Lord, send out your Spirit
and renew the Hurunui District
In the psalm response to today’s Pentecost reading (Acts 2:1-11) we pray: “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.”
The face of the earth is a vast expanse. And the many faces of the people of the earth are numerous and anonymous. How can we grasp the meaning of such a general prayer?
As we celebrate Pentecost today, it is helpful to be specific: to think of the land that we know, and the people whom we encounter each week. The Spirit of God came to the Church in a specific place, to a single community of local people. Today, let’s consider our Good Shepherd Parish and our local Hurunui District, the people of our home neighbourhoods. Lord, send your Spirit to renew us. Lord, we are in need of your Spirit.
In the Prayer of the Church (Office of Readings) during the week leading up to today’s feast, the Church read from the Constitution on the Church (Vatican II): “By the power of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit enables the Church to grow young, perpetually renewing it…” (par. 4) What a great phrase: “grow young.” If we want to grow young, then here is the recipe!
This week the new Parish Council for our Good Shepherd Parish met. The Council is fortunate not to have to deal with the practical issues of building maintenance since each of our seven communities will continue to oversee this work. This enables the Parish Council to be truly pastoral, to focus on the faith-lives of the people of our parish.
What does this mean, to focus on faith? This is an especially timely question for this Year of Faith. Too many people in the church have the sense that we (and they) are growing old. There are not as many young people active in our parish as we would like. What must we do? This was the central topic of Wednesday night’s Council meeting.
Too many people who live in our families and our neighbourhoods think of the church as old and tired. They see the our Catholic faith as a moralistic and legalistic antique, the antithesis of the life and freedom that healthy people seek. This is a tragic reality, far from the experience of the first disciples of Jesus.
Before their encounter with Jesus, the disciples were fearful for their survival. The burdens of daily life and the demands of the precepts of their religion weighed heavily upon them and those they loved.
This is often our own experience too isn’t it?
Take a moment to think back over the week just past. We carry family anxieties for ourselves and for those we love. Perhaps our health is uncertain. Then there is financial anxiety and employment stresses. Many of us live with a sense of distance from God. Our sin is real and we can feel its effects. These issues were also the central reality for the disciples, that is, until they began to live in relationship with Jesus.
The theories, plans and projects that occupy humans are powerless to bring about a real experience of life and freedom. While commitment and discipline might be useful when working towards a goal, it takes something more to give true meaning and motivation to a human existence. Such energy and satisfaction is however found in relationship with another. At the most profound human level, it is the experience of being in love that effects real and lasting change not only to external actions but to the inner life of the human heart.
And this is the key point. If a parish community is focussed on the external signs of faith (albeit healthy and necessary signs), we will feel as though we are engaged in an unrelenting and exhausting effort to inspire parishioners and to build a community. But, thanks be to God, there is another way. When each parishioner is seeking above all else to live in personal relationship with Jesus, then the Holy Spirit of Jesus is able to respond and enter with love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, and other welcome fruits of the presence of the Spirit of God.
So the life of faith is not about demands and duty that stifle sponteneity and strangle freedom. The life of faith is a life of relationship with Jesus who answers every human need and who satisfies all human desire.
The decision to live in this relationship is not a choice we make simply alongside human relationships and occupations. Instead, human relationships only become fully possible when one is living in relationship with Jesus. This is this one relationship that enables all relationships.
Too often we use people and projects in a futile attempt to anaesthetise our need for God. We forget that this inbuilt need for God is not a human flaw. Instead this need is the quality that turns every healthy person to the one who answers every need.
For a Catholic, the Mass and other sacraments are the heart of this personal encounter with Jesus. A parish is not a human community alongside the many other community options. While it is important that we are responsible custodians of the material assets of the parish (ie buildings, land, investments), the heart of our parish purpose is to focus on Jesus Christ, alive and active among us by the power of the Holy Spirit.
When a parishioner encounters this all-satisfying friendship with Jesus, everything else follows. WIthout complete dependance on the Spirit of God among us as our motivator and purpose, parish life will be hard work.
When we turn to Jesus with whole-hearted dependance, our parish life together becomes the fruit of our personal experience of the presence of Jesus with us, and the love of Jesus for us.