The Church has faced a wide range of challenges throughout its two millennia history, some external, some internal. This coming year is no exception so the need for strong leadership is as great as ever ever.
Internally, the long-awaited, much improved translation of the Missal is due to be introduced this year. Here, a window of opportunity presents itself after decades of often unchecked liturgical adventurism. Many Catholics, including regrettably some priests, have come to regard the Mass as owned by the local community rather than the universal Church, with relevance rather than authenticity the watchword.
In ensuring that the new translation is faithfully implemented in every Catholic parish, school and religious community, the Australian bishops are in an ideal position to adopt a broad-brush approach to liturgical reform.
A good deal of preparatory work has been done, but more will be needed to ensure that the potential benefits of the more faithful English translation of the Mass texts, including greater understanding of the eucharistic sacrifice and more reverence in the real presence of Jesus Christ, are reflected in a deepening of the spiritual life of all believers.
As the reflection article (page 20) reminds us, another major challenge for the Church is how best to re-evangelise her inactive members at the grassroots. Connected with this, the fostering of a genuine Catholic culture in the schools and the training of committed future teachers remain works in progress if the declining practice rate of young Catholics is to be reversed.
Even more fundamental to the Church's spiritual health are the cornerstones of marriage and family, each under constant attack from secularist elites totally opposed to Judeo-Christian values. At the cutting edge is the relentless push for "gay marriage", euthanasia, abortion and the denial of religious freedom.
Here the fall of Communism in Europe has been followed by the emergence of a "soft" totalitarianism manifesting itself in moral relativism, so-called anti-discrimination laws and radical environmentalism.
It is therefore encouraging that our Church leaders are increasingly appreciative of this challenge, as indicated by the Australian bishops' recent initiative in defence of marriage (page 4).
Michael Gilchrist is editor of AD2000 (email address available on request)