From Our Bishop

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Easter, Jesus’ resurrection, always inspires me. The story of how God is able to do something beautiful when faced with our humble, often broken lives. This was brought home to me in a powerful way during my recent pilgrimage to Rome and Canterbury, England.

I have not long returned from an international gathering of 60 Catholic and Anglican Bishops, known as IARCCUM, the International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission.

We had many graced moments during our time together. Two of which were: praying with Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury at St Paul’s Basilica; and listening to the humbling stories of many bishops who proclaim Christ risen in the face of great challenges, including in stories of war and violence from the Holy Land and Myanmar.

The highlight for me was recalling our shared story of St Augustine of Canterbury. Within a 14-hour period, we travelled from St Gregory’s Church in Rome, where St Augustine and his 14 monks were sent by Pope St Gregory to proclaim the Gospel in England, to Canterbury Cathedral in England, where St Augustine established the first mission, where Canterbury Cathedral would eventually be built.

It was very humbling to see what God has done with the faith of St Augustine of Canterbury. When asked to establish the mission in England, he would never have seen the awe-inspiring cathedral, the fruit of his faith. However, God was able to use his simple faith and turn it into something beautiful.

As the disciples of Jesus found, having faith in God is not easy, especially when things get difficult, when what he is asking seems impossible and the mountains of doubt and difficulties loom large. This was Augustine of Canterbury’s reality as well.

It is important to remember that St Augustine was not a missionary trained for worldwide evangelisation; he was a monk. Yet, he was called in faith and obedience by Pope St Gregory to proclaim the Gospel to the pagan king of another country, in the south of England.

As he and his small band of monks set out, they quickly faced the many challenges that lay ahead, not least the treacherous waters that lay between them and their destination. They also faced the fears of the unknown, of stories relating to the tribes that awaited, tribes who had only a few centuries earlier driven out the Romans. Setting off in the face of these challenges and doubts they quickly decided to turn back, sending Augustine
home to advise the Pope they could not go on.

How many of us have done this in our faith lives? When faced with life’s challenges, do we lose trust in God? Pope St Gregory fortified their faith, calling on them to trust in God. “Faith is the assurance of what we hope for and the certainty of what we don’t see.” (Heb 11:1)

St Augustine was strengthened. He returned to the monks, calling them to trust that God had a plan and could do something beautiful with their small efforts. Soon after their arrival, the king of the local region, whom they had been most afraid of, decided to convert to Christianity. He gave them a piece of land in Canterbury, on which Augustine would build a monastery and on which a few centuries later the Canterbury Cathedral would be built.

It has been some 1400 years since Augustine and his monks answered the call to leave their homeland, their familiar surroundings, to share the Good News in England. Since then, Canterbury has seen many ups and downs, like each of us in our own lives. One of its more famous sons was St Thomas of Canterbury, from whom our own St Thomas’ College has taken its name. He was a priest who remained faithful to God and was subsequently martyred in the Canterbury Cathedral.

Our own province here in Canterbury has a strong connection to Canterbury Cathedral. It was an incredible privilege to stand in Canterbury Cathedral, on the site where Pope St Gregory sent Augustine, and to marvel at what God had done with the humble offerings of the first unlikely missionaries to England.

The story of St Augustine is our story too. God calls us to great things beyond our imagining. We see impossible odds before us, we wonder how God can find a way forward, we even doubt his presence and, much like St Augustine, we sometimes turn back.

God does not need anything from us, other than our humble trust in him. He can make straight our crooked lives, turn our dark places into light, our despair into hope, our small offerings into something remarkable.
More importantly, this is the story of Easter. The disciples came to Jerusalem with so much hope; just a few days later they despaired in the face of the cross at Calvary. God does not need our great plans. He needs our trust. He needs our faith.

I pray the story of St Augustine, the unlikely first Archbishop of Canterbury, will inspire you this Easter, as it has me. I pray that you will have the faith to trust in God, to trust that no matter what lies before you, however unlikely and bleak things appear, you will continue to step forward in faith, knowing that Jesus can make something beautiful out of our humble and sometimes broken lives.
Yours in Christ

+ Michael Gielen
Bishop of Christchurch

Published in Inform Issue 140 - Lent 2024