Right Reverend Patrick Joseph McKinney Bishop of Nottingham
Pastoral Letter appointed to be read out at all Masses celebrated on Saturday 3rd and Sunday 4th November 2018.
31st Sunday of Ordinary Time
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I’ve been your bishop for three years now, and you all know the situation facing us in the diocese. We don’t have enough priests to go around, and so there will need to be more clustering of parishes served by just one priest. This will inevitably mean a reduction in the number of weekend Masses, and possibly some closures of Mass centres. That said, I genuinely remain very positive about what I see happening in our diocesan parishes, schools and chaplaincies. There is the potential for our diocese to become more and more outward-looking and missionary in its sense of purpose and direction. How will this happen? By ensuring that we have a strong spiritual foundation for all that we seek to do across our diocese, because as the psalmist reminds us, “unless the Lord build the house, in vain do its builders labour” (Ps. 127)
So, the spiritual foundation for the diocese that I would like to see put firmly in place over the next three years is three-fold: ENCOUNTER, DISCIPLESHIP and MISSIONARY DISCIPLESHIP.
‘Thanks, solely to this encounter – or renewed encounter – with God’s love, which blossoms into an enriching friendship, we are liberated from our narrowness and self- absorption. We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being. Here we find the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelisation. For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?’(The Joy of the Gospel, 8)
Why do I believe this foundational encounter with the Lord is so important and needs such emphasising? Because without it, we cannot become effective disciples. If we ourselves have not allowed the Lord to invite us into his friendship and to guide our lives through his Holy Spirit, then how can we speak of this to others? It has been my experience over forty years of pastoral ministry that many Catholics dismiss such talk of a personal encounter or relationship with Christ as something Protestant, and so somehow alien to Catholicism. However, the truth is that the development of a personal relationship with Christ is absolutely central to a Catholic understanding of faith. This is what the General Directory for Catechesis teaches:
“The Christian faith is, above all, conversion to Jesus Christ, full and sincere adherence to his person and the decision to walk in his footsteps. Faith is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, making of oneself his disciple. This demands a permanent commitment to think like him, to judge like him and to live as he lived. In this way the believer unites himself or herself to the community of disciples and appropriates the faith of the Church. This ‘Yes’ to Jesus Christ, who is the fullness of the revelation of the Father, is twofold: a trustful abandonment to God, and a loving assent to all that he has revealed to us. This is possible only by the action of the Holy Spirit.” (General Directory for Catechesis, 53, 54)
I also believe that we can be helped to see each of the sacraments as opportunities for personal encounters with the Lord, as heart to heart moments; times when we are each invited to encounter the loving heart of the Lord, truly present and active in these sacraments, who wishes to encounter us as we open our hearts to him. I also think that too many young people, and people of all ages, continue to drift away from the Church for a variety of reasons. I’m convinced that one of these reasons is that they have never been encouraged and helped to develop a personal relationship with Christ.
So, I ask each of you to join with me, over the next three years, in accepting the challenge of the Gospel to root our lives more firmly in Christ, through engaging generously with these three spiritual themes of Encounter, Discipleship and Missionary Discipleship.
I’m convinced this will help us to face and respond better to the challenges we face as a diocese. Why? Because we will be seeking to know and do God’s will for our diocese and, as we know, “unless the Lord build the house, in vain do its builders labour”.
May Advent and Christmas be a time when we all encounter afresh the amazing love of God our Father in sending us his Son, and ponder again on Mary’s openness to receiving that love.
With my prayers and good wishes,
Right Reverend Patrick McKinney Bishop of Nottingham
Bishop’s House - Nottingham November 2018