“You really ought to meet Helena!* The two of you would get on really well!”
It was around the second year of my time in seminary that a longstanding friend made an unexpected comment. I was working towards the Catholic priesthood, with its lifelong commitment to celibacy, so I was a bit perplexed at the thought of this friend, a committed Catholic herself, playing matchmaker. Making “a new lady friend I would get on really well with” wasn’t high on my priority list at the time.
But a few months later, when we were all at the same social function, my friend did introduce me to Helena. And she was right! We did get on really well, and from that grew a deep and cherished friendship which has endured to this day.
The twelve disciples were given a mission similar to that of my old friend. She wanted to introduce me to Helena. The twelve had to introduce a nation to Jesus. They were sent not only to preach and heal, but to prepare the towns to meet Jesus when he came.
Our faith, our Christian faith, is in a person, the person called Jesus. We are not followers of a Book or a Law. True, we read of Jesus in a Book, a Book of the Gospels. True, Jesus gave us a Law, that we must love God, and love one another. But these things are not primary. The great and extraordinary message which we celebrate as Christians is that God visited us on earth at a moment of human history; Jesus, God-made-flesh, is our teacher, saviour and friend.
The twelve disciples were allowed to take a staff, a pair of sandals, and the clothes they were standing up in. Nothing else – except the authority of Jesus. They were not without resources – but they had to learn to trust in God, not in money or their own ingenuity. The sign that Jesus was with them, unseen, was that they were able to work miracles, healing the sick and casting out demons.
My old friend knew me well, and she knew Helena. She knew the two of us would get on well, and she persevered until we did meet. I am very glad, now, that she did, but until I met Helena, I didn’t know why she was working so hard to get us together. And just the same thing happens when we want to introduce one of our own friends to Jesus. When we talk about our faith, we will meet disinterest and perhaps hostility, until the time is right – and then something will happen, which will let us connect our friend to Jesus when they’ve had a glimpse of his power, or they cry out in pain or in need. Then, they will discover Jesus, and a beautiful friendship will begin.
We must be persistent in the work of introducing our friends to Jesus, because, “a personal relationship with Christ [is the] key to complete fulfilment”.
Hang on minute – a personal relationship with Jesus? Doesn’t that sound like a strange, Protestant idea?
I was quoting someone when I said that “a personal relationship with Christ” is the “key to complete fulfilment”.
Was it Billy Graham? No.
Was it the Archbishop of Canterbury? No.
In fact, I was quoting from Pope Benedict XVI, in a speech he made in 2011 to the Bishops of the Philippines. Why?
Pope Benedict hoped that “each Catholic will grasp in his or her innermost depths the life-transforming fact that God exists, that he loves us, and that in Christ he answers the deepest questions of our lives.”
This is a message the Catholic Church has kept quiet about for too long. When I meet young Catholic parents who want their babies baptised, they understand that we must “love one another” but when I ask them about God, many of them don’t understand that God is a person who loves them. When I say the word “God”, all they hear is “church stuff”. That’s why, this weekend, Catholic leaders from across England and Wales gathered to discuss how we can become more missionary as a church – how we can introduce our nation to Jesus, and through Jesus, to the One whom He called Father.
St Paul has no doubt about who Jesus and His Father are. I encourage you to re-read today’s Second Reading and make it your own song of praise to God. In a few words it reminds us that God-the-Father loves us just as we are, God doesn’t want us to be punished for any wrong deeds we’ve done, and that Jesus, through his life, death, and resurrection, enables our sins to be forgiven and ourselves to be adopted as children in God’s family.
Maybe you’re reluctant to meet God. Are you worried that God will blame you for the wrong deeds that you have done? But God sent his Son, Jesus, to forgive your sins.
Are you worried that you will be ashamed about who you are in God’s presence? But God loves you just as you are and wants you to be part of His family.
Do you blame God for some tragedy which has afflicted your family? Unless you can forgive God for not managing the Universe in the way you’d prefer, you’ll never be able to know that love and peace which God longs to give you.
Have you met my friend, Jesus? Have you met His Father, the God who loves you?
If these words sound like hollow ideas, then allow me to make an introduction. When you approach the altar for Holy Communion at this Mass, ask Jesus to show you His Father, and reveal to you his love. I know that you, Jesus and His Father are going to get on really well together. I hope you meet each other real soon!
* Not her real name, to protect her privacy.