On Friday 17 November, more than 100 people gathered at the Catholic Leadership Centre for the second day of the inaugural Proclaim Gathering, dubbed Proclaim23 and designed to inspire and equip parishes for evangelisation.
The evening before, more than 240 people had gathered for a night of eucharistic adoration, worship and an address by Archbishop Peter A Comensoli on missionary discipleship.
On the second day, along with a number of workshops by various speakers, there were three keynote addresses throughout the day that explored what it means to draw people into an encounter with Christ, engage the faith and embark on mission.
Dr Nigel Zimmermann, Director of Catholic Mission and Identity at Melbourne Archdiocese Catholic Schools (MACS), gave the first keynote address on ‘learning how to fly’. He suggested that perhaps ‘our Catholic communities have forgotten how to fly, and in some ways, in some places, we’ve allowed ourselves to become a little bit too circular, self-referential … getting caught up in the weight of the now rather than the excitement of what is possible with the grace of Jesus Christ.’
In some ways, the wider culture has the opposite problem, he said. ‘The spirit of our age wants us to fly … There is a desire to move at greater speed, to leave the past behind us, to disconnect, not just from the earth but from history, from memory, from family, from our bodies, even from our minds.’
The trouble with this, however, is that the culture does not know how to stop, he said. It does not know how to stop, to pause, to be still, to listen or to be obedient.
It is only in obedience to God’s will for our lives that we can experience the ‘great adventure’ that is in store for us. He contrasted this idea of obedience with the character of Peter Pan, who is ‘without obedience to anyone or anything except his own will’.
Dr Zimmermann also reflected on the humility that is needed in today’s culture. ‘I’m very conscious of the humility that we’re called to have in this mission. We’re not called to be loud. We’re not called to be immersing ourselves in the tribalism that is out there in our culture at this time. But it is a time for courage and purpose.’
There’s no patience for us if we sound just like part of another loud crowd. They’re looking for real witness in our communities and our families—meaningful witness that comes from something deep within.
The second keynote presentation was delivered by Kym Keady, Director of Ignite Youth and founder of Real Talk Australia. She reflected on the Holy Spirit as a source of ekstasis—a Greek word that refers to a state of ‘being out of one’s mind’ with amazement. Throughout the gospels, she said, disciples are described as being amazed by Jesus, using this word or derivatives of it.
It was like ‘their whole worldview was shattered into a different worldview,’ she said. Keady shared her own story of how God had worked in her life in powerful ways, leaving her worldview shattered and filled with amazement.
‘If we’re going to be talking about engaging leaders, engaging the Church, renewing the Church, we need power,’ she said. ‘The Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, has the power to completely transform your life.’
At Pentecost, she said that the Holy Spirit did three things for the apostles: they were ‘united more closely with God and with each other’; they were ‘empowered with the gifts they needed to witness to Jesus in their words and actions’; and they were ‘marked with the Holy Spirit to live differently, with the aroma, the fruits, of the Holy Spirit’.
Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, the same is done for us today, she said. Through the sacraments, we have been given the sources of grace to live as Christ calls us to.
‘A source means they need returning to,’ she said. ‘They need drawing from. They need continual awakening to life.’
She invited those gathered to open themselves to the renewal of this grace in their life.
The third keynote was delivered by Ron Huntley, co-founder of Divine Renovation ministries, who encouraged everyone to ‘invest disproportionately and unapologetically in evangelisation and leadership’.
Drawing on his own experience in ministry, Huntley asked people to think about whether they know who they are in Christ, and whether they have a vision and strategy exciting enough for people to embrace.
‘That strategy needs to be put in the context of you. Who are you? Who are you if we take away your job? Who are you if we take away your profession?’
‘When we encounter Jesus, some of the peripherals get stripped away,’ he said. ‘Sometimes we copy ourselves off other people … But if you’re going to go anywhere significant, you are going to need to know who you are.’
Huntley reflected honestly on the state of the Church today and how important it is to be people who are convicted and who can unify people around a common vision. Too often, he suggested, we are too caught up in our own divisions to be effective. If we can get people to follow us around a mission and purpose that excites them, then our parishes will go somewhere, he said.
‘What’s our strategy? Where are we going to place our bets? We only have a limited amount of time, resources and energy. So we have to be intentional about what we do and why.’
‘Pray for a God-sized mission,’ he encouraged people. ‘It doesn’t matter what it is. It could be the smallest ministry in the Church … Find the tool that works for you, and don’t just use it, but get really good at it.’
It is not enough to just form people in the faith, either. We need leaders who are formed to be good leaders, Huntley said, or we will become too inward-focused.
Workshops were also led by Karen Doyle, Stephen Lawrence, Edwin and Emma Bakker, and Ron Huntley.
Towards the end of the day, many people reported back to the larger group about their experience of the day. A common theme was how excited people were by the positive energy of the gathering, and how inspired they were by the talks and by being surrounded by others who are on the same journey of seeking renewal in their parishes and communities.
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli17 November 2023
Melbourne Catholic17 November 2023