Launching his diocese's Lenten program for 2007, Bishop Brian Heenan of Rockhampton, Queensland, commented (Brisbane Catholic Leader, 18 February 2007), 'To evangelise does not necessarily mean to convert or lead others directly to the Lord. It firstly means to respect where people are and then to affirm and support them, whatever that might mean'.
Indeed, of the estimated 25,000 different Protestant denominations in existence to-day, there is one that calls itself the 'Full Gospel' Church, a title that more appropriately belongs to the Catholic Church that Jesus Christ founded.
There is little evidence, however, of this 'Full Gospel' in the Rockhampton Lenten program.
Being a Lenten program one might expect its main focus to be on sin, repentance, self-denial, the Sacrament of Penance and the four last things - death, judgement, hell, heaven. In the absence of these, any Lenten program would appear to be irrelevant.
The Rockhampton program contains some positive aspects, but overall it can best be likened to the 'Curate's egg' - a mixed bag - with the essential purpose of Lent as a penitential season referred to only in passing rather than being the central focus.
The program's focus is found instead in statements such as, 'The Good News is that the Spirit of Jesus lives on in our lives to assist us in bringing about a new culture'. The essential goal of personal salvation doesn't rate a mention.
Further comments derive from the Gospel reflections and stories used in the program:
'The Father doesn't just recognise Jesus, but recognises him in love, as his chosen one. That transfigures Jesus!' This seems to ignore the fact that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity.
And, 'The Good News for us is the non-demanding love of God. Can you see God with outstretched hands, not begging, demanding, warning, judging or condemning - only blessing and giving all while expecting nothing in return?'
But Jesus made numerous demands of his Apostles and disciples, for example, John chapter 6 (on the Eucharist); and what about 'If you love me, you will keep my commandments!' (John 14,15). Our Lord's own description of the General Judgment hardly matches the Catholic 'lite' flavour of much of the Lenten program (Matt 25).
The program, however, reassures us, 'We are loved by God and, when we fail, we are forgiven.' Is this automatic? Not so. We need to have genuine contrition. As St Augustine put it, 'God created you without your consent; He will not save you without your consent.'
Another spiritual writer observed, 'The most consoling words in the English language are - 'Your sins are forgiven.' These words are involved in the absolution given in the Sacrament of Penance by a priest, 'I absolve you from your sins.'
Elsewhere in the Lenten program are those phrases so dear to the hearts of the Church's moderns.
There is talk of 'discussing Church'. But the Church established by Christ is a reality, not an abstraction. Why not the Church?
Being 'not judgmental' is urged. But how does this phrase fit in with Our Lord's advice - Matt 18, 15ff - about fraternal correction? Apparently it is acceptable for moderns judgmentally to label as 'pre-Vatican II' those Catholics who adhere to the authentic doctrinal teachings of the Church.
The 'piece de resistance' of the Lenten program, however, is a two-page feature on Holy Week titled 'The Transformation Dance 2006.'
This informs us that 'all creation is in transition from one form of existence to another' - a form of evolution perhaps? It is also 'the dance of all life'; and, again, 'There are steps on this journey. The dance of life is all about three steps forward and two back.' Is this a waltz or a quickstep?
Under Passion Sunday, we are informed that 'God's peace is within us, Pentecost is now', while the program's coverage of Holy Thursday contains no mention of the Eucharist, the Mass, or Holy Communion. The focus is on the Maundy only, with the observation, 'We are still learning this dance. The invitation is open for us to come forward and wash each other's feet.'
Good Friday provides an opportunity for creative liturgy, for example, 'The Readers enter to the beat of a drum. They carry the cross, the Scriptures and the red cloth'; and 'People coming forward without their shoes on creates a sense of intimacy.' There is no reference to the sacrificial nature of Christ's death and its connection with the Eucharist of the previous evening's Last Supper.
Next, under the heading 'Easter Sunday - Transformation', we are told, 'The Risen Christ is the centre of creation'. But the God-man Jesus Christ is not a creature. Next, we read that 'Resurrection is about the transformation of all for all. All creation is now sacred.' Creation is good (Genesis 1), but calling it sacred smacks of pantheism.
As with many other diocesan Lenten programs of recent decades, there is much that sounds pleasant, consoling and undemanding for modern sensitive Catholics, but little solid spiritual food or comprehensive, sound Catholic teaching. It is also difficult to know exactly what is meant at times, due to the nebulous nature of the writing.
In fact, to appreciate the good news, one must first be aware of and accept the bad news - that all of us are sinners needing redemption. The good news is that God has provided a Redeemer.
But then again, sin and punishment for unforgiven sin appear to be taboo subjects in the 'modern' Church, even though Our Lord Himself spoke about them more often than any other single subject in the New Testament.