Bishop Ralph – Pastoral Letter – The Feast of Pentecost
Diocese of Hallam – Pastoral Letter
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ,
I sometimes think of the Feast of Pentecost as the “Cinderella” feast in the Church’s calendar – often overshadowed by the other major feasts of Christmas and Easter. However, the preface of today’s Mass reminds us just how important a feast it is:
For bringing your Paschal Mystery to completion, you bestowed the Holy Spirit today on those you made your adopted children by uniting them to your only begotten Son. The same spirit, as the Church came to birth, opened to all people the knowledge of God and brought together the many languages of the earth in profession of one faith.
Today we have Luke‘s noisy account of the first Pentecost of rushing wind and tongues of fire. In contrast, the gospel speaks of the Spirit as a gentle teacher and reminder of the truth. The Spirit of God comes to us in many forms and many disguises. But one thing is for sure: by the gift of the same Spirit, we can never be without the presence of God – that’s the promise of Pentecost.
It was the Spirit that led the early disciples into unchartered waters, places of uncertainty and of the unfamiliar. No doubt, they would have preferred to have remained around the places and the people they knew. It was the same Spirit, too, that directed the early Church to gather in communities for the breaking of bread, and to proclaim the marvels of God.
Today, the same Spirit invites us individually and as communities, to centre our lives on the breaking of bread and the proclamation of the Word. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, for example, reminds us that the Eucharist remains “the source and summit of the Church’s life. The sacraments, and indeed all the other ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate are bound up with the Eucharist and are orientated towards it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch. ( CCC 1324)
In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis’ clear message is that it is Church’s mission today, as in previous generations, to announce to everyone the Good News that God the Father calls us to share in God’s own life. He writes, “It is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear. The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded.” (Evangelii Gaudium 23). This journey of “communion and mission” is a joy that fills the heart of the disciple of Jesus in every generation. It does not, however, come without its challenges.
Part of my role as bishop is ensure that parish life across the diocese remains rooted in the Eucharist and the sacraments and that parishes are fit for mission. The priest is key to the celebration of the Eucharist and the sacraments but the mission of the Church belongs to us all through our baptism. One of the challenges we face in common with dioceses across the country today is how best to deploy priests to allow this “communion and mission’ to thrive across the diocese.
In this regard, I believe we stand at a crossroads. Since I arrived in the diocese almost a year ago, five priests have died. Four priests have retired and there are others who intend to step down in the months ahead. Of the 34 active incardinated priests, 10 are over 70 and 11 over 60. There are 71 churches to be served. Some good news is that we have 3 men in formation at present and 3 more who are seeking to become candidates this coming academic year.
However, making it possible for communion and mission to flourish is not solely dependent on the priests of the diocese. As I have moved around the diocese over the last few months, I cannot help but notice the treasury of gifts present in the diocese. The Spirit of God calls us to make best use of all this gifts to renew and build. In the words of Pope Francis:
These gifts are meant to renew and build up the Church. They are not an inheritance, safely secured and entrusted to a small group for safe keeping; rather they are the gifts of the Spirit integrated into the body of the Church, drawn to its centre, which is Christ and then channelled into and evangelising impulse.” (Evangelii Gaudium 130)
On this Feast of Pentecost, then a question we could ask ourselves is, “What new thing is the Spirit asking of us as a diocese and as individual parish communities and how best to respond? And given the experience of the early disciples we need to be prepared for answers that might surprise us!
There is a line from a well-know Irish blessing that goes: “May the wind be always at your back.” As we continue our journey into unchartered waters and the unfamiliar, may the Holy Spirit of God be both the wind at our backs and the fire in our hearts as we strive to be open to the new ways in which the Spirit may draw us closer to one another and to Jesus Christ present to us in the Eucharist, the source and summit of all our lives.
Yours sincerely in Christ, the Redeemer.
+Ralph Heskett C.Ss.R
Bishop of Hallam