The Good Shepherd parish Transition Committee met during the week. Over the past twelve months these parishioners, representing each of the seven communities of the three previous parishes, have guided all aspects of the formation of the one new united Catholic Parish of the Good Shepherd, Hurunui District.
In these weeks, as the Transition Committee concludes its work, a new Good Shepherd Parish Council is being formed. This group will comprise one representive of each of the seven communities of the Hurunui, one representative of the Filipino community, Sr. Clare of the Community of the Beatitudes, and the parish treasurer with the parish priest. A number of the new parish councillors were able to be present at this week’s meeting.
As I write this morning, I am pondering the tweet that Pope Benedict sent me a couple of hours ago. (He also tweeted the same message to a couple of million others) In his brief encouragement he summarised the heart of all human life, therefore the purpose of every Catholic parish council. The pope tweeted: “May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives.”
We must never allow our Catholic faith to be reduced to legalism, moralism, or rituals and rubrics. A Catholic parish does not exist to be a satisfying comfortable human institution that is marked by efficiency and human successes. Instead a healthy Catholic parish is a sign that reminds all people that God is with every person, that Jesus Christ is alive and desires to live in personal relationship with each person.
It is this experience of divine intimacy offered now and eternally, that transforms the joys, hopes, griefs and anxieties of daily human life into an opportunity for loving relationship with the divine.
It is this personal experience of divine love that enables us to transcend human fear and weakness to look each other with love. It is this personal encounter with Jesus Christ that motivates us to look to the most needy of our neighbours, and the most difficult of our enemies, with a new gaze of love.
Note what happens in the gospel reading of today’s Mass. Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at the town well. They begin to chat in a very ordinary way about thirst and water, needs and human relationships. The woman experiencs real love from Jesus. She experiences Jesus gazing at her with true love. She begins to feel more alive and energised than ever before and off she goes to share her experience. Those she speaks with are curious and they come to meet Jesus. Later these others report back to the woman: “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”
It is significant that it was Jesus’ recognition of his own personal need for her faith, that brought him to the well, and motivated him to ask the woman for a drink. Today’s preface puts this vividly: “For when he asked the Samaritan woman for water to drink, he had already created the gift of faith within her, and so ardently did he thirst for her faith, that he kindled in her the fire of divine love.”
This really is the heart of the matter of all human existence. A human person is by definition, needy. Human need is not a design flaw. Instead, my need is the characteristic that orients me beyond the mundane and the routine. My human need, whether experienced as loneliness, hunger or suffering is evidence of my capacity for ‘the other’. This need drives me to look beyond my own wants, achievements and abilities to my family, friends, neighbours, enemies and (following this path) to God.
At this moment of new beginning for our new parish of the Good Shepherd, and as we initiate a new Parish Council, let’s remain focussed on this heart of the matter. The Parish Council will be required to oversee, lead and advise on all aspects of parish life. Naturally (as in our own families) this will include sound administrative management, budgeting and expenditure, and wise maintenance of resources. But such practical administration is at the service of something greater. A healthy parish council will continually ask (of itself and the parish) the important questions focussed on the life of Jesus Christ among us.
Perhaps a good starter question for all parishioners and for the new Council is presented to us in Pope Benedict’s last tweet: ‘Are we putting Christ at the centre of our lives so that we, and all parishioners might experience the joy that life with Christ gives’?
I’ll give the last word(s) to Pope Benedict with quotations from his final Wednesday Audience this week:
“I have to especially thank God
who guides and builds up the Church,
who plants His Word
and thus nourishes the faith in His People”.
“Lord, what do You ask of me?
It is a great weight that You are placing on my shoulders but, if You ask it of me, I
will cast my nets at your command,
confident that You will guide me,
even with all my weaknesses”.
“I would like to invite everyone to renew
their firm trust in the Lord,
to entrust ourselves like children to God’s arms,
certain that those arms always hold us up
and are what allow us to walk forward each day,
even when it is a struggle.
I would like everyone to feel beloved
of that God who gave His Son for us
and who has shown us His boundless love.
I would like everyone to feel
the joy of being Christian”.
“the Gospel’s Word of truth is the strength of the Church;
it is her life”.
“The Lord has given us many days
of sunshine and light breezes,
days when the fishing was plentiful,
but also times when the water was rough
and the winds against us,
the whole history of the Church,
when the Lord seemed to be sleeping.
But I always knew that the Lord
is in that boat and I always knew
that the boat of the Church
is not mine, not ours, but is His”.
always sustaining her even
and especially in difficult times.
Let us never lose this vision of faith,
which is the only true vision of the
path of the Church and of the world.
In our hearts, in the heart
of each one of you, may there always
that the Lord is beside us,
that He does not abandon us,
and embraces us with His love”.