“Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
Gospel, 9 March 2018
Last Sunday was my last Hurunui Sunday and yesterday I had lunch with Fr. Mathew who is replacing me and then later in the afternoon I drove away from the parish and the people who have been home and family for me for the past six years.
Someone commented to me that for a diocesan priest to leave a parish must be a bit like someone who leaves their home, their family, their job and their marriage all in one week! While the comment is a bit of an overstatement I did appreciate what the person was saying. Diocesan priests do become immersed in every aspect of the lives of the people they serve. We are privileged to share the joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties of the people in very intimate way. Diocesan priesthood lived fully is a rich and abundant life. The people of a parish see the best and the worst of their priest in the same way that a family experiences the best and the worst of family members.
In recent weeks I have been moved by the encouraging comments and gratitude that many parishioners have expressed to me. While some people are grateful for matters as simple as administrative advances in parish structures and building maintenance, I have been most moved by those who have commented that I helped them to grow in relationship with Jesus Christ.
A Christian strives to live in relationship with Christ as the central project of their human existence. The other commandments follow and make sense only in the context of this divine relationship. Without Christ, loving your neighbour, not killing, not committing adultery, not stealing and keeping holy the Sabbath is just hard work. In relationship with Christ these laws are not rules but a pathway and a life, the fruit of a relationship.
On Tuesday night the major part of the restoration of the Amberley Church of the Holy Passion of the Lord was completed with the installation of the new tabernacle. The church has a rich history, built 150 years ago by one of early Catholic families of the Hurunui who desired to place Jesus Christ before all else ensuring that their Lord had a dwelling place on their estate that was even more beautiful than the home they themselves lived in. You can read the story in the Jubilee booklet.
Some aspects of the restoration were overseen by the Rangiora Studio of St. Philomena including the creation of the beautiful Annunciation tabernacle. Other work has been carried out by a variety of artists and crafts people over the past two years including the building of the Lychgate, the landscaping, tower-strengthening, exterior and interior painting and restoration of the kauri, beech, rimu and totara flooring. All of this made possible because of the extraordinary financial generosity of parishioners and friends of the parish.
I like to think that this restoration project is symbolic of the life of the parishioners who seek to follow Christ above all else. While simple church maintenance might have a goal of keeping Sunday worshippers dry in the rain and warm in the winter, a beautiful church serves to raise the mind and heart to God. That we parishioners seek to give God a beautiful dwelling place in our midst is a visible sign that we seek to “love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength.”
No doubt you have many things on your mind for the next 24 hours. Make a decision right now to live the day ahead putting Christ first. This will take a bit of practice as other things keep jumping into first place, but when this happens gently return your focus to Christ. You will very quickly notice a change in your perspective that delights you.
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