On encountering Christ this Advent
"...Beginning this year, we will explore in our schools, parishes and chaplaincies the theme of ‘Encounter’ during Advent and Christmas, ‘Discipleship’ during Lent, and ‘Missionary Discipleship’ from Easter to Pentecost. I would love to see these spiritual themes become more and more a living reality in each of our lives, and in the life of the whole diocese. Resources have already been produced for our schools, and some initial resources for our parishes and chaplaincies will be ready by Advent. Other materials will later be produced to help us to examine how our schools, parishes and chaplaincies can become more and more outward looking, more missionary and engaged with the wider community through practical acts of service and outreach. Because when we truly encounter the Lord and his love for each of us, and hear afresh each day his Gospel invitation to change our lives and follow him as his disciples, we will find that we want to share with others the difference that knowing and serving Christ makes to our lives. In these ways I really want mission to become the heart of, and the motivation for, everything that we seek to do throughout the diocese. The call to evangelise, to be missionary is never then just some diocesan programme that we have all decided we will try and do, but rather it is the result of a change of heart and mind, of having encountered Christ and responded to his call. Pope Francis has described it well:
‘Thanks, solely to this encounter – or renewed encounter – with God’s love, which blossoms into an enriching friendship, we are liberated from our narrowness and self-absorption. We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being. Here we find the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelisation. For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?’ (The Joy of the Gospel, 8)
"Why do I believe this foundational encounter with the Lord is so important and needs such emphasising? Because without it, we cannot become effective disciples. If we ourselves have not allowed the Lord to invite us into his friendship and to guide our lives through his Holy Spirit, then how can we speak of this to others? It has been my experience over forty years of pastoral ministry that many Catholics dismiss such talk of a personal encounter or relationship with Christ as something Protestant, and so somehow alien to Catholicism. However, the truth is that the development of a personal relationship with Christ is absolutely central to a Catholic understanding of faith."