experience with the BEC model and that of some parishes in other dioceses are referred to in the book. Indeed Morrissey’s volume is a mine of very helpful hints about how BECs could work. He has some useful things to say about the steps a parish community could take in preparation for the change to BECs, (information that would have helped us in Kingsgrove, when we went down that road some years ago).

I believe this is a very important book. It addresses the fact that by and large the power of the Word and Sacrament hasn’t transformed the lives of adult Catholics and consequently hasn’t been absorbed by our children…After years of trying to grow a parish in the wake of Vat II, I found myself nodding approvingly to most of what Morrissey has to say. I found pearls of pastoral wisdom in just about every page, several in some pages.

These pearls are relevant to parents and parishioners, to those involved in Catholic Education, adult and school, to the clergy and those involved in parish ministry.

I have to say, however, that I didn’t find To Grow a Parish as reader-friendly as I would have liked. Fr Morrissey is a fine writer but I think he overestimates the literary standards of his readers (including myself). If there is a revised edition (and I hope there is) I would like to see Morrissey’s pastoral wisdom arranged in a more orderly and readable way. If there is a group study edition (which there should be) I would like to see the whole thing revamped without losing any of its precious ingredients.
—John McSweeney PE

Dom David Bird OSB, The Royal Road to Joy: The Beatitudes and the Eucharist. Chicago/ Mundelein, Illinois: Hillenbrand Books, 2003, 249pp. ISBN 1 59525 002 6.

Dom David Bird is a monk of the English Benedictine Congregation. He studied theology at Belmont Abbey in England and also at Fribourg University in Switzerland. On completing his studies, he returned to Belmont Abbey, where he taught both ecclesiology and fundamental theology at that Monastery’s Theological College. Besides his teaching duties, he was also engaged in pastoral work in parishes and, over a period of years, served as Parish priest of a number of local parish Communities. Prior to being sent to Tamogrande in Northern Peru to begin a Monastic foundation there, he also served as a member of the ecumenical panel advising the Angelo-Roman International Commission (ARCIC). On his arrival in Peru, he quickly became involved in pastoral work with local Christian communities in the diocese of Piura and Carmarca and founded a number of local parishes, where he served as parish priest. Since July 2002, he has been living in the monastery at Tamogrande, where he helps with the formation of Peruvian monks.

His present book, The Royal Road to Joy was written high up in the Peruvian Andes during the Summer rainy season, when the roads are all but impassable and pastoral work grinds to a halt, because of the dangers involved in venturing forth on narrow mountainous roads subject to sudden mudslides. It began as a very personal project, when its author, ‘Holed up in the parish house in San Miguel de Pallaques,’ isolated from his flock and with plenty of time on his hands, decided to write down ‘all the various strands and sources and experiences that contributed ‘to his own personal spirituality… to form them into a coherent whole’ (x ). What started out as a very personal project has become a deeply spiritual text, in which the author presents two detailed, but nevertheless interrelated commentaries - one on the eight Beatitudes of Matthew’s Gospel and the other on the Mass.

The first of these commentaries takes up nine chapters of the book. In the first of these chapters, the author explains his reasons for combining a commentary on the Beatitudes with a commentary on the Mass. His basic thesis is that ‘it is impossible to participate authentically in the Mass without living according to the Beatitudes.’ For Dom Bird ‘the two form one single road to joy’ (p3)—hence the title of the book. The next eight chapters are devoted to an exhaustive commentary on each of the Beatitudes, in which he traces their Old Testament roots and then sets them in the context of Jesus’ proclamation and teaching on God’s Basileia.

In this commentary, he draws upon his own experiences working with basic Christian Communities in Peru and suggests ways in which modern disciples of Jesus can invigorate and transform their own spirituality by living out the spirit of each of the Beatitudes. He concludes this section of the Book with two biographical sketches of two saints from two very different religious traditions—St Seraphim of Sarvo, a hermit of the Orthodox tradition and St John Vianney. He cites both saints as examples of people who lived out the spirituality of the Beatitudes, as Jesus envisaged. He also believes that both have much to teach individual Christians and the Church, as a whole, how to go about the delicate and complicated task of evangelization in the twenty-first century.

The second half of the work is a commentary on the Mass, very much in the style of similar commentaries prior to Vatican II, but completely different in that it seeks to incorporate and explain the significance of the Liturgical reforms that have taken place because of the Council. Not only does Dom Bird explain the meaning behind what is said and done in the Liturgical Action, but also why the Eucharistic Celebration is structured as it is. These chapters reflect his own study and research on the evolution of the liturgy and his knowledge of the history of both Jewish and early Christian worship traditions. This section of the book concludes with a challenging and thought provoking analysis of what the author considers to be good liturgy and also what he regards as bad liturgy.

In the Introduction to the Book, Dom David claims that he thought he was fully in charge of a project meant to develop and criticise his own spirituality, but quickly discovered that the work had taken charge of him. He thus found himself writing a book that took almost three years to complete and which more or less developed its own logic (x). Nevertheless, the book certainly does not strike one as something ‘that grew like Topsy,’ for it is a very ordered work, which makes clear the close connection between spirituality and liturgical celebration. Its contents are informed by the breadth and depth of the author’s learning and a lifetime of studying the scriptures, the writings of the early Desert Fathers, the lives of the saints, and the evolution of the liturgy. Every page of the work reflects the author’s basic premise that the liturgical reforms after Vatican II will only bear fruit, if there is a corresponding renewal in spirituality. Thus, the book is a radical call to holiness based on its author’s conviction that liturgy will only become a vital part of people’s lives, if and when they allow themselves to be transformed by the Gospel. Indeed, Dom Bird is fully persuaded that it is only by living the Beatitudes that the Christian deepens the understanding of what it means to be a Eucharistic people.

The work is a very ‘Catholic’ text, in the sense that it is written for those who belong to the Catholic Church and are truly interested in updating their understanding of their Catholic faith and their own Catholic spirituality. While it reflects its author’s breadth and depth of learning, it is, nevertheless, simply written and in a style that is readily accessible to lay people. All who read the book will find it a valuable resource of information and inspiration.
—Margaret Hannan sgs

International Theological Commission, From the Diakonia of Christ to the Diakonia of the Apostles. Chicago: Hillenbrand Books, 2003. ISBN 1 59525 000 X.

The restoration of the diaconate as other than a temporary phase on the road to ordained priesthood was a significant achievement of Vatican II. As with much of the Council’s work, however, the decision to restore the diaconate was an initial step, rather than a completed process that left no open questions. Indeed, Vatican II did not even make it mandatory for all dioceses to have deacons, but left it to the discernment of each local church to decide whether to adopt the diaconate.

In the decades since the Council, the diaconate has had an uneven history throughout the church. That unevenness reflects different—even conflicting—theologies, uncertainty about the relationship of deacons to priests, the lack of clear processes and programmes of formation for deacons, and, not insignificantly, resentment at what can seem to be another male-only ordained ministry that devalues the contribution of baptised believers, especially women.

In the light of the complex situation of the diaconate in the contemporary church, this book, a ‘historico-theological research document’ from the International Theological Commission, is a welcome resource. The strength of the book is its historical research and its carefully nuanced exposition of the history of the diaconate. The book provides a detailed guide through the scriptural and patristic material relating to the diaconate, including a helpful (read: ‘non-polemic’) discussion of the vexed issue of ‘deaconesses’. The footnotes to the historical discussions provide the basis for hours of fun for anyone interested in trawling through the sources.

What is clear in the document is the open-ended approach to the diaconate that emerged from the Council. Significantly, the document notes a shift in the Council’s understanding between the composition of Lumen gentium and Ad gentes. All of this suggests that one-dimensional approaches to the diaconate are unlikely to express the Council’s intention.

In its review of the diaconate worldwide, the document captures well the complex situation of the diaconate. This is particularly evident in the division between first-world approaches, where deacons are often seen as ‘fill-ins’ as the number of priests declines, and the perception in developing countries, where there has been a reluctance to embrace the diaconate lest it compromise the contribution of non-ordained catechists.

The document is helpful in its rejection of flawed theologies: deacons are not ‘mediators’ between the baptised and the ordained. It is useful too in specifying some of the challenges facing efforts to articulate a comprehensive theology of the diaconate: Why is the diaconate not ‘priestly’? Is the deacon defined by ‘service’ more than by relationship to the bishop?

For all its good points, the document might well leave readers somewhat frustrated, as it tends to list the challenges rather than address them. Perhaps addressing them was not the Commission’s brief, but while they remain unaddressed—to say nothing of unresolved—the place of the diaconate in the contemporary church will continue to be problematic.
—Richard Lennan

We had hoped to have been able to include a review of the excellent book written by Richard Lennan, Risking the Church. The Challenges of Catholic Faith. Oxford University Press, 2004, [ISBN 0 19 927146 1], but time beat us. The book is a theology of the church (‘ecclesiology’) that emphasises the potential for creativity with which the church is gifted.
For now we publish a description of the book’s contents in the author’s own words:
This book, then, is an attempt to highlight the possibilities for a more effective presence of the church in the future that will result from our particular present. The book proposes that the church is always a project, one that is the product of God’s initiative and constant care, but one that is also fully dependent on human responses and decisions. As a project, the church is never finished. It will always be in need of review and reform to ensure that all of its manifestations are indeed about God. (pp. 9-10)