Farewell Mass - Fr Jim Elmore & Fr Aidan Kay

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Farewell Mass, Aidan and Jim
St Joseph’s Church, 22 Jan.2013.

I am sure that we all have mixed feelings about being here this evening. I think that it is good to have an opportunity to say thank you, as well as saying goodbye to the two Passionist priests who are moving away from Hobart in the coming days, thus bringing to an end their priestly ministry here at St. Joseph’s and at St. Francis Xavier’s church in South Hobart. We do so however, with some degree of sadness as well.

It is recognised as a normal feature of religious life that the members of the religious congregations do move around. Some do happen to stay for longer periods in the one place, but that is by way of exception. In most instances, there is something like a fixed term appointment, or because of circumstances, a change has to be made sooner than intended.

I sometime wonder whether we, in the Catholic Church, have always managed the change process as well as we could. The person who is departing is very likely grieving for the people they are leaving; the people are grieving as well, when saying goodbye – the leavers have to find their way in a new situation, and those people may be grieving for those who have been replaced. These circular situations cannot be avoided, but they can be recognised as existing.

In the gospel reading chosen for this Mass of Farewell, we find that Jesus was prepared to expand his original team of 12 disciples, and make it a larger group of 72. They were, by all accounts an impressive group, pioneers and trail-blazers. It was not an easy call for them – it seems that they were more in survival mode than anything else.

Jesus gave them some very detailed instructions, including the directions that they not carry any money, have any luggage, or any footwear either. They were to rely on the providence of God, and they had to trust that the people they met would make them welcome. It was a case of trusting in the power of the message they came to bring, to the people they would meet along the way. It is interesting to note that when the disciples returned, not only had they just survived, but they were in fact rejoicing after the experience.

The gospel passage teaches us that we are all called to prepare the way of Christ by how we live and witness to our faith.

As we come to the moment to say goodbye to Fr Aidan and Fr Jim, and wish them well in their new appointments, it is good to reflect for a moment on their particular contribution to this parish of St. Joseph’s and St. Francis Xavier’s and to the wider Catholic community here in Hobart as well.

In his role at the Parish Priest, naturally enough, Fr Aidan has been closely involved in defining the directions of the parish and identifying the particular needs of the communities which gather in both locations. I believe that Fr Aidan has tried very much to adopt the collaborative approach, something which is strongly encouraged in the first reading from the Apostle Paul.

This particular church plays a most important part in the history of the Catholic Church in Tasmania. It was the first building constructed in the city, and served as the pro-Cathedral until the permanent Cathedral was opened in 1868 further north along Harrington St. It was the first place that the newly arrived first Bishop visited on the day after his ship docked down in the port. The vast majority of those who attended his first Mass were convicts, for whom he would always have a special concern during his years as our first bishop.

I believe that Fr Aidan has done well to highlight and respect this history in different ways and for that I am very grateful. I have been impressed by his willingness to consult with the community before making important decisions about the future directions of the parish.

Fr Jim has not carried those responsibilities during this appointment, but he certainly will in the upcoming appointment as leader of the large community of Passionists at Marrickville. I have been grateful for his readiness to take a special interest in the African people and by providing them with a special Mass on a monthly basis. That is something I hope will continue, but new arrangements will have to be made.

I am also grateful for his priestly ministry at St John’s Hospital where some people who are very sick, or on a long path of recovery, are patients in a Catholic facility.

No doubt our two friends have mixed feelings about the future, packing up and leaving Hobart, and then settling into a new situation, with new people and new challenges.

Some years ago, a member of the Passionist community here in Hobart came me a copy of a small publication entitled “In the Heart of God.”  It is a collection of the writings and sayings of the founder of the Congregation of the Passion, St. Paul of the Cross. At one point he wrote to his members:

“The easiest way to keep your peace of heart is to accept everything s coming directly from the hands of the God who loves you. If you do this, any pain or persecution, anything that is difficult to accept, will be transformed into a source of joy, happiness and peace.”

I am sure that it is our wish and prayer that Fr Aidan and Fr Jim will experience in their new appointments, joy, happiness and peace.