On Pentecost Sunday 2012, the Catholic Bishops of Australia officially invited all members of the Church to participate in a Year of Grace with a theme best described as "Starting afresh from Christ".
In October 2012, the world's bishops will gather in Rome for a Synod which will have as its theme, "The New Evangelisation and the Transmission of the Faith". Both themes have a common goal of renewing the relationship of the members of the Church with the person of Christ and promoting the mission task of the Church in sharing the faith.
As members of the Church community we are invited to a time of prayerful, spiritual renewal in order to refocus our hearts, our lives and our actions on the presence of Jesus Christ and how we can share the faith in the world in which we live.
The Compendium of the Catechism (423) reminds us: "Grace is the gratuitous gift that God gives us to make us participants in his Trinitarian life and be able to act by his love. It is called habitual sanctifying or all-deifying grace because it sanctifies and divinises us. It is supernatural because it depends entirely on God's gratuitous initiative and surpasses the abilities of the intellect and the powers of human beings. It therefore escapes our experience."
The Australian Bishops' decision to call for the year of grace was inspired and guided by Blessed John Paul II who stated in his apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineuente (2001): "Our Christian communities must become genuine schools of prayer where the meeting with Christ is expressed ... until the heart truly falls in love." In other words, we are called to Christian Holiness.
Blessed John Paul II called on all Christians to discover ways "to contemplate the face of God" in ourselves, our neighbours, our families and communities, schools and parishes, and especially the ones who are poor and at risk - "and to start afresh from Christ." He challenged us to launch out into the deep waters of society, learning anew how to follow Jesus in our time and place. He outlined three steps:
• Contemplation ( contemplatio) seeking the presence of Christ in every aspect of life.
• Communion ( communio) learning to live in deep communion with others - human and divine.
• Mission ( missio) creating connections to share that experience of communion with others in Christ-like love.
If we refer to the story of the road to Emmaus found in St Luke's Gospel (24:13-35), we gain insight into what the pilgrimage journey to Christian holiness (grace) entails.
Two men were walking on the road to Emmaus. They were sad and disappointed as their master, in whom they had placed their hopes, had been crucified. Now their dreams and hopes were shattered: "We were hoping that he was the one who was going to rescue Israel." Then Jesus comes and walks with them, explaining the Scriptures, and in so doing the Scriptural message on the meaning of life becomes clear to them, and the darkness becomes light."
Similarly with us, it is in contemplating Jesus that we can learn about how the dark aspects of life can be transformed into light and hope.
The Gospel account reveals the courtesy of Jesus who makes as if to go on. He does not force himself upon people, but rather awaits an invitation to enter our lives. For God has given to all of us the world's most precious gift, namely free will. It is for us to use it to invite Christ into our hearts, to receive the grace of God.
After Jesus in St Luke's account accepts the invitation to stay and share a meal, it is then at the breaking of the bread that he is recognised for who is he, the saviour and redeemer.
In the sharing of the Eucharistic meal, we also can share Christ sacramentally, and find communion. The Gospel story also tells how the two men, when they received their own joy, hastened to share it.
The Christian message is never fully ours until we have shared it with others. It has been said that true friendship only begins when people share a common memory and can say to each other, "Do you remember?" Each of us in the parish community experiences fellowship with other parishioners who share similar experiences and memories of Jesus.
Christian discipleship today is a daily pilgrimage, leading to Christian holiness. We may not undertake a physical journey to Emmaus but rather a journey of faith by remaining true to Christ and continuing to love our neighbours and family in the midst of everyday life. This love is revealed in small but significant gestures daily tasks at home, the care of the sick, or a word of encouragement to those who struggle. Like pilgrims, by noticing the difficulties and struggles of others, we can use each moment as an opportunity to respond with a Christ-like love that can lead to greater Christian holiness.
As the Statement of Conclusions put it in 1998: "This common labour is before all else a co-operation with the Grace of the Holy Spirit, each one praying for the wisdom always to give first consideration to the honour of God and the salvation of souls, and begging for the strength needed for the task of building up the Body of Christ, so that all efforts may bear abundant fruit for the mission of the Church in Australia and beyond."
Father Dennis Byrnes is a priest of the Lismore Diocese, NSW, who comes from Port Macquarie.