When the Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell, received a significant legacy from Ethel (As she wanted to remain anonymous, I have only been told her first name), he had to decide what to do with it. He could easily have put it into the diocesan coffers to help cover the costs or he could have put it towards some worthy aspect of our mission or ministry. Having weighed up the options, he settled on putting on a three day residential conference for the clergy and licensed lay ministers. Besides investing in those offering public ministry, this event would also add to our collective memory and the history of this large, diverse diocese.
The title of the conference was ‘Refresh.’ Ironically, I returned quite tired – the programme was full and my bed uncomfortable! Nevertheless it lived up to its billing. Inwardly I was refreshed with the highlight for me of three good days together, a talk given by the Father Raniero Cantalamessa, one of the papal preachers who, as such, preaches to the Pope on a regular basis. He has done so since 1980. He spoke powerfully of the need to know and live for Jesus Christ every day. This point was vividly portrayed for him in a picture that Fr Raniero received from God. He was on a fast-moving horse-drawn chariot holding the reins. Then he noticed Jesus Christ sitting close to him. After a while, Jesus Christ said to him, ‘Are you going to let me take the reins?’ For Fr Raniero this was a crisis, a moment of decision. He felt that he had to let Jesus Christ take control. This turning-point signified a step-change in his relationship with God. Since then, he has looked intently to Jesus Christ daily, seeking the guidance and help of God in the rhythms and routines of life, as well as in the tasks he has to do. His simple relating of what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ was eloquently expressed in his words and on his smiling open face.
Whereas the Christian faith is personal, it is never private. Fr Raniero went on to emphasise how the gospel needs to be central to the Church’s preaching in this secular age. The great historical events of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection must be declared, and the great truth that ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ must be proclaimed. This truth is not to be ignored or side-lined. Rather it is to be central to the Church’s life and witness to God, subverting all those idols that compete for our allegiance. Nationalism, consumerism, materialism, hedonism are all ideologies that are challenged by the Christian claim that ‘Jesus is Lord’ and the conviction that ‘God is Christlike and in him there is no unChristlikeness at all.’
Besides telling of God’s Kingdom in Jesus Christ, the Church is to tend the needy and teach the faith. The two other essential features of the Church’s mission are the imperative to ‘treasure God’s creation’ and the call to ‘transform the unjust structures of our nation and globe.’ The science concerning global warming is unequivocal and the dire consequences of a warmer planet are already being experienced by the poorest nations. ‘Treasuring God’s creation’ means acting local and thinking globally about this pressing issue. The widening gap between the poor and rich in our world is a troubling reality too. Feeding the hungry is one response to those in dire need but we need to ask questions too about how we organise the common life of our ‘global village.’ Challenging the status quo can cause a reaction from those whose vested interests are threatened. Archbishop Helda Camara, an outspoken critic of the government in Brasil, said, ‘When I feed the hungry, I am called a saint. When I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist.’ When the Church speaks prophetically, there is bound to be a backlash. Yet speak, we must.
Archbishop Helda Camara too spoke of walking closely with Jesus Christ and of living courageously for him. Here to close is a prayer associated with him.
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you:
wherever he may send you;
May he guide you through the wilderness:
protect you through the storm;
May he bring you home rejoicing:
at the wonders he has shown you;
May he bring you home rejoicing:
once again into our doors.