Reflections on the Mission of the Catholic Church in Australia

2023 CDF National Conference

One of the great success stories of the Catholic Church in Australia is the development of a treasury arm which has enabled the Church to fund many of its important projects.

It has also been of great value to individual dioceses who have benefitted from dividends provided annually. Indeed, a number of dioceses depend on these dividends for their very financial survival.

The network of Catholic Development Funds, working together and assisting one another, is a noble example of Catholic unity and mutual responsibility.

The CDFs understand their role as assisting in the realisation of the mission of the Church in Australia. Tonight, I would like to offer some reflections on the mission of the Church.

Catholics can be rightly proud of the vast array of ministries and works conducted by dioceses, parishes and church agencies.

Across Australia the Church is at the forefront of offering services not only to its own members but more broadly to all in need. The Church offers support for the poor, suffering and disadvantaged. This, of course, is inspired by the teaching and example of Christ.

It is important at this moment in our history here in Australia to acknowledge that many of the significant institutions in education, health care and social services exist in the Church because of the pioneering work done by religious women and men.

Many of the works of the Church which continue to operate in Australia are the fruits of the contribution of religious orders whose founders we identify as saints. They are expressions of faith working itself out in love.

Now, many of the ministries of the Church, begun by religious, are continued under lay leadership. In recent years we have seen these works expand significantly, largely due to access to government funding.

Thus, in Australia, the Catholic Church through its schools educates one in five Australians. Our hospital and aged care facilities are the largest non-government services in the land. Our social services have grown exponentially in recent decades. The Church employs thousands of people in delivering what is recognised as the highest quality of service in education, health and social works.

For all this we can be rightly proud. The quality of what we are able to offer is largely due to the spiritual inspiration that originally gave rise to these works. Even if many who now work within these Catholic institutions are not themselves Catholic, they do know that there is a special charism behind the work.

These works have a distinctive spirit. There is a certain ‘x factor’, if you like, which marks out the distinctive character of the works because they have been inspired by the Catholic faith.

It is important that we understand and preserve the distinctive Catholic character of these works. They are certainly exercises of Christian love and compassion. We do not restrict our service only to our own, but, as Pope Francis has often encouraged, we go out to the peripheries. Indeed we have always done this.

Tonight, I would like to reflect on what is the ultimate goal of our services.

These days there is a lot of emphasis on being welcoming and inclusive. And the Church does that. We can look to the example of Jesus himself. Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus reached out to those who were on the peripheries.

I would like to pose a question: Do we just seek to show respect and compassion to those in need or is there a further purpose to our ministry?

To address this question let us return to the ministry of Jesus. Why did Jesus eat with tax collectors and sinners? Was it to offer them recognition and acceptance? Or was it to bring about their conversion?

In the Scriptures we read of Jesus sitting at a well speaking with a Samaritan woman. In the course of the conversation Jesus reveals that he knows that she has five husbands. He speaks a word of truth, not to condemn and reject her, but to open a path to her addressing this issue of sin in her life.

Jesus did not leave her in sin, but instead through proclaiming the truth called her to conversion, to ‘drink the water of eternal life’. Hearing the truth she was so moved that she went back to the village to invite others to meet the man who told her everything she ever did.

Similarly, to the woman caught in adultery Jesus’ final remark to her was, “Go and sin no more”. He extended mercy and forgiveness but urged her to change her life.

When Jesus saw the tax collector, Zacchaeus, up the tree trying to get a glimpse of him, Jesus boldly said that he would come to his house for a meal. The effect of this on Zacchaeus was extraordinary. He announced a radical change to his life. Jesus’ comment on his decision to reform his life illustrates his purpose in engaging with Zacchaeus, “Today, salvation has come to this house”.

At the outset of his public ministry Jesus described his mission in these words, “the Kingdom of God is close at hand, repent and believe” (Mk 1:15). He called people to repent, to change the orientation of their lives. He called upon them to believe this good news of salvation being offered to them and so to live a life of faith now centred on God.

Our ultimate goal in all our ministry is to put people on the path to salvation.

A welcoming Church invites people on a path of conversion of life to faith in Jesus Christ. Our various Catholic agencies are important places of interaction between the Church and people in all sorts of diverse circumstances.

These agencies offer the opportunity for an engagement with people where we can witness to the Church as a mediator of compassion, understanding and love. But we must not stop there.

In this respect our agencies are not and should not view themselves as only being ‘inclusive’ but instead as being a gateway to be ‘transformative’. This connection with people can open doors whereby people see what the Church can offer them.

Thus, they can be attracted to embrace the Catholic faith in all its beauty and richness by putting on the ‘wedding garment’ of faith.

The Catholic Church and Catholic agencies have one fundamental reason for existence, the advancement of the Kingdom of God via conversion and coming to faith. In the end all that the Church does is directed towards enabling all people to come to know, love and serve God and be with Him for eternity.

This is mission of the Church and this is the mission that you enable by your work in the CDF. I thank you for helping the Church to advance its mission here in Australia.

Archbishop Julian Porteous

27 February 2023

Tags: Northern Deanery, Southern Deanery, Speeches