Farewell to Fr Jim McMahon - Mersey Leven Parish 10th Anniversary

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First Sunday of Advent (A)
Farewell for Fr Jim McMahon
10th Anniversary Mersey-Leven Parish

As the Church begins a new liturgical year with the celebration of the First Sunday of Advent, our minds shift to the coming of things: to the coming of Christ at Christmas and the coming of the Lord – glorious – at the end of time. Today our minds are also caught up with the commemoration of the first decade of the Mersey-Leven Parish and the farewell to a priest, Fr Jim McMahon MSC, who has been part of this parish, and indeed many parishes across Tasmania, since 1988. So many thoughts course through our minds.

The beginning of the season of Advent should be our starting point because of Catholics our faith is nourished by the ebb and flow of the Church’s liturgical year. We are conscious of the various liturgical seasons – Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and Ordinary time. The colour of the vestments, the prayers and readings of the Mass, the particular liturgical actions (like the lighting of the Advent Candle) all bring texture to our spiritual and liturgical lives.

Advent has its own distinctive character. Many, like me, love this season. Its focus stirs up one virtue particularly – the virtue of hope. We are invited to look forward and this lifts our thoughts from the present to what is to come. Like waiting for a friend to arrive for a meal or celebration we find ourselves expectant for all the good that will eventuate.

Sometimes running from one thing to the next eliminates the experience of looking forward in hope and expectation to what is to come. Advent invites us to take time to lift our heads from the immediate and thing of things to come: of Christmas, of the final coming of Christ. For the Christian life is not a cyclic process or some recycling of life, it is a journey. It has a beginning and an end. Time is marked by new things happening which advance the progress towards its fulfilment. For us as men and women of faith time has its focus in Christ. The marking of time centres on the birth of Christ. The end of time is marked by the coming of Christ. He is the Lord of time. 

There is always something very human about preparing for Christmas. We think of what it offers – joy and thanksgiving. The waiting builds up our expectation. We think of what is to come. We find ourselves thinking of what awaits us. It lifts our spirits. Again we can say that it is Christ who is the cause of the lifting of our spirits.

In the daily readings at Mass coming closer to Christmas there are some wonderful Gospel stories chosen. They are stories of the healings that Christ performed. We can read them and be reminded that this is what Christ has brought to human life – healing, restoration, and its result – joy. These Gospel stories are coupled with Old Testament passages which capture the hope and expectation of the Jewish people awaiting the Messiah. They remind us that what God has in store is good. God will come; he comes to save. This is what God does in the midst of human history. He acts to save, to restore, to reconcile.

The first words read in the Liturgy of the Word for the new liturgical year – and in this first cycle of readings – are: “In the days to come...” The readings invite us to look to what is ahead. Our sense of hope and expectation are stirred. The reading ends with the exhortation: “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord”. When there is hope in our hearts, when we carry a positive expectation for the future, our confidence in God is strengthened and we can find ourselves moving forward with a lightness of heart. We do not fear what is to come, and so we want to walk “in the light of the Lord”. Faith is the light that marks out our path for us.

The second reading captures this theme. It says, “The night is almost over, it will be daylight soon”. We are not to fix our gaze just on the darkness that we may experience around us. If we currently know darkness, we know that this will soon pass. It will be daylight soon. As with the first reading, we are given an encouragement in the words, “let your armour be the Lord Jesus Christ”. It is he – the Lord Jesus - who will protect us, and guard us in all our ways. So we “put on Christ” as St Paul says. He is our shield, our protection, our sure hope.

This is the spirit that should always be in the heart of a believer. Advent reminds us of this spirit. It is a season that has a very special character. It is a season that can re-invigorate our souls.

During the past week Pope Francis produced a document from the last Synod of Bishops. The document is entitled in Latin, Evangelii Gaudium, in English, "The joy of the Gospel". The Pope opens his letter by stating that those who have faith and have accepted the salvation that is offered to them are, in his words, "set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness". He goes on to say, "With Christ joy is constantly born anew". The Pope reminds us that the Christian life is a life of joy, a life of hope, a life filled with expectation. The Christian knows that God has good things for those who love him. The Pope encourages us to open our hearts to God in such a way that joy flows in upon us.

This is true. In Advent we are naturally oriented towards the coming celebration of Christmas. Our whole society is caught up in it, even if for commercial purposes. If there is one quality that marks the celebration of Christmas surely it is joy. We sing don't we: "Joy to the world, the Lord is born." The ultimate source of Christian joy is the realisation that God has come to us. Joy is the special quality of the Christian. The Pope spoke of a truth that we all realise. He said that "the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures and a blunted conscience" is not the way to find joy.

He wants all Catholics to know real joy in their lives and so he offers the way in which this is to be found. He says, "I invite all Christians everywhere at this very moment to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them".

The Pope is convinced that joy will be found when we open ourselves to Jesus. What he is proposing is that each of us turn in humility and simplicity and ask Jesus to come to us. We not only want to believe in him and follow his teaching but more importantly we want him in our hearts in a deeply personal way. It is like making the decision to invite a person at the door into our house. We say, "come in and make yourself at home". So too with Jesus. We want to say to him, "Jesus I invite you into my heart and into my life".  

Today as we reflect on the joy of being Christian we say farewell to Fr Jim McMahon. He has been here for 16 years. The time has come for him to return to his MSC community in Kensington. He doesn't want to go, I know. He loves it here. He loves the people here. But he knows that he must go. I know many don't want him to go, but we know it is the best thing in the longer term.

Fr Jim we thank you for your presence and your service particularly to the people of Ulverstone and surrounding areas. We commend you to the Lord that the Lord whom you have faithfully served as Christian and as priest will watch over you and protect you always. We pray in a particular way that the joy of the Lord will be your strength in the time ahead. May The Lord bless and keep you.

Archbishop Julian Porteous             
Saturday, 30 November 2013