Joy to the World?

Last week, as a staff, we talked about what Christmas means to us and the traditions we have in our families at Christmas time.

I was surprised that it turned into quite an emotional time. One teacher talked about how before they open any presents on Christmas morning they have a family prayer time where they pray for all of those family members who have died. Another teacher became very emotional talking about how this would be her first Christmas without her Mum. Still another staff member talked about how her children have all moved away overseas so now Christmas is quite a lonely day for her and her husband.

I had my own little emotional blip this morning. I'm going through a relationship break-up at the moment and I was fine all morning until I went to assembly and heard the children practicing their Christmas carols. Silent Night and Away in the Manger made me quite teary. I also always get a bit emotional at Midnight Mass. There's something about certain Christmas carols that always leaves me feeling sad.

Christmas is meant to be the most joy-filled time of the year. So why are so many of the carols so sad? Why does it leave people feeling more lonely than on any other day? Why does it lead us to think of people we have lost? We had a tragic drowning here in the lake last week and the most common thing I've heard people saying is, "How sad, right on Christmas." Somehow Christmas amplifies our grief. 

It's a strange kind of feast day really. It's about the coming of God as man to live amongst us. There can be no greater gift. Yet in our happiness lies a special kind of sadness too. Maybe it's because we focus too much on the stuff that's not about Jesus? We focus on family and relationships and presents rather than just Jesus? Or maybe it's because the strongest way we can meet Christ is through others, and so Christmas aplifies our relationships, or lack of?

What do you think? Does Christmas have an element of sadness for you? And what's the best way through it?




Advent has totally crept up on me this year. With the busyness of school in the last term (report writing, end of year assessment, reports to the Ministry, budgets, charters and strategic plans to review and write, data analysis, prizegiving etc. etc. etc.) Advent is a season I find it really hard to make time for.

I saw this great youtube clip yesterday at our school assembly

I like how it compares Advent to Lent by saying "Advent is not Lent, it's about hope, not repentence. Lent is more of a spring cleaning of our lives. And Advent is a cosier, getting your home ready for a special guest… Jesus. The one we've been waiting for." I really like that image. 

If you've been reading this blog for a while you'll know that personally I love Lent. I really make an effort during Lent to make sacrifices and to spend extra time in prayer and I feel that the Church helps me by putting on things like Stations of the Cross and extra reconciliation. But for some reason, Advent is harder.

What's something simple I could do to recognise the significance of this season?

Quick Question

Hi all! I posted earlier this week but thought I would be cheeky and do a second post because I have a quick question I'm hoping someone might know the answer to.

We had a staff meeting this week about Advent – a reminder of what Advent is all about and then a discussion about the things we will do as a school to recognise the season.

We talked about the symbolic meanings behind the Advent Wreath and one of the teachers had a question that I have always wondered about myself.

Why is it that the THIRD candle on the Advent wreath the pink one? We know that it is Gaudate Sunday and that it symbolises joy and reminds us that Christmas is coming… but wouldn't it make more sense to have all of that on the last Sunday of Advent when Christmas is almost upon us? Why do we have purple, purple, pink and then have to go back to purple for a week? It's like a little glimmer of joy and then back to repentence before Christmas comes. Anyone know the reasoning behind this?

The Dish on the new Bish

I'm posting early this week! Primarily because the news is out… the Hamilton Diocese has a new Bishop.

It actually all makes sense now why we had to wait so long. Our Bishop Elect is Fr Steve Lowe who has been head of formation at Holy Cross Seminary. I'm guessing that we had to wait for Fr Michael Geilen to come back from Rome to take up his post at the Seminary before Fr Lowe could be released to take on the role of Bishop.

I've never met Fr Lowe but, like everyone else, I've been asking around about him over the past 24 hours and trying to figure out what kind of Bishop he will be. So far I've heard vastly differing opinions. I've heard he's a nice guy but not that tough, but then I've also heard that he doesn't suffer fools. I've heard he's loyal to the Church and her traditions but then I've also heard he's sympathetic to liberals. I've heard he's very academic, but then I've also heard he's a very down-to-earth guy and very pastoral.

I guess we will all soon get to meet him and make up our own minds.

From my perspective, if I could choose three qualities I'd like our new Bishop to have they would be servanthood, strong leadership and charisma. Servanthood because I think, as Bishop, it would become all too easy to focus on administration. To become a paper-pusher. I want a Bishop who "lives amongst us" and who is concerned with the same issues we are. Someone who will inspire us all to serve those around us. Strong leadership, I believe, is essential for this Bishop and has been lacking for some time as poor Bishop Browne at 77 years of age journeyed towards retirement. We need someone who will really lead us and our priests, who will make the difficult calls, who will remind the priests that they vowed obediance to the Bishop and who will assert himself as the person who is at the helm of the ship. And charisma because there's nothing better than truly feeling on board with someone. A Bishop who can give amazing homilies, who can make us think about how we are living and how Christ-like our parishes are, a Bishop we can really believe in. 

So, I'm looking for some kind of Pope Francis/Pope John Paul II hybrid. Not a tall order at all.

So, Being Frank community, what do you know about our Bishop Elect? And what three qualities do you think he'll need to lead this Diocese?

Something’s gotta give

Watching our Parish Priest coping on his own this week (our Assistant Priest is away on annual leave) has got me thinking that there has to be a better way.

Our PP looks after two churches (that essentially run like two parishes although we are combined into one pastoral area now), a hospital, three schools, an outlying parish (about 40 minutes drive away), the parish council, finance committee and the Sacramental programme. Place on top of this the demand for funerals, weddings and baptisms, one Mass each weekday (two on Wednesdays) plus four Sunday Masses, daily confessions, then consider all the people who pop in on any particular day just needing "a minute" to discuss some spiritual matter or something they need guidance on. On top of this add all of the demands from the Diocese – the Priests' Council, vocations ministry etc. It is a HUGE and daunting workload. Not only are the hours massive but the very nature of the work must be incredibly draining – visiting the dying, working alongside families to plan funerals, hearing people's confessions, trying to please everyone on the various committees. Something's gotta give.

I'm reminded of a great sermon I heard from Father Gerard Boyce a while back when he suggested that if priests just did what priests are meant to be doing (ie: sacramental things) then this whole Diocese could be run with only ten priests. I don't particularly like the idea of losing touch with the human side of our priests. I remember, for example, when my grandmother died, it was the Deacon who helped plan the funeral, the very elderly priest just turned up on the day and celebrated the Mass and then left afterwards (not attending the wake). It felt a little impersonal – having someone who didn't know us or my grandmother presiding at her funeral, but we really appreciated the input from the Deacon.

I don't know what the answer it but there has to be a better way. We're lucky in my parish that we have a young priest. An older priest just wouldn't cope with this kind of workload. And that's another issue. I look at some of our older priests and just feel sorry for them. Many of them should be retired now – relaxing at home, spending time with other retired priests and reaping the rewards of a life spent in service, rather than rushing about covering two or three different parishes. 

Maybe the answer is, as Fr Gerard suggested, that priests need to step back and focus on "preistly" work – the work that only they can do – hearing confessions, saying Mass, celebrating the Sacraments. And the rest of us have to step up and take on the rest – visiting the sick, managing the finances, giving guidance, running the Sacramental programmes. What do you think?

Upskilling the masses

A couple of years back when I attended Hearts Aflame I was lucky enough to sit through some workshops with Jeremy Palman (now Father Jeremy Palman) on the Theology of the Body. Jeremy obviously knew his stuff and even though parts of his explanation were really theoretical he did an amazing job of bringing these ideas down to our level and explaining the concepts to us in ways that we could grasp. From memory, I attended three hour-long workshops and felt like I had obtained a really good, generalised idea of the Theology of the Body. 

The teachings I picked up from these workshops have remained with me and actually brought to clarity many teachings that I had previously misunderstood or just not understood at all. The basis of them – a respect for life – and the reasons behind this (both scriptural and from Church tradition) have helped me navigate and better make decisions on lots of moral and ethical issues, such as the current euthanasia debate.

I was thinking about how amazing it would be to have Fr Jeremy as your parish priest and how great it would be if everybody could gain some of the insights and teachers I was lucky enough to get.

My question for all of you Being Frank readers is… if you could choose to make all New Zealand Catholics attend a compulsory three-hour lecture series on any topic at all (but you're only allowed one topic) which topic would you choose? What do you think today's Catholics need to be upskilled on most urgently?


Kiwi Reactions to the Synod

I was very interested to read in the current NZ Catholic a variety of views on the Synod on the Family. On page 8 the editors had asked several New Zealanders for their thoughts. I've summarised them below for you…

Steve, a Non-Catholic Christian: has always admired Catholicism's strong, moral teachings and feels the synod put this in grave danger. Feels that valuing and accepting, for example, homosexuality, would be the same as approving of it. Believes that the attitude of some Bishops is ostracising those who have always remained staunchly faithful to what the Church teaches. Hopes that the "clear moral teaching of the Catechism is not revised".

Agnes, parishioner from Avondale: wants the Church to be more open and thinks what the Pope is doing is "excellent". "Times are changing and we should not be so judgemental".

Another parishioner from the Avondale parish: is from a Pasifika culture and is encouraged that the Church is discussing gay issues. Homosexulaity has always been accepted in her culture.

Richard, member of National Catholic Maori Council of NZ: believes the Synod reflected Maori values well in the way it was conducted – reflects the Maori process to "listen, listen, but we see it as all compassionate".  Feels it has garnered a lot of positive press for the Catholic Church. Was touched by the discussion about whanau and that "Pope Francis recognises families are made up of all sorts of different people, and that we need to include all different members of family."

Dorothy, mother, grandmother and writer from Auckland: compared Bishops meeting to discuss family, to lay people meeting to discuss limiting the power of Bishops – believes that Bishops and priests are only "observers" when it comes to family life and so are not truly qualified to make Church decisions about family. Was surprised by how well the Bishops did and encouraged by the way Pope Francis ran things with total transparency and allowing all to speak up and have their say. Believes most remarried and gay Catholics are ignoring the communion ban anyway. Feels annulments are important but should be simplified. Thinks "laypeople, married couples, single parents, the widowed, gay parents and other "family" groups – those involved in raising children – could also be invited to have more input , and dare I say it, voting rights, in the final documents."

Bill and Jenny, Catholic couple married for 43 years: encouraged by the openess of the Synod. Think these issues need careful and considered debate and that it will be difficult for Pope Francis to find a consensus – especially considering the hugely diverse cultural mix of the Catholic Church. Believe that "with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the willingness of the Church to embrace and debate these issues, there is hope that the Catholic Church can find a way to embrace those from all walks of life who seek to walk in the Light of Christ."

Interesting right? And how clever is our Pope that in his closing address he warned against "hostile inflexibility" and "destructive do-goodness". 

Out of all the commenters I'm perhaps most closely aligned with Bill and Jenny. They are right that we need to remember that the Holy Spirit is our guide in all of this. And that it is certainly not an easy thing to do – to unite a Church globally where cultural differences alone are vast before we even think about socio-economic differences, gender etc. But I'm hopeful because at least the conversation has been started. It's got people talking and thinking and questioning and I think that's a great thing.