By Kevin Wilson
Often I feel too involved in the “business” of church: Parish and Diocese Councils, Liturgy and Social Justice Committees, Parish Refugee Advocates, Choir at two masses every Sunday. Plenary and more Plenary, even Plenary Phase 2. Perhaps these chores of our faith accidentally qualify me for my network role at Palms, but I often long to just be another bloke in the pews again. Being too embedded in the machine can actually remove one from the moment.
I was reminded of this at the mission sending Mass for Paula Evans, just before her departure to Holy Family Care Centre in Ofcolaco, South Africa. Not all Palms participants opt for a religious gathering, or even anything formal. Paula though nominated to have her ceremony during the vigil Mass at St Francis Xavier’s in Arncliffe.
While Paula is not a Catholic, this church and parish have a special place in her heart as the location of her children’s sacraments and many fond family memories. Aside from that, Paula has no links to the community as it has evolved now. So it still seemed an odd choice for her send-off, when perhaps a simple relaxed dinner would serve.
Those of us still practicing our faith will have to admit that we don’t always approach things in a receptive and worthy way. We respond on cue with the formulas we’ve learnt by rote, taken the Eucharist while still harbouring anger and annoyance to our siblings, simply gone through the motions of Mass while our hearts and minds were elsewhere.
How prophetic then is the example of the stranger in our churches? Witness the parish visitor listening and living in the moment, open to the experience and engaging fully in rituals we take for granted. To those of us “in the know” these humble Messengers are rightly humbling, and tell us we know very little if we do not feel.
So it was my humble privilege to be part of Paula’s Sending Mass and witness her prophetic example. She did not take Communion, but that would not be an issue. Unrehearsed, she took up the invitation to the sanctuary, attending each precious word, received her mission cross and blessing from Fr Frank’s hands.
Perhaps too, I was too much in the know, too familiar with the words, prayers, processes I’d compiled and sent the parish weeks before. Not so Paula. Like most us, she couldn’t really articulate why she committed to a Palms placement. Yet as she received her cross came the realisation: “You did not choose Me. I chose you.” Her joy was profound and infectious.
This was not Paula’s community. There was no-one she had to impress. Fr Frank and the congregation welcomed her as their own, but few friends were on hand to share her moment .
That, I’m reminded, is not the point. The moment- the blessing- was her own, from a shrine so precious to Paula. This blessing remains now with Paula and her new community in Ofcolaco. May they always be blessed and live joyfully in the moment.
You can support Paula on her journey by becoming a regular donor to her project providing food handling and stock control training to staff at Holy Family Care Centre.