ministers of hope

I am grateful to the Christchurch Press for taking the initiative to present a feature this morning on the recent Christchurch ordinations.

A brief interview can do little more than convey an idea or two slanted with a personal, populist and often negative bias. However a personal participation in the gathering itself has the power to convey the beauty and significance of the event.

It is unfortunate that the writer of this morning’s Press article on the three new Christchurch priests was not present at the wonderful festival of faith that we experienced at the July 1 ordination celebration.

This morning’s hard-copy paper headline “Priesthood calls for three more” was more positive than the online post “three become priests while numbers receiving the call decline in New Zealand.”  It was the online version that I read first and as I read I felt a gloom descending. Tragically most who catch the headline would read no further and continue their lives with a reinforced merging of the words “priests” and “decline.”

This is far from the fact we witnessed at St. Mary’s pro-Cathedral on the morning of Saturday 1 July.

The headline might more accurately have announced that six ordinations in a twelve-month period signals a positive new energy and life for the Catholic community of Westland, Canterbury and the Chatham Islands.

As Vocations Director for the diocese I could have added that the call of God is as strong as ever among people of all ages in our diocese. Several young men in the diocese are currently expressing an attraction to life as diocesan priests and they are in regular conversation with me and with others whom they trust.

Many baptised Catholics in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, already committed to marriage and happy and successful in their careers, are awakening to the fact that there is more to life, and encountering anew the reality a new life-giving and abundant dimension in their lives in deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.

Daily I witness Jesus Christ alive and active among the parishioners of our diocese.  Contrary to the suggestion of the Press article, a growing number of people, many newly awakened to the unsatisfiable promises of secular opportunities, are seeking to give their lives within marriage and work commitments to wholeheartedly following a deeper, transcendent and divine calling.

It is a fact that there are more diocesan priests serving in the Christchurch diocese today than there were in 1940. Back then no-one spoke of those years as an era of decline since the community of the baptised ensured that Catholic faith was communicated in all aspects of family, social and work life. Sunday Mass was the sacred touch-stone of each week and many people travelled great distances to give Christ the opportunity to strengthen them every Sunday in the Mass. As our Catholic ancestors across the centuries have proclaimed, we cannot live without the Mass which provides the oasis of divine stability and security in our spinning lives.

As Graeme reflects in the article, the priesthood is quite a foreign concept for many people today.  Even Catholics struggle to understand the nature and the mission of the priestly calling too often portraying priestly life as an odd job instead of the fulfilling life that it is for those of us who are happy to live and serve as priests.

Graeme adds that his friends were supportive of his choice and he has consequently become closer with many of them.  Perhaps this is a reminder that healthy people, even in a proudly “post-Christian” society, still seek to find meaning in their existence and look for opportunities to have faith-filled conversations with one who has happily embraced the ultimate life-journey.

It is thirty years since I was ordained as a priest. One of the greatest joys in my life over these years has been working with people who are eager to find deeper meaning in their existence. These conversations happen at church and in cafés, in supermarkets and in schools, when I expect them and in the most unlikely moments. Any person who desires to live with Jesus, however imperfectly, becomes a magnet for such encounters.

It is true that there are fewer people at Sunday Mass these days than when I was ordained, but this fact does not concern me at all. It is not our mission to be big and powerful. Our Christian history reminds us that secular, capitalist and commercial measures are unable to measure the beauty and power of life lived in loving relationship with Jesus Christ.  The one who is in love is not too concerned with what others think.

Thank you Huynh, Graeme and Alister for reminding us that young, attractive, intelligent young men in twenty-first century New Zealand still find Christ to be the adequate response to all healthy human needs and desires. Your witness encourages and enables us to lives as ministers of hope.

Thank you for your “yes” to Christ, in service of us your sisters and brothers in the Christchurch Diocese. Your generosity and love is an ultimate sign of hope for those of us who strive to live in love with Jesus Christ.

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