Archbishop’s message during the RELaY European Christian Network Conference
On the 25th of February 2014, Archbishop Paul Cremona O.P. celebrated mass during the conference organised by the RELaY European Christian Network held at the Suncrest Hotel, Qawra.
Dear brothers and sisters, one of the new cardinals is Loris Capovilla. I don’t know if you have heard of him; he was the secretary of Pope John XXIII. He is 97 years old and about a fortnight ago I called him to congratulate him. And this 97 year old, now cardinal, said to me: Let us thank God for this is the spring time of our Church! A 97 year old! Obviously he was not talking of questionnaires or something like that, but he was saying what the Spirit told him to tell me.
In fact, I agree with him. We have to remember that the model of the Church which we have been used to for the past 40 years, does not exist anymore. And perhaps it is the spring time of the Church because we have to take as a model, the primitive Church, as narrated in the Acts of the Apostles. The conditions which these apostles and the disciples were confronted with resemble very much those of our present times. They were small in number. They were living in a hostile world.
They found their strength in small communities. What is a Christian community? A Christian community is the place where everybody speaks our own language, which is that of Christ. There are places, even in Malta, where we can’t mention our faith very much because we get derided. We need to have a place where we can speak openly without fear, without facing hostility; we need to feel safe in sharing our thoughts with our brethren.. So the primitive Church found its strength in small communities and that is what we are trying to build in our Church at present.
Let me give an example by citing an experience. There is a group in Malta; it’s from the Vatican and it’s called ‘Centesimus Annus’. This includes financiers and bankers. At the first meeting that we had, a banker (an elderly man) stood up and said: this is the first time that I could speak up my mind and express what I feel as Christian. I couldn’t do this anywhere else. That is what a Christian group is all about: a place where we can speak freely; where we can abound in joy with each other.
Perhaps one of the reflections that we can make is that the Lord has provided us with Popes, especially most recently, Pope Francis, who I think will lead us on to this new world of being Church. The main message that he is trying to put forward to each of us and to the whole world can be condensed in three words: simplicity, love and joy. Simplicity means that we have to get rid of all that is superfluous and go right to the basics of what our faith is all about. The Gospel, as we have heard in today’s readings, teaches us that Christian love is never a reaction; it is an action which I have freely chosen. So for a person who loves with Christian love, it does not matter who the other person is, what he has done to me, and whatever he expects of me. Then I have to go to my first consideration: that I want to love in all circumstances. And the simplicity is centering our faith on Jesus Christ who is our Lord. Evangelization centers around Christ and the words of Christ. In this way, we can build a really healthy Church. And I am not speaking about loving Christ as a cliché.
Some months ago I was on the radio and there was a woman who was speaking about her daughter. She told me that her daughter says she loves Christ but she cannot accept the Church. This is what I told this woman: I don’t think it is a bad idea, but am I understanding correctly that your daughter reads the gospel and that she abides by the Gospel? Otherwise it is just a cliché; it’s not true that she loves Jesus Christ, because Jesus Christ is not just a figure, He is an experience! He is one who has come on earth to live the Christian life before us, so that through the Gospel we know how we should act. And all this teaching came to us through the first Church, through the evangelists who wrote the Gospel. Without that first Church we would not have known about Jesus, because what he lived was passed on from generation to generation of Christians until it reached us. At that time there were no videos and there were no recorders; there was only Our Lord, who at his last moment, was on the Cross.
There was somebody else on the radio who said that the Pope had said that the Church is collapsing. It’s not true but that’s what he said. But I told him: can you imagine the Church collapsing after beginning with the crucified Lord? There is no other religion that has begun with a crucified leader.
In today’s second lesson, St Paul said that we are the temples of the Lord and that we should gear ourselves to sanctity, nothing less. What I think about sanctity, I can explain by relating quite a simple story. So sanctity begins with a room full of cobwebs. At first, I have a small light so I recognize the cobwebs that are nearest to me and I remove them. But when the light increases, it seems as if the cobwebs increase but it’s not the case,; it’s just that I see better the cobwebs that are around me. So I also remove these cobwebs. This goes on and on, and as the light continues to increase, I can remove all the cobwebs, leaving space just for the Lord.
What is sanctity? I think that I was enlightened by the life of St Theresa of the Child Jesus. How did she become a saint at 21 years of age? No person is truly mature at that age, so how did she reach spiritual maturity? I think the only answer which enlightened me is because grace is a gift from God. It’s not something that we build up, but something which we accept from the Lord; it is the Lord who makes us saints. The difference between St Theresa and me is that many times, when this grace was offered to me, I thought of an excuse not to accept it because I was afraid of it. On the other hand, St Theresa of the Child Jesus emptied herself so that she could accept all the gifts from God, all the graces from God.
I spoke about simplicity love and joy. Another word that is important, is dialogue. If a grace is from God, who shares his divinity with others, how can God give us a grace which becomes egoistic because I keep it to myself? That doesn’t exist, it’s not a true grace. That’s why I have to share it. I cannot keep it to myself; that’s why discipleship and apostolic mission are one and the same thing. In fact I am a bishop and I evangelize not because I am a bishop, but because at my baptism, the priest made a sign on my ear and told me: I will open your ears so that you will receive the Word. And then he made a sign upon my lips and he told me: I will open your lips so that you will give the Word of the Lord to others. So being a Christian is tantamount to having these two graces together: discipleship and apostolate. An apostleship without discipleship does not amount to anything because I don’t have the wisdom to know what I am evangelizing. And as we said before, discipleship without apostleship does not make sense because the grace of God has to be shared with others.
If we are not in the process of being disciples and we are not in the process of being evangelizers, we are not living the Christian life in its fullest meaning. So we have to enter into dialogue with the people around us, the community that we live with. We come together so that the word of God (which comes to us in a very personal way) can be shared with another person who has accepted the Word of God in his or her own way. And the second form of dialogue is to evangelize others who have not known of the Lord Jesus Christ. And Pope Francis has told us that evangelization is love.
To conclude I will just mention another experience. I was conducting a retreat in Sudan with the Missionaries of Charity, the Sisters of Mother Teresa, and when I was there they had a place for those suffering from tuberculosis. Somebody dying who was not a Christian, was dying. Over there they did not only have Christians, but also people of tribal religions, and Muslims. They had people from both sides of Sudan, the Northern people who are a little bit darker then we are, and then there were the ones from the South, the Nubas, etc, really black persons, tallish. Referring to their way of evangelization, the Sister, who was Indian, said to me: we give them all our love, whoever they may be. We expect them to ask us a question which is ‘why do you love me? I am not of your religion, I am neither of your people, of your country. Why do you love us so?’ To which she would reply: because the Lord Jesus told me to love you. After that, she would expect the second question: tell us who the Lord Jesus is so that I will know him. That is evangelization! Thank you very much.
✠ Pawlu Cremona O.P.
Arċisqof ta’ Malta