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Thursday, December 8, 2016
Text: Communion and Mission in the Diocese of Portsmouth
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 INTRODUCTION 1. When I first wrote 'A Church for the 21st Century' - a document, which has become known as 'The Bishop's Vision', - I felt quite tentative and diffident about it. It seemed almost impertinent for someone who had only been in the diocese for a relatively short time, should presume to impose his vision on a Christian community which had already been growing and thriving for over a hundred years. In presenting this revised version of 'The Vision', some seven years later, I have lost my diffidence. I know now that I belong to the diocese as much as anyone does. I am not an outsider or a newcomer. I am the Bishop and I am fully aware of the responsibility that brings, but I am becoming more and more conscious of the fact that I share faith with everyone in the diocese. Your journey is my journey; your faith is my faith, and your anxieties, fears and doubts I share with you. As St Augustine writes, 'For you I am a Bishop, but with you I am a Christian.' The major emphasis of the 1997 document was to affirm that we are a Communion with a strong sense of Mission and the history of the last seven years has seen this understanding really begin to take root in the diocese. We still may not fully understand what it all means but we are increasingly aware that Christ is calling us to be disciples and, in particular, is calling us to proclaim and live his Gospel. Through us, his Word can bring hope and life to our times. He calls us and graces us into courage, commitment and love to 'go out to the whole world to proclaim the Good News.' This is the ultimate call and this is our vision - no longer just mine - of how we can become a Church for the 21st century. I share this vision with you and invite you to work with me to make it real. 2. It is an especially good time to be a Christian because we find ourselves in the midst of a contemporary search for something beyond ourselves. For some, this is a search for God. For others, it is a search for some meaning in life, whether or not belief in God is part of that. But for all of us it is a search for meaning and purpose. 3. As Catholic Christians, living in the Diocese of Portsmouth, we place our hope in the Word of the living God, in Jesus Christ, 'the same yesterday, today and tomorrow' (Heb 13:8). For us, he stands as a beacon of light in a sea of uncertainty and fear. 4. Many today are searching for freshness and newness. People are looking for something solid, something life-giving, something, which is not just novelty or gimmick. This is exactly the time when we 'keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection' (Heb 12:2); and we must 'proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist upon it.' (2 Tim 4:2) We have something important to say, and this is an ideal opportunity to say it. 5. Christ calls us to be part of the community that proclaims his message - the community of disciples. Our communion with him and with each other gives us life and inspires us to mission. 'Communion' and 'Mission' are the watchwords that lie at the heart of this vision for the diocese. 6. In the years since 1997 we have begun to translate the vision into reality but the principles remain; and it is in them that we, the community of the Diocese of Portsmouth, find our strength, our courage and our purpose. THE VISION 7. Communion and Mission are the two vital words, which describe and run through all that I, as your Bishop, have been saying over the last few years. Running through the entire work of the diocese and its agencies, they define precisely for me what I understand the Church to be: it has to be COMMUNION and it has to have MISSION. We must be a people with a sense of evangelical and Christian purpose. Everything else depends on that. All our pastoral priorities have to be measured against the demands of Communion and Mission. Communion: a way of describing the very life of God 8. This has to be revealed to us and it is in Christ, the Word of God, that we begin to discover the inner life of God. Christ teaches us that love is to be found at the heart of God's life. 'You must believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.' (Jn 14:11) 9. The love which unites Father and Son, we call Spirit. Jesus tells us this in St John's Gospel when he says, 'When the Spirit comes whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who issues from the Father, he will be my witness.' (Jn 15:26) 10. The Trinity Father, Son and Spirit in relationship defines what communion means. We are invited to share in that relationship which is the divine life of God. At the heart of the relationship are three distinct persons, at the same time perfectly united by the love, which flows between them. Communion: how we reflect the life of God 11. In the same way that the persons of the Trinity are intimately related to each other, so we too are deeply and intimately related to each other. Created in the image and likeness of God, we are brought into that communion of love, which is God. For our part, what we have to do is to love one another because "everyone who loves is a child of God and knows God." (1 Jn 4:7) Communion: the Church 12. This communion is established in the Word of God and in the Sacraments, which are the wonderful, mysterious ways in which God communicates with us, his chosen people. 13. Through the Scriptures, proclaimed in the midst of the assembly, God actually speaks to us, and calls us to respond. (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium 7, GIRM 29, 55) 'Listening to the Word of God should become a life-giving encounter which draws from the biblical text the living Word which questions, directs and shapes our lives.' (Novo Millennio Ineunte 39) 14. Through our initiation as Christians we are in communion with Christ we are parts of his body. This means that we are also in communion with each other; and we call this communion 'the Church'. It is our sharing in the life of God that creates and sustains this communion. 15. We become members of the Church through the sacraments of initiation, which draw us into one body. Together in Baptism we are given a share in the death and resurrection of Christ, together in Confirmation we are anointed with the Holy Spirit for service and mission as disciples, and together in the Eucharist we are nourished by the very life of God. 'Receive what you are, become what you receive.' St Augustine, Sermons 272 From Communion to Mission 16. At the heart of our communication of what the Gospel actually means for us our 'mission' is the sharing of our experience of God. This sharing is the living communion between us, and its communication to each other and to others is at the heart of our mission as a Church. 17. Such a Church is the one described in the Acts of the Apostles where St Luke writes 'The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul.' (Acts 4:32) He stresses that it was so powerfully attractive to others that they were eager to join it: 'They remained faithful to the teaching of the Apostles, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers' they were looked up to by everyone. Day by day, the Lord added to their community those who were being saved. (Acts 2: 42-47) 18. Our vision and hope is of ourselves as the gathered community of the disciples of the Lord, united in Baptism and bonded together by Christ in the Eucharist. Our mission is so to live out this 'communion' in the power of the Spirit that we proclaim the Gospel by our words and become the Good News by our way of life. 19. Another way of saying all this is to quote these thought-provoking words of the Prophet Zechariah: 'In those days, ten men from nations of every language will take a Jew by the sleeve and say: we want to go with you, since we have learned that God is with you.' (Zech 8:23) 20. Those words speak of a vision of the Church as a community, which is so compelling and so attractive that others are irresistibly drawn to it. It speaks of a 'communion' which is inextricably bound up with 'mission'. 21. What we are talking about here is nothing less than a renewal of the whole of humanity (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi 18). Our mission is to change the world, recognising that everything that happens in every area of human life, every level of society, needs the saving and transfiguring power of the Gospel. 22. Another way of understanding our missionary vision is to return to the last words which the Lord spoke to his disciples just before the Ascension: 'Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.' (Matt 28: 19-20) PRINCIPLES OF COMMUNION AND MISSION 23. If we are united in a communion which enables us to fulfil our mission, then certain principles must dictate the way in which we work. These are not simply plucked out of the air but find their origin in the very life of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit the life of the Trinity. (a) All are called to holiness 24. Holiness is a gift from God which all of us have been given God's life in us. Through our baptism we are called to respond by being attentive to God living and working in us in our everyday lives. The more attentive we are to God's life in us, the more we work to bring our life deeper into God's life. 25. When we seek the face of Jesus, we echo the words of the disciples who asked him to teach them to pray. As we do so, we discover that 'prayer develops that conversation with Christ which makes us his intimate friends. Abide in me and I will abide in you.' (John 15:4) (NMI 32) 'Prayer is not so much what we do but what God does in and through us' (Ruth Burrows) (b) All are drawn together in communion through Christian initiation 26. We are all called to reflect this bonding through our relationships. We belong to God and our dignity and calling comes from our baptism and confirmation. The Eucharist bonds us together in communion with the Lord and with each other. The sacraments of initiation are common to us all, and our varied and different ministries flow from them. What is important is that we are a community of love; this is the sign we give. (c) All are called to mission through Christian initiation 27. Together we form the gathered body of the disciples of Christ and, therefore, together we 'own' the Church. If the Church is to be present in the centre of people's lives, then the first priority must be to involve all the members in the work of evangelisation and mission of the Church, in its maintenance, and in its ongoing life. The sign we give as Church must be unmistakeable: everybody, whether clergy or lay, works together and works collaboratively and for the Lord. 28. As a matter of priority, therefore, we need to continue to develop ways of genuine collaboration in the diocese if our vision is to become a reality. Not only that, but we need to work in collaboration with our fellow Christians. Witnessing to our faith 29. There is a growing realisation that a faith which is deeply held and publicly proclaimed can become a powerful force for good and a genuine gift for the whole of society, however uncomfortable it may sometimes cause that society to feel. We are all beginning to emerge from a mindset which sees religion as something essentially private: the world in which we live can cope with privatised religion because it presents no threat. It is tolerated but attracts few followers because it is not rooted in authentic Gospel values. (d) The Eucharist defines the Church 30. The Mass is the heartbeat of the Church, and Sunday Mass is the visible expression of the communion that we share. It also creates and nurtures that communion. 'The Church makes the Eucharist, and the Eucharist makes the Church.' It is for this reason that participating in the Mass is the heart of Sunday for every baptised Catholic. (NMI 36) 'You have to be there because without you we can't do what this church that's us needs to do.' (Gabe Huck, 'Sunday Worship in the Absence of a Bishop...of a Priest...of Anybody?' Pastoral Music February-March 1997, p. 22) 31. The Eucharist is 'the privileged place where communion is ceaselessly proclaimed and nurtured. Precisely through sharing in the Eucharist, the Lord's Day also becomes the Day of the Church, when she can effectively exercise her role as a sacrament of unity.' (NMI 36 following Dies Domini 35). 32. In talking about Eucharist, we need to distinguish between the celebration of the Eucharist with the gathered community, and the individual reception of Communion outside the normal pattern of the eucharistic celebration e.g. at a service of Word and Communion. (e) Everyone is gifted by the Holy Spirit. 33. There needs to be an enabling of persons, coupled with the recognition and welcoming of gifts. We need to have a deep and genuine respect for the different and the diverse, recognising and welcoming the dignity of difference and prizing it as a gift from God. Every member of the Church has a contribution to make and it is vital that they have the opportunities to do so. They in turn need to realise that what they do is part of something larger than themselves: that ministry demands relationship with others. We can only fulfil a ministry effectively if we are expressing communion lived out in relationship. Ministry is not about self but about the body. The gifts of the Spirit are given for the building up of the unity of the body. (f) We are called to be a community of disciples. 34. We need to discover and affirm a fundamental desire to work together because we are called to be a community of disciples, not isolated individuals nor, indeed, isolated parishes or schools. The call to collaborative ministry arises from our innate dignity as disciples of Christ, called by him into Mission as parts of his Body. 'It's a way of expressing in our life together what God asks of us and calls us to be.' 'It asks us to reflect what God is like in the ways we live and work together.' (The Sign We Give) (g) We need a shared vision. 35. The way in which the Church lives out her calling in particular situations does change, just as a living body grows and changes. We should boldly grasp the possibility of new roles and be ready to discern and enable new ways of being Church with passion, enthusiasm and commitment. 'The rooting of the Church in time and space mirrors the movement of the Incarnation itself' (NMI 3). PUTTING THE PRINCIPLES INTO PRACTICE - THE BISHOP'S REFLECTION 36. This vision is for all of us, and it is important that it continues to be grasped and owned by all of us. The experience of the last six years, with all the growth that has occurred, indicates that we are on the right lines and that the ongoing discovery of the true meaning of 'communion' and of 'mission' that flows from it is the right way forward. Progress to date 37. Taking together the principles for communion and mission outlined above, these are some of the ways we can see them being put into practice during the past few years. The developing role of Pastoral Councils 38. At whatever level these councils are found, they exist to facilitate a sharing of resources, expertise, insights and initiatives on as broad a level as possible. It ties in well with my desire, expressed in 1997, to concentrate on enabling as many people as possible to use the undoubted gifts that they possess. 39. As bishop, I pledged myself to strive to widen the collaborative basis of my work and the emergence of the Diocesan Pastoral Council has been evidence of that beginning to happen. It is as representative as is possible at the moment, though connections with Deanery and Parish Pastoral Councils still need to be established or strengthened. The gradual emergence of genuine pastoral councils at parish and deanery level is beginning to ensure that pastoral planning and development in the diocese is no longer an exclusively clerical preserve. The developing role of lay people 40. In a collaborative Church, the gifts and talents of all are understood to be priceless and need to be readily offered and accepted. The parish and diocese belong to all of us. Lay people are called not simply 'to help Father', but to be in partnership with him and with each other in the community's work for the Kingdom. 41. Lay people play a vital role in partnership with clergy in the work of catechesis, sacramental preparation, counselling and support of all kinds, education and school governance, and many other areas. Many skilled and competent lay people are using their gifts and experience at the service of parishes, deaneries and the diocese. 42. An excellent example of a lay initiative was our diocesan Gathering in Farnborough Hill to celebrate the Millennium Jubilee. Quite apart from the fact that the event brought together nearly 6000 people, clergy and lay, from all over the diocese, what pleased me most was that this event was initiated, organised and achieved by a group of dedicated laypeople who were determined that the Jubilee of the birth of Jesus Christ should be celebrated publicly and joyously by the whole diocesan community. This event was a deeply genuine expression of what it means to be caught up in a vision of the Church, which is a communion with a deep sense of evangelical mission. 43. But lest this should all sound too inward looking and 'churchy', the diocese depends on the laity to continue their participation in public life at all levels. They find themselves in the front line of the Church's mission and in places where clergy seldom venture. They are 'that countless number of men and women, busy at work in their daily life and activity, oftentimes far from view and quite unacclaimed by the world, unknown to the world's great personages but nonetheless looked upon in love by the Father, untiring labourers who work in the Lord's vineyard. Confident and steadfast through the power of God's grace, these are the humble yet great builders of the Kingdom of God in history.' (Christifideles Laici 17) The developing role of the clergy 44. God promises his people shepherds after his own heart (Jer 3:15) and this promise is continuously fulfilled in the calling of our priests and deacons. Their fidelity to this call is absolutely crucial for the development of communion and mission as the foundation of our understanding of diocese. The increased involvement of laypeople takes nothing from the leadership of the clergy in their sacramental and pastoral ministry, which is indispensable. 45. But it is not just their ministry that is important. Their whole-hearted and deeply personal response to the Lord's call involves them in a life of dedication and sacrifice a continuing sign of the presence of the Good Shepherd among us. 46. Life for the clergy is constantly changing and the demands made on their generosity of spirit and time are ever increasing. As life becomes more complex and fast moving, it is increasingly important for the clergy to articulate their needs for ministry in this changing Church. In this respect, the 'Called by Christ' gathering for the clergy, which took place in Bournemouth in 1998, was a very important moment for us. It marked a real openness to the need for on-going formation and it has enabled us to begin the task of addressing our needs for pastoral and spiritual skills in today's world. It also meant very importantly that we began to rediscover our need to be able to turn to one another more and more for encouragement, strength and support. The developing role of the Religious of the Diocese 47. There is a particular group of men and women in the diocese who are often forgotten or, at best, taken for granted. They are those who have consecrated themselves to God and the Church in religious life. Much of their work remains unseen but it is of vital importance to us all. The contemplatives support us by their hidden life of prayer and sacrifice, by their hospitality and by their sharing of the facilities of their houses. The apostolic (or active) religious are conspicuous by their work in parishes, counselling, catechesis, education, chaplaincy and commitment to the well being of the wider communities in which they live. Their contribution to both communion and mission is vital. We have to encourage and support them if they are to continue to flourish in the service of the Church. At the same time, as a diocese we must consider very seriously the place of the newer congregations and movements which are clearly catching the imagination and the commitment of younger laypeople today. The developing role of schools 48. Our schools also contribute in a unique and indispensable way to the life and mission of the Church. They too are called to be examples of communion and mission as they form and educate our young people in an environment founded upon faith in Jesus Christ, the traditions of our church, and the lived daily experiences they offer of Christian values and service. They proclaim the Christian vision of 'fullness of life' to which we are all called, and together with clergy and parents nurture and prepare our young people for Christian life. The developing role of the Curia 49. Of all the diocesan structures, the body known as the Curia has undergone the greatest change. Starting from a pattern of commissions and councils, which were doing important work, but often without a marked degree of collaboration or cohesion, we now have a structure of departments and committees that work closely and collaboratively together. 50. The Curia enables my work as a bishop. Those who work in the Curia serve the diocese and me in a variety of important ways: catechesis, evangelisation, liturgical formation, collaborative ministry, further education for clergy and laypeople, schools, finance and property. The Curia is an indispensable part of the infrastructure of the diocese. Its purpose is to listen, to support, to encourage and to work with the rest of the community. It is there to initiate and to stimulate reflections and actions which challenge us to grow so that we can all truly continue to be effective in the work that the Lord calls us to do in the part of his vineyard that is the Diocese of Portsmouth. 51. In addition, there are other diocesan agencies, not part of the Curia, who also work on behalf of the diocese, for example in the fields of child protection, the diocesan marriage tribunal, Christian unity, communications, etc. 52. It should not be forgotten and this is to be severely practical that these things cost money. Ultimate financial responsibility for the entire life of the diocese rests with the Diocesan Trustees, but absolutely nothing could be achieved without the financial giving that comes from our parish congregations through the levy that is collected from every parish. Ours is not a rich diocese with limitless resources. We depend on the generosity of the lay faithful to sustain the wellbeing of our communion and for the enabling of our mission. THE WAY FORWARD 53. We have worked hard together over the last 15 years in seeking to become more adequately the community of the disciples of Christ. That searching and development must continue. We need a map or a chart for the way ahead a strategy that will enable us as a diocese better to seek the face of Christ and follow the call to holiness and witness that he puts before us. I cannot impose this strategy from on high. It has to come from a prayerful reflection that we make together. A process of consultation and discernment is about to start. I look forward to celebrating the development of a pastoral strategy for the diocese when we meet in Reading for our Pastoral Assembly in 2005. That will be a defining moment for the Diocese of Portsmouth when, in all our different and varied pastoral circumstances because our diocese is so varied in its make-up we can move forward together with a renewed sense of missionary purpose and communion. It is at local level that the specific features of a detailed pastoral plan have to be identified. As a diocese, we need to discern the goals, methods and resources that will lead to formation and enrichment of our people. In this way, under the guidance of the Spirit, we will be enabled to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ, mould communities and have a deep and incisive influence in bringing Gospel values to bear in society and culture. (cf. NMI 29) 54. We are embarked on a venture that will take us into deep waters and we are involved in a process of ongoing renewal and change. We cannot get anywhere without the Lord, for without him 'in vain do the builders labour.' We have to remember, therefore, that we are in God's time and in his hands, which is why prayer and being a people of prayer is such an important part of this process. We must never forget that because we are baptised we are his people 'once you were no people, now you are God's people.' (1Pt 2:10) It is God himself who calls us into communion and it is the same God who sends us out in mission. We do not go alone or without resources. We are a gifted and graced people and we are empowered by the words of Jesus when he says, "I am with you always; yes, till the end of time.' (Matt 28:20) If we can but trust in such a promise, we have nothing to fear and everything to gain. Source: Diocese of Portsmouth
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