Dear Friends in Christ, With his first message as Pope, the Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis has spoken both of the joy of the gospel of Christ and of the need to proclaim it in every area of life, especially in the peripheries and among those marginalised and on the edges of society. We are not to be sad in our faith, therefore, but should gladly share it wherever we find ourselves. This is the task the Pope has set the Church as we make our way through the 21st century. Before we can proclaim Jesus Christ to others, we need first to love, know and understand just who he was and the message he preached. A common complaint often heard today is how many Catholics lack a confident knowledge of their faith, with the result that they don’t feel competent to speak of it to others. It is of course true that as believers our very manner of living should speak of Christ, but in the much quoted text from the first letter of St. Peter, we should, “Always be prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with reverence and gentleness”, 1 Peter 3:15. In Jude 3, Christians are told to “contend for the faith.” Indeed St Paul saw his own role as that of an apologist. In Phillipians 1:16, he wrote, “I am here for the defense of the Gospel.” In other words before we can communicate and share our faith we first have to be formed and educated properly in that faith itself. Much good work in the area of catechetics and gospel sharing already takes place in our parishes, not to mention our Catholic schools, but a great deal more is required especially among adult Catholics. Recent Popes, St. John Paul II in particular, have stressed the overriding importance of solid lay formation in the faith. Within this context a proper recovery of ‘apologetics’ would be helpful for younger and older adults alike! Our call to know, love and be confident in our Catholic faith and to be evangelisers is fundamental to the new identity in Christ each one of us has received in baptism. The apostle Paul states very clearly and graphically that in baptism we have “put on Christ” or “been clothed in him”. Each single baptised person shares in the missionary mandate which he gave to the Twelve before he returned to his Father in heaven, “Go and teach all nations….. “ Matthew 28:19. We do have a task and a job of work to do – given to us by the Lord himself! Christ does depend on us to be his evangelising disciples! Good lay formation for adults – including within it apologetics – helps us to inculturate the Gospel. Catholics must be able to understand the wider cultural context in which they live in order for the new evangelisation to be effective. By employing reasoned argument, apologists can learn to “speak a language” that unbelievers can especially understand. St. Augustine of Hippo embraced Catholicism after hearing a thoughtful Catholic debate with a Manichean. These and many other examples confirm that apologetic approaches have accompanied conversions to the Lord – often over a period of time. Moreover, the evangelising apologist is not just concerned with persuading unbelievers, but also seeks to inspire believers too. In this way, furthermore a new-found apologetics is needed for both believers to become confident about what they believe in order to explain and live out their faith and for non-believers to come to faith. The season of Lent is fast approaching, and as we examine our consciences before God on our own particular vocation we would do well to learn more about our Catholic Faith and how we can strengthen it. We can do this by reading a passage from the gospel each day by ourselves or sharing it within a parish discussion group or when occasion demands it at work or at school. There is much material relating to our faith which is freely available on our diocesan website, and, of course, in your parish bookstalls. Interestingly, in this regard in the Diocese of Lancaster’s new diocesan Office for the New Evangelisation will be piloting shortly a roll-out of the course Symbolon – also new training courses for Parish Pastoral Councils and Parish Finance Committees. Symbolon is a new catechetical programme from the Augustine Institute in the United States. It provides a comprehensive, orthodox, systematic and engaging presentation of the Catholic faith, while also highlighting the beautiful, organic unity of the faith. In Lancaster going forward we will pleased to develop its use to help us form adult Catholics in their faith and so equipping them for the mission of discipleship in our parishes. The Lord has laid upon you and me the duty of passing on our faith to those who come after us, to our peers, to the younger generation, to those who have become careless or stale in practising their faith, even to those people who do not know what Catholics really believe. Each one of us has been given the Holy Spirit in our sacraments of initiation. Through the power of that Holy Spirit let us be happy and confident in our faith in the Lord Jesus and not be slow to share it with others. Until next week – As ever in Christ,
+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster
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