Dear Companions on the Journey,
I call you companions because for many years now we have been walking together our Journey of Faith as the People of God in the Western Province of Papua New Guinea. This journey is not about walking the bush and the forests or travel through the sea, rivers and lakes of our Province. It is a human and spiritual journey and as we walk together in faith, love and hope we work at becoming better persons and better Catholics. It is all about responding to the call of God the Father and becoming his beloved children. This happens when we live loving relationships among ourselves.
Let me recall to mind the GOAL of our Diocesan Pastoral Plan:
To make the Kingdom of God visible in our Diocese by living among ourselves relationships of love like those that unite the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, so that we may all grow together in holiness (Diocesan Pastoral Plan - page 4).
During the first Stage of our Journey of Faith we promoted and lived values that are important to both our Melanesian life and our Christian life. We worked hard at filling our minds and our hearts with the richness of these values in order to prepare ourselves to truly desire to walk together and become active members in a Small Christian Community. We have always invited more and more people to take an active part in the life of our Christian community and this slowly created a sense of belonging and communion among ourselves.
In 2013 we have entered STAGE TWO and the objective of this Stage is as follows:
We have re-discovered the Bible as the Word of God giving meaning and direction to our life. We have discovered the demands of faith. We have lived an experience of a deeper relationship with Jesus in his mystery. We profess our faith in Christ as a community and commit ourselves to live as Church.
We are now completing PHASE ONE OF STAGE TWO. It was all about the Word of God in the Bible. What did we do? We have prepared teams to give Bible courses to all the people in the Diocese. Blessed are those who attended these courses. We have found donors from overseas in order to purchase Bibles in English, Pidgin and Malay and sold it to the families at the very low cost of K5.00. Finally we had in August the Enthronement of the Bible in all the homes of the Diocese and we supplied each family with a small crucifix and a beautiful banner for the enthronement. This means that in the Diocese of Daru-Kiunga we truly desire to build our lives as persons, couples, families and communities on the solid foundation of the Word of God. Our objective for these four years was:
We have discovered the meaning and experienced the power of the Word of God which gives us guidance and strength.
At the Diocesan Assembly held last September we approved the Diocesan Planning for PHASE TWO OF STAGE TWO and now we give our attention to the DEMANDS OF FAITH. The chosen objective for this Phase is:
WE HAVE ALLOWED THE LIFE AND TEACHINGS OF JESUS TO TOUCH OUR HEARTS, AND THIS HAS TRANSFORMED OUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH GOD, PEOPLE AND THE WORLD AROUND US.
As we continue our Journey of Faith we become better disciples of Christ. We now have a Bible and so we get to know about Jesus by reading the Gospels. We will be touched by his teachings and examples.
During this Phase we focus on what it concretely means to be a believer, on what faith demands of us as we live our daily lives. We will look at the lifestyle of Jesus and try to live our faith in that same lifestyle. We will reflect on the attitudes required by our Catholic faith. As we follow Jesus and adopt his lifestyle we learn from him how to relate to the Father, how to relate with to another and how to relate to the environment that is part of our life.
This year we try to develop our faith by following the way of Jesus. Our objective for this year is: "WE LIVE OUR FAITH BY FOLLOWING THE WAY OF JESUS". We make daily efforts to befriend him. We know that he reveals everything to his friends. "I do not call you servants any longer because a servant does not know what his master is doing. Instead I call you friends, because I have told you everything I have learned from my Father" (John 15: 16). The closer we come to him the better we will live our faith.
The more we get to know Jesus the clearer we see that his way of life is the way of love. He showed his love for people in so many wonderful ways – in kindness, compassion, generosity, patience, perseverance, endurance, faithfulness and forgiveness. There was no limit to what his love would give or where it would go. The love which imitates the love of Jesus for others is therefore a practical, down-to-earth kind of love. It’s a kind and compassionate kind of love, a self-forgetting kind of love. And it is our love for others that keeps the great love of Jesus for people alive in our world today.
An American journalist, watching Mother Teresa caring for a man with gangrene, remarked to her: "I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars". Mother Teresa replied: "Neither would I do it for that amount, but I do it for the love of God". We can see in that example and in so many other examples that true love is the opposite of selfishness.
Jesus was about to die and he gave a beautiful gift to his disciples. He said to them: "I give you a new commandment: love one another, just as I have loved you" (John 13: 34). The love they have received from Jesus will keep spreading among them; that’s why Jesus adds: "It is by your love for one another that everyone will recognize that you are my disciples" (John 13: 35).To do this is part of our identity. What will allow a community that calls itself Catholic to be seen as really being from Jesus? Before anything else it will be the love that we all have for one another.
This is really the secret of Christian renewal and it is the practice of love the way Jesus did it. Jesus added a new element to the Old Testament commandment of love by telling us that the true test of discipleship is to love other people in the same way that he has loved us.
The way of Jesus is the way of love and he gave us a new commandment calling for love without limits and conditions. It is built on trust. We need to model our love on the way Jesus loved. It is caring for the wellbeing of others without expecting any favour in return.
It is a commandment and not an invitation. It is not only a possible choice or an option. It is a new commandment and being a commandment it calls for total obedience on our part. In other words it is an obligation to love one another. It is to love but to do so in the way he has loved us. And he adds that this love will stand as the trademark of his disciples.
When we try to love at that level in our life we are transformed and we slowly and gradually develop a new way of thinking, of seeing, of feeling, of behaving and of interacting with other people. And this will be the only valid test of whether we truly love God or not. The lonely Christian is a contradiction in terms because the Christian is only to be measured by the way he/she loves and that love, by definition, involves other people. When Saint Bernard was asked what is the measure of love, he answered: "The measure of love is to love without measure".
Show that love by being an active member in a Small Christian Community, by taking part in the parish activities, by being merciful to others and assisting the people in different types of need. This love is to be lived in our daily lives. This love is a decision for our lives that is made possible by God’s grace.
To live our faith demands that we follow the way of Jesus by following his teaching about love and most importantly his way of loving. When the teachings of Jesus touch our hearts we are then transformed from within and this completely changes our relationships. There are to be no more outsiders or enemies; all are neighbours (read Luke 6: 27-36), we all become part of his family (read Mk 3: 33-35). Jesus doesn’t only speak about such a love but translate this message into a way of life that is absolutely consistent with his preaching.
In the Acts of the Apostles the Church is sometimes simply called "The Way". Christian Life is not a set of beliefs and doctrines; it is a way of life. This new way is no longer a law as in in the Old Testament but a person, Jesus. The way of life is the way of Christ. Christian Life is to follow Christ, living as he did. In Him one must walk following the only way that he taught, the way of love: "Since you have accepted Christ Jesus as Lord, live in union with him. Keep your roots deep in him, build your lives on him and become stronger in your faith, as you were taught" (Col 2: 6).
This way of loving is an ideal and it is proposed to everyone. There is no lesser standard. The source of love, named by Him as Abba, wishes to love through us. "Only the person who lives on God’s love itself can be channel of that love toward the other" (Eamonn Bredin, Disturbing the Peace, p. 161).
We need to constantly think of Jesus in order to model on him. To assume his way of thinking, feeling, behaving, relating and believing, we need to empty ourselves in order to be filled up with Jesus and follow his way. The modelling on Jesus process is successful when we are able to behave like him in all our deeds.
"First, have a habitual desire to imitate Christ in all your deeds by bringing your life into conformity with his. You must then study His life in order to know how to imitate Him and behave in all events as he would" (St. John of the Cross in the Ascent of Mount Carmel, 13:3).
When you want to model on someone you contact him. Then you talk to him. Jesus always walks at our side. Jesus walks with us on the path of life precisely for us to model on him during our daily activities. Here prayer with the Word of God, especially with the New Testament gives us profound insights about Jesus and his way of loving. When we pray with the gospels Jesus speaks to us and teaches us.
Love is the main ingredient of the modelling process. It is easier and more effective to model on someone you really admire and respect. And love will see to it that you always want to imitate Jesus and do what it takes to become like him, and to follow him means to carry our cross and to carry our cross we need his love alive in us.
That we become like Jesus is according to God’s plan (Rm 8: 29). The purpose is very clear: to become children of God in His Son. In fact Jesus came to teach us how to become good human beings and we become such as we identify with him. We have to develop his qualities. That is why, after washing his disciples’ feet Jesus said: "I have given you an example so that what I have done, you also may do" (John 13: 15).
The most dynamic way to model on Jesus is to allow his own Spirit to lead us. The same Spirit who moulded Jesus as a man. (Mt `1: 8; Lk 2: 52; John 1: 31-34; Lk 4:1; Luke 4: 14 and 16-19; Acts 1: 2; Lk 6: 12-16) His Spirit has been given to us and it is His Spirit who leads us through the process of modelling on Jesus.
To compare life with the Word of God is a call to faith, as we get to know Jesus as the model for our life. Since the way of Jesus is the way of love I suggest that you really make an effort to become an active member in a Small Christian Community. My own experience as a member of a SCC tells me that it is a place where gradually but surely we learn to love one another and walk the way of Jesus.
I ask that each one of you make a big effort to faithfully walk the way of Jesus, the way of love. Our faith demands that.
+ Gilles Côté, s.m.m.Bishop of Daru-Kiunga
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
As we enter our fourth year promoting the vital importance of the Word of God for our Christian life, I pray and wish that each one of you be richly nourished by God speaking to you.
The Word of God and prayer are two strong pillars to live a life of faith and both of them linked together become an enormous driving force constantly directing us on the way leading to the Father as persons, as couples, as families and as communities.
I often tell the people that the followers of Jesus need to become persons of prayer. I am not saying here that we should not say prayers. Not at all! We need to pray alone and with others. What I mean is that it is never enough to say prayers. What we need to do is to walk in the presence of God, think about Him and all that He has done for us. And that is why the Word of God as we find it in the Bible is so important to us.
Let me quote George Martin: "God will speak to those who prayerfully read the bible as his Word... We will have a strong sense that the words of scripture are indeed addressed to us and are talking about us. We will have a sense that they have a meaning and application in our own lives and specific situations... Our hearts will burn within us as we read with the gentle touch of the Holy Spirit, a peaceful presence within us." (George Martin, Reading God’s Word Today).
So both prayer and the Word of God bring us in the presence of God. Prayer helps us to listen to God speaking to us in the Bible; it creates in our heart the right attitude and the readiness to give full attention to listening. As for its part, the Word of God nourishes our prayer.
Paul the Apostle wrote: "Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly" (Col. 3: 16). God dwells in us through his Holy Spirit. Jesus said: "If a man loves me, he will keep my word and my Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him" (John 14: 23).
What does it mean to "keep his word"? It means a lot more than having a Bible and once in a while read a passage or on Sunday listen to the three readings. To keep his word is to let his word come down into our souls and conform our thoughts and way of life to Christ’s word. St Paul also wrote: “Do not model yourselves on the behaviour of the world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). The Word of God in the Bible makes very clear to us what is the will of God. Furthermore it is always good to ask ourselves what God is asking of us. Stephen Rossetti in his book entitled “When the Lion Roars” on page 82, wrote this: "But it is God’s desire that we be nourished with his word and have an intimate bond with this Word". Jesus said "Remain in my word". If we "remain" in his word, he promised that we will "know the truth" and this truth will set us free (John 8: 31).
So if we want to know God’s mind, his thoughts and intentions for our life, then we need to allow his word to not simply inform us but to transform us as well. The most favourable way to achieve this is to learn how to prayerfully listen to God as He speaks to us through the scriptures.
"And of course, the greatest book to guide us is the living Word of God. The Sacred Scriptures not only guide us ….. towards the Father, this word carries within it the living Spirit of God. Thus, the Word of God is our surest guide and is itself a boundless source of grace" (Stephen Rossetti in When the Lion Roars, page 45).
Jesus can show us the way. He himself patterned his life on listening to the Father. Once, when the disciples urged him to eat something, he declined, saying: "My food is to do the will of the one who sent me" (John 4:34). And he meant for us that we do the same.
You may not have thought of it in this way, but reading scripture is to our soul as eating is to our body. Jesus himself made this point when the devil tempted him to turn stones into bread. "It is written ‘he said’, One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Mt 4:4).
It is clear that when Jesus spent forty days in the desert, he was praying and thinking about the words of the Father. He was not reading these words from a book but they were spoken to him from the depth of his heart.
We are nourished when we meet God. We need to discipline ourselves and learn to spend time alone with God and with his word. Nourishing our soul is getting into God’s presence, believing in his word and inviting Him to be at work in our life. Yes, daily prayer life and study of the Word of God are both necessary and they support one another. "The scriptures teach us about God and about Jesus. Coming to know the scriptures is coming to know Jesus" (Stephen Rossetti, When the Lion Roars, page 81). Again from the same author on page 82: "When we open our hearts and take in the scriptures, it is God who we are inviting in. He imparts his presence, or grace into our hearts". The Holy Spirit is God who is communicated to us. The Holy Spirit is the medium for God to dwell within us. It is he who makes us understand and remember the teaching of Jesus (John 14: 26). It is he who makes us pray properly (Read John 14:26 and Rom 8: 26).
Are we strong or weak Christians? The answer is in how much quality time we spend with the Lord in prayer, renewing our mind with His Word.
Twice Luke indicates Mary’s prayerful spirit. At Bethlehem she reflects on the words of the shepherds and recalls the words spoken at the Annunciation and the Visitation. "As for Mary, she treasured all these things in her heart" (Luke 2:19). Again, Mary’s attitude is mentioned in Luke 2:51, after finding Jesus in the temple: "His mother stored up all these things in her heart". Mary’s heart was always centred on Jesus, the Word of God made flesh in her. She kept on thinking about what was happening to her Son and was thus able to discover the profound meaning of the events that were happening to her, around her and to others, and also of the Words of God spoken in these events. Pope Francis said: "In prayer, before God who speaks, in thinking and meditating on the facts of her life, Mary is not in a hurry; she does not let herself be swept away by the moment; she does not let herself be dragged along by the events". (Address at the end of the Marian month of May, 31st May 2013.)To ponder and store all these things in our heart is to think about God coming into our life in the events of both the Old and New Testaments.
Only in silent prayer or with a silent heart can we understand a bit more the meaning of all these events. In Verbum Domini, no.66, Pope emeritus Benedict wrote: "Only in silence can the word of God find a home in us, as it did in Mary, woman of the word, inseparably, women of silence". In no. 88, he made the link between prayer and the word of God in the Bible by mentioning the prayer of the rosary. He wrote the following: "A most helpful aid, for example, is the individual and communal recitation of the Holy Rosary, which ponders the mysteries of Christ’s life in union with Mary... it is fitting that the announcement of each mystery be accompanied by a brief biblical text relevant to the mystery".
Lord, may we, like Mary, have listening hearts so that we can hear your word to us each day and put it into practice.
Montfort always carried a Bible in his bilum. Whatever he did he was in communication with God. In his writings he often quoted passages from the Bible. He wrote the following regarding the prayer of the Rosary and he understood well how prayer and the Word of God go hand in hand. "This prayer, they said, brought to the dry and barren world the Fruit of Life, and if well said, will cause the Word of God to take root in the soul and bring forth Jesus, the Fruit of Life" (True Devotion to Mary, no 249).
We can always pray to our patron saint so that like him we may give importance to both our prayer and keeping the Word of God in our lives.
In John 15: 1-8, Jesus reminds us of the reality of his Word and reveals that his Word leads us into prayer. We are joined to Jesus through faith, prayer and keeping his Word. If we neglect our life of faith, prayer and keeping his Word we will be cut off from him.
Pope Francis, in his address to the Participants at the International Congress on Catechesis, on the 27th of September 2013 said the following: "The first thing for a disciple is to be with the Master, to listen to him and learn from him". How true these words are! Take time to listen to him in order to be led by him. Give him time in quiet prayer to let him speak to us. We probably all need to ask ourselves: do I allow room in my heart to listen attentively to God speaking to me in the scriptures? Do I allow the Word of God to find me and overtake me in prayer?
Without the right conditions and attitudes my prayer cannot be nourished by the Word of God. First of all we need to find a place where there is no noise and no distraction. It can be in the church, in a corner for prayer in the house but also in nature, for example next to a river or under a beautiful tree that gives good shade. Secondly we need to be relaxed in our body and take time to let all tensions go away, close our eyes and concentrate on what we are trying to do. Thirdly we need to open our minds in a spirit of respect for the Word of God and wanting to learn from him. Fourthly we need to have a heart that is humble and burning with love for God. We need to fully trust God and have a strong desire to be with God and listen to him. We have to be willing to let ourselves be moved and guided by the Holy Spirit. Fifthly we need to give time to our moment of prayer and take time to repeatedly read slowly the same passage from the Bible a few times.
May I suggest that you give attention to the following this year:
We do not often have a Jubilee Year in the Church. What is a Jubilee Year? A Jubilee Year is a year that we wish to dedicate to God in a special way. During that year we make efforts to come closer to God and be grateful to him for his goodness towards us. We seek forgiveness for our sins, we try to be strong in our commitment as a Christian and we obtain blessings from the Lord. It is also a time to make good our relationships with others, whoever they are.
Pope Francis has announced that we will have a Jubilee Year on MERCY. It will start on the 8th of December this year, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and end on the Feast of Christ the Kind in 2016. The theme chosen by Pope Francis for the Jubilee Year of Mercy is MERCIFUL LIKE THE FATHER. Jesus asked his followers to become merciful like the Father is merciful. One good way to grow into merciful Christians is to become persons of prayer and persons who keep the Word of God. And therefore one helping way to live the Jubilee of Mercy is to let the Word of God nourish our prayer. I can experience the great mercy of God each time I am forgiven for my sins. I can also know more about the merciful Father when I take time to read the scriptures and learn how God communicated with us human beings and how he has been faithful to us and merciful to us despite our unfaithfulness.
Dear brothers and sisters, this year, as we enthrone the Bible in our homes and enrich our prayer with the reading the Word of God in the Bible, may we learn more about the great mercy of God and make efforts in our everyday living to become merciful like the Father is merciful. May we become merciful to others as the Father is merciful to us! May the mercy of the Father touch the hearts of others through our words and actions of mercy!
Carry the merciful Word of God in the bilum of your hearts.
+ Gilles Côté, s.m.m.Bishop of Daru-Kiunga
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May the Word of God become a solid foundation for our life as a People on a Journey of Faith!
The Word of God is at the heart of our vision as a people and it unites us together. It gives meaning to our lives. It is the foundation of our Diocesan Pastoral Plan. In our Diocesan Pastoral Plan, on page 5 we read: "As a people of faith, we gather regularly around the Eucharist and the Word of God. We find there the food we need for our Journey together as a community which is walking towards life forever with God".
Listening to God speaking to us in the Bible enables us to build our house (our life) on solid rock. It is in the Bible that we are taught about our identity, our common dignity, our equality, our freedom for life, our solidarity. It nourishes the faith and the love that bind us together as one. It gives us light in order to take good decisions for our lives when we reflect together within our Small Christian Community. Let us read what is written in our Diocesan Pastoral Plan, page 19: "On this Journey, they are continually being evangelized. They accept more and more the message and the values of the Gospel, and they are growing constantly in their likeness to Christ".
Words have value according to who writes them or speaks them. The Word of God deserves to be approached with respect and veneration. The Word of God is constantly new and fresh, even for those who have spent a lifetime exploring it. The reason is that our lives are constantly changing, we are constantly changing, and our relationships with God and others are also constantly changing.
As Christians we are entrusted with the Word for which we are prepared to give our lives. We open ourselves to the one who is the Word of God in person, Jesus and who addresses us. We love the Word as the Word addressed to us by someone who died for us.
This year we begin to walk the Second Stage of our Journey of Faith. It will last 12 years and we hope these years will be highly enriched with God’s blessings. As we will live these 12 years we will commit ourselves to greatly welcome the Word of God into our lives, understand better our catholic faith and live up to its demands and finally we will deepen our relationship with Jesus as a people and profess our faith in him. We will think about how the Word of God will become a daily Good News for us and how it will take root in our Melanesian culture. Those years should be very interesting and exciting years for all of us.
This Pastoral Letter speaks mainly about the Word of God that we find in the Bible as we will reflect on this during the first phase of Stage Two. During the first four years we will make great efforts to re-discover the importance of the Bible for our lives because in the Bible we find God speaking to us. We will discover the meaning and experience the power of the Word of God which gives us guidance and strength. We are not the people of God unless we listen to his Word and follow it. Thus it is important to always grow in the knowledge we have of the Word of God as he speaks to us in the Bible.
Most people need a companion to guide them so that their life will become meaningful and fruitful. We would like the Bible to become that companion for all the Catholics in the Diocese, for all our families and all our Small Christian Communities. For this to happen we need to become comfortable with the reading of the Bible itself. This book will become like a coach to help us achieve our goal and live a good life as God’s children.
First of all it is good to know that of all the books ever written or published, the Bible is the most widely read, studied, translated, printed, sold, given as a gift, distributed and quoted. It is the best-selling book of all time. When it comes to teaching about God and his plan for us, no other book comes close. In the Bible we discover the power and generosity of God’s love, as well as his desire to respond to the longing for truth and happiness of the people.
Where did the Bible come from? Well, it didn’t just drop down from Heaven one fine day, nor did it appear suddenly on the earth, delivered by an angel of God. In the first place the Word of God was not written on a scroll or a piece of paper. Not at all! And this is true for both the Old Testament and the New Testament. It was spoken by people chosen by God and written in their hearts with the Spirit of the Living God. All the stories that we find in the Bible were experienced by some people at certain time in their lives. Among many other stories they were selected because it was felt that in these stories we see how God came into the lives of the people to save them. Only afterwards were these words written on paper and only many years afterwards did we have the books about the Word of God as we find in the Bible today.
The Bible isn’t one book. It is a collection of many books – seventy-three in all: forty six in the Old Testament and twenty-seven in the New Testament. The Bible wasn’t written all at once, nor was it all written by one person. In fact, one thousand years passed by between the writing of the book of Genesis, the first book that we find in the Bible and the writing of the book of Revelation, the last book that we find in the Bible.
It is also important that we remember that the Bible, as we have it today, was not printed at all until almost fifteen hundred years after the birth of Jesus Christ. The reason is that before that time the people had not yet discovered the way to print. Until that time copies of the Bible had to be entirely written by hand and it took years to do so.
In its simplest terms the Bible is God’s Word in human words. The Bible records the covenants, or relationships, between God and human beings. The Bible grew out of a long process of God’s people recounting for generation after generation the stories of their experience of God and God’s relationship with them. So it is a record of stories of faith. "In the Sacred Scriptures, God speaks to us in a human way. To understand the Scriptures correctly, we must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to say, as well as to what God wants to reveal to us by their words" (Catechism for Catholics of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, no. 385).
We believe that God was present to the Melanesian people before the arrival of the first missionaries, meaning before the preaching to the people of the Good News and the stories of faith as found in the Bible. "God comes to meet his people. From the beginning of time, God has communicated knowledge of himself as one with concern for the good of the whole human race. Human reason was given the capacity to know God from the created world and to recognize him as creator and provider" (CCPNGSI, no. 367).
We have the stories of the ancestors and these are very important to the identity of the people and the life of the clans. These were never written down. They were always transmitted through words of mouth. The people were always searching for the great spirit, for truth and goodness, for power for survival. In the Bible we learn about the great spirit the ancestors have been looking for during centuries. In our cultures just like in the cultures that we find in the people of the Old Testament the oral tradition contained both good and bad. And somehow the bad side that was passed on by the ancestors still remains with the people today. But the real message of God in the Bible and in a very special way through his Son Jesus is that we should hold onto to the good and do away with the bad.
God desired to enter into a relationship with people and he chose the people of Israel to do so. In order to pass on his message to them God chose leaders and prophets. They were people with strong faith and they were gifted in listening to God and thus were able to speak God’s Words to the people. The core of the message was that God wanted to enter into a covenant with them. He was to care for them as his children, his people but they had to be faithful to his Words. During the time of the Old Testament there was not a full understanding of the meaning of the Words spoken by God.
"God showed himself, through words and deeds, as the one true and loving God to this chosen people. They came to know God by experiencing his ways with them" (CCPNGSI, no. 369).
Finally in time God sent his own Son, Jesus Christ who is the Living Word of God. Jesus came with the fullness of the message and spoke the truth to the people, the truth about God, the truth about nature and the truth about themselves. He helped the people to understand what it meant to enter into a relationship with God and that God was the Father of all the people of the world, not only of the Jewish people. He directed the people to understand that at the centre of God’s message there are love and reconciliation and forgiveness. Jesus brought into light the Words of God and helped the people make the link with the teachings found in the Old Testament.
"The four Gospels are at the heart of all the Scriptures because they tell us of the life and teachings of God the Son, the Word who became one of us, in order to save us"(CCPNGSI, no. 377).
The first Christians wrote the stories that we find in the New Testament. The teachings of Jesus, the Word of God in person were their light and their strength. These stories, like those of the Old Testament, were first of all spoken from person to person and written afterwards. The people were living from the power of the Word of God and then wrote their stories down in order that it be transmitted to others. The first Christians often met together to listen to the stories of the apostles and of those who followed them in the Christian way. At their meetings they always broke the Word and broke the Bread. These stories of the first Christians teach us how to live as followers of Jesus, about how to listen to the Word of God and then put it into practice. They give us a very good example of the life within a Small Christian Community.
With the arrival and the work of the missionaries the Word of God was taught to the people and the seed of the Word of God was planted into the hearts and the lives of the people. The Good News is that God is a Father who loves us so much that he sent his own Son to save us from all our divisions and fears, from the slavery of sin. He is a Father to us and wants us as his children. He wants us to share the life of his Son and so become the brothers and sisters of Jesus.
The welcoming of the Word of God by the people has made it possible for them to move from the darkness of fear and hatred into the light of acceptance and friendship. The truth about who we are in relation to God and others can set us free.
We do not listen to the Word of God alone. We are baptized into a community of listeners and it is together that we listen to God speaking to us in the Bible.
One objective of the newly established Small Christian Communities is to make sure that the people live their lives in the light of the Word of God and gradually but steadily build their lives as individuals, couples, clans, tribes, village communities on the solid foundation of the Word of God. There is really no other way. In Mathew 6: 46-49 Jesus taught that to build our lives on solid rock we need to listen to the Word of God and put it into practice. Jesus makes is very clear that this is the only way to build up the Kingdom of God among us. The light of the Word of God brings us out of the darkness of sin. It guides us to see the world and people with the eyes of God and love them with the same love that is in his heart. In our Diocesan Pastoral Plan we read the following: "They also examine their lives with the Word of God in order to live their faith, as Melanesians, in the actions of their daily lives" (DPP, page 19). And again: "We come together as a small group of believers to reflect on our lives with the Word of God" (DPP, page 38).
God’s life is a total gift to us. It is given to us to be shared among ourselves by sharing our faith, by sharing his Words, by getting to enter into a profound relationship with him. The Words of God are life giving.
Today the people need solid values to hold on to in order to find meaning and give direction to their lives. These values can be found in the Word of God in the Bible. We can think of the teaching of Jesus using parables and referring to the life of the people. We can think of how the Word of God gave courage and hope to the people in the Old Testament when they were living difficult moments and were being challenged through trials that brought a lot of sufferings. We can think how the stories about the life and teaching of Jesus enabled the first Christians to give their lives out of faith.
The Word of God also motivated people before and today, here and elsewhere to give their lives for the building of the Kingdom of God. We think about priests, religious and committed lay people. Our diocesan Church owes a lot to such people, expatriate missionaries and Melanesians.
Unless we are willing to constantly examine the way we live, love, work, think and speak under the piercing light of the Gospels, we will almost certainly only take what we find easy in the Gospels and ignore the rest of Jesus’ teachings.
The Word of God had the power to transform our lives. The Word of God needs an opportunity to come into our minds and to sink its roots deep into our hearts. We wish that the next four years will become such an opportunity for all of us in the Diocese.
As we are entrusted with the Word of God we need to learn to live with it. We let the Word of God shape our lives, give them direction, enrich them and lead us to our goal.
Living with the Bible is living with someone whom we love. We do not listen to the Word of God so as to get information, but to make stronger and richer our relationship with him and with one another. "The Gospel or the Word of God is like a mirror to our lives to guide our daily actions" (DPP, page 38).
The discipline of Christian life is mostly about learning to be still and listen and doing this in a world that is becoming more and more noisy and busy. We may be tempted to resist because for sure the Word of God will disturb our own personal plans.
During the next four years we will focus on the Word of God and its vital importance for our lives as Catholic Communities and our relationships as brothers and sisters in Christ. We will study about the Bible together, we will pray with the Bible, we will have our own Bible, we will give a place of honor to the Bible in our lives and in our homes, we will see how the Word of God offers us values to hold on to as we struggle to keep our good Melanesian values in this rapid changing world. The way forward is with the Word of God giving meaning and direction to our lives as persons, couples, families, communities, villages, settlements, parishes and as a diocese.
"When Christian communities come together to share the Word of God in the Bible they grow as a community and discover ways of service. They are able to apply the Scriptures to all aspects of their life in ways more familiar to their own culture" (CCPNGSI, no. 390).
Our response, as a People on a Journey of Faith, to God speaking to us will be the regular listening to his Word so that these life giving encounters will question, direct and shape our lives. The Bible is our companion on the Journey of Faith.
+ Gilles Côté, s.m.m.Bishop of Daru-Kiunga
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May the Word of God keep growing roots deep in your hearts and give meaning to your lives!
To stand firm in holiness as a people on a Journey of Faith we all need to fall in love with the Word of God in the Bible. That truth is becoming clearer to all of us as we give time as a Diocesan Church to reflect on the richness of the Word of God and grow in our belief that we need the light of that Word to live a good life and give life to others.
This year, 2014, we make efforts to see and understand how the Word of God gives meaning to our lives. When the Word of God takes roots in our hearts, our lives are then transformed. We are then no longer buried by the worries of our present life and are guided to walk together the way of Jesus. Let us take some time to think about how the Word of God gives meaning to our lives.
A life without meaning is a life without values, without purpose, without direction, without life giving relationships, without looking into the future. Let us look at two examples where life has no meaning for the people.
The first example is a group of delinquent, people we would call rascals here. Delinquent people live a reckless life; they are irresponsible and do not care about others. What is important for them is what they want and how they feel at the present moment. They will do anything in order to get what they want and they cannot wait. They don’t really care about others in the family and the community. They don’t think about the future. There are no values, no purpose and no openness to others. For them life is meaningful to the measure they get what they desire and are satisfied with it.
The second example is a village community that has lost its leaders. They all went away to work for companies. What happens when a community lacks leadership for a long period of time? The people easily lose the meaning of community life. Each family goes its own way and stops caring about the common good. And the people say things like this: "now life is no good in the village; there is no more community spirit; we are going nowhere; nobody takes responsibility anymore; each one only seeks his or her own interests; our village life is not meaningful".
Since the village people have stopped coming together to take decisions for their life as a village community, the way they live their lives is left to each individual or to each family. They no longer have a common vision or a plan of action to improve their village life and consequently they are not united. They don’t see any reason why they should stay in the village and work with others to make the village a place where people feel at home and are happy to be together.
In our diocese we share a common vision and in that vision (our ideal model of Church) we spell out our values, our objectives, the type of relationships we desire, the organization we desire to give ourselves and the roles to be played by many to make this come true.
When we attentively read the Gospels and the Letters from the New Testament we come to see how meeting with Jesus transformed the lives of the first disciples. They came to him to see. They heard him teach, they saw him act with power. They struggled to understand his teaching and change their way of thinking and acting, but they stayed with him. Why did they stay with him? I think that they were feeling good when they were with him and could see how much Jesus was adding to their lives. He was adding so much value and worth to their lives. Because of this they were willing to leave everything behind and walk his way. It was a way with a lot of meaning. His way had purpose and direction. It was worth living it.
All this took place because they listened to Jesus speaking to them and teaching them. Jesus, the Word of God was enriching their lives with new meaning. By opening up to him they felt that the Word of God was bringing "God’s life-giving Spirit" (John 6: 63) into their lives and making their lives more meaningful.
Let us learn something important from the disciples of Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-35). They said to each other: "wasn’t it like a fire burning in us when he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us"? (Luke 24: 32). Jesus warmed the hearts of the disciples of Emmaus and can warm our hearts today if we listen to him.
The disciples had been with Jesus and had decided to follow him. They had high expectations. This was adding much meaning to their lives. But now Jesus was dead and buried. All the meaning gained while with him had gone away. They were expecting something meaningful and important but were now disappointed and running away. But Jesus came to them and they took time to walk with him and listen to him. And as he explained the Scriptures to them a fire started to burn in their hearts. The words that Jesus shared with them help them to find again purpose and meaning for their lives and they decided to go back to the others and tell them that wonderful story.
That is also the experience of the first Christians. Listening to the Word of God added a dimension to their lives that became life giving. That is the reason why so that many of them were willing to give up their lives instead of denying their faith. They remained faithful to their faith as members of the Christian Community. "They spent their time in learning from the apostles, taking part in the fellowship, and sharing in the fellowship meals and the prayers" (Acts 2: 42). "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to proclaim God’s message with boldness” (Acts 4: 31). "The crowd paid close attention to what Philip said, as they listened to him and saw the miracles that he performed" (Acts 8: 6). They were "one in mind and heart" (Acts 4: 42) because they listened to the same message of God shared with them by the apostles. They lived in communion, as brothers and sisters. What is interesting is that they understood that to follow Jesus consists in observing the commandment to love of God and one another. This experience changed the meaning they were giving to their lives. It led them to live community together, to take good care of one another. They met together regularly to break the Word and break the Bread.
When we were writing our Diocesan Pastoral Plan in the late nineties a few things were important to us. We were thinking of the Melanesian people and how they can respond to God speaking to them. We were thinking about what comes in as new and what becomes different in the lives of the people when they attentively listen to the Word of God and find ways to respond to it. I give one very clear example: in the culture the payback mentality is very strong but the message of Jesus is to forgive one another and love our enemies. When people accept that teaching of Jesus they commit to live their lives in a different manner. At the same time their life is enriched by this new meaning.
And so we wrote our goals and our objectives and all the pages of our Diocesan Pastoral Plan, having in mind the growth of the people in holiness, the people accepting the way of Jesus and striving to live as he did. What came out very strongly is the effort to live in communion with one another, to build up harmonious relationships among each other, to invite all the people to contribute to the life of the community by sharing their God given gifts and talents.
"To make the Kingdom of God visible in our Diocese by living among ourselves relationships of love like those that unite the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, so that we may all grow together in holiness" DPP, page 4. This is our goal. To accept that goal is to give meaning to our lives. That is what we desire to do and become in life.
"The people of God answer God’s call to be holy…" DPP page 4. This is part of the objective. We answer the call of God. That supposes that God is speaking to us, calling us to listen to his Word and build our lives on the solid foundation of that Word. This is also important to us and who we are. We are a people listening to God and living our lives as a response to his call.
"He calls us to holiness as persons and as communities. He invites us to be one with him, with one another and with all of creation" DPP 2.1, 1st par. "Baptism brings us into a new relationship: we are the Family of God, sons and daughters of the Father, brothers and sisters to each other…" DPP 2.1, 2nd par. “We have clear goals. We have a common vision. All of this helps us to walk the Journey of Faith in a spirit of togetherness, in mutual help, support and understanding” DPP 2.1, 6th par. When we make efforts to put into action the ideas and beliefs expressed in our Diocesan Pastoral Plan, our life acquires a very rich and well defined meaning.
On our Journey of Faith we need to keep focusing on the values, the goal and the objective of our DPP. They always set us in the right direction. They equip us for dealing in an appropriate manner with the social issues affecting our lives at this time. We are always reminded to go back to the Word of God in the Bible to obtain inspiration, to get motivated, to be strong in our commitment.
Go back to the section 2.2 of our DPP. It is about our COMMUNITARIAN LIFE. We say something about the CHRISTIAN FAMILY, the SMALL CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY and the LARGE COMMUNITY (parish). Read that part of the DPP and see how the people at those three levels of community life are to give attention to the Word of God. The reason for this is that we cannot live a Christian life, a community life without listening to the Word of God and then putting the teaching of God into our daily lives.
We are Christians and therefore our faith and our love need to be taken into account when we think about the meaning of our lives. It is the person that I am that is a Christian, a believer. So there cannot be two sets of meanings, one for my human life and one for my Christian life.
Whether we realize it or not we all seek to find meaning in our lives. We can try to avoid the question by burying ourselves in work or by immersing ourselves in the pleasures of this world. We may try to find fulfillment in more food, more drink, more exercise and more sex. But there is more to us than our bodies, as good as they are. It can be so easy to go on with the many daily activities, facing problems, never slowing down and not taking the time to ask: “What am I doing? What is the meaning of my life?” But the question never goes away.
When you ask people what provides meaning to their lives you get a variety of responses such as my family, my service to others, my work, my financial gain, my possessions, having a lot of fun, etc. There is some truth in all of these responses but as believers and Catholics we believe that meaning is found in putting into practice the teaching of the Word of God. The teachings of the Bible are food for our souls and light for our hearts.
What then can provide us with the deepest meaning for our lives? Perhaps St. Augustine put it best when he wrote: "You made us for yourself, o Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you" (Confessions 1, 1). We are created to be in union with God. We were created to have a relationship with him, and until we enter into that relationship, we will always feel incomplete. The purpose of life is to forge a living relationship with the loving God and our brothers and sisters.
It is surely much more than just knowing about God and Jesus and the Church. Behind the written words of the Bible there is a God who speaks, in other words who communicates with us. Why does he communicate with us?
In the story of the burning bush (Exodus 3: 4) we do not simply read that God spoke to Moses but that he called him. Now to call means much more than simply to speak. Someone who calls does not intend above all to transmit information but rather to invite the listener into a relationship. If the God of the Bible speaks to us, it is because he wishes to enter into a relationship, a dialogue, with those he created. Those who listen and respond find meaning for their lives.
Jesus made it very clear when he said that the wise ones are those who listen to God’s Word and build their life on it. It is like building our house on a solid rock. Nothing then can make it fall down. Read Mathew 7: 24-25. Pope Francis, in his recent Pastoral Letter wrote: "Faith accepts this word as a solid rock upon which we can build" (Lumen Fidei no. 10).
We are very familiar with the song "The more I hear of the Word of God, the better I will know Him …. Love Him …. Serve Him". And in the refrain we ask the Father to open our minds and our hearts so that we can learn more about Him.
What we sing we desire for ourselves and our friends because it is so true that the Word of God gives meaning to our lives. Yes the Word of God is very near to us. "The Word of God is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe" (Deut. 30: 14).
The people find meaning in the Word of God when they make room for God in their lives. The believers, who like Mary in the Gospel (Luke 10: 38-42) take time to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to him find food for their souls in the Word of God.
That is why the Small Christian Communities are so important to our lives and the life of the Church. When the members of a SCC meet together they first look at their own lives and try to make sense of them in the light of the Word of God. That is exactly what the early Christians did.
The Word of God is not only in the Bible. It is also in the life of the people and it can be discovered there with the help of the Bible. So the ideal is for a community of believers to make the link between their experience of life and the Word of God in the Bible.
When we reflect on one aspect of our lives and then read a passage from the Bible we need to ask ourselves how this passage helps us and challenges us and how it can assist us to live up to our ideal in our Diocesan Pastoral Plan.
The Word of God is never to be used to beat other people over an argument. It is not intended for that. It is given to us to question, strengthen, and affirm us while we travel as pilgrims on our journey of faith as a people.
The Word of God is very powerful and can impress people when it is well shared with them. That is how the community of the believers increased at the very beginning and that is how it can also increase today. People who believe in the Word of God and practice it into their daily lives need to share openly that Word with others and tell how it gave new meaning to their lives.
When we make effort to live our Melanesian life in the light of the Gospel we implement our vision. That is because the Word of God has become clear and meaningful to us. The life of the people of the SCC becomes rooted in the Word of God in the Bible. They discover the meaning of the Word of God in their lives and are challenged to live up to their calling.
The Bible was written by the people of God and for the people of God. The Word of God is to serve as a light on the pathway of life. In Amos we read that we need to be hungry, but "not for bread, nor thirst for water, but for hearing the Word of God" (Amos 8: 11).
Recently Pope Francis wrote: "We realize that a great love has been offered us, a good word has been spoken to us, and that when we welcome that word, Jesus Christ the Word made flesh, the Holy Spirit transforms us, lights up our way to the future and enables us to joyfully advance along that way on wings of hope" (Lumen Fidei no. 7).
He also wrote that "Christ’s word, once heard, by virtue of its inner power at work in the heart of the Christian, becomes a response, a spoken word, a profession of faith" (Lumen Fidei no. 22).
When we make constant efforts to live our faith in our daily lives we find meaning for our life and we give meaning to others. It is all about entering into a relationship with God. That is the reason God speaks to us and that we need to listen to his Word as persons and as communities. When this takes place in our life we realize how we see things and people differently and how our relationships with others have been enriched and are more meaningful.
Pope Francis wrote that "by professing the same faith, we stand firm on the same rock, we are transformed by the same Spirit of love, we radiate one light and we have a single insight into reality" (Lumen Fidei no. 47). Such an experience lived together gives a profound meaning to our lives and the whole purpose of our Diocesan Pastoral Plan and the Small Christian Communities is to achieve this.
Let us hold on to one another in faith and love and continue to build our Christian and community life on the solid rock of the Word of God. Mother Mary not only lives that experience with us her children but offers us a worthy example. Luke the evangelist in chapter 8 speaks of Mary’s memory, how she treasured in her heart all that she had heard and seen, so that the word could bear fruit in her life. To do this, like her we need a heart that is honest and good, a heart which hears and keeps the word.
Montfort, our patron saint, always carried a Bible in his bilum. But most importantly he carried in his heart the Word of God spoken in the Bible and because of this he was able to live his life not for himself but for God and the others, especially the poor.
We will put a few Kina aside to buy our family Bible; we will make an extra effort to attend the Bible course that will be offered in the communities; we will renew our commitment to our Small Christian Community. If we do this there is no doubt that our life will become a very meaningful experience.
+ Gilles Côté, s.m.m.Bishop of Daru-Kiunga