A healthy human person, is hungry to hear God. The demands of daily life disguise our awareness of this hunger. As a result we begin to believe that our happiness and health is our own achievement.
Too often I slide down the track of thinking that everything is in my own hands. I begin to believe that I can be whoever (and whatever) I want to be. Such independence might seem like a positive move along a road of self-actualisation and personal assertiveness. But the end result is always frustration, and even despair.
It may be that your response on reading this is to disagree. Such a reaction is understandable since citizens of our secular society pride themselves on not being dependant on anyone or anything. We all fall victim to this attitude, even those of us who profess faith in Jesus Christ.
One sign of this is that in our prayer every now and then we call on God to ‘give us a hand’ with a particular problem. The under-lying presumption is that we do pretty good on our own most days, but occasionally we need some divine assistance. Of course the reality is that every breath is a gift of the one who created us and who (with every breath) is creating us.
As I am jotting down this reflection an image comes to mind.
I was at the local Rest Home for Mass this morning. A few of the residents have mobility scooters with a battery that charges when connected to electricity. The mobility scooters look great. But if they are not regularly plugged in to the power, they become useless. They may survive on battery power alone for a brief trip or two, but the intention of their designer is that they need power. This dependence is not a design flaw. Instead it is the inventor’s intention. Any mobility scooter owner who decides that they want their scooter to be independent of external power is foolish. You get the point? Which brings us to today’s gospel where Jesus appears (after his resurrection) to the disciples on the shore of the lake. They had been fishing all night and caught nothing. You can imagine them heading out the evening before, ready to fish. They would have had nets and bait, and a clear plan for which part of the lake to fish. While they might have had high hopes, they would have know from their past experience that some nights were good for fishing and on other nights their nets remained empty. It’s a bit like us in the Hurunui. We are small and hopeful communities of faith. But even in the heart of this year of faith, we tire of living and sharing our faith. We have seen our numbers decline in recent decades. No longer are our churches full. At times we get a bit desperate and grasp at programmes and plans. We want full nets. We nostalgically look back to a time when young people flooded our sacramental programmes and when there were several baptisms most weeks. We are now at the beginning of a new era of Catholic life in the Hurunui. The area between the Ashley and Conway rivers is once again one parish with one priest. (a return to the structure and staffing that was present a century ago when the faith grew vibrantly here).
The newly formed Parish Council meets for the first time this week. What do we expect of them? What do we expect of each other as parishioners of the Good Shepherd? What do we expect of the parish priest?
Many of you might be tiring of hearing me say that it is not about the numbers. I keep on saying it because I know that you don’t believe me! You might think that I am trying to be positive about a challenging situation. But am not given to that kind of desperate positivism.
Instead I know that if the goal of our new parish council is to fill every one of our churches every Sunday, then that mission is easily achieved. We could use a little of our savings to bring in Mumford & Sons to play at each Mass. Or we could have ‘spot-pew-prizes’…turn up, sit in the lucky spot and win a plasma screen TV or an ipad. Without a doubt word would get around and our churches would be full. But thanks be to God our goal is not to be big. Our mission is to be faithful to living in personal and communal relationship with Jesus Christ. It is this relationship that enables a human to not just cope and survive life, but to truly LIVE.
Pope Benedict spoke about this a few years ago. He said:
“The church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes . . . she will lose many of her social privileges. . . As a small society, [the Church] will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members….It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek . . .”
Then he concluded by saying:
“But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as humanity’s home, where people will find life and hope beyond death.”
This was precisely the challenge faced by the first disciples of Jesus. Now, after their experience of their own personal failure and weakness (at the time of Jesus suffering and death), Jesus returns, seeking to fill their nothingness with the abundance of God. They wanted fish, but their own angling efforts led to nothing. When they dependantly brought their need to Jesus, he overwhelmed them with the catch of their lives.
It is not the task of our new parish to be big or to be seen as successful. Our model for mission is the method of Jesus and his disciples. We cannot build the church or even a parish. We might be able to get our numbers up for a few years, but this is no sign of real success.
The only true hope for our parish is to be aware of our total dependance on Jesus. Like the disciples, let us together seek nothing apart from life with Jesus, the one who answers every human need, and who brings every true success.