Posted by: catholicrelics | September 22, 2009

Cardiff: Mass for Evangelisation

Homily of Archbishop Peter Smith, Archbishop of Cardiff – Cardiff Metropolitan Cathedral, 22 September 2009, 6pm

“Go, therefore, make disciples of all the 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 know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.”

Living in the enclosed world of the Carmel in Lisieux, St. Therese was not regarded as great or important by the worldly standards of the time. Yet in 1925, only 28 years after her death, she was proclaimed a Saint, and two years later, in 1927, “Patron of the Missions and of Missionaries throughout the world” by Pope Pius XI. In 1997 she was declared a ‘Doctor of the Church’ by Pope John Paul II – all this without ever having left the Carmel in which she died at the age of 24! Before this public recognition, her influence had already begun to spread throughout the universal Church, and indeed beyond the Church, following her death and the publication of her autobiography. For those who know little of her life, that is rather a puzzle. How could an enclosed Carmelite be a missionary and fulfil that command of Jesus to proclaim the gospel to all the nations? What message does her life and writing have for us who live in a very different age to hers? What was the key to her sanctity and her perseverance despite her suffering and especially her experience of the dark night of the soul in her final months of life?

St. Therese explains it in her own simple and straightforward way: “Charity gave me the key to my vocation. I understood that the Church being a body composed of different members, the most essential, the most noble of all organs would not be wanting to her. I understood that the Church has a heart and that this heart is burning with love; that it is love alone which makes the members work; that if love were to die away apostles would no longer preach the Gospel, martyrs would refuse to shed their blood. I understood that love comprises all vocations, that love is everything, that it embraces all times and all places because it is eternal.”

Through prayer she experienced the reality of God’s love for her and for every human being; she understood that everyone, and especially the humble of heart, had ready access to that love. Her response was a passionate love of God, nourished and deepened by her prayer, and expressed in her love for others, especially for those in need. “For me,” she wrote, “prayer is an aspiration of the heart, it is a simple glance directed towards heaven, it is a cry of gratitude and love in the midst of trials as well as joy; finally it is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus.” It was that lived communion with the person of Jesus Christ, day by day, that led St. Therese to a deep love for the whole Church and the Church’s mission to proclaim the Gospel: “How beautiful this vocation of Carmel is because the only purpose of our prayers and our sacrifices is to be the apostle of the apostles by praying for them while they evangelise. . . A Carmelite who would not be an apostle would draw away from the goal of her vocation . . . Since I could not be an active missionary, I wanted to be one through prayer and penance.”

St. Therese had a profound trust and confidence in God and in his promises. What she grasped so firmly, and understood with extraordinary clarity is that God so loved the world that he sent his only-begotten Son to become one like us in everything but sin. That love was revealed in the humanity of Christ, who freely gave up his life for our sake and died on the Cross in an act of totally unconditional love for every human being – the Paschal Mystery of his passion, death and resurrection which reconciled us to God and to one another. And that wonderful Good News, and her confidence in its truth, St. Therese proclaimed by the witness of her life. We too without exception, by virtue of our baptism and the mission given to us by Christ, are also all called to proclaim the Gospel not only by word but by the witness of our lives.

We don’t do that alone, as isolated individuals, but as members of the Body of Christ, the Church. Each and every day Christ challenges us to grow together in love as members of his family, to grow in true communion with him and with each other, encouraging each other, supporting each other especially in times of difficulty and distress. That, as we know, can be very costly, as St. Therese discovered in her own life. But then so was the cost of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, which in very truth “cost not less than everything.” We can only live the Gospel and witness to it in our daily lives if, like St. Therese, we too have a deep trust and confidence in God’s presence and grace in our lives; if we experience, as St. Therese did, the reality and wonder of being loved by God – a love that empowers us to commit ourselves to journey together through this life as God’s people, God’s family, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.

Whatever our specific vocation in life, the Holy Spirit whom we received in Baptism and again in Confirmation, has given us particular gifts which he asks us to use generously for the building up of the Church, the Body of Christ, and for fulfilling our common vocation to proclaim the Gospel in the society and world in which we live. As with St. Therese, we too in our own day need to recognise and rejoice in the fact that, whatever our struggles and difficulties, whatever our infidelities and failures, whatever sufferings we are called to endure, God’s grace abounds all the more. “God chooses the weak and makes them strong.” He will never abandon us because we are his people, called to share in different ways in the proclamation of the Gospel. “And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.”

When the Church was born at Pentecost, Christ filled the infant Church with the gift of his Spirit and sent out its first members to proclaim the Gospel. Over the centuries, the Church too has sent out her members to proclaim the Gospel to the people of their day. And the first and most effective way of doing that is through the witness of our lives. Pope Paul VI put this truth very succinctly and effectively in his Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Nuntiandi” in 1975 – and his message is as true today as it was then.

“Above all”, he said, “the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness. Take a Christian or a handful of Christians who, in the midst of their own community, show their capacity for understanding and acceptance, their sharing of life and destiny with other people, their solidarity with the efforts of all for whatever is noble and good. Let us suppose that, in addition, they radiate in an altogether simple and unaffected way their faith in values that go beyond current values, and their hope in something that is not seen and that one would not dare to imagine. Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst? Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one. . . The first means of evangelization is the witness of an authentically Christian life, given over to God in a communion that nothing should destroy and at the same time given to one’s neighbour with limitless zeal. As we said recently to a group of lay people, ‘Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.’”

How wonderfully St. Therese of Lisieux lived out that truth expressed by Pope Paul VI. She was truly both witness and teacher. Her “Little Way” of daily prayer, of confidence and trust in God, and of love faithfully lived out in the circumstances of ordinary day to day life – that is what has so appealed to people over the last one hundred years or so, and still appeals today. Our prayer this evening is that through her intercession, each one of us may take her as our model, following her example, and through the witness of our lives bring the Gospel, the good news of God’s love for us to the society and world in which we live, and which so badly needs to hear it. Like St. Therese, may our hearts too be conquered by Christ’s love for us, and awaken in us a deep love of those we are called to serve in the Church, in society and in the world.

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