I spent spent most of yesterday on the road to the small South Canterbury town of Albury where the community had gathered to mark the closure of their 120 year old church. While I have never served as Parish Priest of the Mackenzie region I was driver for my uncle Jack who was priest for the Fairlie and Albury (and later Twizel) communities in the 1970’s and again in the 1990’s.
As we reached the little church I was moved by the people streaming to fill their church for the last time.
Later over lunch at the Albury pub I was impressed by the energy and positivity of the people on an occasion that also carried a touch of sadness. Without knowing of Pope Francis’ words at a 2018 Conference on Church closures the people seemed to have already grasped the point he was making seeing their church closure as “as a sign of the times that invites us to reflection and requires us to adapt.”
When we got back to Christchurch I sat with today’s readings and found an easy connection with yesterday’s Albury gathering.
The visit was unexpected and caused a bit of a stir.
Each year Pope Francis formally addresses the Vatican staff. Some of them may have initially appreciated Francis’ choosing a successful (Old Testament) military commander as a model for church organisation. But the pope was emphasising a hidden quality in Naaman:
“Yet together with fame, power, esteem, honours and glory, Naaman was forced to live with a tragic situation: he had leprosy. His armour, that had won him renown, in reality covered a frail, wounded and diseased humanity…
“…Naaman came to understand a fundamental truth: we cannot spend our lives hiding behind armour, a role we play, or social recognition; in the end, it hurts us.
“The moment comes in each individual’s life when he or she desires to set aside the glitter of this world’s glory for the fullness of an authentic life, with no further need for armour or masks.
Too often we clerics in parishes and dioceses fail to embrace a synodal process of discernment and so ignore the voice of Jesus speaking through the people who are professional Christians by virtue of their baptism.
At yesterday’s lunch I heard many present and past parishioners speak of their families, work, faith, parish life, their experience of church past and present, and their hopes and anxieties for the future. Last night as I read Francis’ Namaan reflection once again I felt as though i was listening again to the wisdom of the Mackenzie parishioners.
“In Italian, the etymology of the verb remember [ricordare] is “to bring to heart”. Our living memory of Tradition, of our roots, is not worship of the past but an interior movement whereby we constantly bring to our hearts everything that preceded us, marked our history and brought us to where we are today. Remembering does not mean repeating, but treasuring, reviving and, with gratitude, allowing the power of the Holy Spirit to set our hearts on fire, like those of the first disciples (cf. Lk 24:32).
“Yet, if our remembering is not to make us prisoners of the past, we need another verb: to give life, to “generate”. The humble – humble men or women – are those who are concerned not simply with the past, but also with the future, since they know how to look ahead, to spread their branches, remembering the past with gratitude. The humble give life, attract others and push onwards towards the unknown that lies ahead. The proud, on the other hand, simply repeat, grow rigid – rigidity is a perversion, a present-day perversion – and enclose themselves in that repetition, feeling certain about what they know and fearful of anything new because they cannot control it; they feel destabilised… because they have lost their memory.
“The humble allow themselves to be challenged. They are open to what is new, since they feel secure in what has gone before them, firm in their roots and their sense of belonging. Their present is grounded in a past that opens them up to a hope-filled future. Unlike the proud, they know that their existence is not based on their merits or their “good habits”. As such, they are able to trust, unlike the proud.
The New Zealand Tablet published a report of the opening of the Albury Church a few days after the event (15 November 1903). That account made particular mention of the stained glass in the church “fifteen windows in all, with lights in various colours in diamond-shaped small panes”.
While there is beauty in stained glass, like a church-building the work of artists and crafts-people, without the light of the creator there is no beauty at all.
Thank you to the people gathered yesterday for reminding me that the beauty of their little Albury church is a window to the colour, abundance and authenticity of the life we are offered by our creator.
FFF IN THE CAFE… Send your name and the name of a cafe or bar to firstname.lastname@example.org Scribble FFF on a table napkin, take a seat and wait.
DROP IN AT A GATHERING:
Monday 13 March 2023 (and every Monday)
10.00am at Moko (Kudos) in the Bush Inn Centre Christchurch (Directions) Trish
Tuesday 14 March 2023
10.30am at Zenders 44 Hopkins Road, Newstead, Hamilton (Directions). Christina
And watch this space for one coming up in Fairlie, South Canterbury.