Pastoral Message: Low Sunday 1996
PASTORAL LETTER OF BISHOP CORMAC MURPHY-O'CONNOR
to be read at all Masses
ON LOW SUNDAY, 14th April, 1996
My dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ, Most Catholics that I know have a copy of the Bible in their homes. However, I do not think that many of them actually read it! I wonder how many of you read the New Testament, and especially the Gospel stories of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? Take, for instance, the 20th chapter of John's gospel from which our extract today is taken. In it we have four different reactions to the risen Jesus. First of all, we have the reaction of the beloved disciple, probably John himself, who believed in Jesus Christ when he saw the garments left in the empty tomb. Then we are told that Mary Magdalene believed when she heard the voice of the risen Jesus call her by her name. She was then told to go out and tell that good news to her brethren and so became one of the first to announce the gospel message. Thirdly, in our extract today, we are told that Jesus came amongst the disciples gathered together and said to them, "Peace be with you" - he repeated the words - "Peace be with you" (Jn. 20:20). He showed them his hands and his side and the reaction of those disciples was one of joy that they had seen the risen Lord.
Lastly, we have the story of Thomas, often called 'doubting Thomas'. Thomas had been absent when Jesus first appeared to his disciples and he was not easily persuaded. Thomas is adamant in his refusal to believe on the basis of the word of the other disciples. He says, "Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe" (Jn. 20:25). Again, Jesus appears and challenges Thomas. "Put your finger here, look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe" (Jn. 20-.27). Thomas does not even need to touch Jesus and he professes his faith in those wonderful words, "My Lord and my God".
However, in our gospel extract today there is one reaction which is perhaps more important than all the others. In John's gospel there can be no greater praise given to Jesus than the words of Thomas, "My Lord and my God". But there can be no greater praise given to Jesus's followers, namely, you and me, than the words, "Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe" (Jn. 20:29). That same Jesus who said that he would be with us until the end of time, here affirms a fruit of his resurrection, namely, that there would be a believing community of Christians remaining here on earth until Jesus himself comes again.
The Easter season stretches from Holy Saturday until the feast of Pentecost. It is a period when all of us are to renew and experience again in our lives the mystery of the risen Jesus. For those of us who were baptized, perhaps many years ago, the priest who baptized us asked our God-parents, "What is it you ask of the Church of God?" And the answer that was given was the word, "Faith". There are many needs of the Church in our diocese and, indeed, in our country, but the greatest need, it seems to me, is a deepening, a renewal of our faith in the risen Christ.
What is your reaction to the risen Christ? We have pledged, as a diocese, during these years before the Millennium, to deepen our understanding, our celebration and our witness of what it means to be Christ in our world. Another way of expressing this desire is our promise to deepen our faith. How often do we repeat that prayer of the cripple in the gospel - "I believe, Lord, help thou my unbelief"? There are many ways which the Church gives us to help deepen our faith. The first is quite simply the capacity to deepen our life of prayer and worship. What time and effort do you give to your daily prayer, at home, at work, in the silence of your heart? What efforts do you make to participate more fully in the liturgy, perhaps by reading the extracts from the Sunday readings? There is no better way of deepening our faith than by opening ourselves to the Word of God in silence, in reading his own words.
Another way we deepen our faith is through our experience of discipleship together: "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Mt. 18:20). Jesus did not call one person to follow him; he wanted to form a community of his faithful disciples and each one of us needs to experience that community in the life of our families, of our parishes, of our diocese. More and more, if we are to go out and give witness to Christ, we need to experience within our community the sense of our solidarity in faith. Again, I repeat the necessity for community prayer, for family prayer, for small communities of all kinds, a sharing of faith.
Nor should we neglect being alongside especially those who are in any kind of need. When we stand and help people who are poor and needy, then in some way we take the place of Christ, we become "Christophers" , namely, those who bear Christ to others, When we are with them then we understand more deeply the presence of God in their lives and especially in our own life.
May I simply leave you on this second Sunday of Easter with those most comforting words of St. John in today's reading. "This is the victory over the world - our faith. Who can overcome the world? Only the person who believes that Jesus is the Son of God" (1 Jn. 5:4-5). It is within the communities of our parishes that we understand, worship and give witness to the risen Christ. Nurture the Christian life in your parishes. Do your best as a Christian, Catholic community to respond to the challenges of our age. Endeavour to transmit the essential richness of the Church to your children. Essentially, this means the will of every one of us as a community to transmit the living experience of our faith. As Jesus says, "Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe".
With an assurance of my prayers and kindest wishes,
Yours devotedly in Christ,
Rt. Rev. Cormac Murphy-O'Connor
Bishop of Arundel and Brighton.