a new church

Last Sunday the new Lincoln parish church of St. Patrick was opened and dedicated by Bishop Paul Martin SM and here is his homily for that celebration.

In the past fifteen months I have discovered that one of great joys for a bishop is the privilege of opening a new parish church.

These years have been a challenging time for our Catholic diocese of Christchurch and our parish of Lincoln. The loss of so much life, livelihood and property as a result of the earthquakes has been a deep suffering for us, but today this beautiful new church of St. Patrick is visible testimony to the endurance and new hope that is a sign of the presence and action of Jesus Christ among us.

My joy today is in seeing what people of faith can do when they work together with and for God. In a relatively small community the task of building a new church can seem too big a challenge when we understand that a Catholic church is not simply a roof and walls to keep us dry and warm for Mass and the sacraments, but that a Catholic church in its very design, furnishing and finishing is an unmistakable sign directing us to God and leading us to God. With this in mind we have appreciated that a Catholic Church needs to be a place of beauty, and then we perhaps began to wonder if it would be easier to borrow a hall once a week for Sunday Mass?

We are deeply grateful to the Anglican communities of Lincoln, Springston and Rolleston who have generously shared their churches with us.  I ask Venerable Mark Barlow and associate priest Christine Allport (both with us for this dedication today) to take to your communities our gratitude and assurance of our prayer for your growth into the future.  Worshipping together has deepened our friendship and our experience of the one baptism we share and we are very grateful.

We can celebrate today because in this church-building project we have been co-operating with God. We have (and can rightly and proudly say) been co-creators with God because there is no reason for building a church apart from God. We have not simply built another community gathering facility. As we will pray in the prayer of Dedication of a Catholic Church in a few moments: O God, “today we come before you, to dedicate to your lasting service this house of prayer, this temple of worship, this home in which we are nourished by your word and your sacraments.”

And it is significant that the gospel reading for this Mass is the passage most often chosen for the dedication of a new Catholic church; a surprising choice since we prefer to hear from a gentle Jesus, meek and mild. Yet in this gospel we hear Jesus in a moment of sternness and anger, making a whip out of cords, driving all from the temple and overturning tables shouting “get these out of here – stop turning my father’s house into a marketplace!”

Jesus is teaching us that a church is a sacred space, a holy place, a building dedicated to God. There are many other occupations that are good and there is nothing wrong with the marketplace and the business and social worlds, but these are the activities for another place, a place literally “profanum” to use the Latin, that is, outside the temple.

Now this beautiful new church, this new temple will be a new home for our faith. This is the place where people will enter the life of God in baptism. Here you will experience God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Penance. Before this altar couples will begin their married lives. Please God young men will be ordained to the priesthood in this church. Many of you along with your friends and neighbours and families will be buried from this church. And most centrally every Sunday this church will fill with people who know their need to experience the reality of God-with-us in the Mass.

In the past few days I have been pondering what I would say today in this homily asking myself: what is the most important message I want to give as your take-home thought from this Mass. Yes, I want you to celebrate that you have worked together co-operating with God to build this beautiful church. Yes I thank you for appreciating that a Catholic church building must be a visible and beautiful sign that points us and leads us to God. But most of all I want you to know that God is today giving you a new beginning. Pope Francis has said that we no longer live in an era of change but in a change of era. I am encouraged when I hear this since there is so much that can prevent us from embracing the present and moving into the future. But in every moment Jesus is giving us a new beginning, a new start, a spring-time of faith. This is why the sacramental system which is at the heart of our Catholic understanding of life with God is so important to us. In Jesus God comes to us, and in every sacramental celebration this bridge is used by God again to come to into our often messy and struggling human reality.

So my heart-felt encouragement to you, your families and friends, your neighbours, work colleagues and social acquaintances and all the people of this place, my strong exhortation to every one of you, is that now that you have this beautiful church, USE IT! Use it for precisely what it is for, not as one more secular town venue among many, but as a sacred place, a prime place of encounter with Jesus Christ.

Do whatever you can to maintain this church as an open church, a place where every day the doors are open for any person who seeks to take a few moments to be still and pray.

Come to this church for the Mass, especially the Sunday Mass. Perhaps you know someone who has not been to Mass for many years. Tell them that they now have a new church and invite them and bring them.

Use the confessional often. Perhaps you have not celebrated this sacrament of God’s forgiveness for many years. Let the opening of this new church be a new beginning for your experience of Jesus in the midst of your struggle and sin.

Use this church for weddings as people who desire marriage not as a casual and temporary contract but an awareness that God has brought you together in love for life, in a fruitful relationship that is centred on Christ and is hope-filled.

Use this church in times of grief for funerals, not just to celebrate an earthly life, but to commend the one you love into God’s kind keeping with the beautiful funeral rites of the church.

Every time you drive or walk past this church you might take a moment to remember that Jesus is with you in the midst of your own joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties, perhaps renewing an old Catholic custom of making the sign of the cross whenever you pass a Catholic church.

Speak about your new parish church with pride and enthusiasm, proud to be Catholic and grateful that in the Eucharist God in Jesus Christ comes not only to us, but INTO us.

And may God, who has begun this good work in you, bring it to completion, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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