Communion, Family Explored During International Congress

Retired Archbishop of Perth, Australia, on the Good News About Marriage

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By Ann Schneible

DUBLIN, Ireland, JUNE 12, 2012 ( Eucharistic Communion, union of the Church, and the family were the themes of a catechetical teaching offered Tuesday by Archbishop Barry Hickey, retired archbishop of Perth, Australia, to participants in the 50th International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) under way through Sunday in Dublin.

Each day of the Congress addresses a different theme, each relating to one of the sacraments. The theme for Tuesday was Communion in Marriage and Family, which Archbishop Hickey addressed in his catechesis.

The archbishop spoke with ZENIT about the IEC, and about the need for renewal within the family.

ZENIT: Recently canonized Australian saint Mary Mackillop has been named one of the patron saints of the Eucharistic Congress. Why was she chosen?

Archbishop Hickey: She has European connections as well as Australian. She was born in Australia, but her parents came from Scotland. I think it represents the universality of the Church, that we have somebody whose connections spread the whole world, from top to bottom.

ZENIT: Regarding your catechesis today, what is the relationship between the idea of Eucharistic Communion and communion of the Church, and what is the role of the family in that?

Archbishop Hickey: It’s all a bit complicated, but all of those themes are there: the Eucharist, the family, God as Communion. I draw a little bit of a parallel between the essence of God – which is to be a loving communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and in that, a call to the human race to be in communion.

The theme of communion comes right through communion of God in the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), the deep communion between Father and Son, and the invitation of Jesus to be part of that communion, in the Eucharist, especially. But through Baptism and belonging to the Church, and through the Eucharist to deepen it, the family, is by Scripture called to be in communion, and therefore to be a mirror of the Godhead.

The catechesis would urge us to see Christian marriage as very different from any other sort of union, in that God is central, and that the love of husband and wife is a sharing in the love of God for humanity.

I go further [in my catechesis] to say that many have lost that vision in today’s world, and speak about the undermining of marriage, the undermining of the Christian vision, the rejection of the Christian vision. And also not so much regret in breakdown of marriage — in some quarters [this breakdown] is seen as a success for human liberty; that they are not bound to marriage at all, they come and go as they please, and form relationships quite devoid of any reference to God. And we have the chaos that we have as a result. I ask that no matter what attacks the Church, no matter what hostility comes our way, we must still carry out our mission to offer good news in the Church’s teaching (which is Christ’s teaching on marriage), is good news that the world needs more than ever today.

ZENIT: This Congress is obviously based upon the Eucharist. However, the crisis within the Church in Ireland remains present throughout.

Archbishop Hickey: That sense of learning from past mistakes, that sense of accepting that wrong has been done, and that the Church is going through a necessary period of purification. And so, we look to ourselves to be part of that purification, to be able to speak the message of Christ more clearly. It’s behind the speeches we have heard so far, and the opening ceremony.

ZENIT: What is the global relevance of the themes that are being discussed, and in particular, which themes of the Congress speak to the Church in Australia?

Archbishop Hickey: The [theme of my catechesis] is very relevant to Australia, which has undergone a very rapid period of secularization, and the Christian message tends to get lost. Our answer to secularization is not to retreat to a ghetto and lick our wounds and wait until the storm is over, but face the storm and evangelize actively. Not pessimistically, saying nobody will listen, but optimistically, knowing that the message that we preach and teach is Divine power; and that it will touch hearts, even if our human efforts would otherwise fail.

Marriage and family have been particularly affected by secularization insofar as «first» marriage statistics are going down; it’s still popular, but to the first marriages we must add second, third and fourth marriages, and we come with an unrealistic picture of the stability of marriage. And living together has become very common place. People suffer in all of this, not only the individuals involved with these marriage break-ups, but the children.

I have an opportunity to say things that are relevant to Australia, but they are relevant to the whole of Europe as well, and to many other countries. I think the main theme of the Eucharist as the Bread of Life, as the source of communion with one another, is powerful and needed in Australia as anywhere else. God with us, if you like.

Also, the message of inner peace comes through the Eucharist. Jesus offers peace and joy as well as suffering and penance. Many people today are seeking that inner peace, and are going in strange directions to find it, but need to be reminded that inner peace can come through. Accepting Jesus, living his life, and joining in with his followers.

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