Homily for the Memorial of St Ambrose at Parish Secretaries Day at Mt Schoenstatt, Mulgoa 07 December 2016
Today, we gather to give thanks to God for the grace of making through yet another year in the front line. That’s what it feels like in most parish offices. I bet you look forward to a well-earned Christmas and New Year holiday. It’s a bit like a joke about little Johnny. “Why does father in the church have more holidays than our dad at home? He asks innocently and his mother answers him wisely. “Well son, if father has been a good priest, he deserves a break from us. Otherwise, we need a break from him.” I don’t know how good your boss has been to you. After a year, you definitely need a break from each other.
Being parish secretary can be pretty tough at times. The chances are that you have done a lot of things that people would be surprised to find out. You’ve probably lied for him when he double-booked himself without telling you; when he forgot to mention a deceased person’s name at Mass; when he did a runner in order to avoid a difficult customer. In your absence, you probably got blamed for something that he had done. “The secretary put a wrong time in my diary; she did not put that request in the bulletin etc…” How do I know these scenarios? I was a parish priest for 14 years and yes guilty as charged, of all the above.
All humour aside, I want to say thank you for your role in making the church, the local community, a positive experience for others. You are the first port of call for your parishioners. You help facilitate the links in your parish. You are the welcome interface between the people and the pastoral team. In your own way, you are part of the mission of the church in supporting, empowering and caring for one another and especially those in need.
The Church is first and foremost a presence. It is a sacrament of God’s presence that gathers and draws people together. It reflects something of God’s unconditional and unlimited love to them. It creates, nurtures, heals, restores and prospers communities and relationships. The Church is never meant to be just a business provider.
The life of Jesus does not consist of merely doing good deeds to others; but it is an expression of the divine pathos. People experienced in their encounters with Jesus not simply a humanitarian gesture but also a glimpse of God’s unconditional and unlimited love. Pope Francis recently spoke about the temptation of the Church to become a compassionate non-governmental organisation. This happens when despite doing work in the name of the Church or in the name of God, we fail to convey the love and presence of God. In fact, our boast of being the largest non-government provider of charity, health care and education can ring hollow if we fail the test of being an authentic presence of God in our relationships and engagements with others.
The Scriptures tell us that the strength of Church is ultimately measured by its commitment to Christlike love and service. The short Gospel today contains the invitation of Jesus to unburden ourselves and to learn from him, who is gentle and humble in heart. I think Jesus understood the trials and tribulations of parish secretaries because he seemed to know you need to unload them for your own sanity. He alone understands us at the deepest level and he alone has the power to sustain us in our mission.
The life of the disciple is about learning from the master. Jesus had the ability to engage with all kinds of people and handle the stickiest of situations. That’s because he was a spirit-filled person. The love of God permeated his whole person and character. His word, gesture and deed were shot through with the fullness of divinity. So everyone who came to him experienced something of God’s love and power. That is also our objective as his disciples. May we live and work in a way that conveys something of God’s love and power to the people we meet or in your case speak to on the phone.
Dear friends and colleagues in ministry,
I wish to acknowledge the spirit of Christian service which you seek to carry out in humility, patience and love. They say the proof of the pudding is in the eating. After all that is said and done, the quality of our discipleship must shine through. We must be able to imbue God’s abundant love and all-embracing presence. We pray that you may continue to be ambassadors of God’s mercy and the faces of the church that we believe in.
Let us pray that as a community of disciples, we learn to be humble servants of one another. May the example of Christ who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for others inspire us to be servants of one another, especially the least of our brothers and sisters.
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