Feast of the Conversion of St Paul and gathering of the Missionaries of the Society of St Paul, 24 Jan 2020

Dear friends, what does it mean to be a missionary disciple today? What does it mean to be a missionary priest today? And how do we answer those two questions in the context of ministry and service here in the Catholic Church in the British Isles? These are important questions as we give thanks to Almighty God for the apostolic witness of the Missionary Society of St Paul.

The Church in our countries continues to be blessed by your presence in our parishes, dear priests of Missionaries of St Paul. Not that long ago, if you had asked ‘Who are the MSPs?’ no-one would have known. Now, everybody knows! I want to thank all the priests of the Society, and your superiors, together with your benefactors, for the ministry you exercise, away from your families and homeland. You are a blessing to us. We do not take you for granted. And we love you. It’s very important that you know this.

But what is it to be a missionary? Pope Francis sums this up beautifully when he reminds us that by ‘virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples.’ (EG 120) This means that every Christian must be actively engaged in sharing their faith with others, proclaiming the love of God which they themselves have come to know. ‘Every Christian,’ says Pope Francis, ’is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Jesus Christ.’ And therefore, ‘we no longer say that we are ‘disciples’ and ‘missionaries,’ but rather that we are always ‘missionary disciples.’ (EG 120)

Here, our Holy Father puts his finger on the root of mission, of being called and sent out to as witnesses of Christ. It begins with our own experience of the Lord, our own personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. Only because we have found in Him a loving friend and Saviour, do we want to share with others this beautiful treasure. ‘Go out,’ said the Lord Jesus ‘and proclaim the Good News to the whole world and to all creation.’ This is what the Lord asks of us, what he asks of you and me, without any exceptions. No one is unworthy to be a missionary disciple if he or she loves the Lord Jesus and desires to love others into faith.

Sometimes we hear people say that a gift comes with no strings attached, with no obligations. Well, the gift of baptism does come with strings attached, there are blessed obligations to being a Christian. Pope St Paul VI taught that the ‘Church exists to evangelise’ (EN 14), the Church exists to make Christ loved and known so that He can be served. In a similar way, the Christian exists to evangelise. Certainly, with such a powerful evangelist as a patron, the priests of the Missionary Society of St Paul exist to evangelise.

To be evangelists, to be Christians who, in and through the Church, live the Gospel in daily life as witnesses to the love of Jesus Christ, makes us missionary disciples who can transform the face of the earth, beginning with ourselves. When our heart is captured by Christ, when our life changes because of Christ, when others meet Christ through us, when we serve Christ in those in need, then we are going out to the whole world, we are proclaiming the Good News, even when the ‘whole world’ is our family, our next door neighbour, someone at work or school, or a stranger homeless and hungry on the street. Please be encouraged to joyfully witness to Christ. The Lord is counting on you and the Church needs you.

Dear brother priests of the Missionary Society of St Paul we celebrate your evangelising charism on this Feast of St Paul’s Conversion. What does this great Apostle teach us about being missionary disciples, especially as those called to serve the Church as priests?

First, let’s remember that St Paul was a convert. He was so overpowered by the personal presence of Christ that he was, literally, knocked off his feet. A missionary disciple must always be in the process of conversion. Yes, we can and must – give ourselves to Christ in a foundational and radical way. Yes, we can leave a non-Christian life and embrace the truth of the Gospel. But in this world conversion is never done and dusted, it’s never finished. The truth is that we need to be in continual conversion, re-orientating ourselves every day to Christ as we deepen our friendship with Him. Every Christian, even those born into Christian families and baptised as babies, every Christian is a perpetual convert, constantly desiring Christ to be at the centre of who we are and how we life. It’s a good question to ask ourselves: what in my life, what in my mind and in my heart, still needs to be converted and fully given over to Christ?

Second, let’s remember that St Paul was a spirit-filled preacher of Christ crucified and risen. For those ordained and entrusted with ministry of liturgical preaching, we should immerse ourselves in prayer and the Scriptures so we can announce an inspiring word of life to our congregations. In this Year of the Word, as we celebrate ‘The God Who Speaks,’ let’s not forget that God who, through the Holy Spirit, speaks through the Scriptures, also speaks through the preacher.

Pope Francis says the homily is the ‘touchstone’ (EG 135) for determining the closeness between a pastor and his congregation. He also says that homilies are a cause of suffering: to the laity who have to listen to them and to the clergy who have to preach them!

Inspired by the outstanding preacher St Paul, as priestly missionary disciples, we must never forget that, in the Pope’s words, ‘the homily can … be an intense and happy experience of the Spirit, a consoling encounter with God’s word, a constant source of renewal and growth.’ Therefore, dear brothers, we must ‘renew our confidence in preaching, based on the conviction that it is God who seeks to reach out to others through the preacher, [displaying] his power through human words.’ (EG 135-136)

Third, let’s remember that St Paul evangelised beyond his familiar surroundings, at great personal cost, eventually paying the price with his life. The martyrdom we can face today is sometimes one of mockery, of indifference, and even of hostile rejection. For clergy, religious, and laity alike it takes courage to be a missionary disciple in our contemporary society and culture. Always remaining faithful to the proclamation of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church, we need to find new ways to step out, like St Paul, into the market place, into the town and city square, to announce with joy the Gospel of life to the full. For so many people we, all of us, will be living sermons. What we believe, why we serve the weakest and the poorest, why we speak out against injustice and in defence of life, why we welcome the stranger, how we show the compassionate face and heart of the Lord Jesus, may just possibly be the beginning of someone asking why these Christians, why these Catholics, put their faith into action like this. If this is how these servants love, then, hopefully, someone might ask: who is their inspiration?

Dear friends, dear brothers, with you we give thanks to Almighty God tonight for the apostolate in our dioceses and parishes of The Missionary Society of St Paul. May you continue to minister the love of God, so that you can inspire us, with you, to become ever more fervent missionary disciples of the Lord Jesus.