the new normal

May 16, 2014

Did yesterday’s budget deliver what you needed?

I took some time after Bill English’s Budget speech to browse the news headlines and read a couple of leading commentators. Most of us have lived through enough government budgets to know not to expect too much, and certainly we have long learnt that even the most generous of government promises are powerless to deliver the depth of happiness that the healthy human seeks. So there were probably no surprises for any of us on Thursday.

While we might of learnt not to put our hope and trust in an annual government budget, there are probably some other things that we do look to in the hope that they will bring some relief from life’s challenges and burdens. Perhaps your gaze is fixed on a particular relationship in the hope that when it ‘comes right’ then you will find happiness. It might be that you are experiencing  financial or health hardship at the moment. Do you find yourself thinking that when these difficulties pass then happiness will be yours? I don’t want to burst your bubble here, but our past experience tells us that when one anxiety passes, it’s not too long before another takes its place.

The American priest & writer Ronald Rolheiser puts it well in his book “The Holy Longing”:

 “There is within us a fundamental dis-ease, an unquenchable fire that renders us incapable, in this life, of ever coming to full peace.  This desire lies at the center of our lives, in the marrow of our bones, and in the deep recesses of the soul.  We are not easeful human beings who occasionally get restless, serene persons who once in a while are obsessed by desire.  The reverse is true.  We are driven persons, forever obsessed, congenitally dis-eased, living lives, as Thoreau once suggested, of quiet desperation, only occasionally experiencing peace.  Desire is the straw that stirs the drink.

“Whatever the expression, everyone is ultimately is talking about the same thing- an unquenchable fire, a restlessness, a longing, a disquiet, a hunger, a loneliness, a gnawing nostalgia, a wildness that cannot be tamed, a congenital all embracing ache that lies at the center of human experience and is the ultimate force that drives everything else.  This dis-ease is universal.  Desire gives no exemptions.

In the last couple of weeks I have spent time leading retreats and reflection session in the Philippines. The groups I spent time with have little that we in New Zealand might consider to be important. Many of them struggle under the burden of poverty in many forms and suffer the pressures of difficult work environments. But in the people I was with there is a strong and explicit desire for life with Jesus Christ. These faith-filled people have a mature knowledge of what is essential, and they are giving their lives to growing in knowledge and love of Jesus in whom all human health and happiness is found.

During this week this message was brought to New Zealand young people by the 85 bishops of Oceania who met in Wellington. At the Mass celebrated with Wellington High School students the bishops encouraged the students to fall in love with Jesus since this relationship is the heart of all human existence. Rachel Pitcaithly of St. Bede’s College led a session for the bishops which was summarized by an Australian bishop in his blog:

“Yesterday, I attended brilliant workshop by an inspiring Catholic school teacher, Rachel Pitcaithly: Developing young people with Catholic Hearts and Minds”. She reported on extraordinary success in a Christchurch boy’s college in getting the boys praying and attending Mass as the new normal. Lots of ideas here to be trying back in Australia!” 

Prayer and Mass as the new normal for teenagers? Wow. We weren’t expecting this. Since my ordination thirty years ago I have heard parishioners comment and complain that the Church has moved away from young people and lost touch. Many of these people comment that we need to use modern music and let go of traditional Catholic teachings in order to attract young people. These methods have been tried in many places but with no real reversing of negative trends.

It seems that the key is not in cosmetic changes motivated by the capitalist measure of numbers, but in a renewed focus on the person of Jesus Christ whom we meet in the ordinary circumstances of ordinary days, and in the beauty of the sacraments where we are nurtured and fed by the mercy and love of Jesus.

It is clear that something has shifted in the life of the Church.

For almost fifty years now our catechetical plans and methods have sought to adapt the life of God, and of the Church, to current cultural priorities. Things were little better in earlier (recent) centuries when the people of the church were more likely to talk about the church and its practices than about Jesus Christ. In this new era there is a new normal with Jesus spoken about freely and intimately as the heart of every human life, and of the universe.

“The redeemer of the human race, Jesus Christ,
is the centre of the universe and of history”

John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, 1979



  1. On the subject of Catholic education in NZ, you’ll know there’s something of a furore following the bishops’ statement. At least there is in the pages of the last two issues of ‘NZ Catholic’.

    My column in the current issue, ‘There’s an Elephant in the classroom’ tackles the issue of unbaptized children and teachers in our Catholic schools, and two letters contribute to the debate..

  2. Thank you! How lovely to see the balance of our faith in these quotes from Ronald Rolheiser and about Rachel Pitcaithy. Men and women relate to Jesus in different ways, as seen in the Gospels, and those ways are complementary, each bringing the other to wholeness. Male and female paths may be different but they nurture each other, and both are contained in the everlasting love of our Lord Jesus. Truly that love brings abiding peace.

  3. One new normal that we cannot avoid noticing is: how dangerous it is to be a Christian in the Middle East and Islamic Africa. Let Church authorities urge that poor lady in Sudan:
    get the hell out of there fast – take a plane, slip across the border. The enemies of God are virulent: V I R U L E N T. And it’s just beginning. Head for the hills


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