Help! I’m a Catholic who wants to evangelise!

You are reading this page because you are a Catholic who wants to share the Good News of Jesus with other people, but you don’t know where to start.

First, congratulations! Trust your instincts. Don’t listen to the people who say “that’s a Protestant thing” or “Catholics don’t do that”. On the contrary, heed Pope Francis who reminds us that all Catholics are called to be Missionary Disciples.

There’s a broad sense in which all the good works done by the Church are ‘evangelistic’. But not all of the Church’s good works explicitly speak about Jesus. There’s a blurred line where evangelisation stops and catechesis begins, at the point where a listener knows Jesus is real and wants to learn more about him. Nevertheless, you know you aren’t called to join the SVP or be a leader in your local RCIA group. You want to evangelise – you want to introduce people to Jesus.

But, how do we evangelise as Catholics? The best place to start depends on your context. Who are you working with and for?

I’m a lone Catholic with no-one else who shares my vision.

Don’t panic! You can do a great deal on your own, because effective evangelisation generally takes place within existing relationships. There are some things you can do to hone your skills at sharing your faith in a way that doesn’t put other people off.

  • Learn to be sensitive to where other people are in their growth towards faith. Read Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples and watch the Proclaim’15 video on Sharing the Gospel Message.
  • Practice giving your testimony – and watch the video on Testimonies.
  • You can volunteer to your parish priest to “mentor” anyone who needs a confirmation sponsor or has expressed interest in the Church.
  • You could get involved as a volunteer with one of the non-parochial Catholic groups which runs faith-deepening activities – groups such as Youth 2000 or Celebrate.
  • You could also get involved with other local Christians running Alpha.
  • There are lots of other ‘lifestyle’ suggestions from the Home Mission Desk.

There are a few of us in my parish who want to evangelize, but my parish priest isn’t interested.

This isn’t unusual. Hard-pressed parish priests might worry that they don’t have time to manage another parish group, or might be struggling to sustain the parish RCIA arrangements and worry about how they would manage if you were successful in your evangelising. Nevertheless, a parish priest has no authority to stop any group of Catholics from meeting and praying on their own private property (see paragraphs 19 and 25 of Apostolicam Actuositatem).

I’ve been asked by my parish priest to start an evangelisation group.

Great! So first you need to form your group and do some general training. Then you need to identify what particular opportunities there are in your parish and get some training and do some planning around your project.

A good starting point will be to watch the Proclaim’15 videos about Vision and Strategy and Parish Teams, and how to share the Gospel message and give a Testimony.  If you are also responsible for organising intercession in support of evangelisation, use the session on Prayer (but if you’re not responsible for that, make sure someone is!)

If your team doesn’t feel very confident, you could run some more extensive training – in 5 sessions you can do Pass It On, or in 18 short or 9 long sessions you can use the Relit Evangelisation Course (that’s not cheap to buy, though).

After basic training, it’s time to decide what kind of project your group will tackle. Here, the Southwark Handbook can be invaluable. You will probably settle on one of three kinds of projects – to reach non-churchgoing Catholics, to reach people with no particular faith background, or to help those who already worship in your parish to move from being mere churchgoers to missionary disciples.

Focus on non-Churchgoing Catholics

Of all the human beings who don’t attend Mass, non-Churchgoing Catholics are the easiest target. They are members of the families of the people who do go to Mass. They are parents at the local Catholic School. They are easy to identify – but hard to shift. Dr Ann Casson’s 2014 research established that young Catholic parents consider themselves “good Catholics” if they are kind to other people and turn up in church at Christmas and Easter.

The Catholic Church’s focus on non-Churchgoing Catholics in England and Wales is branded as Crossing the Threshold and an e-manual is available, as well as a video from Proclaim’15. There are also extensive resources for use around Christmas and Easter.

You may wish to adopt one of the established packages – Keeping In Touch, Landings or Catholics Returning Home.

Focus on non-Catholics

The most challenging project for most Catholics will be the prospect of sharing the Catholic faith with people who have no prior Catholic connections. Pioneering work in this regard has been done by the Seeker Centre at Pantasaph, who have developed an Evangelisation Manual. There is also a Proclaim’15 video. You could run an Alpha, which contains only basic teaching common to all mainstream Christian traditions. If you have a town centre location, you might consider the Nightfever model, or offer some other kind of Prayer Experience.

Focus on evangelising the churchgoers

Many regular churchgoers will fail to understand the need or importance of evangelisation. You may decide that your starting point is to raise support among the congregation before you start to reach outside. There are three Proclaim’15 videos touching on particular groups you may wish to work with:

You may decide that a formal cell-group structure will work in your parish. If so, there are several models available:

Other tools for deepening the faith of a congregation include Bishop Robert Barron’s Catholicism resources and the video sets from Cafébut remember that education alone may not be enough – parishioners need to be confronted with the challenge of taking God seriously. Some courses (e.g. The Gift) do include a step of personal commitment but a parish mission can help more people take that step, and help to run a parish mission is available from groups like Café and the Sion Community.

I’m a parish priest, but I’m not sure what to do.

Your calling is to be an enabler of evangelisation. Found a team, and let them take the steps above. Your job is to equip the laity – they will connect with people you would never meet in your daily activities. But also have a strategy for your parish with evangelisation as an integral part. If your resources allow it, have some kind of pre-RCIA activity, such as Alpha, running all year round, and some kind of parish “Connect and Explore” fellowship which can help regular parishioners deepen their faith, and also serve as a post-RCIA opportunity. If your parish is too small to do that, you may need to consciously focus on raising the commitment level of existing worshippers, following the pattern of Divine Renovation.

In your preaching, be conscious of the need to draw your congregation on a journey from membership to discipleship. You don’t have time to read a book, so try this short summary of Forming Intentional DisciplesWhen you feel the time is right to issue a more direct challenge, run a Parish Mission.

I’ve been made responsible for promoting evangelisation across a diocese, deanery or cluster.

Great! The most important thing is to resist the temptation to put on some “big event” aimed at unchurched people or non-churchgoing Catholics. Big events only ever work when you have an enthusiastic network of churchgoers ready and willing to invite their non-churchgoing friends to come with them.

There is value in having networking events for active evangelisers to support each other. The wider the area, the lower the frequency. A city might have a monthly gathering for evangelisers – a diocese might have a convention once every year or two.

You can organise regional events to pray for intercession – you can use the Proclaim’15 Prayer Resources, the Mass for the New Evangelisation, or the Masses on pages 810-823 and 1342-1345 of the British & Australian Roman Missal.

Above all, promote evangelisation at the grassroots level – most effective evangelisation is carried out by individuals and fostered by parishes. Promote all the small-scale solutions above and encourage your evangelisers to persevere. May the Lord who has begun the good work in you, bring it to completion!

Talk About Jesus!

Homily at St Philip Evans for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year C.

How many of your children still attend Mass?

How many of their children still attend Mass?The front cover of the book "Do You Love Me?" with a red sky and a fishing boat on a shore

Don’t answer the question aloud – but I know this is a great source of pain for many of us who have tried to raise children as Catholics. Perhaps it leaves us doubting ourselves.

Yet… reflect on this. Never, in any of the Gospels, do any of the disciples manage to catch a fish without help!*

If they are fishing at sea, they have to put the nets where Jesus shows them.

If they are catering on land, they rely on a small boy offering up his fish supper.

Today, Jesus is grilling some fish already!

Who did Jesus choose to be his “fishers of men”? Only the most incompetent fishermen in all of Galilee!

So if any of us doubt that we are the right people to be passing on the Catholic faith, think again. We can do it – but we have to follow the Lord’s instructions.

There was a time when it was good enough for us to simply show our children and our friends how to be Catholic. We did what Catholics do: we went to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, we abstained from meat on Fridays, we got involved in devotions and parish clubs. We relied on peer pressure and respect for the authority of the church, so that other people did the same things with us.

That doesn’t work any more. From the 1960s in Britain, and from the 90s in Ireland, we lost that intangible sense of Church being something we had to do as part of life. Some of you have come to Cardiff from nations and cultures which still hold that respect for the Catholic faith. For now, your children share your passion for church – but they will soon be pulled away by the Godless culture which is 21st century Britain. It won’t be enough to show them how to live as Catholics – you will need to motivate them to be followers of Jesus and members of the Catholic Church.

So, start with yourself. What motivates you to live as a Catholic? For some us, the answer is a sense of belonging. This is our church building – the people who gather here are our friends. That’s a good start – but Jesus asks us to go deeper. Why do we say prayers, listen to readings from the Bible, and celebrate Holy Communion? Is it because it’s what our friends do? Is it because it’s what our priests had told us to do? Or is it because we believe in Jesus and are doing what He has invited us to do?

If we come from a Catholic family, and we look back far enough, we’ll discover that one of our ancestors became Catholic because someone talked about Jesus, and passed on his invitation. Perhaps it was St Thomas the Apostle in Kerala. Perhaps it was St Patrick in Ireland, or one of the first missionaries to the Philippines. After all, if no-one had talked about religion, your family would never have become a Catholic family.

Talking about Jesus isn’t easy. In fact, many of us learned at our mother’s knee that we should “never talk about religion or politics” because this isn’t done in polite company. Certainly, talking about religion the wrong way leads to heated arguments. The Jewish leaders in today’s reading warned Peter and the other apostles not to talk about Jesus. Did they stop? Of course not! They travelled far and wide preaching and teaching, and most of them died for what they believed and taught.

We are all called to be “fishers of men” – that is, to invite men and women to be followers of Jesus and members of our Church. There’s a right way and wrong way to do this. The wrong way is to start by trying to persuade other people that our religion is right. There’s certainly a place for Catholic Voices to defend our beliefs on the media, but that rarely persuades a skeptic or an open-minded person to become a Catholic. Instead, let’s explore the right way to talk about faith – and we can use this with our children, our grandchildren, our work colleagues and our friends. We need to do two things – tell our own story, and ask the right questions.

No-one can fault us for sharing our own story. If someone asks you this week what you did on the weekend, you can say, “I went to church, and heard a thought-provoking sermon”. If, and only if, that person asks what the sermon was about, tell them! Within your own family, do you tell your children and grandchildren about those days where you sense God being close to you when you say your prayers? That’s not boasting – it’s helping the next generation have a realistic understanding of what it’s like to have a connection with God.

Then we can ask questions. “Do you think about spiritual things?” “Do you think there’s anyone in charge of the Universe?” “Have you ever thought of visiting church?” According to a recent survey, there are three million people in Britain who would go to church if only one of their friends invited them!

Remember, a failure is only someone who hasn’t succeeded yet. Jesus told his incompetent fishermen to put out the nets on the other side for a catch, and their haul was massive! So even if you feel you have failed to persuade your family or your friends of the goodness of the Catholic Faith, Jesus is asking you to have another go, but to do it differently. Put out your nets for a catch!

 

* This observation was made by Raymond Brown in his commentary on John’s Gospel.

 

 

Instruct the Ignorant!

Homily at St Philip Evans, on the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C.

Do you show mercy in your daily life?

If we want to be merciful, like the Father, we must offer mercy.

If we want to make a good confession this Lent, we must face up to where we’ve failed.

Over the next few weeks, we will consider the spiritual works of mercy. Today, I invite you to ask: have I instructed those who are ignorant?

Consider ignorance. There are things we don’t know we don’t know, ‘til someone shows us. I’ll always be grateful to the friend who taught me that SHIFT-F3 on my computer keyboard can flip a word into capital letters – a great time-saver! And to the seminarian who taught me to kick a football straight using the side of my foot, not the toe of my boot. I’m reminded of the story of the teenage boy who left home thinking his parents were quite ignorant, and returned from college amazed at how much they’d learned in three years!

What about religious ideas? In last weekend’s sermon, we were reminded that God has poured blessings on outsiders, so we must be ready to reach out and invite them in. But in this day and age, it can feel very uncomfortable to claim we “know the right answer” about religious things.

You might have seen the recent BBC documentary where Adrian Chiles travelled the Mediterranean, interviewing religious believers. His closing comments made his position clear: he was the kind of Catholic who felt he had a lot in common with Muslims who care about people, and with Jews who care about people, but said: “If you believe your way is the only way, your truth is the only truth – I’m sorry, I’m not on your team.”

Ouch.

Our Lord Jesus once said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.”

Does that mean Our Lord and Adrian Chiles aren’t on the same team?

St Paul wrote, in the words we’ve just heard, “The gospel will save you only if you keep believing exactly what I preached to you – believing anything else will not lead to anything.” He also tells us that he has taken care to make sure he is teaching what the other apostles also taught: that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures. Knowing the truth matters.

An O-ring seal compressed in a vice - it stays that way when released, if cooledLast weekend, news programmes remembered that 30 years previously, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after take-off. The reason? Safety seals in the outer casing didn’t work properly in very cold weather. The risks were known, but NASA felt pressured to keep projecting a “can-do” attitude to spaceflight. When Nobel prizewinner Richard Feynman pointed this out, he concluded: “Reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”

Claiming that we know the Right Answer doesn’t always make us popular. But reality always wins.

There’s a right way to kick a football. There’s a quick way to use a Word Processor. And there is most definitely a wrong way to launch a Space Shuttle, if you want to keep its passengers safe.

We can sympathise with Adrian Chiles. He doesn’t want to claim there is a Right Answer about religion, because he is anxious – “How can we ever be sure that we’re right?” What he really means is that he finds something in our Catholic faith attractive enough that he is drawn to join, but not so compelling that he’s motivated to invite others.

Faith is a kind of knowing. It’s a knowing that we know without knowing how we know.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls fisherman to be fishers-of-men, to seek souls, to win people as his friends and followers. Does he do this out of self-interest, wanting a bigger crowd than any other rabbi – or does he do it because following Jesus matters?

Simon Peter sensed that it matters. What other rabbi could show a fisherman where to make a record-breaking catch?

St Paul sensed that it matters. Hadn’t this Jesus, after dying on a Cross, showed himself to 500 disciples all at once, and then to Paul himself while journeying to Damascus to take many Christians prisoner?

It’s a spiritual work of mercy to instruct the ignorant. But to do this, we have to know the truth, and know how to pass it on tactfully. The basics are the Creeds and Dogmas of our faith. In these, we are confident – we literally “have faith”.

How can we tell the difference between the basic teachings, and other things which are just the opinions of scholars, or the way we happen to do things? This takes study. It’s a spiritual work of mercy to instruct the ignorant. If you don’t know the answer, begin with yourself. After all, for some months now, we have been praying for the Lord to invite us to know him better, through study.

Do you show mercy in your daily life?

Today, I invite you to ask: have I instructed those who are ignorant?

If not, make a good confession – and then begin with yourself!

 

Summer holiday?

Homily at Christ the King for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

“The Lord is my Shepherd!” What a beautiful, comforting sentiment. At least, until you think more closely about what it means. Then, it becomes a challenge!

Our picture of a shepherd might come from memories of One Man and His Dog on the BBC – the shepherd whistling and shouting to a dog who nips at the hooves of the sheep and rounds them up into a pen. Middle Eastern shepherds worked rather differently – the sheep would recognise their shepherd’s voice and he would lead them out, calling them by name.

Without a shepherd, sheep can do what they like, go wherever they like – and stray into danger. With a shepherd, the sheep are safe – but their freedom is limited, too. They are no longer free to go wherever they wish – the shepherd will lead them away from danger and towards safe pastures. The kings, priests and prophets of ancient Israel were called to ensure that their people only worshipped the God of Abraham and avoided pagan religions – but they weren’t always faithful to that mission. How does God react? I’m not sure if it’s a threat or a promise, but Jeremiah says, look out – God is coming in person to sort things out!

God does come to us, in the person of Jesus. Just like the rest of us, God-made-flesh gets tired after a long day and needs some space to chillax with his friends. But there’s no rest for Jesus on this day – the crowds have found him, and he accepts that with good grace. When he sees this flock of people who have turned out in the hope of receiving a healing or witnessing a miracle, he sets out to lead them to a place where they might not want to go. Yes, he heals those in the crowd who are sick. But he challenges them, too. He speaks about God’s Kingdom – he asks them if they are willing to be faithful followers of God. They already know the Jewish Law, with its command to love God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength. But will they embrace it?

We hear these words from Scripture as the schools prepare to break up, and Britain moves into the holiday season. For a few weeks we might be free of the constraints of our employment or studies. And the way we choose to use our freedom is an excellent test of how truly the Lord has become our shepherd.  For while in the rest of the year, we must juggle our religious commitments with work and family, when on holiday we have a chance to re-prioritise. In today’s Gospel, Jesus invites his disciples to go aside to a quiet place, to rest and enjoy the silence. Have you planned to have a holiday crammed full of activities, or will you make space for silence?generic image of a backpaack

Sadly, this year, “rest” and “holiday” are two words which don’t sit together as easily as they should. After last month’s shootings in Tunisia, many of us are thinking carefully about our holiday plans. Some holidaymakers have made a point of returning to Tunisia or other resorts in Islamic countries, as a sign of solidarity with the innocent locals, or to demonstrate that they will not be cowed by terrorists. Even if you are thinking twice about your holiday plans, remember that statistically, you have a much greater chance of being involved in a traffic accident than being caught up in an at of terrorism, in the air or on the ground.

If you are travelling abroad, I offer you these words of comfort, from Jeremiah: God loves and cares for his flock even when scattered among many countries! Our Second Reading reminded us that Jesus has broken down barriers, making all his followers one family. Whichever country you go to, your spiritual family will be there already. Are you planning to meet with them? Will you make time to visit a church, even if your travel plans make it impossible  to be there for Sunday Mass? If the country has ancient Christian heritage sites, will you visit them?

The way we use our vacation time, when we have more freedom to choose priorities for ourselves, will reveal much about our true faith. Any dismay we might feel at the thought of making God part of our holiday plans, shows us how unwilling we are to yield our lives to God. The Lord is not your trip advisor, asking you to consider His recommendations and adopt 7 out of 10 commandments. The Lord is your shepherd, inviting you to follow him on the only path which leads to eternal life. The decision to follow is one that each one of us must make when we hear the voice of the shepherd: to follow to safety, or to stray in peril.

So consider it! Try something different this year – take God on holiday with you! There’s no need to be sheepish – just let God be your shepherd, and relax.

Adapted from a previous sermon.

Have you met my friend?

Homily at St Philip Evans, on the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B.

“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.Generic image of a robed prophet

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.

The Call

Homily at St Philip Evans on the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B.

The Seven Word Sermon: Invite someone to find Jesus… maybe yourself!

I wonder if today’s readings have left you feeling a little bit pressurised?

Jonah turns up in Nineveh and everyone in the city cleans up their act! But we are still struggling to keep our New Year’s Resolutions…Thermometer

St Paul writes to the Corinthians, worried that the world is about to end, and suggests no one should bother about worldly things like getting a job or being married. But here we are, two thousand years later.

Jesus marches up to Andrew, Peter, James and John, and immediately they down tools and follow him! But in less than an hour, we are going to leave this Mass and go right back to where we came from.

Now it’s true, that there is a sense of urgency in today’s readings. We are meant to feel the pressure, so I’ve brought my pressure gauge with me. But being a physicist, I know that when things are placed under pressure, they get hot – so mine’s a thermometer.

We could easily get distracted and think that today’s message is about how much TIME we can give to God’s work. For most of us, that would leave us near the bottom. Not many of us are going to become priests, nuns or lay missionaries who take on the work of the church as our full-time pursuit. Some of us are retired, and can turn out regularly to help with the church decoration, flower arranging, and tea-making. A few of us give an hour or two a week to work with our young people preparing for First Communion or Confirmation. But I know that for many of us, it’s a struggle just to get the family ready to turn up at Mass on time, let alone do anything more for church activities during the week.

So relax! This isn’t a TimeOmeter, and the Lord is not asking many of us to devote more time to church. Perhaps one or two of you are feeling the nudge to do rather more, and that’s a sign it would be good to talk to me, Deacon Steve or Jonathan about the kind of short term or long term calling God might be pointing you towards. It would be fantastic if some of tomorrow’s priests and religious sisters were sitting in this congregation today. But for most of us the challenge is rather different.

“I will make you fishers of men,” says Jesus. That is the call which Jesus gives to all of us – and it is much more important for you who go out into the world than for the likes of clergy who spend all their time dealing with Catholics. We are all called to catch fish, that is, to invite people to become members of our church community. But perhaps the image of being a caught fish, tangled up in a net, doesn’t seem that appealing. I prefer another image, the one Jesus used when he said he had come to set the world on fire, and wished it was ablaze already! We are called to set the world on fire! A soul on fire cries out to God in prayer and reaches out to their neighbour in love. But we aren’t going to do that unless we are red-hot, and that brings us back to my thermometer.

I am going to suggest four steps you might take to help you share the Catholic faith with others. Each step is more challenging than the last. You might have taken one or two already – this will indicate what you might do next. A kettle doesn’t boil in an instant, but if we are going to set the world on fire, we need to start warming up now!

STEP ONE: Place a holy picture in your home where visitors can see it. Know the story behind it if they ask you about it.

STEP TWO: Say grace at mealtimes. It may feel a bit strange it first, if it isn’t your family custom, but it really is as simple as making the sign of the Cross and saying thank you for the food. And if there is a guest in your home, don’t skip grace. Simply say it is part of your faith and if your guest doesn’t want to join in, they can wait politely.

STEP THREE: Think of a person you know, someone who trusts you, but someone who is not an active Christian. What difficulties are they facing in life right now? Could you say to them, next time you meet them, “I am praying for you” – because of their cancer, their family breakdown, or whatever worries they have confided in you? This achieves two things at once – it says that you care, and that you believe God can help. (Don’t forget to actually pray for them!)

STEP FOUR: Ask a friend if they would like to come with you to church. A survey which came out in 2007 showed that there were 3 million people living in the UK who don’t attend church – that means that if you know 20 people who don’t go to church, one of them will say YES when you invite them. Remember, there was a time, way back in the past, when your family did not attend church. Someone invited your ancestors and they came. It might have been back when St Thomas came to India, or St Patrick to Ireland. You are here because of them. It’s time to return the favour!

 

One final thought. Many people who do join a religion do so because of the kindness of members of that community. I trust that we will be a kind and welcoming community to all those who meet us, here, at St Philip Evans, or out in the wider world. But kindness is not enough. Peter and Andrew, James and John left their boats because they saw something in Jesus worth following.

The call to be fishers of men, to set the world on fire, comes to us directly from Jesus. He is the only good reason to take any of these steps I’ve suggested. If the thought of even taking the first step makes you uncomfortable, then ask yourself: Do I trust Jesus? Am I willing to follow Him, even though He may make some high pressure demands on me?

If the answer is yes, then you are certainly called to be a fisher of men. But if the answer is no, pray this prayer: “Lord Jesus, take away my fears and set my heart on fire.” Until he answers that prayer, you are off the hook!

 

Further thoughts for the online edition:

How do we catch fish? How do we set people on fire for Jesus? In ages past, we might have reminded people that when we die, each one of us will have to give an account to God of the good and bad choices we have made during our life on Earth. But in this skeptical age, few people in Wales will worry about being judged – indeed, a survey released this week showed that many people who believe in God don’t think there’s an afterlife, and many others believe in some kind of afterlife but not in God!

 

Saints of Wales

Homily at St Brigid’s for the November 2014 Day of Renewal on the feast of All Saints of Wales.Welsh bards in robes

The Seven Word Sermon: Choose to be humble, Wales needs saints!

I saw a vast crowd, too numerous to count, clothed in white robes – and in blue, and in green.

I said to the man standing near me, “Who are these wearing robes, and where did they come from?”

“Well,” said the man, in a West Wales accent, “they are the bards here at the Eisteddfod, look you, and they have come to Llanelli from Dolgellau and Aberystwyth, Caldey Island and Blaenau Ffestiniog, and all the way from Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch!”

Why do we celebrate a special Feast of the Saints of Wales? Like any nation, we have our own culture – the Eisteddfod is our cultural festival. A culture is simply a common way of doing things – and the saints of our own nation teach us something relevant about being holy in the midst of our own people.

Jesus taught us the way of holiness in the Beatitudes we have just heard proclaimed. It strikes me that those Jesus calls “blessed” fall into two categories – the humble, and the victims.

The humble beatitudes are pronounced for those who are poor in spirit, gentle, merciful and pure in heart. We see these values reflected by the great Celtic saints of Wales, David and Dyfrig, Illtyd and Winifred, saints who embraced the simple and austere life of the monastery or the convent. They served others in need of hospitality and healthcare, and embraced a life of celibacy and manual labour for the good of others. We can imitate their spirit of service in the way we serve our family members, our friends, and those who live in the same community as ourselves.

The victims are those who have experienced loss, hunger and thirst, persecution and calumny. They call to mind the martyrs of Wales – not only the famous six sainted Welsh martyrs of the Reformation, but also those beatified – Bd William Davies, who ran a hidden printing-press in Llandudno; Bd Philip Powell from Brecon, arrested in Cornwall; and Bd Charles Mahoney, a secret missionary to Ireland who was shipwrecked on the North Wales coast. Together with the two martyrs of Roman times, Saints Julius and Aaron, they stand as reminders that faithful Catholics were willing to stand up for their faith in Wales despite the efforts of those who wielded power and tried to shape the culture. In fairness, it must be said that many of the ordinary folk of Wales refused to take part in the persecution. When Bd William Davies was sentenced to be executed, not one man in Anglesey would have anything to do with it! Executioners had to be called in from Chester.

Times have changed. Many of the people of Wales are now suspicious of the “old fashioned” values which our faith cherishes. The modern way is the way of total freedom. Our faith teaches us the great value of self-control. We need a new kind of saint for Wales, one who can build bridges between the values of our faith and the world around us.

Three years ago, I was in Dare Valley Country Park, celebrating Mass with a group of newly-confirmed young people. The sight of a robed priest celebrating Mass on a rock caused not a few passers-by to stop and pay attention to my sermon. I wonder what they made of it? But we are all called to be ambassadors for Christ, no less than the missionary-monks who sailed from Wales to Ireland and Normandy, or the martyrs who returned to Wales from the continent. We are not yet a vast multitude, too numerous to count. but if anyone asks who we are, St John Paul II offers an answer: “These are the saints of the new millennium. These are the people who pursue holiness, who believe prayer is important. These are the people who believe Mass is the most important thing to do on Sunday, who humbly go to confession when conscious of sin. These are the people who study God’s Word, are attentive to God’s gift of grace, and seek to share these gifts with others.”

One beatitude embraces both humility and victimhood – “Blessed are the Peacemakers”. There is a special blessing for those who have known oppression yet reach out to their enemies. The saints of 21st century Wales will be those who master the art of proclaiming what we believe, not in a way which condemns listeners who do not share our values, but in a way which is strangely appealing. Yes, the peacemakers, rooted in Christ, loving those who do not share our values, will be the saints of Wales for the 21st century. The question is, will you choose to be among them?