On Wednesday the 29th of March members of the forces community gathered at the Armed Forces Chaplaincy Centre in Amport to celebrate the Mass of Chrism. During the Mass, which was celebrated by Bishop Crispian Hollis, the Emeritus Bishop of Portsmouth, the Oils of Catechumens, Chrism, and of the Sick were blessed, and the Priests present renewed their commitment to Priestly service. The text of Bishop Crispian’s Homily, in which he reflected on the call to Evangelisation within the Church and reflected on the statement “we are what we do” is below.
I’ve been delighted to learn of your work as chaplains, and as the wider Catholic community in the Armed Forces, to come to terms with what is commonly known in the Church “The New Evangelisation”. You’ve invited me today to use this occasion to reflect with you on this challenge which faces us all, whether we’re in dioceses, parishes or in the community at large.
As well as being guided by your reflections, I’ve found it very helpful to read and study again chapters 1 and 2 of Pope Francis’ impressive and significant Apostolic Exhortation entitled “The Joy of the Gospel,” and I commend that to you for your on-going reflections.
He outlines that, first of all, evangelisation takes place in three settings:
- In ordinary pastoral ministry, which seeks to help believers grow spiritually so that they can respond more fully to God’s love in their lives and he reminds us that to do this is to answer the call given to all those of deep faith, and does not belong exclusively to the ordained ministry.
- It is a reaching out to “the baptised whose lives do not reflect the demands of their baptism – our so-called lapsed Catholics.
- But it is first and foremost about proclaiming the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or have rejected him and the Gospel of the Good News.
These three tasks feature strongly in the readings we have heard today, particularly from Isaiah and Luke. “The Spirit of the Lord has been given to us, for we have been anointed to bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken, proclaim liberty to captives, freedom to those in prison and to proclaim a year of the Lord’s favour”.
This task rests on all of us who claim to be disciples of the Lord, because we are all baptised, we’ve all been confirmed, and many of us here today have been consecrated into specifically priestly or diaconal ministry within the community of disciples, which places us in a leadership role for the shaping and forming of our different communities as we respond to the call of Jesus “to go out and proclaim the Good News”. Our celebration today is all about renewing – or perhaps discovering for the first time – that sense of commitment and mission which has to be the dominant characteristic of all who are called to be disciples of Christ.
This Mass today – the Mass of the Oils – makes us focus on the sacramental elements by which our lives are consecrated for evangelisation – the Oil of Catechumens for those being baptised, the consecrating Oil of Chrism for baptism, confirmation and the ordained ministry, and the Oil of the Sick, which eases us gently into that full realisation of what it means to live in the favour of the Lord. Because we are called to be, as Pope Francis puts it, a community of missionary disciples, we need to be ceaselessly involved by word and deed in the stuff of people’s lives, embracing human life in all its earthiness, taking on “the smell of the sheep.”
Television adverts don’t play a huge part in my life but one caught my eye recently which made me reflect, not so much on the product, but as a check point for my own life. The NatWest Bank is inviting us to become its customers by saying that “we are what we do”. Quite apart from the merits of the bank, I have felt that this is not a bad benchmark for me, for all of us ordained into ministry, and for our Christian communities as a whole.
Francis constantly reminds us that we are called to a pastoral ministry, one which is essentially about service to people, and never about personal status or prestige. He wants to eradicate the cult of clericalism from the Church – those attitudes which tempt us to see ourselves as a privileged class. He is challenging us to be more like Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith”. We are to be primarily pastors, not administrators. We are to be ministers of the love and mercy of God, living by the Spirit rather than by the letter of the Law – and again, I am haunted by that NatWest slogan – “we are what we do” – am I? Are we? I fear that if we’re not, then any evangelisation – even the New Evangelisation – is going to be fruitless. Jesus calls us to put out into deep waters and there to rest secure in his arms and in the power of the Spirit, rather than in the power structures of the Church, which so often seem to constrain and restrict the movement of God’s life-giving Spirit.
It’s in those deep waters that we become what we are, sustained by the presence of the Lord and shaped and formed by the Good News. It’s in those deep waters that we find the freedom and courage to proclaim – and live – the Gospel – to be for others, as Jesus was. Led by the Spirit, you already do that; you are men and women of outstanding and holy ministry. You serve your communities with generosity and integrity. Your model is that of the Good Shepherd and you certainly lay down your lives for your sheep. To be what you are – to do what you say – with integrity and love, is Evangelisation, – even New Evangelisation. You become the Good News with your words and your way of life, and this is the presence and proclamation of “the Lord’s favour”, which is being fulfilled today, “even as we listen.”