Here is my sermon for today, the feast of St Peter and St Paul:
This autumn, we will begin the Year of Faith, called by Pope Benedict XVI, the successor of St Peter. We are invited to address three principal themes in this year.
First, we will revisit the second Vatican Council which began 50 years ago in 1962, to try to understand it in the context of the whole tradition of the Church.
Secondly we will look again at the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published 20 years ago in 1992. The Catechism is an authoritative account of the faith of the Catholic Church, the things that we believe as Catholics. Our Catholic doctrine is not like a policy drawn up by a committee for a government or a business. It is the teaching of Christ, given to the apostles, handed on by them and preserved intact in the Catholic Church for all future generations.
Our Lord said to Peter that he was the rock on which He would build His Church. That is why the successor of St Peter is not just a "religious leader" but the Vicar of Christ on earth. Our Lord told St Peter to confirm his brother apostles in the faith. Pope Benedict continues that work today by affirming the doctrine of the faith: not his own opinions but the teaching of Christ.
Since we have such a generous provision from Our Lord that we can know the truth necessary for our salvation, we should take the trouble to be well-informed about our faith, to try to understand it, to make an effort to learn more about it and make it the basis of our lives.
The third theme for the Year of Faith is the New Evangelisation. In the past, there were many people in the world who had never heard of the Gospel, never heard of Jesus Christ and His saving death on the cross, never heard of the grace of God or the eternal reward of heaven. On the red Mission box (a wooden box in those days) that stood on a shelf in the hall in our house, and into which we as children put in some coins from our pocket money, there was a quotation from Pope Pius XI which I have never forgotten:
Helping the missions surpasses all other works of charity for none are so poor as those who lack the knowledge and the grace of God.Today the words of Pope Pius XI are no less important, but they have a different focus for us. While there is still primary mission work to be done in countries where people have never heard of Christ, there is a far greater mission field in those countries like our own where the Christian faith has been preached, where it has been lived, where it is a major part of our history, and where it has now become forgotten by many, misunderstood, attacked in the media, and rejected by many who have at one time in their lives received the grace of baptism. Bringing the gospel to this mission field is what is meant by the New Evangelisation.
St Paul said “woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel” (1 Cor 9.16) and this applies to us in England today. We need to do more than the minimum practice of the faith. We need to grow in faith and in prayer, in knowledge and in confidence in the grace of God so that we can be effective apostles to those around us who have rejected the faith, who misunderstand it, or who are searching for some kind of “spirituality” in all the wrong places. Our Lord relies on us for this act of charity. It is still true, and it is urgent for us to recognise in our own country that
“none are so poor as those who lack the knowledge and the grace of God.”