That dynamic of becoming, of newness, is never complete, or finished, in our own individual lives or in the life of the Church. Why? Not because we are busy but because the Holy Spirit is busy, in us. When you were baptized those gathered also prayed: loving God send your Holy Spirit to dwell within you (Rite of Baptism, 86). It is the Holy Spirit who makes the Church as a whole always new, with what the second Vatican Council described as “the freshness of youth” (LG, 4).
The great unity which this Chrism Mass celebrates is therefore not just a demonstration of our diocesan geography; it is an emboldening of our diocesan mission. You do represent areas and regions but more importantly each and every one of us here embodies a mission; we are aware in ourselves of a sense of becoming someone always new, with fresh insights into our faith, and so too we notice both ourselves and the Church – our parishes and their schools – evolving and growing.
Every year since becoming Bishop I have been moved by the wairua or spirit of this night. I’ve noticed how many parishes and pastoral areas are giving great thought in choosing who collects the sacred oils; a choice which reflects a growing enthusiasm for evangelization, a growing desire to pass on our gift of faith proactively to the next generation to our tamariki, mokupuna. Tonight an 8 year old boy from one parish will collect their oils because he was sponsor for a 6 year old in his class being baptized. And some parishes send an elderly couple because they are the wisdom figures – ngā pou, ngā kaumātua – from whom others draw the strength to go deeper, to go forth.
Our mission – Christ’s mission, to bring the good news to the poor, to set the downtrodden free, to live a year of justice of mercy – is not always easy. But nor is it necessarily daunting. I often say to myself, especially when I’m facing a difficulty or challenge, it’s the Holy Spirit’s work. Not as a cop out but because that is in fact how we, the Church, work: our becoming a new creation, our stepping forth, our contribution to evangelization is possible only because we grow and evolve within nothing less than the divine life of the Blessed Trinity itself. Seeing all you teenagers here tonight – marvellous – that incidentally is why Confirmation is so important. You are bestowed with gifts that are not Mum or Dad’s wish list for you, that are not your Principal’s set of goals for you, but are gifts of God’s very own life; enabling you to become sharers in that.
This sense of living our life within God’s life was already realized by the prophets of the Old Testament. We heard in the words of Isaiah tonight: the spirit of the Lord has been given to me, the Lord has anointed, and so I have come not with my own to do list but rather I have been sent and am always accompanied.
Some could say well if our future depends on the Holy Spirit can’t we slacken of a bit. It’s a fair enough observation. Yet, the opposite desire is what is true. Once we are relieved of any burden – thinking too much depends on me – we in fact are released, not randomly, but uplifted with energy to be collaborators with the Holy Spirit. So, any complacency would not so much be an indictment of ourselves as a hindrance to the transmission of the teaching, the life and the worship of the Church (cf. Dei Verbum, 8).
That mission, that work, involves us all. Where do you fit? There are many images of the Church; one of the most common is that of a boat or waka. And so, if the Holy Spirit is like the current of the waters on which we set forth then each one us has been gifted an oar with which to row. Or if the Church is like a basket – kete – then you too have a responsibility to weave the flax, the fabric, of our people – te muka tangata. And we are. Look around you. No one here is a spectator, everyone here is a participant, a contributor, to our beautiful iwi whakapono or community of faith.
A few weeks ago a new member of our Diocesan staff quizzed me at one of our regular staff meetings. He said, you’ve asked us to pray and to plan for growth. He said, I’ve never actually heard a Bishop say he expects statistical growth. So he added, why do you expect us to grow in number? It’s a good question. We Catholics perhaps are reticent about up front goals.
What do you think? Should we grow? Why? Here are three brief responses. Firstly Jesus himself said go forth and make disciples of all nations (cf. Mt 28:19). It is Jesus who wants and expects growth. Secondly, we lose credibility if we stop believing passionately – saying publically – that communities of faith are great and indeed necessary for ourselves and for our society. And lastly working – shepherding we might say – for growth is good for any organization or community; it keeps us on our toes and for us, growth introduces a gospel sourced, a Jesus stated, measure of pastoral accountability.
That healthy and holy desire for growth involves us all and so tonight I wish to thank the priests, school Principals, DRSs and other teachers, our catechists and parish workers, musicians and other volunteer ministers, who creatively with great focus and purpose have with many others too worked to weave us together as the Lord’s people.
Our resolution to strive in an unburdened hopeful manner for growth finds particular significance in tonight’s liturgy with our oil of Catechumens. This sacred oil of commitment – used especially for those preparing for baptism or becoming Catholic – reminds us that our faith evolves in stages. For many of us there have been times when our faith might have been dormant or luke warm. Yet here we are tonight. Someone, some experience, along our way has encouraged us, beckoned us forward, lifted us up, shown the door as open. Surely this is part of what Pope Francis is evoking this year as we live a holy year, a year of Jubilee, a year of Mercy a year of open doors, open hearts, open minds.
Mercy honours time, it does not demand instant perfection; mercy recognizes stages, it does not demand completion; mercy embraces sinners it does not chastise us; mercy is the opposite of hearts turned cold through scruples and petty formalities; for mercy is the human face of God which in Jesus brings us new growth and new life.
Indeed, we are a wondrous new creation. With hearts full of joy let us thank the Lord for the witness of each other and of those from where have come in our families, our schools, our parishes and communities. Amen.