A Change of Era

When I was growing up, I had the opportunity to learn the piano. Neither of my parents were musical but they both had a sense that music was an important part of life and the piano was the favoured instrument. And it was a good fit for me: something about being able to read the language of notes, translate them to the keys and hear music emerge seemed a little magical!

I have noticed that second-hand furniture stores are full of unused and unloved pianos so it was with some interest that I read a recent article, ‘Rare Ivory’ (The Australian, Saturday 2 September). Along with so many other aspects of contemporary life, change is affecting the piano. And pianos are fairly high maintenance instruments, I guess. They are hard to move and they need careful tuning attention on a fairly regular basis. Young people find their lack of portability an issue and musicians seek a way to manipulate and build upon the music of the piano – leading to a rise in the purchase of digital keyboards and acoustic pianos. However, there is a sense that the traditional sounds of the piano are being brought into conversation with the modern ones. The article concludes by suggesting that the piano is evolving, not dying out.

I wonder if this image is helpful for us when we think about our Church. In November 2015, Pope Francis, in an address to a conference of the Italian Church, suggested that we are living in a change of era (rather than an era of change). An era can be defined as a period in history and I wonder if this idea of a shift in our history might help our thinking about parish and church life. The signs of this shift are all around – but living this experience can be difficult and disconcerting. Some of us long for the church of the past and think that those were the best days. Some of us are itching to move forward and feel frustrated that we are moving too slowly. Some of us are struggling to find a language that will meet the challenges of this era. Perhaps it is helpful to think of the church as evolving – in dialogue with the best of the past in the context of the gifts that the present world offers us.

And all of this is happening in the midst of a world swirling with creativity, tension, anxiety and, I think, a certain meanness. We are being asked to respond to complex moral questions; to witness in an at times less than edifying public discourse about how we ought to live; to try and make sense of the life-changing tragedy that nature is imposing on some of our fellow humans and of the way our government is trying to manage or contain refugees and dispossessed peoples. And all of this continues in the shadow of the abuses that cloud the experience of being Catholic in Australia. We dwell in a complicated, suffering and, sometimes, ugly world.

But we do not do this alone. Perhaps we can take into our hearts the wisdom of Pope Francis: his vision is for a church that is humble, selfless and blessed. So let us work in a spirit of humility, reaching out to those who suffer aware that we are blessed by the presence of God active in our world. Let’s stretch our imaginations to enable us to see an evolving church, confident that the Jesus who suffered death and was buried is risen and journeying with us.
Cathy Jenkins



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