My homily for Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve 2016

I spent ages thinking about what to say this evening… well, when I say ages, I mean, about 30 minutes. The trouble is there is so much I could say. Now if I said everything I wanted to say we’d be here till the morning mass starts at 9 a.m. By which time you’d probably all have gone or you’d be asleep! Which reminds me of a joke Tommy Cooper told, about his local priest. This priest was preaching one night and noticed a man in the front row fast asleep! So he said to the person beside him, “Can you wake him up”? The man replied, “I don’t think that would be right”. “Why not”? Said the priest. “Because, said the man, “I wasn’t the one who put him to sleep”! I don’t want to put you to sleep either, and it was with that in mind that I had to decide what to say in a few words… well, perhaps more than a few, but I promise I won’t preach till tomorrow morning!

Actually, the summary in the Sunday missal, which many of you have, sums up nicely everything I want to say: ‘Tonight we celebrate the birth of a child who was to bring the joy of God’s saving love to the whole world’. I reflected on the key words in that sentence: night or darkness, then joy and love. And I see a contrast between dark and light: on this dark night, a light has come into the world. That light is Christ, the son of God. Now he didn’t come into the world to remain in a crib, but by his life to bring us light, peace, joy and love. This was why he was born. This is what we believe, this is our faith. This is why we are here.

Isaiah predicted this in the first reading. He is a great prophet; it isn’t Christmas without the readings from the prophet Isaiah. They are so uplifting and optimistic. I’ve chosen just a few lines from what he said in our first reading: ‘…on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone…For the yoke that was weighing on him, the bar across his shoulders, the rod of his oppressor, these you break…’ The first part is about shadow or darkness and light. Surely, most of us can sometimes live in a ‘land of deep shadow’… Some people live in darkness for a long time; and I don’t mean they’re blind, or don’t see the sun. And yet some of the people I know who live in darkness seem not to have a care in the world. You remember that lovely Pope John Paul I, who lived for just 33 days. I’m sure you’ll remember his smile. “Yes, I smile, he told a reporter, and I always will smile, but inside I’m suffering”.

Then Isaiah speaks about oppression. Again, it can be a common experience; we don’t literally have that yoke Isaiah speaks about weighing us down or a bar across our shoulders. But we can be weighed down by circumstances in life. Life can be cruel and unfair, life can be heavy and hard to bear. No one gets through life without experiencing some kind of oppression. For some its heavier than others; but for all of us its unpleasant. But notice the prophet Isaiah he doesn’t finish on a downer; of course not, he goes on to tell us how this yoke, this bar will be broken. ‘On those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone.’ And that light we are celebrating tonight. It is why we are here. That light is Christ, a sweet and fragile baby, but this baby is the Son of God. And for this reason, and for good reason, we rejoice.

This time of the year the days start to get longer; we are past the winter solstice; more light is coming into our world. I love this phenomenon, even though we don’t see the extra light for a while, but I know for certain that the days are getting longer, in spite of the dark clouds and rain. And this thought makes me happy. We should be happy tonight, because on this very night Christ our Saviour was born for us. He has come to set us free from the yoke and the bar of oppression, from whatever it is that make us unhappy. He has come as light into our darkness.

To finish, I want to refer to another Pope, many of you will remember Pope John XXIII, now a saint. And you may remember the night of his election, how he talked to the crowd in such homely terms. He told them to go home and to kiss their children for him. He had filled them with hope and peace, and he wanted them not to keep it to themselves but to share it with others, especially their families. Well, tonight, I ask you to go home and share the good news that you have just heard with others, with those you love and care for. Tell them what you have heard: that God loves you in this holy babe; that this child has come to give us all a peace that is greater than any suffering, and light that is greater than any darkness.

My homily for 4th Sunday of Advent

4th Sunday of Advent (c) 2016

‘Mary’s husband Joseph, being a man of honour…decided to divorce her informally.’ Taken out of context, this is shocking news: but, if you see the story from Joseph’s point of view it’s understandable.

I want to tell the story from Joseph’s point of view. Scripture only gives us the bare outline, in other words it tells us hardly anything about Joseph and how he felt and what he said to Mary. And because Scripture tells us so little I want to use my imagination to speculate what might have happened. It’s a bit like telling a story.

Imagine the day Joseph made this decision, it started off, I suspect, like a normal day in Joseph’s life, except he is excited about getting married to Mary so that they can live together. He loves her and wants to spend the rest of his life with her. He is so happy, he dreams of their life together, of their children, what they will be like. But then disaster strikes and his life is turned upside down. It begins when he sees Mary looking very serious, this is not like her. He asks her what’s the matter. She looks at him, in a way that she has never looked at him before, and Joseph instinctively knows something has changed in Mary. He waits for her to speak, but poor Mary, where does she begin? She must have agonized about what she was going to say, and would he believe her.

She asks him to sit down, that she has something very important she wants to tell him. Well, she says, you are not going to believe this, and I have no way of explaining what happened simply, what I am going to say won’t make sense to you, but I want you to believe me. At which point, you can imagine how confused Joseph felt. Mary told him, “I had a strange and wonderful experience. An angel of the Lord appeared to me, he said his name was Gabriel, and told me all sorts of wonderful things: how I was blessed by God, how I was specially chosen, and then he told me I was to conceive and bear a son, and that I must name him Jesus, and he will be son of the Most High.” She paused, looking for a reaction in Joseph’s face, but he was by now looking at the ground, she knew he didn’t understand a word she was saying. Then she added, just so that he would at least understand one simple point, “I’m pregnant.”

We don’t know what Joseph said in reply, but we do know for certain that he wanted to divorce her, ‘Joseph being a man of honour, the Gospel tells us, decided to divorce her informally.’ We don’t know what he said to Mary but we can imagine at the very least he asked: “how can you be so sure?” “How do you know you weren’t dreaming?” “Could it be that you imagined all this?” “How do you know it was the angel of the Lord?” We will never know what Mary said, but we do know that in spite of her insistence that it really happened as she said, Joseph did not believe her.

It must have been the saddest moment of his life. He loves Mary and wants desperately to believe her, but things like this don’t happen in the real world. And so, he is left with no other choice but to divorce her. And with that in his mind he walks out of her house and, as he then thought, out of her life forever.

But all is not lost, we know that Joseph changed his mind; it was a miracle, divine intervention. We are told that ‘an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.’ And basically tells him to believe Mary, that all she said was true, ‘Joseph…do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit.’ We cannot even begin to imagine how Joseph must have felt now; how he couldn’t wait to see Mary to tell her it was alright; that he believed her, because he too had seen an angel and the angel confirmed everything she had said.

Joseph, the central character of the gospel today, in some way represents us all. He is slow to believe; someone who wants to believe but can’t. Joseph wasn’t convinced until God intervened in a miraculous way.

We are so familiar with the Christmas story that we can be forgiven for taking it all for granted: Angel of the Lord appears to Mary, she conceives by the Holy Spirit, Mary says ‘thy will be done’, gives birth to Jesus, the son of God.’ Simple, where is the problem?

However, now and again, it is good to be reminded that it wasn’t so simple. The story of Christmas is a story for everyone: adults as well as children. It is a story about God and us, and therefore it is both ordinary and extraordinary, normal and abnornal. Do we believe it? Or are we like Joseph, sceptical? These things don’t happen in the real world? The Gospel tells us they do. And if we believe this, then we will really have understood the message of Christmas. Like Joseph and Mary, we shall be over the moon with joy and thanksgiving. It is a message of hope like no other.

‘Come & See’ Day on22nd April 2017

We are giving good notice of a ‘Come & See’ Day at our Tabor Carmelite Retreat House, in Preston, on Saturday 22nd April 2017. We had a similar day in London which went well. Those who came got a lot out of the day.

There are vocations, but not as many as before. The Lord hasn’t stopped calling people. I believe young people will happily dedicated their lives to God in Carmel for life, if God is calling them to do so.

A day like this is set out to help people who feel called to something but they don’t know what. It will be a day of discernment. It will be interesting to meet others who are in a similar situation, as well as meet those who have been in Religious life for many years.

It will be open to men and women, and there will be no upper age limit. More about this later.


Our Come and See Day in London. Looking at Carmelite Saints

Called to be a Missionary

Working Abroad As a Discalced Carmelite

The first point that comes to mind as I begin this article is that I never asked nor intended to go abroad when I joined the Order back in 1975. I presumed that I would be based in England and remain there for the rest of my life. However, God in His providence had other ideas. I have ended up living in several different countries. All this began shortly after my ordination in 1982. The following year I went to study spirituality in Rome. I must admit I did ask to go to Rome to do further studies, but this was the one and only time I did. I did this because I wanted to know more about spirituality in general and our Carmelite spirituality in particular. I could not have gone to a better place than our pontifical college in Rome. It was hard work, studying always is. Being an extrovert I didn’t always find it easy to sit in my room for hours with my head in a book. At the end of the two year course I remember sharing with a friend my misgivings at how little I knew, especially when people would consider me to be an expert. Instead of returning to England I took someone’s advice and spent the next three months in Spain, to explore the places connected with St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. I even began to learn a little Spanish which was to prove useful many years later.

My next experience of living overseas occurred many years later when I was asked in 1998 to go to Jerusalem. Wow, this came like a bolt out of the blue. We Discalced Carmelites had been chaplains in the Notre Dame Centre, Jerusalem, a Vatican run institute, since the early 1990’s. Someone from our Province was leaving and so I was asked to replace him. What an opportunity. I left on 11th November 1998, I shall never forget it. I said a sad farewell to my mother and father at the airport; they were old by now, and in fact, my father died a few months later. I was terribly home sick at first, which was unlike me; I was happy to be in the Holy Land but the community I was asked to join was… how shall I say, dysfunctional and challenging. In spite of this I was to come to love the place and was so sorry when I had to leave almost five years later.

I could never adequately describe all that I experienced in those years. I was living just 5 minutes away from the very place where Christ died and rose again, I could walk up the Mount of Olives as Christ had done 2000 years earlier, I would often visit the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, Nazareth and Cana and other places that would have been so familiar to Christ. Unlike the many pilgrims who came for just a few days, I had years to experience it all. It was such a privilege to be there and to get to know these places so well.

Jerusalem is the most interesting and liveliest city I have ever lived in. I got to know members from all three of the major religions: Jews, Christians and Muslims. I studied modern Hebrew during the day, making friends with my Jewish classmates. The staff in the Notre Dame Centre were Christian Arabs, Palestinians, proud people. They too became my friends. If only the two sides would trust each other it would be a great country, but there lies the problem; a lack of trust.

The highlight of my stay in Jerusalem was the visit of Pope John Paul II in 2000. I went to see him in Bethlehem and I saw him again in our Notre Dame Centre a few days later. He was old and tired and held his head in his hand as if it were too heavy. It was a great blessing for the country. Later that same year the second Palestinian Intifada began. It was a difficult and dangerous time to be in Jerusalem. There were many bombs exploding near our Centre, people were being killed and maimed all around us. On one occasion while I was walking along one of the main streets in modern, West Jerusalem, a suicide bomber blew herself up. I was far enough away not to be hurt but I shall never forget the noise: she was, in fact, the first female bomber to do this. I visited people in hospital, particularly Filipinos, who had been unfortunate to be on a bus when suicide bombers got on. It was always risky to get on a bus, you just never knew. The violence came closer to home when one day two of our staff, who had been laid off, attacked the Priest in charge of the Centre, they then ransacked the dining room and several of the cars outside, beating up another manager on the way. One of my confreres came white-faced and shouting into our place, ‘they’re going to kill us.’ Fortunately, we were not touched.

I went to Bethlehem to demonstrate with other Christians when the Israeli army besieged that holy city. I remember seeing a remarkable sight: a man and his wife with a baby in her arms standing before the tanks, they were trying to escape the violence. I thought of a similar scene 2000 years earlier, when Mary carried Jesus with Joseph leading them out of Bethlehem to escape the violence of Herod. While demonstrating some Israeli soldiers called me over. I thought they would mock me but on the contrary they were almost apologetic for being there, they didn’t like the settlers, the radical Zionists, who were the cause of so much trouble. That same afternoon I ended up at another demonstration, this time not so peaceful. I experienced stun grenades and tear gas for the first time in my life: it’s quite frightening at first.

I joined a Jewish-Arab peace group, and did a little demonstrating with placards. On one occasion I met the BBC journalist John Simpson, there were always lots of media folk around. I felt it was important to do something, however little, to bring about peace, and to strive for justice for the Palestinian Arabs in particular. I could go on as there is so much more I could tell you about the experiences I had, the places I visited and the people I met, but this isn’t the place; suffice to say, it was all a privilege for which I often thanked God.

Just when I thought I was on my way back to the UK, I was asked to go to Rome, to work in our head office as a Secretary. Wow! Back to Rome, only this time not as a student but to work in our HQ. I spent the next six years sitting in my own office in front of a computer – I’d never had an office before. Much of my work was translating documents, talks and letters from Spanish, or Italian, occasionally French into English. I did smile at the thought that now I had studied six languages and yet, years ago, failed French O level twice!   I was nervous at first, everything being new, and knowing that what I translated would be read by the entire English speaking Carmelite world. However, after a while I settled down and gained more confidence. I must say that the General, Luis Arostegui, was a delight to work for; never once did he criticise my work, even though I am sure I gave him cause to. I worked hard for him and at the end, in preparation for the General Chapter, I worked too hard, getting up early, going to bed late, not sleeping well, missing prayer to get everything ready in time for the said Chapter. In the end I got ill; this was a first. However, by that stage most of the work was ready, thank God.

The community at the Generalate was a large one, twenty five when we were all there, from thirteen different nations. I did enjoy the privilege of being with fellow Carmelites from all over the world. I enjoyed meeting visitors who came to see the General. We often welcomed our Carmelite bishops and Provincials; there were constant meetings going on at our place. I can say I worked hard in Rome, in contrast to Jerusalem, there was not much time for social life. However, I did take time off when I could. I loved to go to the cinema, in part to improve my Italian, but also because I love cinema. I also liked to go out for a pizza if I could once a week

Rome has much to offer; its beauty, its history, its buildings, especially St Peter’s, the Coliseum and the Pantheon, its weather, its fine foods and wines. I enjoyed all those things. I tried to walk every day, often walking in the nearby, beautiful Borghese gardens. On Sundays I often walked to St. Peter’s, which took less than an hour. I enjoyed seeing the many tourists from all over the world. I didn’t enjoy Italian politics; it was the days of the Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. More than once I went onto the streets with thousands of others to demonstrate. Romans are great demonstrators.

People often ask me if I met the Pope. I didn’t, at least not one to one. I was there when Pope John Paul II died. It was a special time, a time of collective mourning. His funeral was extraordinary; there has never been such a collection of world leaders on one occasion. I was there too for the election of Cardinal Ratzinger, who would become Benedict XVI. I was blessed to be in Rome for both these occasions. Again, there is much more I could tell you about my time in Rome, but my six years quickly came to an end. I had asked to leave. I strongly suspected that if I didn’t ask I would be left there, but I wanted to return to my Province. I always believed that a lay person should be doing the job I was doing, and maybe in the future that will happen. While I was in Rome my mother died and in my last months I heard my brother and sister both had terminal cancer.  The next year was to be one of the most difficult in my life.

My last venture overseas was in January of this year, to Malawi. Like all the others, it came out of the blue. I was sitting down in my room in London when a phone call came from Rome. It was the General Definitor responsible for Africa, whom I had got to know at our Head Office. To cut a long story short he asked me to go to Africa for six months to help out in a community in Malawi where they were short of personnel. As it happens I was not doing much and just waiting for the Provincial Chapter in five months time. I did not hesitate to say yes, and flew to Africa for the first time in my life. This was another wow experience.

My time in Africa was special. I was entering into a whole new world, one that I had seen on television but never thought I would be there. I took to Africa not quite like a duck takes to water, but along those lines. I was hesitant at first, being the only white man in my area, but soon I realized that didn’t matter, and that I was quite safe. I worked in a Retreat Centre midway between two large towns, large by Malawi standards, so, in fact, I was in the country. Where do I begin to describe so many small but meaningful experiences?  First of all there was my community of three; I made up the third. From the start I was made to feel at home, and I did. I am a people’s person and if I like people I can feel at home anywhere. We spoke English at meal times, which was very generous of my confreres. All the liturgy was in English, so that I could celebrate mass and hear confessions, give talks. I was given the task of supervising our piggery: we kept about 20 pigs in order to make a bit more money. There we were constantly having to think of money. It was expensive to travel. To fill up a car cost the equivalent of two weeks wages for most people. So we had to think: could we afford to travel.

I liked the food but could have eaten more. They eat a lot of chicken; at a restaurant I went to there were 12 items on the menu, 10 of them were chicken. Many people, even the more sophisticated eat with their fingers. Almost every day we ate ‘Tsima’, a mixture of maize and flour, I got to like it in the end. After lunch I would go out for a walk along the road that led to the nearest town, on Sundays I would go further, walking for a couple of hours. When I ventured into any little village I would be a curiosity for the people. However, they were always friendly, their instinct was to smile. Often I would be joined in my walk by others. I remember two young boys joined me on more than one occasion; they seemed to be waiting for me. They told me it took them two hours to walk to school every day!  They did not have the money to pay even for a bike. In fact, people used bikes as taxis. Many people walked barefoot.

Blantyre was the nearest town, named after Livingstone, the famous Scottish explorer’s home town. I celebrated mass on several Sundays for the university students. What a privilege that was. I loved the singing and the dancing; everyone dances, it just comes so naturally. I even overcame my lack of confidence and clapped or moved with the music. The chapel would be packed with the most enthusiastic, bright and intelligent young men and women in Malawi. I also celebrated mass for our local girls’ boarding school. When they sang they almost lifted the roof off, their singing was almost physical. After mass at the university I sometimes went to an orphanage run by an Englishman called ‘Open Arms.’ I could write reams about this place alone, but suffice to say it was one of the most special places I have ever visited. There were scores of young orphans, all being looked after by a dedicated staff. You wouldn’t be there long before you would feel two little arms gripping your leg.  I would look down and see a baby with two huge eyes pleading to be lifted up and held. Many of the children’s parents had died of Aids. This was my first experience of this dreadful disease that was devastating Malawian society. The life expectancy there is much lower than it is in England. I attended three priest’s funerals in four months. There is so much more I could say but again this is not the time. Suffice to say that something of Africa and Malawi in particular will always stay with me.

What have I learned from my time abroad, in all thirteen years? I have learned that people are essentially the same where ever you go; they all have the same needs, hopes and fears. I have learned that most people are good and honest, kind and generous. It has been a privilege to travel to all these places for which I give thanks to God and to my Order for giving me this opportunity. I shall be quite now happy to settle down here in the UK and to share what I have experienced, but who knows what God has in store for me; and this is so important, to be open to God’s will, to be available and to be willing to serve the Order wherever. Everywhere I have gone I could see the importance of preaching the Gospel message of hope and love and peace. We Carmelites are missionaries, as Teresa wanted us to be. We have been given a great gift with the charism of St. Teresa, the world is hungry for her teaching; to know how beautiful, how precious, each person is in the sight of God.

The Pope wrote this recently about vocations

Led by the Spirit for Mission

The Pope’s Message for the 54th World Day of Prayer for Vocations

In the last few years, we have considered two aspects of the Christian vocation: the summons to “go out from ourselves” to hear the Lord’s voice, and the importance of the ecclesial community as the privileged place where God’s call is born, nourished and expressed.

Now, on this 54th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, I would like to reflect on the missionary dimension of our Christian calling. Those who drawn by God’s voice and determined to follow Jesus soon discover within themselves an irrepressible desire to bring the Good News to their brothers and sisters through proclamation and the service of charity. All Christians are called to be missionaries of the Gospel! As disciples, we do not receive the gift of God’s love for our personal consolation, nor are we called to promote ourselves, or a business concern. We are simply men and women touched and transformed by the joy of God’s love, who cannot keep this experience just to ourselves. For “the Gospel joy which enlivens the community of disciples is a missionary joy (Evangelii Gaudium, 21).

Commitment to mission is not something added on to the Christian life as a kind of decoration, but is instead an essential element of faith itself. A relationship with the Lord entails being sent out into the world as prophets of His word and witnesses of His love.

Even if at times we are conscious of our weaknesses and tempted to discouragement, we need to turn with God with confidence. We must overcome a sense of our own inadequacy and not yield to pessimism, which merely turns us into passive spectators of a dreary and monotonous life. There is no room for fear! God himself comes to cleanse our “unclean lips” and equip us for the mission: “Your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out. Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I, send me’” (Is 6:6-8).

In the depths of their heart, all missionary disciples hear this divine voice bidding them to “go about”, as Jesus did, “doing good and healing all” (cf. Acts 10:38). I have mentioned that, by virtue of baptism, every Christian is a “Christopher”, a bearer of Christ, to his brothers and sisters (cf. Catechesis, 30 January 2016). This is particularly the case with those called to a life of special consecration and with priests, who have generously responded, “Here I am, Lord, send me!” With renewed missionary enthusiasm, priests are called to go forth from the sacred precincts of the temple and to let God’s tender love overflow for the sake of humanity (cf. Homily at the Chrism Mass, 24 March 2016). The Church needs such priests: serenely confident because they have discovered the true treasure, anxious to go out and joyfully to make it known to all (cf. Mt 13:44).

Certainly many questions arise when we speak of the Christian mission. What does it mean to be a missionary of the Gospel? Who gives us the strength and courage to preach? What is the evangelical basis and inspiration of mission? We can respond to these questions by meditating on three scenes from the Gospels: the inauguration of Jesus’ mission in the synagogue at Nazareth (cf. Lk 4:16-30); the journey that, after His resurrection, He makes in the company of the disciples of Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:13-35) and, finally, the parable of the sower and the seed (cf. Mt 4:26-27).

Jesus is anointed by the Spirit and sent. To be a missionary disciple means to share actively in the mission of Christ. Jesus Himself described that mission in the synagogue of Nazareth in these words: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Lk 4:18-19). This is also our mission: to be anointed by the Spirit, and to go out to our brothers and sisters in order to proclaim the word and to be for them a means of salvation.

Jesus is at our side every step of the way. The questions lurking in human hearts and the real challenges of life can make us feel bewildered, inadequate and hopeless. The Christian mission might appear to be mere utopian illusion or at least something beyond our reach. Yet if we contemplate the risen Jesus walking alongside the disciples of Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:13-15), we can be filled with new confidence. In that Gospel scene, we have a true “liturgy of the street”, preceding that of the word and the breaking of the bread. We see that, at every step of the way, Jesus is at our side! The two disciples, overwhelmed by the scandal of the cross, return home on the path of defeat. Their hearts are broken, their hopes dashed and their dreams shattered. The joy of the Gospel has yielded to sadness. What does Jesus do? He does not judge them, but walks with them. Instead of raising a wall, He opens a breach. Gradually He transforms their discouragement. He makes their hearts burn within them, and He opens their eyes by proclaiming the word and breaking the bread. In the same way, a Christian does not bear the burden of mission alone, but realises, even amid weariness and misunderstanding, that “Jesus walks with him, speaks to him, breathes with him, works with him. He senses Jesus alive with him in the midst of the missionary enterprise” (Evangelii Gaudium, 266).

Jesus makes the seed grow. Finally, it is important to let the Gospel teach us the way of proclamation. At times, even with the best intentions, we can indulge in a certain hunger for power, proselytism or intolerant fanaticism. Yet the Gospel tells us to reject the idolatry of power and success, undue concern for structures, and a kind of anxiety that has more to do with the spirit of conquest than that of service. The seed of the Kingdom, however tiny, unseen and at times insignificant, silently continues to grow, thanks to God’s tireless activity. “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep or rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how” (Mk 4:26-27). This is our first reason for confidence: God surpasses all our expectations and constantly surprises us by His generosity. He makes our efforts bear fruit beyond all human calculation.

With this confidence born of the Gospel, we become open to the silent working of the Spirit, which is the basis of mission. There can be no promotion of vocations or Christian mission apart from constant contemplative prayer. The Christian life needs to be nourished by attentive listening to God’s word and, above all, by the cultivation of a personal relationship with the Lord in Eucharistic adoration, the privileged “place” for our encounter with God.

I wish heartily to encourage this kind of profound friendship with the Lord, above all for the sake of imploring from on high new vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life. The People of God need to be guided by pastors whose lives are spent in service to the Gospel. I ask parish communities, associations and the many prayer groups present in the Church, not to yield to discouragement but to continue praying that the Lord will send workers to his harvest. May He give us priests enamoured of the Gospel, close to all their brothers and sisters, living signs of God’s merciful love.

Dear brothers and sisters, today too, we can regain fervour in preaching the Gospel and we can encourage young people in particular to take up the path of Christian discipleship. Despite a widespread sense that the faith is listless or reduced to mere “duties to discharge”, our young people desire to discover the perennial attraction of Jesus, to be challenged by His words and actions, and to cherish the ideal that He holds out of a life that is fully human, happy to spend itself in love.

Mary Most Holy, the Mother of our Saviour, had the courage to embrace this ideal, placing her youth and her enthusiasm in God’s hands. Through her intercession, may we be granted that same openness of heart, that same readiness to respond, “Here I am”, to the Lord’s call, and that same joy in setting out (cf. Lk 1:39), like her, to proclaim Him to the whole world.