Homily of Archbishop Peter Smith

Homily of Archbishop Peter Smith

Thanksgiving Mass at Institute of St. Anselm, Cliftonville.

The Institute of St. Anselm's, an International Training Centre for formators, leaders and evangelisers, is relocating to Rome after 32 years of an extremely fruitful presence in Cliftonville, Kent, UK.

Archbishop Peter Smith preached at the Mass of Thanksgiving on Monday 29 May 2017:

"Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commandments I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time."

These final verses of Matthew's gospel serve as a basis and stimulus for the essential mission of the Church. That mission, Jesus tells his disciples, is to evangelise "all the nations", making it very clear that belief in the person of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, is open to all the peoples of the world, not just the Israelites. Every baptised Christian is called to participate in, and fulfil that mission, especially by living out the gospel message in their day to day lives. That witness is rooted in the fulfilment of the two great commandments; "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. "The second", Jesus said, resembles it: "you must love your neighbour as yourself." If that's the mission for all the baptised, all the more so does that command apply to those who are ordained as shepherds of the flock, and to Religious who live out and witness to the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience.

For thirty years the Institute of Saint Anselm has provided the specialised training that formators, leaders, evangelists and others need, in order to fulfil the sacred task of supporting and nourishing the spiritual life of the members of their congregations, dioceses and parishes which they serve. Over the years, this Institute's Courses in Community and Pastoral Leadership have helped many thousands of religious leaders, from many countries round the world, to gain or enhance the skills necessary to carry out the complex and demanding task of guiding their community's life and relationships in the light of the Gospel. Jesus said to his disciples, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life." In order to help others to understand what he meant, those called to guide others must first know the way themselves. Why?

Because to understand one's self is to understand other people as well, and in a world that's so ingrained in fear and anxiety, it's vitally important that we understand, appreciate and honor others.

The Greek philosophers knew that, which calls to mind the words of the Greek philosopher Socrates, "Know Thyself" inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, way back in the fifth century B.C. Not only was he a great philosopher, but he also had a deep respect for Athenian religious customs.

Being informed by philosophy. theology. and psychology we can cultivate our capacity for self-knowledge in the light of the Gospel. And that's essential for us, because it is impossible to understand the psychological, emotional and spiritual processes of others unless we come to understand something of how those processes are operating in our own lives and especially in our relationships with others.

Getting to know ourselves is in reality a "spiritual journey", because it relates to our hearts, the deepest reservoir of our psychological and emotional lives.

Without that knowledge we're looking through a dark glass, making judgments about issues of which we have no real understanding. Knowing ourselves, knowing how and why we function the way we do, why we feel the emotions we feel, gives us a secure base from which to support others with the compassionate caring and necessary firmness when charged with nurturing their spiritual growth.

Our journey to maturity takes time and reflection on our own experience. Guiding and nurturing others in their spiritual life is a delicate, challenging and sacred task, and one that requires true humility and brings us face-to-face with our inadequacies. Paradoxically, the process of discovering our true selves, our strengths and weakness, makes us stronger and better able to relate to others, and helps us to understand that each one of us is quite unique, whilst at the same time sharing the same basic human nature with all its strengths and weaknesses. That knowledge is particularly important for those who exercise authority in the Church, or those whose task is to help others to grow in self-knowledge and maturity. If we can't accept that we too suffer from weakness and failure, we can so easily do what Christ forbade us to do: "Don't lord it over others, don't judge others!"

This journey into self-knowledge and understanding, St. Paul describes as something which affects our "hidden self", those elements in us which are not always obvious to ourselves or others. In his Letter to the Ephesians, Paul prays that: "… may he give you the power through his Spirit, for your hidden self to grow strong, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith … planted in love and built on love."

At the heart of our faith is our belief that we are "children of God" in the words of today's reading from St Paul's Letter to the Romans. God loves us unconditionally, and that love is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, in whom we see made visible the God we cannot see. He commanded us to make our home with him, to abide in him and to remain in his love. Only then are we able to love others. "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you … What I command you is to love one another." We can't do that by relying on our own human resources, as the Apostles discovered when faced with the passion and death of Jesus Christ. They failed to stand by him and support him and ran away, deserting him in his hour of greatest need. After his resurrection he told them they couldn't follow him and do what he was asking them without the help of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate.

Pope Francis summed up this theme in his Pentecost homily in 2015. He said, "The world needs men and women who are not closed in on themselves, but filled with the Holy Spirit. Closing oneself off from the Holy Spirit means not only a lack of freedom; it is a sin.

There are many ways one can close oneself off to the Holy Spirit: by selfishness for one's own gain; by rigid legalism – seen in the attitude of the doctors of the law to whom Jesus referred as "hypocrites"; by neglect of what Jesus taught; by living the Christian life not as service to others but in the pursuit of personal interests; and in so many other ways.

The world needs the courage, hope, faith and perseverance of Christ's followers. The world needs the fruits of the Holy Spirit: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal 5:22). The gift of the Holy Spirit has been bestowed upon the Church and upon each one of us, so that we may live lives of genuine faith and active charity, that we may sow the seeds of reconciliation and peace. "

So, Fr. Len, today we thank you and your team for all the great work you have done here at St, Anselm's over thirty years. We shall miss you, but we will keep you in our prayers and today wish you every blessing as you continue the work of this Institute in your new home in Rome.

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