The Service of Ministry

Durban, August 13, 2013

Earlier this year the Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church gathered in Rome to elect a new Pope. Before going into conclave to spend 4 days discussing what was necessary in the character of the man they were about to elect. One of the cardinals said this,

“A Church which evangelizes and comes out of herself by hearing the Word of God with reverence and proclaiming it with faith is one image of the Church.

But there is a worldly Church living within herself, of herself and for herself. So the next Pope must be a man who from contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ helps the Church to go out to the periphery, to go out to the poor. The man to be elected must help the Church to gain life from the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing. “

The cardinal who gave that advice was in fact elected Pope Francis I. Since election he has emphasized that we are an evangelizing Church going out to the people driven by our encounter with Jesus Christ driven by our prayer and our adoration. We must be a Church alive! Alive from the energizing presence of Jesus!

Pope Benedict had already declared this a Year of Faith. Over the last number of decades the Church has emphasized Catechesis. And Catechesis is absolutely essential. But in many cases Catechesis does not seem to reach its full fruit. What we need today is evangelization. Christianity and evangelisation is not a moral code, it’s not simply a collection of wise words, it’s not a long and historical tradition, it’s not a loud ritual. Rather evangelisation is encounter with Jesus Christ. And this is what gives rise to ministry and service in the Church.

The phrase “Abba, Father” so characterises Jesus’ own experience, now becomes the core of the Christian experience. Romans 8:15

The beginning of salvation is an experience, an encounter, an openness to gift of God’s love. Lumen Fidei 19

Believing is falling in love. Faith transforms the whole person precisely to the extent that he or she becomes open to love. Lumen Fidei 27

According to St. Augustine the same document says “to touch with our hearts” that is what it means to believe.

Therefore this is at the very heart and spirit of our ministry and her service to ourselves encounter Jesus Christ and to love him and because we love him a desire and energy to go out and share that love to others.

I was present at the opening of the Year of Faith in Rome. The Gospel that Pope Benedict preached on was from Mark 10:46-52. It is the story or Barthameus. He pointed out that the word used to tell us that Barthameus was blind is a word that indicates that he is a man that became blind. He had not always been blind, he became blind. And the pope used this image to say that many parts of the world have now become blind to faith and to the reality of God.

Here in South Africa we must concentrate in our own situation. We know that after confirmation so many of our young people, upon whom we have spent so much time, simply drift away and often enter other churches to find Jesus. We see that the impact of our Church and the Christian church in general on the society of South Africa is negligible.

We are aware that Family Life shows little evidence of the presence Jesus or of people of faith. We see people look elsewhere for healing. We see that from Phase II of the Department of Evangelisation findings that the only knowledge of 87% of the Catholic people of South Africa have of the faith comes from the Sunday Homily. And you know how weak some Sunday homilies are. We are aware of the need to get away from Clericalism and ritualism in the Church which leaves us with a withered and empty Church. We are constantly on the defensive and as politicians well know when you are in the defensive you are already loosing.

Monsignor Nadal in a paper he handed me last night, points out what the Archdiocese of Durban has done to realize its Synod.

a) It concentrated first on personal evangelisation helping people to become committed disciples. It emphasizes faith-relationship. And at the end of that Phase the parishes held many Synods to pull together their experience.

b) In the second phase in Durban the concentration was on parish evangelisation. This came to concentrate on the family and on the values at the heart of family life.

c) So now, today, this year we find ourselves at the third stage of living out of our Synod decrees. That is with concern with evangelisation at the social level. And that is actually also where the SACBC is in its nationwide program moving towards evangelisation.

We have just seen Pope Francis’ return from Brazil where his presence had an enormous impact on the Church there and on almost 4 million young people who gathered around him in Brazil. He emphasized above all 3 dimensions of our response to God.

a) He said we are called by God.

b) We are called to proclaim the Gospel, to evangelise

c) We are called to promote the Culture of Encounter.


The Pope invited young people and indeed the Church universal to reflect on our own personal call, our initial encounter with Jesus. You remember how Jesus before Calvary took his disciples to the high mountain of transcendence. He wanted to impress upon them a deep sense of faith of transcendence and of the beauty of God. So the Pope said, “we cannot lose that vital link to that first moment of our journey.” He himself spoke of how at the age of 17 he entered the Church quietly for confession. And the experience of that confession and the peace it brought to his adolescent heart has remained with him ever since.

In his journey to Brazil, the Pope everywhere carried a little black bag in his hand getting on and off the planes and so on. The journalist asked what he had in this bag. He said that he had eraser. It also had a spiritual diary, and also the life story of St.

Therese of Lisieux. Here you see a man who keeps a spiritual diary, that means he is a spiritual director and reflects continually on his relationship with Jesus. This is deepened by continual communication with the experience of that wonderful saint, Theresa of Lisieux with Jesus. The Pope reminds us that we must have an honest prayer life and we must do theological reflection on our ministry.


Last year at the Synod on evangelisation in Rome the bishops drew up certain propositions to be included in the final document of that Synod. Propositions number 26 speaks about the parish. “The bishops gathered in Synod affirmed that the parish continues to be the primary presence of the Church in neighborhoods, the place of instrument of Christian life, which is able to offer opportunities for dialogue among men, for listening to an announcing the Word of God, for organic Catechesis, for training and charity, for prayer, adoration and joyous Eucharistic celebrations. “

In order to bring to the people the Good News of Jesus as required by a New Evangelisation all the parishes and their small communities should be living cells, places to promote the personal and the communitarian encounter with Christ, experience the richness of liturgy, to give initial and permanent Christian formation, and to educate all the faithful in fraternity and charity especially towards the poor.

And again I go to the example of Pope Francis. Someone who knew him remembers how one day he met a poor lady who was a domestic servant in some kitchen. He got talking to her that she had 7 children but none of them had been baptized. She said she had no money and was afraid to come to the church. The Cardinal as he then was invited her to his own residence. She came with the godparents and her 7 children. There he personally catechized them. Then he baptized them. Then they had a picnic of coca cola and sandwiches. The woman said to him, “You make me feel so important.” He says, “It is not I it is God who has made you important.”

Are we able to make our people important? Do we have the gentleness and the care the zeal and the love and the welcome that embraces our people? Most of our people live lives of quiet misery. And yet we do so little to reach out to them. Do we have societies for the little children to help them to belong to the Church? Remember less than 1% are in Catholic Schools. And do priests encourage Education for Life? One finds all over the country people again and again, the laity, saying that Education for Life, Couples for Christ and so many other movements are betrayed and hindered by priests. It is a seriously allegation. Do we supervise the Catechesis and offered formation to Catechism teachers? Do we have any idea what is going on and what is passed on to our children?

Is confession made available to our people, and do we listen with gentleness and do we give advice that builds up our people and assures them of God’s great mercy and love?

Many dioceses have projects but to get priests to visit these projects and simply to encourage them is a mammoth task. Everywhere there are prisons and hospitals neglected. The Liturgy is celebrated with routine, a lot of singing, little reflection, and poorly prepared homilies. Visitation is a thing of the past. Catholic schools cannot rely on the local priests to come and encourage them. So therefore we are not observing what our Pope is encouraging us to do that is there should be the smell of the sheep of us. Because if we are close to the sheep we will have the smell of the sheep, we will be like them, we will understand them, and we will embrace them.

Again this Synod, on a new evangelization, strongly encourages us. Proposition 11, “The gate to Sacred Scripture should be open to all believers in the context of a new evangelisation every opportunity for the study of sacred scripture should be made available. The Scripture should permeate homilies, catechesis, and every effort to pass on the faith.

In consideration of the necessity of familiarity with the word of God for the new evangelisation and for the spiritual growth of the faithful, the Synod encourages dioceses, parishes, small Christian communities to continue serious study of the Bible and the prayerful reading of the Scriptures.”

When I think of St.Francis and how he formed his great order at the beginning I see of something that we cannot forget. Francis did not depend on a whole lot of detailed prescriptions. Rather he brought together a fraternity, a caring community where everybody was welcomed and shared life and prayer. The young people who came to him felt a wonderful sense of belonging and felt that this man was in deep communion with God. By such means they were formed by the experience by being in a community, the experience of being fraternal. And I think Pope Francis is emphasizing this very much in Brazil when he emphasizes that we must be acutely at present aware in our parishes of nearness and tenderness. We must be near and we must be tender to our people.


The future of the Church depends largely on the laity. No.45 Propostition, “The vocation and the mission proper to lay faithful is a transformation of worldly structures, to let all human behavior and activities be informed by the Gospel. This is the reason it is so important to guide the Christian laity into an intimate knowledge of Christ in order to form their moral conscience through their life in Christ.”

The Second Vatican Council identifies 4 main aspects of the mission of the baptized:

a. The witness of their lives

b. Works of charity and mercy

c. Renewing the temporal order

d. Direct evangelisation

In this way they will be to give witness of a life truly coherent with our Christian faith as individual persons and as a community.
So we must not hinder or hold back the laity we must admire and encourage their gifts. The work of the parish in the Church is also theirs. We have to avoid clericalism and ritualism. We invite them to experience the sense of mystery and in touching that they will touch the world.

I would emphasise finally the conscious of the fundamental Catholic view of life that is that we have a sacramental view of life. A teacher in Catholic school is teaching Maths. But there is much more happening than just teaching Maths. The way that that teacher interacts with her pupils, the way the teacher listens to them, accepts their questions, kindly responds to them, encourages them, and in especial way the weak children. That is also taking place there. So by sacramental I mean in that case the teacher may seem to be teaching Maths only, but in fact a whole lot of hidden communications taking place that is deeply forming that life of that child. I think this applies to Catholic priests, too. We are engaged in ministry and what is happening in the surface is one thing but something much more deeper and invisible the presence of God is taking place at a deeper level. Unless we have faith to see this we are in difficulty.

Remember how the bishops of England prepared for Pope Benedict’s visit. They trained bright, intelligent young professional Catholics to answer the media and the press the questions that they raised about the Catholic Church and about our Holy Father. They were so successful that the visit of the Pope in England was one of great success! We must train Catholic voices in the media, in economics, in politics, in all aspects of life to give witness to the Christian faith. Our Catholics do not have the confidence to fall in, to proclaim the Gospel because they have not been formed. This is our task but it is their task to speak up for Christ. They must know the Catholic social doctrine. They must be confident and not confused and then our political parties, our trade unions, our meetings with our chiefs, our social and political life will be transformed by the Gospel.

William Slattery ofm