Rather than focusing on the absence of God in our world today, we should be tuning in to His presence – and that, in a nutshell, is what the Year of Grace is all about.
The year, which was officially launched on Pentecost Sunday in 2012 and will finish on Pentecost Sunday this year, was simply an invitation by the Australian Bishops Conference to all Catholics to take the time to ask themselves, as individuals and as parishes:
“Is Jesus central to everything I do?”
During an address to Perth parish priests and representatives early last year, Archbishop Tim Costelloe, one of the four Bishops on the working party behind the initiative, was just as keen to explain what the year wasn’t as he was to present what it was.
“This is not another program” he emphasised. “It is a call and invitation from the Bishops to the Australian Church to encounter conversion rather than education…more a time to know Jesus, rather than know about Jesus”.
It is a call to prayer and an opportunity for reflection and not a time for problem solving, he explained.
The Archbishop acknowledged the difficulties faced by the Church today, but was adamant that unless we were first centred on Christ we would not be in a position to deal with these challenges.
The year, he said, was the result of much prayer and reflection and was the work of the Holy Spirit. It resulted in the Bishops inviting the Australian Church to enter a period of “Retreat”, putting aside the busyness of life and taking time to “let the Holy Spirit work within us to show us what it means to be a disciple of Jesus”.
The inspiration for the Year, the Archbishop shared, came from two recent national experiences of grace in the form of WYD in Sydney in 2008 and the canonisation of Mary Mackillop in 2010, as well as the call from Blessed JohnPaul II in his 2001Apostolic letter (“At the Beginning of the New Millennium”) to “contemplate the face of Christ”.
Archbishop Costelloe acknowledged that the year was an “Abrahamic Journey” – a call to leave where we are even though we are not sure where we are going. “We will trust where the Holy Spirit will lead us”, he said.
When Paddy Buckley was approached by former Archbishop Barry Hickey to take the role as co-ordinator of the Year of Grace in the Perth Archdiocese, she was initially reluctant.
Her immediate reaction, she explained in an interview with The Record in May 2012, was, “What exactly is grace and how can I present it to others?”.
However in what she describes as a personal moment of grace, she was able to instantaneously embrace the call and has since thrown herself headlong into it.
“This is not another program … It is a call and invitation from the Bishops to the Australian Church to … know Jesus, rather than know about Jesus”
Her spark of revelation came during one of the information sessions explaining what the year was about. A Bishop described how his own understanding was transformed during a visit to a classroom of young children.
When asked what children should do if they were ever lost, a small boy put his hand up and announced, “My Mum told me what to. She said, ‘Just stand still and I will find you’”.
It provided Ms Buckley with both clarity and inspiration for the year ahead, understanding that grace was not something that had to be, or even could be, packaged or presented as a program or formula.
“Time is such a precious commodity in today’s world”, she said, “We all have so many things to do we never have time to stand still”.
Her enthusiasm for the year has not waned as she has been awakened to the grace within her own life as well as seeing the fruit in the lives of those around her.
In a recent interview Ms Buckley expressed her excitement at the “genuine and rewarding” responses of both individuals and parishes across the Diocese.
She believes that people have taken the call to heart and have tailored the opportunity to suit the needs and uniqueness of their parishes.
She described the initiative as a “smorgasbord”, rather than “prescriptive” explaining that people and communities can take what they want from suggestions offered, such as on the Faith Centre website (listed below) or could initiate their own.
“If by the end of the year we are able to ask ourselves, in any given situation, ‘Where is Jesus in this?’ then I will know that it has been a successful year”, Ms Buckley declared.
She said her own understanding of grace has continued to evolve as she increasingly recognised the working of God in her everyday life.
“I have found this to be a common response from those who have participated throughout the year”, she added, “They have become thankful for those things in their lives they had previously attributed to ‘luck’, but now recognise as moments of grace”.
Father Peter Brock, the national Project Officer appointed by the Australian Bishops, is equally pleased with the response to date.
He told The Record he believed the Bishop’s invitation had been “embraced warmly all over Australia and that dioceses, parishes, schools, homes and individuals are enthusiastically engaging in many prayerful, fruitful and creative ways”.
Father Brock agreed with the description provided by Bishop Michael Putney of Townsville, “There are no programs, there will just be a thousand opportunities”.
Many of these opportunities and events have already, or are now occurring across the nation and can be found on the Year of Faith website.
As important as these events are, it seems the common message promoted by those behind the year hinges on the necessity of drawing Jesus into every aspect of a parish or parishioner’s life.
Archbishop Costello was passionate in his desire to get this point across to parish representatives at their meeting last year:
“This is an opportunity to put Christ in the centre of our lives – in the practical day-to-day realities of our lives … If Jesus is not both theoretically and practically at the heart of our faith as a Catholic community, then perhaps we have no heart”, he ventured to say.
There are many interpretations given for the word “grace”. Paddy Buckley shares the story of an enthusiastic 92-year-old parishioner who investigated as many possible meanings as she could and came up with over 80 definitions.
The heart of the message for Australian Catholics, however, is simply “going back to the basics and centring ourselves on Christ”, Archbishop Costelloe has said.
It is hoped that, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Year of Grace will provide individuals, parishes and the National Church with the opportunity for their eyes to be opened to God’s grace at all levels.
It may begin with the smallest detail – flower, a moment, a friend – Paddy Buckley points out. Or it may lead to a deeper understanding, recognising God in our lives within family, schools and church communities.
We may, as Archbishop Costelloe suggested, begin to ask ourselves, “Where is Jesus in this council meeting or in this appointment of a principal?”
We may even be drawn to recognising grace within more spiritually intimate aspects of our lives, as Sydney Bishop Julian Porteous offers: “The Year of grace is the opportunity to discover the centrality of God’s action in our lives in the face of the mistaken belief we can merit our own salvation”.
We may begin to recognise the beauty of the Catechism’s definition: “Grace is favour, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life” (CCC1996).
All these things, from the most trivial to the most significant are, in themselves, gifts from God, and are neither earned, nor deserved.
By accepting the Bishop’s invitation and providing our parishes and ourselves with the opportunity to invite Jesus into the centre of all we do, no matter where each of us is on our journey with Christ, we will be opening the doors to a deeper understanding of this relationship.
“It is not so much about creating more things to do”, Archbishop Costelloe explained, “but about asking ourselves whether Christ is at the heart of what we are doing now.”
“The heart of this year is not Grace”, he said, “but Christ – as Christ is the great grace given to us by God”.
For the full presentation given by Archbishop Costelloe go to thefaith.org.au.
To see what other parishes across the nation have been doing, visit yearofgrace.catholic.org.au.