Rooted in Faith, Go, Spread the Jesus Glow.
To the Priests, Religious, Lay Faithful and People of good will
in the Archdiocese of Goa and Daman
(Approved English version of the Pastoral Letter No. CP-Past/140/2008
written originally in Konkani language)
Rooted in Faith, Go, Spread the Jesus Glow
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Filled with the joy of being gifted with Faith in Jesus, I extend my loving greetings to you, my fellow Christians and to all people of good will.
This Pastoral Letter is like my personal meeting with all of you! And the purpose of this meeting is the deepening of our Faith. Let us, then, hold a conversation on this topic, having in mind the theme that we have chosen for this Pastoral Year, Rooted in Faith, Go, Spread the Jesus Glow.
“Bhavart vhodd daiz, dennem Kristachem” (Faith is a great inheritance, a gift of Christ): we have been singing these lines since our childhood. True, Faith is a great legacy from Christ. Our greatness and security lie therein. Christianity may have existed for centuries, but what has been the impact of Christian living on our society? In fact, we live with people of other Faiths and grow with our experience of one another. But is Christ reflected in what we speak, in our spirit of forgiveness and generosity, in our social concern, service of the other and in the moral responsibility we take for our actions? If we are to reflect Christ, it is necessary that we understand our faith, that we celebrate what we understand and that we live what we celebrate. In simple words, we need to be rooted in our Faith so as to spread the glow of Jesus.
As we begin this Pastoral Year, I would like to share with you a few of my thoughts on the theme given above. Picturing to myself the image of the small pond (so common in our Goan paddy fields), I have set them in four parts, namely: 1. Faith as a Pond; 2. Faith as a Paddy Field; 3. Faith as the Golden Grain; and 4. Paul as a Farmer. This fourth part has been taken keeping Saint Paul, the great leader of our Church, before our eyes. Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has dedicated this year (June 2008 - June 2009) as a celebration of the 2000th birth anniversary of St. Paul. We thought this event would give an added fillip to the celebration of our Pastoral Year.
So, to appreciate the legacy of our Faith, let us take, as expressed above, an image from our own ‘agri’-cultural background.
1. Faith as a Pond
We all know what a paddy field pond is. In Tiswaddi it is known as onddo. It contains water, in which the farmer sees his treasure. He depends on it, and it is around it that he grows his vegetable garden or paddy, tending it with the water from the pond.
Faith is just like the paddy field pond. It contains the treasure of salvation and we need to believe that the one who seeks it faithfully will find it; in other words, that God will give a reward to the one who seeks him (cf. Heb. 11:6). The Christian community is born of the baptismal waters and it did not let these waters flow in vain. It treasured them and through them gave new faithful to Christ (cf. Mt. 28:19).
1.1. The Faithful Knows Himself
A pond is not the entire field; it is only a small water reservoir in a field. It is well aware of its role and distinct nature. In like manner, it is essential for the faithful to know himself, in relation with God and with all that God has done for humankind. Rooted in this knowledge, the faithful seeks to deepen his search, in freedom. It is a search of Faith, done for the sake of Faith.
The pursuit of this search will enable the faithful to grow in union with God, for God will be seen as a Shepherd who can be meaningfully encountered, resulting in the strengthening of the faith (cf. Jn. 10:3).
While on this search, it is necessary that the faithful should not function from a ‘I and my God’ position, but rather know that ‘God is found in the community.’ Truly God is and lives in the other, he indeed shines in the other, for everyone is made unto his image (cf. Gen. 1:27).
1.2. The Faithful Encounters Others
The water from the pond does not remain in the pond; it goes to the field, where an encounter takes place between both. Truly beautiful is this practice of encountering the other!
Equipped with his faith legacy, the Christian faithful moves out to others and seeks dialogue with people of other faiths; he thus enables others to understand his faith and, in return, through the faith-experience of others, gains a deeper insight into his own faith.
If one approaches others with a ‘give-and-take’ attitude, one can initiate a truly genuine relationship of love (cf. Acts 17:20-34).
1.3. The Faithful Creates Communion
In a dialogue carried out with such an open and pure mind, differences like ‘I am the pond,’ ‘you are the field’ cease: a real meeting takes place and a genuine communion ensues. In this union, thoughts like “Jesus is mine, he lives only in me” cease to make any sense to the faithful.
The experience of another believer’s faith is the experience of the seed sown by God (AG 22); it may seem like darkness to some, but isn’t God’s Spirit to be found in darkness too? (cf. Gen. 1:2). To be united, as brothers and sisters, with such a deep faith-experience is to live in the light of the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom. 8:4). How good and how beautiful is such a life of communion and fellowship! (Ps. 133:1)
2. Faith as a Paddy Field
We have looked at Faith as a pond in the paddy field. Let us now see what the function of the pond is. Its water reaches the field, making the paddy sprout and grow. The pond is, so to say, the hope of the field for, through its water, it gives rise to new life from the soil. The soil yearns for this fertility and is gladdened by the water intake, which will clothe it with greenery. Faith, therefore, is not only like the pond in the field; it can, in fact, be compared to the whole field, all dressed in green.
The Church in Goa, over the years, has remained open to the promptings of the Spirit as she tried to understand her mission and to bear fruit, sitting, as it were, at the feet of Jesus (cf. Lk. 10:39). Drawing upon the life-experience of each of her members, she has faced various challenges and has remained open to their problems. Our four previous Pastoral Letters were written with this same concern, being present to modern-day problems and with a view to throw light on some of the questions posed by the people. That same concern moves us, during this Pastoral Year, to focus on Faith Formation.
2.1. Family – The Spring of Faith
Parents head the family and children are the hope of the Church and of society (FC 86). To kindle this spark of hope, the family ought to develop the awareness of the ‘pond of faith’ and to take the strength of Jesus, the spring of the pond. Because God has assigned a special mission to the family: to be the first and the vital cell of society and, through its prayer life as well as relationship of mutual affection, to be the domestic sanctuary of the Church (AA 11).
As means of promoting family holiness, the Christian couple is gifted with a special grace to be witnesses of faith to each other and to their children. In the work of faith formation, the parents are to become, by their very words and life, the first catechists to their children (AA 11). They should not decrease their efforts to convey daily their life-message to their children.
It is interesting to see the troubles parents today take to train their children in the various arts. They urge them to acquire proficiency in music, karate, taekwondo, chess and other games, besides encouraging them to take Indian and Western ballet classes as well as undertake other such activities. They hope that, in this way, their children will grow in general proficiency. To offer such overall education to children is good, but if faith formation is absent, that is, if we do not take pains to give time also to God, there is danger that our achievements may fill us with pride and, instead of bringing about a loving communion, we may be only interested in pulling others down and coming up ourselves. It is, therefore, supremely important that parents should take pains in the faith formation of their children.
God has created all things in love and he has placed them under human beings, so that they may know God’s love and grow in it. Man is the lord of created things. He can promote their growth and thereby attain happiness.
Television and Internet are quite advanced means of entertainment and information in this modern age. We are the masters of these media. But if these means take the place of our family altar and find us enslaved to them, ready to give them the time we used to spend together in family prayer, then we will need to seriously question ourselves on our stewardship of these God-given means. The truth is that human beings come up with ever new inventions, increasing the challenges to be faced by our families. These challenges can both strengthen and weaken us.
Prayer is an essential need for us to be delivered from such moral weakness (cf. Lk. 22:40). Jesus offers this weapon of prayer to his disciples. We ought to treasure it in our Christian homes, as the reflection of our life of faith. Through this weapon, our children will know God and learn to talk to him (cf. CT 36); having reverence to God, they will also grow in their respect for the members of their family and, discovering the treasure of God’s love within themselves, they will joyfully use it for the good and the service of others. All this will be the fruit of prayer!
Today’s younger generation has become one that is craving for the love, time and company of parents in their life. They state openly that they do not get quality time from their parents. We keep hearing these complaints from our school children. Some youngsters even commit suicide when they are placed in difficult situations, owing to the lack of their parents’ life-example and of an experience of God’s love. And we are anguished to read such reports on our newspapers.
Children, along with their parents, have the responsibility to make their family a “Church in miniature” (FC 49). If parents are the formators and the teachers of Christian principles, children are to imbibe this formation, be it in the family, in the parish, in the school or in small Christian communities. With such formation, the family is able to sanctify not only itself but the whole community and thus offer worship to God and build the Body of Christ (SC 59). In this way, the experience of ‘we and our God’ and not ‘I and my God’ (SDS 158) will be more easily understood by us and celebrated as well (cf. SDS 156).
This dimension of our faith needs to consistently shine out in our Christian family. To emit this radiance, the family needs to discipline itself and this is not an easy task: the family needs to break itself. This breaking is an act of love and in this breaking, the self-gift of Jesus – made by breaking himself – is renewed on the altar of family life. There, in a way, our Mass takes place, which means, the celebration of the Mass begins already at home!
2.2. Society -- A Reflection of the Faith
If we look into the pond, we will see our own reflection. Likewise our faith must find a reflection in the society. It is nothing but the fruit of the faith formed in the family.
To worship God, we need to be the people of God, living in full freedom. When we say ‘we,’ we mean the entire human race. A person encounters the other in communion, together they break the chains of corruption and come to live the first and the greatest commandment of love for God and for neighbour (cf. GS 24).
In his proclamation, Jesus reveals the fatherhood of God and God’s justice and concern for those in need and the oppressed (cf. Lk. 6:20-21). He humbles himself and calls all human beings to experience him in the service of the lowly (cf. Mt. 25:40). The Goa Diocesan Synod calls every Christian in Goa to help build a new society with the strength of the Risen Lord, by encountering all people and living in communion with them (cf. SDS 150).
The Church works ceaselessly for true freedom. She takes pains to proclaim the Good News and to work for the development of humankind (cf. EN 31). Development does not mean only enhancement in modern facilities, but rather – facilities or no facilities – living in freedom, with a sense of fulfillment and joy.
We all need to work together on the way that brings freedom. Our Goa is on the road to progress, but a good many Goans as well as tourists are seen to have fallen victims to vices; our mind and heart go out to them. They may have fallen to drugs, smoking, alcohol, etc. Our call for good and moral living needs to be heard by them and, more particularly, in our coastal areas. Our Parish Social Action Fora, working under the aegis of our Council for Social Justice and Peace and in collaboration with people of other faiths, should take this work forward.
Since Goa is on a steady march to progress, many are the people from outside Goa who have come to stay or work here. Theirs is on the whole a no-win situation and they have to endure taunting and humiliating remarks from others. They are our own countrymen (and women), our sisters and brothers; we need to be concerned about their indigence. Theirs is like the plight of the people of Israel and of the Holy Family who had fled from the sword of Herod. We cannot but see the need of the Israelites in search of the Promised Land and of the Infant Jesus seeking shelter in the bosom of his mother reflected in these sisters and brothers of ours. We have to keep seeking the face of Jesus – who is thirsty, hungry and a stranger – in those who are lost today.
2.3. The Word of God – The Foundation of our Faith
We have been reflecting on the Word of God during the last year. The Synod of Bishops on the Word of God, to be held coming October in Rome, will enlighten us even more on this.
As we focus this year on faith formation, let us remind ourselves that the ‘pond of faith’ is in the Word of God itself. This ‘pond’ is God’s treasure, given to the Church, which now and then draws out from it new and old wealth. Gathering the faith of the whole people of God, she ponders over this wealth, celebrates it in the Liturgy and ceaselessly proclaims, teaches, interiorizes and makes it known; and, through the imparting of religious and moral values, she goes on sowing the seed of the Word of God in the society and in the varied cultures of the human race (cf. GDC 95).
To root oneself in the Word of God means to acquire, through it, a new identity (GC 2007-08, 4.1.). The Word is not sterile nor is it of superficial value; it has the power to make a lasting impact on human life.
If the water from the pond can give life to the field and foster its growth, it does so by an unseen power. One needs such a power to grow in faith, and the Word of God gives this power. Without this strength, the teaching of the Word and our lifestyle could go in different directions, resulting in a lack of witness to the Word in our life. To ensure such witness, we need to see to a proper faith formation of our children.
Children must be given a taste for God’s Word from a very young age, with the help of an illustrated Bible and simple teachings; as they grow, this (written) Word is to be placed in their hands, to help them in their life and faith formation; later, as young people and adult faithful, they will try to live out what they have imbibed. If they grow under the guidance of the Word of God, they themselves will take on their formation and, with the help of good literature, will strive to be worthy of Christ, through their genuine witness. How beautiful is such a life of witness! Shall we not afford this to our younger generation?
3. Faith as the Golden Grain
The paddy field does not only grow and flourish with the water from the pond, but also yields fruit and gives way to the golden grain. The grain symbolizes the fruitfulness of the water, of the field and of the work itself. The farmer yearns for a good crop; he therefore does not grudge his work, his hardships and sacrifice. He does not do it with a servile mind, but with love and a desire to enjoy the fruit of his work. This fruit – the harvest – glitters before his eyes and fills him with joy. So is faith: it shines before men and brings joy.
The Church in Goa has enjoyed the fuits of her labours and she is grateful that God has enabled her to understand the feelings of the farmer. She has contributed a lot to the fields of education, social action and culture and has had the joy of seeing the golden grain.
3.1. Education – The Grain that Enlightens the Mind
To the Church, her educational activity is a ministry. She is under obligation to promote the welfare of the human family and to renew all things in Christ, in obedience to the mandate of Jesus (GE [Preface]). She continues to enfold everyone in her embrace, without discrimination of caste, creed, colour, state or language.
Education should lead to a personal encounter between God and the human being; this encounter will bear fruit in a life of personal values and respect for other people’s faith (AICEP 2007, 2.3.8). In order to make such a meaningful life a reality, parents, children and teachers need to fulfill their responsibility with seriousness.
a. Parents: The protection and guidance of children are entrusted to parents. While sending their children to school, in order to get them educated, parents should also take keen interest to see that their children’s faith formation is taken care of in the school; they should collaborate with the teachers and school authorities in giving good education to the children and encourage their wards to avail themselves of the facilities existing in the school (cf. TCS 73).
While working for their children’s education, parents should take great care to give them an all-round formation. For after all the education, if children are found
wanting in their respect for life, for elders and for women, the very role of parents and of education will come into question (cf. SDS 59).
Students need many things at school: books, writing material, shoes, etc. Children should be made to understand the need and the importance of such things, lest they fall into the temptation of hoarding (consumerism), leading them to greed, individualism, etc. While giving their children the things that they ask, parents ought also to give them the good things that no one can take away (cf. Lk. 10:42).
b. Children: The future of the Church, of the country or of a family is born in a child. With the child, grows also the bright hope of the future. Children, therefore, are the object of my special affection and hope-filled concern.
We need to help each child to realize that his/her life is a gift of God and a call to serve. From this point, it will be easy for the child to discern his/her calling and to understand in what way he/she can contribute to human life (AICEP 4.3). Knowing that he is called to be the light on the lampstand (Mt. 5:15), he must fulfill his responsibility with love. Children are to foster their own formation by observing religious duties at home, taking part in the family prayer with regularity, participating actively in the Holy Mass, attending catechesis without fail and being members of associations like Altar Servers, Parish Youth, Small Christian Communities, etc.
As school or college students, children are to seek answers to their life’s problems by reading and increasing their knowledge; they should try to shine in every field and to train themselves to think critically and in freedom; they need to be spiritually mature and of pleasant character and, acknowledging their freedom, they should take responsibility for their actions and live selflessly; yes, our children should show concern for the poor, offer strength to the oppressed and be like furnaces of renewal in today’s wounded situations. Finally, our children should take leadership in the work of teaching and proclaiming our faith in the parish and at school and try to shine out in the same.
In our Archdiocese we have a good many religious institutions and our own (diocesan) schools engaged in educational work in our pluralistic culture. With everyone’s collaboration, these institutions ought to be like beacons of Christian values.
c. Teachers: Teachers have a grave responsibility to help children be humane, empathize with the weak, be alert to social needs and to love their country. Through their very work, teachers have the power to build a new society. Each school depends on its teachers to fulfill this ideal (GE 8).
After home, children spend most of their time at school; at such times and through the school schedule, teachers should try to instill in their students an enthusiasm to lead lives of hope, high morals and endurance.
Besides communicating knowledge, our schools are to impart formation towards unity of the human family. In this way, they will not disseminate the mania of religious, caste or other such discrimination, but, by propagating teachings about the unity of humankind and about its common interests, will become builders of a strong and successful India.
‘Love your neighbour as you love God’ (cf. Lk. 10:27-28) is the first and the great commandment. If we do everything for the love of neighbour, leaving aside the love for God, our work will remain incomplete. Along with the parents, teachers too should try to impart faith formation to the children. To be successful in this mission, teachers are to deepen their own faith. Our Diocesan Catechetical Centre should organize seminars on faith formation and give them the needed support in this task.
3.2. Political Responsibility – The Grain of Truth and Justice
God created the world and entrusted it to human beings, to receive their yield from it (cf. Gen. 2:15). Many are the responsibilities attached to this task, especially in the social sphere. The political community, among other things, works for discipline within the social organization, for the safeguarding of justice and for the common welfare.
The organization of the society and its development should be at the service of the human family. All related action should be geared to securing dignity and a growing status to the human person and every effort is to be made to promote human development; if not, we may have a situation wherein “the man is made for the Sabbath” (cf. Mk. 2:27).
God created the world for the good of humankind and offered his only Son to give true happiness to man. Jesus lived among men, healed them of their sicknesses, gave them the new commandment of love and proclaimed that his mission was not to do away with the laws formulated for the good of man but to fulfill them (cf. Mt. 5:17).
God calls people to make and follow suitable laws. But when citizens find that the modus vivendi and operandi of those in authority is objectionable, these should be open to hear their dissenting voice and even to accept their loud protests. All this should be done in accordance with the natural law and gospel values (cf. GS 74).
This is a great responsibility and we are glad that Christian leaders too are active in political life and governance. They have a good opportunity to live by Christian principles and to witness to their faith in the organization of the society. As members of the political set-up, they need to shine out – in their town, constituency, district, state and even nation -- through their service rendered in the manner of Jesus (who loved everyone in the same way and who humbled himself to wash their feet), being genuinely and equally concerned for every person.
Jesus had compassion for the poor and the hungry; he understood the suffering of the sick, worked for them and brought solace in their difficult situation. Recognizing the worth of hard work and sacrifice, he greatly praised the widow’s mite. The one who pleases God is the one who gives by emptying oneself and not the one who accumulates wealth.
Being in authority entails being responsible. Public authority evolves from human nature, but this nature is God’s gift; hence, authority too comes from God and, therefore, it has to be used in a way that pleases him. Our leaders must be in the forefront to safeguard our environment, for our health depends on pure and green surroundings. There is need to promote industry and employment. Industries that safeguard the good of all are to be encouraged.
Politics is a sacred enterprise; the anxieties and the ideals of the people are entwined with it. Each citizen delegates his God-given power for governance to an elected candidate. He places his trust and confidence in the candidate and, making him a sharer in his power, strengthens him. Political leaders, therefore, need to take responsibility for the power invested on them by others and exercise their role as a sacred duty. Their deeds ought to lend a kind of sanctity to socio-political action and it must appear to the society that political leaders fulfill their duty in response to a divine call.
Unfortunately, the common man does not easily find this image reflected on the politicians. He rather finds that, where he had to get his work done free of charge, he actually has to pay more than what he earns. He thus becomes a victim of the system and is left wondering when he will be liberated from such a situation.
In the Old Testament, God reveals himself as a liberating God. In the New Testament, Jesus, the Leader of the new people, empties himself totally, so that human beings may gain true freedom. His self-emptying stands as a challenge to the life-witness a Christian political leader is called to give. We pray that we may get leaders who will truly serve the people, by forgetting themselves.
3.3. Business – The Grain of Honesty
God has filled the barns of the earth with everything human beings need and gave them power to bring out new things from the created world. By this, God keeps calling human beings to work selflessly for the good of others, fulfilling the law of justice, and to enjoy the fruit of their work.
Responding to this divine call, human beings work for their livelihood and for that of those who depend on them and, through this work, attain holiness. In this business, some are employers and others are employees. The employer organizes the work and assigns responsibilities to the employees so that their work may yield fruit; and, with his eyes fixed on the income, he encourages everyone to give of their best. The production increases the income and, on this strength, the work horizons too are expanded. The work of a businessman entails discipline and is done with foresight. It is sustained by a combination of insight and physical labour.
Many are the members of the Christian community that have been successful in their businesses, big or small. We are proud of their success. Gazing at the fruit of their work, like the Psalmist, we praise God for his works and designs (cf. Ps. 92:4-5).
Each person recognizes, in the depth of his conscience, a guiding principle that leads him to do good and to avoid evil, to choose one over another option. It is God who has inscribed this law in the heart of the human being; his greatness lies in obeying it and by it he shall be rewarded (cf. GS 16).
We seek to call upon God and invoke his presence and blessings at the beginning of our work: this is part of our culture. Indeed, it is a good practice to read the Word of God as we begin our work, for through it, God speaks to us and all who listen to him can bear much fruit in life. A business income makes for just wages for the employee (cf. Mt. 10:10) and also (sometimes) enables him to share in the profits and thus experience God’s generosity in his life. But very often the opposite takes place: practices like the use of violence, unlawful appropriation of others’ property and infringement of fundamental human rights have also found a place among the followers of Jesus, rendering them incapable of witnessing to a generous, loving and just God.
“Where there is money and power, there is the devil also,” we say this often, don’t we? I would not like to say that this is always true, but the seed of wisdom that this dictum contains puts us on guard against a daily temptation: of practising dishonesty and throwing an honourable life to the wind. This is a daily challenge for a Christian entrepreneur, which he/she has to fight off with the help of faith.
In the process of generating income, everyone’s cooperation is needed: of the employer and of the employee. Workers too need to own their responsibility and work with sincerity, seriousness, unity of purpose and love, for through this they give witness to Christ. If we fail to live and grow in justice, we shall be on par with the world; and what shall we profit if we gain the world and lose ourselves in the bargain? (cf. Lk. 9:25)
4. Paul: a Farmer
A farmer is strictly necessary to till the field, harvest it and collect the grain in due time. His field is his dream, for there his treasure is buried. He trusts in that treasure and, because it never fails him, he never ceases to lovingly work on it, come rain, cold, heat or floods. From the murky soil, through the fine grain, he reaps gold.
We find one such hope-filled and dedicated farmer in the vineyard of Jesus; Paul -- the Apostle of Jesus, conquered by a bright light on the way to Damascus. He is specially commemorated this year, his 2000th birth anniversary. The vineyard of
Jesus was his lifelong concern; there he went on sowing his Word (cf. 1 Cor. 3:6-10) spending his whole life on this task. His was a single dream: that others should share in his experience of the Risen Jesus, so that they too might enjoy eternal life through their faith in him: for this sake he became another Jesus to others (cf. Gal. 2:20).
The zeal and the enthusiasm of Paul were totally inspired by the love he had for Jesus. As a missionary, he went from place to place making new disciples for Jesus; as a catechist, he taught them to believe in the Master and, just as Jesus had sent forth his disciples as leaders to proclaim his good news to all peoples (Mt. 28:19), Paul chooses leaders and sends them to carry forth the mission of Christ (cf. Acts 14:23).
The Church in Goa has the experience of such ‘farming.’ She has sent her sons and daughters to far-off peoples with the seed of the Word of God. She has watered the vineyard of Christ in Africa, Latin America, Europe, Asia and in our very nation, giving birth also to religious institutes to carry on this task. God has indeed given this great privilege to us, his humble people!
4.1. A Farmer is a Missionary
Paul never remained in one place. He moved from town to town, as far as his sight took him (cf. Acts 13:4-6), proclaiming the Good News of Jesus, unceasingly. His Good News was the Kingdom of God, concerning which Jesus had begun his work (CCC 541-560). Jesus spends his whole life in this task and he promises blessedness to those who share in it (cf. Mt. 5:3-12), he challenges them (cf. Mt. 5:29), he teaches them (cf. Mt. 5:17-20) and announces the plan of communion and everlasting fruitfulness (cf. Mt. 24:1-25).
The revelation of God through the prophets and events was gradual till it reached its perfection in his Son (cf. Heb. 1:1-2). Jesus Christ is not, therefore, a prophet among others, but the eternal Son of God made man. Indeed, he “is the Father’s one, perfect and unsurpassable Word” (CCC 65). That is why the aim of Christian faith formation is to let others know who Jesus is, what is his life and his mission and to teach them to follow Him (CT 5).
The Church exists for the proclamation of the Gospel (EN 14), through which the human heart receives the Word of God and humanity renews itself (EN 18). All through his life, Paul went on proclaiming the love of God and his glory, revealed through Christ (cf. Col 1:26). He did not spare himself in this task, but boldly, like a courageous missionary, displayed a praiseworthy zeal (cf. 2 Cor. 11:24-28). Jesus is everything to him and he has to make him known everywhere: this becomes his lifelong mission.
It is the duty of every Christian to make Jesus known to others. Every faithful needs to proclaim the marvels of Christ, since God accomplished the history of our salvation through Christ, for Christ and in Christ (cf. Eph. 1:3-10). Our faith formation, both at home and in the parish, has to be such that helps us to take up this responsibility. This formation should lead to these two effects: first, the evolvement of a community that is in a constant process of formation and second, those who embrace Christian faith should find accompaniment and help to strengthen their faith and to grow in it (cf. GDC 69).
Blessed Joseph Vaz, son of Goa and born to our Church in Goa, is a great model for us. He did not hesitate to leave his dear ones for the sake of Jesus. Witnessing to God’s love through his loving service, he made disciples for Jesus in Sri Lanka. He is the Patron of our Archdiocese as well as one of our greatest inspirations.
Each faithful is a missionary. He is entrusted with the mission to proclaim Jesus. He needs to fulfill this mission faithfully and, to make his proclamation meaningful, he needs to go on with his faith formation. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Ho Amcho Bhavart and other such books can be of great help to us. To imbibe their teachings, we ought to take measures to have these books in our homes.
4.2. A Farmer is a Catechist
At the fullness of time, God offered his Son, Jesus Christ, for humankind. Jesus gave the world salvation, that is, the perfect gift of the Father. And the disciples of Jesus, moving about with him, listening to him and experiencing him, learnt his salvific economy and kept a written record of the same in the Gospels.
When Jesus was with his disciples, he became their teacher (cf. Mt. 23:10) and, at the same time,their eternal and faithful friend (cf. Jn. 15:15). As a teacher, Jesus took keen interest in their formation and often led them aside to explain and to help them understand all things (cf. Mk. 4:34).
In the school of Jesus, the Guru, the catechist involves himself closely in the mission of Jesus and, by God’s grace, he takes the responsibility of imparting his message (GDC 138). To be fruitful in this work of sharing the message, the catechist strengthens the bonds of his relationship with God, gains an experience of the living God and constantly seeks him, so as to enjoy always his guidance in life.
Filled with the experience of God, the catechist lives deeply in union with Jesus, whom he/she makes the centre of his/her life. Needless to say, without Jesus, the life of a catechist has no value. And the catechist knows that, once he has experienced Jesus so intensely in his life, his mission is not only to bring others to Jesus, but also to grow himself in his relationship and intimacy with the Master and take his life’s steps in conformity with his orientation and guidance (CT 5; CCC 521).
Paul does the same. In order to experience Jesus in depth, he seeks to know him more and more and, in this process, he establishes a deep communion with him. But, before this, he shares in his passion, he identifies himself with him in his death and he experiences the power of his resurrection (cf. Phil. 3:10). It is from the depths of this experience that he can exclaim with conviction that it is not he that lives any longer, but it is Christ who lives in him (Gal. 2:20). His great wealth is not only in that he has Christ for himself, but in that he can help others to experience Jesus deeply: this is his joy (cf. Phil. 1:18-26).
Filled with this joy, he moves from place to place to make new disciples for Jesus (cf. Acts 14:21) and carries on the work of proclamation, without even taking rest on the Sabbath day (cf. Acts 13:14). His strategy is not proclaiming the message and leaving his listeners untended. He remains with the people and strengthens them in their new-found doctrine (Acts 13:42-44); or, when he leaves them for another town or country, he continues to strengthem them in their faith through letters: such was his missionary method.
In each diocese, the Bishop is the first Catechist (GDC 222) (The priests working in the parish are his delegates) and in each family, the parents are the first catechists. Both need to exercise their responsibility for the faith formation of those under their care -- the Bishop for the Christian faithful and the parents for their children. With this formation, both adults and children will understand and try to live what is meant by the question, “What must I do to gain eternal life?” (Lk. 10:25)
We ought to be grateful to God that many young people in our parishes get involved in the work of catechesis. A good many of them are students. Still, they offer their only free day, the Sunday, in the service of the Church, to impart faith formation to the children. Their work as well as the work of our religion teachers in our Catholic schools is a voluntary service deserving praise and appreciation. Through this work of theirs they become sharers in the prophetic function of Christ and, through the service of the Word, they proclaim the message of Jesus. In doing so, they neither replace the parents nor do they give them a holiday; they only collaborate with the parents in the faith formation of their children. The responsibility of the parents to complete this faith formation of the children and to make it fruitful is not reduced. That is why our old mothers and other elders would make time, especially at the evening Angelus, to give us basic catechesis. We need to re-discover the importance of such a time in our family, for, through this, we will see the image of the Guru coming alive from our homes. In this teacher-student relationship, love and concern become visible and communion is given a chance to grow. Not availing ourselves of this opportunity is tantamount to wasting a chance of creating an environment for communion.
Parents need to foster their children’s faith formation also through family celebrations. There are many opportunities for this. When a child receives any sacrament, children can be given an input on the sacrament; when someone dies in the family or in the ward, they can be told what resurrection is about; at harvest time, they can be taught to thank God for the gift of the grain, etc. Such are the occasions when we can continue to form the faith of our children.
Since our catechists work as close collaborators of the parents, the pastors in the parish need to be concerned about the faith formation of the catechists too. The catechists should be given opportunities to grow in the experience of the living God through group prayer, recollections, bible study, etc. (GCD 114).
The Diocesan Catechetical Centre needs to organize formation seminars for the catechists at different places and create opportunities that will enable them to experience God. Thus catechists will grow in their personal experience of God and will joyfully share the same with others. To be fruitful in their task, catechists must come together at least once a month. At such meetings they can discuss about their work, the children’s Mass, the involvement of the parents, etc.
Our catechists should take part in the various seminars organized by our Catechetical Centre. They need to draw the most from JESUZ, TICCAS and ACAZ meetings. Our priests and school managements ought to give them all the necessary encouragement and support.
Pastors have a great responsibility for the faith formation in our parishes (GCD 110). This formation needs to be perfected through the liturgy and during the preparation for the various sacraments. In the early centuries, the Church flourished and became firm through catechesis during liturgy. By sharing their pastoral plans with the catechists, priests must become the first formators. In this way, understanding the ideals of their pastor, the catechists will be able to work with the same vision.
It is of paramount importance that faith formation as well as faith education be imparted in our ABE schools. Through this, the influence of Christian principles will become more visible to all. To celebrate our faith in schools, the First Friday Mass should be promoted regularly and so also the school assembly should help everyone begin the day in a proper way.
Many Religious in our Archdiocese are well qualified in imparting faith education. They should offer their voluntary service and others should try to benefit from the same.
We have one challenge to meet: to maintain the sanctity of our Goan culture. The environment, tourism, etc. seek our response in faith. Some incidents that have taken place in Goa recently and the level of involvement of Christians therein reveal to us that there is much that we need to do. To give a faith response to situations like these, we need to be constantly engaged in our own faith formation.
4.3. A Farmer is a Leader
The farmer takes the leadership in the harvesting of his field. But he needs to realise that all wisdom is not with him alone. He depends on others too and avails of their experience; to get a good yield, he exercises a collaborative leadership, which earns for him other people’s regard and enables him to encourage others and bring about fruitfulness.
Jesus chooses his disciples (Mk. 3:13-19)), forms them for leadership and sends them as leaders to all nations, to make disciples for him. The Acts of the Apostles give an account of their leadership work and of their faithful witness to Jesus. The apostles too choose others and make them leaders to carry on the mission of Jesus (Acts 15:35).
Paul would go from place to place to proclaim Jesus and to make disciples for him. He never thought much about himself nor did he pretend to be centre stage; on the contrary, for him, what matters is the mission of Jesus and its advancement. For this reason he appointed some elders and, entrusting the leadership to them, he would move to the next place (Acts 14: 23).
Through our baptism we have met Jesus and we have shared in his threefold mission of Priest, Prophet and Leader. Christ made us leaders right from our Christian birth; we will thus be able to carry on his mission in an organized way and show the impact of Jesus in our lifestyle.
If a leader wants to walk under the guidance of Christ, he needs to try and seek his faith response at every stage of his life and also take advantage of the opportunities offered by the Church.
During his younger days, he is given a good opportunity to work on his faith formation by joining the Parish Youth Association. Our Diocesan Youth Centre should take the necessary measures to impart faith formation to the youth, in keeping with the situation and the challenges of the modern times. Young age spells strength and hope; in it lies our future. Focussing on this future, the Church places her trust in them and has them as an object of particular concern.
As the youth grows and gets ready to take leadership in the family, he needs to go on with his faith formation, especially through a thorough understanding of the sacrament of matrimony. Our parish priests should be wholeheartedly involved in this process.
Our Diocesan Family Service Centre conducts valuable sessions for the engaged couples; in order to maintain their impact even after marriage, it could also hold some follow-up sessions during married life, to a great advantage of the couples.
As an adult leader in his ward and parish, he needs to go on witnessing to his faith. With this need in mind, our Diocesan Pastoral Secretariat could draw up and organize some seminars on faith formation for the Small Christian Communities.
The television and the Internet are affordable to all, today. Taking advantage of these media too, some good programmes, with moral and religious teachings, can be produced. Our Diocesan Centre for Social Communications Media could take firm steps in this direction.
In this way, each of the Christian faithful will involve himself or herself in the building of God’s kingdom, according to his or her own capacity. Thus he will enrich not only the Christian community, but will be enriched himself as well with the help of people of other faiths.
Mary: a Faithful Worker
Many are the workers who, through their pious work, have harvested in the fertile field of the Father. Mary, as the Mother of God, has worked in this field with great love. Hers was a work of faith and of giving glory to God. Right from her first yes to God’s plan, she teaches us that all that comes from God is good and that we ought to always say yes.
Her initial yes was not uttered in a peaceful ambience; it was indeed after conquering the fear of being shot into notoriety that she gave God her yes; it was the yes of a faithful who had placed all her trust in God. By uttering such an yes, Mary did not keep it within a private relationship with God, lived in the silence of her heart, but took a very active part in the mission of her Son Jesus: as a true Christian --- she is the First Disciple of Jesus! -- she embraces a life of a shining and faithful witness.
In this way, Mary becomes a catechist. She offers her Son the opportunity of being present in the life and service of others (cf. Jn. 2:3) and calls others to do whatever he tells them to do (cf. Jn. 2:5). She learnt to give the message of God through the events of her life and, in this way, shed the radiance of this message on others (cf. Jn. 2:11).
Jesus preached the Good News of the Kingdom not only sitting in the synagogue, but also entering houses, moving through the fields, walking on the seashore, sitting on a hill, etc. He transformed the opportunity into his message. Mary uses the same method: she grabs the opportunity and gives the message, be it during her visit to her cousin or at the wedding at Cana or at the foot of the Cross. She is the First Disciple of the Master: she keeps on giving the message and witnessing to it through her life. She is the mother of the deep faith-experience, the disciple who is fully focussed and the catechist who is powerful in her few words and silent speech.
The pilgrimage of Mary is silent. She came to Bethlehem to offer Jesus to humanity, and finally, at the foot of the cross, as she embraces him, she completes that oblation. If she seems to shine in the initial and final events of the life of Jesus, it is true that she worked to let him shine in his public life too. In this silent activity, she fulfilled the Word that she heard (cf. Lk. 8:21) and so she became an enthusiastic missionary – to fulfill and proclaim the will of the Father; a farmer – to carry out the
will of the Father and make it fruitful; a leader – to lead others to the spring of the living Word.
As a mother, Mary is a member of a family; yet, she knows to give her time to the Father. She is a vibrant inspiration and example to our families; she is our intercessor. Our families need to walk with her and learn a great deal from her.
This Letter has been an expression of my concern that all the members of our Diocese should be truly and perfectly formed in their faith. As I conclude it, dear sisters and brothers, I raise a fervent wish that, helped by the reflections made above and by the various other teachings and writings quoted therein, we may deepen our roots in our faith and come to spread the glow of Jesus.
Pope John Paul II of happy memory, in His Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici, reminds us that God calls all his children to grow and be fruitful (cf. CL 57). We cannot ignore this call of God; we have to respond to it in a personal way. In the context of this call and response, the same Pope teaches that Christian formation is a continuous maturation in faith and a likening to Christ. Therefore, the formation of the Christian faithful has to be the main concern in a Diocesan Pastoral Plan. And this was also the point of this Letter.
Since Christians are to be found in all age groups and categories, I appeal that everyone should take keen interest in this common task.
Priests should be intensely involved in their own faith formation. With the help of theological and spiritual writings, prayer and reflection as well as conferences, etc. they should strive to deepen their faith and give out a shining witness to it.
The Religious need to pursue the deepening of their faith with enthusiasm, be it in their communities or at common meetings like those of the C.R.I. and even through special programmes and activities.
Many are those who are preparing themselves to embrace the priesthood or religious life in our houses of formation. They must receive adequate help from their formators to understand their faith through what they learn and do, and to live it out in their daily life.
There are quite a number of apostolic groups in our parishes. With the help of the Word of God and of their statutes, the members of these groups need to discover what kind of Christian witness they are called to give and to radiate their faith by generously placing themselves at the service of others.
Parents and elders should strive to make their home a temple of faith and their family a school of communion. Built on prayer, may our families be fruitful in faith formation and rich in vocations.
Catechists are like beacons of faith in our parishes and schools. They are to remember that, because they carry forward the ministry of the Church through their work, they need, first and foremost, to shine in their own faith witness.
Our children and young adults reflect to us the smiling face of the Church. We see in them our bright future. They should joyfully cherish their faith formation and make all efforts to spread the fragrance of Jesus through their life.
In the work of faith formation, the greatest model for us is Mary, the Mother of Jesus. She undertook a pilgrimage of God’s love, along with her Son, who grew in age, wisdom and grace (Lk 2: 52). The followers of Christ invoke her help with trust. May she accompany us in our pilgrimage of faith, helping us to bear the imprint of her Son in our lifestyle. May Paul the Apostle, who exclaimed “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me,” be our inspiration to mould ourselves into and to radiate the image of Christ. May St. Francis Xavier, whose heart was on fire with the love of Jesus, inflame our hearts with the joy of our faith. And may Blessed Joseph Vaz, a great catechist from our soil and the Patron of our Archdiocese, teach us to remain faithful to the message of Jesus, even through the difficulties of life.
I wish all of you a grace-filled Pastoral Year.
Archbishop’s House, Panjim, Goa, Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, May 30, 2008.
+ Filipe Neri Ferrão
Archbishop of Goa and Daman
A.A. - Apostolicam Actuositatem
A.B.E. - Archdiocesan Board of Education
ACAZ - Animators of Catechetical Activities in Zones
A.G. - Ad Gentes
A.I.C.E P. - All India Catholic Education Policy 2007
C.C.C. - Catechism of the Catholic Church
C.L. - Christifideles Laici
C.R.I. - Conference of Religious, India
C.T. - Catechesi Tradendae
E.N. - Evangelii Nuntiandi
F.C. - Familiaris Consortio
G.C. - Gonvllik Chitt
G.C.D. - General Catechetical Directory
G.D.C. - General Directory for Catechesis
G.E. - Gravissimum Educationis
G.S. - Gaudium et Spes
JESUZ - Jezucheam Sondexkarancho Urbhevont Zobabdari
S.C. - Sacrosanctum Concilium
S.D.S. - Statement of the Diocesan Synod
T.C.S. - The Catholic School (Cong. For Catholic Education)
TICCAS - Teachers In-charge of Catechetical Activities in Schools