Just for a moment, try and imagine how many times the Scriptures have been proclaimed in this church, how many times people have gathered for the Eucharist, how many times people have gathered for the baptism, marriage or one of the sacraments, how many times people have gathered with the mortal remains of a loved one as they farewell them unto eternal life. Just imagine! Everyone of those thousands of celebrations could be written about, recorded on the pages of history, but only a few will be either recorded or remembered. That is life! But just for a moment, try and imagine the people who have participated in these celebrations. Ordinary people, young and old, parents and single, married or widowed or divorced, financially well off or trying to make ends meet, confident in the faith or full of doubts and questions, the healthy and the infirm, the wise and those growing towards maturity. All of these have made this a living place of faith, prayer and worship. It seems that their prayer and praise echo throughout the arches of this church.
Today a new chapter beings in this history of those who have gathered for Mass in this area since around 1865 and in this church since 1893. There have been uncertainties throughout the history of this church – in fact this is true of every church. There is a never a time when the Church does not need renewing, nor is there ever a time when the Church does not have to face challenges. Like in all things, testing times are what built the church in the first place. This is what makes it strong and enables it to be authentic and true to its calling.
This moment in the history of this Parish comes as we continue to celebration of the Easter Season. The Gospel accounts of the resurrection not only speak of how the Risen Jesus appeared to the disciples, they also capture something of the doubt, questions and uncertainties of those disciples as they came to terms with Jesus death and the reports of his being seen alive. Today’s account certainly comes within this framework. The opening lines: the disciples told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised Jesus at the breaking of bread picks up that marvellous resurrection story of the appearing of Jesus to two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
The disillusionment and pain of the two disciples as they walked that road mirrors in many ways the doubts and fears we have as we walk the road of life. When we tell our story of what happens on the road there will be just as much uncertainty and worry as any other disciple living within the complexities of believing in this day and age. What reassures us is that we don’t walk this road alone. Even in the moments of deepest confusion and pain, as we see in the Gospels time and time again, Jesus comes to walk with us. He listens to our story – he takes us where we are at – as he always does. Then after having listened, Jesus leads us on to a new and deeper understanding.
For us in the Catholic tradition all of this makes sense within the celebration of the Eucharist. And they recognised him in the breaking of the bread. It is here that we meet the risen Jesus in the most particular and intimate of ways. Here as food and drink – as real nourishment – our eyes are opened and we understand, we see a way forward.
There is an expression that always resonates with me – it is: when we come to the Eucharist we bring with us all that we have and all that we are. We bring our whole selves, with all our doubts and worries, our confusion, our joy and our sorrows, our past hurts and present struggles. But we don’t just come here to say our prayers with the hope it might all get better. We come here, Sunday after Sunday, as countless parishioners of this parish have done for well over 100 years, to realise that the risen Jesus is our travelling companion through every step in life’s journey.
It is quite possible that some may be wondering whether to stay with the church or to go in other directions. Can I appeal to you to stay with us, because it is best when we stay together. We need each other, and even though we may not have all the answers, the best way forward in faith is to have the assurance of fellow Christians who are moving with the same demands and challenges.
In all of this I entrust this Parish once again to the protection and prayer of the mother of God, mother of the Church. May St Mary’s grow strong in God’s love as it faces challenging times and be guided by the Holy Spirit in every moment as we continue to tell our story of what happens on the road and gather faithfully to recognise Jesus in the breaking of the bread.
Fr Ken Howell
Dean of St Stephen’s Cathedral
Administrator of St Mary’s South Brisbane Parish
April 26, 2009