Archbishop's Easter message: A resurrected Church
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Alleluia! The Lord is Risen! This is the Good News that the Church proclaims to all of humanity. The resurrection is the foundation of Christian joy and Christian hope. With the resurrection of Jesus, we know that He is truly Lord and saviour of the world. With the resurrection, He shows us that the way to life is through love and service unto death. Most of all, the resurrection frees us from the fear of death as the end of everything in life. Christian hope in fullness of life after death takes away the sting of death.
Consequently, faith in the resurrection of our Lord means that we no longer have to live in our tombs. Many of us are living in shame, in fear and self-condemnation of our past and our mistakes, like the apostles who were hiding in the upper room. Many are discouraged in life because of failures and disillusionment, like the disciples at Emmaus when they felt their hopes were crushed with the death of their master. Then there are those of us who have lost our loved ones and unable to let go, as in the case of Mary Magdalene.
Yet there are those of us who live in wonder or bewilderment, as Peter did when he saw the empty tomb, unable to make sense of it. And there are those who doubt the reality of the Risen Lord, like St Thomas who said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (Jn 20:25)
However, for those of us who have encountered the Risen Lord, we no longer need to take refuge in our tombs of unbelief and fears. Instead, we manifest joy, optimism, courage and hope for the future even when it appears gloomy. This was what happened to the disciples of Jesus when they met the Risen Lord. Their whole direction in life changed from hopelessness and discouragement to one of confidence and joy for the future.
Whether it was Mary Magdalene, the disciples at Emmaus, the apostles or even St Paul, their encounter with the Risen Lord set them free from all fears about the future. From being cowards and fearful of their enemies, especially the Jewish authorities, they proclaimed the Good News with boldness even when under persecution and at the risk of their lives.
Indeed, they could not contain the joy of knowing that Jesus was their Lord and saviour. They were now capable of living for God and for others. Thus the early Church grew as a community, sharing a common faith, love and resources. They were supportive of each other and the work of the apostles. Together as a Christian community, they pooled together all their resources for the spread of the gospel. Filled with the Holy Spirit, the community used the gifts they had received for the building of the Church.
What about us as Church? Are we a resurrected Church? Are we risen in faith and in love? These are the two criteria by which we measure ourselves. Has our faith in the Lord increased and strengthened? Is our relationship with the Lord real, intimate and personal? Are we joyful and hopeful people in the way we look at life and even when we suffer either because of the trials of life or because of injustices? Or do we become resentful, discouraged and vindictive in taking revenge against our enemies?
Are we a community of love among ourselves, welcoming others into our family, reaching out to the poor, non-believers and nominal Catholics or those who have left the Church? Or are we exclusive, parochial-minded and protectionist of our turf, reducing us to mere enclaves?
My dear brothers and sisters, there are many of us who are lacking passion and enthusiasm in the faith. We might go for church services, but our hearts are far from God. We do not have any real relationship with Him. Our practice of faith is reduced to fulfilling obligations. Some of us have stopped coming to Church because we have been wounded by fellow Catholics, especially Church leaders.
The young and the rationalists are not able to connect with the Church because of the language we use or the way we worship. Many cannot feel the presence of God in their lives because of a secularist culture where God is absent. Many are overwhelmed with the current ideologies of relativism, materialism and individualism. But deep in their hearts, they feel empty even if they have all the coveted things in life.
As a resurrected Church, like the apostles, it is incumbent on us to go out and proclaim the Good News. The instruction of the Risen Lord to the disciples was, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers.” (cf Mt 28:10) We do this by recovering our personal relationship with the Lord. We need to rekindle the faith of our Catholics. We need to reach out to those who are searching for God in their lives or who desire a personal relationship with Him.
Faith is not just worship and doctrines. We need to express them concretely as there are many who are seeking for signs of love and welcome, a sense of identity and belonging.
To do this, we must be partners of the archdiocesan vision to be a vibrant, evangelising and missionary Church. All of us must be renewed in our faith and our love for Christ and His Church. We need to be formed in our faith and be empowered through spiritual renewal and growth. We must not forget the 10-year pastoral plan which we have launched five years ago. We need to revisit and make the plan our own.
We are coming to the halfway mark of this 10-year plan. It is timely that we take stock of whether our faith has grown over the last five years. Has our parish community grown in number and in strength? Are there more ministries and services, not just those serving the parish but the larger community, especially the neighbourhood?
As John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, once said, “My parish is the whole world!” So too in every parish, your pastoral care is not just for Catholics but everyone, believers or not who reside within your parish and even beyond.
What about a deepening growth in doctrinal and moral faith? Have you become better informed in your theological faith so that you can defend and explain your faith to the world? Finally, are you journeying alone in faith or do you have a community to pray with, share the Word of God intimately and be strengthened in your faith? Does your community take spiritual life seriously, worship fervently and celebrate the sacraments frequently?
The sign that we are truly an anointed Church and a resurrected Church is the fruit of more adult baptisms, priestly and Religious vocations. We cannot call ourselves a Church that is alive with the Spirit if we do not have young people who have fallen in love so much with Jesus that they want to give their lives entirely to His service in the Church and for the community. We cannot claim to be a Church that has encountered the Risen Lord if we keep quiet about Him.
Are we evangelising and witnessing to Christ in our lives? Is the number of adult baptisms growing each year? Finally, the sign of a resurrected Church is when we see more and more young people leading the Church’s ministries and activities.
Let us not remain in our tombs. Let us find strength and hope from the Risen Lord as we move forward in building a Church that is vibrant, evangelising and missionary.
I invite each of you to renew your ardour for the Lord and His mission. Every one of us, young and old, has a part to play in this mission. We can contribute time, resources, talents, leadership and financial resources in our own way, for the building of His kingdom and the proclamation of the gospel.
Let us not be discouraged by those who oppose our vision and initiatives. Let us pray for conversion of hearts and a renewal of faith of all Catholics. Let us not just remain a maintenance Church but a Church that goes out to the periphery as Pope Francis invites us. Only a Church that is alive and resurrected can attract people to the Lord and give hope to humanity and society.
Most Rev William Goh
Archbishop of Singapore