Closing Mass for the Year of Mary, Star of the New Evangelisation – 7 October 2015

SCRIPTURE READINGS: Acts 1:12-14; LUKE 1:26-38

Today, we come to celebrate the conclusion of the Year of Mary, Mother of the New Evangelization. Yet, coming to the end of this year of dedication of the New Evangelization to Mary does not mark the end of our consecration to Mary the work of the New Evangelization, but rather, it is meant to be something so ingrained in our system, mind and heart that in whatever we do, we must turn to Mary, the Mother of the New Evangelization.  She remains for us our primary model, inspiration, intercessor and, most of all, she is the Mother of the Good News herself. Hence, it is important once again to recall why we have chosen to dedicate ourselves and our work to Mary, the mother of the New Evangelization.

When I assumed the office of Archbishop in Singapore, I was clear that the thrust of the local Church in Singapore must be aligned with the universal Church, which is the work of the New Evangelization. Accordingly, during my episcopate, the New Evangelization will remain the focus for all that we do as Church in this archdiocese. I desire that every Catholic shares the concern of our mother Church in the work of the New Evangelization, which is the renewal of the faith among Catholics, clergy and laity, conversion of life, and finding new ways to evangelize the rest of humanity by being involved in the world, whether in culture, economics, politics, ecology, media, education, science and technology. The gospel must permeate every dimension of human life.

In proposing my ten year plan for the archdiocese, I have met with some resistance and opposition and, to say the least, indifference and reluctance. Priests and laity are sceptical as to whether it would be possible to renew our Catholics and bring about a truly vibrant, evangelical and missionary Church. Some simply ignore the call, others go about doing their own thing; and many are oblivious to what the Church, universal and local, is asking of our Catholics.   Without passion this work of the New Evangelization cannot take off.   It was amidst such resistance and indifference that I realized that proposing a vision and mission is not enough to get everyone on board and aligned with the mission of the Church.   So long as our Catholics think that it will not work and it is not achievable, then we will never move forward.

But my dear friends, I don’t believe it is impossible. God has planted in me this clear vision since the day I assumed this office. I take courage and inspiration from the assurance of the angel who said to Mary, “Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.” For God, nothing is impossible. Everything is possible for those who believe. This was what Elizabeth said to Mary, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Lk 1:45)   How then can it be realized? Not by my or our strength, nor our ingenuity, but by the grace of God!

Indeed, to speak of Mary as the mother of the New Evangelization is to recognize the primacy of grace in this mission we are undertaking. Evangelization is not the work of man but the work of God in and through us. God is the One who takes the initiative and continues to support us by His grace. For this reason, Mary is addressed as the woman who is full of grace. Mary is graced not because of her good works but because God has highly favoured her.   She has no merits of her own to earn the grace of God, or to be the mother of the New Evangelization. It was purely grace, from beginning to the end, always accompanied by grace at work in and through her.

The consistent message of the gospel, the same tune sung by Christ our Lord and Mary is simply this: it is the work of God! The psalmist says, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to thy name give glory, for the sake of thy steadfast love and thy faithfulness! … O Israel, trust in the Lord!  He is their help and their shield. O house of Aaron put your trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield. You, who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield.” (Ps 115:1, 9-11)

We witness the power of God’s grace at work in the Incarnation. The angel said to Mary, “Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus.   He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob forever and his reign will have no end.” Truly, it is God who will ensure that the Saviour would be enthroned and His sovereignty will last forever.   It is all in the divine plan of God that no one can thwart His plans, not even the enemies of the gospel.

From the incarnation, in His ministry, at His passion, death and resurrection, the power of God’s grace was always at work in the life of Jesus. Everything was under the operation of grace. The Holy Spirit, the Gift of God in person and the giver of gifts, came upon Jesus and empowered Him to preach the gospel, to heal and to effect the conversion of hearts. Through the Holy Spirit, He commended Himself to the Father at His passion and on the cross, saying, “Into your hands, I commend my spirit.” It was the same Spirit that would raise Jesus from the dead three days later at the resurrection. It would be the same Spirit that Jesus sent to the Church after His ascension and at Pentecost. So at every level of the work of salvation, it is the work of grace given through the Holy Spirit.

Truly, this is the constant temptation of all of us, especially in the work of the New Evangelization and in our pastoral ministry. We think hard work, nice programs and bustling activities can change lives or bring about conversion.   Indeed, in vain does the man labour if the Lord does not build! “Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” (Ps 127:1f)   Too often, we rely on ourselves, although on our lips we say that we trust in God. We think that through our efforts and hard work alone, we can bring about transformation of lives and success.

However, the grace of God alone is not effective without our cooperation. Hence, when called upon to be the Mother of the New Evangelization, Mary responded by saying, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me.” The role of Mary is more passive than active. She simply let the grace of God work through her. She was not the protagonist, but the Holy Spirit. However, she needed to make herself available to the work of the Holy Spirit. Although grace is given freely, God needs our cooperation with the grace given to us. The ineffectiveness of ministry is due to the fact that we want to do it ourselves. We are not allowing God to work in and through us. We want to achieve great things even for God without God. We want to earn the credit and feel proud and good about ourselves. This should never be our attitude in the work of Evangelization.

Mary was conscious of her secondary role in the work of the New Evangelization. In the Magnificat she gave all glory to the Lord. She said, “My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God, my saviour. He looks on his servant in her nothingness; henceforth all ages will call me blessed. The Almighty works marvels for me. Holy his name! His mercy is from age to age, on those who fear him. He puts forth his arm in strength and scatters the proud-hearted. He casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly. He fills the starving with good things, sends the rich away empty.” Salvation, redemption and liberation are solely the work of God. It is in His power and mercy that we are blessed, the lowly and poor are satisfied, the hungry are filled good things.

To cooperate in the work of the New Evangelization demands that we acquire the same Spirit that empowered Jesus in His ministry. We too need the Holy Spirit, the grace of God. It is for this reason that Jesus instructed His disciples not to go out and preach the message of the Kingdom of God until they had received the Holy Spirit. “He charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” (Acts 1:4f)

How is this Spirit given if not through earnest prayer – individual, communal and intercessory – together with fasting and penance? We read in the first reading thatAfter Jesus had ascended into heaven, the apostles went back to Jerusalem … and when they reached the city they went to the upper room where they were staying … All these joined in continuous prayer, together with several women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” It is significant that they did not gather at the Upper Room to plan for the next stage of the proclamation of the Kingdom of God after the departure of Jesus. They were not meeting to plan or to devise beautiful strategies to conquer the world for God. Nay! They gathered together as a community to pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit. It was a time of discernment, purification, strengthening of faith, listening and filling themselves with the presence and love of God.

Indeed, there can be no evangelization without prayer, sincere, earnest and heartfelt intercession. We need to pray as individuals, together with the Church, imploring for God’s grace to renew the face of the earth by giving us an infilling of the Holy Spirit. If we believe in the primacy of grace and not on our own efforts, then praying and interceding are the signs that we know only God can bring about success in our ministry. The world must see that what we do is not simply the work of a human institution, powerful and global it might be, but the marvelous work of God in and through poor and inadequate instruments like us.

Consequently, through the consecration of the New Evangelization to Mary, every Catholic is called to imitate Mary by being docile to the Holy Spirit, by cooperating with the grace of God through prayer and fasting so that with the Lord with us, as He was with Mary, we will be fruitful. We remember the words of our Lord when He reminded us, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5)   As St John Paul II told us, we must be trained in the art of prayer if we are to grow in holiness for the work of the New Evangelization. Without prayer, a worthy celebration of the sacraments, especially of the Eucharist, and reconciliation, the Lord’s grace cannot work in and through us.

As we approach the Year of Divine Mercy, let us once again implore the grace of conversion for each one of us, priests, religious and laity. Let us pray for humility so that we can hear the call to conversion of hearts. With us renewed and recharged, we can then, like the apostles, go out to the whole world in the power of the Holy Spirit announcing the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, “He protects Israel, his servant, remembering his mercy, the mercy promised to our fathers, to Abraham and his sons forever.”

Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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