About 80 young Catholics gathered on 11 October 1998 for the Thomas More Centre's inaugural Sydney Spring School. The keynote speaker was Bishop Kevin Manning, Bishop of Parramatta and Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council.
The Spring School was held in the beautiful grounds of the community of the Brothers of St Francis at Toongabbie. This has recently been opened as a centre of prayer and reparation in the Diocese of Parramatta.
Bishop Manning spoke on the Church's social teaching on the right to work (see pp. 12-13). He mentioned that he had publicly told politicians, "In your tax policies you have neglected the unemployed. You have neglected the lower income earners. You are pandering towards those people who have plenty of money and who are getting paid big profits, and you don't tax them sufficiently in order to ensure that people in the lower levels of society have justice."
The Bishop referred to the spirituality of work as a continuation of the work of God in creating and redeeming the world. "You are the ones who are going to change the world by your attitudes in the workplace. You draw your spiritual energy from the altar, from the sacrifice. You take it and apply it, wherever you are, so that you are consecrating the world, whether you are a student, or a work person, or whatever you do."
The address concluded with a criticism of economic policies that are based on maintaining high levels of unemployment. "The obligation to earn one's bread by the sweat of one's brow also presumes the right to do so. The society in which this right has been systematically denied, in which economic policies do not allow workers to reach satisfactory levels of employment, cannot be justified from an ethical point of view, nor can that society attain social peace."
Dr Irene O'Connell addressed the theme of being a Catholic in a liberal society. Quoting from Pope John Paul's Veritatis Splendor, she referred to the danger of philosophical liberalism, which sets freedom as the supreme principle, even above truth, goodness and beauty. "If one does not acknowledge transcendental truth then the force of power takes over." The liberals accuse those who hold to Christian principles of being autocratic, but liberals themselves are being autocratic in saying that freedom is a value above every other value. Those who are philosophical liberals present themselves as being in favour of freedom, while in fact they seek to impose a law to which all must adhere.
Alice Nelson, a foundation teacher at Sydney's Centre for Thomistic Studies, gave a talk on the value of prayer. Using the four ends of prayer as articulated by St Thomas Aquinas - adoration, thanksgiving, reparation and petition - Mrs Nelson explained why we need to pray and gave some practical tips on how to pray.
Fr John O'Neill, parish priest of Doonside in Sydney's outer west, gave a strong and highly animated address on "Standing Up for the Truth." Reminding young people of their obligations towards the faith, he told them, "You have been given the gifts from God - especially through that great sacrament of Confirmation - to equip your minds and wills to make you like the Apostles, to go out in front of the mob who want to kill you and speak up for Christ." Comparing the Church to a battleship, he urged all to take up their role as crew members and not to seek to be comfortable passengers.
Mary Helen Woods, National President of the Australian Family Association, provided a balanced look at young people and marriage in her talk: "The Seinfeld Syndrome - family, relationships and all that!"
"The creators of the [Seinfeld] program tell us that the reason it was so successful was that the four main characters were such horrible people. Their selfishness and self-absorption was so total that it was actually funny to watch them."
Marriage and commitment
While many young people today had succumbed to such selfishness in their relationships, as evident through the widespread use of contraception, there were still many who wanted genuine love with all its joys and responsibilities, Mrs Woods said. Young women especially were still looking for marriage and commitment, in which unselfish sharing, devotion and love were still held as important.
The day closed with a very lively question panel session. Participants were able to ask any questions they wanted about the Church and aspects of the faith. Bishop Manning, Fr Christopher Sharah and Anthony English answered many varied questions, such as, "Why do men have all the power in the Church?" "If God knows the future, how can we say we are free?" "Should we be silent about liturgical abuses?" and "What is natural family planning?" One participant asked how to defend the faith among friends at University and work. Others posed questions about distractions in prayer, while Fr Sharah - a Franciscan Friar - fielded: "Should monks be allowed to smoke?"
Mass was concelebrated by Bishop Manning with Fr Sharah (Superior of the Brothers of St Francis).
Tapes of all talks and Question Panel are available from the Thomas More Centre, PO Box Q69, Queen Victoria Building P.O., Sydney, NSW 1230 at $6 each or $30 for the set of six, including postage. For further information about the Thomas More Centre, contact 'AD2000'.