In recent decades, parish missions have become uncommon, and of those which remain, well-intentioned but dubious theologies have brought little spiritual benefit to parishioners, despite their surface appeal. Not a few parish priests have been understandably wary about allowing missions to be conducted in their parishes. However, the following report, written by a grateful Sydney parishioner, indicates that thoroughly orthodox missions remain alive and well - even if the approach is no longer the one that older Catholics may recall.
On its final night at the Holy Family parish, East Granville, in the Parramatta Diocese, Sydney, the Millennium Family Mission Novena was described by one grateful parent as a "miracle - a family miracle."
The mission had been conducted by experienced Redemptorist missioner, Fr William Creede CSsR, who is presently based at his Order's Melbourne monastery in Kew.
In a crowded church, Holy Family's parish priest, Father James Stack, told a congregation of families from more than twenty nations of his gratitude and joy at what had taken place. "I admit," he said, "to some prior apprehension as to how you would accept this way of celebrating Jubilee 2000. It has turned out to be the best way. A mission is a wondrous grace at any time, but this Millennium celebration has been unique. We are joyful and grateful tonight for an extraordinary experience of family faith and sacredness."
The message was just that: family faith and sacredness. It was given with the full force of Gospel simplicity, wrapped in the magic of the missioner's words. How often do we hear words like "From Catholic families, God wants saints on earth today. God has plenty of saints in Heaven. He needs more on earth. They will come from Catholic families where faith is lived."
Or. "God is our Redeemer. This is the Jubilee year of redemption. As a priest of the Most Holy Redeemer, I proclaim to you Christ's forgiveness for everything, freedom from any sin that may enslave you, and the sacredness of family in the joy of Jubilee."
That was the theme of our Millennium celebration: "the sacredness of family in the joy of Jubilee." In preparation, 2,000 families were visited in the two weeks before the nine evenings of preaching - or Novena. This was accomplished by means of the "seventy-two disciples" whom Father Creede organised to visit each of the families in Holy Family parish. Then it all began.
One could almost touch the grace of God during the nine Jubilee Family evenings. Small children in night attire, students in school uniforms, mothers, fathers, families, we all celebrated Jubilee and Redemption.
"Something happened in our home," said one mother, " and it had never happened before." My teenage son did his homework the moment he came home; my daughter switched off the TV at seven, and my husband helped with the washing up to get us to the church on time."
Intrigued by it all, I asked Father Creede what was the secret of such enthusiasm, such a response.
"There is no secret," he said. "The Family Mission Novena is a Redemptorist reply to the Pope's challenge: 'I urge missioners to begin again giving missions in dioceses and parishes, missions renewed and adapted, they are so necessary and relevant'." He continued: "The Family Mission Novena has met this challenge in Australia. It is the updated form of Australian parish mission."
The "signs of the times" point to a need to uphold family life and family sacredness. Marriage is under siege. Abortion has become the personal right of every woman. In twelve years, Medicare has funded one million abortions. How can all this be counteracted?
So was born the Australian Family Mission Novena. It is nine inspiring days of family faith and sacredness. It is joyful and encouraging - a festival of family faith. It is beautiful in its presentation and inspiring in its message.
What Father Creede did not say was that all sections of the parish are catered for. Each evening in our East Granville church, the children had a special story for themselves, the youth had an illustration to fire their idealism, parents and the unmarried were encouraged in a way that could only be described as inspired.
Amazingly, all this happened in the space of one hour of liturgy, preaching and sacrament.
I also noticed that the nine evenings - or Novena - gave everyone a chance to attend at least some evenings. It also gave the necessary time for the momentum of parish participation to reach an extraordinary spiritual climax of joy and peace.
Those of us fortunate enough to participate in the Family Mission Novena are grateful to our parish priest of 24 years standing, Father Stack, who made possible this manner of celebrating the Millennium.
Father Creede is a Redemptorist in the finest tradition. On the final night it took Father seven minutes to reach his confessional from the altar, so besieged was he by the people wanting to express their thanks and joy.
One child was heard to exclaim: "Mummy, I'll be 61 when we have the next Holy Year. I hope we have the Family Mission Novena for it. And I hope Father Stack and Father Creede will be giving it."