Catenian MissionPublish Date: Tue 2nd Jul 2019
Bishop John Arnold challenges the Catenians to consider the environment and their future.
Catenian friends, families, guests. I am delighted to be here. I have a bit of a problem as a bishop sometimes with the differentiation between public speaking and preaching. I do apologise about that but I do apply the same golden rule to both public speaking and preaching: never more than 45 minutes. So settle back and you may need to charge your glasses once or twice but, in fact, I think I’m going to be quite brief.
When I think about my predecessor Bishop Casartelli, I think he had two particular dimensions to his idea for the Catenian Association. I think there was that dimension that said you need to look within your community and create a community of friends because, at that stage, so many Catholics were living in a fairly hostile society. And it was good to create that sense of dignity, wellbeing, support and encouragement among Catholic men at that time. And that’s quite right, and you’ve done that very well. I certainly always feel there’s a great degree of hospitality and welcome when I come to any function of the Catenians. Over the years and I’ve now known certain Catenians for, dare I say it, 50 years, and I’ve known those occasions when two gentlemen have come together, not knowing one another, but both being Catenians, and finding that they’ve actually got things in common very much because they simply are Catenians. They can start a friendship there and then, which is very gratifying. So I think you’ve done very well on that aspect and I congratulate you for it, and thank you for sharing your friendship and your ethos with so many guests.
But then we also have to look at another aspect of what I think Bishop Casartelli had in mind when he suggested that there should be such an association, and that’s the looking outwards, that sense of mission, and it’s the sort of thing which is reflected very much in what Pope Francis says when he tells us we are all missionary disciples, that we can’t hold our faith as something intellectual in our heads, there’s got to be something that we put into action in the decisions and choices of every day. And it means going out. Pope Francis is very clear about that. He’d only been Pope for about three months when he went off to Rio de Janeiro to World Youth Day and whilst he was there, he met with a lot of bishops of South America. He can be pretty direct when he’s speaking to bishops and priests, which he should be, because we hold responsibilities and he needs to keep us in order and tell us what we need to be doing. But he was sitting there with all these bishops and he said something like this: “It’s no good you lot sitting in your cathedrals with the doors open waiting for people to come in. Do you have the courage to go out there and to walk with people even while they’re still walking away from the Church?”
An added dimension, and it’s great, isn’t it, when people actually want to come and join our Church. I suppose the most exciting moment for me, and the most encouraging moment in the liturgical year, is that Rite of Election on the First Sunday of Lent, when the cathedral fills up with people that actually want to become Catholics. And this year, again, there was a good number, all sorts of cultures and traditions, all sorts of ages, actually wanting, in this crazy world in which we live, to become Catholics. It’s so encouraging. But that’s not enough. We’ve got to go out there and to walk with people, not to persuade them and to cajole them and to force them into thinking about becoming Catholics, but to walk with them even while they’re still walking away from the Church. And we know so many of them that are walking away. They’re members of our families or among our friends, people who, without probably any direct decision, have actually found themselves lured away from a sense of faith in their lives. Do we have the courage to walk with them, even while they are still walking away from the Church?
And Pope Francis used that beautiful text from Luke’s gospel, the disciples on the road to Emmaus. The resurrection had taken place but they didn’t yet know about it. And who walks with them in their disappointment, in their disillusionment? Jesus Himself walks with them. He doesn’t tell them to stop there or stop walking away and get back to Jerusalem, He walks with them for the whole day until they come to a moment of realisation and they recognise Him and they know that they’re right to go back to Jerusalem and renew their faith in Him. We, too, must walk with people as part of our mission. And our mission is pretty clear, too. If we go back to St Paul and (I am preaching now aren’t I)? If we go back to St Paul, when he’s writing to the Corinthians, he uses a little phrase which is really very powerful. He says: “So we are ambassadors for Christ.” Let’s think about that for a moment. What’s an ambassador? It’s somebody who’s delegated by somebody else to stand in their place to carry on their work, with their authority. And you and I, whoever we are, whatever stage of life we are at, we are delegated by Jesus Christ to stand in His place, to carry on His work with His authority. What a challenge, what a privilege! But it means action, it means living our faith. It means making sure that in every decision we make, we are trying to be Christ-like in what we do.
Now, ‘our mission’ can be the mission of the Catenian Association as the whole body of the Association, and I think the National President is going to have a word or two to say about that to us. But there’s also that individual mission, you and I, in all that we’re doing, you because you are Catenians and Christians and Catholics, it means that you in every action as an ambassador for Christ can make a difference. And I’m just thinking now about what our individual missions might be. They change because our journey changes. I mean how many of us in this room really are surprised to be where we are today? Did we set out at 18 or 19 thinking this is how our life would have been? That has certainly not been my experience. My life has changed dramatically, several times. But in that, I believe there’s a sense of a journey and a mission. I very much like that meditation of Blessed John Henry Newman, soon to be St John Henry Newman. A beautiful meditation that begins: “God created me to do Him some definite purpose. He’s committed some work to me He’s not committed to another. I have my mission.” And I believe that. God doesn’t sort of say: “Get out there and sort the world out.” He says: “No, actually, I love you so much I’m giving you the gifts and the talents and the skills to do what I want you to do in the mission that I have given you uniquely. It is yours.” So we are very important in all that we do.
And I was thinking about the subject for this conference, the topic is ‘Supporting Youth and Faith’. I’m just wondering where we might be finding our mission within that. Because of its momentum, I’m caught up in all sorts of ways with the whole question of climate change. I don’t want to depress you but it is there, and it is headline news, and when people like David Attenborough come up with his warnings, you don’t mess with them. He doesn’t sensationalise at all. And when he talks about a “catastrophe of global dimensions”, we’ve got to get serious about it. When we’re talking about the youth and climate change, now there’s a combination because they seem to be learning and understanding things very well indeed. I’m so surprised when I go to even the primary schools in the diocese, how eager the children are to learn and to express their understanding of climate change and the environment. And all that they’re doing: the gardens that are being grown and the ecobricks that are being collected in their tens of thousands. It’s wonderful to see it and to be led around these gardens by seven and eight-year-olds who are telling me what they’re growing and why they’re growing it and how it’s beneficial and how much water you need for this and why water doesn’t it evaporate so quickly if you do it in this way. It’s wonderful to see it.
And I just wonder if there’s a combination to be made there. There was a Synod last year in Rome for the youth. And Pope Francis was very clear in saying: “You’re not the future of the Church, you are the present of the Church. We need to be listening to you.” What opportunities might there be there for the Catenians to be assisting young people in their understanding and their progress in climate change and what it means to them? Because it’s their world which is going to suffer. We’ve done the damage and we need to help the next generation to correct that damage and to make the world a better place, to care for our common home. Perhaps there are ways in which the Catenian Association can promote the whole topic of climate change and help young people to understand how they may do good work, because they’re certainly very eager to do so. I don’t know how many of you may be familiar with the name Greta Thunberg. She’s the 15-year-old, well now 16-year-old, Swedish girl who has brought to the attention of the world and to millions of schoolchildren the whole dilemma that we face.
Now, you might be thinking that this is getting a bit depressing, miserable, and that I should sit down now. I think I would just like to encourage you for a moment by turning to the disciples. Some of you reminded me that I have spoken about my impression of the disciples and how disappointing they were at times in the Gospels. But let’s just take a moment now to consider where those disciples are in these days after Easter. They’ve gone through the trauma of thinking that Jesus is dead, and that everything they thought was going to happen can’t happen now. He’s dead, finished. And all the confusion that would have brought about whether He was the son of God, because if He was, how could they possibly have killed Him? But then Jesus was so good and look at the miracles and the teaching and everything. Totally confused! Then the first day of the week, things actually get worse because the rumour goes out that the body’s been stolen and they’re being blamed for it. That’s a serious crime, they can’t even go home now, they’re going to be criminals and hunted down. And all that shock and trauma is suddenly put into reverse because Jesus is back, “peace be with you”, and He’s so gentle with them. “Thomas, come here, touch the wounds, doubt no longer but believe.” And all that trauma must have turned into the most wonderful happy shock at being able to believe again. He’s back. He’s our leader. He’s our guide. He’s our decision-maker. We can be His disciples and we’ll be listening a lot more carefully this time round. We missed far too much the first time. No, we’re going to be good disciples now, and then suddenly Jesus says: “Well, actually, I’m going now. I’m going back to the Father. Oh, and by the way, I’ve got a job for you, go out to the whole world and proclaim the good news and baptise.” And they must have thought: “Oh, come on, get real Jesus, that’s not going to happen, is it! We’re illiterate fisherman for the most part. We speak Aramaic, but the whole world speaks Greek and Latin. You’re expecting us to go out and to preach the Gospel? We’re not even good disciples. How can we be good evangelisers?” And He says: “No, I’ll give you the Advocate who will remind you of everything I said to you and lead you in all truth.” And that’s how it happened.
With Pentecost, they actually begin to make those first faltering steps. One by one they must have been so confused about what happens next, and it wasn’t all smooth-running. In some places where they were evangelising they got lots of opposition. But gradually, it actually works. God not just saying: “Get out there, sort the world out, convert the lot of them,” but saying: “No actually, I love you so much I’m coming with you. I’m going to be with you every step of the way.” And that’s, for me, the encouragement that I rely on. We are facing so many difficulties in our world, but step by step, if we believe that you and I have a definite mission, a purpose to bring the reality of the Gospel to the world in which we live, then step by step we’ll do it, not because we’ll be the great architects, no, simply because we have the Advocate, the Holy Spirit with us to remind us of everything that Jesus taught us and lead us in all truth.
I think we need to be very hopeful. Pope Francis is hopeful, in every way. He’s free with his criticism and rightly so, because we’ve got to identify problems. But he’s also there reminding us that we’ve always got hope. And I believe that as Catenians you have so much to offer. As individuals you belong to your parishes. Now, most of the Catenians I have met don’t just simply belong to parishes, you’ve usually got a particular interest or a particular responsibility within that community. I am hoping that the Bishops’ Conference, and it will certainly be so in the Diocese of Salford, will encourage environmental teams in every parish, encouraging all sort of things we can do, that may seem even trivial, to help mend the damage of climate change. And I’d like to think that the Catenians, as individuals, will be at the forefront of that, helping the priests and the people of the parish communities to recognise what we can do in order to make our world a better place and care for our common home.
But I’ll finish now simply by thanking you for your hospitality, and thanking you also for all that you do as Catenians, as a body of Catenians and as individuals, and particularly for the way you look after one another through your faith, family and friendship. I would ask now that we toast the Catenian Association.
[Toast and Applause]