IN THE PARISH ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING on Tuesday, following Home Mission Sunday last weekend, there was some reflection on the need for Evangelisation and Mission in the life of this parish. Being a missionary, being someone who wants to share the truths of the Christian religion with other people, is intrinsic to being a faithful Christian. At this fundamental level our faith can never be something private.
Next month Pope Francis will canonize Pope Paul VI alongside Archbishop Oscar Romero. Pope Paul, shown here on his ground-breaking visit to India in 1964, was taught firmly that Christian teaching about social justice is central to the whole process of evangelization: it’s not an optional extra for people keen on this sort of thing. Thanks to him and to the teachings of Vatican II, and to the teachings of the popes since Paul VI, we have grown in our appreciation of this, at least officially – this teaching is part of the branch of moral teaching which we call Catholic Social Teaching. In what we try to share with others about our faith – such as sessions in our RCIA programme, what we put in newsletters and what we have covered in other courses over the years, we have been faithful to the Church’s wish that this should form a central part of our missionary efforts and expounded what we teach about social justice. Of course practical work is itself a form of teaching, so what we do for CAFOD, the London Catholic Workers and local food banks is itself a statement about what we believe.
Some of you are aware that St Mary’s University in Twickenham, which has strong historic links with this parish, is launching a brand new Master of Arts degree in Catholic Social Teaching. This will be the first and only complete degree specifically focused on Catholic Social Teaching in the UK and Ireland (you can do modules or parts of modules in it through other institutions). The largest single block of students on the programme will be third year students in our diaconate formation programme: this is because the Church expects deacons to have a specialist knowledge of Catholic Social Teaching. Another distinct group are new graduates on the Parliamentary and Public Affairs intern’s programme run by the Bishops Conference of England and Wales (known as Faith in Politics): the programme also has other students, from a variety of backgrounds and ages and parishioners here may be interested in enrolling (the teaching takes place at two different central London locations and in Twickenham, and for the diaconate students at the seminary at Wonersh). Modules studied in the first year include an introduction to the history and principles of social teaching, and selection of specific issues which the Church addresses; later on students can study Liberation theology, Political theology, the relationship between charities and religious faith, the contribution of other churches, business ethics, the environment, globalization and attitudes towards the Market.
Whenever anyone says in the Church that we have nothing to say about issues such as employment rights, Europe, prisons, climate change, homelessness, racism, debt, poverty, refugees, migration or war – and people often say that the Church shouldn’t even try to say anything about these things – we know how much courses like this new programme are needed. It is about dispelling ignorance and theological illiteracy, it is about trying to help one another grow in our Christian discipleship; and it is about ensuring that we put forward the fullness of the Christian message to other people in our country who are not Christians; it is part of evangelization and mission. Throughout history whenever the Church has been identified with the rich and powerful, whenever it has been indifferent about social justice, about the issues I have mentioned above, then our witness has been gravely damaged. We have failed to be faithful to the gospel, we have failed to listen to Our Lord’s teachings. Of course Catholic Social Teaching won’t make us popular: far from it. Whenever the churches do challenge society about injustice we are attacked, we’re seen as a threat; and sometimes we are undermined from within the Church (you can discern this clearly in some people’s attitudes to Pope Francis).
So as we look at ways in which we can further the mission of the Church in this parish, please pray that we can all grow in knowledge of the whole of what our Church teaches; and please pray for all those involved in the new social teaching programme at St Mary’s University.