bugs and bells gone and God lives on
At Christmas twelve years ago we were anxious about the possible negative consequences of the Millennium Bug. Despite our fears the citizens of Christchurch unplugged computers and TV’s and headed to Hagley Park to herald the next thousand years with music and fireworks. The bells of the Cathedrals welcomed a new era. A couple of weeks later I arrived at Our Lady of Victories. By this time we knew that our Y2K fears were unfounded and life had returned to routine. For all of us at Our Lady of Victories this was a new stage of our journey together to God.
Many times in the years since our plans have had to change as a result of unpredicted and often unwanted events. The job is lost. The relationship dissolves. The friend dies. Most recently earthquakes have destroyed much and changed everything. The loss of life in these and other tragedies seems too much to bear.
It has been a privilege to serve as the Parish Priest of Our Lady of Victories these past dozen years. Priesthood is not a job. It is a life, more akin to family than to institution. As a result people see all sides of their priest; the worst, and hopefully too the best. This means that the mistakes and ‘bad days’ of a priest are not confined within the walls of a presbytery.
As I prepare to leave Our Lady of Victories I am deeply aware of the things I have done badly, or the things I should have done, but have neglected. For my mistakes and neglects I ask for your understanding and forgiveness. Hopefully my failures remind you of my need for your prayers.
I am also aware of the many ways in which the Holy Spirit has moved powerfully among us. A priest is in an especially privileged position to see the power and even the miracles of God in the lives of parishioners.
I see this most vividly in the sacraments. How often people come into the Church for Mass visibly burdened. An hour later they comment on leaving that they are strengthened. They are now able to face the week ahead.
Every Sunday I see the families of so many who I have buried from Our Lady of Victories. I feel especially connected with you since in the last four years I have buried both my own parents from Our Lady of Victories.
The restoration of our parish Church in 2008 heralded a renewed commitment to celebrating the Liturgy of the Church with beauty, dignity and fidelity.
As the inscription above the doors of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament still proclaims: “Ecce Tabernaculum Dei Cum Hominibus” (Behold, Look! Here God lives among us).
Other buildings in the city provide ample space for secular entertainments. But a Catholic Church is dedicated for the single purpose of worship of God. In this way our parish Church, open all day every day for Masses and prayer, is an icon. Not an icon of our parish or our neighbourhood, but an icon of God.
And this is the heart of the Christmas reality.
Families and friends come and go. Personal interests and projects ebb and flow. Our houses, workplaces, even the land on which they stand, rise and fall. We see this pattern in nature, the waxing and waning of days and seasons and years. We cannot escape this rhythm in the moments and movements of our lives.
Our Catholic ancestors building a Cathedral proclaimed: ‘Look, here God lives among us’. My prayer is that in some way my presence at Our Lady of Victories has helped to deepen our focus on God who dwells among us in every moment.
The bells may no longer ring. Priests too come and go. But human happiness is found when we turn to God in every moment and allow God to work anew the miracle of incarnation in the stables of our own lives.
With my love and gratitude to you all.