It’s just over six months since Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was elected Bishop of Rome – as he chooses to call himself – and, probably like you, I can remember where I was when I heard the news. I was about to celebrate Mass in the chaplaincy in Royal Holloway College, and just before Mass began there was a rumour that a pope had been elected. The white smoke appeared just after 7pm Rome time, and Pope Francis appeared on the balcony at twelve minutes past eight.
His appearance and his first words were quite a surprise. He wore just a white cassock – no red on top of it at all – and instead of a formal Latin greeting he said to the crowds in the piazza below, simply, “Good evening,” in Italian.
Pope Francis has gone on to surprise and delight people as the world hears and sees how different a style of papacy this is.
Hearing and seeing are very important parts of how we know anything or anyone. Our first judgement about a person is based on how that person looks and behaves. Then we judge them on what they say and how they say it.
It is no different with God. We know God by what we have seen and what we hear.We see God in the created world; we see God in the community of the Church and we see God in the person of Jesus Christ. We hear God in the words of the Scriptures, the bible, and the teaching of the Church that has been handed on from generation to generation. Jesus himself revealed the Father to people by what he said and the deeds he did, especially in his healing and forgiveness; sometimes these things went hand-in-hand, like the cure of the paralysed man in Matthew Chapter 9, where Jesus demonstrates his power to forgive sins by saying to the man, “Take up your bed and walk.”
How God reveals himself to us is the theme of the next session of our preparation for our celebration of the diocesan Jubilee in 2015. We are about to begin our study of the second of the four documents from the Second Vatican Council. This one is called in Latin Dei Verbum, “the Word of God” and looks at that question of how God makes himself known, and not just how he makes himself known, but why. It’s what we call ‘Revelation’, the unveiling of himself by God. This is what our faith is based on, not on what we have discovered about God, but what God has told us about himself. Most of that is contained in the Church’s Sacred Scripture, the writings that form the Old and New Testament.
It’s probably fairly true to say that most Catholics are not all that familiar with the bible. It’s not their fault; it’s not all that long ago that Catholics first heard the bible readings at Mass in English, rather than Latin – many adults in church today will remember this. Neither were Catholics encouraged to read and study the bible; the Church’s main emphasis seemed to be on believing what the Church teaches.
But now we have a wonderful opportunity to explore our own sacred writings and discover the treasure that lies inside. It’s a time to ask questions about what we mean by ‘true’ when we speak of the bible; did God really create the world in six days, and why are there four gospels that don’t always agree on the details of the life of Jesus? Why do we still read the Old Testament if God reveals himself fully in Jesus?
I would urge and encourage you to come along and join a group. We have listened to the feedback from the first season, when we studied the first document on liturgy, how we pray to God and how we worship,and we hope that this season’s material is better presented and more user-friendly. It doesn’t matter if you missed last season’s sessions; this is a good place to start. And it certainly doesn’t matter if you feel that you are completely ignorant about the bible; sometimes it needs someone in a group to say, “I haven’t a clue what that means,” and voice the unspoken anxieties of others in the group.
The celebration of the Jubilee in 2015 is not just about 50 years of the diocese of Arundel & Brighton. It’s more about these years that lead up to it and how we equip ourselves to deal with the challenges of the present and the future. It’s about being better able as Catholics to understand our faith and articulate it, to explain it to others. It’s about recognising that our faith is given to us as a gift by God not simply for our own benefit, but as a gift to be shared.
It’s interesting that recently there has been formed a ‘Church for atheists’ in Brighton. They seem to do many of things we do in church, except believe in God. There probably is a deep and hidden hunger in our society for something real to believe in, rather than astrology and celebrities. People are probably beginning to see how shallow and unreal our society is. We have the chance to offer them something which speaks to the heart and soul, but to do that we have to receive into our own hearts and souls.
Come along and experience the joy of discovering something new and beautiful. Feel what it is like to fall in love with the word of God spoken through the pages of the bible.
My thanks to all those who have worked so hard to prepare this material, and to the people who are bringing the groups together. Enjoy this new season’sexciting challenge and all the blessings it will bring.
With my prayers for you and with all good wishes.
+ Kieran, Bishop of Arundel & Brighton