My dear Catechists,
As we contemplate with joy the wondrous scene of the manger in Bethlehem – I am praying for each one of you to take Mary as your Mother and model in the work of the New Evangelisation for the year 2015.
Why? For the very same reason I consecrated the whole Archdiocese of Singapore on 7th Oct 2014 (Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary) to the Blessed Virgin. I am convinced that the work of the Church cannot bear fruit unless it is placed under the powerful intercession of the Mother of the Church.
The Blessed Virgin is the perfect communicator of the revelation of her divine Son. St Augustine described her as “both mother and disciple” as she was the teacher who trained the Son of God in human knowledge of the Scriptures and of God’s loving plan for His people, and in adoration of the Father, and she in turn was the first of His disciples because no one has been taught by God to such depth (Catechesi Tradendae #73).
As “Mother and model of catechists”, I am begging her to form us all to do that very same work “with new ardour and methods” in modern times.
How did Mary transmit faith? What was our mother’s method that proved so effective, especially after her Assumption into heaven? My dear friends, Mary’s qualities I propose are more associated with her being than her doing. May these three points I offer you be a starting point for your own reflection, review and response in this new year:
- Mary’s simple and direct faith in the will of God,
- Mary’s union in prayer with the Heart of her Son,
- Mary’s active witness of life under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
Knowing what the prophets had foretold about the sufferings of the Messiah, Mary had no illusion of the cost of being the Messiah’s Mother. Yet, she did not hesitate. She responded with simple faith, “Be it done to me according to your word.” True faith is being able to see God’s will amid the trials of life (Mary as Model Catechist for Parents, Fr John Hardon, SJ).
We see that Mary’s journey of faith, which began with her “yes”, continued and passed through the cross. Yet, Mary’s faith did not weaken throughout her thirty years with Jesus at Nazareth and the three years of His public ministry. Mary’s faith sustained her, especially when the experience of the cross deepened at the hour of Jesus’ passion.
Pope Francis describes this faith as a “little flame burning in the night”. Through the night of Holy Saturday, Mary kept vigil – her flame remained burning until the dawn of the resurrection. And when she received news that the tomb was empty, her heart was filled with the joy of faith (Catechesis of the Holy Father on the Faith of Mary, 12 October 2013).
Every Saturday is thus appropriately called the day of faith. Mary alone had absolutely no doubt that her son’s life is stronger than death and his light is stronger than darkness.
Let us turn to our Mother, asking her to mould in us such a disposition of faith. That we too may accept the history of salvation that God does in us. Pray that we may not be scandalised by the crosses in our own life but see in them the hope of a life that is being resurrected from the fear of death and the slavery to sin.
Courage! My brothers and sisters, God has not abandoned you; His Mother assures us by helping us to ponder in our hearts the events in our lives, to pray over them in an attitude of hope and expectation.
Mary’s union in prayer with the Heart of her Son
This, then, brings us to the second point: Mary’s deep union with the heart of her Son. Mary prays in the depths of her being (Mary as Model Catechist for Parents, Fr John Hardon, SJ). We get a glimpse of the orientation of her prayer when we examine the prayer of the “Magnificat” that erupted from her being in a spontaneous moment of thanksgiving.
Like her son, Mary is totally orientated towards magnifying the Lord in all circumstances. Like Christ on the cross, she believes that God will raise the lowly that accept and surrender their circumstances to Him.
As one who keeps “all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19), Mary is “able to recognise the traces of God’s Spirit in events great and small. She constantly contemplates the mystery of God in our world, in human history and in our daily lives” (Evangelii Gaudium #288). Our Holy Father describes her to be a “woman of prayer and work in Nazareth” and “Our Lady of Help”.
My dear catechists, it is really impossible to catechise without prayer. Prayer can come in various forms – vocal prayer or meditation; mental prayer or the liturgy; aspirations or quiet moments with God. Whatever your form of prayer, I am convinced that without prayer, catechesis becomes “boring”. Catechists who pray communicate what they have learned from deep listening to the voice of Christ, our Teacher.
Catechesis is not an employment or a job – it is a vocation. At the origin of the catechist’s vocation is a specific call from the Holy Spirit, a “special charism recognised by the Church” and made explicit by the Bishop’s mandate (Guide for Catechists #2, Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, 1993).
Catechesis is an apostolate. As catechists, we must pray to obtain divine grace for ourselves but we too pray for those we catechise so that those receiving the good news must also receive grace. We must recognise that prayer is necessary for our ministry to be fruitful, for communication of the Christian faith depends less on the catechist’s ability than on God’s grace working in the hearts of those who hear the message (Guide for Catechists, Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, 1993).
Here, I cannot emphasise enough the power of intercessory prayer that can soften and open the hearts of our catechumens to the Word of God. I encourage all catechists to form intercessory groups that pray for conversion and renewal in the Church.
There is no better form of intercessory prayer than the rosary. Let us teach it again to our young people, like the Blessed Mother taught the children at Fatima in Portugal. O Mother, teach us to pray the rosary from the heart in union with your Son, Jesus!
Mary’s active witness of life under the influence of the Holy Spirit
Finally, my dear catechists, our faith and prayer must inspire us to become evangelical and missionary in the way we live life. What I mean is that as Christians, we must have a vision of life that is dynamic, not static. A vision that propels us out of a mundane, isolated, material existence into a spiritual vision of life that announces to all we meet, the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God into our lives.
Mary trusted in the Providence of God in her life. She saw the circumstances of her life as part of His all-wise plan for her. Prompted by the Holy Spirit, she acted with boldness in approaching her Son at the wedding feast at Cana, although His “hour” is not at hand. She shows us how to act decisively and then leaves the outcome in God’s hands. We need such boldness in the Church today.
Pope Francis told the youth at the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro that if faith stays “locked up” within a small Christian community, it is “like withholding oxygen from a flame that was burning strongly”.
My dear catechists, reach out to your catechumens who seem especially distant from the Church; gather them together like Mary gathering the apostles in the Upper Room. Pray with them, announce to them the Kerygma, and await the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that can transform their lives and then send them forth into our city to offer witness to a new way of living.
Our nation, Singapore, is celebrating its fiftieth year of existence as a nation. The nation takes this important mark in our history to thank the seniors from our Pioneer Generation for their contributions during the early years of independence. I invite you, on this Catechetical Sunday, to pause for a moment to give thanks for those who have contributed to passing on the faith to us – those who have made Christ’s love known to us.
In recalling those who echoed the faith to us, we cannot but also recall the memory of God’s history with us – the memory of God’s words which warms our hearts, who always takes the first step and who creates, saves and transforms us.
Pope Francis describes catechists as Christians “who puts this remembrance at the service of proclamation...to talk about God, about His love and His fidelity – to speak and transmit all that God has revealed” (Homily for Catechists, 29 September 2013).
Like Mary and the disciples in building a Church, and the founding fathers of our nation in building a country, it is with this same courage and boldness that we, as a diocese, need to move so urgently with the work of the New Evangelisation. This is the work which involves every single one of us in the diocese and not just the work of the priests and the Religious.
With the various initiatives rolled out in 2014, there has been an awareness of the need for the New Evangelisation. However, as we embark on this work of the New Evangelisation, there is a need to first understand what the term “New Evangelisation” means for us in Singapore before we can align the work that we do to my vision to build an evangelistic and missionary Church.
It therefore gives me great pleasure to provide all with the definition of the New Evangelisation in the local context: The New Evangelisation is a call to all Catholics to renew their Faith and, working in communion, to share the Good News about Jesus Christ with ardour and to be visible witnesses of His love in every sphere of society, using approaches relevant to today’s society.
Like those before us, we continue this mission to “make disciples” of those now entrusted to us. Once again, we look to Mary, the Star of the New Evangelisation, and ask her to help us in our work to proclaim the Good News, the message of salvation, to those we encounter. We ask her especially to intercede for us in our work so that as bearers of paschal faith and hope, we bring about an intimate encounter with Christ.
Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.
Yours with great affection,
Archbishop William Goh