Are you ready for the New Normal?

Homily at St John Lloyd, for the Third Sunday of Year C

Are you ready for the New to become Normal?

On the day that the High Priest Ezra proclaimed God’s word, the Jewish Temple was newly rebuilt. After 70 years in exile, the Jewish people could once again make sacrifices according to God’s Law in Jerusalem. Something which was barely within living memory was about to become normal once again – and the people looked forward to it!

On the day that Our Lord Jesus Christ stood up to read in the synagogue, God was about to do something new. For centuries, prophets had spoken to the Chosen People. Now the Son of God was ready to walk among them. For 30 years he had lived an unremarkable human life, but he had just been baptised in the Jordan and was now ready to fulfil his destiny. As Jesus travelled through Galilee, the neighbouring lands, and Jersualem, the eyes of the blind would be opened, the lame made to walk, and the dead raised to life. But his listeners were not expecting one of their own villagers to be the Messiah, and resisted such a new and radical message – if we read further in the Gospel passage we discover that following his bold declaration, Jesus narrowly avoided being thrown from a cliff!

On the day of Pentecost, following the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, the 12 Apostles experienced the power of the Holy Spirit. They had already been sent out, before the Crucifixion, with a mission to heal; now Peter proclaimed the message of Jesus and many listeners became believers. For the first converts to Christianity, a New Normal was beginning; we read in the book of Acts that many signs and wonders were worked by the apostles, and that newly-baptised Christians were often immediately blessed with the ability to pray in the prayer language of heaven, referred to as “speaking in tongues”.

By the time St Paul wrote his First Letter to the Christians in Corinth, it was normal that within a Christian community there would be people with different gifts – some conventional gifts, such as being leaders, teachers or administrators, but also extraordinary spiritual gifts including healing, praying in tongues, and a God-given understanding which allowed the meaning of a prayer in tongues to be expressed in everyday language.

As time passed, it became much less common for church communities to experience the more extraordinary gifts. They never died out completely – there have always been reports of miracles in the church, rare examples of great saints with wonder-working powers. But during the twentieth century, these gifts became much more common – at the beginning of the century, in the Pentecostal Churches, and then from 1967 onwards, in Catholic prayer groups, starting in the USA and spreading around the world.

In part, it’s up to God to decide where and when extraordinary gifts are given. But in part, it’s up to us to ask for them. The first Catholics to experience these gifts in the USA did so because they had made a retreat to study the Acts of the Apostles and pray for a deeper experience of the Holy Spirit.

Last summer, I assisted a group of mainly Filipino Catholics holding a weekend retreat. I was due to give some basic teaching for new members, but the new members weren’t able to come. So the leaders asked me, instead, whether I would give a teaching on praying in tongues? Following my talk I prayed with the group, and three of the dozen or so members present experienced the ability to use this prayer language from the Holy Spirit for the first time.

Last week, when I visited a friend who lives outside this parish, she asked if I would bring the holy oil to anoint her friend who was suffering from back pain. When I did so, two remarkable things happened: the woman in pain received a momentary experience of God’s loving presence, and the pain went away. Now in my nearly six years of priesthood, that was only the second time that a remarkable physical recovery quickly followed an anointing, and the first time, as far as I know, that someone had a personal experience of God’s presence. But these touches of God’s presence can and do happen, when they are not deterred by our low expectations; the Sacraments become more fruitful when celebrated in a community with strong faith, and last week I think it was significant that a Christian friend of the sick person had the faith to ask for the Sacrament. Do we believe that God might want to heal us during this earthly life? The Sacrament of the Sick is not only meant as a “last rite” to send our souls to heaven!

Our expectations can create space where God can work wonders, or quench the work of the Holy Spirit almost entirely. The question is, what kind of church do we want our parish to be? If our vision is that we should be a community who gather for Mass, do the best we can to pass on our faith to our children, and run social events to raise funds to keep our building in good repair, that’s what we’ll get.

On the other hand, we might want our church to be the kind of church which the Apostles experienced in the first century, and which many Catholic prayer groups experienced in the 1970s and 80s. We might want to share in the work of Jesus in bringing freedom to captives, sight to the blind, and allowing the Spirit of God to work freely in our lives. But that would mean that we’d have to allow something new to become normal. We’d have to have the faith to believe that God can do, here in Cardiff, the remarkable things which Catholics have experienced in other places and other times – a way of being church that would be new for us.

Ezra’s listeners rejoiced that they could live out a renewed expression of their faith, unseen for a generation.

The Lord’s listeners were more skeptical, and told him to go jump off a cliff.

And what about us? How shall we receive this message? If you have the courage to do so, ask God to speak to your heart about His desires for this parish.

The prospect of change always stirs up uncomfortable feelings. So look beyond that initial discomfort. Look to that place where God touches your heart and directs you in which way you should go. Be attentive to whether the idea of a Church renewed by God’s powerful presence fills you with excitement or with coldness. God’s more remarkable gifts are on offer, but He will not give them unless we ask for them. Our parish will be the kind of parish we believe it should be. Are you ready for the New to become Normal? It can, but only if that’s what you desire.

Some Notes on Evangelisation

A new understanding of the New Evangelisation

Revd Gareth Leyshon, Evangelisation Coordinator for the Archdiocese of Cardiff, here reflects on lessons learnt at the recent Home Mission Forum for priests and deacons, organised by the Bishops’ Conference Home Mission Desk.

Passing on the Faith is the mission statement of the Catholic Church, yet it’s surprisingly rare that I have the opportunity to meet with other priests and deacons to reflect on the most effective way of communicating faith to those who are not already Catholic. I was very pleased to be able to attend the recent Bishops’ Conference Home Mission Forum, not only out of personal interest, but also because, in the Archdiocese of Cardiff, we’re making preparations to launch a new venture – a centre for mission – located at the heart of the city of Cardiff.

The January forum was hosted by the Sion Community for Evangelism in Brentwood, Essex. The venue was small (only 18-20 clergy could gather) but well placed to bring together highly experienced speakers, including Sion’s Michelle Moran (Member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity and President of the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services), Brentwood Diocese’s Mgr John Armitage, and Clare Ward from the Bishops’ Home Mission Desk in London. Each speaker brought something personal and powerful, and the delegates from the length and breadth of England and Wales brought a wealth of experience of local initiatives working well in different places.

New Evangelisation?

Currently, there is much talk about “New Evangelisation”, not least with the Vatican having set up a dicastery (department) for New Evangelisation and having held a synod (conference of bishops) on the subject. But what is this “New Evangelisation” and how does it apply specifically to our context in Wales and in England? The forum’s contributors brought together a clear synthesis of teaching and practical experience not previously available under one roof.

Good evangelisation is always a presentation of the Gospel in a way which matches the culture, background, history and language of the people receiving it. Because culture evolves, the practice of evangelising evolves along with it. And in this sense, contemporary evangelisation is no more “new” than the best practice of evangelising any previous generation.

But what is unprecedented, and therefore genuinely new in contemporary evangelisation, is the experience in Europe of  cultural transition – which some describe as the emergence of a post-Christian culture – where Christianity has not been replaced by another religion, but by a secular culture of “no religion”. In this new culture individual rights and personal autonomy seem exalted above everything else. Across Europe, democracies have been gradually rejecting Judaeo-Christian values, allowing abortion and euthanasia, and redefining the meaning of marriage.

We live in an anaesthetic society where TV or drugs distract us from asking the Big Questions, to the extent that one of the bishops at the Synod on Evangelisation declared that “the memory of God is dying in Europe”. A former vocations director has noted that many men in their 20s and 30s now approach Vocation Directors with a nagging sense that “there must be more to life than this”. In the UK now there are many people who have never seriously considered the Christian message, as well as millions who used to identify as Christians but now profess “no religion”.

From Pre-Evangelisation to Catechesis

Ideas shared at the forum ranged from those which simply prepare the ground for people of no religion to be well-disposed to the Gospel, through to resources for beginning catechesis with those who have accepted the invitation to become disciples of Jesus Christ. We were reminded that Pope Paul VI taught that the starting point for evangelisation is our way of life; we must live as Christians if our message is to be believable. But mere lifestyle is not enough – sooner or later we must speak about Jesus as our Master, Teacher and Saviour. But whatever we do, we must be clear about who we are trying to connect with, and for this reason, it is important to be clear about terminology.

Explicit evangelisation is the process of presenting the Good News about Jesus Christ to those who have not yet heard it in a way they can receive. Without explicit evangelisation, people of goodwill cannot be transformed into followers of Jesus Christ – as Romans 10:14 says, how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?

The term pre-evangelisation is used for many activities, which might also be called implicit evangelisation, which serve to prepare the ground for such a conversation. These include building up relationships through all kinds of (real world and cyberspace) social networks; charitable activities such as Foodbanks and Street Pastor initiatives; simple acts of love in everyday relationships; and campaigns like the Alpha posters challenging people to ponder the “meaning of life”. It has frequently been said that Blessed John XXIII was loved for his evident humanity more than his papal pronouncements!

Those who have already heard the message of Jesus and show at least a tentative interest in becoming his followers receive Christian formation, which includes catechesis – this is not merely the passing on of information but seeks to present the teaching of Jesus, make connections with the recipient’s lived experience of God’s presence, and challenges the disciple to reach conclusions about the way they should live their life in future. Formation can also include guidance in ways of praying, and in becoming a rounded human personality. There are many excellent catechetical video resources available from CaFE (CAtholic Faith Exploration), including their new 4-part series on the Sacraments, and many parishes are also finding the American 10-part Catholicism videos by Revd Robert Barron a very useful tool.

There is also a very important sphere of activity in reaching out to those who were once active members of the Catholic Church but are now said to be lapsed or resting Catholics. It may well be the case that some, even many, of these souls were initiated into the rituals of the Church but never fully took hold of the basic Gospel message. To that extent, these souls also need to be evangelised. However, this audience will also have stories to tell of disappointment or rejection. Programmes for engaging with these Catholics need to provide opportunities for such hurts to be dealt with. Connecting with non-Churchgoing Catholics is the theme of the Home Mission Desk’s Crossing the Threshold programme, but was not the focus of this Home Mission Forum.

Participants in the Forum also noted that the current generation of young adult Catholics often ask for “apologetics training” because they lack answers when confronted by evangelical Christians. But this might not indicate a hunger for “old fashioned apologetics” (focused on refuting Protestant views), but rather that these young people were not delivered effective catechesis at the time in their spiritual growth when they were ready to ask the questions.

Effective Mission

How, then, can we effectively proclaim the Gospel in 21st Century Britain? Experience has shown time and time again that evangelistic initiatives work best when carried out by a small group of keen members who are seriously committed to being disciples of Jesus Christ. The witness of a group is much more powerful than an individual – I experienced this first hand last year while celebrating an open-air Mass for confirmandi. Passers-by stopped to listen because a vested priest was clearly being listened to by an attentive group of teenagers, and I found myself having to adapt my sermon on the fly so it would say something to unchurched listeners as well as newly-confirmed youth. Another powerful example of a crowd of witnesses in a public space can be seen on YouTube where a flashmob gathered for Eucharistic Adoration in Preston.

A community of believers is most effective at bearing witness when the members share a common lifestyle and focus on the basic Gospel message. Such groups will devote some of their time to missionary activities, and some time deepening their understanding of the call of Christ to be disciples. Such groups can easily fall into the trap of dithering about what to do or claiming “we need more formation” before engaging in mission, when the best course of action is usually to take action. But it is also important for keen activists to take time to pause and reflect. Striking an appropriate balance is essential!

Whatever initiative we engage in, we need to invest time and effort in building a team. This inevitably takes time, but pays dividends long term. In general, as a church, we are utterly dreadful at affirming one another. Mutual support must be an integral part of our teamwork!

The Gospel says Jesus “knew what his listeners were thinking”. We must answer the questions our neighbours are pondering (but perhaps not explicitly asking), and to do this we ourselves must be part of the culture: heart speaks unto heart, as Blessed John Henry Newman said. We must also choose the language we use carefully: church jargon will not connect with many unchurched listeners in ways they can understand! Part of contemporary reality is that God often seems silent until patiently discovered, and a useful book exploring this theme is Patience with God by Tomas Halik – using the Gospel story of Zaccheus as an example of dialogue with humanism and atheism.

The agenda for the contemporary Church is set out clearly in the Vatican documents Novo Millennio Inuente and In Verbo Tuo. Above all, we are called to be holy; both Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have challenged young people to be the saints of the new millennium. But we must not underestimate how intimidating it sounds to the average Catholic to be presented with this message!

Three Bishops from England & Wales contributed to the Vatican Synod on “New Evangelisation”. Archbishop Longley of Birmingham was a Synod Father (a member of the Council that organised the Synod) and Bishops Conry (Chair of the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis) and Bishop Campbell of Lancaster, represented England & Wales. There were also two lay representatives, Dr Petroc Willey and Dr Caroline Farey, both from Maryvale Institute in Birmingham – I am now mindful to take note of them as people who can speak at events to relay the experience of the Synod.

What Can We Do?

Concrete ideas shared at the forum included the following:

  • Capitalise on cultural opportunities

The Christian Churches had a significant presence at the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. There may be similar ways to engage with local cultural activities – see your local authority’s timetable of major events – or national occasions such as the centenary of the First World War.

  • Use visual symbols as conversation starters

In one northern diocese, Catholics have been encouraged to wear a lapel cross, a pin or, in Lent, a purple coloured ribbon in the hope that other people ask about what they represent. When parishioners were handed the ribbon, they were also given a small card with ideas for how to respond to such questions.

  • Give seasonal gifts with a message

In the same diocese, Christmas baubles have been blessed and given to parishioners to pass on to friends for their Christmas trees; each bauble is accompanied by a short note about the meaning of Christmas.

  • Create a space where people can be listened to

In today’s busy world, many people may find that no-one takes time to listen to them – and this might be especially true of teenagers. Part of the genius of the Alpha course is creating a space at table where people can speak without fear of being contradicted. Evangelists must also be skilled at Listening – and such skills can be learned, for example through the Acorn Christian Listening approach.

  • Make good use of the Church Building

A locked church building is a poor witness. When our churches are open on Sundays, they usually draw significant congregations. A large crowd in a church can be intimidating to a first-time visitor but can also provide safe anonymity. City-centre churches are having some success with the Nightfever model where Christians invite any passer-by who wishes, to come in and light a candle in church during late-night prayer sessions. We might also ask: “What witness do we give by the way we celebrate Mass, or the way the priest himself is seen to pray in church before, or after?”

  • Co-operate Ecumenically

At the Synod, Archbishop Longley has pointed to the importance of working ecumenically – we can work with other Christians to understand the culture we now inhabit and to give a common witness. Working with other Christians for active evangelisation requires a great deal of mutual trust, but is not impossible.

International Catholic speaker, Charles Whitehead, often recalls his role chairing an ecumenical town mission in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, where the Catholic parish was a full partner with other churches. It took two years to prepare for the mission – one year for church leaders to meet together monthly to build up trust and dispel misconceptions, and another year to train volunteers. The actual Mission involved leading figures from participating denominations speaking in a marquee on the village green each evening. If audience members came forward in response to the message, there was an agreed protocol about how they would be connected with a local church: in order of preference, the interested party would be referred to (1) the church with which they had a previous connection, if any; (2) the church of the friend or family member who had brought them to the mission event; (3) a local church in which they might have a particular interest; (4) if none of the above generated a relevant connection, then the church of one of the volunteer engaging the responder in conversation. Cardinal Hume, who was one of the evening speakers, commented that this protocol was very practical and reasonable; and more than twenty years on from the mission, the churches in Gerrards Cross maintain a close working relationship, running one joint event celebrating the 2012 Olympics which drew a crowd of 7,000!

  • Engage with the quest for purpose in life – a sense of vocation

We now live in a mass-produced culture where everyone consumes the same designer labels and listens to the same music on their personal players. Yet human beings also seek their individual identity, their unique purpose in life. Cardinal Newman’s saying about being created for “some definite purpose” is much quoted at the present time; offering people the chance to explore God’s unique calling for them as an individual could be a fruitful approach. A new ecumenical resource being piloted called Connect4Life offers ways to tap into this.

Overall at the Forum I was struck by the truth that the New Evangelisation isn’t complicated. It’s predominantly about doing simple things and doing them well, rooted in Christ, ever-ready to use opportunities as they present themselves. Having a Forum of this kind was a very valuable opportunity; all of those present were seeking to discern their next steps in service of Home Mission and were not disappointed in what they received. Together with the parallel Forum for lay people a few days later, I am hopeful that this Year of Faith will offer a new impetus for the Catholic Church in Wales and in England to return to the heart of its mission – offering the Good News of Jesus Christ to millions of people who have either lost the memory of God, or are still waiting for their first introduction!

Sing a New Song to the Lord

Homily at St John Lloyd for the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

Not long ago, a young man called Gareth arrived in a community. The members of the community didn’t believe they could sing – at least not in any way people would want to listen to. But Gareth worked with them, boosted their confidence, and they realised they could sing. They went on to do amazing things.

I’m talking, of course, about choirmaster Gareth Malone. At the start of 2011, he arrived at a military camp in Devon and recruited Marines’ wives to form a choir. The BBC made a documentary about it, and with Gareth’s gentle coaching, the wives sang – first in a private rehearsal chamber, then in front of a crowd of shoppers in Barnstaple – and eventually, in front of Her Majesty the Queen at the Royal Albert Hall!

Those wives weren’t professional musicians or performers. But working together, with practice and encouragement, they developed their natural talents, and were recognised as good enough to sing on a national stage.

There was another young man called Gareth. When he was at secondary school, the music teacher advised him not to sing, because he was putting the rest of the class off. But then he went to seminary, where he received some personal coaching. He learned how to carry a tune, and took his place on the rota to sing psalms at Mass. And when he took charge of a parish, he encouraged that parish to sing the Mass parts – I mean chants like the Holy Holy, and the Great Amen – he even had them record a service of worship which was broadcast on Radio Wales! That Gareth, of course, was me.

Today’s psalm invites us all to “sing a new song to the Lord” – it reminds us that when we gather in God’s house, one of the ways we should express our love for God is to sing God’s praises. Music touches a deep part of our souls. Music helps us remember those deep truths of our faith which have been turned into lyrics. One of the saints famously said that “to sing is to pray twice”.

The Jewish people sang at the Temple, and we know what they sang – the Psalms we still use at Mass today. Our Lady sang – we have the words of the Magnificat preserved in the Bible. The Gospel also tells us that Jesus and the Apostles sang at the Last Supper. And can you imagine the wedding at Cana – after all that excellent wine – without some quite lively songs being sung?

Here at St John Lloyd, we are also called to express our love for God by singing. We don’t need to become professional singers. We can be amateurs – indeed, the word amateur means someone who does something out of love. [A comment here will reflect on each different congregation’s musical ability at the three different Masses.] Today’s second reading reminds us that God gives different gifts to different people; not all of us have the ability to sing a solo or to sing harmonies. But I believe that each and every person here at Mass today is capable of singing a simple tune well, out of love for God.

Don’t be deterred. Perhaps you’ve been told that you’re no good at singing? That’s what I was told at school, but they were wrong – all I needed was some coaching.

Perhaps you feel self-conscious; no-one wants to be the first to sing up. But here we can help each other – if we all sing out loud and strong, we will support each other, and no one person’s mistakes will be noticed.

Perhaps quite a few of us who would happily sing in the pub don’t feel quite the same about singing in Church. It’s true that in within living memory, there was a time when it wasn’t common to sing at Catholic services, unless you were part of a choir trained in Latin chants. But that only reflects the more recent centuries in the history of our church. So take heart – God’s message today commands us not to be silent, but to cry out, and to sing a new song to the Lord! So I’m inviting you, today, to make a renewed commitment in your heart, that when you come to Mass, you also choose to sing loud, sing strong, and sing with love for God.

I know that in recent years this parish met one challenge to “Raise the Roof”, by raising money to repair the roof. Now I am challenging you to raise the roof another way, with song. And since the psalm today tells us to sing a new song to the Lord, I am going to teach you a new song – one we can sing unaccompanied, even while our musicians are receiving communion.

The song I’ve just taught you will be our “theme song” for the Year of Faith. I invite you to learn it, to sing it, and to meditate on the meaning of the words. The Military Wives perform in T-shirts declaring: “My husband serves Queen and Country – I sing for Queen and Country”. I’m not going to give you a T-shirt, but I do offer you a slogan:  I sing a new song for the Lord!

Manifest faith

Homily at St John Lloyd, for the Epiphany of the Lord, 2013

Arise, shine out! With these words, the prophet Isaiah speaks a command to God’s chosen city, Jerusalem – which is therefore a command to us, the Church.

The prophet says that God’s glory is on us in the midst of darkness. We are to look at the friends of God assembling all around us. When we realise that we’re surrounded by God and by God’s people, our hearts will throb and be full.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me excited. I long to be in a place where I see the fingerprints of God’s work all around me. I long to have conversations with people who are willing to speak about the amazing things God has done in their life. I long to be reminded that on those days when my faith is weak and God feels far away, that others are experiencing God’s presence close at hand.

But we’re British. We don’t talk about these things. So instead we rely on old memories.

Today’s Gospel reminds us how the Wise Men from the East were led by a star and recognised God’s chosen leader in the child born to Mary. They sensed God’s presence and the world re-tells the story each year as we celebrate Christmas.

Today’s Second Reading reminds us of how St Paul was converted from being a persecutor of the Christian faith, to being its most fervent advocate. The place where it happened has entered the dictionary – a dramatic conversion is often called a “Road to Damascus Experience”.

Yet these stories of times long ago and lands far away aren’t enough if we are to tell the world about a loving Lord who is alive and active even today.

Fortunately, a few British people have embraced the prophet’s command to shine out, and have been willing to go on the record about the way God has touched their lives.

When I was in seminary, my spiritual director was a priest called Monsignor Keith Barltrop. He was brought up in a family who were Christian but not Catholic. These are his words:

One day, while I was at university, my state of doubt about everything became so intense that I spontaneously cried out, “God, I have no idea if you exist or not, but if you are there, do something!”

There was no immediate response, but a few days later a picture came into my mind apparently from nowhere of the Catholic Church, which I had been brought up to believe was seriously in error. I saw a huge building with many side rooms like chapels in a cathedral, and the thought came into my mind: “somewhere here there is a place for you”. Immediately a sense of peace replaced the doubts I had had for years, and the picture was confirmed when I walked into Westminster Cathedral some weeks afterwards, and was overwhelmed with a sense of God’s presence.

Needless to say, Mgr Barltrop’s journey led him deeper into the Catholic Church, and by the time I came to know him, he was a senior priest in the Westminster Diocese.

Or I could tell you something of the story of Emily Davis, a young lady I met a few times through my work with the Sion Community. Emily grew up in a family where both parents were committed Catholics, and where family prayer was a normal part of daily life. Emily writes:

Spiritual conversations were common place, as were dramatic answers to prayer. During the recessional 80s, there were several times I remember us 5 kids being summoned out of bed early, to pray together before school, and we would return from school, keen to hear how God had provided for us that day. Sometimes there would have been a cheque put through the post that covered a bill we’d received that morning. Other times someone would have dropped food round that was enough for all of us, for supper. I learnt that our God is a God who communicates clearly (as he did with those who blessed us), and is our provider, in a very practical sense.

Emily seriously considered becoming a missionary in Africa, but was guided clearly through prayer to know that she was meant to work in England – and through an unexpected gift from an anonymous donor, money was provided to clear her university debts so that she could work for the Sion Community.

These two stories and more now shine forth for the world to read on a national Catholic website, where you can find links to many other amazing and encouraging stories –

  • Bonnie, who, aged 5, was sent to a Christian holiday club by parents who expected her to learn how to be a “good person” but came back with a faith in Jesus – her parents became Christians a year later.
  • Derrick, an inmate at Wandsworth Prison, who had a vision of Christ on the Cross, of which he says “I experienced total freedom and the assurance that I was loved totally, irrespective of my past.”
  • David Payne, a drug addict who on the 18th of February 1985 asked a Catholic prayer group to pray for him, experienced a touch of God’s presence, threw away his drugs and came through the experience with no withdrawal symptoms.

Now, not everyone has a dramatic story to tell of a vision or sudden healing. Indeed, many stories on the same website begin with words like those of Rev John O’Toole:

My faith journey was and is more a road to Emmaus than a road to Damascus.  There have been no flashing lights and few dramatic events.  Rather it was and is a gradual journey of learning, growing and deepening in faith.

But I’ve chosen some of the more dramatic stories because, as I said a few moments ago, we are to look at the friends of God assembling all around us. When we realise that we’re surrounded by God and by God’s people, our hearts will throb and be full. And when we haven’t had such remarkable experiences ourselves, we are greatly encouraged to know that they really do happen – not as some dubious urban legend doing the rounds on the Internet, but as real stories happening to British people – four of whom I know and can vouch for personally.

We’re not to expect that we should all see a vision of Christ on the Cross or of our home being in a Cathedral. But we can expect that God, our loving Father, wants each and every one of us to know, in our hearts, like Derrick the prisoner, that we are loved by God regardless of what we have done in the past; and if we choose to live our family lives like the Davis family, putting prayerful trust in God and asking for what we need, we too will experience answered prayer in our lives.

Arise, shine out! With these words, the prophet Isaiah speaks a command to God’s chosen city, Jerusalem – which is therefore a command to us, the Church. If you’ve experienced a touch of God’s presence, an answered prayer, don’t be afraid to tell someone – for you may be the star which God will use to bring the light of Christ to a soul yet waiting in darkness – waiting for you to shine!

Bonus material for web readers:

You can also read on-line stories of Catholics who have returned to the faith, and see videos of Catholics giving their testimonies at Faith Nation and the Year of Faith channel.