Pastoral Notes for Parishes

Note/s and Prayers for Parish Communities   

The release of the final report from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will stir a range of emotions amongst parishioners. We are mindful that parishes have been impacted by the events of the past years in different ways and that local responses are necessarily reflective of those needs. To support parishes who may wish to prepare a message regarding the Royal Commission, we have prepared a sample bulletin notice which may be of assistance in shaping the message. There are also three examples of Prayers of the Faithful which may provide a helpful starting point for prayers over these next few weeks. 

Director's Reflection: Christmas Blessings 

(originally published in December 2017 monthly eNewsletter) 

Dear Friends,

Last week, Advent smacked me in the head, but it took persistence. I was so distracted one day that I forgot where I had parked my car; then I made a thoughtlessly mean comment prompting a friend to a gentle rebuke of ‘be a little kind’ and, in my haste to get the Christmas box down from the attic, I reached too far and a ladder fell on my head. And then I realised – it was time to be still and to pay attention.

I have always liked Advent – the idea of the Liturgical year commencing just as we are in midst of the ending of our calendar year seems to offer a profound symbol of hope. This in-between time, a reminder, perhaps that beginnings and endings are always entwined. And there is something wonderful about the world being swept up in the idea of Christmas – angels, lights, carols, the Christmas crib, the urge to generosity: this is God made visible for so many.

Liturgically, we read the wonderful Advent texts that contain so many echoes for us of the stories that we have heard and will continue to hear as the liturgical year unfolds. Different ideas may settle in us from these texts depending on what is happening in our lives. Perhaps we have been humbled by grief or loss and are drawn to the prophet Isaiah’s profound sense that God is a God in whom we can trust. Perhaps we are weighed down with the troubles of the world and respond to Isaiah’s gracious God – a God who hears the cries of the world and answers them. Perhaps we feel we have lost our voice and find the courage to cry out without fear. Or, perhaps we come to the end of the year with a sense of the blessings of our lives and are carrying rejoicing hearts into the Christmas season.

But it can also be a strangely sad season for many of us. The hurts of the year may well up and we may feel overwhelmed by them. All the little injustices that don’t seem to have been made right may be causing our hearts to harden. The memories of past, happier times may seem closer than usual – most families have an empty chair or two around the Christmas table. The work of the Royal Commission, our concern for those who have been abused and the enormity of what has unfolded may be weighing heavily on us. Perhaps we have a personal experience of abuse that shadows our life. We may suddenly realise how deeply affected we are by journeying with an aging parent, a sick partner, friend or child. Perhaps in gazing at those highly stylised catalogue images of families enjoying their Christmas trees/tables/presents we wonder why our families can’t or don’t look like that. And in the midst of all this talk about hope and joy we may just feel burdened, lonely and lost.

But perhaps this is the grace the holy space of Advent offers. This waiting time provides a reminder to us that God is at the heart of life. We place the stories of our ancestors alongside the stories of our lives and then we know that there will be justice, that the loved ones we miss so dearly are resting in the peace of a loving God and that God is woven into all of our memories and is on this journey with us.

But most of all we know this because on Christmas day we will sing that the Christ child is born. We will celebrate the hope that the Emmanuel, God-with-us brings. So let us allow our hearts to be imprinted with the joy of this ancient story about a man, the Son of God, who lived, loved, died and rose again revealing for us God’s deep love for humanity.

May the Emmanuel of 2017 bring joy: to weary hearts, to lonely hearts, to lost hearts. May we be strengthened in our belief that we, too, can be bearers of hope, healing and justice and that this is a beautiful, graced, albeit imperfect world because Jesus is God with us.

And may we live 2018:
Compassionate of heart,
Clear in word,
Gracious in awareness,
Courageous in thought,
Generous in love,
With Jesus at our side.

(adapted from John O’Donohue, Benedictus, p. 26)

Cathy Jenkins 
Director, Archbishop's Office for Evangelisation 

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