The Rector writes…

The funeral rites for Monsignor Augustine Hoey will be celebrated on Friday in Westminster Cathedral. He would have been 102 if he had lived until December. A remarkable life which touched so many people during the long years of ministry which continued till the very last moments when he fell asleep in his chair after eating a good breakfast. In his heyday, Father Hoey had been a great evangeliser: his forte was a parish mission, ideally lasting three weeks, during which an area would be flooded with priests, religious and laypeople encouraging anyone and everyone to attend the set pieces each evening in which Augustine would preach powerfully and at length. Many were the conversions, and I can remember being spellbound by a Hoey mission conducted in the backstreets of Leeds in the autumn of 1965. Once heard never forgotten! In those far off days, Father Hoey would never leave a railway carriage without placing a tract on each available seat. No opportunity was to be missed in opening up the treasures of the Gospel. God rest him.


There was ambivalence, though, about Father Hoey. The missioner was also someone who yearned for the contemplative life, and looking back over nearly eighty years of labouring in the Lord’s Vineyard he was critical of his own methods of fulfilling the command “go make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19). We accept that by virtue of our own Baptism and Confirmation we have a personal commission to share what we believe, but, like Augustine Hoey, it is right that we should constantly question the how, the where and the when of any authentic evangelisation. Clearly Christianity is apostolic in its origins and in its continuing witness, but differing parts of the Church face vastly different challenges. Here in Europe, we have to come to terms with the seeming indifference of people who are the heirs to a rich Christian civilisation, while in other continents new Christians are being made among those to whom the Gospel offers a fresh and exciting challenge. Catechesis needs to be adapted to fit the particular circumstances, and there can be no one expression which fits all. With Saint Paul, we can say in all sincerity that God “desires all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4) but what this means in practice depends on our own individual abilities and opportunities.


The French novelist Francois Mauriac offered the view: “people do not criticise Christ. They criticise Christians because they do not resemble him”. Here, surely, is the key to evangelisation today – as it ever has been, and will always remain.  The Word has to be preached (“they will not believe in him unless they have heard of him, and they will not hear of him unless they have a preacher”: (Romans 10:14), but that Word has first to be lived if it is to be accepted.  “You will be able to tell them by their fruits” says Jesus (Matthew 7:16), and without the harvest of the virtues expressed in the lives of Christians non-believers will never come to recognise the true nature of Christ. At base, the new evangelisation, which we know to be necessary, is about each one of us truly living more deeply in Christ. We do need to explore modern technologies in communicating the message, and there will always be those with a particular commission to teach and preach, but the vocation we share is that of revealing Christ through our own way of life. “Speak about Christ only when you are asked. But live so that people may ask about Christ “(Paul Claudel).


None of us feels adequate to the task. We are concerned that our own faith is too tenuous, too questioning, to be able to speak to others with conviction. But to react in that way is to miss the point. It is not our Word which we are sharing but God’s Word, and we must have confidence in the promise of Jesus: “do not worry about how to speak, or what to say; what you are to say will be given to you when the time comes; because it is not you who will be speaking; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you” (Matthew 10:20). Lack of confidence in our own capacity, must never lead to lack of confidence in the Holy Spirit: “we have this treasure in earthen vessels to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).


Christopher Colven