The news earlier this week that less than half of the population of England and Wales now describe themselves as Christian1 [over 5 million fewer than in 2010] is a wake-up call for all Christians. This should create a new sense of urgency, it means that we need to work harder to bring people to God, over 22 million people in England and Wales say they have no religion while other non-Christian faiths are reporting small rises in their % rate.
We are becoming a voice that cries in the wilderness, and if the trend continues, we are at risk of being seen as irrelevant in society or worse still, not existing in the not-too-distant future. When I think of my own faith journey and recall the times in my life when I seldom attended Mass, even in those days I would have struggled to deny being a Christian, for so many people to disaffiliate themselves from Christianity is really concerning; especially when I think of the Gospel from a few weeks ago when we heard Jesus say, ‘when the Son of Man returns will He find any faith on earth?’ [Luke 18:8].
Two thousand years ago a voice cried in the wilderness ‘Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ Do we hear this today and obey the call, or do we see it as irrelevant? John the Baptist, the last prophet, the prophet who actually, physically pointed to Jesus; is the prophet other prophets spoke of. His message is as relevant today as it was when he first spoke those words and if we are to bring more people to God then we need to be prepared to speak out against injustice; be a voice for the downtrodden and be prepared to protest when necessary.
The Irish orator, philosopher and politician Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” We live in a time when priests are being arrested for praying at abortion clinics2; other priests have been arrested for highlighting the climate crisis3; where refugees who survive the perils of people trafficking and the English Channel face being deported to Rwanda4; a country which has a dubious record on human rights and a government who are severely limiting the right of people like you and me from protesting injustices in society.5
When we list these things, I wonder what St John the Baptist would have called the perpetrators of such evils; remembering that he called the Pharisees and Sadducees a brood of vipers. Right now, the world seems so far away from a time when the wolf and the lamb live together and the panther lies down with the kid as we heard in today’s first reading. Yet that is what we must look forward to. The prophets told us of the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again, offering us the opportunity to have eternal life. If we really believe this what are we doing to encourage others to come to God or to return to God?
We now know there are more than 22 million people in England and Wales who have no religion. That means we all know someone, perhaps who was baptised a Catholic or maybe in another tradition who now expresses no religion. Do we pray for them? Do we speak to them about God? Do we invite them to come to church? Our Baptism gave us a responsibility to evangelise, if we had a report card for this, would we be top of the class or would it say, ‘needs to try harder?’ I know mine’s would definitely be ‘could do better’.
All three readings today emphasise that God is not just for the Jewish people, because Jesus Christ came to make us all sons and daughters of Abraham. If you look at the end of the reading from Isaiah, it says “That day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples. It will be sought out by the nations and its home will be glorious.” St Paul writes “it was also to get the pagans to give glory to God for his mercy, as scripture says in one place: For this I shall praise you among the pagans and sing to your name.” and in St Matthew’s Gospel we hear St John the Baptist tell the Jews that claiming to be a son of Abraham is not enough that the roots of trees which do not bear fruit will be cut away. That God can find new sons of Abraham.
If the Census results I mentioned can be related to today’s scripture readings, I would suggest that at the moment the tree of Christianity is being pruned; hopefully this is an opportunity to grow back stronger or to create new growth. With so many people claiming to have no faith, it means there is potentially a wonderful opportunity for us to “get the pagans to give glory to God” and as St Paul said, “It can only be to God’s glory, then, for you to treat each other in the same friendly way as Christ treated you.” If we can treat others the way we believe Christ has treated us, then we will bring more people to Christ and hopefully the next Census will show a new trend.
SIX HOLY HABITS Bishop Philip is inviting each one of us to develop six holy habits for this time of change and deep personal renewal, Advent is an ideal time to take on these habits: ·
- to keep Sunday special, a family day, by attending Mass;
- to spend 5 minutes a day in prayer using the Scriptures;
- to do penance on Fridays, and to serve the poor and needy;
- every fortnight to make a Holy Half Hour before the Blessed Sacrament;
- to go to Confession once a month; and
- to join a small group for formation, prayer and fellowship.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
CCC 522, 711-716, 722: the prophets and the expectation of the Messiah
CCC 523, 717-720: the mission of John the Baptist
CCC 1427-29: conversion of the baptized
Please keep in your prayers this week
- Peace between all Nations.
- Those who are sick, those recovering from surgery, those who are dying, the recently deceased and those who mourn.
- All those struggling to feed their families at this time.
- Those working to help others who are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.
- Those in business who have the power to make decisions to help the poor.
- All those working in Parishes and the Diocese on the ten-year plan
- All of our young people preparing for the Sacraments.
- Those attending our RCIA programme.
- Those who may be embarrassed or too proud to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
- Those who profess having no religion, especially our family and friends.
- For those with faith, that we will not keep the good news to ourselves but be Christ’s eyes, ears, mouth, hands and feet in society today.
- Fr Patrick Tansey, who celebrates his 40th anniversary of Ordination this Sunday.