Archbishop’s talk at PPC Training Day

Training for Parish Pastoral Council’s (PPCs) took place at Bergvlliet Primary School Hall on Saturday 19 November 2022. Below is Archbishop Stephen Brislin’s talk at the training day.

Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground” , are words attributed to the United States President Theodore Roosevelt. In a sense this saying captures the vision of the Church’s task of evangelization and, indeed, our own desire to re-vitalize the missionary aspect of Christian life. Evangelization has always been the core of the Church’s very meaning and is founded on the command given by Jesus Christ, Go, therefore, and make disciples of people of all the nations” (Matt 28:19). The Church has always endeavoured to do so throughout its 2000 year plus history. In recent times a renewed emphasis has been given to the responsibility of all Christians, all the Baptized, to evangelize. Pope St John Paul II spoke about the “new evangelization” and wrote an important encyclical on the matter entitled Redemptoris Missio. What he meant by the new evangelization was not a new message, or new content. Rather, he said that we have to find new ways and new methods to convey the message of Jesus Christ to the modern world. Furthermore, we have to convey the message of Christ in a language and in concepts that are understandable to the modern mind. He wished to emphasise that the mission to evangelise was not given only to the few in the Church, but that all the baptized have been given this message. For this to happen, we need to develop a missionary spirituality and to draw a distinction between pastoral care and evangelization – pastoral care is the strengthening and the accompaniment to sustain Christian living, whereas evangelization is the proclamation of the Gospel, not only to those who have never heard of Christ but also to those who have fallen away from faith, or who have not integrated the message of Christ into their lives. The new evangelization he spoke of was not territorial in the sense of having to go to other places to proclaim the Gospel – it is to witness and proclaim the Gospel wherever we may find ourselves, in our own context and environment.

Following on from Pope St John Paul II, Pope Benedict created a special department in the Vatican to motivate the new evangelization. Recently that Department has been absorbed into the Dicastery for the Evangelization of the Peoples and we no longer speak of the new evangelization but rather simply of evangelization. 

Essentially, this is the meaning of today’s meeting with all the Parish Pastoral Councils of the Archdiocese of Cape Town. In this post-covid time we are all aware of the need to re-energise and re-vitalize the Church after the devastation of the pandemic. We are all too aware of how people have suffered during the past two years and the ongoing consequences of covid. But we have also been deeply inspired by our participation and role in the synod of synodality. The process of the synod has helped us to reflect on the life of the Church in the world and the life of the Church of Cape Town. We had an honest look at ourselves, examining what is good and what is not so good. We’ve strived to identify the positive and the negative, the successes and the failures. We’ve become aware through the process of the fact that we are “church together” – with different roles, it is true, but that the Church is really Church when we are together as people, religious and clergy, praying together, listening to each, dialoging and discerning the signs of the times and our response to them. The path of synodality, which has always been part of the Church, is now inspiring us to look to the future, and to “look to the stars”, so to speak, to determine how we can re-invigorate our determination to evangelize.

To accomplish any task effectively, including the task of evangelization, we need to organise our efforts on how we are to achieve the task that is before us. To be effective, we need to structure ourselves as a way of giving ourselves the means to be as successful and as efficient as possible. And so, the new statutes of the Parish Pastoral Councils of the Archdiocese gave that structure, based on the portfolios that should exist in each Parish Pastoral Council. This ensures that the pastoral and missionary priorities that have been identified will receive the required attention at parish level. This is important. While the Archdiocese is the “local Church”, our effectiveness at the “coal face”, at local level, is achieved through the efforts of the local parish. Each parish is asked to address the priorities and the policies of the Archdiocese. Organisationally, the portfolios have become the way in which that will happen.

While we are the “local Church”, that is the Church of the Archdiocese of Cape Town, we are not disconnected from the Body of Christ, the Universal Church. We can never separate ourselves from that Body, and neither can we separate ourselves from the Church of Southern Africa as we work in communion with each other as the southern African region. The portfolios of the PPC’s reflect the priorities of the Bishops’ Conference that were determined through many years of dialogue and interaction between the Bishops, clergy, religious and representatives of the laity from every diocese. Much time was spent in reflection and discernment, and we are all committed to implementing the Pastoral Plan and its priority areas. This does not mean that these are the only issues that need to be addressed – there will always be others, not least those which are local issues. Those must not be neglected either. What must remain common to every issue we address and, indeed every undertaking, is evangelization. Everything, including the use of finances, is meant to be ordered to evangelize and to spread the Gospel. 

And so our vision is to have parishes that are alive and active, that are evangelizing communities, that continue form people in faith, to deepen community, to enhance and strengthen marriage and family life, who engage with and involve young people, who reach out to the wider community and who order the liturgy for the glorification of God and the sustenance of his people. It is an exciting endeavour and one which we must allow to take us “out of our comfort zone”. So much inertia is present because the familiar is so often seen as much safer and so much more comfortable. Our vision for the future demands boldness, but above all it demands trust – trust and faith in God and his presence among among us.

The vision is a way of looking to the stars, but we must also keep our feet on the ground. Our quest is not simply to do something new for the sake of its being new. It is not a matter of “glitz” and “tinsel”. We are not trying to impress others by doing the spectacular. Our aim is to sincerely seek to do God’s will, to make a difference in people’s lives that is lasting and true. There is no room for superficiality, we are not preaching a “cheap” religion or simply a religion based on an emotionally satisfying experience (although nothing wrong with being emotionally satisfied). We are not trying just to get numbers. In all things, we remain with our feet on the ground by remaining faithful to the Gospel, faithful in preaching “Christ crucified” to the world (cf. 1 Cor 1:23), Christ who can be both a stumbling block and considered foolishness by some. We know that the message of Christ is a challenge to every culture, to every lifestyle and to every trend. Christ is a sign of contradiction to the world (cf. Lk 2:34), who challenges each and every person to change and to convert. We should never be ashamed of witnessing to Christ (cf. 2 Tim 1:8) – Christ is our message, not ourselves, and our aim is for his will to be done and not ours. Our aim is to help each other to reach into the depths of God and the richness of his grace. It is not a “dumbing down” of our faith, but a sharing of its treasure and richness. We are sharing the hope which we have within us (cf. 1 Peter 3:15) with confidence and assurance. And we try to do all this through ways and language that our modern generation can understand and appreciate.

Thus, our evangelization always remains rooted in Scripture and in the Tradition of the Church, the teachings that have been passed down through the generations. Evangelization must also remain rooted in our spiritual life where God is the focus of each of our lives. God must be the focus of our communities, of our liturgies (not the priest, or the ministers, or the choir). The Church is vast and diverse at every level of society and every level of giftedness – we gather as people of vastly different personalities, cultures, languages, colours and hues, of ways of life and experiences. The gifts of God’s Holy Spirit are diverse and wide-spread. But we are all united through our focus on God, united by the outstretched hands of Christ on the Cross, united by the one Holy Spirit working in us all. In the words of St Paul, “there is one Body, one Spirit, just as one hope is the goal of your calling by God. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, over all, through all, and within all” (Eph 4:4-6). We do not seek “sameness” we rejoice in the diversity that God has blessed us with, but in that diversity we preserve and safeguard the unity of the Body, taking care not to break it further. And so our endeavour is one of prayer, knowing that it is only God who can accomplish what needs to be achieved. We can only empty ourselves and make ourselves available to be his instruments and servants. We know that it is only through prayer and opening ourselves to his grace that we can persevere, because there will be many obstacles and disappointments on the way. We know that looking to the stars can make us starry eyed and when we try to bring the stars to the ground it will be hard and grinding work. But we are committed and remain determined. We are not those who give in to despair (cf. 2 Cor 4:8-9).

So this endeavour, with all its vision and practicalities, is founded on prayerfulness and belief in God’s Spirit continuing to guide and lead the process. It is most especially in the Eucharist, which gathers us like grains of wheat into the one bread, that we celebrate both our diversity and unity. The Eucharist is the channel of God’s grace, the source of his strength for all of us. It is through the Eucharist that our message, our proclamation of Christ, will bear fruit. Truly, the Eucharist is both the source and summit of Christian life and of all our efforts to be faithful disciples of Christ.

I thank all of you for your presence this morning. In starting a new venture we are often inspired and enthused but, as time goes on, our enthusiasm can wane. I hope that we will all see ourselves as labourers for God’s Kingdom, and to understand that the ministry that we have been entrusted with, as PPC members, is far wider than our parochial boundaries – it is to serve God’s Kingdom and to establish that Kingdom. Let us all focus on that and be faithful to it. May God bless you and the parishes you represent. May he bless our Archdiocese, and may he bless his Church throughout the world.

+Stephen Brislin
Archbishop of Cape Town, 19 November 2022

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