Addresses,  Reflections

Farewell Letter to the Parish of Holy Name Wahroonga

Dear friends,

The last week or so has been spent packing in anticipation of my move to the Parish of Chatswood. As many of you will have experienced, it is a strange experience to pack one’s life into boxes: it’s a time during which many memories are relived, and an occasion to appreciate the many different phases of one’s journey. Endings and beginnings. It is, of course the nature of life itself. As one of our parishioners, Dan Candotti remarked to me just the other day, a rhythm of setting out and intersecting. 

For the past ten years our own journeys have intersected. It has been an intersection of so much experience – experiences of joy and sadness, initiative and achievement. It has been a remarkable experience to be as involved with your families in both the moments of celebration and those of grief. Many of those who are now welcoming children were still at school when I arrived. We have celebrated weddings, baptised, and sadly farewelled many loved members of our parish family, and shared so much life in between. There have been so many different highlights and yet also some extraordinary tragedies through which we have walked together. As I have been there with you at those moments, you, too, have been with me in the loss of my own mother and father and sister – all of whom have died during my time with you. During this same time, I retired from academic life and commenced my ministry as Vicar General. And so, for all of us the last ten years have been rich with events and experience. The years have had all the seasons, and yet, even in the face the winter season of COVID this last year, spring is the season that emerges for me as the most appropriate image of these ten years – the season of new growth. Hopefully, it gives us all a sense of satisfaction to look around and to see all on which we have worked together over the last ten years in order to make our community as well cared, welcoming, and vibrant as it is.

By this, it is my deep hope that we have recognised in deeper ways the importance of the community of parish life. Perhaps the limitations of this last year of COVID19 has also taught us this by the absence of community in our lives. As Pope Francis reflected in Evangelii Gaudium

“The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community. If the parish proves capable of self-renewal and constant adaptivity, it continues to be “the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters”. The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration. In all its activities the parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelisers. It is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a centre of constant missionary outreach. “[1]

Each of us knows, to use the words of Daniel Ang, now Director for Evangelisation in the Archdiocese of Sydney that parishes are extraordinarily complex realities.[2] But as Daniel rightly observes, “it is by this moment, thiscommunity, this people, that the extraordinariness of the Christian event, Jesus Christ, manifests itself.”[3] The American writer Andrew Greely once commented, “The . . . Catholic parish is one of the most ingenious communities that human skill has ever created. . .”[4] I believe this to be very true, And so, at this moment of transition let us give thanks for the blessing of our own parish community with both its history and its future, for its own unique personality. It is in each of us, in the relationships and friendships that we seek to share, that God works to reveal his life and promise to us. It is in the ways that we seek to grow in faith with one another, through all the complexity of our relationships with one another, that we learn what it means to be Church, and through which the very life of Jesus becomes apparent in our midst. So, let us be grateful for the gift of one another and for the way in which we are indeed a neighbourhood of grace and goodness.

Through it all, I have experienced the uniqueness of the bond between pastor and people.  For me, the most moving experience I have is during the great Eucharistic Prayer at mass. With arms outstretched I gaze upon you, knowing so many of your stories, holding you hurts and hopes and joys. You gaze back as I lift all these to the Lord. For St John Paul II this was a mystical moment, a moment of what he called ‘mutual immanence’, that is a shared presence in one another: the priest recognising himself in his people, the people recognising themselves in their priest. You have taught me the truth of this.  I thank you for the privilege of being your pastor:

  • For receiving me in your hearts and lives.
  • For your constant belief in me, your encouragement of me, your countless kindnesses and generosity.
  • For all that we have been able to do together to grow and strengthen and showcase our wonderful community.

The community of Epping-Carlingford where I resided before coming to you in many ways taught me the character of priesthood. From them, I learnt the richness of being priest, the power of the effect that one can have in the lives of others by one’s presence as a priest. However, the community of Holy Name Wahroonga has taught me not only this in new ways, but you have also taught me the nature of leadership. I once wrote that there is no psychoanalysis like leadership: it brings a person to their limits; it undoes one and reconstructs. It’s an experience that demands remarkable listening and risk, and yet trust.  Above all, it invites us to maintain our gaze upon the Lord, above all in the silent mystery of the Eucharist, who alone can join all the fragments together and who can weave the many different threads into the tapestry that one can never fully apprehend. And so, I thank you for the way in which you have taught me myself: my strengths, my limitations, my gifts, my vulnerabilities. This lesson I take with me into the future and the new opportunities and challenges that await.

As I shared with a number of you at lunch several weeks ago, I leave with you the lyrics of this song, “For Good.”[5]

I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason bringing something we must learn. And we led to those who help us most to grow if we let them. And we help them in return. Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true, but I know I’m who I am today because I knew you. So much of me is made of what I learned from you. You’ll be with me like a handprint on my heart. And now whatever way our stories end I know you have rewritten mine by being my friend. And just to clear the air I ask forgiveness for the things I’ve done you blame me for. But then I guess, we know there’s blame to share. And none of it seems to matter anymore

Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better. I do believe I have been changed for the better because I knew you. Because I knew you I have been changed for good.

And may the blessing of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit – come down upon you and remain with you always. Farewell, my friends.

[1] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium. The Joy of the Gospel, Apostolic Exhortation (2013), n. 28.

[2] Daniel Ang, “The Catholic Parish:  An Event of Possibility,” Unpublished paper (2011).

[3] Ang, “The Catholic Parish.”  See also Karl Rahner, “Theology and the Spirituality of Pastoral Work in the Parish,” Theological Investigations Volume 19 (New York:  Crossroad, 1983), 87-102.

[4] Andrew Greeley, The Catholic Myth (1990), 154-155 cited in Dixon, “Ingenious Communities,” 1.

[5] Schwartz, Stephen Lawrence, “For Good,” from the soundtrack, Wicked

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