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The Church's Mission Must be to Proclaim Forgiveness and Freedom

Posted on September 30, 2014 at 9:42 AM Comments comments (0)
Christ brings forgiveness and freedom
 
The Catholic Church, as Pope Francis has declared on many occasions, is a Church of mission and we Catholic people are all called to carry the Good News to the ends of the earth and to share it with all people.  And this mission, we are encouraged, must be without condition and without restriction.  Our mission is to share it with all people and to pray that the Holy Spirit will use our efforts to penetrate the hearts of those who hear it. 
 
But what will I say?  Where do I start in sharing the Good News?  These are relevant questions and there is no easy answer, but perhaps we should consider starting with forgiveness.  Jesus, by his death on the Cross, died for all people.  Not just the people of Jesus' time and not just Christian people.  No, Jesus died for ALL people. 
Yet, why did he die?  Well, he died to take away our sins.  Everything we do wrong in our life, every bad decision which results in us hurting someone, anything that isn't good, all of it is forgiven by Christ hanging on the Cross.  And this, I suggest, has to be our starting point.
 
Many people are afraid of God and afraid of Christianity because they think it brings judgement and condemnation.  They think Christianity frowns upon every tiny wrong move in life; that it brings too much expectation, too much pressure.  Yet, the opposite is true.  Christianity does not judge and does not condemn.  Rather, Christianity brings understanding and compassion.  Christianity brings a man, bruised and beaten, nailed to a Cross and dying.  Dying for you, dying for me.
 
And yes, this is very hard to accept.  Of course it is!  Could you imagine if Jesus was around today?  He would be called a fool and ridiculed.    
Jesus was ridiculed beyond compare.  Yet he kept going.  He was abused beyond compare.  Yet he kept going.  He had his hands and feet nailed to pieces of wood.  Yet he kept going.  
Why did Jesus keep going?  Simple.  Because he loves.  He loves us!  He even loved so much that he forgave all of those people who ridiculed him and abused him.  He even forgave those who put him to death.
 
Jesus understood that we are all sinful because he witnessed man's inhumanity to man at first hand.  Yet he had compassion for them.  This is why Christianity brings understanding.  This is why Christianity brings compassion. 
        
And while people feel Christianity expects too much of people, I would argue that Christianity, drilled right down, only expects one thing; to acknowledge that we do wrong.  And by acknowledging this, we turn to Christ to ask him to pour out some of that forgiveness he bought for us  on the Cross.
 
There is nothing Christ is not prepared to forgive; nothing.  And that must be central to our evangelisation.  It must be central to our sharing our faith with others.  And when Christ rose from the dead three days after his crucifixion, he paved the way for us to rise from the ashes of our wrongdoings and failings.  His suffering on the Cross is our suffering in sin; our suffering because of the bad things we do.  Yet we, like Christ, can rise from this suffering. 
 
Christ, through the Church and through the priest, can resurrect our lives by forgiving us in the sacrament of Confession.  He can drag us out of the darkness and bring us into the light.  When we go to Confession, our slate is wiped completely clean.  Completely clean!  We have no weight on our shoulders, no burden to carry.  We are completely free!
 
Money can buy us all the material goods and possessions we crave, and that may bring us happiness for a while.  But money cannot buy us true forgiveness.  It cannot wipe our slate clean.  Jesus, however, has the power to do this.  It is Jesus who makes all things new.  
 
And remember this, Jesus never ever holds a grudge.  If you tell him you did wrong he will forgive you and he will immediately forget all about it.  That is why we can confidently say our slate is wiped clean with Confession.  Everything we confess is wiped from the record.  It no longer exists.  We are free.
 
This, I would suggest, is the message we must take to the world.  A message of forgiveness and freedom.  Tell people that they are loved beyond compare and that there is nothing they have done that Christ isn't prepared to forgive.  
 
This is our mission.  
 
 
To read more on the sacrament of Confession and what it involves, please click here.   
 

Dwelling on the Word of God: A Practical Approach to Fasting (Friday 7th March 2014)

Posted on March 7, 2014 at 6:44 AM Comments comments (2)
We can help the poor by our fasting
 
From today's reading (Isaiah 58:1-9):
 
'Fasting like yours today
  will never make your voice heard on high.
Is that the sort of fast that pleases me,
  a truly penitential day for men?
 
Hanging your head like a reed,
  lying down on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call fasting,
  a day acceptable to the Lord?
 
Is not this the sort of fast that pleases me
 – it is the Lord who speaks –
to break unjust fetters and
  undo the thongs of the yoke,
 
to let the oppressed go free,
  and break every yoke,
to share your bread with the hungry,
  and shelter the homeless poor,
 
to clothe the man you see to be naked
  and not turn from your own kin?
Then will your light shine like the dawn
  and your wound be quickly healed over.
 
Your integrity will go before you
  and the glory of the Lord behind you.
Cry, and the Lord will answer;
  call, and he will say, ‘I am here.’'
 
 
In today's reading God gives us an insight into what He expects of us, in a practical sense, when we fast.    
 
Freeing the opressed, feeding the hungry, giving shelter to the homeless, giving clothing to those who have none.  These are all practical things we can do to help others and, in turn, please God.
 
Yet while they are practical, they are also prayerful.  What a beautiful way to pray to God; to do a great deed such as feeding a hungry person in the street or giving them warm clothes to wear. 
 
This passage from Isaiah is very much in keeping with Pope Francis' drive to be a Church of mission where we are not afraid to become dirty and wounded in our Christian living.  To not be afraid to touch the wounds of the poor, needy and sick in our world.
 
We are all being called to reach out to our fellow men, women and children, especially those most in need of our help.  They desperately need our help, and also our love. 
These are the things Jesus offers to all of us but sometimes, particularly during times of great poverty, despair and difficulty, it is hard to experience that love of Christ.  And that is where we come in.  We can bring that love of Christ to people through our charitable works.  We can let Christ shine through us by our good deeds and love for others.
 
 

Dwelling on the Word of God: Jesus’ teaching on divorce (Friday 28th February 2014)

Posted on February 28, 2014 at 7:46 AM Comments comments (9)
It is Jesus who taught us that divorce and remarrying is a sin
 
From today’s Gospel (Mark 10:1-12):
 
‘Jesus came to the district of Judaea and the far side of the Jordan. And again crowds gathered round him, and again he taught them, as his custom was. Some Pharisees approached him and asked, ‘Is it against the law for a man to divorce his wife?’ They were testing him. He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ ‘Moses allowed us’ they said ‘to draw up a writ of dismissal and so to divorce.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘It was because you were so unteachable that he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. This is why a man must leave father and mother, and the two become one body. They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.’ Back in the house the disciples questioned him again about this, and he said to them, ‘The man who divorces his wife and marries another is guilty of adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another she is guilty of adultery too.’’
 
 
In this passage Jesus stresses the importance of marriage and the consequences of divorce.  This passage is an important reminder of Jesus’ teaching on these issues at a time when the institution of marriage and the family is under serious threat.  This passage is the reason the Church holds steadfast to marriage between one man and woman and why it holds steadfast to refusing to allow anyone who has been divorced and remarried to receive the Eucharist.  It is Church teaching because it is Jesus’ teaching.
 
The Church is so often criticised for its stance on these issues - and these criticisms often arise from within the body of the Church itself – with critics claiming that they ‘have a problem with the Church’s stance or teaching on these issues’.  Yet these critics continually fail to identify the true root of the perceived ‘problem’.  That root is Christ.  It is Christ who set these standards, not the Church.  Christ taught the people.  He then formed the Church and the Church has to this day remained faithful to his teaching. 
 
The Church will continue to uphold this teaching but, crucially, it also continues to offer the mercy of God in the sacrament of Confession (another teaching of Christ) for any people who find themselves affected by marriage difficulties including divorce.  The Church also offers the opportunity to have a marriage annulled, where it may deem that that the marriage was never recognised in the eyes of God.  The process of annulment can be a lengthy one and the Church would do well to improve this but it is important to stress that this is an option available to people who are encountering significant marital problems. 
 
As Pope Francis said recently, the Church must be open to all and we must be a Church of mission where we reach out to all people.  This has always been the ideal of the Church but it has not always been the case on the ground, particularly in recent times, with much criticism being aimed at individual priests for failing to show sufficient sympathy and understanding at a difficult time.  We must hope and pray that, with Pope Francis’ influence, the Church will become a loving and compassionate place for all people affected by marriage difficulties and, although we must never stray from Jesus’ teaching, we can help people in their difficulties and seek the invaluable intercession of Mary and the Saints to guide us in testing times. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Dwelling on the Word of God: Jesus’ call for us to step out of our comfort zone (Friday 21st February 2014)

Posted on February 21, 2014 at 7:18 AM Comments comments (1)
The Good News - too good to keep to yourself!
 
From today’s Gospel (Mark 8:34-9:1):
 
‘…For if anyone in this adulterous and sinful generation is ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’
 
 
Do you talk about your faith to others?  Are you joyful in your faith to the point that you just can’t help but shout about it and share it on your Facebook page or Twitter feed? 
 
It’s an interesting thought.  But don’t think about it too long because Jesus is on your case!  In today’s Gospel Jesus warns us that we should not be ashamed of him and his words.  If we are ashamed, he warns us that he will be similarly ashamed of us when he comes again at the end of the world. 
 
While humility is an essential quality of any Catholic Christian it should never compromise our call to reach out to the world, to spread the Word of God, and to evangelise.  We must have a sense of mission, as encouraged by Pope Francis in his recent exhortation letter Evangelii Gaudium.  And part of that mission is to spread the Good News with joy, to all people.  And we must not confine ourselves to spreading the Good News to those we feel comfortable with.  Rather, we should be indiscriminate in our mission, revealing the glory and splendour of God in the risen Christ, to all people.
 
We need to consider what is more important to us.  Do I want to listen to Jesus and heed is call to spread the Good News, or do I want to remain secure in my comfort zone, never daring to do God’s work for fear of reprisals?  Jesus is asking us to commit ourselves to the former, safe in the knowledge that he will be by our side in the face of any attacks or insults we may be subjected to as a result.   
 

Walk the Streets of the World and Proclaim your Faith in Christ says Pope Francis on World Mission Day

Posted on August 7, 2013 at 7:24 AM Comments comments (4)
 
 
Pope Francis has released his message to the world for World Mission Day 2013.  In it he speaks about how faith “needs our personal response” and that it is a gift that we cannot keep to ourselves but must share.  He said “if we want to keep it only to ourselves, we will become isolated, sterile and sick Christians.”
He also speaks about the missionary task of Christian people to “walk the streets of the world with our brothers and sisters, proclaiming and witnessing to our faith in Christ and making ourselves heralds of his Gospel.”
He stresses that the Church is not “a relief organization, an enterprise or an NGO, but a community of people, animated by the Holy Spirit, who have lived and are living the wonder of the encounter with Jesus Christ and want to share this experience of deep joy, the message of salvation that the Lord gave us.”
The Pope also compared Christians living in areas where they are not free to practice their faith to the early Christian martyrs and reaffirmed his personal closeness in prayer to these people.
 
 
The full text of Pope Francis’ address is as follows (provided by news.va):

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This year, as we celebrate World Mission Day, the Year of Faith, which is an important opportunity to strengthen our friendship with the Lord and our journey as a Church that preaches the Gospel with courage, comes to an end. From this perspective, I would like to propose some reflections.
 
1. Faith is God’s precious gift, which opens our mind to know and love him. He wants to enter into relationship with us and allow us to participate in his own life in order to make our life more meaningful, better and more beautiful. God loves us! Faith, however, needs to be accepted, it needs our personal response, the courage to entrust ourselves to God, to live his love and be grateful for his infinite mercy. It is a gift, not reserved for a few but offered with generosity. Everyone should be able to experience the joy of being loved by God, the joy of salvation! It is a gift that one cannot keep to oneself, but it is to be shared. If we want to keep it only to ourselves, we will become isolated, sterile and sick Christians. The proclamation of the Gospel is part of being disciples of Christ and it is a constant commitment that animates the whole life of the Church. Missionary outreach is a clear sign of the maturity of an ecclesial community" (BENEDICT XVI, Verbum Domini, 95). Each community is "mature" when it professes faith, celebrates it with joy during the liturgy, lives charity, proclaims the Word of God endlessly, leaves one’s own to take it to the “peripheries”, especially to those who have not yet had the opportunity to know Christ. The strength of our faith, at a personal and community level, can be measured by the ability to communicate it to others, to spread and live it in charity, to witness to it before those we meet and those who share the path of life with us.

2. The Year of Faith, fifty years after the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, motivates the entire Church towards a renewed awareness of its presence in the contemporary world and its mission among peoples and nations. Missionary spirit is not only about geographical territories, but about peoples, cultures and individuals, because the "boundaries" of faith do not only cross places and human traditions, but the heart of each man and each woman. The Second Vatican Council emphasized in a special way how the missionary task:, that of broadening the boundaries of faith, belongs to every baptized person and all Christian communities; since “the people of God lives in communities, especially in dioceses and parishes, and becomes somehow visible in them, it is up to these to witness Christ before the nations" (Ad gentes, 37). Each community is therefore challenged, and invited to make its own, the mandate entrusted by Jesus to the Apostles, to be his "witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8) and this, not as a secondary aspect of Christian life, but as its essential aspect: we are all invited to walk the streets of the world with our brothers and sisters, proclaiming and witnessing to our faith in Christ and making ourselves heralds of his Gospel. I invite Bishops, Priests, Presbyteral and Pastoral Councils, and each person and group responsible in the Church to give a prominent position to this missionary dimension in formation and pastoral programmes, in the understanding that their apostolic commitment is not complete unless it aims at bearing witness to Christ before the nations and before all peoples. This missionary aspect is not merely a programmatic dimension in Christian life, but it is also a paradigmatic dimension that affects all aspects of Christian life.

3. The work of evangelization often finds obstacles, not only externally, but also from within the ecclesial community. Sometimes there is lack of fervour, joy, courage and hope in proclaiming the Message of Christ to all and in helping the people of our time to an encounter with him. Sometimes, it is still thought, that proclaiming the truth of the Gospel means an assault on freedom. Paul VI speaks eloquently on this: "It would be... an error to impose something on the consciences of our brethren. But to propose to their consciences the truth of the Gospel and salvation in Jesus Christ, with complete clarity and with total respect for free options which it presents... is a tribute to this freedom" (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 80). We must always have the courage and the joy of proposing, with respect, an encounter with Christ, and being heralds of his Gospel. Jesus came amongst us to show us the way of salvation and he entrusted to us the mission to make it known to all to the ends of the earth. All too often, we see that it is violence, lies and mistakes that are emphasized and proposed. It is urgent in our time to announce and witness to the goodness of the Gospel, and this from within the Church itself. It is important to never to forget a fundamental principle for every evangelizer: one cannot announce Christ without the Church. Evangelization is not an isolated individual or private act; it is always ecclesial. Paul VI wrote, "When an unknown preacher, catechist or Pastor, preaches the Gospel, gathers the little community together, administers a Sacrament, even alone, he is carrying out an ecclesial act." He acts not "in virtue of a mission which he attributes to himself or by a personal inspiration, but in union with the mission of the Church and in her name" (ibid. 60). And this gives strength to the mission and makes every missionary and evangelizer feel never alone, but part of a single Body animated by the Holy Spirit.

4. In our era, the widespread mobility and facility of communication through new media have mingled people, knowledge, experience. For work reasons, entire families move from one continent to another; professional and cultural exchanges, tourism, and other phenomena have also led to great movements of peoples. This makes it difficult, even for the parish community, to know who lives permanently or temporarily in the area. More and more, in large areas of what were traditionally Christian regions, the number of those who are unacquainted with the faith, or indifferent to the religious dimension or animated by other beliefs, is increasing. Therefore it is not infrequent that, some of the baptized make lifestyle choices that lead them away from faith, thus making them need a "new evangelization". To all this is added the fact, that a large part of humanity has not yet been reached by the good news of Jesus Christ. We also live in a time of crisis that touches various sectors of existence, not only the economy, finance, food security, or the environment, but also those involving the deeper meaning of life and the fundamental values that animate it. Even human coexistence is marked by tensions and conflicts that cause insecurity and difficulty in finding the right path to a stable peace. In this complex situation, where the horizon of the present and future seems threatened by menacing clouds, it is necessary to proclaim courageously and in very situation, the Gospel of Christ, a message of hope, reconciliation, communion, a proclamation of God's closeness, his mercy, his salvation, and a proclamation that the power of God’s love is able to overcome the darkness of evil and guide us on the path of goodness. The men and women of our time needs the secure light that illuminates their path and that only the encounter with Christ can give. Let us bring to the world, through our witness, with love, the hope given by faith! The Church’s missionary spirit is not about proselytizing, but the testimony of a life that illuminates the path, which brings hope and love. The Church – I repeat once again – is not a relief organization, an enterprise or an NGO, but a community of people, animated by the Holy Spirit, who have lived and are living the wonder of the encounter with Jesus Christ and want to share this experience of deep joy, the message of salvation that the Lord gave us. It is the Holy Spirit who guides the Church in this path.

5. I would like to encourage everyone to be a bearers of the good news of Christ and I am grateful especially to missionaries, to the Fidei Donum priests, men and women religious and lay faithful - more and more numerous – who by accepting the Lord's call, leave their homeland to serve the Gospel in different lands and cultures. But I would also like to emphasize that these same young Churches are engaging generously in sending missionaries to the Churches that are in difficulty - not infrequently Churches of ancient Christian tradition – and thus bring the freshness and enthusiasm with which they live the faith, a faith that renews life and gives hope. To live in this universal dimension, responding to the mandate of Jesus: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28, 19) is something enriching for each particular Church, each community, because sending missionaries is never a loss, but a gain. I appeal to all those who feel this calling to respond generously to the Holy Spirit, according to your state in life, and not to be afraid to be generous with the Lord. I also invite Bishops, religious families, communities and all Christian groups to support, with foresight and careful discernment, the missionary call ad gentes and to assist Churches that need priests, religious and laity, thus strengthening the Christian community. And this concern should also be present among Churches that are part of the same Episcopal Conference or Region, because it is important that Churches rich in vocations help more generously those that lack them.
At the same time I urge missionaries, especially the Fidei Donum priests and laity, to live with joy their precious service in the Churches to which they are sent and to bring their joy and experience to the Churches from which they come, remembering how Paul and Barnabas at the end of their first missionary journey "reported what God had done with them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles" (Acts 14:27). They can become a path to a kind of "return" of faith, bringing the freshness of the young Churches to Churches of ancient Christian tradition, and thus helping them to rediscover the enthusiasm and the joy of sharing the faith in an exchange that is mutual enrichment in the journey of following the path of the Lord.
 
The Church is a Community of People

The concern for all the Churches, that the Bishop of Rome shares with his brother Bishops finds an important expression in the activity of the Pontifical Mission Societies, which are meant to animate and deepen the missionary conscience of every baptized Christian, and of every community, by reminding them of the need for a more profound missionary formation of the whole People of God and by encouraging the Christian community to contribute to the spread of the Gospel in the world.

Finally I wish to say a word about those Christians who, in various parts of the world, experience difficulty in openly professing their faith and in enjoying the legal right to practice it in a worthy manner. They are our brothers and sisters, courageous witnesses - even more numerous than the martyrs of the early centuries - who endure with apostolic perseverance many contemporary forms of persecution. Quite a few also risk their lives to remain faithful to the Gospel of Christ. I wish to reaffirm my closeness in prayer to individuals, families and communities who suffer violence and intolerance, and I repeat to them the consoling words of Jesus: "Take courage, I have overcome the world" (Jn 16:33).

Benedict XVI expressed the hope that: "The word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified everywhere" (2 Thes 3:1): May this Year of Faith increasingly strengthen our relationship with Christ the Lord, since only in him is there the certitude for looking to the future and the guarantee of an authentic and lasting love" (Porta fidei, 15). This is my wish for World Mission Day this year. I cordially bless missionaries and all those who accompany and support this fundamental commitment of the Church to proclaim the Gospel to all the ends of the earth. Thus will we, as ministers and missionaries of the Gospel, experience "the delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing" (PAUL VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 80).

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