Vol 42 No 4
THE ATTENTION of the Catholic Church in these months is very much directed towards the mystery of God's self-communication to humankind. The 12th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (Rome, October 5th - 26th) was convoked to discuss as its subject 'The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church'. We are also in the Year of St Paul (June 29th 2008 - June 29th 2009), a year to commemorate the 2000th anniversary of the apostle's birth.
The Word of God, we are reminded, is firstly the eternal Word, the second person of the Trinity, in whom the Father totally 'speaks' himself. The word of God is also the Sacred Scriptures which testify to God's self-revelation in human history.
God 'speaks' to us in his Son. God makes the first move---the Spirit of God enables us to open our hearts in welcome and respond. Our response is faith. We need God to reveal himself personally to us personally, and we need to accept God's self-revelation in faith. Otherwise God remains unknown to us.
God reveals himself as a God of love. But the little we are able to absorb of God's revelation of himself only makes us realise that God in himself is transcendent mystery: we can never comprehend God. God is 'in light inaccessible, hid from our eyes' as we pray from an ancient hymn in the Prayer of the Church.
Indeed, none of these thoughts are new: Christians have been saying it all since the beginning. John wrote in his gospel: 'No-one has ever seen God. It is God the only son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known' (John 1.18). And in the Epistle to Diognetus (2nd C.), an early example of Christian apologetics, we read:
No man living has ever seen God or known him. He himself has given us the revelation of himself. But he has only revealed himself to faith, by which alone are we permitted to know God. (Ch. 8,5.)
God also speaks to us through the written word of God. The Bible is the story of this inter-personal encounter of God and the People of God. What we read in the Bible is the 'history of salvation'. It is the love story of God and us, God's people, a story that begins with Creation and opens into eternity. For us who read this story with faith the Bible, read and understood within the tradition of authentic interpretation, answers all the ultimate questions: What is the origin of all things? Why am I here? How am I to live? What can I hope for?
I suspect that the ultimate question facing the Western world in our time is: What can I believe in? It appears to be so for the people of our area, Erskineville, Sydney. As parish priest I quote frequently and with a certain relish a Sydney Morning Herald journalist commenting on the findings of the Bureau of Statistics:
The heart of atheism appears to be in the inner west. Residents of Camperdown, Erskineville, Enmore, Newtown and Annandale are more likely to shun religion than any of their other Sydney neighbours.' (SMH 13.10.2008, p.6.)
Here we are in the heartland of Sydney atheism! Far from being depressing, I find it an energizing thought. It makes the ringing of our recently-restored church bell at the beginning of Mass a more significant act, as also the messages we put up on our outside notice board for the benefit of passing traffic, as also the letter-box drop to all households in the area prior to Easter and Christmas whereby we advertise the times of our festive celebrations---just some of the ways we let our atheist neighbours know we are still here.
---Barry Brundell MSC, Editor.