Although it is June already, I am casting back in my mind to the Chrism Mass held on the Tuesday of Holy Week, April 16. It was a wonderful celebration and gathering of the Church of the Diocese of Middlesbrough. Just about all parishes and institutions of the diocese were represented. I think only once in my priestly life have I missed the Mass of Chrism. No matter where I have found myself, I have always attended. In so many ways it represents the meaning and mission of the local Church.

However, having just heard, both in the first reading and in the Gospel, the imperative to proclaim a year of the Lord’s favour, I could not but help reflect on the dark horizon against which this proclamation of favour has to be made!

“There seems to have been much darkness in the Church at large; cardinals, bishops, priests, found guilty of heinous crimes. There have been squabbles within the Church, and even an attempt by a senior Archbishop to implicate the Pope into covering up. The political scene offers no solace. Whichever way you voted in the referendum, I can’t believe that any of us expected to witness the shambolic processes through which we are being dragged. Each of us too will have had our own personal dark clouds blotting out the face of the sun in our lives – problems, crises, shocks, sicknesses and deaths. 

“Coming back to the Church, but this time the local Church, our Church of the Diocese of Middlesbrough, there is the constant knowledge that our presbyterate is, by and large, getting older and older. We are almost at the point where we have as many retired as active priests in the diocese and the number of retirees is bound to increase and the number of active clergy is constantly dwindling. Already I have had to begin the process of informing parishes that they will not have a resident priest in the future and mass will be supplied as and when possible. And this is only the beginning. It will be one of my regular tasks of the future.” 

I think we have forgotten how to be a missionary Church. “Missionary” conjures up far-way places, other continents. “Mission” and “Missionary” are not to do with England, Middlesbrough, York, Hull, Scarborough or Whitby. Oh but they are! If we do not take the message of the Resurrection and Ascension seriously and to heart, then we are in real trouble. 

“Go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee,” Says Jesus. “They will see me there. So you have seen how it is written that the Christ must suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this.” (Luke 24) This is what Jesus is saying to you and me today. 

I hope that all those who come to the study day on Saturday June 8 will listen to Father Eamonn Mulcahy and begin to take their mission to be witnesses seriously so that over the next months and years we, slowly but surely, begin to become a genuinely missionary diocese, supported by missionary parishes, filled with intentional disciples; and that they spread the message to each and everyone one of us. And we in our turn, like the Apostles, can proclaim, “Yes, it is true. The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.”

Yours in Blessed Hope,