On Friday morning 186 priests from the six New Zealand dioceses returned to their homes at the conclusion of our five-yearly assembly of diocesan priests.
One of the group with a bit of time to spare worked out that 4842 years of priestly ministry had gathered for the days.
It was an inspiring gathering.
A highlight was the conversations over food and drink at mealtimes. In these table-moments friendships were renewed and the adventures of life and ministry were shared.
The speakers, Fr. James Mallon, Bishop Vincent Long, Archbishop David Moxon and a group of 7 men and women from around NZ who made up the panel reflection were inspiring and encouraging.
The death of our brother Monsignor Pat Ward of Auckland during the conference kept us focussed on the heart of all human life: we are from God and for God and our hearts are restless until we live eternally with God.
As Pope Francis reminds us, we are no longer living simply in an era of change but in a change of era. This is an exciting time to be a part of the church in New Zealand.
This new era is not a time of starting afresh but of rediscovering the beauty of the treasury of faith that we have received and living this in renewed forms with a fresh vitality and enthusiam.
It is clear to me that while we priests continue to have our clear role as ministers of the sacramental life of the church, the real renewal of the church will come from the people of the church. This is not a new idea but the way in which the church across history has been renewed with men and women living fully in relationship with Jesus Christ. Nothing is more necessary, contagious and attractive than this life.
A number of people commented that it is good for the “leaders” of the church in New Zealand to have gathered for this week. Yes, priests do share a leadership role, but the Holy Spirit will lead the church using any person who is open to this call. The term “lay” used of the people of the church is redundant. Vatican II spoke of all baptised people (including priests) as the People of God, not lay but professional because of their baptism.
It is not the Sacrament of Holy Orders that makes professional Catholics but the Sacrament of Baptism.