Sunday June 29th. 2014                                                                                        Charity registration No. SC 002876

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St. Margaret's,                        St. Joseph's,                        St. Finnan's

Last month the long awaited book on The History of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Argyll and the Isles, “A Record of Generous People” by John Watts, was published. It is an interesting read especially in regard to the building up of the Catholic Church in the West Highlands and the Islands through the 19th and 20th centuries. The title of the book suggests great generosity on the part of the Catholic faithful as they provided fine buildings once again in which they could worship according to the ancient rites of the Catholic faith. Similar generosity and love for the Catholic faith was demonstrated here in Lanarkshire as chapels were built in the towns and villages where Catholics had come to work and settle from other parts of Scotland and elsewhere, particularly from Ireland. The Lanarkshire parishes, with their many fine churches, in 1947 became the Diocese of Motherwell, and as you welcome me today as your fifth bishop I would like to pay tribute to the faith and generosity of those who have built up this Diocese and have handed on a fine spiritual tradition, with such a strong loyalty to the Church and an on-going desire to live our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in our times as fully as possible. Thank you for your welcome and the prayers which continue to be offered in support of my ministry as your Shepherd in Christ.

Early Christian influence

Moving from Argyll and the Isles to Motherwell has led me to reflect a little in recent weeks on St Columba, who was called by the Lord to leave his native land to set up a new monastic community on the Island of Iona. From history we know he did this very effectively and from his new Island home he and his companions, and their successors for a number of centuries contributed greatly to the Christian evangelisation of Scotland. They weren’t the only ones who preached the Christian faith their legacy and influence is honoured as foundational and as the inspiration for the spread and growth of Christian life and worship in Scotland.

Strength of the community

In our own times Pope Francis has called us to be the Lord’s “missionary disciples” bringing “the Joy of the Gospel” to the people of our time, and we can see much to inspire us in the example of St Columba and the saints of Scotland. As a Bishop I have enjoyed visiting Iona and one reflection from these visits is that the monks were good at bringing the gospel to others because they firstly had a strong community life together in which they experienced and honoured the person and presence of Christ. They also had to work very hard to sustain their community in order to have the necessary energy and desire to reach out to others. Across our communities – parishes, schools, religious congregations, apostolic associations and lay movements – we need to be united in the Lord and draw our goodness and inspiration from him and then we need to work together in a spirit of love and self-giving to build up our communities and to reach out to others. We can’t achieve much on our own so we need to work together and so foster a strong sense of communion and shared endeavour across the Diocese. Parishes and communities are geographically very close together in Motherwell Diocese that is a strength and an encouragement to work together rather than trying to plough our own furrow.

Vigil of the Birth of John the Baptist

This evening’s ceremony is happening during the Vigil Mass of the Solemnity of the Birth of St John the Baptist, and the Scriptures passages we have just listened to tell of Jeremiah’s of the call and ministry of the prophet in the Old Testament, the Christian understanding of the prophets as presented in the New Testament, and the birth of the last great prophet, John the Baptist, the promise of whose birth would bring such joy and delight to his parents and to many others and whose task would be to bring back the people of Israel to the Lord their God thus preparing them to be “a people fit for him”.

Vocation of the prophet

Jeremiah speaks of the prophet being born with a vocation from God to speak to the people the Lord sends him to without fear because the Lord is with him always. The Lord will put his words into his mouth and they will be powerful and effective – “Look today I am setting you over nations and over kingdoms, to tear up and to knock down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” If we see these words as applicable to the ministry of Bishop there is a lot of licence given, and at the same time a lot of discernment necessary to know when to tear up and knock down and when to build and plant. Openness to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, attentiveness to God’s word, a love and appreciation of the Church’s teaching and tradition, and a willingness to listen to others are all part of the mix, but courage is also necessary to discern the Lord’s will and to make the necessary decisions. I will always need the help of your prayers in my ministry in Motherwell and wise counsel to guide me in the decisions to be taken. Through our baptism we all share in Christ and are members of his Body and we are called to live the Christian life to the full and to use the gifts we have been blessed with in the Lord’s service. We have the great reassurance of knowing the salvation gained for us by the Lord Jesus through his passion, death and resurrection, which the prophets foretold but did not see themselves, and this means we can look beyond this life in the way described by St Peter – “you are sure of the end to which your faith looks forward, that is the salvation of your souls.”