On Wednesday 6 July, Members of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia heard reflections from the periti, the theological advisors to the Council. The following reflection was given by Dr Nigel Zimmermann from the Archdiocese of Melbourne. Dr Zimmermann is a husband and father of five, and has published writings in theology, philosophy and bioethics. His reflection addressed Part 6 of the Motions and Amendments document: ‘Formation and Leadership for Mission and Ministry’.
Our Lord told us to make disciples (Matthew 28:16–20). Through Jesus Christ, God’s love invites all people to share in a life of joy and mercy. To serve Christ is to find freedom and love as a disciple.
Through Baptism, this task belongs to all of us, whatever our personal calling. Each agency, organisation and ministry of the local Church is a means of sharing in the work of making disciples through a witness to truth, mercy and love.
It is not a task for a privileged few, but for all of us. To serve the Lord faithfully, we must be prepared and taught, humbly learning the craft of sharing the Good News.
In other words, to share the Gospel, we must be well formed.
All of us are being formed in some way, whether we are aware of it or not. The ideas and beliefs that shape us over time make us witnesses to those values.
Allowing the world to uncritically form us is contrary to the Gospel. To be formed in the school of Christ, we first receive the gift of faith in all its freedom, fan its flame within us and courageously share it. Such a task will require humility and patience, and a share in Christ’s cross.
Baptism is the point of entry and provides the model for the path of formation as missionary disciples (Francis, general audience, 15 January 2014; St John Paul II, Angelus address, 9 January 2005). Baptism is not merely a ‘once and for all’, event, but a rich source of grace throughout one’s life, providing for ongoing replenishment, because together we are a people on a ‘journey’ (Lumen Gentium, §6).
All formation, therefore, is a pilgrimage that can only be made fruitfully and fearlessly by being close to Jesus Christ (Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, §23). From this dynamic of repentance, conversion and mission, the life of discipleship emerges and flourishes.
Formation for discipleship in Christ is both a right of the baptised as it is a responsibility of the Church. Finding new paths of catechesis and witness attuned to the needs of the time is urgent and fundamental to our mission.
To find new paths and be able to speak the word of Christ fruitfully, a consistent and clear vision of what our mission is will guide every formative experience.
While we all need formation in Christ, those who aspire to leadership will be committed to his mission with a creativity and sensitivity, always ‘led by the Holy Spirit’ (Gaudium et Spes, §43).
As Jesus promised, out of good treasure in the heart, good will grow, and we will be known by our fruits (Luke 6:43–45).