Talk One: Anointing in the Bible
I want to begin with a very important text. When Jesus was baptised in the Jordan, and tempted by the devil in the wilderness, he made his mission statement in his local synagogue in Nazareth. In Lk 4:16-21, we are told that, “He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
Luke tells us that Jesus anointed by the Spirit. This verse needs to be understood in the light of OT. which was the Bible Jesus knew.
The word anointing was associated with oil. It had an ability to soak and penetrate whatever it was poured on, even stone. It became a symbol of God’s Spirit that can penetrate a person. Jesus was anointed by the Spirit. As a result he became the Christ, the anointed one who was the promised Messiah.
Three types of people anointed in the OT, priests, kings and prophets. Let us look at each one in turn.
Priest. The Law of Moses required that priests be anointed with special oil. In Ex 30:30-32 we read, "Anoint Aaron and his sons and consecrate them so they may serve me as priests. Say to the Israelites, 'This is to be my sacred anointing oil for the generations to come.” In Ex 28:41 we read,
“After you put these clothes on your brother Aaron and his sons, anoint and ordain them. Consecrate them so they may serve me as priests.”
Throughout the Hebrew Bible, the term priest is usually used to refer to a person who was set apart from the rest of the community as go-between between God and the people. He did this principally by means of worship, intercession and sacrifice. Meaning of worship, i.e. Old English, to know the worth of God. Express it through intimate prayer of e.g. thanks for gifts of God, praise of the giver of the gifts, adoration of the divine mystery. Intercession on behalf of the people. Offer sacrifice to God.
As a priest, Jesus is our go-between-God. For instance in Heb 5:7-10, we are told that, “During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.”
King. Kings were anointed in the OT. For instance, in 1 Sam 10:1 we read, “Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on Saul's head and kissed him, saying, "Has not the Lord anointed you leader over his inheritance?” The role of the king was to rule and lead the people in the way that God desired. In 1 Sam 10:25 we are also told that the prophet Samuel told the king what God desired of him, “Samuel explained to the people the regulations of the kingship. He wrote them down on a scroll and deposited it before the Lord.”
Jesus was acknowledged on many occasions as a king, a descendant of David. When he was on trial before Pilate, he acknowledged that he was a king, but not a worldly one. “Pilate asked Jesus, "Are you the king of the Jews?" "You have said so," Jesus replied” (Lk 23:3). Written on his cross were the words, “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews" (Jn 19:20).
Prophet. Sometimes prophets were anointed. For instance, in 1 Kings 19:16 we read, “anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.” They were men and women who received revelation from God. Speaking about the prophets, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says in par. 64, “Through the prophets, God forms his people in the hope of salvation, in the expectation of a new and everlasting Covenant intended for all, to be written on their hearts. The prophets proclaim a radical redemption of the People of God, purification from all their infidelities, a salvation which shall include all the nations. Above all, the poor and humble of the Lord will bear this hope.”
It goes without saying that Jesus, the new Moses, was by far the greatest of the prophets. Speaking about this fact Joachim Jeremias says in his New Testament Theology, "The unanimous verdict on him was that he was a prophet." Jesus included himself among the ranks of the prophets. For example in Mk 6:4-6 we are told about an occasion when, "Jesus said to them, "Only in his home town, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honour." He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith."
You might say that, as king Jesus is the way, as prophet, he is the truth, and as priest, he is the life.
Christians share in the priesthood, kingship and prophetic roles of Jesus
These points have great importance for Christians. When we are baptised as infants or as adults, we are anointed by the Holy Spirit and come to share in the priestly, kingly, and prophetic roles of Jesus. Baptism in the Spirit, enables us to become consciously aware of the implications of having received the infilling of the Spirit. As par. 2 of the Decree on Apostolate of the Laity teaches, "In the Church there is a diversity of ministry but a oneness of mission. Christ conferred on the Apostles and their successors the duty of teaching, sanctifying, and ruling in His name and power. But the laity likewise share in the priestly, prophetic, and royal office of Christ and therefore have their own share in the mission of the whole people of God in the Church and in the world." The mission of the Church, therefore, is to participate in Christ's
priestly, sanctifying function
prophetic, teaching function and
royal, ruling function.
A] Priestly function
In par. 901 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read, "Hence the laity, dedicated as they are to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvellously called and prepared so that even richer fruits of the Spirit maybe produced in them. For all their works, prayers, and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit - indeed even the hardships of life if patiently born - all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. In the celebration of the Eucharist these may most fittingly be offered to the Father along with the body of the Lord. And so, worshipping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God, everywhere offering worship by the holiness of their lives."
B] Kingly function
In par 911 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read, “In the Church, "lay members of the Christian faithful can cooperate in the exercise of this power [of governance] in accord with the norm of law."449 And so the Church provides for their presence at particular councils, diocesan synods, pastoral councils; the exercise of the pastoral care of a parish, collaboration in finance committees, and participation in ecclesiastical tribunals, etc.” Of course, lay people exercise their kingly function in other ways e.g. when parents exercise authority in the education and formation of their children.
C] Prophetic function
Writing about the prophetic office, in which all baptized Christians share, par. 35 of the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church says, "Christ, the great Prophet, who proclaimed the Kingdom of His Father both by the testimony of His life and the power of His words, continually fulfils His prophetic office until the complete manifestation of glory. He does this not only through the hierarchy who teach in His name and with His authority, but also through the laity whom He made His witnesses and to whom He gave understanding of the faith and an attractiveness in speech so that the power of the Gospel might shine forth in their daily social and family life." The organization of the 1983 Code of Canon Law was very much influenced by the three functions, already mentioned. Of particular interest, where this chapter is concerned, is the fact that in the Code, canons 747-833 on the teaching office of the Church, the gift of prophecy is virtually synonymous with such things as preaching, teaching and catachesis. It could be said that this approach is very institutional and needs to be augmented by an appreciation of the charism and ministry of prophecy.
However, it is worth noting that when he promulgated the Code of Canon Law, Pope John Paul II explained that canon law, “is in no way intended as a substitute for faith, grace, charisms [my italics], and especially charity in the life of the Church and of the faithful. On the contrary, its purpose is rather to create such an order in the ecclesial society that, while assigning the primacy to love, grace, and charisms, it at the same time renders their organic development easier in the life of both the ecclesial society and the individual persons who belong to it.” Talking about the charisms, including that of prophecy, pars. 799-800 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, say, "Whether extraordinary or simple and humble, charisms [including prophecy] are graces of the Holy Spirit which directly or indirectly benefit the Church, ordered as they are to her building up, to the good of men, and to the needs of the world. Charisms are to be accepted with gratitude by the person who receives them and by all members of the Church as well. They are a wonderfully rich grace for the apostolic vitality and for the holiness of the entire Body of Christ, provided they really are genuine gifts of the Holy Spirit and are used in full conformity with authentic promptings of this same Spirit, that is, in keeping with charity, the true measure of all charisms."
That said, the subject of the charism and ministry of prophecy is largely neglected. Archbishop Rino Fisichella has said that theological reflection on prophecy has been like, "wreckage after shipwreck." As a result it is not surprising that many well intentioned Christian groups, communities and leaders have little or no appreciation of how to exercise the prophetic gift in such a way that it would enable them to tune in to the mind and heart of God.
Talk Two: The Second Anointing
This talk begins with a verse about the weather in the Holy Land. In Deut 11:14-15 we read the following divine promise, “then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil.” This undertaking consoled the Jewish people because there was a severe lack of water in Israel. God has fulfilled the promise right down to the present day. As we read in Joel 2:23-24: “Be glad, O people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given you the autumn rains of righteousness. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before. The threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.” Ironically the crops were planted in the rainy autumn season between September 15 and November 15. The crops matured in the rainy spring season between March 15 and May 15. When they ripened they are harvested.
The early and late rains are also mentioned in the New Testament. In Jm 5:7 we read: “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains.” Over the centuries the notion of the two rains has been understood in a symbolic way to refer to two interrelated anointings of the Spirit which precede the harvesting of a great number of souls for God. Perhaps Jesus had this in mind when he said: "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” Lk 10:2.
There is a clear symbolic example of the early and late rain of the Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles. In Acts 2:1-41 we read about the first rain which enabled the seed of Christianity to take root and to grow. Then when the early Church was being persecuted we read in Acts 4:23-31 about the second rain. Peter and John had been interrogated and imprisoned because of their witness to Jesus. When they were released they went to the Christian community and told them what had happened. When the disciples of the Lord heard about the opposition they were facing from the Jews and Romans they prayed fervently to God: “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus." After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” What is striking is the fact that the disciples did not ask for a new outpouring of the Spirit. Instead they yearned first for God’s kingdom and his righteousness (Cf. Mt 6:33). As they ardently desired to carry out the great commission the second rain fell upon them when the Holy Spirit was poured upon them anew.
The First shower of the Early Rain
In this input I want to suggest that during the 20th century we experienced the early rain with the three interrelated showers of revival, firstly, the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements.
The Second shower of the Early Rain
Smith Wigglesworth, an Englishman was one of the first Pentecostals. He was baptized in the Holy Spirit in 1907. In 1937 he visited South Africa as a guest of the Apostolic Faith Mission in Johannesburg. David Du Plessis was its general secretary at the time. Later he explained how one morning, Wigglesworth walked, unannounced, into his office. He pushed him against the wall and declared: “You have been in Jerusalem long enough….I will send you to the uttermost parts of the earth….You will bring the message of Pentecost to all churches….You will travel more than most evangelists do….God is going to revive the churches in the last days and through them turn the world upside down….even the Pentecostal movement will become a mere joke compared with the revival which God will bring through the churches.” After a pause Wigglesworth continued, “Then the Lord said to me that I am warning you that he is going to use you in this movement…. All he requires of you is that you be humble and faithful. You will live to see this word fulfilled.” Then he concluded by saying that this prophecy about the second shower, would not be fulfilled until after his death. In the event, Wigglesworth died in 1947.
Over the next few years Du Plessis became increasingly influential in Protestant and later in Catholic circles. For example, in his book Simple and Profound he has explained how at a gathering in St. Andrews in Scotland in 1951, he met Professor Bernard Lemming, a Jesuit priest from Oxford. He asked for prayer for baptism in the Holy Spirit. This marked the start of Du Plessis’s ministry to Roman Catholics. When the Second Vatican Council started soon afterwards Du Plessis, was invited to attend. No doubt he was also delighted when par. 12 of the Constitution of the Church referred to the charisms mentioned in 1 Cor 12:8-10. As we know, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal came into existence as result of the Duquesne Retreat in 1967, when the Spirit and the charisms were poured out in abundance on Catholics, firstly, in the U.S., and later around the world. By the year 2000 there were well over a 100 million Catholic and post-charismatics.
The Third shower of the early rain.
In more recent years a third shower of revival occurred when people like John Wimber and Peter Wagner initiated what is known as the Signs and Wonders movement. Their views about evangelization were influenced by the remarkable ministries of Smith Wigglesworth in Britain, and Kathryn Kuhlman in the United States. In 1981 Wimber delivered a lecture at Fuller Theological Seminary entitled, “Signs, Wonders and Church Growth.” Then, from 1982 to 1985 he taught a very popular course at the seminary, entitled “The Miraculous and Church Growth.” He also lectured abroad, e.g. in Britain and Ireland. In 1986 his Fuller lecture notes were edited by Kevin Springer and published with the title, Power Evangelism. John Wimber died in 1997.
Prophecies about the late rains
I have already adverted to the fact that Smith Wigglesworth seems to have accurately prophesied the advent of the Catholic and Protestant Charismatic movements. It is said that shortly before his death he made another prescient prophecy. It is well worth recounting. Not only did he foretell the rise of the Charismatic Renewal with its emphasis on the Spirit and the rise of house churches with their emphasis on the word of God, he also predicted that when both seemed to be waning, “there will be evidence in the churches of something that has not been seen before: a coming together of those with an emphasis on the word and those with an emphasis on the Spirit. When the word and the Spirit come together, there will be the biggest move of the Holy Spirit that the nations, and indeed, the world have ever seen. It will mark the beginning of a revival that will eclipse …the revivals of former years.” Surely, Wigglesworth was referring to a second rain, similar to the second Pentecost referred to in Acts 4:23-31. May I say, in passing, that this prophecy found an echo in a prophecy which was uttered by Ralph Martin in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome in 1975, when he said: “A time of darkness is coming upon the world, but a time of glory is coming for my Church, a time of glory is coming for my people. I will pour out on you all the gifts of my Spirit. I will prepare you for spiritual combat; I will prepare you for a time of evangelism the world has never seen.”
On the 7th February 2003, a Church of Ireland clergyman spoke the following words during a time of intercession in Belfast. In view of their origin, they are as surprising as they are encouraging. They seem to suggest that the second rain will fall in a particularly heavy way in the Catholic Church. Part of the prophetic message reads: “The Lord has been shaking the Roman Catholic Church. He holds the church in the palm of His hand and he has been shaking it for 20 to 25 years. The church has been rattling around like a nut in a nutshell. All the time the Lord has been shaking it from the outside. Now He is going to work on the inside. He throws the church down and cracks it open. A holy and pure church is exposed, what was hidden before can now be seen. As the church, broken, flows out, the Glory of God flows in, like a river of liquid gold… This will spread through the Catholic Church infrastructure worldwide, producing great love and devotion for the Lord. For the Glory of God to come it will be enough to be associated with the Catholic Church, to go to a Catholic Church or to be called a Catholic, even to have contact with the Catholic Church through occasional ceremonies such as baptism, confirmation, first communion, marriage, funerals. By identifying with the church you will be giving the Lord permission to manifest His glory.”
Motives for desiring the later rain
Why should we pray for the second rain? I think that our motive is very similar to the one mentioned in Acts 4:23-31, namely, the many external and internal problems the contemporary Church is experiencing, For instance in par. 9 of his apostolic exhortation The Church in Europe, John Paul II referred to a significant external challenge when he wrote: “European culture gives the impression of ‘silent apostasy’ on the part of people who have all that they need and who live as if God did not exist.” In an address given at a General Audience Nov. 15th, 1972, Pope Paul VI suggested that these ecclesial difficulties have a demonic dimension: “What are the Church's greatest needs at the present time? Don't be surprised at Our answer and don't write it off as simplistic or even superstitious: one of the Church's greatest needs is to be defended against the evil we call the Devil.” In that same year the Pope said the diabolic threat was internal as well as external. "The smoke of Satan,” he warned, “has entered the temple of God." Apparently he was alluding to the sins of Christians, to the devaluation of the moral law, and the growth of moral decadence.
It is as obvious as the nose on our faces that we urgently need a revival one that would energize the new evangelization which has been called for by the Church. But that evangelization will not be effective unless we receive a mighty anointing of the Holy Spirit so that we can bear witness to Christ by means of signs and wonders just like the first Christians. As St Paul testified: “Our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction” (I Thess 1:5). On another occasion he said: “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Cor 2:4I). In many ways Heb 2:3-4 summed up the Pauline attitude: “This salvation which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”
I believe that for many years now the Lord has allowed the Church to experience a very difficult time of testing, in order to humble and purify it. During that period he has raised up a large number of people who know the Lord, who are deeply committed to him, and who desire to carry out the great command in the demonstration and power of the Holy Spirit. I believe that a time is coming when there will be great disruption and breakdown in the secular world. It will cause some people to become bitter and disillusioned, and it will cause others to come to their senses like the prodigal son. Like him, they will seek the Lord while he may be found (Is 55:6). Then those who have been purified and blessed with the anointing of the second rain of the Spirit, will be ready to engage in the New evangelization in a way that will not only fulfill the prophecies already mentioned, it will lead to a great harvest of souls for God.
Intercede for the late rains
There is no blessing or growth in the Christian life without preceding desire. The deeper and stronger the desire the greater is the openness to blessing. That principle is echoed in scripture. For instance in Deut 4:29-30 we read: “But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” In a more specific way, Jesus said: "If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, 'Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'" Now this he said about the Spirit” Jn 7:37-39.
We need to gather like the first disciples to fervently intercede to God for boldness in preaching the Good News, with associated signs and wonders. Pope John Paul II spoke in a poignant way about the faith that needs to inform our intercession: “When every human means seems to fail, believers turn to God…..Even when the Christian feels humanly impotent before the tide of evil, he knows that through prayer he can count on the omnipotence of God who does not abandon those who trust in him. Even if human means fail, hope in God never fails.” In par. 15 of his letter on The Divine Mercy he echoed what he had already written: “Like the prophets, let us appeal to that love which has maternal characteristics and which, like a mother, follows each of her children, each lost sheep, even if they should number millions, even if in the world evil should prevail over goodness….Let us implore God’s mercy for the present generation.”
I got an insight into what this might involve, in the mid 1970’s, when I attended an Ecumenical conference hosted by Cardinal Suenens in Malines in Belgium. Towards the end of the proceedings he referred to the fact that in some respects the Church resembled Jerusalem at the time of Nehemiah, the walls of its spirituality have been breached, so that the enemy, in the form of the Trojan Horse of worldliness, can be insinuated into its midst by the Devil, in order to secretly disgorge its malevolent and disruptive influences. Then he opened Isa 62:6-7 and said it was about the need for persistent intercessory prayer on behalf of the Church. “I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.” Our intercession needs to be frequent, intense, associated with fasting, and within a context of worship.
Like Nehemiah of old, we need to call believing Christians to rebuild the breached walls of Christ’s Church. We will do this not only by growing in holiness ourselves, but also by means of a New Evangelization which is anointed by the power of the Holy Spirit and demonstrated through charismatic deeds of power. As Pope Paul VI said in Evangelization in the Modern World: “I earnestly exhort you to generously open your minds and heart to receive a large outpouring of divine gift, the Holy Spirit. May a new Pentecost descend on you so you will be spiritually renewed and continue on a new road to evangelical witness" As this occurs, we will be enabled to experience the new springtime that was often referred to by John Paul II. Speaking to a gathering of Catholic Charismatics in Nov. 1996 the Holy Father said: “God is preparing a great springtime for Christianity, and we can already see its first signs." Sometime later, in par. 86 of Mission of the Redeemer he wrote: “God is preparing a great springtime for Christianity, and we can already see its first signs. In fact, both in the non-Christian world and in the traditionally Christian world, people are gradually drawing closer to gospel ideals and values, a development which the Church seeks to encourage. Today in fact there is a new consensus among peoples about these values: the rejection of violence and war; respect for the human person and for human rights; the desire for freedom, justice and brotherhood; the surmounting of different forms of racism and nationalism; the affirmation of the dignity and role of women.” It would probably be true to say that the Springtime blessing, the Holy Father spoke about, is an intimation of the second coming of the Lord.
Talk Three: Christ’s Biography our Potential Autobiography
The ain effect, of my being baptised in the Holy Spirit in 1974 was a conscious sense of God’s empowering presence. It has never left me, thank God. In Jn 17:23 Jesus talked about the branch that is grafted into the vine so that it shares the same life. As St Paul observed some years later, in 1 Cor 6:17: “The one who is united with the Lord is one spirit with him.” We are so united in the Spirit that Jesus could say that he literally lives in the believers. In Eph 3:17 Paul echoed this sentiment when he spoke about Christ living in our hearts through faith. Again, in Gal 2:20, he says: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” The indwelling of Christ has a number of important implications.
In par 521 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we are told of a profound effect of the divine indwelling, namely that Christ lives out his divine-human life in and through us. “Christ enables us to live in him all that he himself lived, and he lives it in us. By his incarnation, he, the Son of God, has in a certain sense united himself with each person.” Personally, I find that this is one of the most profound and moving statements I have ever read. It needs to be repeatedly reflected upon in a prayerful way until it begins to deliver its deeper meaning and implications.
In one of his writings St John Eudes (1601-1688) quoted a well known Pauline text, “I make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Jesus Christ for the sake of his body the Church" Col 1:24. He went on to observe that what Paul says about our sufferings can be extended to all our other actions as well. Here is an extended quotation from Eudes’s book The Life and Kingdom of Jesus in Christian Souls. “We can say that any true Christian, who is a member of Jesus Christ, and who is united to him by his grace, continues and completes, (my italics) through all the actions that he carries out in the spirit of Christ, the anointed actions that Jesus Christ accomplished during the time of his temporary life on earth. So that when a Christian prays, he continues and fulfils the prayer that Jesus Christ offered on earth. Whenever he works, he continues and fulfils the laborious life of Jesus Christ. Whenever he relates to his or her neighbour in a spirit of charity, then he continues and fulfils the relational life of Jesus Christ. Whenever he eats or rests in a Christian manner, he continues and fulfils the subjection that Jesus Christ wished to have to have to these necessities. The same can be said of any other action that is carried out in a Christian manner, especially evangelisation.”
Let’s take a practical example to illustrate John Eudes’s point. If I have to relate to someone who irritates me I may find it particularly hard to carry out the golden rule by doing to that person what I would like him or her to do to me (cf. Mt 7:12). But, if I make a decision to do so, believing that it is what God wants me to do, while at the same time trusting in the Spirit’s help, it will become possible. Not only will I want what is best for the other person, I will have an empathic sense of what it might be. One is reminded in this regard of a difficult relationship in the life of St Therese of Lisieux. She felt her vocation was to love as Jesus loves. She wrote in words that are reminiscent of those of John Eudes’s teaching: “I am not just to love my neighbours as myself; I am to love them as Jesus loves them. (My Italics).” She went on to add: “Always, when I act as charity bids, I have this feeling that it is Jesus who is acting in me; (My italics) the closer my union with him the greater my love for all the sisters without distinction.”
One of the sisters she lived with had the knack of rubbing her up the wrong way at every turn. Therese says that every time she met this sister "I reminded myself that charity is not a matter of fine sentiments; it means doing things. So I determined to treat this sister as if she were the person I loved best in the world. Every time I met her I prayed for her, offering God all her virtues and merits....I didn't confine myself to saying a lot of prayers for her....I tried to do her every good turn I possibly could. When I felt tempted to take her down a peg or two with an unkind retort, I would put on my best smile instead, and try to change the subject......We used often to meet, outside recreation time, over our work; and when the struggle was too much for me, I used to turn tail and run.” Therese tells us that the sister in question never suspected what she really felt about her. She tells us that once at recreation, the sister actually said, beaming all over, something like: “I wish you would tell me, Sister Therese, what it is about me that gets the right side of you? You always have a smile for me whenever I meet you.” Therese went on to comment wryly: “Well, of course, what really attracted me about her was Jesus hidden in the depths of her soul....I could only say that the sight of her always made me smile with pleasure – naturally I didn’t explain that the pleasure was entirely spiritual.”
The principle that is implicit in Therese’s account, i.e. relying on the indwelling Spirit to live as Jesus lived, can be applied to any Christian task, such as forgiving offenders, loving the enemy, being patient, kind, etc. I also believe that this principle even applies to the struggle to resist temptation. Scripture tells us that Christ “himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted” (Heb 2:18) When we are faced with powerful temptation, especially against love, we can be sure that if we have realistic self-awareness, and humble and trusting dependence: “God is faithful, and he also provide the way to escape, that you may be able to endure it” 1 Cor 10:13.
St Vincent de Paul (1580-1660), a contemporary of Eudes, had a strong sense of what God could do in and through the believer. With the image of the vine and branches obviously in mind (cf. Jn 15:1-12) he said to a young protege: “Just as a wild stock on which a seedling has been grafted brings forth fruits of the same sort as the seedling, so too with us poor creatures. When our Lord imprints his mark on us and gives us, so to say, the sap of his spirit and grace, we, being united to him as the branches are united to the vine, we will do what he did when he was on earth (my italics). I mean to say, we shall perform divine actions and beget, like Saint Paul, being filled with this spirit, children to our Lord. It is interesting that having said that those who are intimately united to the Lord, “will do what Jesus Christ did on earth” he goes on to qualify this statement by saying, it refers only to the ability to bring about conversions and new life in Christ. But surely, the logic of his statement also implies that believers could, in principle at least, do everything Jesus did, including even healings and miracles. After all, Jesus promised in Jn 14:12, ”Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” The contemporary church has stated in a number of official texts, most recently in an instruction of Cardinal Ratzinger, that some people, both lay and clerical can be given the ability to heal the sick (cf 1 Cor 12:9).
Talk Four: What I learned from Anointings I have Experienced
Experience in Lurgan. Near end of my time in Northern Ireland, around 1980. Concelebrant was an Irish priest who had ministered in France for many years. In sacristy he asked, “have you ever experienced a strong anointing of the Spirit?” I asked him what he meant? He said that it was a sudden experience of the presence and glory of the Lord which can happen any time. As Jesus said,“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit" (Jn 3:8). I can remember saying to myself, “if that were to happen it would be really great. As soon as processed to the altar I was palpably aware of something unfamiliar. For one thing, although most of the people in the congregation were not charismatics, they were lifting the roof with their singing. I can recall that I gave a homily on the sacred heart of Christ. I found that ideas were coming effortlessly into my mind, so much so that was listening to the homily I was giving. Each time the congregation sang they seemed to do so with even greater enthusiasm. When we distributed Holy Communion I began to pray for healing. I can recall getting a very precise word of knowledge about a woman with a very painful back complain. I described what she was wearing, where she was sitting and her age. A woman fitting that description put up her hand and I said a prayer for her with the aid of the microphone. The Mass ended with a thunderous hymn. When I returned to the sacristy, my concelebrant said, “well Pat, now you know what an anointing of the Spirit is like. That was one during the celebration. With that a doctor I knew came into the sacristy. She said that that the woman I mentioned was one of her patients, She was indeed suffering from a very painful back complaint. But she said, she seems to be perfectly O.K. now. I think she has been healed.” Time was to prove that she had indeed been healed. I heard her explain some time afterwards that on the day she had been healed she had been in great pain and told a friend that she wouldn’t be able to attend the Mass. The friend persuaded her to go in spite of her pain, while saying, “I am convinced that if you do so you will be healed.” She was and permanently so.
At the end of Feb 1985 I was one of a team that conducted a parish mission in the Church of the Holy Spirit in Tallagh. I wasn't feeling well at the time. In retrospect I can see that I was suffering from chronic stress and burn-out. I can remember that my blood pressure was high at the time. On one of the days I was relieved to find that I was neither appointed preacher or celebrant for that night. However, a few moments before the Eucharist was due to start, I was asked to celebrate the mass. I can recall that when I came forward to say the offertory prayer, a profound feeling of powerlessness and emptiness came over me. Placing my hands on the altar, I said a quiet prayer. “Lord I am at the end of my tether. I am completely drained. I have nothing to offer. How can I lead you are people in celebration? Unless you help me, my efforts will be in vain.”
As I began reading the Eucharistic prayer something happened. I became palpably aware of a mysterious presence. I was so moved by this reassuring experience that, for a brief time, I couldn't speak. During this embarrassing pause I was amazed to find that there was an uncanny silence in the church. There wasn't a sound. No one was coughing, shuffling, or rustling paper. Evidently every one was aware of the presence. When I regained my composure, I said, “I'm sure that you can all the sense that the Holy Spirit has a come upon all of us, the risen Lord is here!” I continued the Eucharist the anointed sense of presence deepened. I can remember that having distributed Holy Communion, I stood at the microphone and gave a prophecy about not being afraid. When the Eucharist was over I went to my confessional only to find that there were a large number of people waiting to talk to me. One after the other they asked the same question, “What happened in the Church tonight?” I can remember one elderly man saying, “I have been coming to church for many years. The past hour has been the happiest in my life. I felt I was in heaven, I wished it would never end.”
What a paradox! When I was at my lowest ebb from a human point of view, I was granted one of the greatest blessings of my priestly life. It taught me a number of things. If we are seeking to follow God's will there is no need to be afraid, for we discover that God's “grace is sufficient for us, for his power is made perfect in weakness …..I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (2 Cor 12:9; Phil 4:13). Subsequently, I have referred to experiences like this, as crucifixion points of powerlessness. They are sacred moments of abject inner need when we have to depend, absolutely, on the supernatural power and promises of God.
Crucifixion point of powerlessness
Anyone who tries to live the Christian life in a conscientious way knows that what God asks us to do, such as avoiding temptation, overcoming an addiction, loving others unconditionally, and forgiving those who have hurt us repeatedly, is impossible from a human perspective.
To help me to appreciate the implications of that point, I sometimes engage in what I refer to as my Holy Saturday meditation. I imagine that I approach the tomb of Jesus and ease myself past the stone at the entrance. Given my girth, that takes some doing! Anyway, when I get inside the tomb I find that it is very dark. But after a while my eyes get accustomed to the gloom and I can see the embalmed body of Jesus lying on a shelf of rock. I go over and lie down beside him because there is enough room to do so. I turn on my side and look at the blood stained outline of his body beneath the burial cloths. I ask myself, “who is this lying beside me?” I am amazed as I find myself replying, “this is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and here he is lying beside me devoid of breath, pulse or life. The all powerful One has become utterly powerless.” Then I say to the inanimate corpse of Jesus, “I experience lots of weakness in different areas of my life such as, overcoming sin, escaping self-absorption, having the unhesitating faith that is needed to pray effectively for others, etc.” Sometime afterwards, I imagine that I see a blazing light illumine the tomb. I know that it is the light of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life. It invades the lifeless body of Jesus and raises it to glorious and everlasting new life. As he ascends, I cry after him and say, “Lord Jesus don’t forget about me, I need to experience the same power of the Holy Spirit in my weakness.”
I must confess that, over the last few years, in particular, this awareness has become a central tenet of my personal spirituality. When I’m about to embark on different tasks such as writing, preaching, teaching, praying for others; struggling to love, to be patient, to be generous, to resist temptation or to overcome evil, I often run into the buffers of my own natural weakness and limitations. But then I recall a verse from Phil 2:13, When God the Father asks us to say or do something, he will always give us the power to do so. In chapter four I shared how a verse in Phil 2:13 became a rhema word for me many years ago. It says, “God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” It makes three interrelated assertions which are well worth reflecting on.
Firstly, St. Paul says “God is at work in you.” Not everyone is consciously aware of this wonderful truth. That is why Paul asked the Corinthian Christians the rhetorical question, “Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you” (2 Cor 13:5). In Rom 8:9 he asserted, “the Spirit of God lives in you.” Paul also said, that God the Father, “is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:6). The three Persons of the Blessed Trinity are present, therefore, in the human heart, and they are active in their different ways within the personality.
Secondly, St. Paul says that the Lord is at work within enabling us to know and embrace the divine will. This book has been a commentary on how exactly the Lord reveals the divine purposes in ordinary and more unusual revelatory ways. As Paul said in Rm 12:2, “be transformed by the renewal of your mind that you may discern what is the will of God.” Not only does the Lord reveal the divine will, the Spirit urges the person to embrace it no matter what the cost.
Thirdly, once the person intends to carry out God’s will, he or she will be given the power in their weakness to do so. St. Paul asserted that point repeatedly in his own life. When he asked the Lord on three occasions to remove a mysterious thorn from his flesh, God replied, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor 12:9). Paul endorsed the truth of that promise when he said, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13). These important points are relevant in every aspect of daily Christian living. Once we hear the voice of the Lord, the Spirit will not only enable us to want to do God’s will, no matter how difficult it might seem, it will also give us the power to do so. As 1 Peter 4:11 urged, “If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.”
say to Jesus:
“Lord, the good I wish to do, I cannot do, but you are living out the mysteries of your life in me. Enable me by the Spirit that animated your live of loving service, to continue and fulfill that same loving service in my own life. Give me the ability to do this task (state what it is…..), and I thank you that you are achieving even more than I can ask, or imagine through the power of your Spirit, even now, at work within me.”
I have found that when I affirm the divine indwelling, in this way, I have the conviction, not only that my efforts are being blessed, but that they will bear lasting fruit.
Talk Five: The Anointing Leads to an Inspired Knowledge of the Truth
Moses, was one of the outstanding people of prayer in the Old Testament. In the book of Exodus we are told how he used to pray in the tent of meeting in the wilderness. “As Moses entered the tent, the column of cloud, [a symbol of God’s presence], would come down and stand at its entrance” (Ex 33:9). Presumably, Moses poured out his heart to the Lord and spoke to him about his struggle to lead the Jewish people. Then we are told that, “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a person speaks to a friend” (Ex 33:11). I like to think of Jesus as the new Moses, who Moses had foretold when he said, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him” (Deut 18:18).
Although he did not enter the tent of meeting in the same way as Moses, he did so in another symbolic manner. All Jewish men had to wear a cloak with tassels. It was called a tallit, which meant, little tent. It is quite likely that when he prayed Jesus pulled his cloak over his head and entered the tabernacle of his heart which was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. There he would talk to his Father and listen to him. As a person with a divine nature Jesus was completely at one with his Father. As he attested, “I and the Father are one" (Jn 10:30). On another occasion he said, “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son” (Mt 11:27). This implies that unlike Moses, his predecessor, who only enjoyed an indirect awareness of God, Jesus beheld God’s glory face to face. Pope Benedict XVI adverted to this fact when he wrote in Jesus of Nazareth, “What was true of Moses only in a fragmentary form has now been fully realized in the person of Jesus: He lives before the face of God, not just as a friend, but as a Son; he lives in the most intimate unity with the Father.”
No doubt Jesus poured out his love, thoughts, feelings and desires to the Father in his prayer. For example, on one occasion he prayed, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure” (Matt 11:25-26). In the course of his prayer, the Father poured out his love, thoughts and feelings to Jesus. In this way the Father’s presence and desires were experienced directly by him. He testified, “What I speak, I speak just as the Father has told me” (Jn 12:50).1 The Father also told Jesus what to do. He said, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise” (Jn 5:19). Although the apostles acknowledged that Jesus was unusually close to the Father, e.g. when they asked him to teach them to pray, they did not quite grasp how intimate his union with God really was. You will recall how Jesus said to Philip, “How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work” (Jn 14:10-11).
Some time ago I was so impressed by the fact that Jesus wore a tallit that I ordered a similar prayer shawl from a shop in Jerusalem. When I am alone in my room I sometimes put it on, pull it over my head and try to pray like Jesus to the Father. For example, about a year ago I was in Malta. On my final day there I spent some time in prayerful meditation. I imagined I had put on my prayer shawl and asked the Lord to speak to my heart. After a relatively short time I vividly saw a bunch of large green grapes in my mind’s eye. I prayed, “that is a good start Lord, but what is the significance of those grapes?” Then inwardly I thought that I heard the Lord saying to me that I should open the Bible at random and that he would speak to me about the grapes. I closed my eyes and cut the scriptures in faith. When I opened my eyes and looked at the verse where my finger was resting I read these words, “the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge!” Then I read on , . . “I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Jer 31:31-34).
When I finished praying I met a man who was in charge of the retreat centre where I was staying. He was excited about something or other. He said, “stay where you are, there is a scripture reading I want to share with you, but I have to get a book first.” When he returned he said, “the Lord really spoke to me this morning. I was reading a passage from Jer 31:31-34 in this book of meditations. I really felt that it was the Lord’s word to me.” I expressed my delight in knowing that the Lord had spoken to him and informed him that it was the very same passage that I had been led to read around the same time. I had the distinct feeling that God was confirming, in this providential way, the importance of what God had spoken to me a little earlier.
The passage in Jer 31:31-34, which had moved both of us, has been referred to as “one of the profoundest and most moving passages in the entire Bible.” So it is not surprising to find that it is referred to in the New Testament, e.g. in Heb 8:8-12. Jeremiah is predicting that a time will come when there will be an internalization of religion so that the external legal code will no longer be the sole regulator of human behaviour. Instead, people will be motivated by means of inspiration active within the human heart under the influence of the Holy Spirit who will give believers an ability to know God and the divine purposes in an intimate way. As Ps 40:8 says, “I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart." Jesus also echoed the prophecy of Jeremiah when he explained that, “the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (Jn 14:26).
In this regard one is also reminded of two other passages. The first in 1 John 2:27 says, “the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things.” In 1 Cor 2:9-16 Paul says that what, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived . . . God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. . . The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. . . We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. . . "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.” Needless to say, these texts do not mean to imply that religion is an entirely individual, interior affair which no longer requires the mediating role of such things as the commandments, tradition, the Christian community or the teaching authority of the Church. But surely however, these texts from scripture are assuring Christians that, in virtue of their intimate union with God the Son, they will be capable of receiving inspirations and revelations just as Jesus did. Church teaching, can also be used to test whether the inspirations we do receive are truly from God or not. It is interesting to note that the English word “dogma” is derived from the Greek dokein which means “that which one thinks is true.” So Christian dogma helps believers to discern true, orthodox inspirations, promptings and revelations from those which are false.
Inspiration in Prayer
Regrettably, many Christians are unaware of this kind of intimate prayer. They are like Samuel when he was young. We are told that he “did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him” (1 Sam 3:7). That comment is a little surprising in view of the fact that Samuel believed in God and had heard the scriptures being read on many occasions. What the inspired author seems to be saying is that, while Samuel knew about the person of the Lord and his word, he did not yet know them in person. He had the knowledge of the mind, but not the awareness of the heart. We are told that, “Eli (the priest) realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, "Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, 'Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening'" (1 Sam 3:8-9).
It is evident from this passage that Eli believed that Samuel would receive inspiration and even revelation from the Lord. That possibility is referred to in a number of places in the Old Testament. Here are two examples. In Jer 33:3 the Lord promises, 'Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.' In Is 48:6-8 there is a similar promise, "From now on I will tell you of new things, of hidden things unknown to you. They are created now, and not long ago; you have not heard of them before today. So you cannot say, 'Yes, I knew of them.” There are many examples of this kind of inspiration in the Bible and the Christian tradition.
St Vincent de Paul on Divine Guidance
Here are a number of representative quotations in which Vincent talks about divine inspiration and guidance in prayer. Speaking to Daughters of Charity in 1648 he stated, "We learn in prayer what is the will of God." Later in the same talk he added, "It has been said that God lets us know in prayer what we should do, and what we should avoid. Now that is true, for there is no action in life that makes us know ourselves better, or shows us more clearly what is God's will than prayer." When he spoke to Fr. Durand he said at greater length, "Prayer is the reservoir in which you will receive the instructions you need to fulfil the duties on which you are now about to enter. When in doubt, have recourse to God and say to him: "O Lord, you are the Father of light, teach me what I ought to do in this circumstance. I give you this advice not only for those difficulties which will cause you pain, but also that you may learn from God directly [my italics] what you shall have to teach, following the example of Moses who proclaimed to the people of Israel only that with which God had inspired him: "The Lord says this." A year before his death, Vincent said in the course of a talk on prayer, "There is another way of knowing God's will, and its by inspiration: for often he enlightens our understanding and gives impulses to our heart to be inspired by his will." That sentiment was reiterated when he said, "Whenever there is a question of doing a good work, say to the Son of God: "O Lord, if you were in my place, what would you do? How would you instruct the people?" On yet another occasion he said, "God communicates many and excellent lights to his servants. In prayer, he enlightens their understanding with many truths incomprehensible to all save those who give themselves to prayer." Writing to a priest colleague called Marc Coglee, he said in 1650, "Allow yourself to be led by the Lord. He will direct all things through you. Trust him and, following his example, always act humbly, gently and in good faith. You will see everything go well."
Contemplation and Guidance
St Vincent de Paul didn't speak much about contemplation. He said it begins with meditation. The process of reflection and subsequent prayer is arduous, like men rowing by their own efforts against the tide. But when gratuitous grace touches the soul with its inspirations and promptings, there is no more need to row when the sail of the soul is filled with the gentle breeze of the Spirit. On another occasion Vincent resorted to another homely image to get the same point across, "When at nightfall a man wishes to illumine his room what does he do? He takes his flint and steel, strikes a spark and lights his candle. When he has done so, he does not go on striking the flint, he does not go looking for another flint and steel to strike a light, for he does not need it; the light he has suffices for all his needs." On another occasion he said, "The thoughts and considerations which come from our own reflections are feeble lights, showing us only the outside of things, and nothing else. The lights of grace which the Son of Justice shines into our souls penetrate to the very depths of our heart, bringing forth marvellous fruits. We must ask God to enlighten us himself and to inspire in us what pleases him."
In saying these things Vincent seemed to be describing contemplation. Speaking about this subject to Daughters of Charity he said, "The other sort of prayer is called contemplation. In this the soul, in the presence of God, does nothing else but receive from him what he bestows. It is without action, and God himself inspires it, without any effort on the soul's part, with all it can desire, and far more." He added, "God communicates many and excellent lights to his servants. In prayer, he enlightens their understanding with many truths incomprehensible to all save those who give themselves to prayer." No doubt the truths which Vincent referred to included not only truths about the divine mysteries, but also about the purposes and will of God.
This is an interview I did on the Al Cresta Show on Ave Maria Radio on Tues Jan 13th 2014.
Here is a link to recordings of talks I gave on two occasions in Tuscany. The quality of most of the recordings is good, but there is a lot of echo in the recording of the healing service. If you paste the link at the top of this page you should be able to access them.
Some Thoughts on Evangelising Unbelievers
Every now and then when I'm reading the Bible a verse will impact me to an unusual degree. That happened some time ago when I read in Eph 2:12 that unbelievers who did not have faith in Jesus Christ were, "without hope and without God in the world." I think that Paul was speaking in objective terms. In other words, no matter what unbelievers may believe about the pagan God or Gods, they are in fact alienated from the true God. Their Gods are not real. Indeed they could well have been demons masquerading as deities. As he said in 1 Cor 10:20, "the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God." So no matter what religious hopes they might have entertained, they were ultimately insubstantial and false. He speaks about unbelievers again in Eph 4:18-20 when he says, "They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity." Commenting on this verse, Rudolf Schnackenburg says "The person alienated from the life of God - in this sense atheistic and without God - moves in a world he cannot cope with spiritually, one which is bereft of content, and consequently he suffers greater self-alienation." Moral permissiveness and relativism is one of the obvious consequences. Recently I came across a poignant passage in a book on science which expressed something of the desperate hopelessness of the unbeliever. Christopher Potter concluded his book, You Are Here, with these words, “We want to believe that things last forever, whether it is love, God or the laws of nature . . . Perhaps the best we can hope for is to live in uncertainty as long as we can bear it.”
Psychologist Viktor Frankl said that the deepest need of the human heart is meaning of an unconditional kind. When people fail to find such meaning they suffer from what he called existential frustration. He believed that it led to such things as depression, addiction and neurosis. For example, what he refers to as Sunday neurosis is, "the kind of depression which afflicts people who become aware of a lack of content in their lives when the rush of the busy week is over and the void within them becomes manifest." He added, "sometimes the frustrated will to meaning is compensated for by a will to power, including the most primitive form of the will to power, the will to money. In other cases the place of the frustrated will to meaning is taken by the will to pleasure. That is why existential frustration often leads to sexual compensation. We can observe in such cases that the sexual libido becomes rampant in the existential vacuum." Psychologist Carl Jung believed that people who are without God and hope are inclined to become neurotic. For example he wrote, “In thirty years I have treated many patients in the second half of life. Every one of them became ill because he or she had lost that which the living religions in every age have given their followers, (i.e. religious experience and a sense of ultimate meaning) and none of them was fully healed who did not regain his religious outlook.”
Is it any wonder then that in par. 19 of the Vat II document, The Church in the Modern World we read, "Atheism must be accounted among the most serious problems of this age. . . The word atheism is applied to phenomena which are quite distinct . . .while God is expressly denied by some (i.e. atheism), others believe that man can assert absolutely nothing about him (i.e. agnosticism)." Although a person may not consciously deny the existence or knowability of God, he or she may live as a practical atheist. Pope John Paul referred to such people when he said in par 9 of The Church in Europe that they live "as if God does not exist." The Gallup International Association poll of 2011, titled the Global Index of Religion and Atheism, asked 50,000 people in 57 countries: “Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship or not, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious person or a convinced atheist?” In 2011, 47% of Irish respondents said they considered themselves religious, 44% not religious, and 10% convinced atheists. As G.K. Chesterton is alleged to have said, "When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing — they believe in anything." That is a perceptive observation because, although they don't believe in God, many unbelievers will often espouse occult and New Age beliefs and practices. As a result they often say about themselves that although they are not religious they are spiritual.
Recent Popes have commented a good deal on the contemporary phenomenon of unbelief. St John Paul II said repeatedly in his writings that par 24 of the Vat II document on The Church in the Modern World was a teaching of major significance. It taught that alienation from God inevitably means alienation from one's own deeper self. For instance in par. 38 of his encyclical letter Faith and Reason he wrote, “When God is forgotten the creature itself grows unintelligible.” In par. 90 he went on to say that unbelief, “in turn makes it possible to erase from the countenance of men and women the marks of their likeness to God and thus leads them little by little either to a destructive will to power or to a solitude without hope.” The Pope warned in The Gospel of Life that the destructive will to power can find expression in evils such as abortion, euthanasia and modern warfare, which he referred to as the culture of death. Speaking in a homily about how lonely life can be without God, John Paul said, “Isn’t existential solitude perhaps the profound source of all the dissatisfaction we also perceive in our day? So much insecurity, so many thoughtless reactions originate in our having abandoned God, the rock of our salvation.” In par. 27 of his encyclical The Hope of Salvation, Pope Benedict wrote, "anyone who does not know God, even though he may entertain all kinds of hopes, is ultimately without hope, without the great hope that sustains the whole of life. Man's great, true hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God—God who has loved us and who continues to love us."
Hope for the hopeless
What Popes John Paul and Benedict have said is so true. They point out however, that usually there is a certain openness to faith present in the experience of contemporary unbelievers.
a] Nostalgia for the infinite
Pope Paul VI added in par. 55 of Evangelisation in the Modern World, “one cannot deny the existence of real steppingstones to Christianity, and of evangelical values at least in the form of a sense of emptiness or nostalgia. It would not be an exaggeration to say that there exists a powerful and tragic appeal to be evangelised.” In par 45 of The Church in Europe St John Paul observed, "Even if it remains unexpressed or even repressed, this is the most profound and genuine plea rising from the hearts of Europeans today, who yearn for a hope which does not disappoint." Pope Francis echoed that sentiment in par. 165 of The Joy of the Gospel, "It is the gospel message which is capable of responding to the desire for the infinite which abides in every human heart."
b] Unconditional belonging
Traditionally, evangelisation involved three things, right Belief, right Behaviour and a consequent sense of Belonging. We would tell non-believers what Christians believe and invite them to share our faith. Then we would tell them how Christians behave and invite them to do likewise. If they did both they would truly belong to the Christian community. In secular, postmodern society, where individualism is widespread and social alienation is common, people have an overriding need for a feeling of unconditional belonging. Arguably this is a key to effective evangelisation. Religious people are, literally, those who are bound together by a common experience of loving friendship that simultaneously connects them to one another, to their deepest identities and ultimately to God through Christ. If the spiritual pilgrims of our day experience a sense of unconditional belonging within a caring Christian community, they will be more likely to be interested in the Christian beliefs that sustain that community. Pope Francis stressed this point when he spoke to members of the Pontifical Council for promoting the New Evangelisation, in Oct 2013 “No one is excluded from the hope of life and God’s love. The Church “is sent to reawaken everywhere this hope, especially where it is suffocated by difficult and at times inhuman existential conditions, where hope cannot breathe. … We need the oxygen of the Gospel, the breath of the Spirit of the Risen Christ, to reignite [hope] in our hearts. The Church is the house where the doors are always open not only to welcome everyone in to breathe love and hope, but also so we can take this love and hope outside.” I suspect that one of the reasons why the Alpha course has been so successful in evangelising non believers is the fact that it creates a sense of belonging for the spiritual pilgrims of our day by means of the meal that often precedes the teaching at the meetings.
c] The need for dialogue
St John Paul used to say that believers should dialogue with unbelievers as St Paul did at the Areogapus near the Acropolis in Athens. Pope Benedict used to talk of such dialogue with unbelievers taking place in the Court of the Gentiles in the temple, in Jerusalem. Speaking about such dialogue, Pope Francis says in par. 128 of Joy of the Gospel," The first step [to faith] is personal dialogue, when the needy person speaks and shares his or her joys, hopes and concerns for loved ones, or so many other heartfelt needs. Only afterwards is it possible to bring up God's word, perhaps by reading a Bible verse or relating a story, but always keeping in mind the fundamental message: the personal love of God who became man, who gave himself up for us, who is living and who offers us his salvation and his friendship."
d] Deeds of power
When we welcome people into the Christian community thereby giving them a sense of unconditional belonging, they my be interested in our personal faith stories which will contain the core Christian beliefs. We can also offer to pray for and with them. If we exercise the charisms of power in doing so they can really help an unbeliever to have faith in the kerygma. As Cardinal Danneels of Belgium has written, "In times of crisis like today, the Spirit multiplies its gifts. It is not surprising therefore that in our era, greater attention should be given to the charisms in a Catholic milieu. . . the more the life of the people of God is harsh, the more God grants his gifts. What would be the particular gifts today which the Lord gives us? Would it not be faith which moves mountains, which brings about miracles and which thus gives weight to the proclamation of the gospel?" For example, a young man who was an unbeliever came to the Travellers mission in London. He was so impressed by the sense of belonging, sincere faith and the healings he witnessed, that he decided to become a Catholic and is currently receiving instruction in the faith.
You may remember how, a few months ago, Paddy O'Keefe drew our attention to some prophetic observation Joseph Ratzinger had made in 1969 about the future of the Church. Among other things he said that the Church would go through a painful time of purification. “It will become small and will have to start pretty much all over again. It will no longer have use of the structures it built in its years of prosperity. The reduction in the number of faithful will lead to it losing an important part of its social privileges.” It will start off with small groups and movements and a minority that will make faith central to experience again. “It will be a more spiritual Church, and will not claim a political mandate flirting with the Right one minute and the Left the next. It will be poor and will become the Church of the destitute.”The process outlined by Ratzinger was a “long” one “but when all the suffering is past, a great power will emerge from a more spiritual and simple Church,” at which point humans will realise that they live in a world of “indescribable solitude” and having lost sight of God “they will perceive the horror of their poverty.” Then and only then, Ratzinger concluded, will they see “that small flock of faithful as something completely new: they will see it as a source of hope for themselves, the answer they had always secretly been searching for." Sounds like the greatest age of evangelisation that the world has ever seen which was prophesied by Ralph Martin in St Peter's Basilica on Easter Monday 1975, one which would lead to the New Springtime for Christianity prophesied by St John Paul II on a number of occasions.
Evangelisation and the Kerygma
When the Synod of Bishops on The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith came to a conclusion in 2012, it published a series of 57 propositions. In Number 47 it said, "This Synod considers that it is necessary to establish formation centres for the New Evangelization, where lay people learn how to speak of the person of Christ in a persuasive manner adapted to our time and to specific groups of people such as young people, agnostics, the elderly and so forth." The members of the New Springtime are trying to respond to the need for lay formation for the new evangelization in three main ways.
1] By designing a six week long course for parishes entitled "The New Evangelisation in the Parish,"
2] By teaching a 26 week long certificate course on the new evangelisation.
3] By conducting and a yearly Summer School on some relevant aspect of evangelisation. This year we have chosen to look at five themes from Pope Francis's apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, (The Joy of the Gospel).
In this introductory input I will focus mainly on what the Pope has to say about the kerygma or core proclamation of the Christian faith.
In the Acts of the apostles five interrelated aspects of Christian community are discernible.
1. Kerygma, i.e., the proclamation by means of preaching of the basic Christian message, that of Jesus (i.e. the coming of the kingdom) and that of St Paul (i.e. justification by grace through faith) and the early Church (In six points which can be summarized by saying Jesus Christ is Lord).
2. Koinonia, i.e., Christian fellowship/community, being one in mind and heart and caring for one another.
3. Didache, i.e. teaching for discipleship based on the kerygma.
4. Leitourgia, i.e., prayer, and celebrating the Eucharist. "The worthy celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, God's most treasured gift to us, is the source of the highest expression of our life in Christ. It is, therefore, the primary and most powerful expression of the new evangelization." Prop. 35 of The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.
5. Diakonia, i.e., service of one's neighbours by means of such things as deeds of mercy and action for justice.
In the past there was very little emphasis on the kerygma in Catholic theology. I can remember that when I was part of a mission team conducting parish missions in the late 80's and early 90's we talked about subjects such as prayer, suffering, Our Lady, and the Eucharist. I can remember saying to my colleagues that many of the people coming to our missions were not fully evangelised. I suggested that we focus on preaching the kerygma much was being done in Life in the Spirit Seminars. Otherwise our catechesis would be built on sand. I didn't get a favourable response. However around that time I have noticed that in ground breaking documents such as Evangelii Nuntiandi 1976 (hereafter EN) and Redemptoris Missio 1991 (hereafter RM) the kerygma began to be highlighted. Paul VI referred briefly to the kerygma in EN 22, "This proclamation - kerygma, . . . occupies such an important place in evangelization that it has often become synonymous with it; and yet it is only one aspect of evangelization." Speaking about its content he said in EN 27, "in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, who died and rose from the dead, salvation is offered to all men, as a gift of God's grace and mercy. "
St John Paul II also adverted briefly to the kerygma in RM 16. He wrote, "The preaching of the early Church was centred on the proclamation of Jesus Christ, with whom the kingdom was identified. Now, as then, there is a need to unite the proclamation of the kingdom of God (the content of Jesus' own "kerygma") and the proclamation of the Christ-event (the "kerygma" of Paul and the early Church). The two proclamations are complementary; each throws light on the other." In RM 44 John Paul added, "In the complex reality of mission, initial proclamation has a central and irreplaceable role, since it introduces man "into the mystery of the love of God, who invites him to enter into a personal relationship with himself in Christ" and opens the way to conversion. Faith is born of preaching, and every ecclesial community draws its origin and life from the personal response of each believer to that preaching. Just as the whole economy of salvation has its centre in Christ, so too all missionary activity is directed to the proclamation of his mystery."
When the synod on the New Evangelisation ended in 2012 Proposition 9 on Initial Proclamation stressed the importance of the kerygma. "The foundation of all initial proclamation . . . makes prominent an explicit announcement of salvation. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1 Cor 15:3-5)." The bishops went on to add; "We consider it necessary that there be a Pastoral Plan of Initial Proclamation, teaching a living encounter with Jesus Christ. This pastoral document would provide the first elements for the catechetical process, enabling its insertion into the lives of the parish communities.
The Synod Fathers propose that guidelines for the initial proclamation of the kerygma be written. This compendium would include:
1. Systematic teaching on the kerygma in Scripture and the Tradition of the Catholic Church.
2. Teachings and quotations from the missionary saints and martyrs in our Catholic history that would assist us in our pastoral challenges of today.
3. Qualities and guidelines for the formation of Catholic evangelizers today."
Clearly Pope Francis took account of that proposition because he has more to say about the central importance of the kerygma in Evangelii Gaudium (hereafter EG) than any previous papal document. It will be interesting to see whether the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation publishes a compendium such as the Synod recommended. It would be a very interesting and useful resource.
Evangelii Gaudium on the Kerygma
1] What is the kerygma?
In EG 36 Pope Francis talks about the hierarchy of truths, i.e. the fact that some Christian teachings "are more important for giving direct expression to the heart of the Gospel." In the same paragraph he refers to the foundational truth when he writes, "In this basic core, what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead." Pope Francis returns to the same topic in par.164, when he writes, "the first proclamation must ring out over and over:
· “Jesus Christ loves you" (cf. Jn 15:9, "As the Father loves me, so also I love you. Remain in my love.)
· "He gave his life to save you" (cf. Rom 5:7-8, "Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare
to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.")
· "And now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” (cf. Phil 2:13, "it is God who works in you to will and to act
according to his good purpose").
A number of years ago I spent months asking the Lord to experience his love more intensely than hitherto, but nothing seemed to happen. Then I went on an eight-day, directed retreat. When I arrived at the Jesuit retreat centre I was told that Mass was about to begin. When the gospel was read, I was a little disappointed when the priest said he wasn’t going to give a homily. Instead he wanted us to engage in a prayer exercise. He asked all of us to close our eyes and to allow any scene from the passion of Christ to spontaneously come to mind. When I closed mine, I immediately imagined I was in the crowd watching Simon of Cyrene reluctantly helping Jesus to carry his cross to Calvary. Then, inexplicably, I imagined that the soldiers forced me to replace Simon and that I was the one helping Jesus to carry his cross. Then the priest said, “Have you got an image from the passion in your mind? If you have, I want you to imagine that Jesus is looking at you and saying, “I’m glad that you are with me, accompanying me in my sufferings.” In my mind’s eye I saw Jesus turn his head and look back at me and say that he was glad that I was helping him in his passion. I was strangely moved and my eyes became moist with tears. I must admit that I weep easily, but I rarely do so when I pray. So I was surprised, that I was so emotional on this occasion. I thought to myself, what is it that has moved me so deeply? Immediately I realized that the words of Jesus, “Pat I’m glad that you are with me, accompanying me in my sufferings” were enormously reassuring. At that very moment copious tears poured from my eyes. Without thinking, I was vividly aware of a number of things.
Firstly, although I sometimes felt that I was being called to be a priest during my childhood and adolescence, I wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea. I didn’t find the prospect of being poor, celibate and obedient very attractive. But when I was 18 I had a religious experience which was so powerful that I felt that, just as Simon had been press-ganged by the soldiers when he was on his way to engage in his own worldly pursuits in Jerusalem, so God had hijacked me when I was intending to study medicine in the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin. As a result, I joined the seminary three days later.
Secondly, during my years of formation I had sometimes hoped that I would get sick or would be asked to leave. In the event most of the other students left, and after eight years I was ordained. Although I tried to give my best to the priesthood over the years, I often felt guilty because I had a divided heart. Part of me wanted to serve God, while the other part still wanted, like Simon of Cyrene, to do my own worldly thing. I often recalled the words of Jesus in Rev 3:15, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm-- neither hot nor cold-- I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” I wondered how could the Lord love me, or act powerfully through me in view of the fact that I was often lukewarm? But when Jesus looked at me and said, "I’m glad that you are accompanying me in my passion," I knew that he knew all about my divided heart, my many failures and equivocations and yet, in spite of everything he loved and accepted me the way I was. I felt that he was overlooking all my faults and honouring my good intentions while saying “well done good and faithful servant, my favour rests upon you.” This knowledge of the unmerited gift of divine mercy so filled me with joy, that copious tears poured down my cheeks on to the light grey shirt I was wearing. In the words of 1 Jn 4:16, I knew and believed in the love that God had for me in Christ. In the depths of my heart I received the grace to accept that I was accepted by God, and that Christ truly lived in me (cf. Rm 8:1). In fact, every time I recalled the Lord’s words over the next eight days, tears of joyful consolation flowed again. I knew from that experience what St. Peter meant when he said, “though you do not see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy” (1 Pt 1:8.) During that blessed retreat I experienced, as never before, the liberating power of the kerygma. It travelled from my head to my heart in such a way that I could say with St. Paul, “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
2] The Kerygma as centre of all evangelisation
In EG 164 Pope Francis highlights the importance of the core Christian teaching when he writes, "the first announcement or kerygma, needs to be the centre of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church renewal." The word all is significant in that sentence. Commenting on the central importance of the kerygma, Francis explains in EG 164, "This first proclamation is called “first” not because it exists at the beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things. It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment." In EG 165 the Pope adds, "We must not think that in catechesis the kerygma gives way to a supposedly more “solid” formation. Nothing is more solid, profound, secure, meaningful and wisdom-filled than that initial proclamation. All Christian formation consists of entering more deeply into the kerygma, which is reflected in and constantly illumines, the work of catechesis, thereby enabling us to understand more fully the significance of every subject which the latter treats. It is the message capable of responding to the desire for the infinite which abides in every human heart."
3] What the kerygma should stress
EG 165, "The centrality of the kerygma calls for stressing those elements which are most needed today:
a) It has to express God’s saving love which precedes any moral and religious obligation on our part. During the certificate Course we stressed that evangelisation does not focus on people's sins. Rather it focuses first, and foremost on the love of God. The notion of consequential conversion is often misunderstood insofar as it is viewed primarily as behavioural change, of “giving up yer aul sins.” The Greek word for repentance, however, is metanoia which literally means, “a change of mind,” i.e. in one’s thinking about God, one which afterwards may lead to a change in behaviour. The story of the prodigal son in Lk 15:11-32 is an outstanding example of this understanding of conversion. There is no indication that the boy changed his behaviour, but he did change his image of his father as a result of experiencing the unexpected gift of his unconditional love. In an interview Pope criticized those homilies “which should be kerygmatic but end up speaking about everything that has a connection with sex. And so we end up forgetting the treasure of Jesus alive, the treasure of the Holy Spirit present in our hearts, the treasure of a project of Christian life that has many implications that go much further than mere sexual questions. In EG 38 he he warns against the danger of "speaking more about law than grace, more about the Church than about Christ, more about the Pope than about God's word."
b) Proclamation of the Kerygma should not impose the truth but appeal to freedom. Evangelists avoid pressuring would be converts in any way. This point is stressed on the Irish Alpha Website. The pope speaks about freedom in AG 280 where he says, "There is no greater freedom than that of allowing oneself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, renouncing the attempt to plan and control everything to the last detail, and instead letting him enlighten, guide and direct us leading us wherever he wills."
c) Proclamation of the kerygma should be marked by joy, encouragement, liveliness and a harmonious balance which will not reduce preaching to a few doctrines which are at times more philosophical than evangelical. All this demands on the part of the evangelizer certain attitudes which foster openness to the message: approachability, readiness for dialogue, patience, a warmth and welcome which is non-judgmental." Marshall McLuhan used to say that the medium is the message Marshall McLuhan said many years ago that "the medium is the message." In other words, a person who shares the joy-filled message of the Gospel will not be convincing unless he or she embodies the message by means of his or her own joy, openness, non-judgemental attitude etc. In EG the Pope says, "An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral," In EG 42 Francis says, "We need to remember that all religious teaching ultimately has to be reflected in the teacher’s way of life, which awakens the assent of the heart by its nearness, love and witness." In EG 38. Pope Francis talks about balanced evangelisation when he says, "if in the course of the liturgical year a parish priest speaks about temperance ten times but only mentions charity or justice two or three times, an imbalance results . . . the same thing happens when we speak more about law than about grace, more about the Church than about Christ, more about the Pope than about God’s word."
In EG ."165, the Pope writes, "All Christian formation consists of entering more deeply into the kerygma." Some time ago Pope Francis was interviewed by Fr Antonio Spadaro, S.J. I want to conclude with one thing the Pope said in the course of that interview. “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you."
Structural Changes in Parishes - A Call to Conversion
The title of input 12 of the Certificate course is "Conversion as the aim of the New Evangelisation." It begins by stating that we are all familiar with the conversion stories of well known saints such as Paul, Augustine, and Ignatius of Loyola. The notion of conversion as acceptance of Jesus and his gospel is central in evangelisation. That is made clear in RM 46 where St John Paul II wrote, “The proclamation of the Word of God has Christian conversion [my italics] as its aim: a complete and sincere adherence to Christ and his Gospel through faith. Conversion is a gift of God, a work of the Blessed Trinity.” As you can see this is a personal understanding of conversion which would describe the experience of an unbeliever becoming a Christian, or a churched or unchurched person coming to personal faith in Jesus Christ. Needless to say this understanding of conversion is both valid and important.
Conversion as change in church structures
However, in prop. 22 of the Synod of Bishops on The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith a second understanding of conversion was mentioned. Having stated that, "The New Evangelization requires personal and communal conversion," it went on to add, "The New Evangelization guides us to an authentic pastoral conversion which moves us to attitudes and initiatives which lead to evaluations and changes in the dynamics of pastoral structures which no longer respond to the evangelical demands of the current time." When one reads EG it is clear that Pope Francis talks mainly about conversion in these structural terms, as the call to change the ways in which the parish, diocese and even the Vatican is organized in order to make them better able to carry out the missionary mandate. In EG 26 the Pontiff states, "The Second Vatican Council presented ecclesial conversion as openness to a constant self-renewal born of fidelity to Jesus Christ." In EG 27 Francis added that the call to evangelise would be the main criterion that would determine what structural changes were needed, "I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation."
The Parish as the Centre of the New Evangelisation
Pope Francis is quite familiar with parish life. Speaking about the nature of the parish he says in EG 28, "The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration. In all its activities the parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelizers. It is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a centre of constant missionary outreach. We must admit, though, that the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to people, to make them environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission-oriented." It is clear that he sees parishes as the focal point of the new evangelisation. In EG 28 he says, "While certainly not the only institution which evangelises, if the parish proves capable of self-renewal and constant adaptability, it continues to be “the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters”. This presumes that it really is in contact with the homes and the lives of its people, and does not become a useless structure out of touch with people or a self-absorbed group made up of a chosen few." In recent years many of those who have written about evangelisation in the parish have asked the question, are the structures of the parish more devoted to maintenance than to mission? It is clear that Pope Francis identifies with that question. In EG 25 he says, "I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. “Mere administration” can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be “permanently in a state of mission.” In EG 27 he quotes some words which John Paul II addressed to the bishops of Oceania, "All renewal in the Church must have mission as its goal if it is not to fall prey to a kind of ecclesial introversion."
Structures should facilitate evangelisation
In EG 26 Francis observes that, "There are ecclesial structures which can hamper efforts at evangelisation, yet even good structures are only helpful when there is a life constantly driving, sustaining and assessing them. Without new life and an authentic evangelical spirit, without the Church’s “fidelity to her own calling”, any new structure will soon prove ineffective." So not surprisingly he says in EG 33, "Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: “We have always done it this way”. I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelisation in their respective communities. A proposal of goals without an adequate communal search for the means of achieving them will inevitably prove illusory." Here is a checklist of questions which are designed to establish whether a parish is missionary in its orientation.
If a parish cannot answer yes to at least six of these questions, it probably means that it is too inward looking. Unfortunately, there would be nothing unusual in that. Not surprisingly, although Francis advocates the need for structural changes which facilitate missionary activity, obviously he cannot specify what changes are needed in individual parishes because of their differences. Speaking about the current situation the Pope says in EG 28, "We must admit, though, that the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to people, to make them environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission-oriented."
Perhaps one of the reasons for the success of the book, Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter by Michael White and Tom Corcoran is that it is about the kind of structural change the Pope has in mind. The authors say that their aim is to create disciples of the Lord who see evangelisation as the very purpose of the Church's existence.
Prayer and Prophetic Vision
There is a verse in the Amplified Bible which reads, “Where there is no vision [i.e. no revelation of God], the people perish” (Prov 29:18) and again, “For lack of guidance a people falls” (Prov 11:14). That being true the first thing that the priests and people need in the parish is a God inspired vision for the future of the community. Too often in church circles when people decide to plan for the future, a quick prayer is said at the beginning of the meeting and then the participants get down to the serious work of discussing possibilities and setting goals. The danger is that instead of being guided by the Spirit, as Paul advocates in Gal 5:18, they are guided by their own natural thinking and pre-conceived ideas. However, as scripture warns us in Ps 127:1, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.” The parish council needs to organise meetings during which any and every parishioner who so wishes can speak about their hopes for the future. Following this prayerful process the pastoral council needs to write a new mission statement which includes a reference to evangelisation together with a parish plan with specified action steps that stipulate who will do what.
The notion of systemic change is a relatively modern one. As a Church leader from South America, Pope Francis is familiar with the notion, partly as a result of his acquaintance with liberation theology and the Jesuit commitment to social justice. He seems to think that there is no change, either missionary or in favour of the poor unless there is a change in structures. Eddie Molloy, a management consultant in Dublin has described how clergy and parish leaders typically resist the types of change the Pope advocates. Here are some examples.
1] The good education priests receive equips them to rationalize their inactivity better than an alcoholic. For example, "Yes we should help the poor, but who are the poor materially, psychologically, spiritually . . . the rich can be the poorest of all."
2] They are already doing good work which would have to be left undone if they were to devote their energies to structural change.
3] Their status makes them fearful of making a mistake that could lead to a loss of face and authority.
4] The suggestion that some new need ought to be addressed is taken as a criticism of current commitments.
5] Priests will sometimes say, we must be careful not to hurt people. They would feel guilty about imposing change on them against their will.
6] Compared with secular institutions you cannot hire and fire clergy as a means of renewing a parish.
7] Many clergy wrongly feel that if change involves sharing power/influence with the laity, it will lessen theirs.
8] There is an inbuilt tendency to conform. Non conformity is seen as inimical to the good of the parish. Clerical organisations tend to expel or sideline their prophets.
9] They are already overworked due to the clergy shortage and clustering of parishes. Change will require more work. Therefore it is not possible.
10] One reason clergy do not change parish structures is that they do not really appreciate what the new evangelisation is all about.
Molloy says that clergy will usually avoid negative blocking. They are more likely to express their resistance to change as a conscientious concern for accuracy, charity, harmony, time to develop, protection of the parish, avoidance of scandal etc. How can these obstacles be overcome? It is not easy. But it helps if they can be identified.
Evangelising the Least, the Last and the Lost
It is arguable that the long section on the poor is the most controversial in EG. Needless to say Pope Francis points to the example of Christ. In EG 197 he talks about the fact that Jesus the evangeliser of the poor lived as a poor man himself. St Paul noted, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). In the Incarnation the Word divested himself of his divine glory to be born as a vulnerable baby in the poverty of the stable of Bethlehem. Scripture scholars tell us that it is was significant that the first people who come to show him honour were the shepherds, poor people who the Scribes and Pharisees would have thought of as cursed. So, already implicit in this story is an intimation that Jesus had come to bring Good News to the poor. As his mother said in a prophetic way, “He has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty” (Lk 1:52-53). Apparently, by birth and upbringing, Jesus was not one of the really poor or oppressed. However, when he embarked on his public ministry he seemed to freely choose to live as a poor man. As he himself testified, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head" (Mt 8:20).
In EG 197, Pope Francis also highlights the fact that Jesus made a preferential option for the poor. St. Luke tells us that early in his public ministry he came to Nazareth shortly after his baptism in the Jordan. On the Sabbath he took part in the weekly liturgy. As a lay man noted for learning and piety, Jesus was invited to choose a reading from the prophets and to comment on it. He solemnly and deliberately chose to read from Is 61:1-2 which begins with these momentous words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Lk 4:18-19). Then we are told, “he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (Lk 4:20-21). This was Jesus’ mission statement, his solemn declaration of purpose.
Who exactly were the poor? The word used in the Greek text of Luke’s gospel is ptochos. William Barclay says that it has three interrelated meanings. Firstly, it refers to those who have very few worldly possessions. Secondly, it refers to the down trodden and oppressed. Thirdly, it refers to those who have little or no worldly power or prestige. The majority of people were materially and spiritually poor in our Lord’s day. He knew from personal experience what they had to endure. Taxes were heavy. Famines were frequent. Emigration was high. Roman rule was cruel. Physical and mental diseases were many and incurable. But the principal suffering of the poor was their sense of alienation from God. In Luke 6:20, Jesus spoke to those who lacked material possessions, "Blessed are you who are poor,” he declared, “for yours is the kingdom of God.” In Mt 5:3 the words of Jesus were addressed to those who were suffering from an inwardly sense of deprivation, "Blessed are the poor in spirit,” he announced, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The Synod of Bishops of 2012 spoke relatively briefly about evangelisation of and by the poor in prop 31 when it said, "Today there are new poor and new faces of poverty: the hungry, the homeless, the sick and abandoned, drug addicts, migrants and the marginalized, political and environmental refugees, the indigenous peoples. The current economic crisis seriously affects the poor. Among the poorest in contemporary society are the victims of grievous loss of respect for the inviolable dignity of innocent human life. The preferential option for the poor leads us to seek out the poor and to work on their behalf so that they may feel at home in the Church. They are both recipients and actors in the New Evangelization." What is really striking in EG 186-216 is the fact that Francis has so much more to say about the poor than the Synod of bishops. For the sake of clarity and brevity I am going to highlight four points that he makes. There are others I know but we will focus on these.
A] The Kerygma and the poor
In EG 177, Pope Francis says, "The kerygma has a clear social content." In EG 187 he adds, "Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society."
B] Deeds of mercy
One way of expressing the love of Christ is to have a heart for the poor and to respond with compassion to their needs. In EG 193 Pope Francis refers to the teaching of scripture in this regard, "The wisdom literature sees almsgiving as a concrete exercise of mercy towards those in need: “Almsgiving delivers from death, and it will purge away every sin” (Tob 12:9). The idea is expressed even more graphically by Sirach: “Water extinguishes blazing fire: so almsgiving atones for sin” (Sir 3:30). The same synthesis appears in the New Testament: “Maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8). This truth greatly influenced the thinking of the Fathers of the Church and helped create a prophetic, counter-cultural resistance to the self-centred hedonism of paganism." When I was living in Phibsborough one of my colleagues was outstanding in this regard. He seemed to know all the homeless in our parish. On Christmas day he rarely attended the Christmas dinner because he was going around the parish with lay people in order to bring to bring Christmas dinner to those living on the streets. I also discovered that he had a scheme whereby ex-prisoners and homeless young people could do gardening in order to produce flowers and vegetables for sale. The project brought in over 100,000 euro a year which was paid out to the young people. There are many organizations such as the Vincent de Paul Society and the Simon Community which express the love of Jesus by doing deeds of mercy.
C] Action for justice
In the talk on conversion I pointed to the fact that Pope Francis talks a lot about the need for systemic changes in parishes that will enable them to be better able to express the missionary impulse. It is much the same when it comes to the poor. It is not enough to tell the poor that God loves them, we have to work hard to lessen the burden of injustice that so often weighs them down. We need to identify the unjust structures of society and do what we can to change them. In EG 194 the Pope speaks a cautionary word to conservative Catholics when he says, "We should not be concerned simply about falling into doctrinal error, but about remaining faithful to this light-filled path of life and wisdom. For “defenders of orthodoxy are sometimes accused of passivity, indulgence, or culpable complicity regarding the intolerable situations of injustice and the political regimes which prolong them.”
Although the Pope denies that he is speaking from the point of view of any particular political ideology, he sounds a little like some left wing politicians when he insists on putting people before profit. He explains in EG 199, "The poor person, when loved, “is esteemed as of great value”, and this is what makes the authentic option for the poor differ from any other ideology, from any attempt to exploit the poor for one’s own personal or political interest." In EG 202 Francis says, "As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills." In EG 204 he adds, "We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality." There are people and groups who are struggling to change things along the lines the Pope suggests here in Ireland such as the Vincent de Paul Society. It commissions research into injustices and makes yearly submissions at budget time which propose changes in laws and social welfare. Fr. Peter McVerry, of the Peter Mc Verry Trust is much respected as an advocate on behalf of the homeless. In Italy I met an extraordinary woman called Chiara Amirante founder of the Community of the New Horizons. By the way she learned her English here in Dublin and ministered to people on the streets here. Although her community is dedicated to the new evangelisation, a great deal of its work focuses on the poor and the homeless. This is so because Chiara began her evangelistic work by talking to poor people outside Termini train station in Rome. Soon afterwards she gave up her job and decided to work full time for street people. To that end she came up with the idea of a community to take people in, where the only rule was to try to live out the Gospel. Nowadays, New Horizons has over 207 shelters and education centres. They have even expanded beyond Italy to Brazil. I know that the Pope is a great admirer of what she does. I think he sees her ministry as an example of what he has in mind in EG.
D] Spiritual care of the poor
In EG 200 Pope Francis has these interesting words to share, "I want to say, with regret, that the worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care. The great majority of the poor have a special openness to the faith; they need God and we must not fail to offer them his friendship, his blessing, his word, the celebration of the sacraments and a journey of growth and maturity in the faith. Our preferential option for the poor must mainly translate into a privileged and preferential religious care." Although it is important that the poor are helped in material ways, and that people fight for their rights, it is not enough. Their spiritual needs cannot be neglected. And to help satisfy those needs is an integral part of the new evangelisation. The success of the Alpha Course in prisons is an example of this kind of spiritual care. I know that those who conduct such courses are planning here in Dublin to provide spiritual care for ex-prisoners in order to ease their way back into society. It is a big challenge for all of us. What in practical terms can we do to help the poor in a spiritual way, while being mindful of the fact that in giving we will receive spiritually from them. As Pope Francis says in EG 199, "They have much to teach us."
Those of us who are dedicated to primary evangelisation by proclaiming the kerygma are not used to the way of thinking which the Pope proposes with regard to the poor. What he says is very challenging. It raises a number of questions.
1. Could I live a simpler life style, one which would bring me closer to the poor?
2. Am I generous in terms of almsgiving to the poor?
3. Is there anything I could do, in practical terms, to work for justice, greater equality and a fairer distribution of wealth?
4. Is there any way I/we could help with the evangelisation of the poorest people in today's society?
(Welcome to any visitors who were at the Ealing day of renewal. These notes were the basis of my two talks)
Faith of the Evangeliser
Forms of faith
Like many other important religious words, faith can have a number of meanings. I think there are three of them which can be looked at from the point of view of head heart and hands..
· Firstly, there is faith which is seen as the assent of the mind to the truths taught by the Church on Christ’s behalf. This was the kind of faith mentioned in par 155 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace."
· Secondly, there is faith which is seen as the trust of the heart in the person and message of God, and in a special way of Jesus Christ. Bl. John Paul II seemed to have this understanding of faith in mind when he said in par. 51 of the Lord and Giver of Life, “faith, in its deepest essence, is the openness of the human heart to the gift of God's self- communication in the Holy Spirit.” The charism of faith would be seen as particularly strong form of trust which is expressed in either petitionary prayer or the prayer of command.
· Thirdly, there is faith seen as as the action of the hands. While Catholics believe that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ and not by good works, we also believe that faith is not authentic unless it expresses itself in good works. As St James wrote, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (Jm 2:17).
Each of these different ways of looking at faith is valid. However, it could be argued that faith as trust in God and God’s word, leads to the assent of the mind and will to what is revealed, and afterwards expresses itself in practical action. In this talk I will be mainly talking about faith as trust in the person and message of Christ. I have two main points. Firstly, that only those who have a deep, Christ centred faith will want to evangelise and have the conviction and ability to do so effectively. Secondly, the purpose of evangelisation is to evoke saving faith in the hearts of those who are evangelised and to build upon that foundation by means of catechesis. In this first talk I will speak about the faith of the evangelisers.
There is a Latin phrase which says, nemo dat quod non habet, namely, “no one gives what he doesn't have.” Archbishop Fulton Sheen expressed a similar idea when he said, “Our Lord’s first word to His disciples was ‘come!’ His last word was ‘go!’ You can’t ‘go’ unless you’ve first ‘come’ to Him.” I want to refer to four important ways in which we come to Christ in faith.
1] Faith in the person of Jesus as God and man
I was ordained after eight years of study. At that time I knew a lot about the person of Jesus but I didn’t know him in person. I didn’t really know Jesus until I experienced a spiritual awakening. Then I could say with St. Paul, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Phil 3:8-9). As a result of my new found faith I had a sense that Christ lived in my heart. As St Paul said, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God” (Gal 2:20). As a result of these realizations I got to really appreciate what is said in par 521 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Christ enables us to live in him all that he himself lived and he lives it in us.” He is my Siamese twin, so to speak. We are inseparably linked and I seek to continue and fulfill his ministry.
B] Faith in the forgiveness of Jesus
When I had my spiritual awakening, and on a number of memorable occasions afterwards I had a strong experiential conviction that all my sins were forgiven, not because of any merit or good works of mine, but solely because of the free gift of Christ’s saving mercy. I came to appreciate what Paul meant when he said in Eph 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” A number of years ago I had been asking the Lord for months to experience his love more intensely than hitherto but nothing seemed to happen. Then I went on an eight-day, directed retreat. When I arrived at the Jesuit retreat centre I was told that Mass was about to begin. When the gospel was read, I was a little disappointed when the priest said he wasn’t going to give a homily. Instead he wanted us to engage in a prayer exercise. He asked all of us retreatants to close our eyes and to allow any scene from the passion of Christ to spontaneously come to mind. When I closed mine, I immediately imagined I was in the crowd watching Simon of Cyrene reluctantly helping Jesus to carry his cross to Calvary. Then, inexplicably, I imagined that the soldiers forced me to replace Simon and that I was the one helping Jesus to carry his cross. Then the priest said, “Have you got an image from the passion in your mind? If you have, I want you to imagine that Jesus is looking at you and saying, “I’m glad that you are with me, accompanying me in my sufferings.” In my heart I saw Jesus turn his head and look back at me and say that he was glad that I was helping him in his passion. I was strangely moved and my eyes became moist with tears. I must admit that I weep easily, but I rarely do so when I pray. So I was surprised, that I was so emotional on this occasion. I thought to myself, what is it that has moved you so deeply? Immediately I realized that the words of Jesus, “Pat I’m glad that you are with me, accompanying me in my sufferings” were enormously reassuring. At that very moment copious tears poured from my eyes. Without thinking, I was vividly aware of a number of things.
Firstly, although I sometimes felt that I was being called to be a priest during my childhood and adolescence, I wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea. I didn’t find the prospect of being poor, celibate and obedient very attractive. But when I was 18 I had a religious experience which was so powerful that I felt that, just as Simon had been press-ganged by the soldiers when he was on his way to engage in his worldly pursuits in Jerusalem, so God had hijacked me when I was intending to study medicine in the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin. As a result, I joined the seminary three days later.
Secondly, during my college years I had sometimes hoped that I would get sick or would be asked to leave. In the event most of the other students left, and after eight years I was ordained. Although I tried to give my best to the priesthood over the years, I had often felt guilty because I I had a divided heart. Part of me wanted to serve God, while the other part still wanted, like Simon of Cyrene, to do my own worldly thing. I often recalled the words of Jesus in Rev 3:15: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm-- neither hot nor cold-- I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” So I wondered how could the Lord love me, or act powerfully through me? But when Jesus looked at me and said, "I’m glad that you are accompanying me in my passion," I knew that he knew all about my divided heart, my many failures and equivocations. Yet in spite of everything he loved and accepted me the way I was. I felt that he was mercifully overlooking all my faults and honouring my good intentions while saying “well done good and faithful servant, my favour rests upon you.” This knowledge of the unmerited gift of divine mercy so filled me with joy, that copious tears poured down my cheeks on to the light grey shirt I was wearing. In the words of 1 Jn 4:16, I knew and believed in the love that God had for me in Christ. In the depths of my heart I received the grace to accept that I was accepted by God and that Christ truly lived in me (cf. Rm 8:1). In fact, every time I recalled the Lord’s words over the next eight days, tears of joyful consolation flowed again. I knew from that experience what St. Peter meant when he said, “though you do not see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy” (1 Pt 1:8.) During that blessed retreat I experienced, as never before, the liberating power of the kerygma. It travelled from my head to my heart in such a way that I could say with St. Paul, “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
Let me give an historical example of this kind of faith from the Diaries of John Wesley founder of the Methodist Church. Following a scandal in the American colonies, he was disillusioned with himself. In his diary he tells us that he met a Moravian pastor who said: “Do you know Jesus Christ?’ I paused and said, ‘I know that he is the Saviour of the world.’ ‘True,’ replied he, ‘but do you know that he has saved you?’ I answered, ‘I hope he has died to save me.’ He only added, ‘Do you know yourself?’ I said, ‘I do,’ but I fear they were vain words.” Wesley says that sometime later he had a conversion experience when his heart was strangely warmed as a result of hearing someone talk about justification by faith during a meeting in Aldersgate Street, London. “I felt I did trust in Christ,” says Wesley, “ Christ alone for my salvation. And an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine and saved me from the law of sin and death.” As I said earlier, while we are not saved by good works, we cannot be saved without them. As Jesus said in Lk 6:36-38, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you.” If the inner witness of Christ’s mercy is to continue to burn brightly in our hearts we need to be willing to offer that same mercy, in an unconditional way to those who hurt or injure us in any way.
C] Faith in the unconditional and benevolent love of Jesus
There is a wonderful saying of Jesus in Jn 15:9, "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” Just pause for a moment and think of the infinite love that God the Father would lavish on his sinless Son who was endowed with every perfection of divinity. Then hear Jesus say to you, “I love you a sinful, created human being with the same love”, i.e. as if you were sinless and divine. While we can hear those words and understand them in a certain sense, they evade the comprehension of the heart.
I know this from personal experience. I was ordained in 1971. At the time my mind was full of theology and my heart was full of good intentions. Within a year or so I became disillusioned. Around that time I read the following inspiring verse in Rev 3:17, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked,” I reluctantly had to admit that in spite of a good Christian upbringing and an excellent education there was something lacking in my life. From that moment onwards, instead of identifying with the Good Samaritan, as I had heretofore, I now identified with the man on the roadside (cf. Lk 10:30-36). Like him I felt wounded and weak. This awareness became the birthplace of a heartfelt desire for a spiritual awakening.
Desire gave way to fulfilment in February in 1974 when I was invited to attend a retreat in the North of Ireland. One of the talks was given by a Protestant clergyman. He spoke about Jesus as the source of our peace. I was deeply moved and wanted to know the Lord the way he did. Afterwards a nun introduced me to him. We had a brief chat and arranged to meet privately. When we did, I told the minister that I was looking for a new awareness of God in my life. He read a memorable passage from Eph 3:16-20 where Paul says, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Then he began to pray for me, firstly in English, then in tongues. Suddenly, and effortlessly I too began to pray fluently in tongues. I knew with great conviction that Jesus loved me and accepted me as I was.
D] Faith in the word of God
Most people who experience a spiritual awakening find that it enkindles in them a great attraction to reading and praying the scriptures, especially the Gospels. I agree entirely with something Smith Wiggleswort said, “There are four principles we need to maintain: First, read the Word of God. Second, consume the Word of God until it consumes you. Third believe the Word of God. Fourth, act on the Word.” I can honestly say that ever since that time of my spiritual awakening I have tried to read, study and pray about the scriptures every day. I find that it helps to deepen my relationship with Jesus. When I have to deal with the issues of everyday life I find that my knowledge of scripture enables me to see things from God’s point of view. As St Paul says, "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16).
Evangelising in Faith
Men and women of faith, who have been truly evangelised go on to evangelise others. As Pope Paul VI said in par. 24 of Evangelisation in the Modern World says, “the person who has been evangelised goes on to evangelize others. Here lies the test of truth, the touchstone of evangelization: it is unthinkable that a person should accept the Word and give himself to the kingdom without becoming a person who bears witness to it and proclaims it in his turn.”
Only people who are truly evangelised, evangelise with conviction and confidence, trusting that the Holy Spirit will anoint both their silent witness as well as their words. Paul VI explained in par. 75 of Evangelisation in the Modern World, “It must be said that the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of evangelisation: it is He who impels each individual to proclaim the Gospel, and it is He who in the depths of consciences causes the word of salvation to be accepted and understood.”
Speaking about unevangelised people St Paul said in an important passage in Rom 10:14-18, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? . . . faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” The word that Paul uses here for message is rhema rather than logos. By and large the word logos refers to the word of God as a noun that is true in itself, whereas rhema usually refers to an anointed spoken word, that is addressed to a particular person in his or her particular circumstances and which has subjective relevance for him or her. Paul is saying that when people of faith speak that alive and active word of God it evokes saving faith in the heart of the hearer, as he says, “faith comes by hearing the message” (Rm 10:17) specifically the core message of Christianity to do with the saving merits of Christ’s death and resurrection. As 55:11 says, “my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
Let me give an example. A number of weeks ago a woman shared a wonderful testimony with me at the end of a scripture sharing session. She prefaced her story by saying she wasn’t a very religious person. However she attended the Good Friday service in St Peter’s Phibsborough which was conducted by our newly appointed Provincial superior. I can recall how he gave an excellent, Spirit filled homily about the sacrifice of Christ and how we can participate in it, in our daily lives. This lady told me that she was sitting at the back of the church. Apparently, she didn’t come up to venerate the cross. However, as she was reflecting on the death of Christ she was overwhelmed by a sense of the Lord’s presence and his personal love for her. It was clear from the way that she told me her story that it had made a profound impression on her. I would suspect that for some time she had been seeking the Lord in conscious and unconscious ways. I’m also convinced that the way the celebrant preached so eloquently about the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross that his proclamation evoked faith in her heart in such a way that she was open to God’s self-communication in the Holy Spirit. As St Paul testified, “But what does it say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach); 9 because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rm 10:8-9).
About a year ago a priest colleague and I had concluded a concelebrated mass and had returned to the sacristy. When we finished divesting my colleague left and a woman approached me. She asked if she could discuss something. Although I was in a hurry to do something else, I said, “of course you can,” She explained that she had read a book of mine a few years before, one in which I had described how a clergyman had prayed for me so that I might be filled with the Holy Spirit. Then the woman asked, “Father, will you say a similar prayer for me?” “I would be delighted to so,” I responded, “There is nothing that the Lord wants more for you, than that you would be filled with his Spirit. As Paul said in Eph 3:18, “Be filled with the Spirit”.” Then I said to her, “you can have great confidence because you know that I will be praying within the will of God. He is a God of love. He loves you and wants what is best for you. His Spirit of love will be his answer to your deepest need.” Then I put my hands gently on the woman’s head and prayed in faith. I had an inner conviction that the Lord was blessing her. Then spontaneously, I began to pray in tongues. As soon as I did so the woman began to fall backwards under the power of the Spirit. Fortunately, I was able to catch her and helped to break her fall. As she lay on the floor, she wept quietly. It was clear that she was inwardly touched by a heartfelt sense of the loving presence of the Lord. I knelt beside her, and said in a whisper, “you may find that you can pray in tongues.” Immediately, she began to pray in the language of the angels. After a few minutes, I helped the woman to her feet. “You have been truly blessed,” I said, as we gave one another a hug. With a big smile she responded, “what a lovely birthday present, I’m seventy tomorrow.” At that moment of grace she looked years younger than her chronological age.
Ministering in Faith
Jesus and the apostles were not content with just preaching the good news, they demonstrated it in good deeds, including deeds of power such as healings, miracles and exorcism. Jesus promised that those who really believed in him would do much the same. In Jn 14:12-14 he made a mighty promise when he said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”
There is a need to train lay people how to share the core teachings of Christianity with those they come in contact with either on a one-to-one basis, in the course of casual, everyday conversations, doing house to house visitation, or in street evangelism where one talks to people about meaning of life issues. They can be taught to see such encounters as divine appointments which were intended by God, e.g. like the conversation of Jesus with the woman at the well of Samaria, or the meeting between Philip the evangelist and the Ethiopian eunuch in the desert. They can be encouraged, no matter how well or badly the encounter has gone, to end it by asking the person they were talking to, whether he or she would like a prayer for any intention. Experience teaches that even those who are skeptical about Christianity will often reveal a need. It could be a driving test they are due to take, a relative who is sick, to some personal need of their own such as physical or emotional ill health. The revelation of such a need is significant because it is a revelation of material or spiritual poverty and therefore a certain openness to the grace and power of God. Remember the beatitude, “blessed are those who know their need of God, albeit in an inchoate way, the kingdom of heaven is theirs” (cf. Mt 5:3).
The person who is ministering can be taught to ask, “would you mind if I said that prayer for you right now?” The person being asked this question will usually say that it is O.K. Then the Christian can say, “do you mind if I place my fingers on your forehead?” Again, they will often say that it is O.K. People have often asked, “why do you want to put your finger on the person’s forehead?” In Hab 3:3-4 we read, “God God’s brightness was like the sun; rays came forth from his hand, where his power lay hidden.” Jesus worked with is hands and during his public ministry he used his hands to express what was in his heart. For example, once a leper asked Jesus to heal him. In response: “Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I will do it. Be made clean” (Lk 5:13). On another occasion Jesus said, “if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you” (Lk 11:20). We believe that these hands on times of ministry are divine appointments and power encounters, God’s kairos moments (Greek for sacred as opposed to” chronological time) when the Holy Spirit will be active.
We encourage evangelisers to say silently, or out loud, “God is love, Jesus loves you, because he loves you, he wants what is best for you. His love is the answer to your deepest need.” I affirm the fact that the Lord is benevolent. In other words he wills what is best for the person. Jesus referred to the benevolence of God, when he said to parents, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Mt 7:11). I heard a moving story on radio which illustrated this point. A man described, how as a boy in Derry, he had been hit on the bridge of his nose by a rubber bullet. It blinded him in both eyes. When he was brought to Altnagelvin area hospital, he heard his father ask a doctor, “Can you save my son’s eyes?” to which he replied, “I’m afraid we cannot, the damage is too great.” Then the boy heard this father say, “could you not take my eyes and give them to my son?” to which the doctor responded, “Unfortunately, that will not be possible either.” St. Paul echoed that point when he said, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?” (Rm 8:32). If, like that father in Northern Ireland, a mere mortal with many faults, wants what is best for someone else, that is but a mere shadow compared to God’s benevolent desire.
To perform those deeds of power spoken of by Jesus we need the charism of faith which is mentioned in 1 Cor 12:9. Church of England bishop, David Pytches accurately describes the charism of faith, in Come Holy Spirit, as, “a supernatural surge of confidence from the Spirit of God which arises within a person faced with a specific situation of need whereby that person receives a trans-rational certainty and assurance that God is about to act through a word or action.” We encourage the person who is praying, to do so in the present tense rather than the future tense. Instead of saying, “I ask you Lord to heal this person if it is your will,” we should say, “I thank you Lord that you are blessing this person right now, that you are giving him or her your peace.” Let me give an example. A travelling woman came to see me a few weeks ago. She had been married for many years but had no children. She wanted a prayer to become pregnant. I told her that I had prayed for two women in Portmarnock during a parish mission for the same intention. Both of them became pregnant shortly afterwards. Then I put my hand on her head and prayed in faith. I sensed that the prayer was being heard. When I finished it I said to the woman, “I wouldn’t be surprised if you get pregnant. Let me know if do.” About two weeks after that she called to my house to say her prayer had been answered and that, thanks be to God, she was pregnant.
Story of the woman whose son was cured of autism as a result of prayer.
I can summarize this talk by saying that,
· Firstly, only those who themselves have a firm faith in Jesus and his message are equipped to evangelise others.
· Secondly, when they do so, they will evoke saving faith in the heart of their hearers by the anointed things they say about the Lord
· Thirdly, by means of expectant faith they will be able to demonstrate the truth of the message they share by performing deeds of power.
· Fourthly, by sharing their faith in this way, their own faith will be strengthened. As John Paul II said in par 2 of Mission of the Redeemer, “Faith is strengthened when it is given to others!”
Here is the URL of a really interesting interview done by Kristina Cooper of Goodnews Magazine. Paste it in to the space at the top of the page and it will come up.
I stopped being a cultural Catholic on the 4th of February 1974 when a priest offered to pray for me. Before doing so he read the following words from Eph 3:16-19, “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” When I was prayed with I had a powerful religious experience. I felt that Jesus really did love me, so much so that I wept. I also had the conviction that he had walked though the walls of my physical body to live spiritually within me. Thank God that conviction has deepened ever since.
If you have not yet formed a personal relationship with Jesus, perhaps you would like to pray this prayer in your heart as I pray it out loud.
Lord Jesus Christ, I want to belong more fully to you from this day forward. I want to be freed from the power of sin and the evil one. I want to enter into a deep personal relationship with Jesus. Lord, with your help I will turn away from all wrongdoing, and I will avoid everything that leads me to wrongdoing. I ask you to forgive all the sins that I have committed. I offer myself to you, and I promise to put you first in my life and to seek to do your will. Jesus I ask you to drench, soak, and inundate me with your Holy Spirit. I believe that your spiritual hands are upon me and that the red light of your mercy and the white light of your love are flooding my body, mind and soul. I thank you Lord that even as I pray you are responding to my request. Amen.
Personal and communal prayer
We can only maintain and deepen our relationship with Jesus by means of personal and communal prayer.
1] Personal prayer
It is a striking fact that Jesus often went away on his own to pray. Sometimes he said prayers he knew off by heart, such as the psalms. On other occasions he expressed his deepest thoughts, feelings and desires to God. Then he listened as God the Father revealed his loving presence and gave spiritual guidance to Jesus. Like him, we need to plan to have quiet times on our own. Then we have a choice.
· Firstly, we may choose to say prayers we know by heart such as the rosary. Secondly, we could read prayers from a book, e.g. a shortened version of the Divine Office, or from the Divine Mercy prayer book, or from the daily prayer to the Holy Spirit which will be available at the end of this talk.
· Secondly, we may choose to speak to God in our own words while listening to what he says to our hearts. One way of doing this is to read a short scripture passage, then to reflect upon its meaning, to talk to God about any thoughts and feelings it evokes, and, most important of all, to sense the loving presence and the inspirations of God. In The Church in Europe par. 65 the John Paul urged, “Enter the new millennium with the Book of the Gospels! May every member of the faithful hear the Council’s plea to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. ‘Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ’ May the Holy Bible continue to be a treasure for the Church and for every Christian: in the careful study of God’s word we will daily find nourishment and strength to carry out our mission . . . Let us devour the Bible, so that it can become our very life. Let us savour it deeply: it will make demands of us, but it will give us joy because it is sweet as honey. Filled with hope, we will be able to share it with every man and woman we encounter on our way.”
2] Communal prayer
It is a striking fact that although he prayed on his own, Jesus also shared in communal prayer, e.g. with his parents, Mary and Joseph, with his apostles, and in his local synagogue and the temple in Jerusalem. We have to do the same by praying with others as we have done today. However, one of the most important ways of engaging in communal prayer is to do so as a family. It is a striking fact that shortly before his departure from Ireland in 1979, Pope John Paul spoke about the importance of family prayer. “Your homes” he said, “should always remain homes of prayer. As I leave today this island….may I express a wish: that every home in Ireland may remain or may begin again to be a home of daily family prayer. That you would promise me to do this would be the greatest gift you could give me as I leave your hospitable shores.” In par 2685 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church we read: “The Christian family is the first place of education in prayer. Based on the sacrament of marriage, the family is the "domestic church" where God's children learn to pray "as the Church" and to persevere in prayer. For young children in particular, daily family prayer is the first witness of the Church's living memory as awakened patiently by the Holy Spirit.”
It is not surprising therefore that Pope Paul VI asked: “Mothers, do you teach your children the Christian prayers? Do you prepare them, in conjunction with the priests and school teachers for the sacraments that they receive when they are young? Confession, Communion and Confirmation? Do you say the family Rosary together? And you, fathers, do you pray with your children...your example expressed in action and joined to some common prayer is a lesson for life, an act of worship of singular value. In this way you bring peace to your homes” (
· Teaching infants to pray
It is important that parents and grandparents not only teach young children simple prayers, but that they also pray with them esp. in the morning and at night.
· Saying Church prayers
Families should try to use opportunities during the day to pray together such as, saying the Angelus out loud, or offering the grace before and after meals.
· The Rosary
Echoing the messages of Our Lady, the Church has repeatedly recommended the recitation of the Rosary, which Pope Paul VI referred to as “the gospel in miniature.” Speaking to young people Pope John Paul II said: “To recite the Rosary means to learn to gaze on Jesus with his Mother's eyes, and to love Jesus with his Mother's heart. ….Do not hesitate to suggest that it be recited at home by your parents and brothers and sisters, because it rekindles and strengthens the bonds between family members.” While it would be great if a family could arrange to recite all five decades together on a regular basis, it is probably unlikely, because of the pressures of modern living. That said, a family could agree to say one or two decades e.g. after the evening meal. Having turned off the radio or T.V., each decade could be said for a particular intention. One could be proposed by one or other of the parents, and another by one of the children. It is a short method of prayer, but it is highly desirable. I know that some imaginative parents, add to the prayerful atmosphere by lighting a candle, and/or an incense stick. The children, whether younger or older are likely to have good suggestions to make e.g. playing mood music in the background.
If we are Christ centred and engage in regular personal and communal prayer we will fan into a flame the gift of the Spirit which we have all received. I would like to end this talk with a prayer.
Lord we thank you for the countless blessings you poured out on Ireland in the past. We thank you for the many ways in which your grace found expression in generous and loving lives. We are also thankful for the times of prosperity we have enjoyed. However, like the prodigal son, we regret that sometimes we allowed the flame of the Spirit to be quenched within us by an idolatrous pursuit of power, pleasure, popularity and possessions. We confess Lord that many of us have gone astray, and selfishly rewritten the commandments to suit ourselves. We believe that you came to cast fire on the earth, and long to renew your wonders in our day as by a new Pentecost. Help us to turn back to you with all our hearts, and to fan the smouldering embers of our faith into a lively flame, especially by self-denial, together with regular periods of personal and family prayer. Mary Mother of Jesus we entrust Ireland to your motherly care. In the past our people remained faithful to your Son in times of persecution. We now pray that we may witness to his abiding love in these testing times. Amen.
There are many ways of evangelising by means of speech. Notable among these are preaching, and teaching, e.g. priests in the pulpit and catechists in a classroom. But added to these, is one-to-one evangelisation. It can take many forms, such as a parent talking to a child about Jesus; a person sharing his or faith story with a friend or relative; engaging in house to house visitation e.g. as a member of a parish evangelization team; doing street contact work; exploiting a providential opportunity to talk to a colleague or acquaintance about meaning of life issues. As Pope Paul VI said in par. 6 Evangelisation in the Modern World, “Side by side with the collective proclamation of the gospel, the other form of evangelization, the person-to-person one, remains valid and important.”
In this as in all things, Jesus is our role model. Although Jesus preached a lot to crowds he also engaged in one-to-one evangelization. That was the way when Jesus met the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (Jn 4). The disciples did the same. There is an interesting example of this in Acts 8:26-42. It recounts how, in obedience to an inspiration of the Lord, Philip the evangelist travelled down a deserted road in the desert where he met with and evangelised the Ethiopian eunuch.
I think that one can see certain principles implicit in my experience.
· either in a scriptural way, e.g. by telling them about it, if it seems appropriate.
· about any of the six aspects of the kerygma which I mentioned in our second Wednesday talk. One could do this by telling the person something relevant about your own faith journey. Normally such a personal testimony has three sections, a) what I was like before I had a personal relationship with Jesus, b) how I came to have such a relationship, and c) he effects it that relationship had on me ever since
As evangelists we can think about how we might initiate spontaneous spiritual conversations with people we meet. There are three ways at least of doing this, direct, indirect and invitational.
· What have learned from my family, my church, my relationships, my small group, my critics?
A growing number of Catholics are beginning to engage in street evangelism. A couple of years ago I travelled to Galway City to give a talk in An Tobar Nua (Gaelic for The New Well), a Christian restaurant and bookshop. When my talks came to an end, Mike Short, one of the full time workers in the restaurant, gathered the adult participants, gave them a brief pep talk, divided them into twos, prayed with them, and then went with them into the nearby streets to evangelise. I discovered that they had been trained to do this, and had been given suggestions about the ways in which they could approach people with a view to engaging them in conversations about meaning of life issues and God. I seem to recall that they had imitation one million euro notes which they could offer people as a symbol of the free gift of God’s grace. They aimed, when circumstances allowed, to lead the people through three interrelated steps.
Commenting on the outcome of these steps, the An Tobar Nua website observes, “when we make this choice to give our lives to Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit is released in our lives and we begin to experience the love, joy and peace that God desires to give us, even in times of suffering. A wonderful way for Catholics to confirm this decision is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to celebrate their relationship with Jesus in Holy Communion.”
I know an English Catholic called John Ghazal who, every Saturday afternoon, goes out to spread the Good News in the Lanes, a tourist area made up of narrow streets, boutiques and restaurants in Brighton, England. For the last year or so, John has joined people like Tarot readers and mediums by placing his prayer chair next to them. The idea is simple. He has a board advertising his services and an empty chair for clients. He says, “This is my idea of evangelisation, just sitting there with a latte or a coca cola and waiting for people to come by and chat.” Usually he has a backup team from his family and the local prayer group who intercede on his behalf. Many passers by sit into the chair, chat with John, and finally he offers to pray for whatever they need. True to the divine promises, God often moves in power and many blessings, such as physical healings, are received. These are palpable manifestations of the presence of the Kingdom of God.
It takes real courage and conviction to engage in street evangelism. Happily, however, a growing number of people seem prepared to overcome their fears and human respect in order to share the Good News in this unusual way
They can be encouraged, no matter how well or badly the encounter has gone, to end it by asking the person they were talking to, whether he or she would like a prayer for any intention. Experience teaches that even those who are sceptical about Christianity will often reveal a need. It could be a driving test they are due to take, a relative who is sick, to some personal need of their own such as physical or emotional ill health. The revelation of such a need is significant because it is a revelation of material or spiritual poverty and therefore a certain openness to the grace and power of God. Remember the beatitude, “blessed are those who know their need of God, albeit in an inchoate way, the kingdom of heaven is theirs” (cf. Mt 5:3).
The person who is ministering can be taught to ask, “would you mind if I said that prayer for you right now?” The person being asked this question will usually say that it is O.K. Then the Christian can say, “do you mind if I place my fingers on your forehead?” Again, they will often say that it is O.K. We believe that this is a divine appointment is also a power encounter, it is God’s kairos moment (Greek for sacred as opposed to chronological time) when God’s Holy Spirit will be active. Then we say to the person, while looking him or her in the eyes, “God is love. God loves you. Because he loves you, he wants what is best for you. His love is the answer to your deepest need.” Then we begin to pray a brief prayer of expectant faith while expecting God’s power to be manifested.
I can share an amusing story about this. Some time ago I gave a short talk at Mass about praying in the way I’m trying to describe in this talk. At one point I looked to my right, spotted an American man who I knew was not shy, and impetuously beckoned him to come up a number of steps to the altar. I wanted to demonstrate the steps involved in praying for others. Firstly, I asked Don there was anything you want prayer for? He said that he was very tired and needed energy. Secondly, I asked him if he minded if I prayed for him right then? And he said it was O.K. Thirdly, I asked is it all right if I put my fingers on his forehead? He told me to go ahead. Then I said, “God is love, he loves you, and because he does he wants what is best for you, his love is the answer to your deepest need.”
I should emphasise that this was supposed to be a role play. But as soon as I began to pray for him I felt as if an energy had come upon me and was flowing through my hands. Don began to sway as if he was drunk, and I though, my God he is going to fall backwards down the steps, he will be injured and we will have to thousands in compensation! So I stopped praying and grabbed his shoulders with my two hands in order to support him. Then spontaneously, Don said into the microphone, “I could hardly stand because I felt a power coming upon me.”.As many of us know, the power of the Spirit can be so strong during prayer that many people fall back and catchers lower them safely to the ground. Those kind of manifestations and their beneficial effects can convince people whose faith is weak or non-existent that God is alive and active in the modern world.
These are just a few of the ways that we can do one-to-one evangelisation. What is needed is conviction and courage. We have to overcome our fears, and like the first disciples have a spirit of boldness. In Acts 3:30 we read that they prayed, “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” In Eph 6:19-20 we read, “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”
1. Has the parish a mission statement, one that includes an explicit commitment to evangelisation?
2. Does the parish have a yearly plan that states what individuals and groups will evangelise the un-churched in the area, and how they will do it?
3. Does the parish have any form of practical outreach to the un-churched and the unbelievers in the parish?
4. What does the parish do to evangelise young adults between the ages of 18 and 35?
5. Does the parish council have an evangelisation committee that plans evangelistic activities?
6. Does the parish provide any training for parishioners who want to learn how to evangelise effectively alone and in groups?
7. Is there an evangelisation team in the parish that does house-to-house visitation?
8. If there is an occasional parish mission, is it mainly focused on those who practice or is there a conscious, organised effort to reach out to the un-churched?
9. Does the parish newsletter contain regular pieces to do with the nature of evangelisation, the motives parishioners have of engaging in it, and practical means of doing so?
10. Are there any groups in the parish, such as the housebound or an intercessory prayer group, who are praying in an intentional way for parish renewal and evangelisation in the area?
If a parish cannot answer yes to at least six of these questions, it probably means that it is too inward looking. There would be nothing unusual in that. As Cardinal Avery Dulles pointed out, the majority of Catholics are not strongly inclined toward evangelisation. “Absorbed in the inner problems of the Church, and occasionally in issues of peace and justice,” observed the Cardinal, “contemporary Catholics feel relatively little responsibility for spreading the faith.” As John Paul II said in par. 11 of The Mission of the Redeemer, “Mission is an issue of faith, an accurate indicator of our faith in Christ and his love for us.”
Creating a More Missionary Parish
1) Prayer and Prophetic Vision
There is a verse in the Amplified Bible which reads, “Where there is no vision [no redemptive revelation of God], the people perish” (Prov 29:18). That being true the first thing that the priests and people need in the parish is a God inspired vision for the future of the community. When I was studying at Sacred Heart Seminary I heard Fr. Mark Montminy of St. Marie’s in Manchester, New Hampshire, tell the story of how his struggling inner-city parish had been transformed from a dispirited, introspective community to a more extroverted, and evangelising one. When he arrived in St Marie’s the parish pastoral council, like so many others, was concerned with administrative issues such as the purchase of new boilers, reducing the parish debt, fixing a leak in the church roof and the like, more than pastoral or evangelistic ones. Fr. Mark met with the parish pastoral council and invited them to pray for an outpouring of the Spirit and to dream with him about the future. For the next five months each meeting began with an hour of prayer and afterwards by sharing dreams of what the parish could look like in five and ten years time. Following this process the pastoral council wrote a mission statement, in collaboration with every existing committee, society and organisation in the parish.
2) The Parish Pastoral Council
Ideally the members of a parish council would be people with a mix of skills which would enable each one to contribute in a constructive way to the work of the council. A) It seems to me that every council should devise a consultative process, like the one already mentioned, which would enable it to write or review a mission statement which contains a section on evangelisation.
B) Furthermore, parish councils should devise parish plans which include a section on evangelisation, with stated goals and resources for the year.
3) An Evangelising Committee
Presuming that the parish mission statement includes a commitment to evangelise, the parish priest together with his parish pastoral council would be well advised to create an evangelising committee. It would be charged with the responsibility of implementing the evangelisation section of the mission statement and would be accountable to the parish priest and the pastoral council for its implementation. I would suggest that such a committee should think about two things.
Firstly, how will they help all the committees and groups in the parish to become more aware of their potential for evangelisation? The evangelisation committee could arrange to bring as many members of parish groups and organisations together in order to explore why and how they might evangelise in their sphere of influence. Secondly, the evangelisation committee needs to work out how it might facilitate evangelisation of a) the those who are catechized but not fully evangelized, b) the unchurched and c) unbelievers. If the evangelising committee is blessed with creative imagination it will be able to come up with other evangelising initiatives. Here are a number of possibilities.
A] To arrange for a parish mission.
f a contemporary mission was arranged, the evangelising committee would need to consider a number of points. How will the parish prepare for the mission event? What kind of subjects will be dealt with during the mission? will they be catechetical ones such as prayer, marriage, suffering, and the Eucharist, or more kerygmatic ones such as the unconditional mercy and love of God, healing, and being filled with the Spirit? How will the parish reach out to the un-churched during the mission? Will volunteers visit all the homes in twos to tell people about the mission; to give them a printed programme of events; and to invite them to come to all or some of the sessions? It might be a good idea to have some events held outside the church building or parish hall, for example in a golf club, pub or community centre.
B] To organise talks on evangelisation in the parish.In par. 73 of Evangelisation in the Modern World, Pope Paul VI said, “A serious preparation is needed for all workers for evangelisation.” Pope John Paul II said in par. 46 of The Church in Europe, “evangelisers must be properly trained . . . All the baptised, since they are witnesses of Christ, should receive a training appropriate to their circumstances, not only so that their faith does not wither for lack of care in a hostile environment such as the secularist world, but also so that their witness to the Gospel will receive strength and inspiration.” The evangelisation committee needs to prepare willing parishioners to tackle the problem of evangelising in modern, secular society. They might consider topics such as evangelisation in scripture and in contemporary papal teaching, how to engage in one-to-one evangelisation with a view to sharing one’s faith convictions with relatives, friends, work colleagues, and strangers?
Also the evangelisation committee could put on a basic evangelisation course such as Alpha, the Life in the Spirit Seminars, or a Philip retreat.
C] Prayer support
The evangelisation committee could also try to recruit a number of volunteers who would be willing to pray for the parish. St. Paul warned that Satan will do all in his power to prevent people from accepting the kerygma in faith. In 2 Cor 4:4 he warned, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” This kind of intercession would be particularly appropriate in the period before a parish mission.
On the same lines, the evangelisation committee could arrange for one or two groups of people in the parish to commit time to periods of intercessory prayer and moderate fasting for two main intentions. Firstly, that the Lord would empower all those who are engaged in evangelisation with the Holy Spirit and his gifts. Secondly, that the Lord would protect the evangelisers from the illusions, false inspirations and temptations of the devil, who inevitably opposes anyone that tries to bring people closer to Christ. As St Paul says in Eph 6:18-20, “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.”
According to the teaching of the Church, the parish should be the main focal point of evangelisation. The effort to change perspectives from being largely focused on those who attend church to focus on those who do not, is difficult. The contemporary parish has to change its focu7s from maintenance to mission if it wishes to survive and thrive.
What is the Basic Message of the New Evangelisation?
Pat Collins C.M.
There is a very interesting text in Acts 16:29-30. Following a severe beating Paul and Silas are unjustly thrown into jail. As they are singing praises to God they and their fellow prisoners are set free. Then we are told that, “The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" I have often read that passage to priests religious and lay people and stopped with the jailer’s question, and I say to those I’m talking to, what would you say to the jailer in this crisis situation where he is tempted to commit suicide because of the shame and guilt he feels because of failing to do his duty? You need to give him a short, answer, there is no time for a long drawn out response. I have gotten all kinds of answers to the question such as, “Love God and your neighbour,” “Live by your conscience,” “Keep the commandments of God,” and the like. While I’m sure there is some truth to them all, none of them is really sufficient. In Acts 16:31-32 we are told that Paul and Silas replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved — you and your household." Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.” In Acts 8:26-40 there is a similar text. Philip the evangelist has been telling the Ethiopian official about the Jesus and Christian baptism. Then the official said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" Some late manuscripts of Acts report that Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." The eunuch answered, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."
What Paul and Silas and Philip said, was the core teaching of the New Testament Church, what is referred to as the kerygma. This is what lies at the heart of the new evangelisation which has been advocate by Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Currently, however there is a kerygmatic crisis of head heart and hands in the Church.
Jesus and the Kerygma
It would be true to say that the kerygma of the early church was rooted in Jesus’ proclamation of the good news of the coming of the Kingdom of God, (i.e., the reign of God by means of the outpouring of his unconditional and unrestricted mercy and love in and through the ministry of Jesus Christ). Let me offer an outstanding example of what I mean. In Jn 7:48-49 we read how the temple police had been sent to arrest Jesus who was preaching to the poor; the uneducated, illiterate peasants who neither knew or observed the minutiae of the Jewish law. They returned without their prisoner because they felt unable to arrest Jesus due to the sheer eloquence and authority of his preaching. The temple authorities said to the police, "Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law- there is a curse on them [my italics]." In Gal 3:10 St. Paul explained why the Jewish authorities said what they did, “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law”." As a result, the poor were under unending condemnation. They already endured misery in this life and could only expect to experience damnation in the next.
When Jesus enunciated his mission statement in his local synagogue in Nazareth he said that he had been anointed to bring good news to the poor, specifically to the people who were under the curse (cf. Lk 4:18). He told the congregation in his local synagogue that the just condemnation of God had been lifted at this time of jubilee when all debts were being cancelled. As he proclaimed in his beatitudes, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Lk 6:20). This was made possible because Jesus acted as our scapegoat, “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:6). It is interesting to note that St. Paul appreciated the fact that Jesus not only lifted the curse from the poor he took it upon his own sinless shoulders. As Paul declared, in 2 Cor 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God [i.e. what we ought to be, approved and acceptable and in right relationship with Him].” So Paul added, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree”." He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit” (Gal 3:13-14).
Jesus repeatedly proclaimed the coming of the “kingdom of God” or “the kingdom of heaven” in his words, relationships and deeds. The parable of the prodigal son encapsulates the good news in words. The younger son represented the poor who failed to keep the law, and the elder son represented the Pharisees who did try to abide by the law. The younger son felt he was under condemnation because he had failed to observe the law. The elder son believed that he had earned his father’s favour by being dutiful and observing the law at all times. However, Jesus said that both sons were mistaken. They presumed that the father’s (i.e., God’s ) love was conditional, whereas in actual fact it was a free, unmerited gift. Both sons were invited to the kind of conversion that leads to a change in their thinking about God and to trust in the offer of his unconditional mercy and love. Whereas the younger son was able to change his image of God, the elder son was unable to do so. As a result, the prodigal son entered into a new relationship with his father who clothed him with the cloak of honour, endowed him with the ring of his authority, provided him with the shoes of a beloved member of the household, and celebrated their new found relationship by killing the fatted calf. As the scriptures tell us, “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Lk 15:7).
St Paul on the Kerygma
In his excellent book, The Central Message of the New Testament, Joachim Jeremias made the important observation that, “It was Paul’s greatness that he understood the message of Jesus as no other New Testament writer did. He was the faithful interpreter of Jesus. This is particularly true of his doctrine of justification. It is not of his own making but in substance conveys the central message of Jesus, as it is condensed in the first beatitude, ‘Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God’ (Lk 6:20).” St. Paul himself acknowledged in 1 Cor 15:3-4 that his Gospel was derived from that of Jesus, “what I received [my italics] I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” Paul succinctly summarized the kerygma when he talked about Jesus “who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rm 4:25). He realised from his own personal experience that we are put in right relationship with God not by good works but by the faith that trusts solely in the saving grace of Christ which is available to us as an unmerited gift because of the sacrificial love of Jesus. As Paul testified, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). In Rom 5:6-11 he explained, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” As a result, Paul was firmly convinced that, “a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified” (Gal 2:16). Once the words of the kerygma make their home in our hearts through faith, Paul could say, “‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the word of faith that we preach (kerygma), for, if you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rm 10:8-9).
The Kerygma for Today in 6 Points
We tell the people we train, that they need to be familiar with the kerygma in order to share it with others either in the form of an objective sharing of truth or as a personal testimony. Happily, nowadays there are many basic evangelisation courses that focus on the kerygma such as Alpha, RCIA, Life in the Spirit Seminars, Café, Cursillo, and Philip retreats. The John the Baptist Koinonia Communities have developed a very helpful sequence of six points which constitute the kerygma.
1. God loves you. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).
2. You are a sinner in need of salvation. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rm 3:23).
3. Jesus died to forgive your sins. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph2:8-9).
4. Believe, repent, and proclaim Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. “If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rm 10:9).
5. Receive the Holy Spirit and his gifts. “You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off” (Acts 2:38-39).
6. Enter the Christian community. “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
As you know at the time of the Reformation Protestants were inclined to say that people are saved by faith alone and Catholics were inclined to say that people were saved by good works. In 1999 this imbalance was corrected in a Joint Declaration on Justification of historic significance, which was published by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church. Par. 15 says: “Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.” It seems to me that this rather abstract sentence incorporates our Lord’s principle of reciprocity in Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you.” Let’s look at the first part, “By grace alone, through faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit.” It asserts that although, in terms of strict justice, we deserve God’s judgment and condemnation on account of our sins, when we look trustingly into Christ’s merciful eyes, expecting only mercy, we receive only mercy through the cleansing power of his Holy Spirit. It is a glorious truth, the very essence of the Good News. The second half of the sentence goes on to say that the Holy Spirit “renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.” Those good works are the expression of the grace of justification which has already been received, but not a means of earning it. In other words, having received gratuitously from God, we have to give in like manner to other people.