Faith Alive!

We live in a special time in history, 2,000 years after the coming of Jesus Christ. We stand on the shoulders of countless generations of Christians who have shared our faith in the same Lord, people whose lives have found meaning in the story and destiny of Jesus of Nazareth.

The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 is a time to celebrate our unique faith and rediscover its primary truths for our lives today.

At the heart of our faith is God’s entry into human history 2,000 years ago, changing forever both our view of God and ourselves. Jesus Christ reveals the face of God to us and invites personal faith. Faith is more than a set of beliefs or religious practices - at its heart our faith is nothing less than an encounter with the eternal God who comes in person to us.

The birth of Christ brought direction and purpose to our confusion. Meaning is not automatically given to our lives. We have to discover it. In the short life of Jesus Christ we are shown how to live our own lives, what it means to be human, how to free ourselves from the falseness and the limitations of a material world.

One of the truths we human beings experience is that life is difficult and painful. Suffering and the sting of mortality impoverish us - abuse, unemployment, poverty, loneliness, sickness, broken relationships, death itself. Life is not as we would like it. Despite the giant leaps of humanity at the dawn of the third millennium, we must still cope daily with the death of dreams.

Faith and hope bring meaning to suffering. Jesus is at the centre of the suffering world; he died a horrible death and is wounded still in the lives of those who suffer.

Whatsoever you do to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine you do unto me. (Matthew 25:40)

Wherever we are and whatever our circumstances, we are never alone and in the resurrection we are promised an eternal destiny. Death is in fact not a wilderness but the crown of life and Jesus Christ has made it so. The triumph of Easter is a flesh and blood thing, it makes the heart beat quick with the promise of immortality. In as much as we can grasp it, it banishes fear.

St Paul grasped it fully:

For I am certain of this: neither death nor life, no angel, no prince, nothing that exists, nothing still to come, not any power or height or depth, nor any created thing can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.

- Romans 8: 38-39

This is what we celebrate, God present to us in a way we could never have dreamed of. Traditionally a Jubilee Year was a time of celebration, pointing to a future that would be good news for the down-trodden, the broken-hearted, the poor and all those who need to be set free.

This Jubilee Year we celebrate two millennia of Christian faith, two thousand years of good news for the poor, the down-trodden and the broken hearted.

We celebrate that good news in our own searching lives. Now is the time to examine our own hearts to see how much they are singing, how much of that promised joy and liberation do we experience. How well do we witness to an invincible God whose Kingdom has begun?

The danger for all believers is a faint-hearted faith with faint hearts. Our familiarity with the truths of salvation, our complacency about the extraordinary intervention of God in our history and our lives, can drain our faith of its life-blood. Weary with the routine of life, we easily miss the wonder of God’s presence among us.

We must not settle for a diminished faith. Jesus promised us life. And for all the worries and problems that beset us, the collapse of meaning and the broken relationships that diminish the lives of Christians like everyone else, there is still that promise.

The Jubilee is a time to become disciples again. We are offered the same Holy Spirit who set the Church on fire at Pentecost. Christ is among us today and His Spirit lives now. In fact the Church itself is Jesus present in the community of believers with the Spirit of God in their hearts.

"That is the mystery, Christ among us,"(Colossians 1:27) says St Paul. Christ among the young and the old, the Christian and the non-Christian, the sick and the well, the confused and the inspired. He changes hearts, offers forgiveness, gives meaning to suffering and lays Himself down as our bridge to eternity.

The days of miracle and wonder did not end at Pentecost or with the death of the last apostle nor are they reserved for the pilgrims of holy places. Visions of the Christian life are being lived out in our midst every day, visions of life lived in the company of God and resolutely open to the needs of others.

In the words of Thomas Merton: "There’s no way of telling people that they are all going around shining like the sun."

A touchstone of our faith must be a commitment to others. Jesus made it disturbingly clear that without a first loyalty to those who are most in need, our faith is empty. It is time for us here in Aotearoa New Zealand to renew our option Îfor the poor and the outcast’, to understand again that we do not walk apart. The people of God are not a people of privilege.

At the turn of this century New Zealand society can celebrate many achievements. Science and technology are changing beyond recognition the way we live and work. We live longer, we educate ourselves better, we aspire to a prosperity unthinkable in times past. We are a vibrant nation with an increasingly strong cultural identity and much to celebrate. The new vision of a knowledge economy presents exciting opportunities for the future - but will it be a bright future for everybody?

We must find the voice to resist the growing inequalities that are a feature of our society. Economic and social policies that do not respect the dignity of the individual are bankrupt. We must concern ourselves at all levels with unemployment, inadequate housing, sub-standard healthcare, extremes of wealth and poverty. Whatever the market policies in vogue, our benchmark is a just and fair society.

As Christians, our business is the service of love. We should be known for that. Pope John Paul II urges us to build a Îcivilisation of love’. The whole point of religion is to open the heart.

We must open our hearts to other Churches too and seek to restore a unity that has eluded us for centuries. What is required is a coming together which the whole Church can own, not just those in leadership positions. The disunity among Christians is an enduring scandal - people who grasp what it means to follow the example of Jesus cannot go on tolerating division.

At the dawn of this new millennium, deep in the South Pacific, we live in an age of secularism and spiritual indifference. In our churches we treasure our God-given secrets about life and eternity while the hunger and the searching goes on in the marketplace unabated.

We are called by the Gospel to share our faith with others but our witness must be authentic. The rediscovery of our own faith is the precondition for making Christ known, because faith alive is the only witness that will be heard in a society which has not understood the Christian story, or has not yet heard it.

The hoped-for pilgrim journey of Pope John Paul to the key places in the history of salvation will provide an opportunity for each of us to journey with the Holy Father in spirit. Together we can trace the faithful steps of Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Mary, the Lord Jesus, Peter and Paul. We will live the good news that God has pitched a tent among us, and that in Christ there is yesterday, today and forever. In spirit at Ur, Sinai, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Damascus, Athens we can revitalise our faith, hope and love.

In this Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, what do we proclaim?

We proclaim good news for New Zealand and for all the world.

We proclaim that everywhere and in all circumstances victory belongs to our God and the Man on the Cross. No wounds in this life, nor even death itself, are fatal. We are promised forgiveness in all things and a love stronger than death, a love that will last forever.

It is the purpose of our lives and the destiny we long for. We are those who St Paul could say "have already been given a place with Christ in heaven" (Ephesians 2:6)

 + P J Cullinane, Bishop of Palmerston North
President, NZ Catholic Bishops’ Conference

+ O J Dolan, Coadjutor Bishop of Palmerston North

+ L A Boyle, Bishop of Dunedin

+ P J Dunn, Bishop of Auckland

+ D G Browne, Bishop of Hamilton
Vice President, NZ Catholic Bishops’ Conference

+ R W Leamy SM, Emeritus Bishop of Rarotonga

+ J J Cunneen, Bishop of Christchurch

+ M T Mariu SM, Auxiliary Bishop of Hamilton

+ J A Dew Auxiliary Bishop of Wellington
Secretary, N.Z. Catholic Bishops' Conference

+ Cardinal Thomas Williams, Archbishop of Wellington