Archbishop Mark Coleridge’s 40th anniversary as a priest will be celebrated in a Solemn Mass in St Stephen’s Cathedral on Saturday May 17. His book Words from the Wound will be launched after the Mass. PAUL DOBBYN reports
BRISBANE Archbishop Mark Coleridge was initially less than enthused when approached to gather his various writings into a book to mark his 40th year in the priesthood.
“(Father) Anthony Ekpo came to me last year after talking to (Dean of St Stephen’s Cathedral) David Pascoe,” he said.
“Anthony said they thought it might be a good idea to gather some of my written stuff and put it between two covers to mark my 40th anniversary in the priesthood in 2014.
“I said: ‘Well look, I appreciate the thought, but it’s a lot of work.
”’But if you two want to do it, I’m not going to say no – I’m very grateful on the contrary.’”
Words from the Wound is the result of these triple labours.
With freshly printed copies sitting in his office in the Francis Rush Centre, the archbishop expressed quiet satisfaction.
“What this book does is give me more a sense of the shape of the story of my past 40 years,” he said.
Archbishop Coleridge discussed some of the book’s contents – selected addresses, letters and homilies he has delivered since becoming Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne in 2002.
The audiences are eclectic ranging from Australian Catholic University students to Federal parliamentarians, National Liturgical Conferences and the Pontifical Council for Culture.
He also spoke on the difficulty and pain of writing the 2010 Pentecostal Letter Seeing the Faces, Hearing the Voiceson sexual abuse within the Church, and of the remarkable impact it had around Australia and around the world.
The archbishop’s love of language, fostered by his first degree in literature – French, English and Latin – and his later scriptural studies has influenced his writing style.
He agreed his time as speechwriter for Saint John Paul II had also been a significant influence.
“When you’re a speechwriter for someone you try to enter into their heart, mind and soul … there’s no question that this pope’s influence reached deep into my own mind, heart and soul,” he said.
“There were certain turns of phrase of his I imbibed, a certain way of writing.
“As a writer he was a funny mix … he could be quite turgid and circular at times.
“But every now and then he could just nail it, this was the poet in him I suspect, with some vivid image or turn of phrase.”
The archbishop also noted Pope Francis’ “fascinating capacity for the brilliant simple image or phrase; its freshness and piercing quality; its ability to make you see things you’ve known well in a new way”.
Perhaps inevitably as the future was discussed, Archbishop Coleridge had some words to say about the possibility of getting “the tap on the shoulder” to take on the role of Sydney’s next archbishop.
“Personally (I) think it’s fantasy,” he said.
“I’ve only just arrived as Archbishop of Brisbane these past two years almost to the day.
“It would be extraordinary to move now to Sydney; I don’t want to go for all kinds of reasons…”
In the end though, he returned to his great love of Scripture and of his ultimate goal being to attempt “different ways of communicating the Gospel of Jesus Christ”.
The book’s title was a topic to which the conversation also returned several times.
“Some find this title a bit too elliptical, a bit mysterious … the title came out of the blue quickly,” he said.
“It plays on my episcopal motto Sanguis et Aqua (Blood and Water) where I’ve so often said the wound becomes a fountain and that is the good news of the Gospel.
“Therefore the words I offer here are speaking that good news.”
He said the title had a deeper personal meaning.
“The motto doesn’t come out of nowhere,” he said.
“It came out of my own sense of life that what has been most deeply creative has been dealing with my own woundedness and seeing this at work in others’ lives as well.
“So often the wound destroys but it can create, it can become a fountain of life and not just a festering source of death.
“Seeing this happen, I’ve often thought: That’s the Gospel.”
Archbishop Coleridge described his love of Scripture as the “deep diapason which accompanies the texts” in Words from the Wound.
“Scripture can speak with an extraordinary evocative power and yet very simply,” he said.
“I have sought to speak with that peculiar power of metaphor where language can be hugely resonant and evocative and yet very simple.
“It’s the kind of thing you see with one of poets I most admire – William Blake.
“’Tiger Tiger burning bright/ in the forests of the night’ … that poem has huge resonances and Blake fed off the Bible as did Shakespeare.”
Liturgy is another area covered in considerable detail in two of the book’s pieces.
“I was led into the liturgy almost by accident,” he said.
“This came largely through involvement in the re-translation of the missal as chair of Roman Missal Editorial Committee.
“And of course a bishop has a major responsibility not only to keep an eye on but to also foster a deep love of the liturgy with the faithful.”
He said his writings revealed much of the pedagogical part of his personality.
“I have very much a teacher’s desire to leave the audience with something solid to take away and ponder on,” he said.
“The thing I believe I do best in life, and will till the day I die, is teach.
“As a bishop in one sense you’re always teaching, but one thing I miss as bishop is journeying through a semester with a class of students and actually seeing them learn.”
His goal in his communications is to “always leave my readers or my hearers with something, even if it’s only a question.
“As I’ve said to people more than once: ‘The word of God is a question.’
“I see this as a kind of dialogue, not just me speaking at people.
“You throw these words out in the hope they are going to land like seed in good soil.”
He also has a teacher’s instinct if his words are hitting home or not.
“As a teacher you develop a deep and intuitive sense of the effect your words are having on listeners,” he said.
“It’s a kind of sixth sense.
“Then there are times when I can’t gauge the effect but I know when I’ve done my best.
“For instance, with my recent eulogy for (Bishop) Michael Putney (not in the book), I had a sense of being at peace … I couldn’t have done any better than that if I’d sat with it for a year.”
His article on sexual abuse within the Church was one of the hardest things he had to write.
“Seeing the Faces, Hearing the Voices was the fruit of 20 years of grappling with the whole phenomenon,” he said.
“The article was trying to recreate the factors that created the perfect storm of sexual abuse in the Church and its subsequent mishandling.
“It went through any number of edits; many people had a look at it before it was finally settled.
“When it came out as a long letter, places like the ABC recorded it … a lot of people all over the place seemed to find it helpful, illuminating and encouraging.”
Finally it remained to ask Archbishop Coleridge in what ways the book summarised his past 40 years as a priest.
“When you say ‘40 years’ it feels incredible as I say it, because in some ways it still feels as though I’m warming up,” he said.
“In a way the book reveals a journey into darkness but also the discovery of light at the heart of darkness that I didn’t think was there to be discovered – that’s where I would position myself at the age of 65 and 40 years down the track.
“Also what I have come to more and more in my journey is what’s on the cover of this book – the cross.
“I’ve come to a much greater sense of the centrality of the cross.
“For me there’s nothing else that holds life together.
“My chief desire at moment is to do the best job I can as archbishop of Brisbane in what is a very challenging time – that is to unleash the power of the Gospel in the archdiocese of Brisbane, far and wide.”