Dear Friends of Jesus,
“You are a chosen race,” St. Peter said in the Second Reading, “a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.”1
My brothers and sisters, you and I are different – or at least we are meant to be. Jesus has chosen us to be His disciples within His Body the Church. Yes, we were born at a particular time and place, but better, we have been re-born in Baptism and given the most precious gift of all, faith.2 To be a disciple of Christ is awesome! Jesus unites us with Himself. He saves us from sin, suffering and death; He fills us with the love of the Blessed Trinity; He opens for us the way to Paradise. 3 To be a disciple means to be a student, a listener, an apprentice learning from the Master, Who “went about doing good.”4 This is why Jesus makes us His missionary disciples. He wants us to go out, sharing our faith with family, friends and all we meet. More, He wants us to be a creative minority in society, to transform the world. Drawing strength from Him in the Eucharist, He wants us to be agents of change, building a Kingdom of justice, truth and peace, serving the poor and needy. 5 Jesus in the Gospels uses various images for this. We are meant to be salt, light, leaven in the dough, lamps on lampstands, a city on the hilltop, and so on. 6
Let’s return to this in a moment. For last Sunday was Good Shepherd Sunday, a world day of prayer for vocations.7 We were asked to pray for vocations to all states of life and ministry within the Church, especially to the diaconate and priesthood. The word vocation, from Latin vocare ‘to call,’ reminds us that you and I have been called and gifted. We have been chosen to be Christ’s missionary disciples but within a specific state of life. For many, this will be matrimony, being a husband or wife, father or mother. For some, it is the single life. A few are called to religious community-life, and a few to celibacy, in imitation of Jesus Himself, serving the world and the Church. 8 Besides such states of life, Christ calls us to specific ministries such as teaching, catechesis, prayer, pastoral care, administration, music, writing and so on. In today’s First Reading, seven men were called to the diaconate.9 Every Christian, each one of us, is called to something: the Church carries no passengers. As Blessed John Henry Newman once said, God created us for a “definite purpose”10 and one of our tasks is, by prayer and reflection, to discern what it is.
There are a couple of things I want to ask you. First, to make prayer for vocations, especially to the priesthood, a central priority. In our Diocese, God is calling men to serve Him as priests. How are you helping them to hear His call? Are you praying for them, encouraging them, supporting them? When was the last time your parish, your school, your family produced a priest? We are short of priests, but priests do not come out of thin air. They come from prayer and fasting. Please pray for more priests. Why not say the Rosary for this intention? Or offer up your Friday abstinence? Or if you watch a football match, ask God to call one of the players or one of the fans?
Secondly, I want to encourage each person to ask: What is God asking of me? We are short of priests. But even more our Diocese is short of people, people of passion, ‘can-do’ Catholics who really want the Church to be what she is meant to be. Our parish ministries, Catholic schools, Evangelisation Strategy Teams and Diocesan Framework function only thanks to generous and willing volunteers. Maybe God is calling you to contribute to one of these vital parts of diocesan life? Why not have a word with your parish priest? Or why not try the Called and Gifted programme?11 It includes a confidential one-to-one interview with a specialist about your relationship with God, your vocation in life and the gifts the Holy Spirit has given you for mission and service. Called and Gifted has already helped many hundreds of laity across the Diocese. Why not sign up yourself? It will change your life.
Let me return to discipleship. Britain is preparing for a General Election and as Catholics we have a crucial contribution to make to this democratic process. Here are ten key questions to think about. You could use them to evaluate a manifesto, or you could put them to a prospective parliamentary candidate.
First, and foremost, how far will this or that candidate protect the sacred dignity of each human life from conception to natural death, opposing moves to liberalise the abortion laws, to extend embryo experimentation and to legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia?12
How will they strengthen Britain’s Christian patrimony, its history, classics and values, whilst curbing fundamentalism in its various forms, scientific and religious, and promoting a fruitful dialogue between faith and reason?13
How will they support families, traditional family life and family values?14
How will they correlate freedom and responsibility? How will they build up community, foster philanthropy and support charity? How will they help the homeless?15 How will they improve the care of the mentally ill?16 How will they give greater support to the lowest earners, to the sick, to the disabled, to the dying? How will they care better for the environment, promoting an ‘integral ecology’ with a simpler life-style?17
And tenthly, how will they foster peace, justice and development abroad, whilst encouraging our Government to stand up for Christians who are being persecuted in such places as Syria and Egypt?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus said: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still and trust in me.”18 We believe that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He calls each one of us to discern our vocation and to play our part. As we approach the General Election, let us pray for our country. May the prayers of Mary Immaculate, St. Edmund of Abingdon and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, patron of our youth, help us to draw fresh vigour from Jesus, Whose Eucharistic Heart is the “House of God and the Gate of Heaven.”19
Thank you for listening – and don’t forget to download to your tablet or smart-phone the new Diocesan App! With my prayers and best wishes + Philip Bishop of Portsmouth