Pastoral Letter for Advent 2016
On the Renewal of our Mission
Advent begins with the urgent Gospel call to “stay awake” and “stand ready” to meet Jesus Christ. Shrewsbury Diocese has, from its beginnings, always lived, not only in the radiant light of Christ’s first coming, but in His coming to us now in the Sacraments, above all in the Holy Eucharist, and in the sure hope of His glorious return at the end of time (cf. Lumen Gentium n.48). This is the context in which we have met the challenges of history and have always looked confidently to the future.
Scripture leaves us in no doubt that every day is leading to only one goal: Christ’s glorious return and our final meeting with Him. Jesus Himself tells us that we “must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Mt. 24: 44). The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that: “Since the Ascension, God’s plan has entered into its fulfilment. We are already in ‘the last hour.’ Already the final age of the world is with us, and the renewal of the world is irrevocably under way … Though already present in the Church, Christ’s reign is nevertheless yet to be fulfilled ‘with power and great glory’ by the King’s return to the earth” (CCC n.670, 671). In this light we can both recognise the urgency of the Church’s mission while time remains, and look forward to Christ’s return.
It is for this reason that, on my visits to parishes, I rarely speak to you of problems with finances, diocesan re-structuring, or numbers. All these practical questions have their importance, but they are not how the Shrewsbury Diocese lives. Pope Francis reminded us from his first day as Pope: “We can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, things go wrong …” (Mass Pro Ecclesia, 14th March 2013).
On my pastoral visits I always want to speak of Christ, and of our need to meet Him anew in the Holy Eucharist and in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. It is from this renewed encounter with Jesus Christ that the whole mission of the Church flows. That mission is entrusted to each one of us personally in the celebration of every Mass. It is expressed explicitly in those final words of the Liturgy when we are commissioned to “Go forth!” in the strength and light of the Eucharist. The very word ‘Mass’ comes from the Latin ‘missa’, meaning ‘to be sent’ with a mission.
This is why I want us to make 2017, a ‘Year for Mission’: a year for us to be renewed in this sense of mission. I would like us to begin by reflecting on the mission entrusted to us personally at the beginning of each week. It is precisely where we live and work that we take up the call to “announce the Gospel of the Lord” and “glorify the Lord by (our) life” (The Roman Missal). In this way, I see tens of thousands of people in our churches Sunday after Sunday, Christ’s faithful people, being sent out to live this mission. Whether in the days of their youth, within their own family and working life, or in old age and frailty, it is a mission rarely fulfilled in great and dramatic events. Most often it is accomplished in the ordinary duties of each day. When he was with us in Birmingham, Emeritus Pope Benedict described this field of mission in the beautiful words of Blessed John Henry Newman: “I have my mission, I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for nothing. I shall do good, I shall do his work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place … if I do but keep his commandments and serve him in my calling.”
We will reflect more on this in the coming year, but Advent is a special time of grace for us all to recognise the mission entrusted to us in the light of the Saviour born for us; the Saviour who is so close to us in the Holy Eucharist; the Saviour who will finally return in glory. Throughout the new liturgical year beginning today, I pray that we may all be renewed in our mission!
Wishing you the great joy of Advent and Christmas,
Bishop of Shrewsbury