Concepts for Developing Religious Understanding
For each of the eight elements of GNFL a core statement below summarises the Catholic faith tradition and theology underpinning it:
Trinity of Persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Creator, Communion of love
God is the creator of the world and the maker of all that is. There is only one God. As human beings we occupy a special place in God’s creation, for we are made in God’s image and likeness. Like all creatures, we depend on God, for everything that exists comes from God and is in God’s care and providence. Coming from God, creation itself is good and wondrous. Jesus is the Word through whom the Father creates, and the “firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:5). God not only creates the world, but also sends his Son and breathes his Spirit into the world. God does not remain in transcendent isolation, but relates to all that is and gives life.
Christianity professes faith in the triune God, revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three divine Persons, equal in nature and dignity, mutually indwelling in one communion of love. This mystery is at the centre of Christian belief and is known to us in faith through divine Revelation. It comes from the Christian experience of God, who redeems us in Christ and draws us into the divine life through the Holy Spirit. Christians speak of their experience of God in these terms because this is the way God has been revealed to us, and to speak in other ways would not be true to this experience.
In the New Testament Jesus displays a unique intimacy with the Father, whom he addresses as Abba, and is presented to us as the Beloved Son and unique bearer of the Spirit. “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and the doctrine of the Trinity seeks in the limited language of human beings to give expression to this Being-in-love, in whom, in the unity of one divine nature, Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist in constant relationship to each other, in one great outpouring of love.
Humanity has been made to share in the inner, triune of life of God. Yet, unwilling to accept its place as creature, it has rejected God’s offer of love and friendship, and so sin and evil have entered the world. Each generation experiences the brokenness that sin brings and the attraction to evil. In Christ, God incarnate, our crucified and risen Saviour, Christian faith sees the true destiny of the human race and finds the grace to become one with God again.
Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, Saviour, Word made flesh
At the heart of Christian faith stands the Person of Jesus Christ. Born of the Virgin Mary and raised in Nazareth of Galilee, Jesus proclaimed the nearness of the Reign of God. He chose disciples to share in his mission, and travelled the countryside, calling people to repentance and conversion of heart. In parable and miracle, God’s presence and saving power has been made manifest in him. Brought to trial by the ruling authorities, Jesus was put to death by crucifixion as he gave himself out of love for others. Risen from the dead, he appeared to his disciples and entrusted to them the continuation of his mission under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who would come upon them.
From that moment the Church has never ceased to profess its faith in Jesus as the Christ, the long-awaited Saviour of the world, source of forgiveness and new life in God. To humanity caught in self-doubt, sin and evil, he brings the grace of a loving God, who calls us sons and daughters and invites us to share in the divine life. Now, in Christ, peace, freedom, and joy are experienced as God’s gifts and God’s promise. Sin is forgiven and God and humans are reconciled. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, faith discerns God’s presence and work in the world; hope looks to its fulfilment as revealed in Jesus’ death and resurrection; and love gives of itself in response to God, who has loved us first.
Jesus Christ is the eternal Son and Word of God who, though divine, took our human nature and came to dwell among us. He shared our life and death, and was raised to glory, victorious over the powers of sin and death. As the Christmas liturgy proclaims, “In him we see the love of God made visible, and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see”.
Body of Christ, Community of disciples, Witness to unity and justice
The Church was born from the mission of Jesus Christ entrusted to the apostles in his death and resurrection. At Pentecost the early Christian community was empowered to continue that mission through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Since then, the Church has been the gathering of all those chosen through baptism in the mysterious ways of God’s love. It proclaims Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, as Lord and Saviour of all, and lives as the Body of Christ, where Christ is the head and we his members. The Church flows from the inner life of the triune God, and in all it says, does and is, returns constantly to that source. It turns to Mary, the Mother of God, and to the saints as examples of faith and self-giving love, and seeks their intercession that it may remain true to Christ’s call.
In the world, under the guidance of the Spirit, the Church strives to bring others to know the love of God as revealed in Christ and to experience the life and hope that only God can give. Committed to the work of Jesus, the Church is spread throughout the world, gathered in local communities around their bishops and united in a common faith under the leadership of the successor of the apostle Peter, the Bishop of Rome. In the name of Jesus Christ, the bishops, as pastors and servants of the Word, teach and interpret the Gospel message with authority.
To be a member of the Church is to belong to a community of disciples, for Jesus has called us to follow him. In lives patterned on his, we hear the Good News that he brought and in turn become messengers of that news ourselves. In this community Jesus himself is present through his Spirit, speaking to us in his word, challenging us in our own sinfulness, and feeding us with his Body and Blood. In imitation of Jesus’ own self-giving and loving service, his disciples seek to serve the poor and needy, and by the strength of God’s grace, to overcome the powers of sin and evil in the world by working for justice, peace and reconciliation.
Word of God alive and active, Foundational story of Christianity
The Scriptures are those writings recognised by the Church as inspired by God and containing the truth necessary for our salvation. Drawn from the Hebrew Scriptures, intertestamental literature, and the Gospels and other early Christian writings, they have been collected in two great libraries known commonly as the Old and New Testaments. They witness to the foundational events of our salvation and in poetry, prose, law, history, saga, letter and Gospel, tell the story of what it is that God has said and done.
Written by different human hands and in varied circumstances, the Bible points to God, who chose a people, set them free from slavery in Egypt and brought them to the promised land of Israel. In covenantal love, God does not forsake his chosen despite their infidelity and sends his messengers, the prophets, to call the people back. Even in exile God does not abandon them. The New Testament finds the fulfilment of this story in the Person of Jesus Christ, his life, death and resurrection, and reflects the faith of the early Church in its different communities as they come to know and profess Jesus as Lord.
The Church receives these sacred writings as a living word that summons us still to repentance and gives us hope. It always reads the Scriptures in the light of Tradition and its own experience of God. Studied and interpreted, the Scriptures not only inform and teach, but also sustain the prayer life of the Church. Their true and primary place lies in the assembly of the faithful when they are proclaimed as God’s living word to us in the liturgy of the Church.
Effective signs of Christ’s saving presence, Communal celebrations of Christian identity
The Church constantly draws life from Christ at work in its midst. Enlivened by the Holy Spirit, the community of disciples continues the saving mission of Christ to the world. It does this through the sacraments, which make present the grace of God that they signify. All that the Church does in Christ is sacramental, for it makes Christ present and effective in the world.
The sacraments come from Christ; they are key moments within the Church’s common life in Christ. In liturgy, they celebrate that life in symbol and ritual. The sacraments not only point to God’s life and remind us of what God has done, but through the action of the Holy Spirit they also become a source of that life, bringing about the very action of Christ they represent. As symbols of Christ’s saving presence, the sacraments draw together all that the Church says and does in faith, and they renew these efforts in the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection.
Central to the life of the Church is the celebration of the Eucharist. Here, in obedience to Christ’s command, Christians join together in Christ’s self-offering to the Father through the Spirit, and are fed with his Body and Blood that they in turn might be his Body in the world.
The seven sacraments have their origin in the ministry of Jesus Christ. They make visible the mystery of Christ present in the heart of the Church, so that in the celebration of each sacrament the Church, as well as the individual, draws closer to its Saviour and founder. Thus in Baptism, those who are baptised are plunged into the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, and the community in which they are initiated gains new members and is itself renewed in this mystery. In this way the sacraments build up the Christian community and celebrate different aspects of its identity in Christ as it is healed, sustained, forgiven and called to service.
Relationship with God—Personal and communal listening, Responding to God’s Spirit
Christians live in communion with God and with one another. God is present in our hearts through the gift of the Holy Spirit, and when we pray we turn to that loving presence to deepen our communion with God, and to allow God to work all the more in us. In prayer we are drawn into the divine life of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, whose mystery lies at the heart of our being. Prayer is an encounter with God.
The ways of prayer are many and reflect the various stages of our relationship with God. They range from a simple, wordless prayer of presence before God, to meditation on the Scriptures, to the liturgies of church and cathedral, when the community gathers to express itself as the Body of Christ and finds itself renewed in God’s love to carry out its mission, which is to be salt of the earth and light of the world. In this communion with God there are moments of praise, wonder, thanksgiving, petition, intercession, repentance, and searching.
Prayer has been described as a conversation with God, but there is also an earlier step where we first listen to God, who has already spoken and who continues to speak to us through the Holy Spirit. Jesus taught his disciples to pray and gave us the Our Father as a model for our prayer. He told us to ask and to search (and hence to find), so Christians pray in response with confidence and trust in his words. To pray is not always easy, and a life of prayer requires discipline and takes time.
Flourishing of human persons, Common good of societies, Shared responsibility in relation to creation
Religious communities that are founded on the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures find in them both the imperative and the guidance to discern ways of being and acting in the world that faithfully respond to the creative love of God. Catholic communities also find guidance for living and acting in the traditions of social and moral teaching that have arisen over centuries of Gospel-inspired practice.
At the heart of the quest for meaningful being-in-the-world is the fundamental moral understanding of the dignity of human persons. Created in the image of God, human persons experience themselves as free agents of thought and action among other human agents and in the non-human environment. The subject of inalienable rights to life, liberty, social engagement and self-expression, the human person bears responsibility towards self and others for the full realisation of human potential. As creatures, human persons also experience limits, frustrations and failures in achieving the goals that attract them. So the quest for the realisation of human potential involves the experience of human frailty and invites a continual participation in the gracious creativity of God.
The Scriptures and the social teaching of the Church call people and governments to work for peace, justice and the promotion of the common good of society. Inherently social beings, human persons develop best in peaceful and just societies, where family life, labour, commerce, the arts, political associations, and other societal structures all enable the self-expression of each one and offer ways to serve the common good.
As with God’s creative activity, so human interest and responsibility extends beyond the human community to include animals and plants, the environment in general, and indeed the whole earth and atmosphere and even space beyond. As that part of creation endowed with self-consciousness and freedom of decision and action, human persons exercise a particular responsibility in relation to creation, its life-systems, environments and resources.
Christians wait in hope for God’s redeeming love to gather all created things into the resurrection of Jesus, to share his glory beyond sickness, sin and death. This waiting is expressed in both prayer and action, in collaboration with the Spirit of God, leading to acts of healing, forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration.
Religion and Society
Religious traditions in Australian society
Religion is a social and communal way of life that springs out of the human heart in the search for meaning and the need to respond to the divine. It draws on authoritative teachings, stories, rituals, ethical norms, laws and spiritual experience to create a community, which in turn confers identity and purpose on its members.
Australia is a country with its own Indigenous peoples, who live, to varying degrees, in age-old spiritual closeness to the land and its dreaming. Justice for its own peoples demands careful attention to their cultures and place in our society. Australian society also brings together many other peoples from around the world. Each community has its own spirituality, customs and ways of life, often set within a religious tradition. In particular, Christianity has a deep spiritual bond with Judaism, its history and Sacred Scriptures, as the people from whom Christ was born. While Christianity is the major religious tradition in Australia, other faiths also make their own contribution to Australian society and ask to be respected and understood. In dialogue with these religions Christians do not lose sight of the uniqueness of Christ, but seek to understand and promote all that reflects God’s saving will.
Within Christianity itself there is a variety of traditions beyond those of the Catholic Church. Jesus himself prayed to the Father for his followers, so “that they might be one as we are one” (John 17:11). This challenges divided Christians as disciples of Jesus to work for unity. It requires a commitment to Christian unity and a willingness to walk the path of discipleship on the basis of our common baptism in Christ.
In a globalised world where many religions and ways of life are in contact with each other, Christians must give an account of themselves if they are to give proper witness to Christ and so fulfil the mission he has entrusted to them. The need for Christian witness and discernment is ever more pressing as the various forms of mass media increase communication and promote multiple and diverging views.