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A Christmas Message from Fr Josh Dec 24, 2023

Christmas
Merry Christmas - From all of us at OLR
Merry Christmas - From all of us at OLR

 

Wishing you peace, joy and every Christmas blessing!

Sitting down to write these words, I’m experiencing a profound sense of gratitude for everything that has happened this year – both good and not-so-good. Why the not-so-good? Because, as St Paul says, “For all things, give thanks to God” (1 Thess 5:18). I’m grateful for many things, but perhaps most of all, for the way that God continues to move in the hearts of parishioners who say “Yes” to God’s will and Jesus’ incarnation in their lives and hearts.

When I sat down to write our Yes Prayer at this time in 2022, I had plans – plans which I hoped and prayed were God’s will. Primarily, we were working towards the 2023 Pentecost launch of our Parish’s Strategic Plan. As well as that, I had plans for Fr Francis and I to preach about sacrificial giving for two weeks during the 2023 season of Lent. The opportunity I sensed was for us to lean into and rely on the Holy Spirit as a parish in a more profound way than perhaps ever before. The grace of this sense was a realisation that God never impinges on our gift of free will and so invites the cooperation of our “Yes” in all things. Many people positively responded to both the giving preaching series and the Strategic Plan – which is still very much within its implementation phase – and so I say thank you!

 

One of my favourite Scriptures at the moment comes from Psalm 92:13-14, in which the psalmist sings, “Planted in the house of the Lord; they will flourish in the courts of our God. Still baring fruit when they are old; still full of sap, still green.”

Did you know that 56% of the worshipping congregation in our parish are aged 70 years or older? While that may be a cause of worry and concern for some, I see opportunity. It’s these faithful servants whose shoulders the other 44% stand on in many different ways. Our seniors are our most prolific givers; many of our seniors have either served or continue to serve in ministry (still full of sap, still green); many of our seniors are the mortar and bricks of the parish, and who built the parish – and so on behalf of everyone, I say thank you!

It’s true that we are moving in a new direction as a parish, and that change has been difficult for some people. Change is never easy because it can be perceived as ripping us from the comfort of security and familiarity. Change can also be perceived as a lack of appreciation for everything that has happened in the past. Indeed, one of the significant challenges I experience is the question, how to invite everyone along for the ride in such a way that they desire to come? Something which balances this question, at least for me, is my unequivocal belief that while God meets us where we are, God never leaves us there. We are continually being invited to say “Yes” to becoming a new creation – both as human beings and as a parish. One of those new things for many people is how we understand our purpose – reason for existence – as a parish community.

Without doubt, God is inviting us to say “Yes” to an increase in our desire and capacity to welcome and invite others into a journey of faith. The alternative is to descent slowly as a parish. Our parish mission, to be a vibrant community that actively accompanies people to encounter Jesus, reflects this God’s invitation, but it wholly relies on our “Yes.” In 2024, we will be invited to say “Yes” again to a Year of Invitation – to a year of openness to going outside of ourselves and inviting others into a journey of faith. The concrete opportunity to invite others into this journey will take place in and through Alpha. Indeed, what’s easier: to invite someone to Mass – while Mass/Eucharist is the summit of our faith, it presupposes a definite literacy which many people today simply don’t have – or to invite them to friendship via a meal, a movie and a discussion? The Alpha course provides a concrete thing in which we can both participate ourselves and invite other people to join us. If Jesus’ love and peace really are the answer to all the world’s problems, why wouldn’t we do everything we could to invite people we know to love and follow him?

Finally, friends, here we are at Christmas. Our celebration of Jesus’ birth will continue until the Feast of the Epiphany on 7th January. On this day, may I simply offer you God’s richest blessings. May the love (and yes’s) of Mary and Joseph (and our yes’s) resound loudly as we welcome the birth of Jesus both 2000 years ago and in our hearts in this Christmas season. I pray for safety for those who may be travelling and for peace in our hearts and families as we gather together. I look forward to seeing you in the new year!

With every Christmas blessing

Fr Josh Whitehead
Parish Priest, Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Parish

 

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