Friday, 18 July 2008

World Youth Day: "Sent out into the world: the Holy Spirit, the principle agent of mission"

This is the third of my catecheses on the themes of the World Youth Day catecheses. It was used at our "first Friday" Eucharistic Adoration at the beginning of July. I rather simplified the Reading/teaching for the Children's adoration!


Three “articles” of Missionary activity according to the decree Ad Gentes of the Second Vatican Council:

Article 1: Christian witness

The Church must be present in these groups through her children, who dwell among them or who are sent to them. For all Christians, wherever they live, are bound to show forth, by the example of their lives and by the witness of the word, that new man put on at baptism and that power of the Holy Spirit by which they have been strengthened at Confirmation. Thus other men, observing their good works, can glorify the Father (cf. Matt. ES:16) and can perceive more fully the real meaning of human life and the universal bond of the community of mankind.

Article 2: Preaching the Gospel and assembling the People of God

Wherever God opens a door of speech for proclaiming the mystery of Christ, there is announced to all men with confidence and constancy the living God, and He Whom He has sent for the salvation of all, Jesus Christ. This is in order that non - Christians, when the Holy Spirit opens their heart, may believe and be freely converted to the Lord, that they may come sincerely to Him Who, being the "way, the truth, and the life" fulfils all their spiritual expectations, and even infinitely exceeds them.

This conversion must be taken as an initial one, yet sufficient to make a man realize that he has been snatched away from sin and led into the mystery of God's love, who called him to enter into a personal relationship with Him in Christ. For, by the workings of divine grace, the new convert sets out on a spiritual journey, by means of which, already sharing through faith in the mystery of Christ's Death and Resurrection, he passes from the old man to the new one, perfected in Christ

Article 3: Forming the Christian community

The Holy Spirit, who calls all men to Christ by the seeds of the word and by the preaching of the Gospel, stirs up in their hearts a submission of faith. In the womb of the baptismal font, He brings to a new life those who believe in Christ, He gathers them into the one People of God which is "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people”.

Therefore, let the missionaries, God's co-workers, raise up congregations of the faithful such that, walking worthily of the vocation to which they have been called, they may exercise the priestly, prophetic, and royal office which God has entrusted to them. In this way, the Christian community will be a sign of God's presence in the world. Through the Eucharistic sacrifice, this community goes continually with Christ to the Father; carefully nourished on the word of God it bears witness to Christ; and finally, it walks in charity and is fervent with the apostolic spirit.

Testimony(1): the Ark of the New Covenant of the 49th International Eucharistic Congress

I had prepared the account of the life of Madeleine Delbrel, below, as my testimony for this catechesis. However, what I actually did on the day, for both the Children's Adoration (with the children gathered round me so they could see better my "little Ark" that I had brought back from Quebec) and for the Holy Hour with the grown ups, was to talk about the pilgrimage of the Ark of the New Covenant of the recent International Eucharistic Congress. It reflected all three of the articles of missionary activity as it visited parishes and communities in Canada, most especially during its 9 week journey from Midland, Ontario to Quebec between Easter Sunday and the Feast of Corpus Christi. [To watch nine TV programmes produced by Salt and Light TV covering this pilgrimage go here.]

Testimony (2)

Madeleine Delbrêl was born in 1904 in Mussidan, in the Dordogne region of France. Her father worked on the railways and was frequently moved from place to place. In 1916, the family finally settled in Paris.

Madeleine was deeply committed to learning, and to enjoying everything that Paris had to offer. Her learning was manifested in her success when she enrolled as a student at the Sorbonne, where she won awards in philosophy, literature, modern art and history. Madeleine’s enjoyment of Paris was shown in her love of dancing - she spent many late nights with her friends in the cabarets of Paris - and her extra-short Charleston dresses. She was by now a thorough going atheist, a rebel who took joy in any unconventional thought.

Madeleine’s outlook on life is summarised by the title of an essay she wrote at this time: “God is Dead - Long Live Death”. This absurdity of life once God was absent, combined with her meeting several friends at the Sorbonne who were believers and for whom “God appeared to be as necessary as the air”, forced Madeleine to consider the question of faith. At 20, she underwent a conversion which she herself described as “violent”, and which was then followed by an intellectual search for religious faith. Madeleine continually maintained that it was God who found her rather than she who found God.

In 1933, after ten years as a Catholic, Madeleine and two friends moved to Ivry-sur-Seine to found a centre for social action. Ivry was a communist stronghold to the south of Paris, and, in the early 1930’s, a place of considerable poverty.

Ivry was a workers district, with many people moving into the area from other parts of France. The open hostility between the communist majority in Ivry and the Catholic minority was a great shock to Madeleine, who had seen nothing like it before. The communists of Ivry, however, were her neighbours, and so she committed herself to work amongst the poor of the area. In Madeleine’s own phrase, a gulf existed between her and communism but not between her and her communist neighbours.

How does Madeleine Delbrêl provide us with a model for today? Like Madeleine, we are called to live a religious culture, which is ours through our Christian faith, in the face of the secular culture of the places where we work. She approached her collaboration as a Christian believer, refusing all actions that were directly or indirectly opposed to God. The Gospels were her constant source of judgement in all her decision making; her love for the Catholic Church was profound. Those with whom she worked were in no doubt about the Christian inspiration of her work.

Secondly, Madeleine’s work of charity was directed to those who were poor regardless of their political or social background. She saw this as her response to the call in the Gospels to love her neighbour. Madeleine challenges us with the same question that she faced in Ivry: “Who is my neighbour?”. For Madeleine, the startling answer was “the communists”. For us, in our own life situations, we should expect the answer to be equally startling.

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