Today is Home Mission Sunday, and we’ve received a letter sent from all the Bishops of England and Wales together. You can read the full text in the parish newsletter, but I’m going to pass on our bishops’ message in my own words.
Each one of us who is Catholic shares in the duty of making Our Lord Jesus known to the people around us, inviting them to hear His Good News and join our church. We call this ‘evangelisation’, and when done in our local community, that makes it our ‘home mission’. We’re called to deepen our own faith, so that we can share it with others, sensitively and confidently.
Pope Francis shows us that the true heart of faith is hugely attractive. He shows us how to let our faith be seen. He does this by making clear the great mercy of God, the mercy that he has received and that he shows to all. The mercy of God is God’s love in action, reaching out to every person, to each one of us in our weakness. Mercy is God’s tender embrace in lifting us up and inviting us to start again.
In the Psalm of our Mass today, we proclaimed God’s mercy with the words: “The Lord upholds my life.” Mercy appears all the more clearly when, recognising our own sinfulness, we rely totally and joyfully on the goodness of God. When Pope Francis was asked to describe himself he said, simply, “I am a sinner.” As we understand the depth of God’s never-failing mercy towards us, then we are freed to offer the same mercy to those around us. In doing so we show forth the best of our faith.
How can we proclaim God’s mercy to the people around us? We have a wonderful opportunity in the coming Jubilee Year of Mercy, established by Pope Francis, beginning this December. He asks us to “go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God!” Together let us Proclaim God’s Mercy. The readings we have heard today speak of the tests and trials of everyday life, the weariness we can feel, the conflicts we face, whether within our own hearts or from those around us. St James invites us to respond to every situation as peacemakers. That’s easier said than done! But then he tells us that our way forward is through prayer, asking the Lord for all that we need to get through the day, and to let his love be seen.
The Gospel Reading from St Mark puts it very simply. When we live our lives with trust in God as a child trusts his parents, then we will be free of so many burdens. And then our faith will be transparent, evident to others, and attractive. Then we will be proclaiming the Gospel for others to see and hear. The key, then, to showing our faith in the way we live, is to be ready to live constantly in the presence of God, knowing that God never takes his eyes off us. God gazes upon us not to catch us out, but because he loves us so much. Are we aware of that loving gaze which is upon us, and of the mercy and encouragement that flows our way? If so, we will be well able to look on others in the same way.
This trust in God and love for others is our starting point for evangelisation. From this beginning, there are many things we need to do. We must speak openly about our faith. We must show our love in concrete actions towards those most in need. We must have a loving care for those who have been hurt by life – and a special care for anyone who has been hurt within the Church, for these wounds make it particularly difficult for a person to return to the sacraments.
In many different ways – through friendship, through prayer, through conversation – we seek to reach other human beings, so that they sense in us God’s presence and loving invitation to them. Our efforts need not be complicated or heroic. As Our Blessed Lady reminds us, through our humble efforts the Lord can do great things!
Finally, our bishops want to thank each and every one of us for the witness that we already give. Our presence at Mass today is a good example. By coming to Mass we not only give due worship to God but also publicly proclaim our faith to everyone who knows of our commitment and routine. Our bishops thank us for our daily efforts in family living, the patterns of family life that we work hard to sustain. And family life is important, because for each child, the family is the first and best school of faith, of prayer and of virtuous living.
What does this mean for us here in St Philip Evans? This weekend we are asked to make a financial contribution to the Bishops’ Home Mission Fund, so there will be a retiring collection. But more practically, what can we do? It seems to me, as your parish priest, that not many of us feel confident enough to pass on the Good News of Jesus to other people. So our focus for the next three years in this parish will be on deepening and strengthening our own faith. This coming Monday, our monthly Call to Question group begins a new course, The Gift, looking at how the Holy Spirit helps us to do this. There are still places available at next month’s diocesan Proclaim’15 conference, and I will be happy to pay the costs for any parishioner who wishes to attend. In the coming months, we will begin to put in place other activities where adults and whole families can go to learn more about the message of Jesus received by our Church. This time next year we will have a Parish Mission. And most pressing at the moment, we have not yet got Children’s Liturgy up and running.
It’s vital that we provide the best possible experience of church for our children at every Sunday Mass. Our first group of volunteers are currently being DBS-checked, but nothing can be launched until they are fully checked and trained. Already, some volunteers have dropped out. We need some of you to replace them, so we can build up a healthy team where no one person is left having to share too much of the load. If we don’t pass on our faith to our children, our church will die. And only we who come to weekend Mass here are in a position to work with our children. So this responsibility is on us – and my share of the responsibility is making sure that the training we need is available. If you don’t feel ready, today, to share your faith with our children – what are you going to do about it?
Resources from the National Proclaim’15 Event in Birmingham are available online.