Recent Addresses and Pastoral Letters

Launch of Listening, Learning and Leading: The impact of Catholic Identity and Mission



Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It is with significant and convinced appreciation that I read 'Listening, Learning and Leading', in which Gabrielle McMullen and John Warhurst have gathered together the results of the Catholic Social Services Victoria Conference on 8 and 9 October last year.

I am sure many of us consider that in the Church we have lived in a very exciting time of development.  The recent canonisation of Pope John XXIII reminded us that our mission is to all people, one of service, bringing them to know and love the one true God and to provide a Christ-like vision.

In her talk, Sister Margaret Mary Flynn said that people should be able to glimpse Christ in the way we act.  Tim Fischer made the telling comment that, in mission, there must always be a fundamental ability to communicate with clarity, while Pope Benedict brings the situation together, as he typically does, in these words of Deus Caritas Est:  "The Church's deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility of proclaiming the Word of God, celebrating the Sacraments, and exercising the ministry of charity." (Deus Caritas Est, 25).

I would make my own the words of Father Gerry Arbuckle, that particularly in the healing ministries, it is the ongoing process of the healing mission of Jesus Christ engaging with each health care facility according to Catholic tradition.  I referred specifically to Pope Benedict because word and Sacrament and a personal knowledge of Christ are the prerequisites of what Pope Francis describes as the Church being permanently in mission, getting our feet dusty in the world around us, and seeing the Church as an inclusive home for all.

To this end, the title of the book 'Listening, Learning and Leading', is particularly apt because it lays the foundations of what it means to be Catholic and how then to be involved in the world of today.  Father Frank Brennan reminds us that faith liberates reason from its blind spots and therefore helps it to be evermore fully itself (page 66), and quotes Pope Francis in the letter Lumen Fideii:  "Faith is truly a good for everyone; it is a common good.  Its light does not simply brighten the interior of the Church nor does it serve solely to build an eternal city in the hereafter.  It helps us to build our societies in such a way that they can journey towards hope." (Lumen Fideii, 51).

Chris Lowney identifies two central traits in a spirituality of leadership: a sense of purpose greater than self, which he calls heroism, and a deep self-awareness and a habit of reflection. Heroism applies to anyone, anywhere in the organisation.  It is not restricted to those in high office.   

Catholic identity, therefore, comes from the mission given to Christ by the Father and passed on to us all in the Church to be not merely for ourselves, but to bring light, hope and service to the people of our time.

As Catholic Social Teaching can be a very positive point of entry to the mission of a Catholic agency, so too can it engage all staff in reflection on how things are done.  For example, Pope Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est identified as key features of Catholic social services humility in our engagement with others and a spirit of dialogue with the world.  These two themes, each developed by speakers at the conference, resonate easily among people of good will, and are areas where the Church has much to learn from others.

These have been years when we have learnt more of Catholic identity as a basis for mission.  Pope Benedict articulated it particularly well.  Pope Francis is leading us to be active, perceptive and drawn by what Tim Fischer expresses as the clarity and precision which are needed to express our mission, and therefore to make our service more effective.

“Preach the Gospel always, when necessary use words” is an insight attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi, and is one that leaders work with often in this area.  This is a necessary step – for unless what we do and how we lead is aligned with the Gospel, words about these matters are unlikely to be effective.  The dialogue around issues of identity and mission that can flow from consideration of Catholic Social Teaching and the impact of mission on our work can often be a starting point for dialogue on why and how we do it.

I congratulate Professor McMullen and Professor Warhurst for their collaboration in this work, and all the contributors who provide such a rich, unfolding of the exercise of the mission which we share in common.  In concluding, Bishop Eugene Hurley stresses the absolute importance "to heal the wounds, warm the hearts and be close to the people since the blazing glory of the Resurrection far surpasses any human weakness and their effects."  We should let Pope Francis have the final word from his recent Exhortation on The Joy of the Gospel:

“When we adopt a pastoral goal and a missionary style which would actually reach everyone without exception or exclusion, the message has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary.”  #35

“Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others.  Under no circumstance can this invitation be obscured!”   #39

It is with this glory and hope and the enthusiasm that shines so clearly through the work of the authors that I now declare "Listening, Learning and Leading: The Impact of Catholic Identity and Mission" launched as a wonderful help to you who exercise servant leadership with such skill and generosity.  May the fruit of this Conference long resound in our minds and in our hearts.   

Thank you.
+ Denis J. Hart,


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