Annette Milross welcomed visitors to our first session of the year. 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of two historical events. In August 1963, Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a dream” speech Pope John Paul opened the second Vatican Council October 1962. The theme of SIP this year is “I have a dream” and we are is to looking back over those 50 years and also to look at what is happening in our world today and ask “How much of the dream of those two men has actually come about?”
Our first speaker tonight is Sister Patty Fawkner. Patty is a Good Samaritan nun. She is a former educator with formal qualifications in Arts, Education, Theology and Spirituality.
Patty Fawkner sgs
How is Australian Society changing, easy. In 15 minutes, not so easy!
Sarah is a member of my community and I’m well and truly old enough to be her mother. She was telling me what happens when one of her four nieces aged 6 – 12 is naughty. No being sent to her room, no banning from television, no physical punishment – the trifecta of punishments in my day. No, her father disables the internet connection on her iPod!
Can you imagine a family of 8? And can you imagine a family of 8 today having just one phone? That’s what we had and thought ourselves lucky at that. No such thing as an iPod or internet, and if we’d heard of anyone talking about Wifi, we might have thought it was the name of the neighbourhood dog!
The screen is one of the key icons of the contemporary world – be it on iPhone, iPod, iPad, computer, video games, television, cinema or digital camera.
In a break we check our phones for the next text message or email. Look at people on the train, couples dining in restaurants – seemingly more connected to their device than their partner!
If the screen is the icon, what might the currency be? One commentator said the key form of currency today is the economy not of money or property but attention. In the “Attention Economy” everyone is vying for our attention. We’re bombarded on our multiple screens with advertising campaigns, messages, whatever.
24/7 (and the term wasn’t used 50 years ago) we’re constantly available, constantly “connected”, and it blurs the demarcation between work and leisure. How easy to check work email when I’m away on holiday. We’re more connected, yet more distracted and over-stimulated, becoming more isolated and disconnected from a deeper presence to myself and each other.
However, technology isn’t the greatest change in the last 50 years. The biggest shift in Australian society, the most significant sign of the times is the different way we think because we live in times that are called postmodern. “Postmodernism”, a concept not easily defined, is a slippery term used by various disciplines from philosophy, art and literature to talk about trends. Its greatest influence is not in design, as in postmodern architecture, but in how we think. And I’d like to look at how a few of these postmodern thinking traits influence change in our Society.
Postmodernism is typified by mistrust – mistrust of traditional authority and institutions. Politicians, police, the church, sporting bodies, banks, the military, have all been found wanting and, in many instances, corrupt. Individuals have been shielded by institutions – Lance Armstrong, Father Gerry Ridsdale (serial paedophile in the Ballarat Diocese), Eddie Obeid. We were so much more trusting in the 60’s and isn’t that one of the reasons that acknowledging and addressing sexual abuse in the church has taken so long? Unfortunately, there are some people who mistrust any politician, any priest merely because they are politician or priest.
We want to trust our sporting heroes and our leaders but we feel such betrayal if they prove not to be worthy of our trust. It’s easier to trust Black Caviar than it is some jockeys. We used to give authority figures incredible status, now we give that same status to celebrities, some of whom get status simply because they are – a celebrity.
As a wet-behind-the-ears Novice in 1970 I was caught up in the excitement of seeing Pope Paul VI, and twice travelled huge distances to see Pope John Paul II. This January I was doing some work in Rome I had the opportunity to go to St Peter’s Square for the Pope’s Sunday blessing. I didn’t need to do that and chose to go around the corner to the Vatican Museum. Of course I was somewhat disappointed when Benedict XVI resigned a few weeks later. I have to go back to Rome in June. I just might mosey on over to St Peter’s Square to get a glimpse of Pope Francis. What I’m getting at is that my own approach to authority figures has changed markedly. It might be called growing up!
The emergence of postmodernism gives rise to many other isms in our consciousness. We recognise now many things we just didn’t see 50 years ago. Perhaps we recognised racism and the beginnings of multiculturalism, but we weren’t as aware of sexism, ageism, militarism and clericalism.
Another postmodern characteristic is that there is no absolute nor impartial truth, and institutions which claim a monopoly on truth are seriously suspect. We were much more accepting of truths promulgated, for example by our churches 50 years ago but Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968 was a game changer. Reaction to the encyclical was so strong that it produced the first crack in Catholics’ unquestioning acceptance of church authority. No longer were Catholics content to “pay, pray and obey.”
In the postmodern era, truth is relative, atheism is back in fashion, morality is personal. New Age spiritual seekers are notoriously eclectic – a bit from this tradition here, a tad from that tradition there. Each person is free to develop their own private code of ethics without the need to follow traditional or institutional values. Forget about “My Kitchen Rules”. In the postmodern world my opinion rules. And everyone’s expressing it on their own blog.
Consider how the pill has changed thinking and behaviour in the last 50 years. It’s been a key factor in what might be described as a “loosening of society”, another sign of our times. Since the pill was introduced women are starting a family much later and having fewer children, often without marrying and the divorce rate has climbed. Co-habitation has outstripped marriage just as civil ceremonies have outstripped church weddings. My sister has made a very good business as a marriage celebrant, thank you very much.
In the late 60’s my brother travelled overseas and became engaged to another Aussie traveller. He made the mistake of telling my parents that they were living together. When they came home, no co-habiting in the Fawkner household. I remember the chilly reception they received by my parents. Now my sister allows her 19 year old son’s girlfriend to sleep over with him. The times were, are and ever will be a’changing.
A key aspect of the “loosening of society” is the growing acceptance of gay-rights and the push for gay-marriage. When I first joined the Good Sams we knew we were to avoid, what was rather quaintly called “particular friendships”. In my naiveté I didn’t recognise the sexual overtones of that till later.
Today it seems that we’re saturated by a highly sexualised world. We see the visualisation of sex in advertising. Driving down Parramatta Road recently I saw the re-emergence of those ugly huge yellow billboards advertising longer love-making with a nasal spray! We see the sexualisation, some would say “pornification” of young children especially pre-pubescent girls.
The role of women has changed markedly in the past 50 years. Think about work. Up until 1966 once a woman was married she could not be employed in the public service. My sisters and I fitted the classic female employment stereotypes. Between us we had one nurse, two secretaries and one teacher. One of my nieces is a lawyer another is in the army, another is doing wonderfully in marketing.
Our postmodern world is reflected in the title of the best-selling book by Thomas Friedman, Hot, Flat, and Crowded. A hot, flat and crowded world is another sign of our times and the sign that our planet is seriously stressed, is perilously at risk.
All this change, rapid change doesn’t come without cost. Social researcher Hugh Mackay argues that the human psyche is not prepared for such rapid change many in Australian society feel out of control making people feel helpless.
Mackay says that we respond to this rapid change in two ways. We can retreat and become politically and socially disengaged. With an upcoming Federal election will the majority carefully examine policies? I wonder. I think many will be more influenced by the ten second sound bight – that’s if they bother to watch or listen to any news. I met the owner of a coffee shop in Merimbula who was extremely proud of the fact that she had not seen nor listened to any news in ten years!
Hugh MacKay says that a second response to huge and rapid change is for people to focus on what they can control. He says that’s why many Australians are obsessed with the domestic arena, with renovations and lifestyle. We’re safer with that kind of change. Check the ratings for The Block, Masterchef, and other lifestyle programs.
And we can control our borders. We can decide who comes to our country. Mackay sees mandatory sentencing and border control as symptoms of people wanting to be ordered, in control, wanting to remain the same, and hugely resisting change.
I have simply dipped into our postmodern world and pulled out some signs of the times that I see. Recapping I recognise:
1. the screen
2. the attention economy
3. we are thinking differently
4. we don’t have the same blind faith in institutions
5. truth is relative, morality is personal and my opinion rules
6. the loosening of society
7. the role of women
8. a hot, flat and crowded planet
9. rapid and unrelenting change leading to disengagement and the desire to control.
Now, they are just some of the changes I see. I’m sure each of you could come up with your own list and I look forward to discussing that list with you.
Our second speaker tonight is Brother Peter Hancock. Peter is a Christian Brother. He is an educator who has spent his professional life in the school and the university. He has spent his life in many countries and has a good knowledge of the world and is still quite involved with young university students.
Peter Hancock cfc
I am an old teacher and I cannot stop being a teacher. I can’t help it. My grandfather and my mother were both teachers before me. I would like to take a couple of issues that have occurred to me. One issue concerning me is: What do kids of today make of the significant changes that have occurred in the last fifty years.
I was a novice a couple of years before Vatican 11, when we students were surreptitiously reading all the new theologies, like Schillebecks, Rahner, Orsy. We were reading them while appearing to be listening to getting pretty boring scholastic theology lectures. We were even reading the Catholic existentialist Gabriel Marcel.
Later as a teacher, I used to say to my students when I was correcting their papers: “If you can’t say it simply then you are not on top of your subject.”
So tonight I say to myself :“If it’s not simple then I don’t understand it, not to mention my audience’s chances of understanding me.
We each look at things and reflect on them from different perspectives, perspectives we have grown up with from family and student days and beyond. As I get older I can see I am now looking at things through categories of what I have had to come to – psychology, anthropology and spirituality.
Last time I was invited to speak here the topic was: “Is there a conflict between Science and Religion?” I don’t know how we would have answered that question fifty years ago. Fifty years ago our religion and our spirituality was considered opposed to or different from the logic of the scientists and the rationalists. We had faith as a way of knowing. There was some danger in that thinking. When we were warned when we went to University not to do certain subjects such as philosophy and psychology because of the risks to our religious, we had to later learn for emerging theologies of Incarnation, that there was no conflict, no real dichotomy. I am thrilled today to see that respected scientists in all fields of inquiry are able to say things close to what current theologians are saying: The new Cosmology calls theologians to explore a bigger God and to see scientists correcting their former doctrines of evolution and naming “mystery” and such spiritual terms they can share with theologians. The latest discovery the space is “dark matter” and holds the universe together, sounds a close parallel to the theologians’ exploration of the presence of the Holy Spirit everywhere in creation.
So when I was talking to novices in recent years I found myself asking them:“Where do you think Our Lady’s body is up to now if she died 2000 years ago when she was assumed into Heaven?”
Images have to change now and with the help of current developments in studies of the historical Jesus and his culture, we are learning a lot more about Jesus’ own use of images to help us face the Mystery of God. His parables are mostly not allegories, but make is think about ourselves and God; they call us to Mystery and conversion.
I often light heartedly complain that in the text of the Apostles’ Creed’s text we say: “I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried……” All of the life and teachings of Jesus, the presence of God among us, in a comma! A new Creed will be rich in statements summing up what we are learning from the biblical scholars about Jesus in his time. The universal Christ of the scriptures and human faith history will be “seen” in the creation. And sensed in human creativity and integrity, especially in manifestations of love of the human heart.
How does our religion and our symbols measure up to today’s reality? Our scientists can somewhat awed and reverential in the face of nature. They are quite able to say: “This is how we understand what we see for now, but remain open to future natural revelations (findings).” Realistic theologians are probably saying “We ought to try to create images and word explanations about a bigger God.”
The theologians and scientists can now face mystery. What do the kids make of that? Pastors, parents, teachers catechistsmight ask ourselves if we give kids enough time to think and reflect and face the mystery of life and faith? Do they always have to know answers to pass exams ? In a modern classroom kids learn with internal school assessments find that they are actually competing with one another, which tends to stifle group sharing and enquiry. Do we think we have to sign on to the doctrines or the creed or otherwise be thought to be not loyal or worthy members? Lately some bishops have pressured teachers to take oaths about their beliefs to be recognised (and paid).
I can deal with mystery. I can be curious. I don’t have to be right all the time. All this orthodoxy and catechism should be the less important thing we should look at. I have a worry that this orthodoxy and catechism is the first thing. Karl Rahner said that “the Christian of the future will be a mystic or he will not exist at all.” The people who ponder mystery, the prophets of the Old Testament, the people who were mystics, a lot of whom were women, through the ages saw more deeply; than we do they see more than we see. People such as Richard Rohr, Michael Leunig, poets, artists perhaps are popular mystics. They are not orthodox. You have to have a lot of faith in mystery, a great faith in risk taking to put that colour on the canvas, to take that first step. Like that architect who boldly takes that step to challenge the norm or that artistic person who goes ahead, risks and then prepares to pay the price of not being understood for a hundred years. They may be the prophets. I wonder how much creativity is encouraged, even in what is arguably one of the most enlightened education systems in the world. We have an extraordinary dedicated and open education system.
One of the educational pillars developing in the last fifty years is the concept of intelligence. I was brought up in the years of IQ. Intelligence Quotion was tool devised by the Americans to help ex-soldiers prepare for fast track learning and employment. It was used to match them to training pathways according to how innately gifted they were in handling number and word. But IQ was appropriate for its task, but was generalized to give my generation’s career guidance counsellors a practical base for advice. But of course it was culture based. Now we recognise many different types of intelligence. Emotional intelligence became a popular criterion for general guidance. How aware are you of the emotional component of yourself, others and the climate of the group? You can be quite bright in an academic discipline of books and specialized forums but if you haven’t got a clue about how people feel, if you cannot relate to people you cannot fit into teamwork tasks or helping professions very well, for example. You cannot even be a leader or a manager today according to recent MBA course outlines.
What is interesting to me is that more recently psychologists have finally faced up to the examination of the spiritual domain in human life. There is great consoling potential future here. The concept of spiritual intelligence suggests that every human being has the innate potential for spiritual growth, as do the other intelligences hint at potential abilities for growth.
Maybe we pastors, parents, teachers and catechists should relax about our tests and catechism for a while, aware that the light and power of the Spirit is available in every human heart, to be freed and nurtured. Right before us among the children and youth themselves
Several people commented and asked questions.
Topics covered the philosophical concept of Truth, Authority, Trust, Fear, Mystics, the American Dream, Gun control, Media and Social Control, reactions of the generations, e.g Gen X and Y. The spiritual intelligence of children was mentioned as well as the openness of children to mystery. Post modern Religion, especially the Catholic Religion is seen, by many in the community as being “on the nose.” Did we bring this on ourselves by being so “right?” Has the fact that we are better educated than we were fifty years ago had an influence on our trust in our beliefs? The geopolitics of emotion is a key issue. The West is riven with the emotion of fear. Asia is alive with hope. The Middle East has a feeling of humiliation. Africa feels hopeless. Trust in authority has been replaced by trust in technology. We trust machines, not people. The Church has not moved with the times. (Note what Pope John said about the Council) Americans have their “Dream” that everyone can “make it” and that somehow their dream is being thwarted. Americans are lucky because their constitution trusts people to use their guns intelligently, not like other peoples who do not get this trust. Americans are obsessed with the rights of the individual. Media is driving fear and fear is being used for social control. Bad news sells in the media. No-one is interested in the good news. There is drama in reporting on what “might” happen. Much hope in Pope Francis. Individualism versus interdependence. The espousal of “causes” such as Amnesty International, etc by young people.
Kevin Grant welcomed visitors to our second session of the year. 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of two historical events. In August 1963, Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a dream” speech, Pope John Paul opened the second Vatican Council October 1962. The theme of SIP this year is “I have a dream” and we are is to looking back over those 50 years and also to look at what is happening in our world today and ask “How much of the dream of those two men has actually come about?”
Anthony has spent a lifetime in education and is still teaching. He has a long experience in working with young people and currently teaches theology and the core curriculum at Australian Catholic University, Strathfield.
Your theme for the year is “I have a dream.” Reflecting on this I was reminded that in sacred scripture the prophet Joel says:
“And afterward, I will pour out my spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my spirit in those days…” Joel: 28 – 29
I grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s. I moved round quite a bit. I started in Auburn, ended up in a god-forsaken place called Wallerawang, ten miles west of Lithgow and then moved back to Mt Druitt so you have an idea of the socio-economic background I came from. I If you were to read the signs of the times there were a number of different areas where growing up was very different from what it is for Olivia. In the 1950’s and 60’s, families were very different. There were usually Mums and Dads and two or three or even ten kids and it was fairly stable. Divorce or separation was a real stigma and blended families were quite unusual. I remember when we went to live at Wallerawang; my father had left the family and left my mother with three boys. I was the only kid in my Catholic school that came from a separated family, and I was so ashamed of that. In most families, Dad was the bread winner and Mum stayed at home and made the house.
In those times society was a very conservative, very monocultural. We were still in the era of the “White Australia” Policy. Respect for authority was still quite strong. Social mores were quite Victorian. We were very prudish. We were very concerned about correct etiquette. Gayness was not spoken of or if it was it was very prerogative and we didn’t know what lesbianism was.
There was an increasing abundance of the sort of material excesses we have come to see today, clothing and the plethora of things. I got my bike when I was ten and my first watch when I was twelve. Now when you ask a kid what they want for Christmas and they are five, they give you this list of technological gadgets that we would have never thought of.
Employment was abundant and most kids left school to go to work or apprenticeship. University was for the elite and there were plenty of jobs to pick from. My first job was with the Taxation Department but only for a short time and then I went to work for the Department of Mines and Explosives as it then was. I finished one job on the Thursday, went looking and had the next job on the next Tuesday. I wasn’t worried about whether I would have a job. Many people stayed in jobs for thirty, forty and fifty years.
Communication in particular, telephones. When I was in 3rd grade there was one boy in my class who had a telephone in his home and we thought he was pretty rich. Do you remember if you wanted to place a trunk call, you had to ring the exchange and how amazing it was when we got STD, (I don’t mean that kind of STD) but Subscriber Trunk Dialling. You could ring Melbourne yourself. And what about when we got ISD, International Subscriber Dialling. How amazing! The world came into reach for us. Today you can have thousands of friends. You can be a “twit” if you “twitter or tweet” (I’m not quite sure what the correct verbs are there) and whereas we would wait four or five days for the newsreels to come on the kangaroo route to get the news from London; now like that, be in Boston for a bombing. The world is smaller and we have become virtual travelers.
How many of you owned a car in the 1950’s? I live in a block of flats that was built in the 1960’s. There are eight units. There are three car parking spaces. The advent of the car was really significant because it meant that we were no longer locked into our local community. We could move. We could go places.
Do you remember that if you applied for a job or if you wanted a baby baptised or if you wanted to get married, you had to have a signature or a reference from the parish priest of the parish of your domicile. So, if you lived in Sutherland and you didn’t like the pastor and you went along to Cronulla you didn’t have a parish. Which brings me to religion.
I grew up in an era of sectarianism. I didn’t really believe that Protestants were really Christians. I remember taking a dare to run up and push open the door of the Anglican Church. Not do anything, not say anything, just run up and open the door and then run away because I was probably going to get nabbed by those “dangerous” Protestants. We didn’t know anything about Islam or Buddhism. We lived in a really prescriptive Catholic culture and, in fact for some of us, we lived in a Catholic ghetto. We mixed with one another, YCS, YCW, and CYO. How many marriages came from the CYO and the dances and the tennis and the football? Mixed marriages were frowned on. If you were going to do that you can get married but out in the sacristy thank you very much.
We went to Catholic schools and in something that is not well known, the Australian bishops in one of their meetings (I think it was in the 1940’s) actually passed a law that if you had children and you had the means to send them to a Catholic school but you sent them to a public school then you were excommunicated. If that’s not a ghetto mentality I’m not sure what is. We had stringent codes of behaviour - we didn’t eat meat on Fridays with the threat of being sent to Hell. We fasted. We had lots of Catholic prayers and devotions – the rosary, the Memorare, the Angelus, St Jude, St Anthony, lots of piety. We believed that we were “it”.
We prayed for the conversion of Russia at the end of Mass. Either we weren’t heard or God was asleep when we were praying. There were lots of visible Catholic symbols. There were big institutions like St Bernard’s - Catholic High School, St Margaret Mary’s Hospital for Women. Catholics were in the public arena in a big way. If you came to a Catholic home two things you would find, a Crucifix, the twin Sacred Heart pictures on the wall. We saw priests in cassocks, brothers and nuns in habits. In that time we lived in an era of clericalism, of putting priests and religious on pedestals, of “the clerical club” and the denial of forms of sexual abuse and other forms of abuse which we now know were quite rampant.
By the 1960’s the world was beginning to change and so was the Church. At the end of World War II we got this optimism that the war to end all wars, the second one, was over and we were on the road to peace We began making babies in abundance and that, combined with the beginning of the influx of immigrants saw the birth of multiculturalism Australia which brought with it a necessary broadening of our perceptions of the world and the realization that not everyone saw things as we thought, not everybody approached life as we did. There were also new horizons. Sputnik was launched in 1959. Within a period of ten years we went from being totally grounded on this Earth to walking on the Moon. Ten years – that’s amazing! All of a sudden we weren’t caught up on this Earth, we could go beyond.
The 1960’s also saw the emergence of the challenge of authority. Up until the 60’s we accepted authority, believed authority and sometimes put up with pretty corrupt authority. How many times have you heard of the local sergeant picking up a young fellow, giving him a hiding and sending him home? We accepted that. All of a sudden we started to say, “no”. “Why should I accept what you think?” “Why should I do what you say?”
The sexual revolution came and part of that was triggered by technology – the pill. Party of it was also this liberation from authority. And the expectation that we would have social stability and certainty became eroded. In that context and this is where I have argument with the ultra conservatives, the church experienced Vatican II - 1963 to 1965. For me Vatican II became the most influential event in my life. I was still in school at the time.
I can remember the changes and you will have heard some of what Pope John XXIII said when he opened that council. I’m not going to read all of it but let me introduce a couple of things:
“Present indications are that the human family is on the threshold of a new era. We must recognise here the hand of God, who, as the years roll by, is ever directing man’s efforts, whether they realise it or not, towards the fulfillment of the inscrutable designs of His providence… Extracts from Pope John XXIII- Address at the Opening of Vatican Council II – 11 October 1962.” And then “In the daily exercise of Our pastoral office it sometimes happens that We hear certain opinions which disturb Us – opinions expressed by people who, though fired with a commendable zeal for religion, are lacking in sufficient prudence and judgment in their evaluation of events. They can see nothing but calamity and disaster in the present state of the world. They say over and over that this modern age of ours, in comparison with past ages, is definitely deteriorating. One would think from their attitude that history, that great teacher of life, had taught them nothing. They seem to imagine that in the days of the earlier councils everything was as it should be so far as doctrine and morality were concerned. “We feel(John XXIII feels) that We must disagree with those prophets of doom, who are always forecasting worse disasters, as though the end of the world were at hand.” Extracts from Pope John XXIII- Address at the Opening of Vatican Council II – 11 October 1962.”
John XXIII threw open the windows of the Church and he invited us to see the world in his eyes; to see the Church not here for itself but to be the sacrament of salvation for the world. Not to serve ourselves but to bring salvation to the world. Vatican II opened to me great optimism and if you haven’t dipped into the documents of Vatican II, I would really love to commend to you the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Even though they are fifty years old the voice of the Spirit of God comes through them still. I would also recommend this translation (I don’t get any royalties) by Austin Flannery, “Vatican II” because it is written in inclusive language.
For me new possibilities were associated with growing up. Unfortunately we are growing older and those possibilities have been progressively shut down. But the Church goes on. And the challenge for us is to continue to believe in the dream we have, the dream of God’s presence in our world, in and through the church, which is called to be the sacrament of salvation for the world.
Olivia is a twenty year old third year uni student studying for a double degree of Arts and Law at the University of New South Wales.
For as long as I can remember, I've been a Catholic. l've spent nearly all of the Sunday mornings or nights of my life at church. My school life was spent at St John Bosco Primary and College, where my education was coloured with the teachings of the church. I've memorised the prayers, had weird oils poured over me, eaten the bread, drunk the wine - it's pretty safe to say that when it comes to Catholicism, I've had a thorough experience. I haven’t always been a willing participant, as my parents could probably tell you, but I’ve mostly settled my differences with the church and have returned on my own terms.
Growing up Catholic is all I have ever known. I couldn't tell you what it felt like to grow up in say a Buddhist family or an atheist family. Yet in our ever changing world, experiences like those are becoming more and more common and my experience suddenly isn't really the norm. I don't think this is a bad thing, just a sign that the world is getting bigger. As a young person. there are so many different ways of life all clamoring for my attention and it's sometimes hard to figure out exactly which one I'm going to choose and how I’m going to live. As of right now, I’m living a lifestyle which makes me happy and which also just happens to involve being a Catholic. These days it's become quite uncommon to hear the words “young” and “Attends church willingly" in the same sentence. Yet, here I am, talking to you all about it as easily as I would the latest episode of Doctor Who. It’s natural to me, but it hasn’t always been like this.
I used to find church to be dull and painfully irrelevant to my life. I could think of a thousand things I'd rather be doing on a Sunday morning than going to church and listening to one old guy act holier-than-thou and pretty much lord it over all the half awake parishioners – I could be sleeping in! After gradually growing sick of all the Sunday shenanigans through my early teens, getting a casual job at a bakery near Engadine pool when I was fifteen gave me the perfect excuse to stop going to mass.
This happened to be the very same year that Sydney was hosting World Youth Day, an event which i somehow managed to avoid. While most of my, friends were off praising the Lord and joining the youth group Antioch and other such nonsense, I was busy being a “normal” teenager, working, hanging out with non-church friends and studying for my school certificate exams. The thought of picking up my faith and actually doing something with it just didn't cross my mind. I didn't want to join Antioch even though most of my friends had, and I was getting pretty sick: and tired of hearing about how it was. It even go to the point where I felt a little excluded from my school group.
Funnily enough, what essentially drew me back to the church was a need for friendship Rather than God. I eventually came to realise that I had very few friends who weren't people I went to school with. Alarmed by this sudden ttrealisation, started looking around for a solution to this worrying problem. Enter the parish youth group Antioch, a place where 16-24 year olds eould chillout with Jesus every Sunday night singing songs, listening to talks not unlike this one and reflecting in prayer. Spurrred on by the prospect of getting a bit out of my comfort zone. I tagged along on one Sunday night. I figured that I’d meet new people, who hopefully weren’t total church nuts and if God entered the equation at all, then great! Well, He did. ln a pretty important way. I began seeing the world through His eyes as a place where everyone could live in harmony. While God didn't enter into every aspect of my life, I had a pretty good relationship with Him - I still do. He's there for me if I need him (and even in times when I think I don't) and he gives my life a kind of purpose and stability which I don't necessarily find anywhere else.
I keep pretty quiet about my faith life, not wanting to be that person who is a ruthless evangeliser and,who pushes their religion down other people's throats. I didn't really talk about it at all, even at school. Let me tell you that a Catholic school can sometimes be the loneliest place for a practising catholic. ln a class of thirty odd people, maybe four or five would actually attend mass regularly because the whole concept of practising was so uncool it was practically social suicide. I wish I could say that I was loud and proud about my faith during my later years of high school but I would be lying. I kept it pretty hush hush that I went to mass and, shock horror, went to a youth group! Not that being in with the so called popular kids at school was very important to me, , it just wasn't worth the hassle of being called a "god freak" in every Studies of Religion class. It was pretty much just like when Jesus told Peter that he would deny him three times by the time the rooster crowed the next morning. Except this time it wasn't Peter doing the denying, it was me. And it wasn't a rooster, it was the school bell.
Thankfully, the world outside high school was much more receptive to my faith decisions. People were much more accepting and grown up and I could actually talk about my faith to whoever was interested. lt didn't take me long though to figure out that some people, a lot of people, weren't happy with the church at all. Groups of people were facing mass marginalization not only from the rest of society but from the institution which once held so much sway - the Church.
I had a lot of problems with the church as a young teenager. I still do, to be perfectly honest with you. Just like I have problems with the way the government handles certain issues. But do I go out and start a riot because they're thinking of cutting university funding? No. Just like I wouldn't start a riot in the middle of mass because the Church condemns the ordination of women as priests. lt's just not a constructive way to evoke any kind of change. But by that token, to just stand by and not question the choices that the Church makes on behalf of us lay people is simply something that I ean't do. When I was younger, I didn't have the knowledge and ability to properly articulate how I felt about the church's choices about things like sex, marriage and science. I feel that I do now, whether it's because of entering the world beyond high school and actually interacting with different people or because it was just a part of maturing as a human being. I have experienced society as it currently stands today yet I wonder if the Church has at all sometimes. The concept of things like homosexuality or contraception aren't so taboo anymore but you wouldn't know it if you walked into a Sunday morning service.
I'm a big believer in change, particularly where the church is concerned. I've mentioned that I attend the youth group Antioch, where we have two symbols. We have the rose, symbolising growth, maturity and change - exactly the kind of things we should be aspiring to in our faith. But we also have the rock - cold, unmoving rock, symbolising stubbornness and a reluctance to grow. We want to go from being a rock to a rose. lt's a pretty solid metaphor and one that I think extends much further than one small parish youth group. Unfortunately, to me it seems that the church has become a rock where it was once a rose.
Our entire faith is based on the teachings and actions of one guy, Jesus of Nazareth, who completely rocked the boat when it came to faith. For his time, he was a radical and not everybody liked what he had to say, to the point where he was sentenced to death for it. But what was this radical, worth-dying-for message? Surely it was something huge and groundbreaking?
No, it was love. Pure and simple. Love one another as I have loved you.
Let's look at it another way. Accept one another as I have accepted you. What does this mean? lt doesn't mean that you have to go out and march for the rights of women to become priests or anything like that. lt just means that you understand that there's an issue which another person has. lt may not be your personal issue but you just need to accept that people do not all fit in the same social, cultural, religious or sexual mould. Where one significant institution such as the Church still maintains that there is only one mould, it is the right mould and we won't permit or indulge anything that doesn't fit into that mould...well then there's a problem because the Church is not following Jesus' example.
Acceptance of others... this is the message we should be perpetrating. I'm so perplexed when I see how stagnant the Church has become in this respect and I feel that it's greatly off-putting to young people who don't identify as Catholic. We cling to outdated ways of moderating our behaviour that sometimes doesn't allow our own human nature to breathe. Jesus was both fully human and fully divine but we're not. We're only human. I'm not saying that we should all go out and explore our sexual orientation or go on the pill or whatever. Nor do I think that every single sermon should be about one of these taboo issues. I just think that we need to encourage more discussion about things like sexuality, medication and the things which our Church does wrong. Because it does do things wrong. I think the Church can find a way to say for example that "No, we don't think that sex before marriage should occur but neither do we think that pre-marital celibacy is the only way to be a Christian." lt doesn't mean that every single young Catholic is suddenly going to run off and sleep with their partner or with a lot of different people, it just gives them the space to sit back and think about it, to think about how they can best live their life and serve God. lt gives them the chance to make an informed choice and I think it helps us to be more open to change. We should establish a system that is encouraging and welcoming of difference, without being pushy or in-your-face- something worthy of Christ himself. We can't just stick our heads in the sand and pretend that these things aren't there, or that they don't happen.
Young people today can be quite hostile towards the concept of organised religion, which I think is an issue of miscommunication on both sides. They're both trying so hard to get their message across to the other than nobody can hear what the other is saying.
This is really disappointing because there is a huge potential to encourage people to find themselves in faith, if that's where they want to go. There is an incredible youth culture that's growing within the church right now as we speak, one that's much much bigger than Antioch. I mean, we have World Youth Day, a global event which is specifically designed for celebrating the faith shared by young Catholics. And these young people embody everything that is new and changing in the world. We know more about the world now. We understand science and nature. We've grown up with new technologies and medicines that can really impact the way we live our life. We've grown up knowing people who are just a little bit different, people who maybe aren't heterosexual or people who aren't interested in getting married or having children at all.
And I am actually really keen to see this new younger generation pass through the church but at the same time I feel a bit apprehensive. I see the risk of the older generation not being able to relate to these young people. Change is a hard thing to accept when you've been living and practicing in one particular way for so long, which is why I think communication and education are so important and not just when you're young. I think forums like this one are a great idea and we should have more of them.
The thing l'm trying to say is, I don't want there to be an enormous gap between the younger and older generations. lt's why I'm here speaking to you tonight. lf there's something about the world that an older parishioner is uncomfortable with or doesn't know much about, they should just ask one of us. We young people are a vastly under-utilised intellectual and emotional resource. There's more going on in our heads than just what appears on our Facebook newsfeed and we have a lot to say these days. We just want to share these things with other people. Communication is a huge part of this process of reuniting the young and the old but also in reuniting Christians and non- Christians.
We should all get the ball rolling if we're going to see any kind of responsiveness from the Church to the current social state of the world. I firmly believe that there is still a place for the Church in this world and I hope that if the Church bends a little and accepts the new changes which young people care about, then there's going to be a bright future ahead of us. Don Humphrey
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