PASTORAL LETTER OF BISHOP KIERAN CONRY

Dear people of Arundel & Brighton,

A few weeks ago the publishers of The Da Vinci Code won their case against themselves (they were being sued by two other writers in the same publishing house) and the film of The Da Vinci Code can now go out. If you haven’t read the book, there is still time to decide not to read it.

The book by Dan Browne is a novel, a work of fiction, and that must not be forgotten. Nonetheless, it does claim to be based on carefully researched facts (found mostly by Mrs Browne, it seems), and the most important of these is that Jesus didn’t die on the cross, but that he married Mary Magdalene and they had a daughter together, and that the Catholic Church has been trying to keep this quiet ever since. Understandable in a way.

What this demonstrates is an extraordinary ignorance of the way the gospels were written. I was interviewed recently by a group of children from St Peter’s Primary School in East Grinstead, and one of the most interesting questions they asked was, “What is your favourite story from the bible?” I said that I thought it was the story of the road to Emmaus, when the two disciples were walking along the road, talking. I asked the children if they knew what happened next, and one of them proceeded to tell the story. I’m not sure all adults could do that.

The end of the story happens to be next week’s gospel. But go and find the story in Luke’s gospel (Chapter 24) and read it. Listen to the opening words of the disciples when Jesus asks them what they were discussing. “You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem that does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days.” The story was known by everyone. Nobody in Jerusalem could have remained unaware of Jesus’ death on the cross and the news that the tomb had been found empty. The news would have spread throughout the city straightaway, and then carried by people to their homes after they went back from the Festival of the Passover. It was then passed from person to person for years, until finally, it was committed to writing in what we call the gospel. It stretches the imagination to puzzle how a story so well-known and shared so widely could be changed in a rather fundamental way. But it does illustrate the ease with which many people today will choose to believe the bizarre rather than the ordinary.

Today’s gospel from John gives us the clearest statement of belief in the whole gospel, when Thomas acknowledges Jesus as “My Lord and my God.” It is clear that the gospel was intended to end with that statement of belief, because John then goes on to talk about all the things that could have been included but weren’t. The gospel also refers to those, like ourselves, who will hear the story it tells. Jesus says to Thomas, “You believe because you can see me. Happy are those who have not see and yet believe.”

We have just celebrated the day of the resurrection, and until the Feast of Pentecost on 4 June, we continue to celebrate Easter. Would you say that the word that Jesus uses, happy, applies to you in your belief? Would you say that you experience joy in your faith and your relationship with the Lord? If you are one of those who were received into the Catholic Church last week, the answer would probably be yes. But for the rest of us, our faith has probably become a little jaded and tired.

Faith is meant to be life-giving, positive and affirming. Many of the letters that I receive wouldn’t fit into those categories. Many are just complaints about other people, about the church today, about things that the writers themselves simply find awkward or irritating. They certainly don’t give me life, energy or inspiration. If we are to find life in faith, then it is likely that we find it in other people — just think of the people who really inspire you, even if they are people in the media whom you have never met. But is anyone going to find inspiration and energy in me? Am I going to offer anyone a positive experience of the reality of faith in God and a personal relationship with the Lord?

If we see faith as the energy of all of life, then that energy is something we either give out or absorb. It is an energy that we can make greater, or it is an energy that we can steal and diminish. It is an important choice, if not for ourselves, then for other people we meet.

With my best wishes and prayers for the Easter season.

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