OPINION

A secular country looking for spirituality

St Michael's Cathedral is the seat of the Catholic Bishop of Wagga Wagga.
St Michael's Cathedral is the seat of the Catholic Bishop of Wagga Wagga.

An elderly priest was sitting in his living room one morning, reading the newspaper - this one of course - when he looks up and sees Jesus himself walking down the path towards his house.

He quickly jumps up and rings the bishop.

"Bishop! you won't believe this, but the good Lord Jesus, himself, is walking down the path towards the presbytery and I think he's about to knock on the front door!

"Bishop! What should I do?"

The bishop replies "Father, try and look as if you're very busy."

Whenever I do a religious column my secular readers will often say "your column was too religious!"; but then when I write a more secular column, my religious readers say "your column was too secular!".

I hope this week my more secular readers will grant me a week's indulgence, and if you saw even elderly Catholics performing joyous cartwheels down the street last week, well, there was a reason.

It was announced last week that Wagga Wagga will be getting a new bishop after being without one for more than three-and-a-half years.

This means that Albury is getting a new bishop too as the Wagga Wagga Diocese reaches all the way down to the border.

For the same reason, Griffith will have a new bishop and all the many towns between.

Perhaps you're not a Catholic or not very religious anymore, however, I've been musing during this past week how, although Australia is a secular country, we are a pluralistic country too where often the joys and sorrows of any community are the joys and sorrows of all.

Whenever the Dalai Lama has visited Australia he has always been treated as a friend, as he should be. The Christchurch massacres at two mosques in New Zealand last year were clearly grieved and condemned by all Australians.

Auxiliary Bishop of the Melbourne Archdiocese, Bishop Mark Edwards, will be installed as the sixth bishop of Wagga Wagga on July 22, the Feast of St Mary Magdalene, a saint often nicknamed throughout history as "the apostle to the apostles".

It might appear at first glance that people today are not very religious, but it has been my continuing experience that many people, while not church, mosque, synagogue or temple-goers, describe themselves as "spiritual".

It might appear at first glance that people today are not very religious, but it has been my continuing experience that many people, while not church, mosque, synagogue or temple-goers, describe themselves as "spiritual".

As the fourth Bishop of Wagga Wagga, the late William Brennan of happy memory said "people are looking for spirituality".

Does a good footy team need a coach? They all pay big money for one, so clearly, yes. Have you ever seen even the greatest of boxers without a coach? No.

Do the world's best singers need a singing coach? They take a singing coach on tour with them and pay their every expense.

And in the spiritual life, we all need a coach; we all need a bishop.

Bishop Mark has been a mathematics teacher in the past, so hopefully over the years he will be able to explain things to us when it appears that life doesn't quite add up.

One thing numerous non-believers and believers alike have said they find very hard to understand about the Catholic Church has been its actions or inaction in regards to child sexual abuse.

I was very consoled to read earlier this week that already Bishop Mark has said there should be no flexibility in the Catholic Church when it comes to child abuse, declaring "we just need to make kids safe".

Bishop Mark said earlier this week that a hard line was needed on this issue which has destroyed lives.

Bishop Mark is leaving Melbourne to minister to us and, apparently, Melbourne is the most liveable city in the world - it must be, everybody from Melbourne says so.

But seriously, Bishop Mark is also leaving his parents behind in Melbourne.

That would not be easy, and for that, I believe we should be particularly grateful.

Bishop Mark Edwards should be made to feel very welcome. Let him discover what I discovered when I came from the city to the country 26 years ago for a short stay: that to say country people are friendly is a deadset understatement.

Twitter: @frbrendanelee

This story A secular country looking for spirituality first appeared on The Canberra Times.