Dear Sisters, I have been here in Tasmania for just over three years now. It is a joy for me to have been appointed to this most beautiful island and to be called to serve the people of Tasmania.
As I engage in my mission here I am finding that a fire burns in my heart. It is a constant, a daily concern. It consumes my thought and prayer. It stirs my actions and decisions. It is the impetus to my vocation as bishop.
It is a desire to bring Christ to all Tasmanians. I look around. I visit different places. I meet many people. And I see so many living, to use a phrase of St John Paul II, “as though God does not exist”. Not only does God have no place in their lives, they are completely oblivious to His existence. It is not so much that there are questing and struggling atheists or agnostics, grappling with the question of the existence of God. It is more that case that people don’t even consider the question.
Hearts are cold. Minds are closed.
I also sense that there is a certain spiritual oppression that rests over this beautiful island. There is a spiritual combat that needs to be entered into for the souls of Tasmanians.
Back in 1988 the saintly Pope stated, “Whole countries and nations where religion and the Christian life were formerly flourishing and capable of fostering a viable and working community of faith, are now put to a hard test, and in some cases, are even undergoing a radical transformation, as a result of a constant spreading of an indifference to religion, of secularism and atheism.” (CL 34)
Pope St John Paul II identified so clearly what was happening in First World countries in particular. What he said then has advanced so much in the time since. We witness here in Tasmania a serious loss of a living faith. We see so many good people from a Catholic background and having received a Catholic education, while retaining a cultural link to Catholicism, are in fact “living as though God does not exist”.
This situation is a burden on my soul and is the spark for a commitment to a new evangelisation. I sense that I am called to be a missionary bishop.
The time has come for the Church here to adopt a fresh and bold missionary stance. The Church here in Tasmania needs Catholic evangelists among its priests, consecrated and laity. It needs a missionary zeal in the hearts of the faithful. It needs Catholics whose hearts are on fire.
Evangelisation must be the first pastoral priority of the Church in Tasmania (as indeed it should be in every place).
In 1927 Pope Pius XI declared St Therese of Lisieux the Patroness of Missions. Her co-patron was St Francis Xavier. Reflecting on this choice by the pope one can immediately say that St Francis Xavier is a most worthy candidate. His missionary zeal was extraordinary. He is a shining example of missionary zeal.
However, while St Therese may seem a surprising choice, she is in fact a vital choice. She reveals the other side to missionary activity. She points to a profound truth about evangelisation.
In her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, which became an international best seller (at least among Catholics), she writes, “There will be no longer any cloister and grilles and my soul will be able to fly with you into distant lands”. Within the solitude of the convent the spirit of Therese was united to the missionaries in far flung places. It did, in fact, reflect a childhood dream of hers: she had a desire to go to the missions. At the heart of this desire was a zeal for the salvation of souls and her heart went out to the missionaries is distant lands. She was united with them in spirit.
She understood, once her call to Carmel was clear, that hers was a missionary vocation as a contemplative. Her prayer, her sufferings, were all directed to one end. As she commented in a note in 1890 that she asked Jesus: “That I save many souls”. She knew that her contemplative life could help missionaries. She could be an instrument of evangelisation as a cloistered nun.
She said, “Our vocation is not go to reap in the fields of the mature crops; Jesus doesn’t tell us: Lower your eyes, look at the fields and go and reap. Our mission is more sublime still. Here are Jesus’s words: Lift up your eyes and see. See how in heaven there are empty places, he asks you to fill them. You are my praying Moses on the mountain; request workers of me, and I will send them. I only wait for a prayer, a sigh of your heart”.
She ends by saying, “Our mission, as Carmelite, is one of forming evangelical workers that will save millions of souls whose mothers we will be”.
As bishop I echo the words of this extraordinary contemplative with missionary zeal. Souls are saved not through the works of evangelisation, but by the grace of God. The works are necessary, but the fruitfulness comes from another source – from grace.
Evangelists are raised up not by the natural desire to spread the Gospel, but by hearts on fire with zeal. That fire is the fire of the Holy Spirit.
I need Carmel here in Tasmania to be missionary. To be missionary as St Therese understood it. Carmel is to be the source of releasing the grace of God upon this island, so that it can be converted to Christ.
All my efforts here will only bear fruit if the grace of God accompanies them. A busy bishop, whose time and mind are full of so many things, depends on the prayers of others. I need your prayer.
So today I ask you to pray that the Church will be an effective evangelising force in Tasmania, and will bring many souls to Christ.
Today, we all seek the intercession of St Therese of the Child Jesus, Patroness of Missions, that her prayers will accompany ours.
St Therese, pray for us.
Archbishop Julian Porteous
Friday, 30 September 2016