CELEBRATING THE BIRTHDAY OF OUR DIOCESE
24th September, 2000
Yesterday at the Cathedral we celebrated our l50th Birthday as a Diocese. Many of our priests and deacons were present alongside representatives of our religious orders, parishes and schools. For a couple of hours, we were the Diocese at prayer in thanksgiving and praise. Through that prayer we committed ourselves to carry forward into the future the work of Christ's Church.
The candle which your representatives have brought to you from that celebration will remind you of your solidarity and communion with each parish, school and religious house - and with me as Bishop - that together embody our Diocese. The candle is also a symbol of the only worthwhile gift we have: the Light of Christ. Without that light we might as well pack up and go home.I do hope this celebration, as indeed the whole Jubilee year, will enable us to come to a deeper appreciation of Christ and of the dignity and responsibility of being a disciple. Present and most welcome at our celebrations yesterday were some of our own bishops, both from our neighbouring dioceses and further afield, and many Church Leaders from other Christian traditions and communities. Their presence shows us how important is the communion of the church for all who follow Christ.
Our unity with other Catholic Dioceses in England and Wales and elsewhere, as with our Pope, is crucial for our discipleship. We need all our ecumenical brothers and sisters in Christ: together we are called to make Christ known to our world, even though we have not resolved all our differences with each other. It is mightily encouraging to think that what could not possibly have happened in 1850, or even in 1950, can happen now in the year 2000: we can, and we do wherever possible, live and proclaim our faith in Christ together.
We are not celebrating our birthday because we wish to boast about our achievements. Even if they were monumental, to boast of anything except Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, is a dangerous fantasy and gives a badly distorted message. We are what we are - Catholic Christians - because of God's grace and nothing else. Our celebration must be one of thanksgiving, conversion of heart and resolve for the future:
Thanksgiving, because we are nothing that we have not received. Why do we celebrate the mysteries of Christ in the liturgy, except to proclaim the Lord's goodness? Whenever we take ourselves to prayer we do so only to enable God's power to achieve God's design in our human weakness.May I wish you all a very happy Birthday and every blessing and grace into the future.
Conversion of heart, because we need to recognise the harm we have done to many people through our sinfulness and to face up once again to the radical demands of being a disciple of the Lord. We cannot claim fidelity to Christ and at the same time allow ourselves to drift along with values and beliefs which negate everything Christ stands for. Just consider the way we allow the weak and powerless 'to go to the wall' while we reserve to ourselves the major part of the goods of this world, or promote destructive attitudes to other people in much of our social, sexual and family behaviour. if there is no real conversion as a permanent attitude of mind and heart, we have no integrity.
Resolve for the future, because it takes us out of ourselves and leads us to a deeper understanding of what we believe. Thus we can share that belief with others and be driven by it to show to the world the caring face of Christ. The future beckons us to become a Church that is 'other-centred', to be prepared to give away what we have in faith, hope and love, as well as our material belongings. In doing this we will be filled with the joy of the Spirit. I would love to think that the on-going effect of our birthday celebration would be that we show to our world our joy in being Catholic Christians, in being people who share in the cross of Jesus. His cross, after all, is the real antidote to self-absorption and self-interest.
Bishop of Plymouth