Daring to be Apostles of our Time
Once again at the end of the calendar year and at the beginning of the liturgical year, which always starts with Advent, I invite you to take time to reflect on the past year and also to open yourselves to new possibilities in your spiritual life, and our common spiritual life as a parish. As with each year of my time here as parish priest, I hope to provide some common guidance to us all in this important reflection by introducing a new annual theme.
This year, I am drawing together two important threads for this reflection under the title Daring to be the Apostles of our Time. The first of these relates to the Salvatorian religious order, and the second relates to our common Australian focus on youth within the Catholic Church. Both of these combine in an overall reflection on what it means to be an Apostle: one who knows the saving and merciful love of God and wishes to share it with the world.
This year, Salvatorians around the world are preparing for the Jubilee Celebration of the Centenary of Death of our Venerable Founder, Fr. Francis Jordan, which will take place on the 7th to 9th of September 2018 in St. Peter’s Seminary (Freiburg, Germany), Tafers (Switzerland), and Gurtweil (Germany).
In every age, God raises up founders of religious movements that continue the salvific work of Jesus. Augustine, Benedict, Francis, Dominic, Teresa of Avila, Ignatius of Loyola and Mary of the Cross MacKillop are but a few of the leaders and founders of communities and movements that have preserved the Church during times of challenge and upheaval. These individuals often faced great trials and misunderstandings in their ministries. Yet each of them was able to persevere, guided by the Holy Spirit and by a tremendous love of God. Many of us have been greatly enriched by their ministries – in our own city we can see many expressions of these, especially in healthcare, social welfare, and education. Such is also the case of Father Francis Jordan, the Founder of the Salvatorians.
Jordan was born in the tumultuous nineteenth century, when the Church of Europe was swept by secularist and anticlerical movements and revolutions. His response was to found a movement of his own, whose goal was to strive “that all may know the One True God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent” (John 17: 3). This movement, which began as the Apostolic Teaching Society and evolved ultimately into the Salvatorians, would be comprised of priests, brothers, sisters and laity who worked together to make the love of the Divine Saviour known through all ways and means that the love of Christ inspires. What is really fascinating and prophetic about Fr Francis Jordan is that, even before the Second Vatican Council happened, he dared to dream about a different way of ministering in the church where everyone - lay, priests and religious - could work together and be involved as ministers of the church.
Father Jordan wanted members of his Society to be “Apostles for our times” with a mission that was to make known the “loving kindness of the Saviour” by all ways and means.
On 8 September 2018, it will be one hundred years since Father Jordan founded the Society of the Divine Saviour has passed away, but his work continues to flourish around the world. In the years since the Second Vatican Council, the community has expanded to include Lay Salvatorians, who promise to follow the Salvatorian charism according to their state in life. The Salvatorians now exist on every continent and have begun to increase rapidly in Africa and Asia. As the movement grows, so does the good work of the community, which includes schools, hospitals, missions, parishes, printing presses, chaplaincies, and many others. In short, in the charism of Jordan, the Salvatorians use “all ways and means that the love of Christ inspires” to spread the love of the Divine Saviour to all people.
So the dream and apostolic life of Fr Francis Jordan made me think how we could be more than we are at this current time so that the young people and many in our parish could become apostles of our time. We have been given a great gift as members of our parish, which is that we can gather in a safe and supportive community and come to know God’s love as part of our journey. The challenge of the great founders of religious congregations, like Jordan, is to push us out into the world to share this truly good news with others.
This does not happen automatically – it takes commitment, constancy and courage. As we all know very well, the Catholic Church has not always been a place which encourages dispositions like this. Many of us have felt that our ‘Catholic duties’ are fulfilled through our attendance at Mass, private prayer and perhaps our contributions to the Parish. If these are in place, many of us have felt that life can continue as normal. What the founders of the religious orders, including Jordan show us, is that a richer expression of our faith moves us beyond these beautiful, foundational commitments to a great appreciation and experience of God’s tender and merciful love for us. Once we experience that love, the chance to share it with others becomes irresistible – this is precisely why Jordan founded his order! Hence, the second thread of our theme for this year invites us into deep reflection on God’s love for us, and what that might mean as we seek to share it with the world around us.
This thread is highlighted through our common focus on youth across Australian in the coming year. Over the past twelve months, the Church in Australia has undertaken extensive studies of our young people with the aim of discovering their experience of life in the 21st century, their perceptions of the Church and their hopes and desires for the future. Within our own Diocese, the study found that the most significant issues our young people face relate to mental health, the pressures of school and study, body image and drugs and alcohol. How difficult it is to be a young person today! How wonderful would the message of God’s tender and merciful love, and indeed our tender and merciful love, be for people struggling in these areas?
The study also showed that whilst many of our young people have an appreciation for their Catholic Church, including the importance of the Mass, a majority showed little or no interest in church-run activities, and many wanted to see a greater focus on – and guidance in – pressing issues of our time, including poverty and war, environmental issues, and social issues such as the inclusion of LGBTQ people in Catholic communities. Young people also yearned for greater reliability between themselves and leaders in the Church.
What does this mean? It paints a picture of fertile ground for us as a church to share God’s tender and merciful love which is not currently being reached through our existing ministries. This puts a challenge to us, it is the same challenge that the founders of the great religious orders faced: how do we respond to the need of our time? How do we share God’s love, right here and right now? This is our challenge – we can’t rely on others to do it for us. How do we dare to become apostles of our time?
Fr George Kolodziej SDS, Parish Priest