‘Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it”.’ Mark 8: 34 – 36. This is the gospel reading chosen for Bishop John Coleridge Patteson’s Feast Day.
I firmly believe that these words of Jesus are ingrained and embedded in the life and ministry of Bishop Patteson. They show how he lived out his life for the sake of the people of Melanesia, and I am counted as one of those. In his diary, quoted by Margaret Cropper in Flame Touches Flame, are the words, ‘I feel the sense of responsibility deepening on me. I must go out to work without Selwyn, and very anxious I am sometimes, and almost oppressed by it. But strength will come and it is not one’s work, which is a comfort; and if I fail – which is very likely – God will place some other man in my position, and the work will go on, whether in my hands or not, and that is the real point’.
Having visited Bishop Patteson’s home and the church where he did his curacy, I was overcome by the fact of the Bishop leaving his comfortable dwelling to live as a homeless stranger in these islands. Spreading the Gospel was more vital to him than living in a comfortable home. Where would we be if Bishop Patteson had not made the sacrifice? Would we be still living in darkness without Christ? We owe a lot to the bishop for denying himself and taking risks for our sake. We are the very fruit of his sacrificial life and the shedding of his blood. This role model of Bishop Patteson challenges us Melanesians. Are we prepared to deny ourselves and to take up our cross for the sake of the gospel? Is the Gospel at the very heart of our lives and our ministry? If it is at the heart of our lives and our ministry, then we too will experience the joy of spreading the good news to our neighbours and living it out in our lives, families and parishes. God’s word is alive and active and we must feed on it daily. It is powerful in that it transforms and shapes our lives as believers in God.
An item in this week’s news was shocking. A man was accused of sorcery and his feet and hands were bound together and were chopped off. It happened on one of the islands near where Bishop Patteson’s life was laid down. This shows that there is still much to do here in Melanesia in ministry among our people and we need to work very hard.
Our Community is working with women and children who are the victims of domestic violence. It is very sad that we call ourselves a Christian country, but domestic violence is very high in our towns, villages and homes. Although terrible things may happen in our country, we must overcome evil with good, as the Bishop left us the model. As Christians, we need to revisit our mission among our people in our islands. We must deny ourselves for the sake of the gospel. ‘Patteson’s murder was brutal, but it proved to be the seed of the Melanesian Church which grew and continues to grow from strength to strength’. Bishop Patteson brought the Good News to us. May nothing overwhelm the light of Christ within us.
Revd Sr Veronica CSC