We need to talk about Sundays

WelCom November 2017: Bishop Charles Drennan Most Kiwis are hands-on people. We like to get stuck in to various tasks and challenges. Think of all those involved with sport, kapa haka,…

WelCom November 2017:

Bishop Charles Drennan

We need to talk about Sundays Archdiocese of Wellington

Parishioners entering the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Palmerston North, during the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Photo: Brendan Lodge

Most Kiwis are hands-on people. We like to get stuck in to various tasks and challenges. Think of all those involved with sport, kapa haka, music and volunteer work. Our recent migrants too are here because they want to get on with the job of bettering the life of their families.

DIY (Do It Yourself) mentality is one of our strengths. But it is also one of our weaknesses. Sometimes we are reluctant to turn for help when we need it and as a nation we can at times overrate ourselves, fudging our weaknesses.

Our culture impacts on the way we live our faith. How does our faith impact on our culture? Statistics show that when it comes to our parishes – our communities of faith – the Kiwi ‘step up and get involved’ characteristic has been fading. I’m definitely Catholic but I don’t go to Church, is a statement many feel comfortable with.

Does this matter?

The Catholic Community once had a strong sense of Sunday Mass obligation. Flatmates of Catholics would marvel that no matter what the antics of Saturday, their doolan flatmates would get to Mass on Sunday. Mass and self-identity were closely linked.

Sunday Mass obligation was not an invention of bishops or anyone else. It is an echo of the Genesis story where we learn that the Sabbath is a day of rest and to be kept holy. So, participation in Sunday Mass should not be seen as an imposition but rather as natural to who we are as God’s whānau. Sunday Mass meets our human need for spiritual sustenance, inspiration and community. None of which is possible alone or disconnected. The Book of Hebrews, encouraging early Jewish Christians not to be lured back to old ways, puts it this way: “Hold tight to the hope we profess… Be concerned for each other so that you keep up love and good works… Do not be absent from your own assemblies (parishes) and encourage one another” (cf. Hebrews 10:23-25).

That’s easy to write. It’s easy enough to think. But put into practice? That’s harder. I dislike the terms practising and non-practising Catholic. I dislike the term lapsed Catholic. Instead, I like to depict our parish communities as concentric circles. Our pastoral goal is to draw people closer to the centre, the vital mark of which is joyful weekly participation at Sunday Mass. That is the fundamental witness of encouragement we can give each other and it is the source of our identity. As a priest and bishop, my heart is lifted every Sunday, whichever parish I am in, by the presence of young families, elderly, teenagers, and young adults. I know that many have made great efforts to be present and I know that everyone could have been somewhere else. I’m sure you feel the same. And equally we notice when people – friends and others – are missing.

What we take away from Mass is what we have been given at Mass: Christ’s own self and Word for the world. So, faith is never DIY. It is a gift from God – sometimes left unnoticed – which is received through stepping up, rolling up our sleeves and saying, yep count me in, I will be there.

November is parish statistics month. Why not be a ‘good news’ statistic? Where do you fit among the concentric circles? For those among the more distanced circles, how about setting yourself a challenge. Form a new habit. Feel encouraged. Plenty of people are a bit reluctant to get to Mass. But does anyone really ever leave wishing they had been elsewhere?