This Friday, on the feast of St Patrick, patron saint of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, Archbishop Peter A Comensoli will deliver the 2023 Patrick Oration at 7.30pm. All are warmly invited to participate in this event—individually or in parish groups—by watching the Oration either online or via free-to-air TV on Community Channel C31 (channel 44 on digital TV).
The Oration is an opportunity at the beginning of each year for the Archbishop to reflect on where we find ourselves as the Church in Melbourne and to look forward to the year ahead. It is also a chance to gather people from different parts of the Church and from all walks of life as Archbishop Comensoli shares his thoughts on the pathways that illumine our future together as the people of God.
The inaugural Patrick Oration was delivered in 2019, returning again in 2021 and 2022. All three orations have offered an assessment of our rapidly changing world and the Church’s place within it, conveyed the need to plant the Gospel anew in our local communities of grace, and highlighted the importance of families and households in passing on the faith.
In the lead-up to this year's Oration, we touch on a few of the themes of past orations.
In his inaugural oration, Archbishop Comensoli began by acknowledging that the Church today is no longer on a ‘sure footing’. ‘What has been a source of pride and comfort, built by our forebears, no longer captures people’s minds and hearts, and leaves our children indifferent,’ he said.
In this situation, he encouraged us to take our inspiration from St Patrick and to discover new ground in which seeds of the Gospel can be planted: ‘Patrick was not an institution builder in society, but a Gospel planter among the locals. He did not establish structures and entities; he proclaimed a message of hope to a people. He equipped a band of disciples to be the leaven for their society.’
What St Patrick brought with him was something deeply transformative:
He carried with him what CS Lewis would come to call that ‘deep magic’ by which people find meaning to their questions, and purpose for their lives. He carried with him a fire to light the way.
The deep magic that Patrick took with him to Ireland is still accessible today for Catholic Melbourne. It’s there in our biblical faith and our intellectual tradition. It’s there in our liturgical practices and spiritual heritage. It’s there in our saintly witnesses, like Mary MacKillop and Mary Glowrey, daughters of Melbourne. It is there in you and me.'
If the world was feeling precarious before 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic only increased this sense of uncertainty. As Archbishop Comensoli said in his 2021 Oration, it ‘shifted and sifted us’.
Building on his 2019 address, he wondered where the new ground might be for us to plant the Gospel, locating it in the family and the household. ‘It was by way of households that the Israelites came out of their Babylonian exile,’ he observed, with ‘every household accounted for in the re-gathering of God’s people.’ He also noted ‘how much time Jesus spent in family homes ... There, he ate and slept; rested and played; taught and healed; laughed, cried, sang, and prayed. From them Jesus set out on the road ahead.’
Pointing to the inspiring example of the Diocese of Miao, in India's north-east—where the Catholic Church has grown from almost non-existence to 20 per cent of the population over 40 years—he identified three important factors in renewal: 'the intentional transmission of faith within family homes; the regular gathering of neighbours in small communities of prayer, formation and fellowship; and the charitable and social outreach to those in need. Armed only with the grace of baptism and an apostolic confidence, they have simply done what was asked of a disciple of Jesus Christ.’
In his 2022 Oration, Archbishop Comensoli emphasised again the importance of the family, reflecting that both the Church and the world are in a state of ‘exile’.
‘We are exiled from recognising that there is something greater than ourselves, to be discovered, not manufactured, as the project of our lives,’ he said. In this world, ‘a Christian way of life has become an unknown or unchosen experience to many—perhaps most—people ... Immediate satisfaction, rather than immortal longings rule.’
In this place of exile, the Archbishop again identified the family as a pathway to renewal:
I am struck by the domesticity of God’s hopes and encouragement for his exiled people ... Exile was not to be their end, but their beginning. It would involve a (re)turn to their households and to their families, where faith could be nurtured and passed on from old to young, generationally.
Families, he said, ‘offer an admirable place from which we might step out on our pilgrimage through life, because it is where faith can be planted, nurtured and lived.’ He pointed to communion, formation and mission as three indispensable elements of these Gospel households, calling us to establish households of prayer, of learning and of love.
Please join us online or via C31 for the fourth annual Patrick Oration, presented by Archbishop Peter A Comensoli.
Friday 17 March at 7.30pm
The event will be broadcast live on our YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/archmelb) and via free-to-air TV on Community Channel C31 (channel 44 on digital TV).
Melbourne Catholic29 November 2023
Fr Jerome Santamaria10 November 2023