a new thing

Feb 19, 2012

During the week the priests of our diocese met in regional groups. We do this a few times each year. I am now part of the Christchurch North region including the priests of the parishes of Burnside, Papanui, Bryndwyr, Kaiapoi and Rangiora, and myself from the Hurunui parishes of Cheviot, Hawarden and Hanmer Springs.

The meetings begin with prayer and continue with reflection and discussion of matters concerning the parishes, the regions and the diocese. In a couple of weeks one priest from each region will meet with the bishop at the Council of Priests meeting.

Half of the priests at our meeting (including myself) are new to the ‘northern’ region due to changing parishes in the last few weeks. Most are affected directly by parish amalgamations. Several priests and their parishes are dealing with the loss of their churches due to the effects of earthquakes. All of us spend time every day with people who suffer loss of family members, homes or businesses in the earthquakes.

As we approach the first anniversary of the most tragic February 22nd quake, we are deeply aware of those who suffer the complex effects and the tragic losses of the earthquakes. We pray especially this week for those who lost their lives twelve months ago. May they rest in peace. We pray too for those who are most burdened by the losses and anxieties of these months. May they know God’s love and our support.

In the midst of all of this turmoil and transition, the scriptures of today speak strongly. Listen again:

Thus says the Lord:
Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
see, I am doing something new. 
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

They were all astounded
and glorified God, saying:
“we have never seen anything like this.”

One of the passages we reflected on at our meetings was from Pope Benedict’s introduction to “YOUCAT” (the youth catechism). You will get a sense of the power and practical attractiveness of this re-presentation of the Catholic faith at this link.

Here is the paragraph we pondered:

“This supplement to the catechism does not flatter you; it does not offer easy solutions; it demands a new life on your part; it presents you with the message of the Gospel like the “pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:45) for which everything must be given. And so I ask you: study the catechism with passion and perseverance! Sacrifice your time for this! Study it in the silence of your room, read it with someone else, if you are friends, form groups and study networks, exchange ideas on the internet. In whatever way, remain in dialogue on your faith!

“You must know what you believe; you must know your faith with the same precision with which a programming specialist knows the operating system of a computer; you must know it like a musician knows his piece. Yes, you must be much more deeply rooted in the faith than the generation of your parents, in order to be able to resist forcefully and decisively against the temptations of this time.

“You need divine help, if your faith does not want to dry up like a drop of dew in the sun, if you do not want to succumb to the temptations of consumerism, if you do not want your love to drown in pornography, if you do not want to betray the weak and the victims of abuse and violence.

Pope Benedict is passionate in his encouragement for the church to enter a phase of “New Evangelisation“.  The primary goal of this event is to re-present the Catholic faith to those who may have already heard the good news, but have grown weary, lax or even forgotten the beauty of life with Jesus within the Church.

Many people today, both within and outside the church, see the Catholic Church as a “no” religion. Somehow they have picked up the idea that being Catholic is about saying no to everything that is fun and truly good. The reality is that Catholicism is a “YES” faith: a saying YES to all that meets the deepest desires of the human heart.  

Cardinal-elect Timothy Dolan of New York made this point during the week, in his address to the pope and the cardinals gathered in Rome, speaking on the “New Evangelisation.”

And this is the heart of the life of our own parishes: how to present anew the life of faith to those who, while still feeling some connection with the Church, have lost something of the passion and vibrancy of life in Christ.

This is the situation we find ourselves in, in the parishes of our diocese: the effects of the earthquakes, the demolition of churches, homes and businesses, the suffering of loss of life and uncertainty about the future, all of these sufferings can have the effect of dulling our vision. We focus on what we have lost and what is past. Yet the scriptures encourage us: “Behold I am doing a new thing, says the Lord, even now it comes to light, can you not see it.”

The new evangelisation of Pope Benedict challenges us to think in a new way. To think laterally.  

You may have heard the story of the large lorry that was trapped under a bridge. Not trapped by much…the truck was just a millimeter or so too tall for the underpass. It could not be moved forward or backward. 

The engineers came and considered the possibility of using hydraulics to lift the bridge a bit.  The excavators examined digging out a track in front of or behind the truck.  After several hours a young boy skateboarded onto the scene with the most obvious and effective solution: “why don’t they just let a bit of air out of the tires…”

There is another great example of this ‘lateral’ or ‘creative’ ‘new’ thinking in today’s gospel – we all know the story, they bring the paralysed man to Jesus on a stretcher. They know that Jesus has the power to heal. But when they get to the house, there are so many people that they cannot get the paralytic man inside. What are they to do? Perhaps they could go in and drag Jesus out through the crowd. maybe they could shout “fire, fire” to quickly disperse the crowd and make room. Not a good idea. What to do…?   

Then a lateral thinker comes up with a remarkable suggestion. Get onto the roof, remove a few tiles, and lower the stretcher down in front of Jesus. Wow!  A new thing, a creative mind, a lateral thinker wins the day. “They were all astounded and glorified God, saying: ‘we have never seen anything like this.'”

But this is a tough call isn’t it. So much of what we experience in life, particularly through this traumatic year of Christchurch suffering, is instability in all its manifestations.  How impossible it is in the dead of winter, to see the blossom and leaves of the spring and summer.

Imagine the evergreen trees in the garden of Eden looking at the deciduous trees in the autumn. Imagine their ‘conversation’: “look over there at ash and oak, not looking too good, a bit sick, on the way out…”

Then in the heart of winter the conversation might continue: “poor old alder and robinia – used to look so good, stunning even, but clearly it is all over and they are just a few dead branches.” 

But then a miracle happens, and with the spring the buds of new life appear. Even that which looks deadly and death-like is not in fact death.  There is always hope.

Friends, too often our openness to the future action of God is limited by our experiences of the past: ‘it has never happened before so it won’t happen now.’

Now, more than ever, we, as people of faith, are challenged to open our eyes to see our personal situations, our families, parish, the church and the world, with a new gaze: a vision of faith:

“see, I am doing something new. 
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

Readings for Seventh Sunday of the Year

Fr. Robert Barron’s reflection for Seventh Sunday


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