One of the Publications of the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch newsletter publications is the “Te Putea” (the resource) newsletter. Phil Gourdie, the editor asked me to contribute the editorial to the most recent edition. This gave me a good opportunity to reflect on friendship and family in the life of people of faith. Here is my reflection.
Most “Te Putea” front-page reflections contributed by priests of our diocese over the years, have been addressed to “dear friends in our diocesan family.”
A couple of these words of greeting are especially worthy of our consideration, since our living encounter with Jesus Christ, the Word of God, gives our old, familiar, and often tired language, new meaning, focus and vitality. People of faith are able to appreciate the words “friends” and “family” in a new way. Dusty dictionary definitions of social and biological connections are powerless to communicate the beauty and depth of intimacy with God and with one another. The term “friendship” is often used of like-minded people who enjoy each other’s company and are agreeable. Such friends are fun. They don’t challenge us beyond our comforts. Neither do they disagree with us about what is important in life. Casual conversation with such companions fills free time and eases earthly ennui. The name “family” is often reduced to a blood or legal connection. Our blood relatives did not choose us. Neither did we choose our parents or children, our sisters or brothers.
Sadly the term “family” today, has little more stability than the common contemporary experience of fleeting friendship. Instead of turning to the architect of all life to define the meaning and possibilities for human relationships, we grasp at variations and adaptations, thus tampering with divine order.
With tragic consequences we disguise human vulnerability. We suppress the signs that are symptoms of human dysfunction. Without too much resistance (although albeit with much pain), people move from one family relationship to another without the God-centred vision that enables “till death do us part” commitment.
Our common diocesan “family” of “friends” marks people of Catholic faith as different. We are not a transient secular social society brought together by personal likes and dislikes or by common interests. Instead, we are the friends and family of Jesus Christ; that is, a family alive in the friendship of faith.
It is not our primary task as people of the parishes and chaplaincies of the diocese to create a community. Such a desire will be well intentioned. But our own efforts will ultimately falter and fail for the same reasons that secular structures rarely last beyond a few decades. Instead our prime task as the people of this local Catholic community of the Christchurch diocese, is to relax into the fact of our Easter faith: The Word of God, Jesus Christ has become flesh and, risen from the dead, dwells amongst us. Confident in this ultimate relationship that satisfies all human desires, we can now live lovingly as the friends and family of Jesus. In this divine relationship of love, our attitude to all human realities is transformed. Far from ignoring human structures of government and management, we allow Jesus to draw our vision beyond earthly systems. Instead of using money as a weapon of power or a god-like guarantor of security, we gift our time, talent and treasure to the one God, so offering ourselves and all we have to be transformed into tools for the building of God’s dwelling among us. We know that when we withhold our time, talent and treasure from friendships and family, these relationships immediately suffer and soon die. When we give to our friends and family without counting the cost, even when we feel like withholding, the relationships flourish once more. We call this self-transcending generosity, “love”. When we act against our moods of selfishness, and persevere in living with loving generosity towards our family and friends, it is not too long before the experience of peace and harmony in the relationship returns. This is love. This is the purpose of this resource, the “Te Putea” newsletter: to remind us of the goal of the Christchurch Diocese Foundation, the Catholic Development Fund, and the parish Thanksgiving Programmes.
To these diocesan vehicles of the mission of Jesus Christ among us, let us bring the generous gifts that are characteristic of our family life and friendships; that is, our time, talent and treasure.
I love this piece – thanks. While I would never undermine the importance of our blood/earthly families, with all their joys and responsibilities, belonging to the family of Jesus is totally definitive for me. It gives me life. I also notice that when people don’t come to church they cite “family” as the reason and I wonder if in some strange way that could be the new idolatry…