A hard road lies ahead for Peter and the disciples; and for us!
Jesus is not about to let Simon Peter indulge in unproductive introspection, but he has picked up Peter’s conflicted feelings about being an individual follower of Jesus and being part of the group. His first question poses this challenge: “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?”
Peter in answering does not compare himself with his companions. This is between him and Jesus, though Jesus has made sure that John and the rest are within earshot and will grasp the meaning of this conversation for Peter and themselves. ‘Yes Lord, you know that I love you.’ ‘Feed my lambs.’ This command from the Lord who has just fed Peter and his companions, setting an example to be pondered for centuries.
Jesus returns to his probing of Peter: ‘Simon Son of Jonah, do you love me?’ No comparison with the others, Peter has passed that test. ‘Yes, Lord, you know I love you.‘ ‘Tend my sheep.’ Peter is upset when Jesus asks again: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ ‘Feed my sheep.’
Then comes the crunch: the description of how Peter will face trial, brutality, lack of earthly freedom; and execution. But then the note of complete confidence in this new Peter: Follow me!
Not that it is all so simple. Peter sees his fishing partner John standing nearby. What about him, Peter asks, and is told that’s not for him to know. And again, the call to be single-minded: ‘follow me!’
John and his editors assure us that this story and the rest of the Gospel are true and Good news for us all. The Lord will come for each of us in his own time; Let us use our time wisely, and follow him. May we be blest fishers of men, witnessing to our loving God through the way we live our lives.
A third post about institutional religion and its mission, by no means irrelevant to Eastertide. We are in Lichfield, where the Dean, Adrian Dormer, is retiring after 17 years. Congratulations to him! Here he shares his thoughts on what a cathedral is about and what it should be aspiring to bring to its local community and the world. He refers back to Saint Chad, the humble missionary who founded the diocese in AngloSaxon times and discerns some of the challenges facing his successor.
Worthwhile reading for Synodal minded Catholics as well.
Permit me a ‘Moses moment’. Moses ended his days pointing the children of Israel towards the promised land. He reminded them to live as God’s people, to face up to the challenges they would face, always to have God’s priorities as their priorities; to be joyful in the blessings they had received and the blessing they were meant to be in the sight of all nations, never to forget God. (see Deuteronomy 30: 11-20) Let me share some thoughts.
Cathedrals are complex places with many people to serve and many roles to fulfil. Lichfield Cathedral has an international, national, regional and local profile. (Look at the people who join us for online worship – we stretch from Gaia Lane to Toronto and Lahore).
We receive (in good years) 200,000 visitors. It could be double. Ah! If only the colleagues in Local and National Government could wake up to that fact, work with us closely and provide a bit more infrastructure for signage, way-marking, marketing and good constructive planning. It just needs intention and will. It would have knock on effects for employment and business. Equally, some guaranteed national support for repair and conservation of Cathedral buildings will safeguard a precious heritage and cultural asset. In my view this is a ‘no brainer’, but I admit my brain doesn’t work as others do!
At the beginning of my time in Lichfield, the Cathedral Chapter and community discerned five roles played by the Cathedral. These were and are:
Cathedra – the name for the Bishop’s seat. (We’re a ‘Cathedral’ because we house the ‘Cathedra’). This comprises our set of responsibilities to the territory our Bishop oversees; it is the place to gather the Church, where the Bishop ordains and sends forth ministry, a place for him to teach and to send us all out in mission.
The Cathedral is an Icon – it speaks of the love and glory of God. It is also a deeply emotional way-mark for many people – it captures a sense of home, place and memory, pointing us all to our home in God.
A Cathedral is a place of tradition – it sums up a part of national history, but it bears the faith from generation to generation, every age making its mark and contribution, the faith being proclaimed afresh in every generation.
A Cathedral is a community. Just as Jesus Christ called and gathered and sent disciples out to teach, preach, pray and heal, we’re called by him to be a community of missionary disciples, not simply a conventicle of the like-minded or the same class, age-group or outlook. Loving and bearing with one another, getting our faults and blind-spots corrected and healed is an essential work of the Church as community.
A Cathedral is a border-land. We’re a place of dialogue, innovation, hospitality and solemnity. Though our events and activities we’re here to help dialogue about things of lasting importance, to widen vision, to help society understand itself and face up to challenges and need. Because a Cathedral is open and accessible, many people feel able to touch the Sacred because they know the place is common ground.
Now this bit of discernment is, of course, up for refinement, revision or reworking. Tradition always demands a serious coming to terms with the needs of the hour and the signs of the times. Without that essential awareness, we become a preservation society not the Church. We’re a mission not a club. Looking around us at the moment, I think that in the short, medium and long term every Cathedral, and Lichfield can be no exception, has to address some big challenges (1) the environment and the climate emergency; (2) how racially and socially inclusive we must become; (3) how we have to nurture children and young people; (4) how we help society to re-discover a sense of justice and opportunity for all people; (5) how we keep and develop our buildings so that they are appropriate for our mission and role.
How to start? First, ensure people of faith are glad of their faith and have confidence and joy in it.
Secondly, remember small steps on a mass scale bring about big changes – looking after the environment, cutting back waste, nurturing bio-diversity can all be revolutionary. Life is not at its best if viewed as a Darwinian struggle, it becomes Christian when we live fruitfully and fraternally, humbly and hopefully with one another and the land.
Thirdly, we have to keep a view of the Church being trans-generational and inter-generational. We have responsibilities to understand what every age group has to go through. How can we serve one another? We need to devote more resource to children and young people, make room for young families in our worship and activities and help the young with their life decisions, in their growing sense of self and personhood. Equally, as we freshly re-claim the legacy of St. Chad, helping one another to health, giving support in sickness, disability and times of pain, bereavement or isolation, becomes vital ‘Kingdom of God’ work. We might need to train and learn a bit more to be of help, or learn to make ourselves available.
Fourthly, we are living at a time when the ground is shifting. What kind of wisdom can we bring to the sense that not much works – a health service rapidly unravelling, social care and ageing left unaddressed, sluggish responses to the climate crisis, and a housing crisis for all to see. Living a good Christian life cannot be abstracted from the concerns of so many. We have masses of Christian social teaching on these questions. Don’t be dismayed by the Press when it lampoons those Christian concerns – they are the ignorant ones, knowing neither the Bible nor the Christian tradition. Be aware of press bias and whose interests they serve.
Fifthly, people need beauty. Our Cathedral and Close refresh the parts other places don’t. Treasure this gem of a place. To make it even more user-friendly we still need an ancillary building to the Cathedral to bring together our welcome and hospitality, cloakrooms, loos, café, shop, storage and exhibition space. Let’s keep exploring the options.
As I take my leave, please accept my huge thanks and appreciation for all the interest, support and prayer you and so many others give and have given to the Cathedral. Please go on giving it! There’s a splendid team of Clergy, Staff and Volunteers doing extraordinary work: please encourage them. Give the Interim Dean, Bishop (and Canon) Jan McFarlane the backing and help she needs (although in one so competent, you’ll have the assurance that it is business as usual and probably better!)
I am aware of all of those who have gone to glory during the past seventeen years and I thank God for so many lives of Christian faithfulness, generosity and service. This memory can encourage us to stay joyful in hope, steadfast in trouble, and persistent in prayer. All God’s saints cheer us on our way, be glad in their company.
I pray that you will always live deeply in the mystery of Jesus Christ’s dying and rising. It is the source of our salvation and the best news the world has ever heard.
Please pray for Caroline, our grown-up children (who have had a great time in Lichfield) and for me. I’m sure retirement will be lovely – but it will take some getting used to. All advice welcome, but I plan to have a good rest and not take on too much too soon, thereby correcting the bad habits of a life-time.
This is a copy of the memorial card for Fr Tom Herbst, a contributor and supporter of this blog. The friars also sent a copy of the order of service for the Mass of the Resurrection celebrated when his ashes arrived back in California from Kent, where he served God and his people for many years.
We invite you to pray for Tom and all our dear ones who have died in this season of Resurrection and Life. May they rest in peace and rise in Glory.
Eddie Gilmore of the Irish Chaplaincy has been reflecting on people with depression and how to help them get free of the blues, starting from research at Ohio State University that focused on 122 adults with moderate or severe depression. The results were published in The journal of Positive Psychology in January.
We know in our work at the Irish Chaplaincy that that little act of kindness can be transformative; and in the case of people in prison, who might be in particular despair, an act of kindness can be life-saving.
What this new study concludes is that the person giving the act of kindness is also helped. The participants were split into three groups. One group was required to carry out kind acts for others twice a week for ten weeks; a second group participated in planned social activities; and the third group were subject to a cognitive behaviour technique known as cognitive reappraisal. This involves the person being helped to recognise when their thoughts follow negative patterns and to make the thoughts more positive. As for the kind acts, they included things like baking biscuits for friends, offering lifts to people and writing notes of encouragement for housemates.
For those in the ‘kind acts’ group there was a greater improvement in depressive symptoms than for those in the other two groups. Dr David Gregg who led the study concludes, “Something as simple as helping other people can go above and beyond other treatments in helping people deal with depression and anxiety.” His colleague, Dr Jennifer Cheavers added, “We often think that people with depression have enough to deal with, so we don’t want to burden them by asking them to help others. But these results run counter to that. Doing nice things for people and focussing on the needs of others may actually help people with depression and anxiety feel better about themselves.”
After all, Jesus did not send individuals to preach the Good News but pairs, and he told them to accept the gifts they were offered. (Luke 10) So let’s not wait till we are depressed, or they are depressed, but get on our feet and walk a little way alongside our friends and family members, or invite them to tea; to cheer them up, and get out of our own head for a while.
Another story: We once had a curate who did not see himself as a missionary. His next parish priest was not sympathetic towards him, but a lady parishioner was, and the diocese lost another priest to the Church of England. Being a missionary hardly inoculates a man or woman against that eventuality. But what, indeed, if a man is working in a parish alone? The fact that I can say, ‘working in a parish alone’, suggests more questions: why does he see himself as alone, where is the so-called parish family, is there a community life to support him? Does he let them support him? Does he let them take charge of ministries, or does he try to micro-manage them? Is there a supportive network of priests for him?
A century ago, Pope Benedict XV gave great impetus to the development of missionary understanding, beatifying the Uganda Martyrs and encouraging the growth of churches that would be truly local; his words about missionary religious superiors could profitably be applied to the whole Church community, for we also have responsibilities towards those we mandate and expect to evangelise us:
When [a missionary] sets out he is, as a rule, eager and ready to brave the most gruelling hardships… If a man encounters an attentive superior who always treats him with prudence and charity, his work cannot fail to be fruitful. But if the contrary occurs, then there is every reason to fear that the labours and hardships he meets will gradually wear him out, until he finally loses heart.
A young former Catholic who wrote to me recently was driven away in part by priests he saw as unbelieving, but I would see as worn out, losing heart. Certainly professional missionaries can become burnt out and discouraged, but who else do we see losing heart these days? Perhaps above all young people, but have we really tried the recipe that was given to us by a wise Parish Priest – ‘give them something to do?’ Visiting that parish we saw young people acting as choir and cantors, and about ten altar servers: ‘Usually there are more than that, but we find plenty of jobs for them to do.’ And the same could be true of any other parish, but I have heard too many of the faithful complain about Children’s Liturgy, ‘sloppy’ servers, noisy infants … People cannot fall away from the Church as adults if they’ve already been driven away as children. Yet the eight year old we saw, who had to stand on a stool to join the two teenage cantors, was a missionary in his own capacity.
Am I getting to the meat behind the stories and examples? Well, Ad Gentes insists:
“The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature, since it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she draws her origin, in accordance with the decree of God the Father.” (2 ; 3-5).
The Council itself presents the Church as a narrative: the Church is a pilgrim, living an ongoing story; she has a mission: we have all lived a chapter or two. The Church comes from the Son and the Spirit, according to the Father’s word. It is not the theology that lies behind the story, but the story that lies behind the theology.
The Opening Eucharist, the Mass of the Holy Spirit was presided over by Archbishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi SVD, Archbishop of Tokyo and Secretary General of the FABC; and concelebrated by Virgílio Cardinal do Carmo da Silva SDB, Archdiocese of Díli and Louis Cardinal Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, Apostolic Vicar of Vientiane, Laos.
In his sharing Archbishop Kikuchi evoked from his pastoral experience as a missionary in Africa, highlighting situations of despair and indifference which destroys the human spirit and the soul of humanity, and situations of hope and love – the magic of Ghana which brings life and joy, that is celebrated in in the spirit of solidarity.
The Holy Eucharist concluded with the blessing of Candles given to the moderators of groups to be placed on their tables. These candles, lit during the discussion, symbolize the Light of Christ that inspires and prompts discussions to be a reflection of a Synodal journey.
Mario Cardinal Grech, Secretary General of the Secretariat of the Synod, in his opening address, reminded the delegates that ‘we are all learners in Synodality’ – encouraging us to be more attentive to the voices within the Church, especially to those voices which agitate and also to the ones that ‘do not speak’. Cardinal Grech emphasized, “a Synodal Church is a Church of listening” and stressed that the success of the process depended on the active participation of the people of God and the pastors (who are also members of the People of God). Furthermore, he explained that a proper exercise of Synodality never places the people and pastors in competition but maintains them in constant relation, allowing both to fulfil their own roles and responsibilities. Cardinal Grech added, “consultation in Churches has enabled the people of God to implement the right way of participating in the Prophetic function of Christ. “. In conclusion, Cardinal Grech emphasised the importance of listening.; listening to the Holy Spirit who speaks to the Church and that the phrase ‘a synodal Church is a Church of listening’ must not be reduced to a rhetorical phrase but should portray the truth that it is. Cardinal Grech invoked the Spirit of the Risen Lord to guide the minds of the delegates and to give them the courage to walk the Synodal path, which is the path that the Lord is opening to the Church of the third millennium.
Pope Francis opens the Year of Mercy in the Central African Republic.
Cast your mind back to yesterday’s post, or scroll back to it, then ask yourself what dies a brave little girl have to tell us about every Christian being a missionary? We concede that the professional missionary ad gentesmayrisk her or his life, prepared to die for the faith but also to live for it, or better, to live it. Yet Pope Francis reminds us that it is not just the professionals; every Christian is called:
120. In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelisation, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelisation to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients… Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelisation; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.
But we must go deeper even than that. Johannes Metz reminds us that the mission to go out and proclaim God’s saving love is not an add-on to our basic humanity, an optional extra for the Christian; rather it is an intrinsic part of being human, or as he puts it, of becoming human:
Becoming human … is a mandate and a mission, a command and a decision … freedom reveals itself at work when we accept and approve with all our heart the being that is committed to us, when we make it so much our own that it seems to be our idea from the first … the free process of becoming a human being unfolds as a process of service.
Metz refers us to John 8:32 – the truth will set you free – a truth we discover through service, obedient to God’s command; a service unto death, even death on a Cross, as we read in Philippians 2:8. Becoming human is a process of service: the little girl risking her life, shows how serving others, even in the form of a doll, is intrinsic to being human. And yet the little girl is totally dependent upon her parents as we are on God’s grace.
Give it six weeks? Let us spend our first meetings this Lent reflecting the vocation of every Christian to be a missionary, drawing on Pope Francis’s challenge in Evangelii Gaudium but also Johannes Baptist Metz’s Poverty of Spirit, and Richard Bawoobr’s reflections on life as a Missionary. He was the Superior General of the Missionaries of Africa, the White Fathers, later appointed Bishop of Wa in Ghana, and installed as a Cardinal shortly before his death in 2022. So no ground-breakingly original thoughts from Will Turnstone, though the stories that link them are true and you won’t have heard them all.
Let’s start with a true story: I’m sitting on a city centre bus, when on steps the wife from Grant Wood’s ‘American Gothic’ painting – only noticeably less full of the joys of life. She must have seen herself as a missionary, since she distributed a dozen tracts, leaving them on empty seats, thrusting one into my hand. Without a smile. At the next stop she climbed down to await another bus, her senior pass ready to hand.
We all notice Pope Francis’s smile. And he says in Evangelii Gaudium (10): ‘An evangeliser must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!’ Where is the joy of the Gospel that the Calvinist on the bus seemed to lack, the Christian Vitamin we need?
Here’s another story, one to bring the taste of a smile to your lips: picture me cycling home when a black cat leapt out to pat at a fly. Braking for him slowed my progress enough to observe a little girl about to run in front of me. I heard her mother’s warning; I’m sure she did not!
A tolerant mother she was, for her daughter was dressed in new clothes – a white, flowery dress, white tights and new party shoes. She must have been walking along the top of the bank, despite brambles and nettles waiting to catch her legs, for she ran from her mother, back to the bank, where she snatched up a rag doll, all gingham and bright red plaits, and raced across my path again.
‘Worth risking your life for,’ smiled her mother. The doll was real to the little girl; and who could doubt that her mother would risk her own life for her dear one? A question to ponder until tomorrow.
Bishops will carry shared mission home from Oceania assembly
The Catholic bishops of Oceania have concluded their week-long gathering in Fiji with a missioning Mass, being encouraged to respond to the hopes and challenges they shared with hearts of mission and service. Dozens of bishops attended the quadrennial assembly of the Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania, which concluded on Friday evening. The gathering drew bishops from Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and many Pacific nations…..To the full text in English, Italian and French
CONCLUDING STATEMENT FROM THE CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF OCEANIA It has been a great joy for the Bishops of Oceania to gather in Fiji this week to pray for and consider our shared mission as the Chief Shepherds of our region. As we have prayed for our people, we have also been aware of the prayers they have been offering for our assembly and our ministry. Our assembly has provided the opportunity for us to pray together,…To the full text in English, Italian and FrenchAs the FCBCO assembly in Suva, Fiji comes to an end, the Bishops have taken time to reflect on the work they have done this week and determine priorities for the organisation moving forward. Among them, you will listen to Msgr Julio Augkel, Bishop of Caroline Islands, Mgrs Francis Meli, Bishop of Vanimo, Msgr Stephen Lowe, Bishop of Auckland, and fr. Pedro Walpole SJ, FCBCO Secretariat. Our Special Envoy, Sr Bernadette M. Reis, fsp from Vatican News returns on the Suva Continental Assembly for Oceania as she has experiences and presents us a few reflection from Archbishop of Suva Loy Chong, President of the Episcopal Conference of the Pacific (CEPAC) and Sister Nathalie Becquart who has represented the General Secretariat of the Synod along the assembly. Have a look also to her report: http://bit.ly/3RPNPW6 Through the portal https://synod2023.org you can access the sites of the individual continental meetings.Copyright 2023 General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops, All rights reserved.
Our mailing address is: General Secretariat for the Synod of BishopsVia della Conciliazione, 34Vatican City 00120Vatican City State (Holy See)
The role of the bishop in the synodal process Letter of Cardinals Grech and Hollerich to the Bishops of the World Vatican City, 30 January 2023
On the eve of the celebration of the Continental Assemblies, it is with a letter addressed to all the eparchial bishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches and diocesan bishops around the world that the Secretary General of the Synod, Cardinal Mario Grech, and the General Relator of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, address the topic of the bishop’s role in the ongoing synodal process.
Recalling the process-oriented nature of the Synod on Synodality convened by Pope Francis, the two cardinals recall the responsibility of Pastors, “the principle and foundation of unity of the holy People of God” (LG 23), with respect to the synodal process.
In fact, write the two cardinals, “there is no exercise of ecclesial synodality without the exercise of episcopal collegiality,” testifying to how these two ‘dimensions’ of the Church’s life are not in opposition, but that one cannot exist without the other. To avoid any misunderstanding, the letter then strongly reiterates the primary theme – that of synodality – chosen by Pope Francis for the work of the synodal assembly of bishops next October. “There are in fact some who presume to already know what the conclusions of the Synodal Assembly will be. Others would like to impose an agenda on the Synod, with the intention of steering the discussion and determining its outcome. However, the theme that the Pope has assigned to the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is clear: ‘For a Synodal Church: communion, participation, mission’. This is therefore the sole theme that we are called to explore in each of the stages within the process. The expectations for Synod 2021-2024 are many and varied, but it is not the task of the Assembly to address all the issues being debated in the Church”.
On the eve of the continental Synod Assemblies, the letter then dwells on the primary goal of these assemblies: to grow in the synodal style of being Church. “The more we grow in a synodal style of Church, the more all of us as members of the People of God — faithful and Pastors — will learn to feel cum Ecclesia, in fidelity to the Word of God and Tradition. Besides, how could we address pointed questions, often divisive, without first answering the great question that has been challenging the Church since the Second Vatican Council: “Church, what do you say of yourself?”.