An insight into the life of Bishop Pat
By Margaret Ryan
MANY people in Catholic circles, and way beyond, know of Bishop Pat Power, or ‘Fr Pat’. His recently-launched book, Joy and Hope: Pilgrim Priest and Bishop, provides an opportunity for readers to become familiar with many of his ideas or to reflect anew on his perspective and leadership over 50 years.
Almost 60 short ‘chapters’ cover a broad scope: from letters to Popes and a President to reflections on personal travels; from support for the Rabbitohs to the recent Royal Commission. All provide interesting insights into Bishop Pat. Most are imbued with his passion for social justice.
The title of the book seems to be primarily drawn from the beginning of the final Vatican II document, Gaudium et spes (The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World), which suggests that all human beings are affected by the joys and sufferings of others. It also recalls the spirit of papal exhortations, including Evangelii Gaudium from Pope Francis.
He draws his hope and joy from Jesus Christ, whose attitudes, words and actions were totally loving. Bishop Pat’s joys and hopes come from witnessing the promptings of the Holy Spirit active in people’s lives, leading to words and actions of courage and compassion. Several times the author mentions learning of God’s unconditional love from his mother.
Four years of Bishop Pat’s theological formation occurred at the time of the Second Vatican Council, and it was very influential. He emerged with an understanding that the whole people of God have innate dignity, are called to both holiness and participation in the mission of the Church, and that the Holy Spirit will not be restrained or confined. He believes that process is vital (conversation and dialogue must precede action) and that we need to seek unity in our diversity.
Bishop Pat attributes his sense of justice to his father who made impressive contributions to the Queanbeyan community. Vatican II documents challenged Christians to “engage with the contemporary world”, and this aspect of Bishop Pat’s life is probably the best known.
Pilgrimage is an approach to life favoured by Bishop Pat, and its choice as book title is appropriate. ‘Pilgrim’ most likely comes from the Latin per agrum (through the fields). It implies contact with the earth, getting in touch with ‘the holy ground’ that inspires and strengthens faith. Pilgrims are mobile, risk-takers, questioning seekers who rely on the goodness, experience and wisdom of others. They are willing to be transformed and renewed.
One of Bishop Pat’s strengths is his decision to be a pilgrim, in touch with the everyday; to listen, reflect and discern. He is conscious that he has learned from those he has met.
Bishop Pat writes seriously, clearly and conversationally, sometimes sadly, though with occasional humorous quips. He draws naturally on both Church documentation and individual people who have affected his life and ministry.
Bishop Pat emerges as a courageous and humble general leading his troops from the front, as a consistent prophet reminding his countrymen and women of God’s vision, and as a listening and compassionate pastor helping to include and heal. The book is offered as a ‘retirement’ gift to the local (and wider) Church.