Weekly Newsletter(click to download PDF)
The Rector writes ...
The journey to officiate at a wedding in north eastern Poland last weekend involved a six hour bus trip after arriving in Warsaw. It was good to see something more of the countryside, and the length of the return journey meant that I started and finished the book I had taken with me. It was Hugh Thomas’s latest work on colonial Spain, stuffed full of detail and unexpected insights. From the first overseas discoveries a debate was begun (most famously within the Franciscan Order) as to how the indigenous peoples should be treated. Were they inferior in culture and therefore open to conversion and the service of their conquerors, or should they be respected in their own right and their baptism brought about through preaching rather than force?
Spain’s dilemma in the16th century serves to highlight a perennial question for the Church as it seeks to fulfil Christ’s final commission: “Go, make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19). That we must evangelise can never be in question. Our Saviour is, we believe, “the Way the Truth and the Life”: it is through him that we not only are brought to have an understanding of the nature of the Godhead (as Trinitarian love) but we are also drawn into a personal relationship of reconciliation with the Source of all that is good. This is clearly not something about which we can remain indifferent – or hold to ourselves as an exclusive gift. Christ’s message “in all its richness” offers an interpretation of the creation and our individual place within it which is truly good news for everyone without any exception: ours is a catholic faith or it is nothing.
The Church has a responsibility (in which each of us has a share through the Sacrament of Confirmation) to spread the Gospel: never an opportunity must be lost to express all that God has done and continues to do in the incarnation of his Son. But what about those who are indifferent to the Word as received, or reject it, or are not in a position to hear or accept it? One of the parables offered by Jesus gives perhaps the least opaque answer possible to that question: “the kingdom of heaven is like the yeast a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour till it was leavened all through” (Matthew 13:33). We accept – as Jesus himself seems to do in the parable of the Sower – that it appears unlikely that everyone alive will seek baptism, but in some mysterious and humbling way it is the faithfulness of the minority (the leaven) who are the effective means by which Christ is working to present the whole creation to his Father: “the will of him who sent me is that I should lose nothing of all that he has given to me, and that I should raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39) . Christians are privileged to be co-redeemers, sharers in this invitation to salvation.
Any authentic approach to evangelisation can only begin and end in Jesus’ example set at the Last Supper. He assumed the role of the house servant, waiting on his guests, taking on the menial task of feet washing. “Do you know what I have done to you?” Service is at the heart of the Church’s being – as it must be if she is truly the Body of Christ. Charity is firstly about the recognition of every person as uniquely the child of God in whom the Divine imprint is to be sought: we minister, not with the ulterior motive of seeking conversion, but simply because everyone is worthy of that ministry – as recognition of their intrinsic value. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta offers a powerful icon of the respect which is the due of every person particularly those who appear to have so little going for them in this world’s terms. At the same time, we do have a concern with the whole person – we truly long that everyone will come to an awareness of Christ’s love – but we recognise that it is our example which both helps and hinders that realisation. “Your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16) – a double-edged sword of a statement if ever there were one, and one by which we need constantly to judge our own actions.