Bishop Peter Brignall, preaching in Liverpool Hope University’s chapel, used a familiar Old Testament story to illustrate the key principles of evangelisation that have care and accompaniment at heart.
Bishop Brignall, who leads on the Scripture initiative ‘The God Who Speaks’, was in Liverpool for a three-day evangelisation conference titled ‘The Art of Accompaniment‘.
Giving his homily at Mass on Saturday, 1 July, Bishop Brignall presents the story of Tobit, Tobias and Sarah as the plot for a film with contemporary themes – the archangel Raphael taking the lead role. He offers the story as an example of God’s providential care for his people and his continual accompaniment of them through the life of this one particular family. Read more in the full homily below.
Bishop Brignall also uses Psalms and New Testament stories, like the account of Jesus appearing to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, to demonstrate the eternal truth that the Lord accompanies us in our lives and we journey together to the Lord.
This brings us to the three-fold nub of it, says Bishop Brignall, “evangelisation is characterised by an encounter with the living Jesus, formation in discipleship and mission in the world.”
He quotes Pope Francis, from his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, asserting that, first and foremost, one’s own encounter lies at the very heart of evangelisation: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.”
“That encounter entertains baptised discipleship, being called to listen with openness and generosity to God’s Word, responding to the deeply personal invitation to follow after Jesus as friend and shepherd, that one might live out his commandment of love in a community committed to service and witness.
“That commitment to service and witness is the Church’s mission to which equally, ordained and lay, are co-responsible in their own particular and vocational way.”
Bishop Brignall concludes by returning to Tobit:
“Keep doing what is good, and evil will not come upon you. Prayer with sincerity, practising mercy and righteousness is better than wealth with injustice. It is a more honourable thing to do a work of mercy than to store up gold. Practicing mercy delivers from death, and it purges away every sin. (Tob. 12:6-9)
“Living in this way is to evangelise, as it enables the world to experience in the lives of fellow travellers the presence of God -our accompaniment in life’s journey through the joy of encounter, discipleship and mission in the name and person of Jesus, Lord and Saviour.”
Eph. 3:2-12, Psalm 95: 1-3, 7-10, Matthew 28:16-20
How’s this as a scenario for a film? Though set in the past it has contemporary themes…
There was a deported exile, a family man who was good and righteous who cared for his fellow countryman and not afraid to act or speak out in their cause at risk to himself. Caused by a freak accident he became blind. Meanwhile a few hundred miles away a young woman was having considerable difficulty getting a husband, as each time she married, her groom died the night of the wedding. This through the malice of another.
Now as it happened the first man remembered he had some savings with a family member in the town where the young woman lived; he sent his son to collect the money giving him first a father’s peptalk and admonishing him on how to behave in the time he was to be away.
On his journey the son meets a travelling companion who turned out to be a great friend, also natural problem-solver. The son successfully marries the young woman and is able to return to his father with the collected wealth and a fully certified natural cure for his blindness. All three now make the return journey. The old man wants to thank and pay-off his son’s travelling companion who will accept nothing for his troubles and at which point discloses who he is; and as mysteriously as he had first joined the son he now leaves the family.
The old man now cured continues his philanthropic works and before his death tells his son to return with his wife and family to his in-law’s place as disaster and destruction are to befall their own city; which he does and there continues his father’s tradition of charitable works before his own timely death, leaving generations to continue his good works.
If the plot doesn’t sound very original, if it even sounds familiar, it is because it is that of Tobit, Tobias, Sarah and in the lead role the archangel Raphael; it is a story of God’s providential care of his people and of course his accompaniment of them told through the life of one particular family.
The centrepiece, the Christian mission to evangelise, are those final words of Jesus to the apostles we heard proclaimed a moment ago. We are commissioned to go forth inviting people to discipleship, grounded in Jesus’ ongoing living presence in the Holy Spirit.
This presence of God to his people is nothing new as those early Jewish Christians would have known. Their lives being immersed in the account of the Passover and Flight from slavery in Egypt they would be most familiar with the verses at the end of the thirteenth chapter of the book of Exodus:
And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people. (Ex.13: 21-22)
They would have been familiar too with the words of Psalm 33(34) where we read: The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him and delivers them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good! Happy the man who takes refuge in him. (Ps.33 (34): 7-8) David has feigned madness gets himself dismissed by Abimelech and makes his escape from peril. As psalmist, David gives thanks for deliverance from trouble and renders praise to God for his presence and protection.
Or later in Psalm 131 – For the Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his habitation:
“This is my resting place for ever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it.” (Ps.131 (132): 13-14) Here the psalmist recalls the sacred drama of how the symbol of the divine presence, the Ark of the Covenant is brought from temporary obscurity to be at the centre of the capital in the kingdom of his chosen people.
Three examples from the Old Testament of the presence of God to his people.
But returning to the Great Commission and as we are reminded by Pope Francis in his first encyclical Lumen fidei of just ten years ago “Those who have opened their hearts to God’s love, heard his voice and received his light cannot keep this gift to themselves.” (37)
Of that we are aware from the account of the Emmaus journey in which the two disciples are joined by an unknown fellow traveller, who walks with them; he gives consolation in their desolation through his explanation of the scriptures and mentoring; and then in climax of the whole account shares an evening meal at which they have their recognition of him in the breaking of bread. Jesus shows his accompaniment literally with bread (cum panis). The deepest most profound presence of the Lord God to his people is revealed and celebrated as those lives are nourished on the divine life itself. Without further thought they return to Jerusalem to be with their companions and tell of their experience.
Paul is deeply conscious of the elements of that threefold accompaniment as we heard in his writing to the Ephesians when he says, “To me … grace has been given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known…” (Eph.3:8-10)
Also, when he writes from his house arrest and in chains of his being without fear for, he has his faith in the Lord Jesus and knows of His presence with him. His admonishing the church in Corinth about the behaviour and practice around their observance of Lord’s Supper is as much about their community presence and that of the Lord in their midst as about a ritual being faithfully observed.
Which brings us to the nub of it: evangelisation is characterised by an encounter with the living Jesus, formation in discipleship and mission in the world. As Pope Benedict wrote:
Being Christian is not the result of an ethical or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. (Deus Caritas Est, 1,)
First and foremost one’s own encounter being at the very heart of evangelisation: Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you, writes Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium. (164)
That encounter entertains baptised discipleship, being called to listen with openness and generosity to God’s Word, responding to the deeply personal invitation to follow after Jesus as friend and shepherd, that one might live out his commandment of love in a community committed to service and witness.
That commitment to service and witness is the Church’s mission to which equally, ordained and lay are co-responsible in their own particular and vocational way. Saint Pope Paul VI expressed it thus: For the Church, evangelising means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new. But there is no new humanity if there are not first of all new persons renewed by Baptism and by lives lived according to the Gospel (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 18).
Raphael was the fellow traveller of Tobias who, before disclosing his identity, gives encouragement to Tobit and Tobias: Bless God and acknowledge him before all the living with respect to the good things he has done for you. Bless and sing hymns to his name. Report the words of God to all people and honourably, and do not hesitate to acknowledge him. It is an honourable thing to keep a king’s secret hidden and gloriously to reveal and acknowledge the works of God. Keep doing what is good, and evil will not come upon you. Prayer with sincerity, practising mercy and righteousness is better than wealth with injustice. It is a more honourable thing to do a work of mercy than to store up gold. Practicing mercy delivers from death, and it purges away every sin. (Tob. 12:6-9)
Living in this way is to evangelise, as it enables the world to experience in the lives of fellow travellers the presence of God – our accompaniment in life’s journey through the joy of encounter, discipleship and mission in the name and person of Jesus, Lord and Saviour.