Dear friends in Christ,
In the Gospel that we have just heard, Jesus teaches us that “If anyone wishes to be first, he must be the servant of all” (Mark 9:35), and to illustrate his point he uses the example of a child (Mark 9:36-37):
“He then took a little child, set him in front of them, put his arms around him, and said to them, ‘Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me.'”
By telling us this, Jesus is showing that his disciples have to be different from those around them: we cannot transform the communities, the cities and the countries that we live in by being powerful, but by serving our brothers and sisters; we have to allow ourselves to be transformed by Christian love, so that we can transform the world in which we live by Christian love.
Part of this transformation began in our Archdiocese ten years ago, when Archbishop Patrick invited us to leave safe harbours and to prepare ourselves at this particular time to be the Church whom God is calling us to be in Liverpool, West Lancashire and the Isle of Man.
The process has been painful for many people, since it is never easy to make important decisions about where we worship and how we build parish communities, and the relatively lower number of priests and smaller congregations than the recent past weighs heavily on all of us. So, I would like to thank all of you who have given so much of your precious time and commitment to this process, which has given us a strong foundation for our future mission.
But, even as Leaving Safe Harbours comes to an end, the work begun by this project carries on. Today is Home Mission Sunday, and our annual remembrance of the Church’s mission in England and Wales reminds us that we are all called to be missionary disciples; as the dismissal at the end of our celebrations of Mass reminds us, we all leave church to “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord” with our lives, to “announce the Gospel of the Lord” to those around us.
It is only when we ourselves are challenged and transformed by the Lord, whom we receive in Word and Sacrament, that we can challenge and transform those around us. To do this, Pope Francis has called all our parishes to be missionary parishes, strong and confident in faith, and welcoming and inviting in love. He describes the parish as a “community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a centre of constant missionary outreach” (Evangelii Gaudium 28). To help us to become missionary disciples and to help our parishes to become missionary parishes, it is my intention to appoint an evangelisation fieldworker, who will travel around the Archdiocese to support and encourage parishes to fulfil this essential part of their role. And this role is not something that is extra or merely desirable – the Church’s evangelising mission, and our call to be missionary disciples, is essential. In Blessed Paul VI’s words, some forty years ago (Evangelii Nuntiandi 14):
“Evangelising all people is a task and mission which the vast and profound changes of present day society make all the more urgent. Evangelising is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists to evangelise.”
We already do this wonderfully in our family catechesis. Families are discovering the joy of sharing the Gospel with their children and in their family life, and many of you are working tirelessly in this.
As you may know already, we are preparing to celebrate the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which will begin on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary this year, and conclude on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe next year. During this year of grace, we are called by Pope Francis to proclaim the ceaseless mercy of God, acknowledging our need of it ourselves and sharing it with others. As today’s Second Reading, from the Letter of St James, reminds us, this mercy has to be practical: there is no room in the Church for jealousy or ambition, for fighting battles; rather, we are to be kindly, and considerate, full of compassion and doing good, peacemakers and people of prayer, living as the “servant of all” (Mark 9:35) and welcoming everyone.
If we are to be authentic witnesses to Christ, we have to be evangelising parishes – parishes with a mission, that are centred on the Lord, always seeking his face and following his call to proclaim his Good News. For this reason, I hope that we will all open our hearts anew to Christ, so that we may all revitalise our parishes, chaplaincies and schools, forming each to be a “community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a centre of constant missionary outreach” (Evangelii Gaudium 28).
That is the challenge the Holy Father has set before us; this is why we left safe harbours and why, in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, we can and must proclaim the mercy of God in thought, words, deeds and example, so that more people can be inspired by the joy of the Gospel, which sets us free “from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness” (EG 1). Proclaiming this Gospel belongs to all of us.
With my prayers and every good wish for you and your families,
Most Rev Malcolm McMahon OP
Archbishop of Liverpool