a note for Parish Newsletter
St Therese of Lisieux, Chatham Islands
Our Lady of Victories, Sockburn
Sunday 30 May 2010
Last Sunday we celebrated Pentecost. Pentecost is fifty days after Easter (the Greek word for Pentecost is ‘fifty’: seven times seven weeks, and the fiftieth day is the Jewish feast of ‘first-fruits’). I left Christchurch on Easter Sunday, so I have been away for fifty days.
My time began with a priests’ retreat in the United States. It was a wonderful experience to be on retreat with a group of priests. Our time together was led by the Holy Spirit who did not miss the opportunity to speak powerfully through Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete. You will have heard me speak about him before. He is a remarkable character and a powerful witness to God’s presence and action in the world. If you are interested you could watch him on youtube being interviewed five years ago about the new pope Benedict.
Following the retreat I had a week’s vacation with friends in the mid-West USA. Then, when I reached New York the ‘excitement’ (that I could have done without) began. Arriving at the airport for my flight to Munich (where I would meet up with the other OLV pilgrims), I learned that all flights to Europe had been cancelled and I should check in tomorrow. The following day the news was that Europe was still under the cloud. My next opportunity to fly would be five days away at the earliest. After spending a couple of hours deciding what to do, I miraculously got a flight direct to Tel Aviv. At this same time I heard that the stranded Singapore pilgrims had experienced a similar miracle and were on their way to Tel Aviv.
Arriving at Tel Aviv I got the news that our pilgrims had been bumped off their Tel Aviv flight and were returning home to Christchurch. Three other pilgrims made it to Israel and the news from the insurance company was that we who had made it would not be covered if we called off the pilgrimage. Therefore the pilgrimage had to go ahead with four people.
at a distance, but deeply united
For the next two weeks I knew that this was a different kind of pilgrimage. Some of our group was stranded in Europe. Some were now back in Christchurch, Timaru and Geraldine. And our little group of four were in Israel. Throughout the next three weeks we (all 34 of us) were united in conversation, thought and prayer. It was a distressing time for everyone. It is difficult to understand why such things happen to good people. What is God up to? Why us?
I remain convinced that the Holy Spirit has used this past month to form and to re-form us all.
It was inspiring to hear from the pilgrims, now all family after living together for three days (and nights) at gate E27 in Singapore airport. They have many stories of new-found community and friendship, of love and support, of deep care for each other in very difficult circumstances. You have been an example to us all of what we are called to be as a parish family.
It was an unexpected joy to have six of this ‘returned’ group making the journey to join the four in Rome for the last three days of pilgrimage. Even then, our prayers and thoughts and conversation were with and about the full community of 34.
Following the pilgrimage I moved into my home for the next month, with the de la Salle brothers. In these two weeks I have savoured the opportunity to be a part of the routine of the house. There is good space – the house is large. There is time for reading and reflection. There is good company with food and drink when I need it.
It has been a bit of a challenge for me to adjust to the difference between life in the parish and life on sabbatical. I know that the last three years with the sickness and death of my parents has taken its toll. I am grateful to you parishioners for your support and understanding through this time.
Some parishioners have asked that I keep a blog of my sabbatical. If you are interested you will find it at http://johnoconnor2010.blogspot.com. Feel free to use the ‘comment’ section of the blog. Also I’m always happy to receive emails, particularly prayer requests. I’m happy to remember your specific intentions at Mass each day and in other times of prayer. Contact me at email@example.com
While I spend part of each day studying, I have come to realize anew that my main work as a priest is prayer. This is the real work of God for me in these days. The study makes sense only in this context. Some mornings I go down to St Peters to celebrate Mass, other mornings I have Mass here in the house. Wherever, the parishioners of Our Lady of Victories and St Therese of Lisieux Chatham Islands are in my prayer.
Thank you to you all, parishioners of Our Lady of Victories and St Therese of Lisieux. I am grateful for your generosity to me in so many ways: most especially for being supportive of my time away from the parishes.
Please keep me in your prayer, as I pray for you.