My dear Catechists,
I greet you with a very affectionate gaze from the new born king, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ! This is my very first message to you as Archbishop and Chief Catechist of this Archdiocese.
I do not need to tell you that we are living in a much graced moment of the history of our Church. We have a new Pope, our beloved Francis, who is heralding great changes for us as Church in today’s contemporary society.
Here in Singapore, I feel called by the Lord to also herald into our Archdiocese a re-evangelisation of ourselves as Christians first and then a missionary reaching out to Singapore society. To be a Catechist in these times; one must be an evangeliser and not simply a teacher!
You have chosen for this new Catechetical Year 2014 the theme – Being a People of Communion. I wholeheartedly endorse this theme. Yes indeed! Communion before Mission! In fact mission is the fruit of authentic communion!
This was what Pope John Paul II said in his Encyclical, Ecclesia In Asia when he wrote, “Communion with Jesus, which gives rise to the communion of Christians among themselves, is the indispensable condition for bearing fruit; and communion with others, which is the gift of Christ and his Spirit, is the most magnificent fruit that the branches can give. In this sense, communion and mission are inseparably connected. They interpenetrate and mutually imply each other, so that ‘communion represents both the source and fruit of mission: communion gives rise to mission and mission is accomplished in communion’.” (EA 24)
I would like to deepen my reflection on this theme of “Communion” by drawing the insights offered by Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelli Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel (EG).
Chapter Three (The Proclamation of the Gospel), section four, entitled Evangelisation and the Deeper understanding of the Kerygma, is pertinent to our reflection. Paragraphs 164-173 are required reading for all Catechists. I will just endeavour to highlight some key ideas for my present purposes.
The first point is the re-discovery of the “Kerygma” or the announcement of the Good News. The Pope insists that this announcement “needs to be the centre of all evangelising activity and all efforts at Church renewal”. It is the “principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment” (EG 164).
Take note Catechists, the Pope insists that all “Christian formation consists of entering more deeply into the Kerygma, which is reflected in and constantly illumines, the work of catechesis, thereby enabling us to understand more fully the significance of every subject which the latter treats” (EG 165).
The Kerygma announces God’s saving love for us when He sent His Son to die on the cross for us while we were still sinners (Rom 5:8). The Kerygma needs to be presented in such a way that it should not “impose the truth but appeal to freedom; it should be marked by joy, encouragement, liveliness and a harmonious balance which will not reduce preaching (catechesis) to a few doctrines which are at times more philosophical than evangelical. All this demands on the part of the evangeliser (Catechist) certain attitudes which foster openness to the message: approachability, readiness for dialogue, patience, a warmth and welcome which is non-judgmental” (EG 165).
Let us examine our conscience. As Catechists have we been “experts in dire predictions, dour judges bent on rooting out every threat and deviation” or “joyful messengers of challenging proposals, guardians of the goodness and beauty which shine forth in a life of fidelity to the Gospel”? (EG 168).
If you are not announcing the Kergyma, that is the, Good News about Jesus Christ, the love and mercy of God incarnated, it means that you have not yet been evangelised yourself. Unless you are evangelised, that is, have encountered Christ as your personal Saviour and redeemer, you cannot proclaim the Good News with joy, passion and enthusiasm.
Without Kerygma, we reduce proclamation to the teaching of doctrines and the practice of rituals. My dear Catechists, learn to announce the Kerygma so that you may attract young people around you who realise that God loves them as they are! This learning requires you to be salted with the joy and light of the gospel! Jesus in the gospel reminds us, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot” (Mt 5:13).
The second point the Pope goes on to develop is the idea of “spiritual accompaniment”. The deep communion generated by the Kerygma requires us “to initiate everyone – priests, Religious and laity – into this ‘art of accompaniment’. It becomes critical to mature such a community so that they become missionary and not inward looking. The ‘pace of this accompaniment’ must be ‘steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life.’” (EG 169)
Let us be cautious here. Catechists, this “spiritual accompaniment must lead others ever closer to God” or it would become “counterproductive if it became a sort of therapy supporting their self-absorption and ceased to be a pilgrimage with Christ to the Father” (EG, 170). My dear Catechists; the implication of this second point on spiritual accompaniment means that the Catechists must have good human and spiritual formation. It is not enough for us to be doctrinally and liturgically sound, we must also be able to transmit in a simple way the beauty of the Gospel.
This entails that Catechists themselves are spiritually and emotionally mature, imbued with the virtues of compassion, understanding, prudence and patience accompanied by the art of listening and journeying with a person in a non-judgmental way. Indeed, the Holy Father says that Catechists must be capable of “the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing. Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur. Listening helps us to find the right gesture and word which shows that we are more than simply bystanders.” (EG 171)
My dear Catechists, I call on you to build a deep communion with the young people so that you may evangelise them! Let us realise that “each person’s situation before God and their life in grace are mysteries which no one can fully know from without. The Gospel tells us to correct others and to help them to grow on the basis of a recognition of the objective evil of their actions (cf. Mt 18:15), but without making judgments about their responsibility and culpability (cf. Mt 7:1; Lk 6:37) (EG 172).
Young people need us to feel with them, empathise with their struggles and pains. They seek to be understood, supported, encouraged, empowered and loved. They need healing and acceptance. To them we must extend the love of Christ in a concrete way by being their friends, walking and journeying with them and offer them the love and the light of Christ. The most destructive thing a Catechist must never do is to act like a judge or a saint as if he is not a sinner himself!
If we form such communities of faith that have the capacity to accompany each other, bearing one another’s burdens without judgement we will truly become missionary not by promotion but by attraction! For who would not want to be part of such vibrant loving communities?
My fellow Catechists, while the task at hand is enormous – so must we overhaul our entire way of being Church. Let us face it together! Let us be in communion with Pope Francis as he faces the same task on a universal level! Let us draw strength from his contagious joy! The joy that comes from proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the same yesterday, today and forever! Christ is with us! Courage be upon us!
We must never allow secularism and relativism to destroy the faith and values that hold our people together in love, unity and truth. Only Christ who is the Truth can bring true love and unity in humanity. Either we evangelise the world or we will be secularised! In this spiritual warfare, there is no neutrality. Jesus says clearly, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Mt 12:30).
My dear Catechists, join me in this mission of bringing the Good News to all of humanity, beginning with our young for they, when converted, will be the most impactful evangelisers among their peers and through them, the Church will become vibrant and alive, for among them, the Lord will raise priests, Religious and leaders for the Church of the third millennium.
I thank you in advance for all your efforts and I ask your prayers for me a sinner, for my daily conversion to the Lord and His gospel of love. Indeed, I am too a sinner among sinners. But we are “holy sinners” because we all desire to become holy. So long as we strive to fight against sin (cf. Heb 12:4), the Lord will grant us the grace to be holy.
I too need to hear and be saturated with the Kergyma again and again so that the gospel will remain alive in my heart and that I who proclaimed the gospel might not find myself forfeited (1 Cor 9:16).
Pray that I have the wisdom and the fortitude to do the right thing for the Church in Singapore as my greatest wish is that of the Universal Church, that every Catholic be fully evangelised so that they can become evangelisers of the Good News in both words and deeds.
Yours with great affection,
Archbishop William Goh