Homily of the Bishop to the Permanent Deacons of the Diocese (6-Oct-2018)


On the 6th of October, 2018, the Bishop offered Mass for the deacons of the Diocese at the parish church of the Good Shepherd, Woodthorpe, at which event the deacons made a renewal of their promises to the Bishop. The following is the homily given by the Bishop at this Mass.

"I have become convinced over the years that not enough Catholics really believe that Christ Jesus desires a personal relationship with each of them. Please don’t misunderstand me, I know we do believe that Christ died for us on the Cross, out of love for all humanity, so in some collective way, as part of humanity, we do all believe that we are loved by Christ; but that Christ desires a personal encounter, so as to develop a personal relationship with each of us, one on one, heart to heart. No, not enough of us as Catholics are as yet convinced of this. You, my dear Deacons, know personally how important this encounter with Christ is, in your own lives as disciples of Christ, as those whom Christ has called, and calls each day, to be his missionary disciples in your places of work, in your neighbourhood, among your family, friends, neighbours, and in the midst of your fellow parishioners whom you serve; and the General Directory for Catechesis certainly emphasises just how important this personal relationship with Christ truly is:

“The Christian faith is, above all, conversion to Jesus Christ, full and sincere adherence to his person and the decision to walk in his footsteps. Faith is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, making of oneself his disciple. This demands a permanent commitment to think like him, to judge like him and to live as he lived. In this way the believer unites himself or herself to the community of disciples and appropriates the faith of the Church. This ‘Yes’ to Jesus Christ, who is the fullness of the revelation of the Father, is twofold: a trustful abandonment to God, and a loving assent to all that he has revealed to us. This is possible only by the action of the Holy Spirit.” (GD 53, 54)

"Pope Francis, just like his immediate predecessors, Pope Benedict and Pope St John Paul II, encourages all Christians to believe that a personal relationship, a true encounter with Christ, is not only possible, but that it is what Christ desires for each and every one of us. In his teaching document, ‘The Joy of the Gospel’, Pope Francis expresses it like this:

“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think this invitation is not meant for him or her, since no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realise that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.” (EG, 3)

"My own experience is that too many Catholics have been sacramentalised, but not necessarily evangelised. They have been prepared for the sacraments, but have not always been taught and helped to see each of the sacraments as encounters with the Lord, heart to heart moments, when we are each invited to encounter the Lord, truly present and active in these sacraments, who wishes to encounter us as we open our hearts to him, thanking and praising him for all that he has done, and for all that he continues to do in our lives, and sharing too with the Lord all that may be troubling us. So the Lord invites us to come honestly before Him, in our personal prayer, and in our collective prayer, be that silent Eucharistic Adoration, the Breviary (in our case), or in Mass and the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, so that each of these experiences can be a true encounter, a true heart to heart between us and Christ, just as we would open our hearts to a trusted and faithful friend.

"My desire for the diocese over the next 3-5 years is that people of all ages will be helped to discover, or discover more deeply, three important truths: 1) that they are each loved by God, and that they are invited to encounter Him and to develop a personal relationship with the Lord; 2) that they are called by Christ Jesus to be his disciples, the human instruments through which his saving work is carried out in our world, and that they are given the inspiration, help and guidance of the Holy Spirit to enable them to be so, and 3) that they can be supported to grow in confidence, in accordance with their age, to speak of who Christ is for them and to share with others the difference that knowing Christ Jesus makes to their lives (Missionary disciples). Too many people of all ages continue to drift away from the Church, because I believe they have never been encouraged and helped to develop a personal relationship with the Lord. We surely can’t allow this to continue. So the 3 key themes that I wish to see developed in our parishes, schools, University Chaplaincies, and in all aspects of the pastoral ministry of the clergy of this diocese are, Encounter, Discipleship and Missionary Discipleship. These themes are already being explored and worked upon by our Diocesan Education Service, the Chief Executive Officers for the new Catholic Multi Academy Trusts, the RE Advisors, the Lay Chaplains in our schools, the Briars Youth Retreat Centre, the University Chaplains, and the Vocations Directors, to encourage a more comprehensive and interconnected approach to working together on these themes across the diocesan agencies.

"I am therefore grateful to have this opportunity to share these themes with you, the Deacons of our diocese, and to ask you in your own prayer and in your ministry everywhere, to reflect upon and to highlight these three themes and to help those to whom you minister, to encounter the Lord in their lives, in their own personal prayer and in the sacraments. So the way you celebrate baptism, marriage, and funeral services, the way you lead Services of Word & Holy Communion, the way you proclaim God’s word and preach, the way you assist at Mass, the way you speak to others of your own relationship with the Lord, and the ways in which you bear witness to this in personal prayer, in times of Eucharistic Adoration, and in the way you catechise and encourage everyone that it is their baptismal calling to serve Christ as his disciples, as his Missionary Disciples, will all prove helpful to me in trying to make these 3 themes of Encounter, Discipleship and Missionary Discipleship more of a living reality in the life and mission of our diocese. I welcome any reflections and feedback you may have to offer me.

"I thank you again for your generosity in offering your lives as Permanent Deacons in service of God and God’s people, and I thank your wives and family for their generosity in supporting you, which I do appreciate often comes with a price. May God bless you, your wife and family, as you prepare now to renew your commitment to serve Christ as deacons in his Church, within this diocese of Nottingham."