Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Mass of the Ascension of the Lord, Mother’s Day and Baptism of Mia Paige Howard, 12 May 2013, Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, Greystanes
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Jesus has returned, as promised, and is living in Queensland. The former IT specialist become messiah, Alan John Miller, is leader of the God’s Way of Love sect. So far, he has just over 100 followers but is hoping many more will soon recognise him. He’s ditched the beard and robes in favour of a bottle of fake tan and pink T-shirts. He assures us that in his first earthly life he did raise Lazarus from the dead but he didn’t walk on water. He predicts an impending Apocalypse a lot like the Hollywood blockbuster 2012, starring John Cusack, complete with whole cities being consumed by the ocean. If you hurry, you can buy a safe block of land near his lavish bungalow on the Sunshine Coast so that you will be safe when Armageddon comes for the rest of sinful humanity.
We heard in today’s first reading of Christ’s promise to return (Acts 1:1-11). As He ascended, two angels told the apostles, “Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will return in the same way.” In the same way, notice. Covered in glory, not a pink T-shirt and fake tan. Not asking for money in exchange for personal time with Him. Christ predicted false prophets and AJ Miller is one.
Ridiculous as his claims might seem, Miller has his followers. One of them, named Jo, was asked by a reporter if she believes he really is Jesus. “That varies,” she said. “At the moment, probably not. Not in my heart. Intellectually, though, it seems a very likely thing.” She’s not sure, but she has to believe in something. A cunning guy comes along, mixing and mashing a few Bible verses, a smidgen of Buddhism and lots of manipulative psychology and, hey presto, a new sect is born.
What might this Holy Feast of the Ascension, and the Holy Faith into which young Mia is soon to be initiated, say to all this? Well, for one thing, every person with a head and a heart searches at one time or another for answers. What is the meaning of life? Of my life? Is there a God and does He care about me? Is there life after death and a reason for me to hope? We look up for a sign, a miracle, some word from God. Like children on a long car trip, we hear the apostles today ask, “Lord, is it time yet? Are we there yet? Has your kingdom some?” (Lk 24:46-53) Christ’s response is just like a parent at the wheel in front: He tells them to be patient, to keep praying ‘Thy kingdom come’, and that their time will come. They now know for certain that there is a God, a life after death, and reason for hope: Jesus has been raised from the dead. But for now they must wait until their turn comes to be “clothed with power from on high”. They must return to the city, worship joyfully in church, and take up the charge of bringing others to Christ, as Chris and Olivier Howard and this Christian community of Our Lady Queen of Peace are doing today.
Many Catholics only think of the Ascension once a year unless, like me, they’re fans of the rosary, in which the Ascension comes round more often. Mostly we think of Christ as the Christmas babe, as Teacher-healer, as the Crucified One, as the Risen Lord, as the Sacred Heart, or as truly present in the Holy Eucharist. That is the very Christ we hope and pray young Mia comes to know, for from today she will be identified with Him. But the Ascension also matters enough to be included in our Creed. Every moment of Christ’s life, every saying and miracle recorded for us in the Gospels is recorded for a reason: for our teaching, conversion, consolation, salvation. We don't pick and choose which bits of the Gospel we believe, like AJ Miller (the Queensland Jesus) who casually says yes to raising Lazarus and no to walking on water. No, Jesus’ beginning amongst us as a baby matters. His life and death and resurrection matter. But also His grand finale, His conclusion, His Ascension to heaven.
Tags: Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP homilies Catholic Diocese of Parramatta
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Mass during the Day of the Lord’s Resurrection, Easter Sunday, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 31 March 2013
Leap not too soon from the tomb. It is our perennial temptation. The body is barely cold and we are ready to celebrate new life. We risk forgetting that in Jesus, God was really dying, dead and buried – which is why Easter is concentrated over a Sacred Triduum of three days, preceded by 40 days of Lent and followed by 50 days more till Pentecost. On Holy Thursday night Jesus was already dying: brought to His knees, sweating in terror, bashed and bleeding. He showed us how to die, in total obedience to the Father and total service of humanity. Yet, as the gold tips on the crown of thorns above our altar intimate, Jesus’ dying hour was also His crowning hour of glory. It is the Spirit released by His dying that we call down from above in the Eucharist. It transforms all reality: first, the elements of bread and wine on the altar, then those who receive them, then those they affect. As if nuclear fission took place on our altar, shock waves of grace spread to all the world.
Good Friday was quieter. By its end God was dead and buried, at our hands. Humanity falls under a terrible judgement and pleads with trembling: that if God-made-man was willing to go down into the tomb, it cannot be in vain. Christ endured all that dying means: the physical pain and bodily struggle to survive, the emotional terror of separation and loneliness, the spiritual fear of judgement and what afterlife might mean. In this He transubstantiated not only bread and wine into His Body and Blood, but the sacrifice of death into the cause of New Life.
This is an audacious thought. On the face of it, our Easter faith that Christ conquers death is nonsense. Though promised eternal life, we Christians die like anyone else. To live is to be on an inexorable trajectory to death. We may try to postpone it or ignore it, but it catches up with us. The spiritual dimension of the human aspires to eternity and faith offers hope. But as Christ and His martyrs demonstrate, death – our ‘Last Enemy’ – comes to everyone and can be a bloody, awful affair. It can also come too quickly or not quickly enough, too painfully or without adequate warning. Body and soul resist what seems an annihilation.
Not that endless mortal life would be any better. When Christ resuscitated Lazarus it was not to doom him to live indefinitely on earth, decaying in mind and body, never free to cast off this mortal coil and join his ancestors. Vampires in the Twilight universe have no life-span to start and finish, plan and promise, hope and grieve. But our life is given its shape by the inevitability of death and our vulnerability allows us to experience compassion, to demonstrate excellence, to express altruism. If death without life beyond leaves us disconsolate, life without death beyond would be like a book with no ending.
If not to annihilation, then, are we doomed to be eternally recycled through endless lives and deaths and rebirths? The word Alleluia says so much more and better. The human race need no longer be desolate: there is hope both for life beyond the grave and for a life that is more than an extended or repeated mortality. God loves us enough to go down to the dead with us, then rises in our flesh to promise a more wonderful new life, not just more of the same. Death itself is redeemed: it becomes the door to glory.
How is that possible? Look at our crucifix. It is confronting in its scale and virility, with Christ still at the height of his physical and spiritual powers rather than the customary disfigured and dying man. Robin Blau has Christ’s arms outstretched, in the posture of the almighty Creator pouring out His being on all creation, of the all-merciful Redeemer embracing ‘the many’, and of the all-serving priest offering and blessing. Many are struck by the incompleteness of the crossbeam. It suggests that it was not nails that held Jesus to the cross so much as His own will. Love was the crossbeam that held Him there. His head searches upwards in obedience to the Father; His arms stretch outwards in service of humanity.
In his first homily, Pope Francis explained that when we build without the Cross or profess a Christ without the Cross, we may be good people but “we aren’t disciples of the Lord.” St Paul is equally insistent: Christ freely shares in our sufferings and death to redeem us; but we must share in His passion so as to share in His glory. No cross, no crown. Love conquers death by making sense of sacrifice. The world may want to turn hot cross buns into ‘Easter buns’ and paschal lambs into chocolate bunnies, but we know we must linger yet a little at the tomb with Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter and the Beloved John (Jn 20:1-9).
Look again at our crucifix. On the left is the spear that will be thrust into the side of Christ, into the Sacred Heart. St John records that when they pierced His side with a spear there flowed out “blood and water” (Jn 19:34). The Fathers of the Church explained what this meant: that as Eve was born from the side of Adam in creation, so the new Eve (the Church) is born from the side of the new Adam (Christ). But why would blood and water symbolise the Church? Because they are the waters of Baptism and the blood of the Eucharist from which and for which the Church is made. They are the Sacraments of the new covenant to which we come today. Come back often to receive them, that you might experience their love and power in your life.
For Easter you were made; now Easter remakes you. God loves each of you enough to die and descend to the dead that you might share in His conquest of the Tomb. Come out of the tomb with me, He says to all mankind this morning, Rise up to everlasting life! Alleluia!
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Vigil Mass of the Holy Night of Easter, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 30 March 2013
Leap not too soon from the Tomb: A three-part homily for the Sacred Triduum
3. God triumphs over death: Vigil Mass of the Holy Night of Easter
Leap not too soon from the tomb. It is our perennial temptation. The body is barely cold, the sun has barely set and we are ready to celebrate new life, new fire. We risk forgetting that in Jesus, God was really dead and buried – which is precisely why our celebration stretches over a Sacred Triduum of three days. On Thursday night Jesus was already dying: brought to His knees, terrified, bashed and bleeding. He showed us how to die in total obedience to the Father and total service of humanity. Yet those bloodied thorns above our altar are gold-tipped: His dying hour was also His crowning hour of glory. The Spirit released by His dying, that we call down upon the altar in the Eucharist, transforms all reality: first the elements of bread and wine, then those who receive them, then those they affect and so grace spreads out through all the world.
Good Friday was quieter. By its end, God was dead at our hands and buried in the sepulchre of our altar. The metallic radiance above contrasts with the dark stone below. Humanity falls under a terrible judgement and pleads with trembling: that if God-made-man was willing to go down into the tomb, it cannot be in vain. Christ endured all that dying means: the physical pain and bodily struggle to survive, the emotional terror of separation and loneliness, the spiritual fear of judgement and what afterlife might mean. And so He transubstantiated not only bread and wine into His Body and Blood, but Death itself into the cause of New Life.
It’s an audacious thought. But on the face of it, our Easter faith that Christ conquers death is nonsense. Though promised eternal life, tonight’s newly baptised and communicated will die like anyone else. To live is to be on an inexorable trajectory to death. We may try to postpone it or ignore it, but it catches up with us. The spiritual dimension of the human aspires to eternity and faith offers hope. But as Christ and His martyrs demonstrate, death – our ‘Last Enemy’ – comes to everyone and can be a bloody, awful affair. It can also come too quickly or too slowly, too painfully or without adequate warning. Body and soul resist what seems an annihilation.
How is that possible? Look at our crucifix. It is confronting in its scale and virility, with Christ still at the height of His physical and spiritual powers. Robin Blau has Christ’s arms outstretched, in the posture of the Creator pouring out His being on all creation, of the Redeemer embracing ‘the many’, and of the priest offering and blessing. The incompleteness of the crossbeam suggests it was not nails and wood that held Him to the cross so much as His own will. Love was the crossbeam that held Him there. His head searches upwards in obedience to the Father; His arms stretch outwards in service of humanity.
In his first homily Pope Francis explained that when we build without the Cross or profess a Christ without the Cross, we may be good people but “we aren’t disciples of the Lord.” St Paul is equally insistent: No cross, no crown. Love conquers death by making sense of self-sacrifice. The world wants to turn hot cross buns into Easter buns and paschal lambs into chocolate bunnies, but we know we must linger a little yet at the tomb.
Look again at our crucifix. On the left is the spear that will be thrust into the side of Christ, into the Sacred Heart. St John told us yesterday that when they pierced His side there flowed from it “blood and water” (Jn 19:34). The Fathers of the Church taught the catechumens what this meant: that as Eve was born from the side of Adam in creation, so the new Eve (the Church) is born from the side of the new Adam (Christ). But why would blood and water symbolise the Church? Because they are the waters of Baptism and the blood of the Eucharist from which and for which the Church is made. It is into those very mysteries that we are about to initiate our catechumens.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Good Friday Celebration of the Passion of the Lord, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 29 March 2013
2. God is dead and buried: Good Friday Celebration of the Passion of the Lord
God is dead – so declared the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Sure enough, many now put ‘No Religion’ on the census form. Others call themselves believers but live from day to day as practical atheists – as if there were no God. They no longer worship God even annually. If they marry at all, it’s no longer in church with solemn vows and godly prayers. If they have children at all they no longer baptise them, let alone transmit the Faith. Few are even buried from a church these days.
Our culture, too, seems to have lost its sense of the sacred, of divine providence, the sacramental meaning and transcendent purpose of things. From the hippie Death of God movement to the yuppie New Atheism, some have tried to erase God from public memory and destroy surviving Christian relics in family life, arts and sciences, politics, law and media. Though there are many positive signs for the future of our Faith, God is undoubtedly dead in some hearts and cultures.
God is dead in another, more terrible, sense. We knelt before that mystery a few moments ago. “Jesus said ‘It is accomplished,’ and bowing His head gave up the Spirit.” (Jn 19:30) Jesus is God and Jesus is dead, so God is dead. We cannot get our minds around it. Of course, the immortal, impassable Trinity lives. But the Word is mute; the Light has been snuffed out. No sacraments today, the altar stripped and desolate.
Look now at that altar. Some years ago a bride inquired whether the rock in the middle of St Patrick’s Cathedral could be moved so her bridal procession would be unimpeded. The bishop said she should feel free to try. It weighs about 11 tonnes.
By ancient tradition it is stripped today, as Christ was naked for His scourging and crucifixion, for the altar stands for His Terrible Passion. By ancient custom it is washed today, as Christ was hurriedly prepared for burial, for the altar represents His Sacred Corpse. By ancient convention it is made of stone, for the altar symbolises Christ’s Sacrifice and blood sacrifices were always made on stone. And by ancient tradition it is shaped as much like a tomb as a table, for the sacred meal takes us down into the Sepulchre and Limbo with Christ. Our granite altar even looks like a tomb, and when we pass it, it should be with like reverence to that we show in a cemetery or war memorial – and more.
The light of the aureole above and dark of the altar below, the brilliance of Christ’s hour of glory and the horror of His hour of death, are told here in metal and stone. Sculptor Anne Ferguson said she was inspired by the thought that altars are “places where human lives in their particularities are remembered before God” – and, we might add, offered to God – this soul receiving Holy Communion, this man and woman making vows of marriage, this group gathered in prayer, this body being committed to its grave. “This is the world for which the Son of God suffered, died and rose,” she noted, and at His altar “speech has a way of running into silence, reduced to two words, ‘Dear God’.”
Where words might abandon us, music often assists. The greatest medieval sequence, long used for requiems, was the Dies iræ. It described that day when the last trump will summon souls to judgement. The words were used by great writers and set by great musicians The unsentimental Dr Johnson is said to have wept whenever he heard the words, especially those asking whether Christ’s death was in vain. The Gregorian chant became a sort of musical shorthand for death and was quoted in the symphonies of the greatest composers. What can we pray, beyond the words ‘Dear God’, in a world that has killed God and keeps trying to do so? The Dies Irae trembles:
Day of wrath and doom impending,
David’s word with Sibyl’s blending,
Heaven and earth in ashes ending! ...
Death is struck, and nature quaking,
All creation is awaking,
To its Judge an answer making.
The soul awaiting judgment responds:
… What shall I, frail man, be pleading?
Who for me be interceding,
When the just are mercy needing?
What indeed could any of us say on that day? Yet there is the happy fault, the ‘necessary’ sin of Adam, that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!
… Think, kind Jesu, my salvation
Caused thy wondrous Incarnation;
Leave me not to reprobation!
Faint and weary, Thou hast sought me,
On the Cross of suffering bought me.
Shall such grace be vainly brought me?
Dare we hope for redemption from sin and suffering and for life beyond the grave? Good Friday tells us why. If God-made-man was willing to go down into the tomb and offer its fruits permanently to us upon our altar, it cannot be in vain.
… Through the sinful woman shriven,
Through the dying thief forgiven,
Thou to me a hope hast given.
So we approach our own death, our own day of wrath, with confidence because men and women like us were forgiven, restored, raised up by Christ. Pie Jesu, the hymn ends,
Lord, all-pitying, Jesus blest,
Grant them thine eternal rest.
We dare to trust in the Divine Pity.
God in Jesus Christ is dead. He died of a broken heart, a pierced heart, a Sacred Heart, for the half-hearted, cold-hearted, hearts of stone. Can this yet be salvaged? Is there life beyond the altar-tomb? Return tomorrow night for the final instalment.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Mass of the Lord’s Supper, St Patrick’s Cathedral Parramatta, Thursday 28 March 2013
1. God is dying: Mass of the Lord’s Supper
God is dying – in many hearts and minds. Not quite dead: most believe in God and pray occasionally. A new evangelisation might yet kindle the dwindling flame. But for many God now has little purchase on their daily lives. Their consciences are no longer informed by Bible and Church; they rarely come to worship. As Pope Benedict XVI bemoaned, people push God to the margins in their lives. And as our new Pope Francis has added, they may still be doing good things, but disconnected from Christ they quickly lose direction, enthusiasm, soul. How many parents tell me tearfully that their children have little ongoing connection with the Church despite every effort to raise them in the practice of the Faith?
If God is dying in some hearts, He is also dying in some cultures. Christianity is persecuted today in many places, not least in the lands nearest Jesus’ own. All across the Middle East and North Africa the Arab Spring has turned out to be a winter for Christians. Nearer to home, our secular culture marginalises God and believers. Modernity is a mix of good and bad for faith and humanity, so often three steps forward and two back. Marriage and family, education, health, welfare and advocacy can fall prey to de-Christianising pressures and internal weakness of identity even amongst believers. Anti-discrimination laws can be used to discriminate against believers. Some would exclude the faithful altogether, if they could, from politics, the academy and professions. Though there are signs of faith reviving here and there, it seems to be in terminal decline in some places.
God is dying in another sense. Tonight He’s on His knees, before His own disciples at sSupper, before the fearsome prospect in the Garden, before His interrogators through the night. He’ll be brought to His knees again, by the weight of a cross. Within a few hours He’ll be laid in a tomb. Though the Trinity is immortal and impassable, God-made-man is dying before our very eyes.
So the ancient Passover and newer Lord’s Supper are for night-time. Tomorrow darkness covers the earth even at noon (Lk 23:44-45) for Christ, the Light of the World, is fading. Accompanied by Aquinas’ haunting hymn, Pange lingua, we carry Christ out into the dark. Lamps are going out all over the Christian world.
So, too, the last bell was rung at the end of our Gloria tonight and there will be no more bells until further notice. The Word of God is falling mute. Soon He will answer no more questions, even under torture. Like a lamb to the slaughter house, harshly dealt with he never opened his mouth (Isa 53:6-7). Silence and darkness descend upon the earth.
God is dying. Yet strangely, Jesus calls this His ‘hour of glory’ (Jn 12:23). To unpack what that might mean, He washes His disciples’ feet, modelling authority and service for them. He teaches them one last time, raises His eyes to pray for the Church, and then declares: “Father, the hour has come: glorify your Son.” As in the garden He says, “Now my soul is troubled, what shall I say: Father, save me from this hour? No, this is precisely why I came to this hour. So, Father, glorify your name.” Heaven responds: “I have glorified it and will again.” (Jn 12:27-9) Again on Sunday, sure, but for now where is the glory?
Look up above our altar at Robin Blau’s monumental halo of the Holy Spirit. By invocation and gesture at the consecration priests call down the Spirit to transform all reality, making bread and wine into Christ’s humanity and divinity, making communicants into tabernacles of the mysteries, making humanity home for 1.2 billion ‘other Christs’. As if nuclear fission took place on this altar, the Eucharist releases shock waves of grace through our world. Only the glory of the Holy Spirit could accomplish that and only at this hour, the Hour of Christ’s dying and glory. So the aureole of epiclesis is also a crown of thorns. Christ’s radiance is not in fine vesture or good looks: soon He’ll be naked and disfigured. His glory is not in power and wealth: as Pope Francis keeps reminding us, Christ stripped Himself of such things.
St John’s great insight into the mystery of the Passion and Eucharist is this: that Christ’s glory is precisely in giving up His glory; His Pentecost moment is when He gives up the Spirit; His consummation is His Church’s inauguration. His hour is when He lets go, empties Himself not just of divinity but of human dignity, friends, consolation. He surrenders all to God in obedience and to humanity in service. The Creator kneels before the Creature, the High Priest before lowly ones. He makes of Himself a New Passover, the perfect sacrifice of the altar. By His manner of dying He shows us how to die. All that He is and was and will be is given for us, into us – on the Cross with crown of thorns, at His death when He gives up His hallowed Spirit.
It is in that mystery that you participate each time you stand below the thorny baldachino to receive the Blessed Sacrament into yourself: the mystery of gory and glory, of human cruelty and divine mercy, of cross and resurrection, all received, reconciled and restored in His Hour – the hour of the Mass.
God is dying: these are chilling words. Tomorrow’s silence and darkness will declare even more loudly and terribly: God is dead and buried. See you then, if you dare, when our altar will be stripped and desolate. Perhaps there will be better news to tell.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Chrism Mass, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, Wednesday 27 March 2013
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People of Parramatta, behold your clergy – bishops, priests, deacons and seminarian soon-to-be’s. Who are they? Each has a story, some very interesting, even heroic. Others labour in quieter ways building up their flocks with love. Each has particular gifts and most are very generous in exercising those gifts. Each has a particular temperament, and a few are what we used to call ‘characters’: their stories will be told for generations to come. I will leave you to identify these.
Who are our priests? They will give their answer in a few moments when they promise yet again to unite and conform themselves to Christ, to sanctify, teach and shepherd His people, and to do all this denying self and seeking only the good of souls. Our Golden Jubilarian – the Second Vatican Council – in its Decree on the Life and Ministry of Priests, celebrated the special sharing our clergy have in the service of Christ the Teacher, Priest and King for the building up of the Church. Without indulging in clericalism or feeding vainglory, I want tonight to echo those sentiments. Yours is a truly awesome task, inspiring both delight and fright. It is so big and so beautiful, and mostly done very well. For this your people are grateful, your Church is grateful, your God is grateful.
From the many things the Vatican Council had to say to priests, I would like tonight to recall four. One is that we must first be men of prayer if we are to lead others in prayer. We can always pray more and deeper. There is a great risk that the busyness of pastoral life, much-needed personal leisure, the distractions of TV and the internet, and other things crowd out God even in the lives of priests. I know this in my own life. I confess this to you my brother priests. And I exhort you to focus first and foremost on that conversation with God which is the premise of all else you do.
We could all do more by way of offering friendship, hospitality and encouragement to each other as clergy. As we face the humbling scrutiny of the failures of some clergy and bishops, we must recognise that regular appraisal, accountability and peer support will be part of the way forward for the clergy.
Thirdly, there is always more to do to enrich our theological understanding and pastoral skills. Amongst these may I underline our Clergy Days and celebrations together as priests. These are not optional extras. They are our Bishop, Clergy Vicar, Ongoing Formation Committee, lecturers and fellow clergy responding to the Church’s direction. Every serious profession requires ongoing professional development of its members. Even if our vocation is unique, we are in no less need of ongoing formation; given the nobility of our calling and the challenges of today the need is, if anything, greater. There are always good reasons to be elsewhere at the time of diocesan events, but I urge you to be there.
Fourthly, we must be willing to go where the need is. The parishes of the Diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes and the chaplaincies to the armed, police and emergency services are underserved at present. If any of you is willing to assist part time or for two or three years, I would be very interested to hear from you.
Who are our clergy? When I was appointed Bishop of Parramatta the Vatican Information Service said there were 150 priests in the Diocese; but after three years of searching I’ve only located about half that number – perhaps some are hiding! As far as I can ascertain, this Diocese presently has three bishops, 71 incardinated priests and 11 incardinated deacons (10 permanent) – making, in all, 85 clergy of our own, of which 28 are on lesser duties. We currently have 11 seminarians plus our transitional deacon.
We are also blessed with one or more priests from 24 clerical religious orders and one prelature: Augustinians, Camillians, Capuchins, Carmelites, Cistercians, Conventual Franciscans, Divine Word Missionaries, Dominicans, Friars of St Francis, Fransalians, regular Franciscans, FSSPs, Guadaloupe Missioners, Jesuits, La Salettes, Marists, Redemptorists, Opus Dei, Paulines, Paulists, Philippines Missioners, Society of the Philippines, Salesians, Schoenstatts and Society of Christ.
Of the clergy active in our Diocese, just over half (59) are diocesan (45 priests and seven deacons of our own Diocese, seven priests from other dioceses) and just under half (54) are religious. The average age of our active clergy is 58, which puts me still in the younger half… Two-thirds of our active clergy work principally in parishes, but others work in chaplaincies to ethnic communities, the sick, elderly, nuns, police or services, in education, formation or with youth, with the Indigenous or refugees, or in the Chancery or agencies.
We have clergy born in Australia, China, Croatia, Egypt, England, Fiji, Ghana, Holland, Hungary, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Korea, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, PNG, Poland, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, US and Vietnam – truly reflecting the Church Universal. For all their diversity they are united around Christ, enjoy fraternity with each other, and proudly serve the multi-cultural flock of Parramatta.
Of course, we are more than what we do. Priests are still priests when they are asleep; they still behave in priestly ways when on holidays or retired. Beginning with the priesthood of all the baptised, and then reflecting upon the diversity of charisms and offices in the Church, the Fathers of Vatican II noted that by the anointing of the Holy Spirit priests “are signed with a special character and conformed to Christ the Priest to act in persona Christi.” They are men of God and for God. They are men from and for the People. They are fully engaged with human beings yet “witnesses and dispensers of a life beyond earthly life”. They are men of the Eucharist and for the Eucharist. In all they do, the Council said, they must demonstrate their identity with Christ and virtues such as “good-heartedness, sincerity, constancy, zeal for justice and affability” – qualities our new Pope Francis demonstrates in abundance and that I think we can honestly say that our Parramatta clergy regularly demonstrate.
Who are our clergy? Our renewal of promises tonight begins by recalling how on their ordination day our priests, out of love of Jesus Christ, willingly and joyfully pledged themselves to be His priests. I think that self-giving and joyfulness are regularly demonstrated in the lives of our priests and deacons – even, I dare say, our bishops. They actually love their ministry. They say so and reveal it in their lives. Hopefully, it is contagious. Our first reading tonight (Isa 61:1-9; Lk 4:16-21) includes a charge easily missed: to exchange for ashes a garland, for mourning robe the oil of gladness. Sometimes priests act as family, friends and counsellors do, trying to comfort the grieving and raise up the despondent. But Isaiah and Christ hint at more than kindly words and antidepressant drugs, important as these can be. Priests must mediate a heavenly healing and favour, a godly meaning and purpose, a divinising passion and freedom. If the ashes of mourning are to be replaced with the oil of gladness, the ashes made from Passion Week palms with the oils made for the priestly anointing of the sick and reborn, then our priests themselves must be balm for our hurting world, Easter chrism in place of Lenten ashes.
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Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Mass for Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, Year C, Youth Mass, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 24 March 2013, 6pm
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It was the first World Youth Day on record. A young Spanish woman named Egeria made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land late in the 4th Century. She recorded in her journal that on the Sunday afternoon before Easter the Christians in Jerusalem carried palms and olive branches in procession from the Mount of Olives to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in imitation of the Gospel story. Pilgrims like Egeria took the idea back home with them and within a century or two it was being imitated all over the Christian world. As the practice spread, the ritual became more elaborate, include the blessing of the palms so people might take them home as a sacramental. It was a special day for the catechumens too: they were given the Creed on Palm Sunday and told they had less than a week to learn it off by heart!
Now, in the year 818AD, Bishop Theodulph of Orleans was languishing in prison at Angers for his part in a conspiracy against Charlemagne’s son, the Emperor Louis. Passing the window of his cell he heard the Palm Sunday processions to the cathedral. He immediately broke out into inspired song, singing Gloria Laus et Honor – All glory, praise and honour, to Thee Redeemer King – the very hymn we sung today as we entered St Patrick’s Cathedral. King Louis, who was walking with the clergy and people in the procession, was so impressed he ordered that the bishop be immediately released and reinstated. I’m not sure that my composing and singing would have a similar effect on the civil authorities in contemporary Australia! But the combination of psalms and palms, in public testimony to Christ, continues to impress even today. I wonder what the people in the cafes and shopping areas thought as they saw a thousand of you carrying palms, praying and singing during our procession down the main street of Parramatta tonight? What the world most needs now from the Church, our new Pope Francis has insisted, is the enthusiastic witness of loving disciples like yourselves, even more than the teaching of rabbis or the orders of Pharisees. It needs you on the street, in one sense or another, waving your palms and singing your psalms.
“As He drew near Jerusalem,” St Luke records, “the whole multitude [waving palms] rejoiced loudly, saying ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’ Some of the Pharisees said to him, ‘Rabbi, control your disciples.’ But He answered, ‘I tell you, if they kept quiet, the very stones would cry out.’” (Lk 19:28-40) We could begin Holy Week in dour mood and with pained expressions on our faces – and the solemn recitation of the Passion can do that to you! – and certainly we recognise that this is the sort of week that calls for the covering of statues and a certain quiet penitence. Yet first we are reminded to cry out with joy at what is being achieved this week; no mourning while the bridegroom is still with us …
Our king and bridegroom does not arrive in a royal carriage, sedan chair or even on horseback, like the great and the good. It’s very different to the Academy Awards or a royal wedding. He is king of the poor and so He enters on a farm animal, and a borrowed one at that. He is king of the little ones, the anawim, those trusting souls, so long promised consolation by the Old Testament; those poor and weeping and peace-loving, assured of happiness in Jesus’ beatitudes. As Pope Benedict XVI once pointed out, this is not to romanticise material poverty – something only the comfortably off would do. As the Project Compassion Lenten appeal demonstrates, Christianity seeks to lift people out of poverty rather than draft more into it, for material poverty can represent a denial of the opportunities for flourishing that human dignity demands.
What’s more, there are good poor people and not so good, just as there are amongst the wealthy. A person may be materially poor, yet have a heart full of envy and greed. This makes him, spiritually speaking, one of the rich, not the poor-in-spirit, one of those for whom it’s heaven to get into heaven than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle. The poverty that Jesus commends is that interior freedom from the greed for possession and the mania for control. It is first and foremost a matter of purity, of purification, of heart. Our new Pope Francis is already demonstrating by his actions that Christians from the highest to the most lowly must be for the poor, as Christ was.
So the king of the poor arrives on a donkey. He puts no trust in chariots or war-horses, for He is also the prince of peace. His ‘weapon’ is a cross, a sign of hatred and injustice, that He makes into a sign of reconciliation, forgiveness and love – a love stronger than death. It will take the Sacred Triduum to make that happen and make sense of it all: those most holy celebrations of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper this Maundy Thursday night, the Celebration of the Passion of the Lord this Good Friday afternoon and, most wonderful of all, the Easter Vigil this Holy Saturday night. Please join us, if you can, for that three-day celebration on which our whole year turns – and all time and space.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Mass of Ordination to the Diaconate of Br Jepser Bermudez OSA, Holy Spirit St Clair Parish, Saturday 16 March 2013
Welcome to Holy Spirit Parish, St Clair, for the ordination to the diaconate of Jepser Bermudez of the Order of St Augustine. I am sure his father, Raffy, his mother, Ruchin, his brothers, Butch and Lester, are all very proud of him today and join us in spirit from the Philippines.
It is great to see his second family, the Augustinian friars, here in such numbers. I acknowledge in particular the presence of the Provincial, Fr Tony Banks osa, the Parish Priest of Holy Spirit Parish, Fr Dave Austin osa, and the Prior of Mother of Good Counsel Priory, Fr Peter Tangey osa. I also welcome other members of the Augustianian family here today, including religious sisters.
I also welcome clergy of the Diocese of Parramatta: the Vicar General, Fr Chris de Souza VG EV, and my brother priests, and our several deacons, Leon Decena, John Paul Escarlan, James Phelan and Nicephorus Tan, who joyfully welcome another member into the college of deacons today.
To all of you here, Jepser’s brothers and friends: thank you for joining us.
When Australians hear the term El Niño they think of warm water off the west coast of the continent of our new Pope – that can cause climatic changes as far away as Australia. They have no idea that the infant is about more than droughts. But wherever there are Filipinos in the world people know this Niño is the 30cm high miraculous statue of the infant Jesus. A baptism present from the great navigator Ferdinand Magellan to the principal wife of a Cebuan chief in 1521, it has glorious bejewelled regalia and likes to go dancing in the streets on the third Sunday of January. This most beloved and recognisable icon of the Philippines has for four-and-a-half centuries been in the keeping of the Augustinians.
From his youth Jepser Bermudez regarded the Augustinians as his second family and despite a start-stop-start formation, even switching from the Filipino to the Australian provinces, he has remained devoted to the order. He studied philosophy in company with the red and regal Santo Niño de Cebú. He completed his theology in company with the hot and dry El Niño of Australia. Now he is to be a deacon and in due course, we pray, a priest. What, we might wonder, is diaconate all about? Are deacons just glorified altar boys dressed up like the Sto Niño? What do they do that lay people don’t or priests can? They are often specialists in sacred hatch, match and dispatch – baptisms, marriages and funerals. They preach sometimes, but are not supposed to outshine the priest. So what exactly are they about?
These are reasonable questions, but they have things back-to-front. Function revolves around nature, not vice versa – as Jepser no doubt learnt from his studies of metaphysics. If you want to know what an animal is, you look at what it does, sure enough; but in the end what it does depends on what it is. Of course it’s by our activities that people most easily get to know us. If you ask a stranger to articulate his or her deepest ontology you might get a punch in the nose; better to begin by asking what they do. But that’s only as an entrée to getting to know the person who is much more than their job. There are things that run deeper like our natural humanity and baptismal divinity, our personality and relationships, our core values and beliefs. Function revolves around nature, activity comes from ontology: we only do the things we do because we are the sorts of beings we are.
So what, deep down, are deacons? Recently we have been celebrating the golden jubilee of the Second Vatican Council. It was that Council that decided to reinvigorate the ancient order of deacons, reinstituting the permanent diaconate and giving a fuller theology to those like Jepser who are deacons on the way to priesthood. Even so-called ‘transitional’ deacons are deacons for ever, as are all priests and bishops, and so we need to understand what they are. The Council reminded us that there are three degrees of holy orders, three sharings in the priesthood of Christ, that go back to apostolic times: deacons, priests and bishops. Other offices and titles like acolyte, sub-deacon and monsignor come and go; even the office of cardinal, we might recall at this unusual time in the Church’s life, is not part of the sacred hierarchy instituted by Christ: they may be useful, but are not essential to the nature of the Church. But deacons are a permanent feature of the Church and the Church is not fully herself wherever deacons, priests or bishop are lacking. Our new Pope is of course named after the most famous deacon in history.
The Greek root of the word deacon is a way into what a deacon is. Διάκονος means servant, waiter, minister or messenger. Again, you might say, these are jobs, but the core concept is service and as every newbie employee at McDonalds can tell you, this is an attitude, a commitment, not just a task. In today’s Gospel Jesus says we must avoid any kind of clericalism or misuse of sacred power by lording it over others; greatness comes through service, through self-giving, just as He came not to be served but to serve and to give up His very life for others (Mt 20:25-28).
So whatever it is that a deacon is called to do – to preach at Mass, take Viaticum to the dying in a hospital, assist the bishop in the chancery, organise charitable works, or even hatch, match and dispatch sacramentally – whatever he is doing, he is first and foremost about service. The gift and calling of the deacon, then, is not for his own sake but, as St Paul makes clear to us today (Eph 4:1-13), for building up the Church in particular ways. Even more clearly than other Christian ministers, deacons must demonstrate Christ’s exitus and reditus, His descent from heaven to become the servant of all, especially of sick and suffering humanity, before His return to the Father in glory. In their active involvement in the community, their outreach to the poor and marginalised, and their fostering of Eucharistic communion, deacons sacramentalise the Church’s service. By calling and ordaining deacons the Church is saying something fundamental: that service is at the heart of the human and divine mystery. I know that this has crystallised for Jepser during his Augustinian formation and, more recently, during his clinical pastoral education at Royal North Shore Hospital.
Despite all the talk of customer service today, the fact is that putting yourself at the disposal of others is rather counter-cultural in Australia. But, perhaps because they are so Catholic, Filipinos seem quite comfortable with the idea and all around the world they engage in service of various kinds. Their culture understands that getting your own way is not happiness, that there are things that matter more than being big in this world’s estimation. When St Paul calls us to live charitable, selfless, patient lives worthy of our vocation, our cynical Western culture might snigger. But Filipinos know exactly what this means.
Jepser, my son, you are about to be ordained deacon. From today you will be a servant of the altar, assisting at Mass, distributing the Blessed Sacrament, and presiding at various sacred liturgies. You will be a servant of the Word, proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, preaching, instructing and forming His people. And you will be a minister of charity, facilitating and being involved in outreach to the most needy. Identify yourself completely with Christ, the greatest servant of humanity, and imitate the best in the friars and clergy who have gone before you, whether in the Philippines or Australia.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Mass celebrating the Election of Pope Francis, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, Friday 15 March 2013, Isaiah 61: 1-3; Ephesians 4:11-16; John 17:11, 17-23
When Pope Francis appeared at the loggia of St Peter’s after being elected Bishop of Rome and Universal Pastor of the Catholic Church he spent several moments considering the masses thronged before him. With great humility, he asked the faithful gathered to pray for him, before he blessed them. I think this is the mark of a simple, holy man who will lead by example, like his recent predecessors, in the spiritual life.
It is interesting that most Vatican watchers didn’t have Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio on their radar. This is another proof of the saying Chi entra papa in conclave, ne esce cardinal, which in this case we might translate: “he who goes into the conclave [favoured by the Vatican watchers] as pope comes out as cardinal”. The Holy Spirit blows where He wills; the cardinal electors look for different things to the pundits; and so Catholics are not really surprised when they are surprised by papal elections!
What were they looking for in Jorge Bergoglio? I don’t know what was in the minds of the 115 electors; but they knew the job description given us by Christ. Jesus first called Simon to be a Fisher of men – the Pope must be a disciple-evangelist, following Christ and netting others to do the same. Later He called him to be a Peter or Bedrock for the Church – and so the Pope must bind and loose on behalf of heaven, ruling and declaring the Faith definitively. Lastly, Jesus called him to be a Shepherd, loving more than others do – and so the Pope must be a pastor guarding and guiding Christ’s flock.
After a few moments’ sharing the joy of Catholics in having such a new pastor, some journalists have already turned on Pope Francis, complaining he is “very conservative” on contraception, abortion and ‘same-sex marriage’. Actually he’s very Catholic on these matters, not “left”, “right”, “conservative” or “progressive”. He has long proposed the Catholic view on these things with clarity and compassion and we can expect the same in the future.
He is South American. So are the largest group of Catholics. So the conclave yielded a very ‘democratic’ result. And if much of the Church is South American, so are many of the poor. Pope Francis is a man from the poor and for the poor. The ‘option for the poor’ of the prophets, the Fathers, modern Catholic social teaching and, above all, of Jesus Christ has already been a mark of the new pope’s ministry. When made a cardinal in 2001, he urged Argentinians not to come to Rome for the ceremony but rather to donate the money to the poor. Again, he doesn’t fit neatly into the left-right political categories.
Another theme of his has been the New Evangelisation. He here inherits from the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar popes a mission not accomplished. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires he was acutely aware that the Church in Latin America can no longer rely upon the surrounding culture and institutions to support the transmission of faith. The Church, he insisted, must become missionary again and that means she needs new men and women who embody the tradition and novelty of God’s kingdom, who are witnesses even more than teachers.
As a religious myself, I’ve been asked what it means for him being from a religious order – the first Jesuit pope. My own order, the Dominicans, have had four: Bld Innocent V, a Frenchman who was pope for five months in 1276; Bld Benedict XI, an Italian who survived in the job only eight months before being poisoned in 1304; and two who lasted rather longer, the great 16th Century reformer St Pius V (1566-72), who wore his white Dominican habit as pope and so effected papal dress ever since; and in the 18th Century Bld Benedict XIII (1724-30). St Pius perhaps best demonstrates what this can mean: living with a certain humility or simplicity of life even in the Vatican Palace; promoting spirituality and prayerfulness (Pius famously got Europe to pray the Rosary at the time of the Battle of Lepanto when Europe was in danger of falling to the Muslim invaders); and a willingness to engage in the reforms that are needed to purify the Church (in his time, following the Council of Trent, this was in the areas of doctrine, the liturgy, catechetics and seminaries).
For all these reasons I think our new Pope will be a man after the style of our readings today: a prophet like Christ (Isa 61: 1-3) who brings Gospel good news to the poor and the Chrism of Easter in place of the Ashes of Lent; a voice for truth spoken in love in a world of confused opinions (Eph 4:11-16); one so consecrated to Christ’s Truth that he will unite us around Him (Jn 17:11, 17-23). And so for Pope Francis let us pray …
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Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Commissioning of New Teachers & Education Mass, St Patrick’s Blacktown Parish, Thursday 7 March 2013
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Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Opening of the All Saints of Africa Centre, Blacktown, Sunday 3 March 2013
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Photo: Alphonsus Fok & Grace LuWelcome to you all to this very happy occasion of the opening of the All Saints of Africa Centre here in St Patrick’s Parish, Blacktown.
While various members of the African communities of Western Sydney, the Blacktown Parish and the Catholic Education sector will cooperate in what goes on here, I especially acknowledge the lead role that CatholicCare Social Services for the Diocese of Parramatta will assume.
From CatholicCare today I acknowledge the presence of:
The Vicar General Very Rev Fr Peter Williams VG EV, who chairs the CatholicCare Council;
Mr Otto Henfling, CatholicCare’s Executive Director;
Cathy Tracey, Senior Manager of Community and Family Services;
Lee Healy, Johnson Ngor and Rafa Godo, who work in Community Building and Family Support;
Fr Phil Medlin CSsR, CatholicCare’s Chaplain;
Delegates from Aboriginal Catholic Services at Emerton; and
Other members of the CatholicCare staff and family.
I also welcome our civic leaders: Ed Husic MP, Federal Member for Chifley, and Michelle Rowland MP, Federal Member for Greenway.
Their presence strengthens my hope that in addition to the Church’s present and continuing contributions, the federal, state and local governments, business, education, unions, welfare and other sectors will work with us to ensure that the services that are needed are provided here. As the Sudanese and many other African communities grow rapidly in this part of Sydney we all recognise that there is a great deal of still unmet need.
From the Catholic community I welcome:
Fr Peter Confeggi, Parish Priest of St Patrick’s Parish, Blacktown;
Fr Paul Marshall, Parish Priest of St Anthony of Padua’s Parish, Toongabbie;
Fr Christopher Antwi-Boasiako, Assistant Priest at St Patrick’s Parish, Blacktown, who will be chaplain to this Centre, and with him the new Advisory Committee members:
Sr Maria Sullivan RSJ from the St Bakhita Centre at Flemington;
Judith Lyle, Pastoral Care Worker at St Patrick’s Primary School;
John Cinya, Sudanese Community Liaison Officer with Catholic Education Parramatta; and hundreds of members of the African Catholic communities of Western Sydney.
Today we open the All Saints of Africa Community and Education Centre, which will provide pastoral, welfare and educational services for people of African background, and allow African-Australians themselves to help each other. Here we hope to strengthen families, and young people especially, in their sense of identity, spirituality and personal wellbeing so they can fully participate in the Australian Church and community.
Photo: Alphonsus Fok & Grace LuEvery bishop is supposed to be a bishop of a place. Before I was appointed to Parramatta I was an auxiliary bishop of Sydney. But Sydney already had its own bishop – archbishop in fact – so I was given a titular diocese, that is, one that used to exist but is now defunct, to be my own. My diocese was Buruni, in what is now north-west Tunisia in North Africa.
In its heyday it was one of many dioceses that were suffragan to the great See of Carthage. The last real bishop of the place that I could track down was a Bishop Faustus in 439AD. From around the 7th Century these Tunisian dioceses fell to the Arab-Muslim invasion and so became titular, or defunct, dioceses.
Nowadays dioceses like Buruni sport a few ancient Christian ruins, but once upon a time they were thriving Christian communities. There were many African bishops and much of the Christian Church was in Africa – North Africa at least. If the Church was born in the Holy Land of Israel, it grew up in Africa. indeed, far more saints hail from Africa in fact than from the Holy Land or the City of Rome, and our first reading tells of the very beginning of the Christian mission to the Africans, when an Ethiopian sought Baptism from the deacon Philip (Acts 8:26-38).
The Church, as I said, flourished in those first five centuries in North Africa – flourished, but this did not mean it had it easy. Under the Roman empire and later under the Arabs there were literally thousands of early Christian martyrs of Africa. Among them we recall in the Roman Canon or First Eucharistic Prayer St Felicity and St Perpetua. There was also the husband and wife team St Timothy and St Maura of Egypt, as well as the Scillitan Martyrs, the 153 martyrs of Utica in Tunisia, St Catherine of Alexandria the great philosopher, St Victoria who was tortured for assisting at Mass in 304AD and so many others. St Moses the Black was a slave and gang leader, who died a martyr for non-violence in 395AD; his feast day on 28 August providentially coincides with the anniversary of the famous march to Washington by 200,000 African-Americans in 1963.
In those first five centuries Africa also featured many of the Church’s greatest ever teacher-bishops, such as Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Athanasius, Augustine of Hippo, Cyril of Alexandria and Fulgensius of Ruspe, to name a few. Many of the early monk and nun saints, such as St Antony of Egypt, St Paul of Egypt and St Raissa were from North Africa and indeed religious life hails from there.
As the Church searches for a new pope we recall that Pope St Victor I (reigned c.189-99AD), Pope St Melchiades (311-14AD) and Pope St Gelasius (492-96AD) were all Africans. Lay saints include the convert prostitute St Thais, the convert lawyer St Cassian of Tangiers, the patron of mothers who worry about their children, St Monica, and several of the emperors of Ethiopia who show it is possible for a political leader to be a saint also.
There were African missionaries too. When I visited Verona Cathedral in the north of Italy a few years ago I saw a great statue of its bishop-saint Zeno who was from Algeria but ended up bishop at the other end of the Mediterranean. Other African missionaries brought the faith to Europe, such as St Marcellinus who went to France and St Maurice with his Theban Legion who were martyred in Switzerland.
Now the Church in Africa went into hard times after the repeated sackings and eventual fall of the Roman empire and the Muslim invasions of formerly Christian lands. But there was a resurgence of the Church in parts of North Africa in the Middle Ages and then all over Africa from the 19th Century as missionaries tried again. Modern great African saints include St Charles Lwanga and companions (the boy martyrs of Uganda), Blessed Isidore Bakanja (catechist of the Congo), Blessed Victoire Rasoamanarivo (foundress of Catholic Action in Madagascar) and my brother in the Dominican order, St Martin de Porres, son of an African slave transported to Peru.
St Josephine Bakhita is a famous Sudanese saint who died in the 20th Century and was canonised in the Jubilee Year 2000. She knew the anguish of kidnapping, slavery and maltreatment yet blossomed with the Canossian sisters in Italy and became known and loved as ‘our Black Mother’. A recent film about her life – as well as the flow of Sudanese refugees and migrants around the world – has helped to make her story better known.
Africa is a place made holy by the blood of martyrs, the teaching of theologians, the preaching of missionaries, the pastoral leadership of bishops, priests and religious, and the fidelity of so many lay Catholics over 20 centuries. It is a much more ancient church that the Church in Ireland or England or the Americas, let alone the Church in Australia. And that ancient Church continues to grow. By 2025, it is estimated that a sixth of all Catholics in the world will be Africans!
In our time, Africa has come to Australia. I want today to recognise especially the ways that Africans have enriched the Church and community of Western Sydney. I ask you to continue to share your spiritual, intellectual, professional, artistic, social and other gifts with the rest of us, as we must do with you. As the Ethiopian eunuch begged for someone to help him understand, so must we be ready in turn to work with and for others.
Now, the inspiration for this centre was the needs expressed by African migrants and refugees and those who work closely with them. No one would pretend that moving across the world is easy, especially after traumatic experiences at home that force large movements of peoples and represent personal tragedies for individuals and families. No one would pretend it is easy to build a new life and new home in a strange land. It can take time to find your place, time to be appreciated by those around you, to avail yourself of what they offer and to make your unique contribution. The Catholic Church, that most transnational and multicultural of all the world’s institutions, understands people movements very well. And here in Western Sydney she has her arms open wide to all the world, including to our African sisters and brothers.
As I said at the beginning, it is my aspiration that the All Saints of Africa Centre will provide pastoral, welfare and educational services to people of African background, and allow African-Australians themselves to help each other. Here we hope to strengthen families and young people especially, in their sense of identity, spirituality and personal wellbeing so they can fully participate in the Australian community.
Here we can expect to see:
A gathering place for pastoral, liturgical and other community events, including the Holy Eucharist and the other sacraments;
Collaboration between CatholicCare Parramatta and other Blacktown-based support services in addressing African community needs;
Groups meeting on site such as a playgroup, a youth group and parenting groups;
Groups and services assisting with settlement issues, domestic violence, financial management, and drug and alcohol abuse by family members;
Home visiting and centre-based family support and case-management;
A drop-in service offering referrals and assistance with filing in forms;
Development by a part-time Sudanese youth worker of services in youth leadership, peer support, recreation and homework;
Development of a volunteer program to offer English conversation classes, adult education and employment programs; and
Community festivities across the year, e.g. in Refugee Week, International Women’s Day, and the feast days of various African Saints.
Already today you've celebrated Mass together here before we bless and open the new centre: I ask that you keep the Mass and your devotions at the heart of your life in this place. Thousands of saints of times past built up the Church in Africa. Now thousands more African Christians must help build up the Church in Western Sydney. I pray today that in the words of Christ Jesus in our Gospel (Mt 8:5-11) “many will come from the east and west to take their places (here) with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the kingdom of heaven.”
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Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Mass of the First Thursday of Lent, Year C, Pontifical Academy for Life, Vatican City, 21 February 2013
A Jewish girl, become Queen to the Persian King Ahasuerus (or Xerxes), discovers a sinister plot to wipe out the Jews. She prays to God and then risks her life pleading for her people. Jews recall this story each year on the Feast of Purim, which is tomorrow, and they jeer when they hear the name Haman, the villain behind the attempted genocide. It’s a story Jesus would have grown up on and it would have helped shape the virtues and attitudes behind His Gospel of life.
Esther's story is one of enormous courage, fidelity, and trust in providence in the face of a culture of death all too familiar today. In the past century we’ve seen another genocide attempted against the Jews, and the continuing mass killing of the unborn and increasingly of the sick and elderly. Modern Hamans occupy positions of influence in science, professions, government, media and academy. They seek to silence all resistance with charges of misogyny, bigotry and benightedness. Witness the liberal media at the moment agitating for a new pope who will be more ‘liberal’ on abortion, euthanasia, same-sex activity and the like, as if there were only one enlightened opinion on those issues and the Church’s task is to catch up. Against all odds Esther was ultimately able to persuade the powers of her day to rewrite the law that depersonalised and killed the Jews. One woman plus God proved to be a clear majority, so we must never lose hope as our academy champions the lives of the vulnerable in our day.
At this time we reflect upon the efforts of one man in the fight for human dignity, Pope Benedict XVI. As recently as New Year his Peace message intimated that those seeking to ‘liberalise’ abortion were pursuing a war on the unborn and their mothers rather than true peace. Only last Wednesday he spoke of the need for Christians to seek constant reconversion in the face of the temptation to set aside their faith and go with the tide of common opinion on issues like abortion, euthanasia and embryo selection.
Under his leadership as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Pope, crucial magisterial documents were issued on human life in its origins and the new reproductive technologies (1987 and 2008), uterine isolation (1993), bio-politics (2002) and artificial feeding (2007). But it may be for his annual addresses to this academy that we’ll especially remember him, those privileged moments when we heard this great teacher-Pope address us and our concerns.
Often it was on foundational topics. In 2007, he spoke of the need for Christian conscience “to be ever alert in the face of multiple attacks on the right to life”. Conscience “must be based on the solid foundation of truth”, he warned. Instead of bringing the light of faith and reason to bioethical concerns, post-modern conscience risks being a mere cinema screen for the powers of this world to project “the most contradictory images and impulses”. He exhorted us to continuous formation of consciences according to the splendour of truth and the Gospel of life.
In 2010, he continued these reflections in the light of his encyclical Caritas in Veritate which had identified bioethics as “a crucial battleground in the contemporary struggle between the supremacy of technology and human moral responsibility”. Good science, he insisted, must be “open to transcendence”. He called for a new bioethical pedagogy in which the natural moral law, with its recognition of God-given dignity and inalienable rights, is primary. Only then will we resist the perennial temptation of Xeres and Haman to treat some people as non-persons.
Starting with the interaction between embryo and foetus at the Visitation, Pope Benedict addressed us in 2006 on the subject of early human life. Scriptural and Patristic texts confirm the “boundless and almost incomprehensible love of God for the human being” from conception. He formally added the weight of his pontificate to the long-standing Magisterial proclamation of “the sacred and inviolable character of every human life from its conception until its natural end”. No doubt thinking of the image of God the Father creating Adam above the Sistina, he suggested that when we reflect upon life in its origins we see “the touching finger of God”.
In 2009, the Holy Father considered the vast diagnostic and therapeutic potential of the new genetics, as well as the risks of a genetic reductionism, inappropriate manipulations, discrimination and eugenics. We are more than atoms, energies, even genes. Reflecting with Pascal upon man’s vulnerability yet nobility, he agreed that “were the universe to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies” while “the universe, instead, knows nothing”. This knowing being knows not only the vast horizon for science but also the limitations rightly required by ethics.
In 2011, the Pope addressed us on the grave psychological impact of abortion. He suggested that this “reveals the irrepressible voice of the moral conscience”, the terrible wound abortion does to human persons, and a vast field for pastoral care. He called upon doctors and researchers to defend women from the lie that abortion will solve their problems and to exercise their own conscience in favour of life. He recalled John Paul II’s call to women who are victims of abortion to entrust their child to the Father of mercies and return to the Church for healing.
In 2008, Pope Benedict reminded us that from a Christian perspective “earthly experience concludes with death, but through death full and definitive life beyond time unfolds for each one of us”. Christ is present beside the dying, offering them life to the full, and by accompanying the dying we believers encounter “the Source of Life and Love”. He challenged the Academy to help ensure no one dies in loneliness and neglect and that none is denied appropriate medical and palliative care. “The true measure of humanity is revealed in how we respond to suffering and the sufferer,” he recalled, and so the utilitarian vision of the euthanasists is ultimately anti-human.
Last year, in what has turned out to be his last address to our academy, Pope Benedict responded to the heartbreak of infertility. The starting point must be “the union of man and woman in the community of love and life that is marriage” which is “the only place worthy to call into existence a new human being, who is always a gift.” He exhorted the members of the Academy for Life and our guests to “intellectual honesty” and compassion in our work, so that science might regain its soul “in seeking the truth at the service of the authentic good of the human being” instead of mere functionalism and the hubris of domination.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Rite of Election, First Sunday of Lent, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 17 February 2013
Last Tuesday was Shrove Tuesday. The name refers to being ‘shriven’ or absolved in Confession. In Francophone places it’s called Mardi Gras, which means the last day for eating fat. In others Carne-vale or Carnival, which means “farewell to meat”. Here in Australia many call it Pancake Tuesday which, like Mardi Gras and Carnevale, points to the ancient custom of using up last of our meat, butter, eggs and sweet things so we can begin a strict fast for the forty days that follow.
Why forty days? Obviously, our forty days mimic those we heard of in today’s Gospel (Lk 4:1-13). We join Jesus by fasting, prayer and almsgiving, and so face up to our demons as He did. He is turn was mimicking Moses, who spent forty days with God on Mount Sinai – a good length of time for a retreat with God. Jonah, too, gave Nineveh forty days to repent and so that seems a good length of time to be tested. And we know that God made the rain last forty days and nights in Noah’s time and so that’s a good length of time to spend contemplating the waters of baptism.
The reason we spend forty days Lenting is that from ancient times the catechumens, in the final straight in their preparation for Baptism at Easter, prayed for forty days and kept a strict fast. Like the Ninevites they repented, like Moses they spent their days with God, like Noah’s neighbours they contemplated the water, and like Christ they prepared for a ‘public life’ beyond baptism. In due course Lent was extended to all Christians. It gives us all a chance to prepare for Easter.
It is sometimes said that Christians are Easter people. Certainly the Resurrection is central to our lives and identity. But without the cross, without acknowledging the sin that lead to it, without walking the forty-day Lenten journey with Christ to the grave, the Resurrection would just be divine fireworks, a spectacular with little relevance to our ordinary lives. The fact is: we are not an Easter People so much as a Lent and Easter People.
Yet for all the bruised purple, Lent is a season of hope. It ends not with death but with rising from the dead. Against that backdrop the Catholic Bishops of NSW this week issued a pastoral letter on the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and the issues that have led to it. The terms of reference for that Commission recognise that children deserve a safe and happy childhood and that institutions such as the Church can help that to happen. But sadly children have sometimes been violated by those supposed to care for them and leaders have sometimes failed to respond appropriately. I have released a short video introducing the issues which will be broadcast at most parishes this weekend. I won’t trouble you with this on your day of election. But I would say this to you: part of how the Church is renewed in times of weakness is through the faith and enthusiasm of new members. We need you to help us be a better Church.
When one becomes a member of the Body of Christ, one takes on both the strengths and weaknesses of the rest of the body. A sick organ in a body can affect the performance of the whole body. A successfully transplanted healthy organ, on the other hand, helps all the rest of the organs, the whole body, function well. You are the new organs the body of the Diocese of Parramatta is being offered by God at this time.
And so we do well to remember that at Easter, Christ comes to conquer sin. In Lent, we come face to face with our sin and with His help and grace, begin to conquer it ourselves and communally. Sin damages our relationship with God, our neighbours and ourselves. And that is why God has given us three Lenten antidotes. Fasting is about seeking reconciliation with ourselves; almsgiving is about reconciliation with each other; and prayer about reconciliation with God. Three balms for three messes in the human heart.
By fasting we seek to co-operate with God in getting a handle on our passions. We face up to our obsessions with comfort and self, the sin in our relationship to ourselves. We try by some token of self-denial to co-operate with God in His project of healing our hearts.
By almsgiving we seek to work with God in facing up to our unwillingness to share our comfort and selves, the sin in our relationship with others. We hope that a little generosity may be the beginning of a whole new way of co-operate with God’s project of healing our relationships.
Finally, by prayer we co-operate with God in addressing the spiritual indifference and practical agnosticism of much of our lives, our sinful unwillingness to share our time and wills with Him. We try to make a little more prayerful into a whole new way of communicating with the One who loves us enough to go to the Cross for us, to heal our relationship with the Divine.
Photography: Alphonsus Fok & Grace Lu
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Mass of the First Sunday of Lent, Year C, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 17 February 2013
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It is with great joy that I welcome you all to this Mass at the beginning of Lent. Concelebrating with me today are St Patrick’s Cathedral Dean, Fr John McSweeney, and the Rector of our Seminary of the Holy Spirit, Fr John Hogan. I am pleased to announce that the seminary is doing so well we are having to move into larger and more permanent premises. If anyone here would like to help pay for that, please contact me, as seminarians eat a lot!
Leading our big-eaters today is my deacon today, John Paul Escarlan, and with him Pio Jang, Thomas Bui and Vincent Phan are our four seniors. Our four now-middling seminarians are Jack Green, Chris del Rosario, Paul Griffin and Joe Murphy. And our four newcomers this past month are Edward Safadi, Seth Harsh, Kennedy Anyanwu and Andrew Rooney. We congratulate and thank you men for your generosity of spirit in allowing yourselves, like Christ in today’s Gospel, to be led by the Spirit. I hope your seminary days will not be too much like His time in the desert, but a time of trial they properly are in some ways. This will, we pray, be the making of you, as holy and faithful priests of Jesus Christ and servants of His holy people. You are a particular sign of hope for us in a time of challenge, a challenge addressed this week in Sowing in Tears, the Lenten Pastoral Letter of the NSW Bishops on the issue of child sexual abuse, to which I will return in my homily.
This week we also received the sad news of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI for reasons of health. We give thanks to Almighty God for the gift of Pope Benedict as our Holy Father these past eight years and to the Holy Father himself for giving his all as Successor of Peter. He is for us the Pope of World Youth Day in Sydney and of the canonisation of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, our diocesan patron. This teacher pope, through his many books, catecheses and homilies, articulated a deep Catholic faith cultivated as much on his knees in the Sacred Liturgy as at his desk with his books. We pray at this time for the Church, for wise, holy and courageous leadership, and especially for Australia’s elector, Cardinal George Pell, and the other cardinals, who must choose a new Pope for us.
Christmas seems barely past and here we are in Lent. I don’t know what you have decided to give up for Lent – chocolate, alcohol, Facebook? But I hope you haven’t already broken your Ash Wednesday resolution! The beginning of Lent always risks being a time of resolutions to change, followed by backsliding and making all sorts of exceptions for ourselves …
No wonder, then, that Lent words are ‘re’ words: re-pent, re-turn, re-cover, re-pair, re-new. We are all called to repentance, not just the great sinners, because all are affected when any member is sinful or suffering. The Body of Christ is wounded.
Yet for all the bruised purple, Lent is a season of hope. It ends not with death but with rising from the dead.
It’s against that backdrop that the NSW Bishops have just issued Sowing in Tears, a pastoral letter on the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse and the issues that have led to it. The terms of reference recognise that children deserve a safe and happy childhood and that institutions such as the Church can help that. But children have sometimes been violated by those supposed to care for them and leaders have sometimes failed to respond adequately.
We must not put our heads in the sand about any of this or try to explain it away. The fact is that our own Diocese has known cases of child abuse. Even if many are ‘historic’ cases, and even if we have improved the way we respond, the damage has been done and there is a public perception that the Church has not addressed the issue adequately. This has, in turn, damaged the credibility and mission of the Church. So the Royal Commission is to be welcomed as an opportunity for victims to obtain a fair hearing, for processes within institutions to be scrutinised, and for the whole community to understand abuse better and find ways forward. The Church has established a Truth, Justice and Healing Council to assist the Royal Commission.
There are three things we should keep in mind as this progresses. First, these terrible sins and crimes, and their mishandling by Church authorities, have done great damage to the victims and their families. Here I make my own the historic apology Pope Benedict made during World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008. He acknowledged the shame we’ve all felt as a result of the abuse of minors by some clergy and religious. He said he was deeply sorry for this grave betrayal and the pain and suffering it has caused the victims. He urged us to work together to ensure that victims receive compassion and care, perpetrators are brought to justice and all young people enjoy a safe environment. So we must listen to people’s hurt and respond with humility and compassion. We must continue to proclaim the preciousness of every young person and to insist that all abuse is contrary to the laws of God, the Church and the state. We must repent where there has been institutional failure and resolve to do better in the future.
Secondly, child abuse is not the whole story of the Church – far from it. The Catholic Church has long played an important role in our society. Holy priests and religious have worked tirelessly for the glory of God and the good of their people. Vast numbers of people are supported by the Church’s activities in parish life, education, welfare, healthcare, ministry to young people and migrants, aged care, service to the poor and marginalised. Young people of our Diocese of Parramatta are very engaged in some of these works. There is deep faith and compassion amongst our people of all ages. We should not lose sight of this amidst the current consciousness of failures.
Thirdly, the current crisis is an opportunity for purification of the Church. We must review past performance and examine the whys and wherefores. We must pray and do penance. We must improve our act on many levels. So, I join the other Bishops of NSW in calling for prayer for the following intentions: the success of the Royal Commission; justice and healing of victims; wisdom and compassion for leaders and carers; repentance by perpetrators; grace for those tempted to lose faith or hope; safety for all young people; and consolation for all those affected.
This Lent and beyond we must recognise that spiritual and moral failures of some members of our Church demand a spiritual and moral response from us all. In their pastoral letter the Bishops list a number of ideas on how we might do this.
I undertake as your Bishop, in addition to my daily prayers, to engage in an hour of Eucharistic adoration each Friday and invite our clergy and religious to do likewise. I ask you to consider joining us, by regular participation in Mass and Confession, frequent, worthy reception of the Eucharist, and prayerful reading of Holy Scripture. One simple response would be to pray daily the Hail Holy Queen as both abuse victims and the Church pass through this ‘vale of tears’. We will also have periodic prayers of the faithful in Mass for these intentions. Together we might also engage in some penance, such as Friday abstinence from meat, for these intentions. Wounds in the Body of Christ, even ones for which we are not personally responsible, will only be healed by our cooperation with God’s grace in acts such as these.
Lent began with the Prophet Joel declaring: “Before the altar let the priests lament. Let them say: Spare your people, Lord! Do not make your heritage a thing of shame.” Faithful priests, religious and lay leaders risk being ashamed and demoralised by present troubles and they need our prayers and support at this time.
The Royal Commission will enable some people to raise at last issues from their past. I encourage all victims of abuse to contact the police. Assistance is also available from the Diocese. The Bishops recommit themselves and their dioceses to justice and compassion for victims and their families, to full co-operation with the Royal Commission and all relevant authorities, and to re-examining all our internal processes to ensure they are the best.
Our Sunday Gospel recalls Jesus’ 40 days of trials in the desert. In Lent the Church is united to His struggle by 40 days of fasting, prayer and charity, hoping thereby to join Him in His victory over sin, death and the devil. By our own sacrifices we join in Christ’s com-passion, His passion-with victims in their suffering. By so doing we can be in solidarity, however inadequately, with ‘the little ones’ who have been damaged and with Christ who died for their healing and ours.
Go to First Sunday of Lent 2013 Photo Gallery
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Vigil Mass of the First Sunday of Lent, Year C, and Launch of the OASIS album, To Jesus, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, Saturday 16 February 2013
It is with great joy that I welcome you all to this Mass at the beginning of Lent. With me tonight are the Vicar General, Fr Peter Williams VG EV, the Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Fr John McSweeney, and several other priests: I thank them for being here in such good numbers. I welcome especially the young people of the Oasis group from St Michael’s Parish, South Blacktown, who will tonight be launching To Jesus, an album of beautiful Christian music. With them is the Parish Priest of Blacktown and Administrator of South Blacktown, Fr Peter Confeggi, and their chaplain, Fr Christopher. We congratulate them on generously turning their musical gifts to the praise of God. They are a particular sign of hope for us in a time of challenge, a challenge addressed this week in Sowing in Tears, the Lenten Pastoral Letter of the NSW Bishops on the issue of child sexual abuse, to which I will return in my homily.
This week we also received the sad news of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI for reasons of health. We give thanks to Almighty God for the gift of Pope Benedict as our Holy Father these past eight years and to the Holy Father himself for giving his all as Successor of Peter. He is for us the Pope of World Youth Day in Sydney and of the canonisation of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, our diocesan patron. This teacher-pope, through his writings and homilies, articulated a deep Catholic faith cultivated as much on his knees in the Sacred Liturgy as at his desk. We pray at this time for the Church, for wise, holy and courageous leadership, and especially for Australia’s elector, Cardinal George Pell, and the other cardinals, who must choose a new Pope for us.
The presence of idealistic young people in St Patrick’s Cathedral tonight, ready to launch an album of beautiful Christian music, highlights the tragedy addressed by the Bishops of New South Wales in their Lenten Pastoral Letter released this week. The terms of reference of the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse recognise that children deserve a safe and happy childhood and that institutions such as the Church can and should help that happen. But the young have sometimes been violated by those are supposed to care for them and leaders have sometimes failed to respond adequately.
With my brother bishops I welcome the Royal Commission as an opportunity for victims to obtain a fair hearing, for processes within institutions to be scrutinised, and for the whole community to understand abuse better and find ways forward.
We must keep three things in mind as this progresses. First, these terrible sins and crimes, and sometimes their mishandling by Church authorities, have done great damage to the victims and their families. Here I make my own the historic apology of Pope Benedict made during World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008. He acknowledged the shame we’ve all felt as a result of abuse of minors by clergy and religious. He said he was deeply sorry for this grave betrayal and the pain and suffering it has caused. He urged us to work to ensure that victims receive compassion and care, perpetrators are brought to justice and all young people enjoy a safe environment. The presence of our young musicians tonight reminds us constantly to proclaim the preciousness of every young person and to insist that all abuse is contrary to the laws of God, Church and state. We must repent where there has been institutional failure and resolve to do better in the future.
Secondly, abuse is not the whole story. Holy priests and religious have long worked tirelessly for God’s glory and the good of their people. Vast numbers of people are supported by the Church’s activities in parishes, education, welfare, healthcare, chaplaincy, youth ministry, aged care, service to the poor and marginalised. Young people of our Diocese of Parramatta such as yourselves are very engaged in such works. There is deep faith and compassion amongst our people of all ages. We should not lose sight of this amidst the current consciousness of failures.
We must recognise that spiritual and moral failures of some members of our Church demand a spiritual and moral response from us all. In their pastoral letter the Bishops list a number of ideas on how we might do this. I ask you please to take the letter home, read and share it, and take up some of its suggestions.
My young friends, there could be no more startling proof that being a Christian is no spiritual immunity program than the fact that Jesus had Himself to contend with the world, the flesh and the devil, the human drives for sex, money, power and the rest (Lk 4:1-13). Though God He is, truly from all eternity, He is man now also and as truly so.
And the Devil is devious, the human psyche subtle, and our surrounding culture all-too-often misleading: even as we try to walk in God’s ways we can be tempted to go in other directions; indeed there are special temptations associated with religiosity, such as pride, presumption and despair.
We might proudly imagine that we are immune to ordinary human failings or uniquely strong in the face of them, to which Jesus responds: Man does not live on bread alone. We need more, more than our ordinary gifts and efforts, and that ‘more’ we need is God.
An opposite temptation to pride in some ways is to imagine ourselves weak but that God is like an indulgent aunty, forgiving whatever we do, however vicious or unrepented. To this Jesus answers: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.
Opposite both to pride and presumption is despair: the fall into an emotional and spiritual morass, in which we think everything meaningless and ourselves beyond redemption – the temptation to throw ourselves off the parapet. Jesus’ response to these three spiritual lures is: Worship the Lord your God, serve only Him.
Character, upbringing and divine inspiration sustained Jesus through 40 days of physical and spiritual desert, and then years of indifference and hatred, anger and loneliness, fear and exhaustion. We, too, can grow through prayer and sacrament, godly contemplation and action, through practising virtue and repenting failure – so that when the next trial comes, we are more resistant if not yet immune, we are a little wiser, stronger. But if we never resist or repent, we are diminished, again and again.
Luke concludes tonight’s Gospel with the chilling premonition: having exhausted all these ways of tempting, the Devil left Him to await another opportunity. Even for Jesus temptation never went away altogether. For true religion does not dull our passions or make us insensitive to this world’s delights: if anything it heightens these things, by making us love the truth and goodness and beauty in all things even more. Only the cold-hearted, comatose and dead are free of temptations.
So Lent is our chance to build character and receive grace, 40 days of spiritual renewal through fast and abstinence, prayer and Confession, and charitable works such as Project Compassion, the annual appeal by Caritas Australia, the Church’s overseas aid and development agency. People rightly pray to St Michael, patron of the parish from which our Oasis youth come, to protect them from the Devil’s snares. But the greatest deliverance prayer is the Lord’s. With Him we pray not to the father of lies who roams upon the earth but to the Father of Truth who is in Heaven; not for our own wilfulness but for God’s holy will to be done in us on earth as in heaven; not for the bread of Christ’s temptation but for the daily bread of His Word and Eucharist; and of course that He lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the Evil One.
This week’s Lenten Pastoral Letter proposes other remedies too. I undertake as your Bishop, in addition to my daily prayers, to engage in an hour’s Eucharistic adoration each Friday and will invite our clergy and religious to do likewise. I ask you to consider joining us, by regular participation in word and sacrament. You might pray daily the Hail Holy Queen for both abuse victims and the Church as we pass through this ‘vale of tears’. Together we might also engage in some penance, such as Friday abstinence from meat. For some of you here perhaps abstaining from SMSing and Facebook for all of Lent might be a bigger trial! One way or another, wounds in the Body of Christ, even ones for which we are not personally responsible, will only be healed by our cooperation with God’s grace in acts such as these.
In Lent the Church is united to Christ in His struggle with evil by 40 days of fasting, prayer and charity, hoping thereby to join Him in His victory over sin, death and the Devil. By our own sacrifices we join in Christ’s com-passion, His passion-with victims in their suffering. By so doing we can be in solidarity, however inadequately, with ‘the little ones’ who have been damaged, and with Christ who died for their healing and ours.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Ash Wednesday, St Patrick's Cathedral Parramatta, 13 February 2013
We recently experienced one of the hottest summers on record with temperatures around here topping 45°. The Bureau of Meteorology had to add two new colours to their weather maps to indicate peaks hotter than red. With the new purples added they looked like the maps themselves were burning up from the inside!
Three decades ago, in 1983, the infamous Ash Wednesday fires struck. Clear skies and rising temperatures in the drought-stricken South-East combined with a cold front in the Great Australian Bight to draw hot air southwards from the centre of Australia. Temperatures soared like they did this year and relative humidity dropped to zero. By the early afternoon hundreds of fires were ablaze; then the front moved inland and strong northerly and westerly drove the fires in all directions. The fire-fighters were overwhelmed. By the next day 75 people were dead, hundreds of buildings destroyed, thousands of livestock had been lost and millions of hectares of countryside razed. Many Australians think the name Ash Wednesday comes from those fires.
Those of us who’ve been ashed more than thirty times over the years know it’s actually an ancient religious practice, but the parallels are interesting: for in the Australian bush, fire brings not only destruction but regeneration. Eucalypts and many other Australian natives rely on the heat of bushfires and the resultant clearing and new soils for renewal. Just a few days after fire has destroyed our forests, they are already sprouting with fresh green shoots. So, too, with human side of bushfires: there witness not only destruction and grief but heroic self-sacrifice and generosity.
So our Lenten ashes remind us both of human failings and new starts, limitations and potential, our mortality and regeneration. Remember that you are mortal, clay, dust and ashes, remember that you will return to the earth, the bush will reclaim you: for drought and death are its relentless law and the sins that blacken your heart are little deaths that point to your final end.
And yet there might be more in store for you; there might be new growth yet to come… Amidst this Lenten paradox of dying and rising the Church in Australia has been rocked by child sexual abuse. A Royal Commission has been established that should give victims a fair hearing, allow processes within institutions including the Church to be scrutinized, and help the wider community to understand the phenomenon of abuse better and find some ways forward. The Catholic Bishops of Australia have welcomed that inquiry and established a Council to assist it. Today the Bishops of NSW have issued a pastoral letter on these matters which I encourage you to read and share with others. My introduction to it will be played this weekend in all our parishes. So I need not rehearse what it says today. But it is my prayer and hope that the Church will emerge humbler and holier from all this, regenerated like the Australian bush tested by fire.
“Come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning,” God calls in our first reading. “Before the altar let the priests lament. Let them say: Spare your people, Lord! Do not make your heritage a thing of shame.” (Joel 2:12,17) Lent is ‘come back’ time, for all Catholics. Even faithful, idealistic people can be distracted or lukewarm. All Israel, all the Church, is called to repentance, not just the big sinners, because all are affected when any member is sinful or suffering. The Body of Christ is wounded.
Our ancient Lenten medicines are prayer, fasting and almsgiving (cf Mt 6:1-6, 16-18). Fasting seeks reconciliation with ourselves, by getting a handle on our passions, facing up to our obsessions with comfort and self, the weakness and sin in our relationship to selves. It tries by some little self-denial to cooperate with God in His project of healing our hearts.
Almsgiving is about reconciliation with our neighbours, by facing up to our unwillingness to share our comfort and ourselves, the weakness and sin in our relationships with others. It tries by some little generosity to cooperate in God’s project of healing our relationships with others.
Prayer is about reconciliation with God, by facing up to the spiritual neglect in our lives, our unwillingness to share our time and wills with God, the weakness and sin in our relationships to the Divine. It tries by some prayerfulness to ensure a better relationship with God.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Mass for the Pope on the Occasion of the Announcement of the Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, Tuesday 12 February 2013
The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI for reasons of health is a cause of great sadness for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, but also of heartfelt thanksgiving: for this Pope has given his all.
In 2005 Pope Benedict succeeded one of the greatest popes of all time. Pope John Paul II, or ‘John Paul the Great’ as many have called him, was his close friend. Benedict succeeded him in the task of unpacking the documents of the Second Vatican Council and articulating the Church’s faith for today’s world.
Benedict was the third pope to visit Australia. Australians will remember him, first, as the World Youth Day Pope, joining the young people of the world in Sydney in 2008. He began his time in Australia by spending a few days resting in our Diocese at Kenthurst. The word ‘Pope’ comes from the word ‘papa’, father or Daddy. When Benedict XVI engaged with the young people here in Sydney it was as their spiritual Daddy or even their spiritual Granddad, a grandfather to half a million, who recognised he truly loved them and in whom they encountered the love of God.
He also made his historic apology to victims of clergy child abuse while he was here in Sydney – an apology that the Bishops of New South Wales will repeat in their pastoral letter on Ash Wednesday tomorrow.
Secondly, Australians will remember him as the Pope who canonised St Mary of the Cross, and Parramattans as the one who gave her to us as our diocesan patron. Papas are supposed not just to give us words but to give us an example, a living word. Benedict XVI is undoubtedly a holy man himself and therefore readily recognised in Mary MacKillop, a woman of great faith who helped to build this country through education for the poor.
Thirdly, he is one of the great theologians of our time. After nearly eight years the Church and the world have come to see that he is not just a towering intellect but also a great communicator of the Faith – a Teacher-Pope, a true papa in this third sense that parents nurture their children in the faith. His unique command of the truths of Christian doctrine and his singular ability to make those truths come alive catechetically and homiletically have been a great gift to the Church in troubled times. As a great lover of the Sacred Liturgy his profound theology has been developed not in his desk chair so much as on his knees.
Again and again he has called us back to the foundations of our faith in the Holy Scriptures and Tradition, the Word of God alive and active in our day, ever ancient and ever new. He has been convinced that Catholic truth speaks volumes to our times and hundreds of those volumes have been his own.
The world still waits with bated breath to hear the words of the Christ and these they hear through His Vicar. God and the world still wait to hear Peter’s answer on behalf of all the Church to the question: who do you say Jesus is? Peter still answers, in the voice of his German successor, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”
Christ responds, now as then: And you are Peter, the rock upon which I will build my irrepressible Church, the one to whom I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven, the one who must bind and loose definitively. Wherever you travel, even as far as Australia, you will be watched as I was watched, greeted as I was greeted, loved and hated as I was loved and hated.
From the earliest times the role of the papacy has been this: to be the authentic witness to Jesus Christ “the Son of the Living God” and to His Gospel of life and love, of truth and goodness, of beauty and glory; to be, as binder and looser, the teacher and guarantor that what we receive we receive from Christ; to be also chief shepherd of the flock of Christ, a pastor who tends faithful in needs, feeding as much binding and loosing; to be a principle of continuity-in-change and on unity-in-diversity; to be servant of the servants of God.
We thank Pope Benedict for giving himself heart and soul to the task of being Successor of Peter despite declining health. We offer this Mass in thanksgiving for him as our Holy Father, our Papa, these past eight years, and as the Church’s good servant for many years before that. We pray for him in his remaining two weeks as Pope and in his retirement. We also pray at this time for Australia’s elector, Cardinal George Pell, and the other cardinals who must choose a new Pope, that they will be inspired by the Holy Spirit to find us another great spiritual leader.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Votive Mass in Honour of St Pedro Calungsod, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, Sunday 10 February 2013
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It’s sometimes said that the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta is the southern-most diocese of metro-Manila – there are so many Filipinos here. Or the southern-most diocese of Cebu: I won’t get into that debate. There are now two official Filipino saints, one from each city, and we are lucky enough to have many people from each city and province, as from the rest of the Philippines, in our Diocese. There are more than 30,000 Filipino-born people in the Diocese, most by far are Catholic, and if many have had a least one child in Australia, there could be as many as 45,000 Filipino-Australian Catholics in these parts, or more than one in eight of our Diocese. We can only hope that there’ll be more in the future – more Filipino-Australians, more Filipino-Australian chaplains, more Filipino-Australian priests such as Christopher who is assisting me and John Paul our Gospel deacon, above all, many more Filipino-Australian saints!
Today’s Gospel (Mt 10:17-22) is a rather challenging one. Jesus warns His apostles that if they attach themselves to Him they will make enemies, even possibly in their own family. They may be hated on account of His name, tried, tortured, killed. The witness they give may ultimately be of blood. Such is the story of the young man we honour today.
Young Pedro was born around 1654 and grew up probably in Cebu, though various towns and islands now claim him as their own. His deep love of Christ and deep Catholic faith were instilled by Spanish Jesuits for whom he served Mass and from whom he learnt Spanish and Latin. One of these, Blessed Diego Luís de San Vitores SJ, took young Pedro and some other catechists with him to Guam and the Mariana Islands to evangelise there. In many ways it reminds me of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine here in Parramatta seeking catechists of all ages to help provide Special Religious Education in the state schools: they count among their number increasing numbers of secondary school students who are willing to volunteer their time to share their faith as catechists with younger children at school.
Life wasn’t easy on that mission, with natural challenges such as mosquitoes, typhoons and storms and, worse, human challenges of misunderstanding, envy, slander and eventually open persecution. Still the boys and their leader persevered, displaying deep faith, charity and trust as they continued to preach the Gospel, teach the Catechism and thereby gain souls for God.
As a Dominican I have to recognise that it was the Jesuits who co-opted and formed young Pedro as a catechist, and that it was a Franciscan catechism, produced by Juan de Palencia for the Filipino missions that he carried and used. But to my delight when I sought the catechism he used I found the cover has an engraving of St Dominic on it. So St Pedro constantly had St Dominic, that patron of orthodox preaching and teaching, as his companion as he engaged in his Jesuit-Franciscan mission!
Jesus warned that you risk being misunderstood if you do such work and sure enough the rumour went around that Baptism actually kills babies. In an era of high infant mortality and plenty of superstition, we can easily imagine how those whose babies died soon after Baptism blamed the missionaries. The catechists were not deflected by such gossip, but were also ambushed with spears and daggers on all sides. Pedro was young enough to dodge them and escape, but he would not abandon the Jesuit father. They died together.
Our first reading today, from the Second Book of Maccabees (2 Macc 6:8-31) offers another story of heroic faith. Pressures today to act against conscience are generally more subtle than they were in Eleazar’s or Pedro’s days. The choice, whether or not to apostatise, is less stark. We are encouraged to avoid being too religious, to leave our religion at home and church and our ideals in the cloakroom before entering the public arena. We are left alone to have our Masses and Baptisms and the like, just as long as we don’t challenge the system or try to bring our convictions into parliament, the workplace, the organs of culture or anywhere of influence. Conscience is fine, as long as we are ready to compromise to the spirit of the age where the powers of this world think it necessary.
But Eleazar reasoned that to do other than what he believed to be right would be to act against God, bring dishonour on himself, compromise his ability to give witness to the young, confirm malefactors in their wrongdoing, lead others into evil, and invite God’s just punishment. He refused to do that which the state commanded and his fair-weather friends counselled him to do. He would rather die than do what he thought would ‘un-Jew’ him, just as Pedro would not seek safety by abandoning his catechetical mission and effectively be ‘de-Christianed’. By their example they taught with Christ about purity of heart (Mt 5:8), not being a skandalon to the little ones (Mt 18:6) and if needs be forsaking one’s very life in order to save it (Mt 16:24-26; Lk 9:24-25). Eleazar lived under the imperium of Antiochus IV, who ruled the Seleucid Empire from 175 to 164 bc. Antiochus styled himself Epiphanes, Manifest God, which cynics mispronounced Epimanes, the Mad One. Many mad ones since have sought to control others unconscionably, like the native chief who directed Pedro’s murder. They still use legal authority and other ruses. We might think of the pressures right now in the Philippines to join the culture of death: D-for-Divorce, E-for-Euthanasia, A-for-Abortion, T-for-Total Population Control and H-for-Homosexual Unions – a program undermining Christian faith and values and coercing people’s consciences which the Filipino bishops believe began with the recent Reproductive Health Bill passed late last year.
Sometimes in life we have to choose: will I stand up for my faith and resist doing unethical things, or will I compromise my very identity and go with the flow of power or opinion wherever that leads? Eleazar and Pedro Calungsod could have escaped; but their deep faith and love for God meant they would not.
Snakes! Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Mass for Chinese New Year, Chinese Catholic Chaplaincy, St Monica's Church, North Parramatta, Sunday 10 February 2013
Today we officially farewell the Year of the Dragon and usher in the Year of the Snake. Snake years, I’m informed, are 6th in the 12-year cycle and while I’m not sure how easy it is to find Scripture texts for the year of the monkey, the year of the rat and the year of the tigers, snakes do appear from time to time in our Bible. They are not always auspicious: the devil is snake-like in the opening and closing books of the Bible (Gen ch 3; Rev chs 12, 20); the Book of Sirach tells us to flee from sin as from a snake (Sir 21:2); Moses’ staff is turned into a snake to frighten Pharaoh (Ex ch 7); and Jesus tells us that no one who loved us would give us a snake when we asked for fish (Mt 7:10).
I remember during World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney we brought a variety of Australian animals such as a koala to Pope Benedict XVI for him to view up close and pat if he liked. When he was presented with a large python, however, he recoiled: I explained later to the zoo keeper that according to the Bible there is enmity between the children of God and the children of the Serpent of Eden.
Yet snakes do play their part in the history of salvation. The Book of Genesis predicts that that opposition between snakes and humans will be settled by the New Eve and her Son crushing this devil’s head (Gen 3:15). So when a snake bit St Paul, the Acts of the Apostles report that he made it into a preaching prop, demonstrating to his pagan audience that he had been protected from harm by Christ (Acts 28:3-6; cf Mk 16:18). Jesus Himself taught that we should be as innocent as doves but also as wise as snakes (Mt 10:13), so clearly He didn’t think they were all bad!
When fiery snakes attacked the people of Israel in Moses’ time, he impaled a bronze snake to a pole so that whoever had been bitten but looked upon it lived (Num ch 21). This became the great symbol of medicine, but for us Christians it is also a premonition of Christ being nailed to the tree and bringing healing to all who look upon Him (Jn 3:14). So to call this the Year of the Snake might mean for Chinese Christians the year of Christ Crucified, of Christ the Physician of Bodies and Souls – a truly auspicious year!
The Gospel chosen for Chinese New Year is one of the most beloved Christian texts: the beatitudes preached by Jesus at the beginning of His Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:1-12). We can easily miss, however, that there is more here than sentimental words. If Jesus is promising blessings, happiness, the very things we ask for each other at New Year, it is in the context of the things that make people unhappy: low spirits, persecution and abuse. To say “happy are the peacemakers” is to recognise that peace must be made, that war is all around us. To say “happy those who mourn” is to recognise the tears running down many cheeks. To say “happy those persecuted in the cause of right” and “happy are you when people abuse and defame you on my account” is to recognise something Chinese Christians have always known: that standing up for the truth, for Christ and His version of the happy life, is not always easy.
Chinese Catholics are no strangers to persecution. In July 2012, Thaddeus Ma Daqin was ordained auxiliary bishop of Shanghai, that ancient city with a population equal to all of Australia. I’m particularly interested in it, as my mother was born and grew up there. It could even have been the same bishop who confirmed my mother all those years ago and ordained the new bishop last year as Archbishop Aloysius Jin Luxian was 96 years old! The new bishop, Thaddeus Ma, told the congregation he would now be devoting himself heart and soul to the episcopal ministry and evangelisation, and so would be quitting all connection with the patriotic association – the government body that seeks to control the Church. The 1200-strong congregation rose to rapturous applause.
It was incredibly brave. The new bishop knew he must heed the charge of Jesus Christ to the apostles to have an undivided heart and to get out there and evangelise. He knew it would be hard. We know that in China people are regularly arrested or ‘disappeared’ for being too publicly Christian. The government waxes and wanes in its attitude, sometimes tolerating, at other times persecuting, Christians. Officially, religion is dying out, but it seems to be taking its time so the state is trying to hurry it up. Worship, catechesis and pastoral leadership may or may not be permitted on any particular day. Catholics find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place – the ‘rock’ of the true Catholic Church of Peter and the ‘hard place’ of state control. Many have to leave.
Predictably, the communists were not pleased by Bishop Ma’s declaration. He was whisked away by secret police shortly afterwards and has been under house arrest in a seminary ever since. The government has purported to revoke his status as bishop and suspended him from priestly ministry for at least two years, putting him ‘on retreat’ indefinitely. Perhaps he will die a martyr’s death. Bishop Ma knows all too well the ambivalence of the impaled snake: Christian life involves ups and downs, being bitten and being healed, the cross and the resurrection.
Our ability to practice our faith freely in Australia is something we take for granted but of which we should be much more aware, protective, grateful. Chinese-Australian Catholics can help remind the rest of us that freedom of belief, thought, conscience, religious practice are not universally guaranteed. And if they are far from secure in China they should not be taken for granted in Australia either. Many people have expressed concern, for instance, about current moves to revise anti-discrimination legislation to discriminate against religious believers. Some want to use the law to force the Church to employ people with views or lifestyles at odds with the Gospel and the Catholic tradition. They would like to force us to teach such things in our schools. Some would remove government funding from Catholic hospitals because they do not do abortions or other immoral procedures. There are even those who would like to force the closure of Catholic schools, hospitals and welfare services, adoption services, marriage celebrants, you name it, here in Australia. Religious liberty requires eternal vigilance: the snake is always ready to bite and we must watch the ground around us.
At the beginning of a new year we naturally pray for peace and freedom. Our Mass, you might say, is one long prayer for these things. “Peace be with you” the bishop says at the start of every Mass. In the First Eucharistic Prayer we pray that God will grant His Holy Catholic Church peace, that we will by the prayers of the saints be defended by His protecting help, that He will order our days in His peace and protect us from damnation. In one of the responses to the mystery of faith we acclaim Christ as “Saviour of the world” because by His cross and resurrection He has set us free! In the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer, which we will pray today, we recall God’s coming again and again to save humanity from itself, especially His coming in Christ to proclaim the good news of salvation, freedom for prisoners and joy for the sorrowing. At Communion time we pray again that our Father will deliver us from every evil, grant peace in our days and keep us safe from distress. We recall Christ’s saying “Peace I leave you, my own peace I give you” and pray for that peace for His Church and then for those around us. Then we ask the Lamb of God once more to grant us peace. You might say it’s the theme that recurs, like the plea for mercy, antiphonally throughout the whole Mass.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Mass of the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C, with Rite of Installation of Fr Andrew Fornal OP as St Joseph’s Kingswood Parish Priest, Sunday 3 February 2013
Fr Andrew will be pleased to know he is not the first Dominican to have been stationed out this way. When Australia’s first Dominican, Christopher Dowling, arrived in Sydney in 1831 as official Catholic chaplain to the colony, he was locked out of the Hyde Park presbytery by the previous incumbent, John Joseph Therry. One day, when Fr Dowling was preaching a sermon on fraternal charity, the impetuous Fr Therry dragged him from the sanctuary. The two of them, fully vested, even engaged in a public tug-o-war for the collection box. And another occasion it is alleged Therry sent three heavies to beat Dowling up in front of St Mary’s and steal his hat and watch!
Thereafter, with the help of the Governor, the meek Dominican escaped to the relative safety of Western Sydney, where he served as chaplain to Windsor and the Hawkesbury – an area encompassing most of what is now the Diocese of Parramatta and including what is now Kingswood. He established a Catholic school at Windsor and a Catholic chapel at Camden. Australia’s first Catholic bishop, John Bede Polding, arrived in 1835 with another Dominican as his companion, Fr James Corcoran. This put an end to Terry’s terrorism and Polding rewarded Dowling’s patience by giving him the care of everything North of the Hawkesbury, including Queensland!
The other Dominican then took charge of this region where the pastoral challenge was growing. He got the first Catholic church started at Windsor, which is why St Matthew’s, the oldest church in our diocese, has the Dominican coat of arms above the door. He died soon after in a horse accident. As a Dominican I’m proud we were around here so early, even if we were mugged, exiled or trampled by horses for our troubles! I trust you will be gentler with your new parish priest...
My Sunday missal suggests as today’s theme: ‘The privilege of being a prophet’. Some privilege, those early Dominicans might have said: just look at how you’re treated! If God promises in our first lesson to protect the prophet, it’s only because he’s prophets are in danger, even from their own people (Jer 1:4-5,17-19). Jeremiah ends up imprisoned, excommunicated, beaten up by the clergy, put in stocks by the Jerusalem gate and condemned to death! That’s how they treat the prophets: Fr Andrew be warned!
Which brings us to Jesus. Last Sunday we heard “His reputation spread through the countryside… and everyone praised Him” (Lk 1:1-4; 4:14-21); today Luke repeats that (Lk 4:21-30). Yet Jesus’ popularity doesn’t last: after His first homily in His hometown they decide to kill Him. That’s a rather extreme reaction, even to a very bad homily: please don’t get any ideas!
The fickle crowd, the short-lived reputation, prefigure Holy Week when Jesus will arrive triumphant in Jerusalem “with the whole multitude rejoicing and praising God” and yet a few days later hear the same people baying: “Crucify him, crucify him!” Already in today’s Gospel, we see His life in danger. His eventual death is foretold in mime rather than words, like a Passion Play in which the brow of the Nazareth hill becomes symbolic of Calvary. Perhaps Jesus’ resurrection and ascension are foretold here also: for as Luke puts it so mysteriously: “He slipped through their hands and simply walked away from them.”
But why did they want to kill him? Why does the shadow of cross loom dark and threatening across Jesus’ whole life, menacing him even when He was at home? Was it because He was so politically and socially subversive, breaking laws and taboos, undermining the established order, threatening the power of the civil and ecclesiastical authorities? Was it because He was a blasphemer, or seemed so to them, with His many intimations that He was God’s intimate, sent one, Messiah?
Perhaps, but if we look into our own hearts we might see another reason why they nailed him. Goody-goodies often drive us mad. What is it about the virtuous person that makes us admire but also despise them? Is it that they seem too good to be true, that we suspect it’s a false front, that it’s hypocrisy? After all, Jesus is only one of us, from our town, Joseph’s boy, the carpenter’s son.I suspect that what it is, is that the friend of God challenges us at a deep level, deeper even than words can penetrate. The virtuous taunt us by their very lives; they don’t have to say a word. They demonstrate what we could be, what in our heart of hearts we know we should be. Even without words they challenge us to change and that can be frightening.
The friend of God, the prophet, is a reproach, without even wishing to be, and a reproach is bound to meet hostility. That is one reason why God does not promise those He loves an easy ride, a safe passage through the storms of life. If goodness is its own reward and brings other rewards as well, it also costs: it costs us all the purgation of our hearts and the sometime hostility of our fellows. It may even cost us our lives.
Which is the happy thought with which I introduce to you your new Parish Priest, Fr Andrew Fornal op! Originally from Catholic Poland, he has spent much of his priesthood in the mission lands of Australia and America. In New York he worked in the parish and university chaplaincy at Columbia University. I’m told that he used often tell the Americans how much he loved Australia and Australians, so it’s good to have him back after a decade away.
He’s a Dominican, like Dowling, Corcoran and me, which is a good start! He has a reputation as an ‘on the ground’ sort of priest, who wears his considerable learning lightly. Despite years in one of the poshest unis, he’s more concerned with the bloke showing up for confession, the leaking pipes, and the happiness and holiness of his parishioners than the latest theory. He’s well rounded, loving the Sacred Liturgy, the Preaching of the Gospel, waffles and coffee. In this big parish I expect there will be many coffee pots for him to explore. He’s also well-rounded in the sense that friars like Friar Tuck traditionally are. Like such friars he’s fun, full of jokes delivered with a smile and never to offend. He’s generous with his time and effective in administration.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Mass of Ordination to the Priesthood of Br Thomas McFadden OFMCap, Good Shepherd Plumpton Parish, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, Saturday 2 February 2013
With the Provincial Fr Gary Devery OFMCap, the parish priest and superior of this friary Fr Gerard O’Dempsey OFMCap, I welcome you all to Good Shepherd for the Ordination to the priesthood of Brother Thomas McFadden of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. We especially welcome his father Michael, his brothers Michael and Paul, along with their wives and children, as well as his Nanna Teresa. We are very conscious that Thomas’ mother Rosemary died in the middle of last year and of the sadness it must be for all the family that she could not be here; by God’s grace she is with us in spirit. All the family are, I am sure, very proud of their boy today.
We give thanks to Almighty God for the Capuchin Fathers who have served for many years in this Plumpton Parish. Now, with the ordination of Thomas, we can look forward to a second community of friars, younger ones who will work with the poor and in other ministries. What a gift this is to our diocese!
Also with us today are Capuchin friars and parishioners from Plumpton and Leichardt; other reverend brothers soon to be ordained priest, James Grant, Dean Mathieson and Ben Johnson; religious and parishioners of Thomas’ home parish of Our Lady of the Rosary in St Mary’s; and other friars, religious, clergy and friends from around the country.
We welcome also Br. Jeffrey Regan CFC, Principal of St. Dominic’s College, where Br. Thomas attended school, and members of the College staff and student prefects.
And so, dear brethren, forty days have passed since the joyful feast of the Nativity of the Lord. Today we celebrate that blessed day when Jesus was presented in the Temple by Mary and Joseph. Outwardly He was fulfilling the Law, but in reality He was coming to meet His faithful people. Prompted by the Holy Spirit, Simeon and Anna came also to the Temple; enlightened by that same Spirit, they recognized the Lord and confessed Him with exultation.
So let us also, gathered together by the Holy Spirit, proceed to the house of God to encounter Christ with joy. There we shall recognize Him in the Breaking of the Bread, in the proclamation of His holy Word, in the assembly of his holy people, and in the one conformed this day by Holy Orders to Christ the High Priest.
St. Thomas Aquinas, one of several Dominican doctors of the Church, wrote that “youth is the cause of hope on three accounts: because the object of hope is in the future, is difficult, and yet is possible. For the young live in the future, not in the past; they are not lost in memories but full of confidence in what is yet to come. Secondly, their warm nature, high spirits and expansive hearts embolden them to try difficult things… Thirdly, they have not yet been thwarted in their plans, and their inexperience lets them think that where there is a will there is a way. In these last two respects young people are rather like drunks!” (STh IaIIæ 40, 6)
Now St Thomas, who spent much of his life as a teacher of the young, possibly had his tongue in his ample cheek when writing this, but he was surely right to say that as we mature we usually become more prudent and sometimes become more jaded too.
So youth is the symbol of hope. Yet the heroes of today’s Gospel (Lk 2:22-40) are two golden oldies. Simeon, we are told, was ready to fall off his perch once he’d seen the Messiah. Inspired not by the demon drink but by a holier Spirit he takes the gurgling forty-day-old boy-God in his arms. The ancient world receives in its arms the splendour of God’s eternal youth.
Simeon then sings his negro spiritual: Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. The Nunc Dimitis, his lullaby for the baby Jesus and the Church each night, says you can let me go to sleep now, Lord, because I’ve seen the light. From now on, instead of me singing this baby to sleep, the Baby will sing me to eternal rest and perpetual light.
Next on the scene is Anna: she’s well past her ‘use-by date’ and haunts the church like many old women before and since. What she glimpses makes her sing God’s praises and tell everyone the Good News. At the Presentation it’s the old folk who demonstrate youthful hope in a difficult yet possible future; it’s the maturer characters who are confident, big-hearted and high-spirited!
Which on the face of it makes it a strange feast on which to ordain a young man to the priesthood. So young was he on presentation to his order, Thomas McFadden took quite a while to get his Capuchin beard straight. Nowadays he’s rather hairier: he’s the age Jesus was in the final straight to Passion week. Apart from the hopefulness and enthusiasm of youth, what else did Thomas bring? Well, he’d studied and played his part in the world, having a hand, so I’m told, in the design of the Sydney Opera House carpark, a place I’ve always thought most elegantly designed – as I’ve exited at snail’s pace after some concert. Tom saw enough of carparks and the like to decide engineering the physical universe was not for him: there is a psychological, moral, spiritual universe also in need of architects and builders.
Thomas’ university years, with his involvements in the Parish at St Mary’s, at Mass and before the Blessed Sacrament, in the youth group, Vinnies and the CCD allowed him to discern that clerical religious life was for him. His formation years, experiencing Franciscan peace and goodness, their love for Our Blessed Mother and Lady Poverty, for the Church and Papacy, for Sainted family members such as Francis, Anthony and Padre Pio, confirmed him in his Capuchin vocation. But today he is ready for the next stage in the Presentation that his family, his Order and Tom himself have made of him to God.
For what do they present him? What do we want a friar minor priest to be today? In our first reading the Prophet Malachi declares that when God enters His temple, as indeed He does at every Mass, there should be a herald to prepare the way before him (Mal 3:1-4). This is, of course, the preacher-priest. But the levitical priesthood must be refined, he says, in the gold-refiner’s fire, with the wool-fuller’s alkali, a purification going on before our eyes as the Church in Australia confronts the abuse crisis. More than ever we need holy priests who put God and His little ones first. And part of purifying the priesthood is introducing new members full of that youthful enthusiasm and idealism of which St Thomas spoke. More than ever we need our priests to make the sin offerings on behalf of the Church, as Malachi prescribes and Joseph and Mary bring today for the high priest to offer.
For what else do his family, Order and Tom himself present him today? Like the child Jesus, who after His Presentation in the Temple matured in wisdom for thirty years before embarking on public ministry, so Br Thomas has dedicated himself to formation and studies, acing many exams, earning accolades at the Catholic Institute of Sydney and the Gregorian University in Rome. Despite its Jesuitry the Greg has helped shape a Capuchin intellect with a Dominican name! So clever was he, I’m told he even corrected fellow students’ theses in Italian.
What more do we ask today for this priestling? Our epistle tells us that Christ took our flesh in part because we would only trust a priest who can experience what we experience, who can have com-passion for us, passion-with us, in our sufferings and temptations (Heb 2:14-18). For such Christlike compassion we also look to our priest-to-be. It has already been demonstrated in his work feeding the destitute.
Youth and maturity, study and experience, a well-formed intellect, a compassionate heart, these are presented today for ordination. One thing more we need. Simeon is described today as devout and Holy-Spirited; Anna spends her days in the Temple. Like them Thomas must be a spiritual man, a man of prayer. Br Thomas’ Aquinian namesake suggested ageing makes you prudent but cynical: so often have our plans been thwarted that we no longer expect much. Yet he knew very well that there is another way to respond, the way of great saints such as Simeon, Anna and Francis before him, the way of Thomas himself and Bonaventure beside him: he handed over all his plans and uncertainties to God. He knew that if God were thwarting his plans that could only be because God had greater plans; but if it were man who was frustrating him, he need not fear. He need only trust in the Candlemas Saviour. God has always had great plans for young Thomas, ones he never dreamed possible when he was discerning his vocation while carting supermarket trolleys.
And so my son, you are now to be advanced to the Order of the Presbyterate. You must apply yourself to teaching in the name of Christ our chief Teacher and Wisdom itself; to shepherding after the heart of Christ our Good Shepherd and model of servant leadership; and to sanctifying in the person of Christ who is our High Priest and the very sacrament we offer.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Funeral Mass of Creos Mary Roman, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, Feast of the Conversion of St Paul, Year C, Friday 25 January 2013
In our first reading this morning death was presented not as something that happens to us so much as someone. Death leaves some people wrapped in a burial shroud and others veiled in mourning; all are affected, so that tears stain every cheek (Isa 25:6-9). If the Angel of Death sometimes sides with Israel against its enemies (Ex 12:23; II Kings 19:35), mostly in the Scriptures he is presented as Satanic and Hades is his kingdom (Dan 3:66; Wis 1:14; cf. Heb. 2:14; Rev 20:13-14). Thus the early Christians talked of Death as ‘the last enemy’, a ghostly rider of the Apocalypse (1 Cor 15:26; Rev 6:8; cf. CCC 1008).
Ours was not the only religion to personify death. Thanatos was the Greek god of death and he delivered souls to Hades of the underworld. The Irish version carried its head tucked under its arm, riding a black horse and calling to the dying. Yama, the Hindu lord of death in Creos’ beloved India, preferred to ride a black buffalo and carried a rope to lasso souls. The Polish Śmierć was a female Grim Reaper in a white robe, but the German-Baltic version, masculine and in black, shouldering a scythe, passed into Western funerary art from the Middle Ages and from there into contemporary mythology. We know him from TV ads and pop culture: a fearsome, irresistible, annihilating force, stronger than life and hope, who responds to no argument, virtue or plea for another chance and who has the last word ...
At this point Christians part company with the Grim Reaper myth. In the first Christian homily St Peter taught that try as he may, Death could not contain Jesus (Acts 2:24): he is not Jesus’ equal. So too St Paul spoke of Christ’s victory over Sin and Death and taught that this last enemy will ultimately be annihilated by Christ (1 Cor 15:26; Rom 5:14; 6:9; 2 Tim 1:10). He even dared mock: “So Mr Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55) Creos was rather like that. Years ago he told me that his irresponsible earlier life would probably cost him an early death. He accepted this with great peace and even a quiet assurance. Likewise, over the past months of his dying of cancer, there has been a confidence that Death would not be the ultimate victor.
Why did he think that? In our first reading the Prophet Isaiah foresaw a day when God would destroy Death for ever but he did not know how. We know. Christ it is, who is “the Resurrection and the Life”, “the Way, the Truth and the Life”, Eternal Life (Jn 11:21-27; 14:6). Christ is the One who promises in the Gospel passage that He will not lose even one of those entrusted to Him (Jn 6:37-40). Death is Anti-Christ but no match for Him (Rev 1:17-18; 21:4). To believe in Christ is to know that as He rose victorious over death, so will all who belong to His kingdom.
St Augustine once observed that “On no point does the Christian faith encounter more opposition than on the resurrection of the body” (En. in Ps 88, 5). It’s fine to say, as some ancients did, that the soul lives on after death; or to say, as some moderns do, that the person lives on in other people’s hearts. But He who promises not to lose a single person entrusted to Him offers Creos much more than ghostliness in Hades or fondness in memories. So it is that the Christian Creed, after professing faith in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and detailing the creative, saving and sanctifying action of that Holy Trinity, comes to its climax by confessing “the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting” (CCC 988).
Isaiah had only an inkling of this; the other Reaper legends, even less idea. But we know that there is no fearsome, annihilating force, stronger than life and hope. Death’s reign is in fact limited and ending. The Christ who conquers death does indeed respond to argument, virtue and pleas. As Blessed John Paul II once pointed out, to receive Christ is to know that suffering and death are not the last word: no, “the final word belongs to life and love, because God came to dwell among us, so we might dwell in Him.” (Message for World Youth Day 2000, Rome)
When I attended Creos to administer the Last Rites and celebrate Mass for him last week, he was holding his mother’s hand very much like the baby and little boy he was 51 years ago. Craig, as he then was, enjoyed a happy childhood in rural New Zealand. I’m told that after his father left and his mother, sister and he moved into council housing, he would try to help with the housework and at age six sat inside the kitchen cupboards cleaning them, wearing a T-shirt already too small for his expanding belly and ultimately handed down to his Teddy. Not that he was a cleanliness fanatic: his mother recalls that when he and a friend heard mud was good for the skin they went the whole hog, returning home from the river dressed in nothing but mud. As a young fellow he already demonstrated a spiritual side, attending the Salvation Army hall, and a heart for the care of the sick and suffering, joining the local St John Ambulance Association. At age 11 he topped the Ambo tests and was rated “very meritorious”. He already exhibited a love for the dramatic: on one occasion the boy waltzed through the town, his little sister on his hip, bringing his mother flowers and insisting she let him take her out to lunch.
The boy grew up. During his high school years Creos worked in a butcher shop and a cabinet-makers. He left home around 16. He flirted for a time with other religions. In Auckland he got into the punk scene, protest marches and drugs. One day while his mother was chopping kindling for the range, an apparition appeared before her decked out in chains in all directions, safety pins though nose and ears, a leather studded collar, knee-high boots and a zigzag haircut – more or less that Grim Reaper of whom I spoke earlier! It took all her power to stop herself taking her tomahawk to him.
The vision of Creos no doubt also startled the other natives of that little town, as he continued to do after he emigrated to Australia in his late teens, and indeed sometimes when he worked in this very cathedral. He lost contact with his family for nearly three decades but by God’s grace was restored to them before his death. He lived first in the sin city of Sydney, then settled in more sedate Melbourne. Though ashamed of his substance abuse and lifestyle, he remained passionate about justice for the marginalised. He worked with youth, the disabled, the sick and reforming drug addicts. Contact with the Missionaries of Charity in Fitzroy and Wagga and the experience of World Youth Day in Rome eventually brought him to full-cream Catholic faith and reform of life, and he found more positive ways of channelling his energies. In this he was very much like Jean Valjean in the famous novel turned stage musical recently turned film, Les Misérables, who comes to see a higher plan for his life. While the tats, piercings and goatee remained, a large cross was added to the chains and gradually over time the amount of metal declined. He received spiritual direction, engaged in various devotions and took active steps to learn more about his faith. He became one of the ‘characters’ of Catholic Melbourne. He served faithfully and efficiently as assistant sacristan in this cathedral of St Patrick for nearly three years. He joined the Dominican laity. He established the Immaculate Heart Community for people struggling with substance dependence or other demons. From this time he was styled ‘brother’ and he continued to grow in piety and virtue.
Creos was unforgettable. Several present here today have shared stories of their first vision of him and their subsequent interactions. He had that sense of always-being-rightness that in the saints we call holy zeal, a stubbornness that in the saints we call single-minded devotion and, occasionally, that hard-to-get-along-with-ness that in priests and religious we call personal charism.
He loved his years as a familiar of the Missionaries of Charity, and especially the time spent as a volunteer in India, even though he struggled with the heat, humidity and health. He would write us colourful accounts of goats, rats and elephants he met, of wonderful sisters and volunteers caring for the dying, and of adventures with immigration officials, street people and others. He made many friends there, as in Australia, for Creos had a great capacity for friendship and a certain innocence that only divine grace can restore to one with a history like his. He had a great sense of humour and enjoyed convivial life, even as he gave away all that he had and focused on serving the poorest of the poor in Calcutta.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Mass of 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 20 January 2013
The Sydney Festival is all around us at the moment, with the Spiegeltent and more in Prince Alfred Park beside our St Patrick’s Cathedral. There are concerts, an exploding fiery organ and much razzamatazz. Jesus’ own entry today on to the public stage is equally dazzling. Scholars tell us He didn’t just make wine enough for them to have a few wedding toasts: He made enough to drown in, something like 800 litres! (Jn 2:1-12)
There’s also enough theology here to drown a congregation in! Today is, for instance, the first time in the Gospel that people come to Jesus for help. It’s the first time, too, that they brought their needs to His mother, asking Mary to intercede on their behalf. And help He did! It was very revealing. On Epiphany Sunday oriental potentates with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh testified to Jesus as King of kings; on Baptism Sunday the Heavenly Father by words and the Spirit attested to Jesus’ identity as the Beloved Son; so on this Cana Sunday by changing water into wine Jesus testifies to Himself as the only Son of God, letting His glory be seen.
Some people are, of course, closed to the very possibility of miracles. Some seek to re-explain stories like this one as religious hysteria, inaccurate accounting, or people simply sharing the wine they already had. What do we think about miracles? What does the Church actually teach?
Well, first, that they are logically possible. The God who is Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer of the universe, the Big Why there is anything rather than nothing, logically can and sometimes does override the laws of nature in various ways. Jesus’ great signs not only indicated His mystery but brought His disciples to faith. What they witnessed, they passed on to us through the Gospels and the living tradition of the Church, so that we too might believe. These signs attest to who Jesus is, to the kingdom He brings about, to the Father who sent Him and the Spirit who was His driving force. They invite our discipleship, as they did those in Cana, and occasion His rejection by others.
Of course, even if we accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour, we can be troubled by His failure to wipe away all evils. If He can fix a drought at a wedding feast, why doesn’t He fix all droughts? Yet we know that Jesus came, not to suspend the power of nature but to overcome the power of sin that thwarts our true vocation. We know that He did so in a way that leaves us free to work out our destiny and that such freedom means there must be stable laws of nature so we can predict and plan and see through our commitments and decisions. Otherwise we’d be puppets whose strings were constantly being pulled by God or we would be totally disoriented by a world whose rhythms were in constant flux.
God’s great gift and gamble in making us free, intelligent and loving beings gives us the space to do good without being forced and without constant interference. He offers us a personal vocation, a divine law, His Word and sacraments, 800 litres and more of graces and chances. It’s up to us to use them wisely.
God, we know, also invites us to be part of His miracles by our prayers and those of the saints. Some would rather He ran a more independent operation, but in the end that’s His call. That’s why St Dominic, as he lay dying, told his brethren not to weep: he was confident he would be more help interceding for them in heaven than leading them on earth. Yet some people then, as now, reject the idea that God’s power is commonly mediated by the prayers of human beings, as they reject the idea that His sacraments are the ordinary way His grace is mediated to human beings.
But on this basis we would have to reject the idea of Christ Himself: for in Him all the fullness of God dwells bodily. His humanity is the greatest of all sacraments, the sign and instrument of divinity. His words mediate divine knowledge and will in human language. His hands mediate divine touch through a human body. God could have saved us directly and sight unseen. The people at Cana could have asked the unseen God for help, rather than going to Jesus through Mary. But God chose to use visible instruments and they followed His lead.
That is something He still does today. God still invites us to intercede for each other’s needs. He allows us to draw our family and friends into our prayers by asking the saints to intercede for our intentions. He remains incarnate in His Son as the Mediator. And that Son chooses to make the sacraments the ordinary means of His extraordinary activity.
If last week, at the Jordan, we saw the beginning of the Sacrament of Baptism, so this week, at Cana, we see the beginning of the other sacraments. Jars of water, used by the Jews for the ancient rites of ablution, and bottles of wine, used for Passover blessings and weddings toasts; for Christians these hint at Baptism, the ultimate rite of purification, and the Holy Eucharist when ordinary wine is divinised.
Two sacraments are hinted at, then, but in the context of a third: marriage, another part of ordinary life, like washing and drinking. By involving Jesus and His Church of Mary and the disciples, marriage too is given a new ontology and significance: it becomes the Sacrament of Matrimony, a new site for discipleship and for miracles. Miracles, like the giving and forgiving of two very different people who like the Blessed Trinity of persons are in some sense also one; miracles like the birth of babies and their rebirth into the family of God as temples of the Holy Spirit. As ordinary water is made wine, and wine made the Blood of Christ, so the ordinary water of human friendship is made a permanent covenant between man and woman, between parents and child, and between all of them and God.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Feast of the Holy Family, Year C, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, Sunday 30 December 2012
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Everyone knows that Christmas is about families. It’s a time when children return to the nest or take it in turns hosting parents and in-laws; when several generations gather to celebrate and there’s plenty of my-how-you’ve-grown talk and reminiscing about Christmases past; where there’s special presents and carols, foods and drinks to help lubricate the interaction and ensure that all are happy.
But are they all happy? The fact is: depression and suicide rates go up at Christmastime, as lonely people feel the celebrations around them are like rubbing salt in the wound. Others experience personality clashes, tensions, long-nursed grievances, no-speaks, physical or emotional violence. There’s the sheer ordeal of preparations before and exhaustion thereafter. There’s pudding that didn’t cook through or pavlova that flopped or the gift that received at best a polite acknowledgement. For some the Christmas family gathering is a minefield around which they hope to negotiate survival at best!
To which we might respond: thank God for the Holy Family! At least they show us family life as it should be; if only we all lived like that. Well, maybe. The risk here is that our cribs and cards and carols so idealise and romanticise the Holy Family that they seem to have nothing to say to our less-than-perfect families. Yet consider the extraordinary way that family came to be: amidst shame and gossip the girl barely out of school marries an older man; there’s no sexual intimacy; only one child, who died before His time, and no grandchildren. Not a very Catholic family, you might say!
The importance of the Holy Family lies not so much in modelling ordinary family life as in bringing spiritual family life, in its redemptive dimension; and redemption, every Christian knows, is won not by sentimentality but by the cross. According to an ancient tradition the wood from the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden was utilised for Noah’s ark and the ark of the covenant; but by a strange course it was ultimately used both for the crib of Jesus in Bethlehem and for cross of Jesus at Calvary. Each time Jesus was laid on that wood, whether as a newborn babe or as man awaiting execution, He was naked and bloodied, fully immersed in the mess of every human life.
Our Gospel passage (Lk 2:41-52) shows that the life of the Holy Family was no bed of roses. In the background was Jesus’ bar mitzvah: if circumcision as a baby was like our Baptism, bar mitzvah at the age of 12 was like our Confirmation, completing His initiation into the People of God. We pick up that Jesus’ home life was a close one. Mary addresses Him today as teknon, which means my little one, despite His now having come of age. The term is full of tenderness in spite of her obvious anxiety; for every mother, perhaps, even an adult child is still her little one.
The report suggests that Mary and Joseph didn’t just call themselves Jews on the Bethlehem census form: they were regular church-goers. They brought Jesus up in the traditions of their religion, teaching him how to pray and worship, live and love. They taught him very well: for when He joins the theologians in the temple He ends up teaching them. The 12-year-old Jesus was precocious, perhaps, like Solomon who was aged 12 at the time of his famous judgment and Samuel who was aged 12 at the time of his first prophecy.
When Jesus tells Mary that God the Father’s business must come first, it sounds cheeky to us, even unfeeling, typical of an adolescent asserting his independence. But He then readily returns home to live obediently with them till He’s 30, so He can hardly be categorised as a teen rebel! No, in this conversation Jesus was probably just quoting back their own words to them, as children often do, showing they already knew the reason for His disappearance. He was not a runaway; rather, He was doing as they had taught Him, putting His Father-God before all else.
So being a member of the Holy Family did not protect Jesus, Mary and Joseph from the trials of family life. Beneath the text of this story of Jesus’ vocation are the anxieties of parenting and perhaps even the tensions between generations. When the parents found him, Mary says they were odun-omenoi, in very grave anxiety. They were agonising over Him. The only other time this word appears in the Gospel, it is used to describe the suffering of Dives the rich man in hell. Mary is saying “you’ve put us through hell for three days” – just as she’d been warned He would at the presentation in the temple.
So even the Holy Family was not spared the anguish of soul, the uncertainty of about the future of children, the trial of faith and hope that are the lot of every parent and grandparent, relative and friend of a young one. Yet for all that, faith and reason convince us that the classical family ideal must remain foundational if we are to respect our own natures and flourish as individuals and communities. Families have their problems, as we have seen even the Holy Family did. Some might say they are only the least worst way of bringing up kids. Yet they are also the locus for so much that is best and most noble in human life: love, unity, forbearance, pardon, generosity.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Feast of the Holy Innocents, Year C, Our Lady of the Rosary Church, Kellyville, Friday 28 December 2012
Just before Christmas the Filipino parliament passed into law the Reproductive Health Bill. Instead of celebrating life at Christmas this particular Christmas present said life must be stopped, at any cost, even against God’s law. Bishops in the Philippines have expressed their concern about the rising culture of death even in that most Catholic of countries. Their own version of the culture of D.E.A.T.H. is D-for-Divorce, E-for-Euthanasia, A-for-Abortion, T-for-Total Population Control and H-for-Homosexual Unions for which they fear this latest law opens the floodgates.
Death propagandists within that country or lecturing it from outside claim that values-free sex education in schools and freely available contraception prevents sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies and abortions. Well, just look at Australia: we’ve tried those very experiments for decades and we now have huge abortion rates – more than 80,000 per year – huge rates of sexually transmitted diseases and the rest.
Look across the road to another country that till recently might have been thought to be most Catholic: Ireland. Following a tragic case of what some would say was medical mismanagement that led to a woman’s death, the government has announced that it will legalise abortion when a woman’s life is at risk, including not just medical circumstances but where a mother might be psychologically at risk of suicide. The four Catholic Archbishops last week issued a joint statement, explaining Catholic teaching that mother and child are both of infinite dignity and entitled to protection of law, and warning that this latest move ‘paves the way for the direct and intentional killing of the unborn child’. If countries like ours are anything to go by, such an emergency ‘exception’ leads very quickly to abortion on demand. For daring to question the culture of death the Archbishops have received death threats and the gardaí have warned them to be careful.
Cross the world again, this time to the not-so-Catholic but still-quite-Christian United States. There the newly re-elected President Obama remains determined to force most large employers, including Catholic schools and hospitals, to pay for health cover for their employees that includes pharmaceutical contraceptives, sterilisation procedures and ‘emergency contraception’ that may well be abortifacient. Again the Catholic Bishops have been outspoken about this attempt by the American government to force faith-based organisations to act contrary to their own consciences, facilitating and funding procedures contrary to Catholic teaching.
But perhaps most immediately heart-breaking of all, in that same country, an adolescent in the lead-up to Christmas shot 20 tiny tots, as well as some teachers, in Newtown, Connecticut. In a country that has gotten altogether too used to guns and to violence against the young, the answer of some people is to arm the teachers and even maybe the children.
Syria, Gaza or the abortuaries of Sydney, the story is the same. The slaughter of the innocents is all around us at the moment, as if Christmas is the particular target of the dark forces of this world this year. A young woman has just given birth, in far from ideal circumstances, and our modern world says to her: you silly woman, don’t you know how to avoid that? You’re too young to have a child. You’re not economically or politically secure. What you need is some Reproductive Health, some sex ed and condoms or abortion. Other women have also had children and the powers of this world are willing to kill them or do precious little to stop it. The story of the Holy Family, the story of the wailing women of Jerusalem, the story of Herod and his soldiers (Mt 2:13-18), is retold in every generation and loud and clear at the moment in our world.
So we might well ask: Christmas – all for what? With the benefit of two millennia of hindsight, did this birth really make any difference? Isn’t the sometimes noble, sometimes shameful Christian experiment now history, a spent force in a post-Christian world? Hasn’t it failed to make any real difference to the Middle East or to the rest of world? If the baby Jesus was really such a hit with our world, how could we merrily continue the slaughter of the innocents? How is it that Herod is still killing and Rachel and the other women still weeping?
Yet something about the Christmas story makes people stop and take stock. There is something compelling about this Baby and the claim that in Him God is now and for ever one of us and with us; that the Creator of the Universe is now also a creature of that universe; that ‘unto us a Son is born’, a God who has truly assumed our flesh, knows and loves us from inside, in all our humanity, our fragility, our immaturity, our pains, our failings?
Perhaps it is this: that deep in every human heart we want more, we dream of more, not just more of the same, not just more presents and food, money and power, comfort and security: for much as we might accumulate these things and good as they are, yet still our hearts crave for more … Any half-sensitive soul yearns to transcend the limitations of ourselves and our little worlds. Even in this most faithless of ages, people still hunger for some experience of that God whom St John tells us in our first reading is light for our darkness and salvation for our sinfulness (1 Jn 1:5-2:2).
The Conventual Franciscan friars with their Garden of the Immaculate, its Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes and Shrine for the Unborn, their monthly Mass for the Unborn, their pro-life youth group YMI, this annual celebration of the Holy Innocents, and the soon-to-be-completed Chapel for the Holy Mother and the Innocents, have made this parish of Our Lady of the Rosary a beacon of pro-life evangelisation and prayer in our region for two decades now. Here you proclaim that Christmas wisdom about the dignity of every human person and the evil of killing the innocent. Some of you have been regulars here over those years and some travel far to be here. Many of you have been workers and benefactors for these projects, including the new chapel and gardens, and for this I thank you.
I also thank Fr Joseph, Fr David, Br Dominic and the other friars who make this possible. The joint pro-life witness of priests, religious and laity allows us to dream that despite hostile forces, our world can change. In this New Year ahead, one of Faith and Grace, Christ’s enduring place in our history will be told most eloquently by the response that every single one of us makes to God’s call to faith, just as Mary’s total yes allowed Christmas.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Christmas Masses 2012, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
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A favourite childhood memory for me is listening to my grandparents’ LP of Bing Crosby narrating the story of The Small One – it’s now on YouTube. A Mexican priest overhears a young boy named Pablo berating his donkey for being stubborn, lazy and ungrateful. The priest explains that donkeys have a good reason for their pride. He tells him about another boy who long ago was sent by his father to sell the moth-eaten family donkey to the tannery. To save its life the crying boy tried to persuade people in the town to buy and keep the donkey for themselves, but no one was interested. He was near despair when a man named Joseph offered to buy the gentle old animal to carry his pregnant wife Mary to Bethlehem. So it was that donkeys became the envy of the animal kingdom and have ever since assumed a contemplative, oblivious, almost aloof posture: for it was one of their kind that witnessed the King of kings being born in a stable, that saw shepherds and wise men pay homage, and heard the angel-host through donkey’s ears.
As I was growing up the ox and ass also featured in our family’s olive-wood Christmas crib, on cards and more elevated sacred art, and in various carols. In What Child is This we wondered “Why lies He in such mean estate, where ox and ass are feeding?” But in Unto us a Child is born it was explained that “ox and ass their owner know, and in a manger cradled, and in a manger cradled”. In The Little Drummer Boy they were part of the performance: “Mary nodded pa rum pum pum pum, the ox and ass kept time pa rum pum pum pum.” Later I discovered Thomas Hardy’s poem The Oxen recalls the ancient legend that at Christmas midnight all oxen kneel as did the one at the first Christmas.
So where did this ox and ass thing come from and what does it say to us today? Well, the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah began his book noting that “The ox knows its owner and the ass its master’s manger” (Isa 1:3). So when the Christmas Gospel tells us that the baby Jesus was laid in a manger (Lk 2:1-14) it has long been assumed this trough was for feeding the ox and ass. In his recent book on the Infancy of Jesus Pope Benedict XVI notes that an angel stood either side of the Old Testament ark of the covenant – the wooden chest containing the mysterious presence, peace and commandments of God. In the New Testament we have a wooden crib instead of an ark and in it is the Real Presence, the Prince of Peace, the Will of God. So the donkey and ox are far more than schmaltzy Christmas decorations: they represent all creation attending and adoring. Here is a message for us: amidst all the busyness of Christmas, do we make space, do we give time, to attend to this great mystery and adore the God made baby?
There is more here too. Isaiah’s text says that the ox and ass know their Master but Israel does not (Isa 1:3). This echoes St John’s words [this morning] that when God came in the flesh to camp among them, His own people knew Him not (Jn 1:1-18). There are other hints of human incomprehension and worse. The baby is dressed in bandages like the dead Lazarus. His feeding box is like a coffin; the stable in a cave like His future tomb. There will again be two mysterious attendants when He rises from that tomb, in Luke’s telling of the Resurrection (Lk 24:4-7). All this reminds us not to over-sentimentalise Christmas: for there is tension, danger, sacrifice even amidst the joy of this season. A donkey carries the Christ-child in, in His mother’s womb; a donkey will one day carry Christ again, on the Palm Sunday of His Passion. In the meantime it must convey mother and child into Egypt as they flee Herod’s murderous attempt to slaughter all the little children.
Which brings me to last week’s tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, when an adolescent slaughtered 20 tiny tots. If the death of innocents challenges our faith and reason at the best of times, how much harder is it to make sense of the shooting or sexual abuse or neglect of little children. It is so morally confronting, so emotionally appalling, we hardly know what to think or say.
But as Blessed John Paul II once pointed out, to receive Jesus Christ is to believe that such evil and suffering are not the last word in the history of humanity. No, “the final word belongs to life and love, because God came to dwell among us [at Christmas], so we might dwell in Him.” If Christmas made donkeys and angels witnesses to miracles, how much more did it raise up human beings and give them cause to hope! No animal, no angel, can boast that God became one of them. But Christmas made human beings ‘little less than gods’ (Ps 8:5), for one of us is truly God and all of us are redeemed by His Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection.
To highlight this God-made-baby was placed in a feeding trough for ox and ass. He is the pack donkey who carries our sins and woes upon Himself. He is the farm ox with that heavy yoke, that bar or cross on His shoulders, of which Isaiah spoke [tonight] (Isa 9:1-7). He is the animal offered in sacrifice. But as Pope Benedict pointed out in his recent book, He is also the food in the manger. Christ offers Himself as spiritual food to those.
He redeems. So at Holy Communion you will make of your hands a manger, of your mouth a cave, in which to receive the Baby Jesus as spiritual food.
No angel, no animal, has ever had such an honour! But it was for us He was made small, made a baby, and so we now join ox and ass in kneeling before Him and in testifying to the Real Presence of God in our broken world. In John’s words [today] “we have seen His glory, the glory that is His as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:1-18). For this reason we dare to hope for salvation beyond the violence and abuse suffered by little children. For this reason we have the courage to work for a better Church and a better world. For this reason we have the nerve to dream of Glory to God in heaven and peace to people on earth. And for this reason we dare to sing even to the dead of the hope of eternal life that dawns at Christmas: “sleep in heavenly peace!”
Tags: Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP homilies Catholic Diocese of Parramatta
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Misa de Gallo, St Michael’s Church, Blacktown South, Monday 24 December 2012
On the face of it, the first reading was a strange one for the week before Christmas. It is the story of a king and a prophet discussing with God whether He’d like a temple built for Him (II Sam 7:1-16). The Jews were rather dubious about this: church-building was a pagan practice. In Abraham and Moses’ time they were semi-nomadic people not much given to erecting grand monuments. Even after they’d settled into city life they knew their God was with them at home, on the road, in their hearts. What need had they of churches?
Yet David was embarrassed to live in a great palace while only a tent was provided as a meeting place with God. So after some persuasion God says, “OK, build Me a posher place if you like.” He also promises David that this will make him famous, bring Israel peace and ensure his royal line continues. On the face of it these were rather rash promises: David’s fame did indeed spread, but for all the wrong reasons, such as his bloody wars, wife-stealing and other misdeeds. As for Israel’s peace, that was rarely in evidence, whether in ancient times or today. And as for David’s line, well: suffice to say, many of his descendants were no-hopers or worse, killing each other off with abandon, eventually losing the throne to other families and ultimately losing sovereignty to various empires. By the time King Herod rebuilt David’s temple, Israel was a puppet state of Rome, Herod a client king and no one seriously believed he was related in any way to King David. Indeed, his family were Johnny-come-latelies to Judaism.
So why this strange story on Christmas Eve? There is, of course, a link to the Gospel (Lk 1:67-79): filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah prophesies that the Lord God of Israel has come to rescue His people by raising up a Son for David after all these years. That Son will be born tonight: a shepherd boy in a rather different sense, a king in a rather different sense too, but of David’s line and in David’s city of Bethlehem, and through Him David’s fame and line will indeed last forever.
What’s more, the salvation so long promised to Israel is about to dawn, so that the children of God can now serve God in His Church ‘in holiness and virtue’ and be ‘guided in the ways of peace’. Perhaps most wonderfully of all, God has indeed been built a house. Not the old ark of the covenant, not the old tent in Zion, not even the twice built and twice destroyed temple in Jerusalem. No, the ark and tent and temple worthy of His presence is the pregnant Virgin Mary. Like no church before or since, she carries God within her, in the flesh. And after nine months God is ready to burst forth from His Holy Temple.
During the novena before Christmas Filipinos like to build up the excitement by celebrating the Simbang Gabi or ‘Cock-crow Masses’ culminating on Christmas Eve, today, with this Misa de Gallo. They’ve spread this devotion the world over, so that in some places the shop-keepers complain they clog up the streets, distracting people from the real point of Christmas: shopping!
I’m delighted that you have brought this custom to Australia and especially to what might be called the Diocese of Philippimatta, there are so many Filipino-Australians here. That you make space for God in the busy days of work, cooking, shopping, present wrapping and the rest is a tribute to your faith. That you draw Christmas out, not just to eight days after Christmas but for nine days before shows how much you love Christmas and its key message. That you often breakfast together afterwards indicates that you want to draw out the communion of Mass as well.
These are deeply Catholic instincts and we need them to be cultivated today more than ever. Many forces point us in other directions. I have already mentioned commercialism. In the Philippines right now there is another threat to faith and morals, indeed to life itself. The Reproductive Health Bill that was passed last week says the opposite of Christmas. Instead of celebrating life it says we must stop it, at any cost, even against God’s law.
Bishops in the Philippines have expressed their concern about the rising culture of death and the culture of DEATH … i.e. Divorce, Euthanasia, Abortion, Total Population Control and Homosexual Unions for which they fear this bill opens the floodgates. Propagandists for the culture of death claim that values-free sex education in schools and freely available contraception prevents sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies and abortions. Well, just look at Australia: we’ve tried those very experiments for decades and we now have huge abortion rates – more than 80,000 per year – huge rates of sexually transmitted diseases and the rest. Instead of following the lead of countries like the US and Australia where parenthood, family life and child are not sufficiently valued, Filipinos should be giving the lead. But now the propaganda of the anti-life West is aimed squarely at the Filipino family, at the very bedrooms and consciences of Filipinos.
Well, today the Blessed Mother is fat with child, very fat. She’s nine months pregnant. She’s about to give birth, this very night in fact. Do we say to her: you silly woman, don’t you know how to avoid that? You’re too young to have a child. You’re not economically or politically secure. What you need is some reproductive health, some sex ed and condoms! Or do we say: like you Blessed Mother, we want to say yes to God, yes with all our heart, all our life. Teach us how, Blessed Mother. Teach us how to reverence every human life, every baby, every mother, as an image of God. Show us how to bring God forth in our world.
Tonight and tomorrow we will celebrate the turning point of history, when God was shown forth as one of us in Jesus Christ, when God came down from heaven to earth in order to lead all of us on earth to Himself in heaven. As we complete today this Advent novena with the pregnant Mother and her ready-to-be-born divine Son, we give thanks to Almighty God that He would choose to make His Temple within her and amongst us.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - 4th Sunday of Advent, Year C, St Patrick’s Cathedral, 23 December 2012
What do you want out of life?
Amidst the hours spent not just in ordinary work and play, but at this time of year in car parks and shopping complexes, buying and wrapping the results, cooking, attending office parties, end-of-year work or school tasks, all the pre-Christmas hustle and bustle, it’s good to stop, at least for this one hour and ask: what’s it all for? What do I really want out of life?
Some of the things we may want out of life are perfectly reasonable: a certain level of comfort and security, satisfaction at home and work, friends and fun, rest and recreation, holidays and retirement. Some of the things we may want are unrealistic: perfect health and eternal youth, an unending series of pleasant experiences, endless wealth, everyone doing what I want, a permanent high without boredom, tension or hard slog.
At every Mass we ask God to deliver us from evil and keep us safe from distress, precisely because we know evils and distress are likely to come our way at one time or another, that people of faith aren’t exempt, that every human life has its challenges, some unbidden, others we bring upon ourselves, most unavoidable if we are alive. So to expect, by human effort alone, that we will be free from challenges or always comfie is unrealistic. And if some of our desires are unrealistic, others are plain unnecessary. We don’t really need a second flatscreen TV with the latest Blu-ray and quadrasonic add-ons: one is probably enough. We don’t really need the top deck cabin on the next Alaska cruise. Our eight-year-olds probably don’t really need an iPhone 5 …
There are deeper needs that should be at the top of our Christmas wish-list, at least what we ask from God. I do need to do something about that spouse or family member or friend or neighbour I’m feuding with or just growing apart from. I do need to do something about the fact that I don’t really pray anymore or not much or well. I do need help with my addiction to gambling, internet porn, custard tarts or whatever. I do need grace to manage my short temper or lethargy or prejudice. I do need, really need, to address my family life and friendships and faith; my health and character; my imagination, where I put my energies, whether I am making a difference.
Elizabeth in our Gospel had her wants and needs (Lk 1:39-45). She cried out to God from the emptiness her womb for the child of her dreams, and by God’s grace a child leapt in her womb. She cried out in her geriatric loneliness, and by God’s grace she was visited by the Mother of her Lord.
Mary, too, had her hopes and dreams. Like any normal girl, from childhood she had looked forward to her wedding day, her day as a princess, to a husband who would give her security and lots of children. No doubt she had prayed, as every Jewish girl prayed, to reach a ripe old age with her husband and be surrounded by grandchildren. None of this would happen for her! Instead there would be shame and insecurity as Joseph learnt he would be no ordinary husband to her, no ordinary father to her child. She would give birth in poverty, be told at the temple that the world was against her and her child, and flee with the Babe as refugees. She would agonise over Him lost and found as a boy, and more so as adult. She would endure early widowhood, the cruel death of her Son, no more children, no grandchildren.
So what is it you want, you need, out of life? What was life about for Mary? Only this: to be the handmaid of the Lord. To trust in Him, let Him lead her where He would, and then serve Him and others as best she could. This is a deep wisdom of Christmas: that what we most need is not power, wealth or consumer goods tied up with tinsel bows, but those things which make us truly flourish as human beings. And one of those deepest needs, to which we pay tribute today, is the need not be served but to serve.
This might sound rather strange. Service is, after all, focussed on those we help, not on us the helpers. Yet if we ask people involved with St Vincent de Paul, religious life, parish life or other service of God and His people, they often tell you they get far more out of it than they put in, in terms of personal satisfaction, getting closer to God and neighbour, growing in virtue.
Mary must have been gobsmacked like no one in history by the news that she would carry the Son of God. Rather than sit back and savour those words, that moment, Mary’s immediate response was to get up, pack, make her way through the hills, ready to be midwife to her more heavily pregnant and frailer relative Elizabeth. Time and again Mary had to pare back her wants to the simple questions: what do I really need, from God, from others? What do those around me really need? Mary would have to go far from the home of her dreams in order to find her true home. But on behalf of a hesitant humanity she says yes to all that: Yes, Let it be, Amen. She shows Elizabeth and all of us how to let God take control of our lives and put ourselves at His service and that of others.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Catholic Education Office End-of-Year Mass, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, Thursday 20 December 2012
Our readings today are also used in celebrating an important anniversary, no not the 25th anniversary of Catholic Education in the Diocese of Parramatta – important though that is – but the conception day of God, the anniversary of that day on which the Creator of the Universe became a creature within it, when the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity became a human embryo, when the Word was made flesh and blood. It is a mind-boggling thing to contemplate: what we celebrate with great joy nine months later, and in only a few days’ time.
As Christmas approaches, the Church recalls this scene of the Annunciation, the moment which marks the beginning of the enfleshment of the Word of God which will be manifested at the Nativity and the Epiphany. Mary has a special relationship to Christ and to us because she stands at a crucial point in the enmanment of God, and thus in our salvation. She is, after all, the mother of the Saviour, and uniquely so. Yet the gospels insist that any Christian is Christ’s mother, sister and brother, and that what matters most is not blood-relation but faith-relation: “Blessed is she who believed!”
In looking at Mary we see faith as it should be with us. To praise her adequately we do not need to list her exceptional characteristics or privileges — though it is natural enough for us to praise those too. Rather, what we appreciate most in her is what we share with her: the immense privilege there is in being a Christian. For at the heart of Mary’s common pilgrimage with us is her response of faith to the Angel: Fiat! Let what you have said be done unto me!
By serving the taking of our nature by the Son of God, she put herself totally at the service of the Incarnation. She is His mother and uniquely so: yet the Gospels insist that any Christian is the mother, sister or brother of Christ and what matters most is not blood relation to Him but a lived faith in Him: “Blessed is she who believed!”
To all of you who are here today, thank you, we owe you all a great debt of gratitude for the work, dedication and commitment you show in building our schools and preparing the young ones to flourish in every aspect of their lives.
You do this at a challenging time, while facing many real and pressing challenges: challenges of state funding cuts, challenges of uncertainty about the Commonwealth government’s plans, the challenges of the ‘vale of tears’ through which the Church is passing at present and will be over the several years of the Royal Commission ahead. Add these to the ordinary work of leading and supporting a major school system and Catholic Education today is no pushover.
2012 has been a year of focus on the New Evangelisation with a Synod of the Church world-wide on this subject and a major gathering in our own Diocese for leaders in Catholic education. The convention with Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès OP was a great success and it opened up various vistas on the question of the Role of Schools as Centres of the New Evangelisation. Given our cultural religious environment in Australia this is at least as challenging as the other matters to which I have already alluded. Five years after Catholic Schools at a Crossroads no one would pretend the tasks of enhancing the Catholic identity and life of our schools, enabling our students to achieve high educational standards across the board, including high levels of Catholic religious literacy and practice, and forming leaders and staff who will actively and creatively contribute to those goals have been completed. But as the state leaders in Studies of Religion in the HSC for 2012 we might just be getting something right!
To respond well in such a perplexing environment requires the faith, the trust, the ready-to-say-yes-to-God-no-matter-whatness of Mary. Her self-commitment did not magic all her problems away: far from it. It did not mean the future was clear for her, with all eventualities covered: quite the opposite. God promises Himself to sinful humanity and we proceed to crucify Him. Mary promises herself to serve the Incarnation and she becomes the Mother of Sorrows. She could not know what the future held, even though she knew Who held the future, and that was enough for her.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Mass of the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year C, with Rite of Installation of Rev Mathew Antony MS as Parish Priest, St Nicholas of Myra Church, 16 December 2012
Today is Gaudete Sunday. In the middle of a season of penitential preparation for Christmas and the End of Time, the Church, as it were, breaks out into laughter. It’s almost as if we are unable to take the dour purple of Advent seriously. The Church seems to be impatient, like a child eyeing Christmas presents under the tree, picking them up when no one is looking, shaking them, listening to them, knowing something good is coming. Hence my being Christmas wrapped in rose-coloured vestments today. Hence the joyful prayers and readings. As Paul puts it: “Happy! I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord, not anxious, so don’t worry” (Phil 4:4-7). Even John the Baptist, with all his scary talk of fires and threshing, ultimately announces ‘Good News’. Something wonderful is coming. We wait expectantly like the people described in the Gospel.
Some years ago there was a popular song Don’t Worry, Be Happy (1988). I don’t know if Bobby McFerrin knew he was quoting St Paul’s letter to us on Gaudete Sunday! But he was possibly influenced by a Christian culture. Not that Christianity looks at the world through rose-tinted glasses: far from it. Our God was tortured, beaten, humiliated, crucified. He was stripped of everything: His divinity, His human dignity, His comfort and success; stripped of His clothes, His friends, His life, even (so He felt) His God and Father. The God for whom we wait in Advent came and comes again to enter fully into the human mess.
That God knows that violence is real and loved ones die, some people are sick or lonely, some families damaged, some people lose jobs, businesses and hope. His Church continues to identify with and assist such people. That makes Christianity the most realistic of religions: it knows about the cross. The promises of our first reading (Zeph 3:14-18) were made to poor, broken-hearted captives who needed something to hope for. Our Gospel passage, too, is very realistic about the human muddle, with its references to violent soldiers, corrupt businessmen, judgment, hell-fire, sorting and threshing (Lk 3:101-8). The Baptist’s news is good precisely because some desperately need encouragement.
Yet in all this, the true Christian remains optimistic, not cranky, repressed or censorious. Fake Christianities hate the world, the body and associated vices such as partying and smiling! Our faith, on the other hand, calls us to “Shout for joy, daughter of Zion! Rejoice with all your heart daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord will come and dance with joy over you …” Like John we are supposed to be good news for the people around us.
Which seems to bring us to an emotional stalemate: how can we be thoroughly realistic, yet joyful at the same time; confident without clowning. Do Christians live a contradiction, with a sort of emotional split personality?
Enter our Advent saint, John the Baptist. Today we find him preaching against extortion, intimidation and selfishness, and muttering strangely about a Coming ‘Christ’, so different he’s unworthy to tie His laces and whose baptism will be so powerful it will be the answer to these things. For all his talk, the main thing John does, of course, is wait. He is an ever-patient saint. And his patience, Christian patience, is not about masochism or stoicism or weakness. He never hesitates to face evil head-on, chasten it and solve it. No, patience, we know is an aspect of fortitude or courage.
This week we buried a faithful Catholic policeman killed in the line of duty. It was for his courage that Detective Inspector Bryson Anderson was especially praised. Courage, St Thomas Aquinas’ teaches, is a real strength of soul, allowing people like Bryson to hold on tight to the good and true and beautiful despite the waiting, danger or pain.
That can be a bit alien in a modern consumer culture that expects a quick fix to anything that is unpleasant. Throw technology, government money, consumer purchasing power, whatever is necessary at it, just make things nice. When evils cannot be fixed we gape uncomprehending or rail like petulant children. But as DI Anderson’s death underlines for us: there are evils we cannot ‘solve’ in any simple, morally acceptable way, and that call for patient endurance, courage, sometimes even heroism.
Today we install Fr Mathew Antony ms as Parish Priest of St Nicholas of Myra’s Parish in Penrith. He is assisted by Fr Jose Manjaly ms. Originally from Kerala, that most Catholic part of India, Fr Mathew most recently served faithfully in our parishes at Quakers Hill and Riverstone. Despite his youthful energy he is an experienced priest, a former leader in his religious congregation, the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette, and this year he celebrates his silver jubilee as a priest with you.
Of course, he has a hard act to follow in Fr Chris de Souza whom I stole from you to be my Vicar General after Pope Benedict XVI stole Msgr Bob McGuckin from me. Father Chris still talks as if Penrith is the centre of the ecclesiastical universe. But I am told that Fr Mathew’s arrival has already made waves due to his buzzing social nature, and that sausage sizzles are now the order of the day. I don’t know if he is insisting on curried sausages in chapati bread – but his adaptation to the Aussie barbie shows what happens in the multicultural Diocese of Parramatta! I’m told you’ve already enjoyed various feast day celebrations, blessing of volunteers, carolling – you name it. Gaudete joy – and even the rose-coloured vestments of the Syro-Malabars – come very naturally to him. So he’s made a good start.
With the assistance of Fr Joe, Fr Mathew will now be responsible on my behalf for the worship, evangelisation and service in this area. In his priestly service he must sanctify you by prayer and sacrament, uniting himself and each of you to Jesus so that you experience the nearness of God (Phil 4:4). In his prophetic role he must proclaim in season and out the kingdom of God like John the Baptist, the Good News of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Church to you. I trust he will help to make this parish one of Advent hope, patience, courage, compassion.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year C (Gaudete Sunday), St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 16 December 2012
Last Wednesday we farewelled Detective Inspector Bryson Anderson from this Cathedral. He was by all accounts a policeman of the highest integrity and valour, killed in the line of duty. It was a solemn occasion, with dignitaries including the Governor, the Premier, the police commissioners of all the states and New Zealand, ministers of the Crown, thousands of police officers and members of the public. There was a very moving police escort of the coffin and hundreds of officers marched with the hearse. It must have helped the mourning widow, her three children, Bryson’s parents and two brothers, and his many police comrades and friends. But still there would have been a deeply personal grief which none of us can really share or alleviate.
In my homily that day I asked the questions: why do bad things happen to good people and why does God permit them? At some time or other we all carry a cross and must try to make some sense of evil. I will not rehearse what I said on Wednesday: you can look it up on YouTube or the web or the diocesan podcasts if you like. But today’s feast does, I think, dovetail nicely with those questions. You see: Advent looks forward not just to Christmas but to the End of Time and so it is the time for us to face the facts that we will all die, some tragically; that after death comes judgment; and that, in John the Baptist’s words to us this morning, some will be judged as mere chaff and thrown into the eternal fire (Lk 3:10-18). These are rather confronting realities, yet in the middle of this lesson the Church, as it were, breaks out into laughter.
It’s almost as if she’s unable to take the dour purple of Advent seriously. The Church seems rather like a child impatient for Christmas, eyeing the presents under the tree, picking them up when no one is looking, shaking them, listening to them, knowing something good is coming. Hence my being Christmas-wrapped in rose-coloured vestments today; hence the joyful prayers and readings. As Paul puts it: ‘I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord, not anxious, so don’t worry’ (Phil 4:4-7). Even John the Baptist, with all his scary talk of fires and threshing, ultimately announces ‘Good News’. Something wonderful is coming …
That God knows that violence is real and loved ones die, some people are sick or lonely, some families damaged, some people lose jobs, businesses and hope. His Church continues to identify with such people and assist them when it can. That makes Christianity the most realistic of religions: it knows about the cross. The promises of our First Reading (Zeph 3:14-18) were made to poor, broken-hearted captives who needed something to hope for. Our Gospel passage, too, is very realistic about the human muddle, with its references to violent soldiers, corrupt businessmen, judgment, hell-fire, sorting and threshing (Lk 3:101-8). The Baptist’s news is good precisely because some desperately need encouragement.
Yet in all this, the true Christian remains optimistic, not cranky, repressed or censorious. Fake Christianities hate the world, the body and associated vices such as partying and smiling! Our faith, on the other hand, calls us in Zephaniah’s words to “Shout for joy, daughter of Zion! Rejoice with all your heart daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord will come and dance with joy over you …” Like John we are supposed to be good news for the people around us, balm for broken bodies or hearts, liberation for those who feel trapped, hope for those who are demoralised.
Which seems to bring us to an emotional stalemate: how can we be thoroughly realistic, yet joyful at the same time; confident without clowning about the very real suffering in many people’s lives? Do Christians live a contradiction, with a sort of emotional split personality?
Enter our Advent saint, John the Baptist. Today we find him preaching against extortion, intimidation and selfishness, and muttering strangely about a Coming ‘Christ’, so different he’s unworthy to tie His laces and whose baptism will be so powerful it will be the answer to these things. For all his talk, the main thing John does, of course, is wait. He is an ever-patient saint. And his patience, Christian patience, is not about masochism or stoicism, weakness or sleepiness. No one ever called John a shrinking violet! He never hesitates to face evil head-on, chasten it and solve it. No, patience, we know is an aspect of fortitude or courage.
As we commended Bryson Anderson to our heavenly Father this week, the police force honoured him for courage under fire. Now courage, St Thomas Aquinas’ teaches, is a real strength of soul, allowing people like Bryson to hold on tight to the good and true and beautiful despite the waiting, the danger or the pain. That can be a bit alien in a modern consumer culture that expects a quick fix to everything unpleasant. Throw technology, government money, consumer purchasing power, whatever is necessary at it, just make things nice. When evils cannot be fixed we gape uncomprehending or rail like petulant children. But as DI Anderson’s death underlines for us: there are evils we cannot ‘solve’ in any simple, morally acceptable way, and that call for patient endurance, courage, sometimes even heroism.
Christmas is near. It seems to come around more quickly every year of our life until that time comes when Christmas, Easter and Pentecost will all be one continuous celebration, that time we call our life’s end and the End of Time. Each day we are one day closer to that, but in Advent it seems to speed up, as we press forward with Gaudete excitement. On the horizon is the Christmas babe, “joy to world”, Good News to the suffering, strength to the weak and weary. He is coming to join us in life’s struggles. He is coming to give heart to the downhearted and brokenhearted amongst us. He is coming to be crucified with the dying, that they might join Him in Paradise.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Funeral Mass for Detective Inspector Bryson Anderson, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta,Wednesday 12 December 2012
Any death is a loss. The death of a loved one before time is worse. A senseless, violent, innocent death is even more appalling. But a death in the line of duty hits us especially hard. Why is that?
Our word police comes from the Greek word polis, meaning the city-state, its citizens and civilisation. Police are appointed to keep order in the polis and protect persons and property. The word politician comes from the same root, for they too work for the people, with our bureaucracies and courts. Yet none of these is in the front-line the way police are.
We all shelter behind our police officers’ sense of law and order, their character and courage, their instincts, reactions, negotiating and other skills. Detective Inspector Bryson Anderson devoted his life to providing such shelter for his family, friends and community. He lived for this and this was a gift to us all; he died for this and this affronts us all.
His fellow officers also mourn his passing, as Commissioner Scipione testified. I first got to know the Commissioner and his people in the lead-up to World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008. It was a time when hundreds of thousands of youth threw them kisses and told them God loved them and they loved them. If only it was always so!
One such beloved of God and people was described in our first Scripture reading today (Wisdom 4:7-15). Being virtuous, untarnished and God-pleasing, the man in that passage was ready for God sooner than most.
Bryson’s fellow officers tell me he was such a man, and that his integrity inspired them. That his death has left them in shock is a sign of that bond within the police family said to be as thick as blood.
Of course, policing was literally in Bryson’s blood, as his father and brother both served in the force, Rex for many years here in Parramatta. When I saw Donna and the family after the terrible news, there were policemen present as if they were his own brothers.
Such a death must make all officers aware of their own mortality, must bring to the surface daily anxiety for the safety of the public, their comrades and themselves, and so too for beloved spouses who might be widowed or children orphaned. But it also brings out into the open their fraternity and courage.
Thousands are here today to pray for Bryson and the Anderson family, to share in their natural sorrow and supernatural hope. But proud as they must be and however comforted by our presence, they still have the very personal grief of ones who’ve lost husband, father, son and brother.
Perhaps they are asking themselves: How could an argument over a bird cage end so horribly? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God permit such things? Well, God could have made us robots, obedient to His every command. Instead He took the great ‘gamble’ of making us free, able to choose good or evil.
He does everything to persuade, encourage, inspire us to live lives of service and self-sacrifice. Some of us do. Most of us try. Some don’t. When bushfires, floods or other natural evils hurt innocent people, we know that these are part and parcel of a world that is beautiful and bountiful but has its own law and order.
The real mystery for us is man-made evil: why human beings do terrible things to each other, why they misuse the godlike gifts of freedom and intelligence. Like those in our first reading, we “look on uncomprehending”.
Few of us will face death by an assailant’s knife or have that happen in our family. But when our own crosses come, we too must try to make some sense of it. In Jesus Christ, we believe, God fully embraced our human condition, including His own violent death as an innocent man before his time.
Why was it necessary for Christ to suffer? Because that was where humanity was. To redeem us, He had to go where we are. So God became a real human being, with friends and enemies, hopes and fears, who wept for His dead friend Lazarus, and later cried out tired, frightened, abandoned.
God in Jesus Christ is the great realist: no evasion, no false front, no easy escape; no pretending away the sin of the world or the suffering of ordinary lives. But He did what any man, any God-made-man, could do.
The problem of evil drives some to atheism, some to despair. But it draws some to the Crucified One, to unite their sufferings with His, as He united His whole being with them at Christmas and beyond.
This doesn’t ‘magic away’ all that is unpleasant; we may still ache that someone we love has been stolen from us. Our hearts may be troubled as Jesus’ was (John 12:27, 13:31). But in time faith can bring new perspective, the courage to face the human condition, the grace to grow through this stage of our life, and compassion for others who suffer also.
Any faith or philosophy worthy of us must face evil straight on. Every police officer knows this. Euphemisms and positive thinking will not do; neither will glorifying evil or emptying it of its mystery. From the side of the Crucified God flows the blood and water of human life and death. But from there, too, flows hope for every hurting heart, every fragile person, even for the dead.
2012 is the sesquicentenary of the New South Wales Police Force and was supposed to be a year of celebration for them. Yet it began with the killing of Senior Constable Dave Rixon and ends with the killing of Detective Inspector Bryson Anderson. He is the 14th to be killed on duty since 1980. Death is no respecter of office, rank or character.
And so this week a family, a force, a whole state join Christ in His Passion. We are joined with Him in His mortal combat with evil: proposing the good and beautiful and true to all; preventing violence and injustice where we can; comforting the victims, those who suffer for justice’s sake and those who mourn them.
In our Gospel passage, Christ called Himself the Way, the Truth and the Life for every troubled heart (John 14:1-6). His life offers us the way, as it did to Bryson, the way of justice, mercy and peace. Christ’s death offers us the truth, as it did for Bryson, the truth about human fragility and promise, freedom and intelligence for good or evil. And His Resurrection offers us the life, as it does for Bryson, life eternal for every noble soul.
2012 should have been a year of celebration for police officers and still it should be: a celebration of what is most worthy in the force and in those who bring it credit. It should have been a time of pride and joy for the Anderson family: that will come later, as they treasure what Bryson gave to them and to us all.
But for now: “We seem to be giving Bryson back to you, O God, who gave him to us. Yet, as you did not lose him in giving him to us, so we do not lose him by his return. For you do not give as the world gives, O Lover of souls: what you give you never take away … For life is eternal, and love immortal, and death is only an horizon, and the horizon is no more than the limit of our sight.
Photo Gallery: Funeral Mass for Detective Inspector Bryson Anderson
Tags: Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP Homilies Catholic Diocese of Parramatta
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Graduation Mass, Campion College Australia, Old Toongabbie, Wednesday 12 December 2012
In this Mass of Thanksgiving we have much to be grateful for: for the academic year just past, the graduations we will witness, the leadership of the College past and future, and the enthusiastic support of benefactors and friends. Above all, as a Catholic College, we give thanks to Almighty God for the gift of His Son whose Advent we now celebrate, whose coming has raised us to the dignity of the children of God, and who showers us with so many gifts including human intelligence and the opportunity for a broad and deep education given here.
Such grateful reverence for God is traditionally called pietas. To modern ears piety is about old ladies saying the rosary. But as St Thomas Aquinas articulates it – and as usual he does so best of all writers – it is about a grateful reverence to God, ancestors, country, Church and teachers. If little old ladies are good at expressing that in their devotional lives, good on them. But piety is every bit as much for young ones like our graduands!
Pietas is a virtue alien to an age marked by theoretical and practical atheism, that glorifies youth and demeans the elderly, that values vogue over tradition, is ambivalent about patriotism and cynical about churches and other social institutions, and expects teachers will always pass us rather than challenge us too much. But Campion is not like that. It is aware of a longer and deeper Catholic and Western wisdom about these things. What’s more, it is situated in one of the most multicultural regions of the world, and so acutely aware that there are other wisdoms than that of Western secular modernity.
For many Asians, for instance, filial piety is close to the highest virtue. Earlier this year, an updated version of the 12th Century Chinese manual, 24 Exemplary Stories of Filial Piety, was published. The original version offered young readers inspiring stories of filial devotion for inspiration and imitation. An eight-year-old boy offered himself as a human sacrifice during the summer months for swarms of mosquitoes so his parents would not be bitten. A young man stripped off his clothes and used his body to melt the winter ice so he could catch fresh carp for his stepmother. A bureaucrat held his nose and tasted his father’s stool to check for symptoms of illness, while a woman used her breast milk to feed her toothless grandmother.
Now I am not recommending these practices to our graduands today! You have other ways, I trust, to demonstrate reverence and gratitude to your families, God, country, Church and college. I hope they are more genuine than the examples given in the updated version of the Chinese book. The new stories of filial piety are of listening patiently to your parents telling the same old stories, visiting them during the holidays when you are free, and teaching them the internet – which was certainly not in the medieval original.
Li Li, spokesman for the government-funded group behind the new version, said it “reflects the spirit of the old text, but also our new society. We felt the need to do an update because the old version is simply impossible to live up to.” True enough, I suppose, but I wonder if the new 24 Exemplary Stories don’t demonstrate a radical reduction in piety, not just a translation.
Where to start on real piety? We all at some time have seen a natural wonder, such as the Milky Way in the country at night or a newborn baby, especially our own. We have had that experience of open-mouthed awe, wonder, humility, delight in the goodness and beauty and sheer undeserved gift of it all. Even people who never lighten the door of a church say they experience something like reverence at such times.
Now, when we make that emotion a choice and habit it is the beginning of pietas and at the heart of all true worship. We wonder at and give thanks for our birth and rebirth in Baptism, the gift of our fellows, our lives in this bountiful if broken world, the heaven we are promised and taste even now. We are led, St Thomas observes, to give thanks to God as the source of that being and those blessings and from Him to all who have mediated them to us – those who’ve gone before us, marked with the sign of faith; those giants upon whose shoulders we stand, who made our Church and country and civilisation, those to whom we owe so much that is good in our institutions, traditions and beliefs.
It also includes those who brought us to where we are today: the leaders, staff and benefactors of this college; our parents and others who have assisted our attendance; our fellow classmates: all of whom have played their part in helping us expand our being and develop intellectually, morally, socially and spiritually.
. . .
We give thanks today for the 17 who will graduate and take to the world knowledge, skills and talents nurtured in this unique college. Campion has immersed you in a long and valuable tradition of learning; and through you offered that to Australia.
We give thanks also for the year past: the teaching, learning, worship, pastoral care, sport, dancing, formation, debating. We are proud of the continuing links of this College to the diocese, to East Timor, to World Youth Day and more. And I know the College has exciting plans for growth in enrolments, offerings and facilities so that there will be even more to be thankful for in the future.
Today we also give thanks for the several years of leadership given by Dr David Daintree and we are excited that Dr Ryan Messmore will succeed him. More will be said of that later.
How are we to render worthy thanks to God, this College and our parents? We could try to translate Chinese piety traditions for modern Australia, with stories of young people swimming into the mouths of sharks to save their aunts or wrestling salt-water crocodiles while their father is fishing or offering up to God the ultimate sacrifice: abstinence from SMSes, Tweets and Facebook for the whole of Lent. Or maybe we could try something less dramatic, proposed in our Gospel passage today (Jn 15:9-17): telling God we love Him by keeping His commandments. In this way our pietas will be etched not just on tombstomes or iPads but on the fabric of our daily lives.
Of course, our tokens of thanks to God seem pitiful when we consider all we’ve received, from the entire cosmos to the present moment. We can never match the debit ledger of what He has done with credits on our side. And so like the parent who showers their child with Christmas gifts and also gives that child the gifts to give their siblings and parents, so God gives us even the gift to give Him. God gives us the only gift that adequately says Thank-you: Jesus Christ. He is what we render back to the Father, especially in the Eucharist, the great Please and Thank-you, and what we can also offer for our parents, college and benefactors.
Everyone is gifted, made in God’s image, celebrating all our dif-abilities, Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Mass for the Year of Grace Celebration for People with Disabilities and Special Needs, St Patrick’s Blacktown Parish, Sunday 2 December 2012
A few weeks ago a young Sydney Morning Herald journalist wrote an impassioned piece about the need people with disabilities have for relationships.
Because they are “human beings with human rights and human needs”, she explained, people with disabilities need access to … prostitutes.
Her article was occasioned by a true story recently told in the movie, The Sessions. Mark O’Brien (played by John Hawkes) is bedridden by polio and in an iron lung, and he seeks out regular contact with a ‘sex therapist’ (played by Helen Hunt).
The Herald journalist explained that such ‘services’ enable disabled ‘clients’ to open new ‘horizons’ and ‘sexual freedoms’. Though our journalist did not report it, before Mark O’Brien died he bemoaned the superficiality of those relationships he had had.
Around the same time another film was released, also based on a true story, The Intouchables. In this very funny and moving film a quadriplegic aristocrat, Philippe (played by François Cluzet) is cared for by an Afro-French ex-con, Driss (played by Omar Sy).
The contrast between this movie and the SMH-applauded alternative could not be more dramatic. In one raw and touching scene, Philippe discloses that after his wife died without bearing children he suffered a catastrophic paragliding accident. He then says that the thing that impairs him is not his disability, but being without his wife, lacking that real relationship.
What follows in the rest of the film (and I won’t reveal any secrets) is a beautiful tale of friendship, of other-centred love. It is a movie full of compassion and helps expand our moral imagination about the encounter with the sick, handicapped and lonely.
Our technological-therapeutic culture does not help expand our imaginations or compassion in that way. Instead, we are habituated to expect a quick fix for every problem – just plug in enough money, regulation, technology or whatever.
Whether it’s prostitution, drugs or even assisted suicide, those living with disability, and those caring for them, are offered what are no real solutions at all: relationships that are mirages, pharmacology that numbs all sensitivity, a ‘dignified exit’ that renders despair permanent. People with disabilities are treated as mere problems to be fixed or removed, rather than as people to be loved – thereby evading the intimacy we owe and need.
The time will come, says Jeremiah to us today (Jer 33:14-16), when at last you’ll see a virtuous descendant of David, a man of honesty and integrity, in whom you can have confidence.
At this time of shame for our Catholic community the credibility of our pastors has been compromised in many people’s minds. We crave more than ever for people of honesty and integrity to give us direction, people in whom we can have confidence. And we crave, in Paul’s words, for an increase in divine love and in love for each other and the whole human race (1 Thess 3:12–4:2).
Surely we have more to offer those living with disabilities than sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll, more than search-and-destroy abortion before birth and euthanasia afterwards. What is missing here is precisely what is yearned for in our Advent readings: moral imagination, divine grace and human relationship.
I’ve told a couple of stories today. There are many more told by those with disabilities and special needs who are with us today and those who care for them. These are real stories of suffering and struggle but also of joy and nobility – and of ordinariness too. They should not be sanitised or romanticised, exaggerated or underestimated.
When Jesus in our Gospel (Lk 21:25-28, 34-36) tells us not to be weighed down by dissipation, drunkenness and the cares of this life, it is not because He is unrealistic about our cares, but because He knows how they can distract us from so much that is good and true and beautiful about and around us.
Hence the theme chosen for this diocesan celebration in our Year of Grace: our diversity of gifts and potentials, of abilities and disabilities – what you might call our different abilities, our dif-abilities.
As we have faith in Christ so, in a sense, does He have faith in us: for He declares that we are capable of more, worthy of more, promised more, so much more than we often realise or even dare to hope. He declares unequivocally that we are images of God and that He has come that we might have life, life to full (Jn 10:10).
This calling to the fullest participation in everything that is good is for everyone. Some people do seem to fulfill their potential in this life; others seem to waste so much; and others again to be deprived of opportunities many others have. But the call to fullness of life, to integrity and love, is for all. Whatever their dif-abilities no one is left out. God’s grace is like that and God’s grace is enough.
Today we express our gratitude for the involvement of people of different abilities and particular needs, who grace our Diocese and our country. In talking of dif-abilities we repudiate the paradigm that defines people by what they are unable to do, by deficiencies from the norm, whether real or imagined.
Today we acknowledge that every one of us is an image of God, graced by that God, and that together, and only together, can we show forth the glory of that God in the diversity of His creation.
Today we also give thanks for the generosity, patience and perseverance of those who care for us, including those who care for us at home and those who work at Emmaus, CatholicCare’s Disabled Persons Social Services, and those in other projects such as the L’Arche community, the Ephpheta Centre, Mamre House and other ministries.
Today I ask every person in this parish and in our Diocese to open their hearts to those of differing abilities, to make space for them in our sanctuaries and pews, our homes and workplaces, our hearts and lives.
Today we consider how our Church can prepare, support and foster the full participation of people living with dif-abilities and diverse needs and their families in our community’s life.
The Advent season that we begin today is one of expectancy and hope as we look forward to Christ’s coming, and so we dare hope today for more and for better for all those living with disabilities and special needs.
Mass for the Year of Grace Celebration for People with Disabilities & Special Needs
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Homily for the Mass of the Solemnity of Christ the King with awards to various members of the Diocese, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, Sunday 25 November 2012
“Truth – what’s that?” (Jn 18:38) This was Pilate’s response to Christ’s revelation recorded in this morning’s Gospel (Jn 18:33-37), that He is indeed a king, if a rather unaccustomed kind of king, one whose subjects are those dedicated to truth. Pilate’s reaction is a chilling one, the retort of a bureaucrat sick of truth-claims that make people passionate for a cause and so more difficult to govern. It is the reply of a pragmatist, willing to condemn the innocent to keep the short-term peace, and avoid trouble from higher up the line. It is the rejoinder of a blindman, for Truth was standing embodied and bound before his very eyes.
It is the response of a cynic, disdainfully unconcerned about the reality of things and any deeper wisdom behind them. “The only certainty,” said Pliny the Elder a few years later, “is that nothing is certain, and nothing more miserable than man, nor more proud.” Though two ancients, Pilate and Pliny might have been champions of post-modernity, a culture in which no truth is worth living for, let alone dying for.
So the King of Kings is brought before the powers of this world and they know Him not. He comes before its citizenry and they cry out ‘Crucify him!’ Is He like Idi Amin, military dictator of Uganda, who gave himself new titles for breakfast, until he finally styled himself ‘His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Doctor Idi Amin Dada, Victoria Cross, DSO, MC, Conqueror of the British Empire’! Is Jesus’ kingship as empty as that? Where, after all, was He recognised as king?
Jesus’ answer today is mysterious: “My kingdom is not of this world; if it were, my own would be fighting for me”. His own, of course, had fled into the night and denied even knowing Him. Not much of a king this one, judging his army! “So are you really a king,” the bureaucrat presses. “Yes I am a king, I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth and all who side with Truth listen to me!” Pick your sides then Pilate. For Truth, Goodness and Beauty or for the Father of Lies, cynicism and pragmatism. Pick your kingdom, people of Parramatta.
What is truth? asks Power. This is Truth, answers Love. Not grand titles achieved by violence, not obedience imposed with blood. No: Christ’s is a kingdom of persuasion, discussion, ideas. Here Truth stands, right before our eyes, where some think truth too hard to find, articulate or hear; where some think truth too honest, prescriptive, challenging to live.
Here Truth reigns in our hearts, in that Kingdom called the Church, and like any kingdom it must have its head. Given the failures of our pastors at times, it is a mercy that the head of this show is Sweet Jesus Himself. It is for His sake that we stick by the Church, to hear His truth that we open wide our ears. But because He builds His kingdom of ordinary men and women, we must have that humility in learning we call docility and that humility in teaching we call tradition. These are the virtues in the Kingdom of Truth: a willingness always to listen to Christ’s voice in Scripture or Tradition, in the heart of prayer or the lives of the saints; a willingness, in turn, to pass on what we have received, to teach, evangelise, witness.
The ancient world knew all sorts of leaders, as we do. In just a few weeks’ time we will hear of another one: Octavian Caesar Augustus who “issued a decree for a census of the whole world to be taken”. No doubt it was for tax purposes: for Augustus was the one who extended and integrated the empire so it might survive for centuries. His was the Pax that brought troublesome little countries like Israel to heel, at least for a little while. His were the new roads that transformed the world with swift and safe transport of armies, people, goods and mail. Yet behind the Augustan Peace was a lust for power and a willingness to kill for it. According to Anthony Everitt’s biography, Caesar Augustus was devious, untrustworthy and bloodthirsty. In due course he even condoned a cult to himself as a God.
Christianity proposed a rather different candidate for Universal King. He did not come to raise an army or tax a people or build roads in the ordinary sense: His army would be saints and angels, His tax the light burden of His way of life, His roads would be bridges built between peoples, hearts, God and man. Rather than violence to impose His will He preached the Sermon on the Mount. Rather than sumptuous banquets in imperial palaces He ate with nobodies and healed the wretched. His was a kingdom in men’s hearts and His peace was divine presence.
Today He stands in the Court of Pilate before the bar of this world. His kingdom is obviously not of this world. Pick your sides Pilate; pick your sides people of Parramatta.
Today at St Patrick’s Cathedral we engage in the rather royal act of conferring honours – medals for some who’ve served with great distinction. There will be two papal and 23 diocesan awards. Pilate’s wreath was in recognition of power achieved; these ones will receive medals not for power but for service.
Some people think service is a servile or demeaning thing, the blind and anxious obedience of a slave.
But the King of Kings came “not to be served, but to serve” and it is as His royal family that we recognise these ones today.
Some have served for many decades in liturgical ministry, education, catechetics, RCIA, hospital chaplaincy, pastoral work, bereavement support, sacramental programs, social justice, St Vincent de Paul Society and other charitable works, youth work, sacristy and housekeeping, or in promoting Catholic literature, history, technology, music or the arts.
In the beautiful Preface to our Eucharistic Prayer today we sing of Christ’s eternal and universal Kingdom as “a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace.”
Go to Papal Honours and Diocesan Medals of Honour 2012 Photo Gallery
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Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Ordination to the Diaconate of John Paul Escarlan, St Michael’s Blacktown South Parish, Friday 23 November 2012
I welcome you to St Michael’s Church for the Ordination to the Diaconate of John Paul Escarlan.
I know his proud parents, Paul and Paloma Escarlan, his siblings including Sheryl and Paul Jude and their families would love to be here. Fortunately, his youngest sister, Maria, with her husband Alvin and son Paul, came all the way from Christchurch, NZ. Other relatives have I believe come from Canberra and Melbourne and we thank them for joining us.
Other significant people here tonight for John Paul include many who have encouraged him in his vocation, including priests and parishioners of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish at St Marys, St John the Evangelist Parish at Riverstone, the Ephpheta Centre for Deaf and Hearing Impaired People, St Nicholas of Myra Parish at Penrith, and the parishes of St Patrick’s at Blacktown and St Michael’s at South Blacktown in which in turn John Paul has worked over the past several years. I thank you for the part you have played in his formation.
Likewise, we thank the Rector, Fr John Hogan, and faculty of Holy Spirit Seminary, the teachers of the Catholic Institute of Sydney, and John Paul’s fellow seminarians for helping preparing John for this day.
Conscious of the call to each of us to service, we repent of our failures and ask God for pardon and peace.
“So, what do you do?” It’s the great conversation starter between strangers, as they navigate the delicacies of communication with someone whose temperament and history is unknown, indeed when you’re not even sure if you are sitting beside a terrorist. Once we know what a person does, you’ve got some sense of who they are: Jane writes, she’s a journalist; Nguyen flies planes so he’s a pilot; Jemima cares for her children, she’s a mother.
So people ask, naturally enough: what is it deacons do? The same things as altar boys, seminarians and acolytes, just in fancier gear? Are they mostly seminarians having a brief stopover in the Singapore of Diaconate on the way to the Rome of Presbyterate? Or are they mostly older men, married with grown-up kids, with a bit of time on their hands to help out? What do they do that lay people don’t? What can’t they do that priests can? We know they do baptisms, marriages and funerals, so are they specialists in sacred hatch, match and dispatch? They preach sometimes, but they’re not supposed to outshine the priest.
These are reasonable questions, but they have things back-to-front. Function revolves around nature, not vice versa – as John Paul knows from his studies of metaphysics. If you want to know what an animal is, you look at what it does, sure enough; but in the end what it does depends on what it is.
Of course it’s by our activities that people most easily get to know us. If you ask a girl you’ve just met to articulate her deepest ontology you might get a slap across the face; I’m told by those more expert in these things it’s best to ask her what she does. But that’s only as an entrée to getting to know someone and we are more than our jobs.
There are things that run deeper like our natural humanity and baptismal divinity, our personality and relationships, our core values and beliefs. Function revolves around nature, activity comes from ontology: we only do the things we do because we are the sorts of beings we are.
So what, deep down, are deacons? Recently, we have been celebrating the golden jubilee of the Second Vatican Council. It was that Council that decided to reinvigorate the ancient order of deacons, reinstituting the Permanent Diaconate and giving a fuller theology to those like John Paul who are deacons on the way to priesthood. Even so-called ‘transitional’ deacons are deacons for ever, as are all priests and bishops, and so we need to understand what they are.
The Council reminded us that there are three degrees of Holy Orders, three sharings in the priesthood of Christ, that go back to apostolic times: deacons, priests and bishops. Other offices and titles like acolyte, sub-deacon, monsignor and cardinal come and go: they may be useful but are not essential to the nature of the Church. But deacons are a permanent feature of the Church and the Church is not fully herself wherever deacons, priests or bishop are lacking.
The Greek root of the word deacon is a way into what a deacon is. Διάκονος means servant, waiter, minister or messenger. Again, you might say, these are jobs, but the core concept is service and as every newbie employee at McDonalds can tell you, this is an attitude, a commitment, not just a task.
In tonight’s Gospel Jesus says we must avoid any kind of clericalism or misuse of sacred power by lording it over others; greatness comes through service, through self-giving, just as He came not to be served but to serve and to give up His very life for others (Mt 20:25-28).
So whatever it is that a deacon is called to do – to preach at Mass, take Viaticum to the dying in a hospital, assist the bishop in the chancery, organise charitable works, or even hatch, match and dispatch sacramentally – whatever he is doing, he is first and foremost about service.
Recent popes have called deacons “the Church’s service sacramentalised”, “a driving force for the Church’s diakonia” and “living signs of the servanthood of Christ’s Church”. The gift and calling of the deacon, then, is not for his own sake but for building up the Church in particular ways.
Even more clearly than other Christian ministers, deacons must demonstrate Christ’s exitus and reditus, His descent from heaven to become the servant of all, especially of sick and suffering humanity, before His return to the Father in glory.
In their active involvement in the community, their outreach to the poor and marginalised, and their fostering of Eucharistic communion, deacons sacramentalise the Church’s service. By calling and ordaining deacons the Church is saying something fundamental: that service is at the heart of the human and divine mystery. And that is the spiritual gift to which Paul refers when he exhorts Timothy not to waste what he received when the bishop laid hands on him (I Tim 4:12-16).
Despite all the talk of customer service today, the fact is that putting yourself at the disposal of others is rather counter-cultural. But perhaps because they are so Catholic, Filipinos seem quite comfortable with the idea and we see Filipinos all around the world engaged in service of various kinds. Their culture understands that autonomy is not the highest value, that getting your own way is not happiness, that there are things that matter more than being big in this world’s estimation. John Paul tells me his family is devoted to public service, so he has had that example from childhood.
Again, when St Paul tells us today that young Christian ministers must be examples of Christlike love, faith and purity, it might elicit a snigger in our cynical Western culture. But Filipinos know exactly what this means. So I am pleased today to introduce another Filipino-Australian to the Order of Deacons in this Catholic Diocese of Parramatta.
My son, these are hard times to start down the path of ordained ministry in Australia. Some shepherds have let down their flocks, especially the lambs, abandoning them in their need or even preying upon them. We are ashamed, we are chastened, we are determined to do better in future. What we need right now are new examples of Christlike diakonia, of active faith, love and purity, of pouring out self in service of God and His people. We need you to identify yourself completely with Christ, the greatest servant of humanity, and to imitate the best in the clergy who have gone before you, whether in the Philippines or Australia, whether in your childhood or your formation years in our seminary and diocese, and in turn give the rest of us the example of your youthful idealism. Now, more than ever, the People of God need to be reassured that their clergy are totally devoted to the service of God and His people.
You are about to be ordained deacon. From tonight you will be a servant of the altar, assisting at Mass, distributing the Blessed Sacrament, and presiding at various Sacred Liturgies. You will be a servant of the Word, proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, preaching, instructing and forming His people. And you will be a minister of charity, facilitating and being involved in outreach to the most needy. Be those things for us now, when the Church in Australia is on her knees and needs new inspiration, new example. Be a ‘sign of contradiction’ that tells our age of Christlike purity, fidelity and love.
Go to Mass of Ordination to the Diaconate of John Paul Escarlan Photo Gallery
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Mass of the 32nd Sunday, Year B, with Installation of Fr John McSweeney as Parish Priest of St Patrick’s Parish, Parramatta, and Dean of the Cathedral, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, Sunday 11 November 2012
Listen to this Homily at Bishop Anthony's iTunes Podcasts
A small boy once observed his mother put a dollar on the collection plate at Mass. On the way home from church he heard her criticising the poor homily they’d heard. “But Mum,” said the boy “what can you expect for a dollar?”
Jesus sits in judgment today (Mk 12:38-44), happily not on the standard of the homily, but on our generosity. He sits opposite the chancery, like a magistrate, and unwittingly the great and the good, as well as a poor widow, come before Him for judgment. A woman puts two mites on the plate. St Mark’s Roman audience didn’t know about mites, so he had to explain they were the equivalent of Roman halfpennies. That would normally be regarded as a shamefully niggardly donation and so Jesus must defend the woman. She’s given what she could, He explains.
Sometimes in life we can honestly say we’re doing our best, even if others don’t appreciate it. It might be in some relationship or workplace or sport. People are different – physically, psychologically, emotionally or financially – and can only give so much. To demand more can break them, break their bank or health or spirit. It’s setting them up for failure.
Some people imagine God does that. He lays down laws impossible to fulfil and then condemns people to hell for failing. But sound philosophers point out that ought implies can: it makes no sense to say we should do something unless choosing it is a real possibility. It is absurd to say “you ought to be 5m tall” or “you should eradicate world poverty by dinner time”.
Supporting this philosophical insight is a theological one: the God we meet in Jesus Christ is not like a boy pulling the wings off flies. He doesn’t cripple us, demand the impossible and then laugh when we fail. No, God is ambitious for us and so wills that we be all that we can be, with His help; but God is benign and so requires no more than this.
When Jesus judges us, it is not by some impossible-to-attain standard, but by the standard of what we reasonably could know and do. We are often harder on ourselves or each other than He is. Sometimes we expect politicians or doctors or athletes to fix things they can’t and then blame them when they fail. Sometimes we blame ourselves when we really couldn’t have known or done better. Jesus is not like that. He will not judge the woman for giving little, when she couldn’t give more; instead, He praises her for doing what she could. God never asks the impossible of us.
Some of you might recall a TV series, Secret Millionaire, with voice-over by Russell Crowe. Channel 9 called it “a dramatic new psychosocial documentary that takes viewers out of their comfort zones and into the heart of Australian social issues.” In fact a few very wealthy Australians played pauper for a few days and then gave a five figure sum to an indigent they deemed deserving.
I wonder what Christ would have said if, instead of sitting watching the temple treasury, He’d been watching unreality TV. He might have said: ‘well that’s certainly better than nothing. Maybe it’s only the tip of the iceberg of what some of those guys give. It sets a good example to us all. But millionaires don’t even miss those few thousands. Such patronage is minuscule compared to the poor widow.’
If God never asks the impossible, He does ask the possible and as the woman in our First Reading discovered (I Kg 17:10-16), that’s often more than we credit. Too often we sell ourselves short – spiritually, morally, physically, financially. We set the bar low and so do less than we really could under grace. Earlier in Mark’s Gospel a rich young man thought Jesus was asking too much when He suggested being as generous as the widow. Idealistic as the young guy was, he couldn’t imagine life without his own car and i-gadgets. I suspect that like that young fellow we often ask too little of ourselves.
Australians can be very generous. We pay our taxes. We volunteer for various good causes. We support churches and charities. Bushfires at home or tsunamis abroad elicit big donations. On Remembrance Day we recall that some even give their lives. Yet overall we give less than one-third of 1% of our national income each year to needy countries in a world marked, in Pope Benedict’s words, by “the scandal of glaring inequality”.
God’s giving is more lavish: like a father who throws a lavish feast for his delinquent son’s return; like a mother who throws a party over a lost-and-found coin; like a widow who goes to church and empties her purse. God’s generosity is big enough to create and sustain the universe. And still He gives more. He empties Himself, His whole wallet, to take on human life, even unto death, death on a cross. In turn, He asks us to do the possible and empowers us to do what might seem to us impossible. He asks us to expand our imaginations about just how generous we could be. By God’s grace we can do great things, with our money and minds, our time and opportunities, our hearts and lives.
In our epistle we heard about Christ our heavenly high priest and His earthly priests (Heb 9:24-28). Today we install Fr John McSweeney as Parish Priest of St Patrick’s Parish and Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral. Unlike some secret millionaires he has often been taken out of his comfort zone over the years, most recently in Glenbrook where he had the “baptism of fire” of a terrible train disaster soon after he arrived. I wasn’t planning any such challenge for him here, but sadly his father died while visiting him at the presbytery only days after he arrived. I know he would have loved to be here today, as would John’s mother who died a few years before. I have called him to my side to build on the great work of former Dean Wim Hoekstra, and to work to make this an even more vibrant, welcoming, saint-making parish. That will require more than the crumbs of secret billionaires: it will require that He give his all, as the widow did, as Christ did.
Instead of blue-eyed mountain people he will now be plumb in the middle of multicultural Australia, which may suit a priest with several modern and classical languages. I invite each of you to coach him in your first languages as well – we know there are more than 150 languages spoken in the Diocese of Parramatta and I’d like the Dean to learn them all!
With respect to this Cathedral I have appointed Fr John as dean, rector or administrator of the cathedral; with respect to this parish he will be Parish Priest, responsible on my behalf for the worship, evangelisation and service here – along with Fr Andrew Bass, the Assistant Priest. In his priestly service Fr John must sanctify you by prayer and sacrament. In his prophetic role he must proclaim the Gospel and the teachings of the Church to you in season and out. In his shepherding he must give all of himself as our readings today commend – rather than assuming postures of self-importance, making a show of himself or exploiting others, as Jesus condemns (Mk 12:38-44).
But he cannot do this all by himself. Together, priests and people, can achieve far more than any one could do alone. To strengthen Fr John for his new task we will now pray the formal Rites of Installation. They are a useful reminder to us all not just of his mission but also of yours. I ask you, of your mercy, to keep praying for and supporting Dean John McSweeney, as he prays for and serves you.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Mass celebrating 90 years of St Gabriel’s School, Castle Hill, with blessing of new garden, Sunday 4 November 2012
Listen to this Homily at Bishop Anthony's iTunes Podcasts
It’s a trick question really: which is the most important commandment (Mk 12:28-34). The Jews found 613 divine laws in the Word of God. Moses offered the Readers Digest version in his 10 commandments set in stone. The first stone rule book covered God and the things of God: it’s about God coming first and worshipping Him especially on the Sabbath (for Catholics, principally by coming to Mass on Sunday) and against idolatry and blasphemy. The second tablet of the law is about human beings and human things: reverence for parents and authority, life and health, marriage and sexuality, property and truth.
So asking Jesus to pick just one big commandment was a trick. If He picks one from the first tablet of the law – the God commandments – people will say: He’s just another religious fanatic; He doesn’t really care about ordinary people’s concerns; He’s big on temples and prayers and all that stuff, but you can’t feed starving children on prayers; and people who always put God first end up zealots, intolerant, even terrorists.
But if Jesus picks one of the commandments from the second tablet – the people commandments – then they’ll say He’s a secular do-gooder, a proto-Marxist, an activist, with no real sense of God and divine mission. And whichever commandment He picks we can be aggrieved about the others He has neglected and it will prove He’s obsessed with sex or money or power or whatever.
Jesus’ response is very clever. They ask for one commandment, He gives them two. But not two that leave eight behind. No, two that sum them all up: love God totally and your neighbour as yourself. Jesus taught that lesson by His whole life and death. Both kinds of love – divine and human– both kinds of life – divine and human – mattered enormously to the One who is the perfect union of both. And God and humanity mattered so much to Him that He was willing to die in obedience to His Father-God and for the sake of sinful and suffering humanity.
The Cross of Christ tells us more. It gives Christian love a particular shape. The vertical dimension points us up to God and the horizontal axis towards our neighbours. Both are essential: if either is missing there is no cross, no Christian love. Secularists might do good, communists might love their neighbours, activists might be into justice and ecology, but if the vertical dimension of love of God is missing it’s not Christian love and may well go in all sorts of directions that ultimately undermine even human love.
So too, some people may be so caught up in their religious devotions as to forget neighbours, family, the needy. This, too, insist St John and St James in their letters, is not Christian love and takes us in directions that undermine the love of God. Saying ‘God bless you’ to a starving person when you could be feeding them is little comfort to them; but it is also evasion of responsibility, of love of both God and neighbour.
Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical was on love and he spent the first half exploring the meaning of Christian love, especially love of God, and the second half how this is expressed in worship and practical service. But, we might say, does love really need to be proved like that? Doesn’t talk of commandments suggest a kind of forced, inauthentic love? Surely if we really love, we don’t need a rule book, don’t need to be told to go to Mass on Sunday or to love our children. Love should be free, spontaneous and generous.
Yes and no. Yes, of course, love should be unforced and unmeasured. But if love is genuine, it is active. Love is not just a private feeling but something to be celebrated, told, enacted. If I say I love God but haven’t got time for Him, not even a day a week, not even an hour on Sunday, not for a few minutes prayer each day, how on earth do I imagine that relationship will last? If I say I love my spouse or family or friends, but never tell them in words or deeds, how do I think that relationship will survive?
Friends of God and of humanity properly tell each other that they love each other. The cross was the most powerful telling of that that ever was attempted, ever was endured. In celebrating the Eucharist we say again I love you to God, family, Church, all humanity. In supporting our school we say as much especially to our young people with disabilities. If we love, with Christian love, with cruciform upward and outward love, it must be expressed until death or else it will evaporate.
So the life of worship and reverence for God and of honouring people’s relationships, life, sexuality, property and the rest is really a way to tell a love story. That’s what the Decalogue is about: not strange rock carvings from a Jewish prophet, not an arbitrary rule book for Christian footballers, but the very logic of loving well. The 10 commandments are a manual, dare I say, for making love!
You see, if someone says they love you but they regularly club you over the head with a cricket bat, they are wrong. They don’t know how to love you. Love needs a map; it has its own form and shape and rules and some things people pass off as love are counterfeits.
St Gabriel’s School speaks of genuine love, love even when loving is hard. It once said this principally to the hearing impaired and their families and through that, spoke of love to God and neighbour, all as part of the broader mission of the Church. As needs changed so did St Gabriel’s. In 1922 it was a Catholic school for deaf boys. In 2012 it shows the loving face of Christ to children with a broader range of disabilities, such as intellectual and behavioural. The school delights in providing a quality education for such children. It is upfront that the Cross is the reason, that the development of quality relationships illuminated by Catholic faith is at the heart of what the school strives to do.
Love of God comes first, as the blessing of a new space for prayer and reflection today illustrates, as the liturgical and prayer life, religious education classes and the rest all year round demonstrates, as the passion for social justice and pastoral care and, I trust, the entire Christian Gospel validates. Love of neighbour is the flipside of this divine love, as it is told in the generosity of the school’s benefactors, in the sense of compassion and service here, in a curriculum, pedagogies and co-curricular activities aimed at ensuring serving the individual child with intellectual disability, hearing impairment or autism.
After this Mass, the school community will celebrate its 90th birthday with a fair, honouring the achievements of St Gabriel’s and acknowledging its bright future. Thanks be to God for nine decades of service here. Happy birthday and Ad multos annos!
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Mass of All Saints, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, Thursday 1 November 2012
Listen to this Homily at Bishop Anthony's iTunes Podcasts
Do you want to be a saint – really? If one billion Catholics were really trying to be saints, wouldn’t the world be a rather different place? If 330,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Parramatta were really trying to be saints, wouldn’t Western Sydney be different too?
There have been Catholics here in Parramatta since 1788. By the time the foundation stone for the first St Patrick’s church was laid in 1836 there’d already been many Masses, rosaries and other prayers offered in this district, much Christian service provided, a Catholic community sustained.
In the decades that followed tens of thousands were baptised, communicated, schooled, confirmed, married and buried here. The old timers here will remember some of the saints of Parramatta and the activities down through the years that were aimed at making them.
But what about us? Sometimes I think we’re afraid to be saints. Our image of them can be unreal, as if they were perfect from start to finish. Some seem sanctimonious, the kind of people who offer everyone improving advice, or are simperingly pious, or levitate while in trances, or live in a cave wearing animal skins. Glorious eccentrics, these Catholic saints, but not really the sorts of people you’d want your daughter to marry!
If the way some of the saints lived here on earth does not appeal, our image of how they live in heaven might be equally unappetising. Sitting on clouds, staring at God, singing hymns is not going to attract moderns who treasure individuality, variety and entertainment so highly.
Then there’s the problem that saints are expected to live exemplary lives. Like the young St Augustine who said “Lord, make me chaste, but not just yet”, we might want to be holy by the time we’re old, but in the meantime we live a middling good and banally bad life. We’re weak and there are many distractions, and who wants penance in a consumer culture? Who’s up for virginity, missions and martyrdom in a postmodern world where nothing’s worth living for, let alone dying for? Who wants plenary indulgences when indulgence of a rather different sort is the order of the day?
Yet this month we celebrate the golden jubilee of the Second Vatican Council, a Council that famously called everyone to holiness. That might seem obvious to us, but to some Catholics, then as now, it sounded impossible. Holiness was for the professionally religious like Mother Teresa. She could be a living saint, die in grace and go straight to heaven. But for the rest of us it was more realistic to live a more second rate Christianity, hoping to scrape into purgatory by dint of the occasional Confession, a brown scapular and a few good deeds; we might hope the children remember to get Masses said for our souls so that after a fair stay in purgatory we get into the back stalls of heaven just before closing time!
But the Council had higher aspirations for us because Jesus does. We all know that if parents, families, teachers, coaches and political leaders set the bar low, telling us we’re not up to much, then that’s exactly how we’ll jump. But Christ and His Church set the bar high and tell us that by grace we can all get there. By God’s grace we are capable of great things. Some people’s virtues are obviously heroic are they are quickly raised to the altars; others are more ordinary but they tried and by God’s grace, though yet unnamed, they too are raised to the altars this day, All Saints’ Day.
What they have in common is: though holier than us, they were never ‘holier than thou’. Though they set the bar high, they never thought us only capable of less. They want us in the front row, in this life and the next. Sure, they did brave deeds, taught wonderful truths, were pure-hearted and meek-spirited, gentle and merciful, suffered for justice and peace (Mt 5:1-12). But in all this they were ordinary human beings – ordinary human beings who did these extraordinary things or who did ordinary things extraordinarily well. They were open to God working in them and through them and became transparent to that grace in them. People knew and still know they would get closer to God by getting closer to them.
Do you want to be a saint? If being a saint sounds boring or impossible to you, I suspect it’s because you don’t really know any. Today’s your invitation to meet them. Get yourself a saints’ book, look up a good website, have a look at the variety of saints that are out there. Get to know your own name-saint, or your confirmation saint, if you don’t know her or him well already. And start talking to the saints. You might find theirs is exactly the club, the communion, the parish you want to join.
If you are still wary, remember this: tomorrow and all November we recall all those we’ve loved and lost. We pray God’s mercy for all of them, for an eternity of rest and flourishing, of unimagined joy and glory. Dare to dream that tomorrow for them and by your little prayers and offerings help that to happen. And that you might be reunited with them in that happy place, dare today to hope for that for yourself too. Start now: live as the saints lived and live yet, venerate and imitate them, and let God do the rest …
The Sermon on the Moon, Homily for Mass for the 10th anniversary of Blessed John XXIII Parish, Glenwood-Stanhope Gardens, Sunday 28 October 2012
Fifty years ago, at the end of that momentous day when the Second Vatican Council convened, Blessed John XXIII inaugurated a less formal way of speaking than was customary for popes up till then but has become commonplace since. Huge crowds had gathered in the square below, so he decided to appear at the window of his apartment. He made a memorable impromptu speech from his windowsill that is known as the Discorso della Luna – the Moonlight Speech or the Sermon on the Moon.
A “lone voice” in the darkness somehow spoke for the whole world. Even the moon, it seemed, “drew close” to witness the spectacle of the 21st ecumenical council. A half-century later Pope Benedict XVI recently spoke from that same window before a torch-lit square full of waiting, hoping, needing humanity, and he inaugurated a Year of Faith to mark this golden jubilee.
Today, we mark our own jubilee, the 10th birthday of Blessed John XXIII parish, named after the man whose Council we commemorate and from which I hope we will draw new inspiration in the months and years ahead. In only a decade this parish has spread its wings to Glenwood, Stanhope Gardens, Parklea, Newbury and Kellyville Ridge, as new suburbs seem to spring up suddenly that were not here last year or even last week.
Like many things, it began small. People gathered for Sunday Mass in a library at Holy Cross Primary in Glenwood. Attention was given to forming and strengthening that community in the faith that saves (Mk 10:46-52), to use Jesus’ words to Bartimaeus this morning. Then you set about surrounding that community with a building worthy of its faith and this was completed in five years. Built providentially on “Perfection Avenue”, it draws our attention to the injunction at the climax of the Sermon not on the Moon but on the Mount: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). So too, Vatican II called all humanity to perfection, to holiness. And so, indeed, does today’s Gospel, as Bartimaeus hears the call of the Church: “So they called the blind man and said to him. ‘Courage, get up, the Lord is calling you!’”
Alongside this community striving for perfection in faith, hope and love is John XXIII Catholic Primary, Holy Cross Primary and St Mark’s Cathholic College. Our Catholic tradition has always seen education and formation as crucial from womb to tomb and beyond. We are a teaching Church, not in the sense that we think we know everything and that people should just sit back and listen, but in the sense that the Council declared us one with humanity’s deepest aspirations: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.” (Gaudium et Spes 1). Like Good Pope John, who was drawn to the window by the sight of moonlit humanity, dreaming of more and better, we declare: “My own person counts for nothing — it’s a brother who speaks to you, become a father by our Lord’s will, but all together, fatherhood and brotherhood and God’s grace … express before heaven and earth: faith, hope, love, love of God, love of neighbour, all aided along the way in the Lord’s holy peace for the work of the good. So let’s continue to love each other, to look out for each other along the way: to welcome whomever comes close to us, and set aside whatever difficulty it might bring.”
Ours is a teaching and worshipping and serving Church, and we are rightly proud that so many now take part in the life of this parish that this church is often full to overflowing. The time might come where, like in many places in the Philippines, we might have to have Masses on the hour from 5am! But even as we celebrate what has been achieved here in a decade, we are acutely aware that as many as nine out of 10 of our own parishioners are not regularly with us, and there are many more out there too, who are hurting, struggling, anxious, who need Christ. Our celebration is no cause for smugness, then, but a spur to a New Evangelisation, to a greater energy in bringing the Good News to all humanity and inviting all in the new suburbs to be a regular part of our Blessed John XXIII community life.
I give thanks that you are led in this by Fr Dave Hume who, despite his bald head is one of my younger and more dynamic priests! He and Fr Joy his assistant priest, Deacon Leon and I are reminded by our epistle this morning (Heb 5:1-6) that the extraordinary honour of priesthood is not for our own glory, but a chance to walk alongside others, to serve them, and to come with them to that perfection to which we are all called, by offering our gifts and sacrifices and selves at God’s altar.
This coincidence of anniversaries, of Blessed John XXIII’s Council and Blessed John XXIII’s parish, is a wonderful opportunity not just to party but also to make a New Year of Faith resolution: to have the courage of Blind Bart, to jump up, to throw ourselves upon Christ, to bring Him all our needs and hopes, griefs and anxieties, and to seek by His grace that greater perfection that is His dream, God’s dream, for us.
As the Eucharist is the greatest gift we offer and sacrifice we make, what our golden Vatican Council called “the source and summit of the Christian life” let us resolve in this new Year of Grace to draw ever more regularly and reverently and enthusiastically upon its riches. Let’s let go of the selfishness, laziness, grudges, whatever it is that is holding us back from throwing ourselves headlong into the life of God’s kingdom. Like Blind Bart we can’t shut up, no matter who is scolding us. We are a teaching Church. We have a Gospel so good it must be heard. We have a Lord so beautiful He must be seen. So we must deepen our own faith. Let this be our New Year of Faith resolution, our Next Ten Years resolution.
From 28 September to 14 October 2012, Bishop Anthony Fisher OP led a group of Principals and Catholic Education leaders on a pilgrimage through Greece and Turkey, retracing the pathways of St Paul.
For most of us, I guess, today's sites at Gallipoli will long be remembered amongst the most moving and memorable sacred sites on our diocesan pilgrimage. On the face of it that’s rather strange: after all, there were no apostles here, no visitations of the Blessed Virgin Mary, no ancient shrines.
What makes this place holy for Australians and New Zealanders, British or Turkish people is the blood not of martyrs but of very ordinary young men: young men, some very young, no older than some of our secondary school students.
It is estimated that the Allied casualties in the Dardanelles campaign, including deaths from drowning and accident, were 265,000. This included 46,000 who were killed in action or died from wounds. The Turkish casualties were about 218,000 with around 66,000 killed. There were Australian casualties of 26,000, including 8709 killed in action.
We have all seen the scratchy black and white footage of the Gallipoli landing, with young soldiers with packs and rifles and putteed legs pounding up the beach amidst a deadly rain of bullets.
A few years ago I learnt from ABC radio that that famous film, etched on my 'memory', was actually filmed at Tamarama Beach in Sydney. The soldiers were real enough, but from the safety of the army camp at Liverpool in Sydney not the Middle East campaign. It was all carefully choreographed by director Alfred Rolfe.
Historian Daniel Reynaud explained that though it was based on early press reports and made within months of the actual ANZAC Cove landing, there is no authentic moving film of Gallipoli.
This is by no means the only aspect of the ANZAC story that turns out to be legend. It has become increasingly clear that instead of a glorious story of national origins, the Gallipoli campaign was a strategic blunder that cost everyone dearly in young lives.
Yet enthusiasm for this place only grows with historical scrutiny. If we have doubts about the historical authenticity of some Christian holy sites dating back one or two millennia, we might consider how in just a century we’ve idealised and mythologised what happened near here at Gallipoli.
Sacred sites and stories have that power: not just sometimes to exaggerate history in the retelling, but also to heighten our awareness of it, to draw attention to it, to stop us long enough to contemplate it and get a handle on the truth, not just the legend.
I am a fan of Peter Weir’s film Gallipoli, which starred Mel Gibson as Frank Dunne and Mark Lee as Archie, and had a soundtrack that featured Albioni’s haunting Adagio in G Minor.
That film is also a highly romanticised account; with myths of Aussie sporting prowess, anti-authoritarianism and a mateship that dissolves all classes and social distinctions.
But where the film gets it 100% right is in insisting on the tragedy and futility of war: our two heroes compete as runners and soldiers and men, but in war there are no winners.
The ANZAC myth is right in another way too: that out of the midst of tragedy, of such pointless death, even there, the courage of men under fire, the fidelity of mateship, the hope of youth and love of country can rise from the ashes.
The ANZAC myth is also a parable for the greatest true story: that of the Prince of Peace who brought life out of death, liberty out of captivity, peace out of violence, salvation out of the folly of the cross.
At this place we join the fallen and their families, our countrymen and Turkish hosts, resolving never again to glamorise war and to try to bridge the gulfs of mutual incomprehension that made this region a battlefield for centuries-long clashes of civilisations.
At this site, soaked in the blood of young people of several countries, we who are devoted to the welfare of the young rededicate ourselves to their safety, their intellectual, moral and spiritual development, keenly conscious of the privilege and awesome responsibility that this is.
This place exhorts us to give humanity cause for hope, even amidst the realities of man’s sinful division and God’s saving alternative, a wisdom that speaks directly to what happened here and how to avoid it happening again.
This saving wisdom is sometimes at risk of being blunted in ways that can imperil our mission and message. Let me note four ways this can happen.
First, there is the ever-present tendency to reduce Christianity to mere propositions. Faith can become a series of ideas, of formulas, whereas it is first and foremost about a real, personal relationship with Christ who is the Prince of Peace. We need to know Christ, not just know about Him.
Second is the temptation to reduce faith to morality. Christians are often thought of as moralistic, forever wagging their fingers at various evils. I remember Archbishop Wilton Gregory, when President of the US Bishops Conference, saying that if the Gospel is such good news and Christians are blessed with gifts such as spiritual joy would someone please tell their faces!
Christian faith is about liberation from evils such as hatred, violence and death, and a personal encounter with the One who heals, befriends, directs and delights!
So as well as the commandments, it’s about faith, sacraments, beatitudes, virtues, spiritual graces and so much more than morality, important though that is.
The third danger is reducing morality to one department of morality, such as sexual morality or justice and peace. I think our schools and many other Catholic institutions are good at talking social justice and at concrete projects to bring it about.
Our young people are often marked by a passion for justice and peace. But I wonder sometimes how that fits with the rest of Catholic faith and worship and morals. Do we risk engaging in secular do-gooding with a bit of religious decoration?
The proclamation of Christ's kingdom of justice and peace is a constitutive dimension of preaching the Gospel. But Catholic morality also includes the ethics of respect for life and health, of business and work life, of scientific research, of sex, marriage and family, of communications and education, of ecology, of worship and much else.
All these are as important as social justice and, indeed, they are all interconnected. We will not respond better to the perennial human tendency to make war unless we build respect for human life, bodies, relationships, families, and cultures. Morality is a seamless garment.
Having reduced faith in Christ to propositions, the propositions of faith to propositions of morality, morality to social justice, the final stage in the reduction of Christianity is often reducing justice and peace to its less demanding requirements.
We can, for instance, wag fingers at governments, international agencies, the Vatican, big business – but what about ourselves?
We can look at ANZAC Cove and say boo to the British Imperial Government and Forces, or to our own weak government and generals, or to the clash of civilisations, but how do these things speak to my own life?
What about my own prejudices, unforgivingness, desire to dominate?
What about those aspects of the human heart that are the origin of wars and the enemies of peace? Where is Jesus in all this? Where is sin, salvation, and reconciliation?
Do we sometimes focus on justice and peace because we can engage in rhetoric and projects that make no real demands on us? Or because social justice is so much easier to sell to our kids than other areas of faith or morality? Or because it allows feel-good projects we can brag of, that prove how socially aware we are, but require no real change in us?
Pope Paul VI said: "No more war! Never again war! If you wish to be brothers, drop your weapons" - in all your relationships, all your attitudes, all your character. That's a big ask. That's something we cannot do by ourselves. That's something that needs Christ.
As we look at this giant graveyard for young men, we ask ourselves how can we prevent this ever happening again? Only by God's grace. How do we form young men and women as people of justice and peace, and not of social justice only, but the whole Christian vision, young men and women of faith and prayer and imagination, of passion and compassion?
My thought today for those of you engaged in leadership in Catholic education is this: Catholic schools are part of God's answer to war. By evangelising, catechising and giving the best all-round education, you are producing the future leaders and citizens, generals and soldiers of the world and we look to them to ensure Gallipoli never happens again.
We work so that when the hour comes in the lives of our young people, in which their "soul is troubled" as it was for Christ in the Gospel, when heroism is called for as it is in every life at some stage, they may be glorified as Christ was.
Glorified, not by worldly victory, but by that victory that is standing by your ideals for God and country and all the world, standing by your mates and family and all humanity.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, Courage and EnCourage, St Dominic’s Church, Flemington, Saturday 15 September 2012
From today’s Gospel (Jn 19:25-27), as well as other hints in the Scriptures and Tradition, we know that Our Lady was a widow with no immediate family to care for her upon Jesus’ death. John, it seems, was the natural choice to assume this task. First, because he was ready: he was not just geographically but humanly, morally and spiritually proximate, standing by the cross when the others had fled. Secondly, he was willing: John was called ‘the beloved disciple’ because he was Jesus’ favourite and perhaps already Mary’s too; he would do what Jesus asked and Mary needed. And finally, he was able: unlike the others he was young and unmarried and would, in fact, remain unmarried for the rest of his days; he was free to assume this responsibility.
It was this ready, willing and able John who leant on Jesus’ breast at the Last Supper and to whom Peter turned to discover the betrayer of Our Lord. This John’s desire for his best friend meant he outpaced Peter in the race to the empty tomb and was the one who recognised the Risen Lord walking on the water while the other apostles freaked out. So of course it was John to whom the dying Jesus, in his last will and testament, would entrust His only earthly treasure, His own sorrowing mother.
This speaks to the members of Courage. Marriage is most likely not your vocation, as it was not John’s. But like John your call is not just to a series of Noes – no sex, marriage, family – but to a series of Yeses: yes I am willing to serve the Lord in the needy; yes I am ready for a deeply human intimacy with Him, His saints and His Church; yes I am able to embrace the freedom of the unmarried to pursue other friendships, projects, missions.
Every Christian, and especially every unmarried one, must make a place for Mary. Christ gives her not to one disciple only but to all His beloved disciples as Our Lady of Sorrows, Mother of the Church, Help of Christians. As she adopts us as her own, she binds us more closely to her son, our adopted big brother. The Church is made out of this intimacy between Christ and Mary and John, between them and every disciple. It is the home of true intimacy. For all the failings of some members, there is nowhere on earth to go to learn how to love well, as we can to the Church.
The author of the classic Christian work on friendship, St Aelred of Rivieux, lived in a monastic community famous for its chaste friendship. Aelred was convinced that loving and being loved is a great good in itself; it is also a path to accepting and returning God’s infinitely greater love. If we never experience healthy human friendship, we will have little idea how to give or receive divine love too. What’s more, Aelred thought, all love participates in divine love; a healthy human friendship always includes a third person, the Lord Jesus, whether we advert to it or not. And because Christ is the common best friend of every friendship, every true friendship draws us into a communion of life and love with each other and with the Blessed Trinity.
Anyone struggling with desire, loneliness, depression or self-hatred needs friendship, family, community. For it is there we discover who we are and are challenged and supported to live that more authentically. Jesus sounds rather formal today calling Mary ‘Mother’ rather than Mum and John ‘Son’ rather than Jonno. But He knows that labels not only describe but also direct people; our sense of our identity, and other people’s sense of it too, delineate our opportunities, choices and actions. ‘Mother and Son’ says so much more about these two than ‘Miriam and Yochanan’. What words, we might ask, best define our identities? Our society presses labels upon us such as ‘gay’, ‘conservative’, ‘consumer’ and so on. Sometimes such labels enlighten; more often, I suspect, they over-simplify and constrict. They tell us we are supposed to think and feel and behave in certain ways. In a diseased culture such labels seek to confine us to certain less-than-admirable ways of being and doing. But a label like ‘Child of God’ or ‘Son of Mary’ liberates us to be more and better.
More and better – but not necessarily easier. Our epistle (Heb 5:7-9) is full of hopeful talk of salvation and perfection, but also speaks darkly of submission and suffering, silent tears and death. This reflects the light and shade in every life: this side of the grave it’s so often three steps forward and two back. This text also highlights the link: suffering can be redemptive; silent tears a way to perfection; submission ‘the source of eternal salvation’. There will be parallels between Christ’s suffering and ours. Many of you, I suspect, have suffered in silent tears. Many learn humility through humiliation. But you too can know the perfecting that comes through sanding, pruning, purging the soul; you too can know the liberation of refusing the culture’s pigeonholing.
Same sex marriage is all the rage at the moment and if you are interested in my thoughts on that topic you can have a look at the ABC’s Religion and Ethics web portal: http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2012/09/06/3584323.htm
I won’t rehearse those arguments here. Instead I’ll say this: the media talks as if accepting that one who is not for marriage is settling for less in life. But is being single just a fallback position for those ‘left on the shelf’? It might be. But some people who know themselves and their options for a fulfilling life actually choose a single life.
The Church recognised this from the start. Jews and Muslims said every human being should marry and have children and that those who don’t are in some sense failures, but Christians always delighted in the willingness of some to forego marriage and dedicate themselves in other ways. Widows often stayed so, as Mary did; young unmarried men, too, like John did. Christianity was a liberation in many ways and one was to say clearly to the world that married life is precious but not for everyone and not the only way to love God and people. Marriage is hugely important and even single people participate in it by supporting married couples and the institution of marriage. But other things are also important, important enough to warrant life-long celibacy. Friendships, as Christ, Mary and John demonstrated, as St Aelred articulated, are more varied and about more than just romantic-sexual intimacy. Love actively wills the good of another, for the sake of the other, making their welfare part of mine, and that is open to the single as much as the married.
The same sex marriage debate, it seems to me, obscures this. Rather than increasing people’s freedom I think it diminishes people’s real options and leaves more people feeling alienated. Why? Because it unwittingly returns us to a world where the only friendships that were taken seriously were married ones; where those who are not for marriage were forced to pretend they were. And in the process it further undermines the institution of marriage, which is already under terrible pressure.
Right now Australia needs Courage and EnCourage, not just the virtues, but the organisations. It needs their support for people with same-sex attraction and their families in a far-from-helpful culture. It needs their witness to the possibility of flourishing in a single life. It needs spokespeople against the lies and labels that narrow people’s sense of themselves and their options. It needs people who support us to live and love well. Australia today needs men and women who like John the Beloved Disciple are ready, willing and able for a higher intimacy, ready to find friendship, virtue and mission wherever Christ points them. Our Lady of Sorrows: pray for us!
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Our Lady of Mercy College Mass, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Feast of Our Lady of Dolours, Friday 14 September 2012
When I was a lad my local Mercy Ladies College was called Our Lady of Dolours. As decimal currency was still fairly new, we kids thought it was Our Lady of $$ (as in dollars and cents) and guessed that that was because Chatswood was an upmarket area! Later the school changed its name to Our Lady of Sorrows, which sounded sad, so then it became Catholic Girls’ High. Its latest name is Mercy Catholic College Chatswood. Their sister school here in Parramatta has stuck to Our Lady of Mercy College from the start.
What’s ‘Lady of Dolours’ all about? It comes from a medieval devotion to the Suffering Mary, paralleling various devotions to the Suffering Christ – such as the Stations of the Cross. At a time of great anguish in Europe, people took comfort in the thought that Christ had suffered before them, was with them in their troubles; He had ultimately transcended His sufferings and so might they. They took comfort, also, in the fact that their favourite intercessor, Mary, knew our dolours, sorrows, troubles, first hand and would sympathise with us in the hard times.
Mary’s life was far from easy: she had the humiliation of pregnancy while still young and unmarried. She gave birth in a stable, was told in the temple that the world would be against her boy and this would break her heart, and then she had to flee with the Baby as refugees while a blood-crazed king pursued them. After returning home she suffered the agony of her 12-year-old’s disappearance and sometime after this she was widowed.
When Jesus left her to embrace His public mission, she may have felt vulnerable and neglected. When He made His fateful turn towards Jerusalem she would have been terrified. She followed, weeping for Him on the day of His trials, torture and execution, standing by His cross as He died, holding Him as He was taken down for burial. While there were good times, motherhood for this woman was a bed more of thorns than of roses. And so still today we sing the beautiful medieval sequence At the Cross her station keeping, stood the mournful Mother weeping and still we celebrate on the Feast of Our Lady of Dolours or Sorrows.
When nine Sisters of Mercy set out across the seas in 1888 from Callan, Ireland, for Parramatta, second town in the colony of NSW, they were embracing the crown of thorns too. Ours must have seemed an impossibly distant and alien land. They knew they were unlikely ever to see their homeland again. Their new home was much hotter and never so green. Its wild colonial girls were mostly unchurched and uncatechised.
The sisters were to help build a new country entrusted to Mary under the title ‘Help of Christians’ – Our Lady of Dolours and of Mercy in different dress. But they came, in trust and courage, and threw themselves into the adventure of the Gospel. Seven Mercies took turns being principal of OLMC before Mrs Kitty Guerin, and with them many sisters and lay collaborators stamped a particular spirit on this school.
One dimension of that spirit, that I hope Our Lady of Sorrows continues to inspire, is the willingness to take on the hard things for the glory of God and the good of people.
The spirit of Mercy – of pity, sympathy, compassion – is of course the spirit of Catherine McAuley and her daughters, but pre-eminently the spirit of Christ. Indeed the word mercy is especially associated with God in the Old Testament and with Christ in the New. The sisters tried to exemplify the mercy of Jesus and the sympathy of His sorrowing Mother in their ‘spiritual and corporal works of mercy’, opening OLMC within months of their arrival. Next year we mark 125th years since that arrival. It will be an historic moment to recognise the achievements of the sisters and the college in educating women for our nation and reaching out in mercy to the most needy. From this base, Mercy girls still join or imitate the sisters in apostolates to the poor and marginalised.
Much has been achieved here and much more can be in the years ahead. But we must never take it for granted. Only this week the Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, announced a major cut to education in NSW, including a $116m cut to non-government schools. We don’t know how this figure was arrived at, but we do know that two-thirds of those schools are Catholic schools. No provision will be made in state grants for teacher salary increases or other inflation over the next four years, so the value of the grants in real terms will decline each year. There will be no allowance for increased enrolments which for fast-growing areas such as Western Sydney means that if any of our schools grow from one stream to two during the freeze period they will only be half-funded. Worst of all, Commonwealth grants, upon which the Catholic and independent schools are even more reliant, could fall because they are presently linked to state grants. While it is still far from clear, this could amount to a double whammy for our schools: the slashing of state funding followed by a linked cut to Commonwealth funding. The real cut could be several times the numbers so far estimated by the State Government.
We all recognise the tough financial circumstances for the State Government, but I for one am mystified that schools are a priority area for cuts. I wonder where the ‘waste’ and ‘mismanagement’ is that the Premier says we can cut out of the school system. The bottom line will be higher fees, or staff and curriculum reductions, or both. That spells real pain for families, for school communities and, ultimately, reduced opportunity for our children. Hence the mobilisation of the Catholic community in recent days.
The Greens, who apparently hate Catholic and independent schools, have accused us of a cash grab and imply that schools like OLMC are elite schools for the super-rich. That is very unfair: many families in Western Sydney, including some of your families, really struggle to give their kids the Catholic education they deserve. The Church does all it can to keep Catholic education affordable. In doing so it relieves the state of a very considerable burden. But justice requires funding continuity for all children in all Australian schools.
So you must never take your school for granted. Value the grace of this education and help to make the school a better place, a true home for Mercy. Show our society and its leaders that you are worth the investment. On this Feast day of the Sorrowing Mother, we recognise that there are many people out there needing our help and this school’s task is not only to help some directly but also to form young women with a merciful heart to make a difference for many others. Mary at the foot of the cross is our model in this: persevering in patience, trust, faith, hope and love; uncomprehending in the face of evil, yet knowing that suffering and even death are not the last word; willing to endure what she must for the sake of the good and true and beautiful.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Bishop of Parramatta Awards for Student Excellence, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, Thursday 13 September 2012
Many of you have never been to Vespers before. You might not even know what the word means. Some of your grandparents and parents will remember a motor scooter of that name that was big around the time they were courting, but that’s not what Vespers are about.
No, Vespers is medieval Latin for evening and is the name we give to the Church’s formal evening prayers, sung or said every day by priests, religious and some lay people. Anglicans call it Evensong, which means evening song.
Catholics used to have lots of ways of praying publicly, such as Mass, of course, but also Eucharistic adoration and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, recitation of the Rosary, walking the Stations of the Cross, street processions, sodality prayers and, of course, the Divine Office.
In recent years many have forgotten how to pray publicly except at Mass, and so it’s good for us to pray Vespers together. It is the evening instalment of that cycle of prayers called ‘the Divine Office’ or ‘the Liturgy of the Hours’ and which the Church prays throughout the day.
In that way we try to respond to Jesus’ command to pray always and to St Paul’s direction to “sing psalms and hymns and sacred songs, making music to the Lord with all your hearts and always giving thanks to God the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (cf. Lk 18:1; 1 Thess 5:17; Eph 5:19).
Of course, night prayers are common to people of all faiths. I hope you all remember to speak to God before you go to sleep, to thank Him for the day past, to tell Him you love Him, to examine your own performance that day and ask His help to lift your act in the day ahead, to present to Him the needs of the world and the cares of your own hearts.
We Catholics also do that liturgically, imitating the way Jesus prayed, which included singing hymns, reciting Psalms, hearing a reading from the Scriptures and making intercessions for various needs.
Of course, we are not only here tonight to pray together, but also to confer the inaugural Bishop of Parramatta Awards for Student Excellence. This award allows annual recognition by the Bishop, and thus by the 330,000 Catholics of the Diocese of Parramatta, of some outstanding young women and men in our Catholic schools.
It is the peak award for student excellence across the Diocese, honouring the contribution of one Year 12 student from each Catholic secondary school to his or her school and local community. The award also affirms the contribution of parents, as the primary educators of our young people, and of our school teachers who assist them so ably in that task.
I know that Mr Greg Whitby, our Executive Director of Schools, school leaders and staff all join me in congratulating our recipients, as do our state MPs, Mr Tony Issa, Member for Granville, and Dr Geoff Lee, Member for Parramatta, both of whom are great friends to Catholic education, Cr Larry Bolitho, Mayor of The Hills Shire, and Pam Colman from Holroyd City Council.
It the citations commending this year’s recipients to me, I have been told of their virtues, including their outstanding witness to Catholic faith and morality, their intellectual, vocational, sporting, creative or performing achievements, their works for social justice and the community, their love of learning and ‘school spirit’.
You might say they are receiving their awards for how well they exemplify texts like the one from St James that we just heard (Jas 3:17-18), about wisdom, virtue, courtesy, docility, mercy, candour and, of course, peacefulness, which James says is “the seed-ground of holiness”.
Sadly, things are not so peaceful for Catholic education of late. The NSW Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, this week announced a major cut to education, including a $116 million cut to non-government schools – having previously threatened an even bigger cut.
Two-thirds of the schools affected by this ‘freeze’ or cut to non-government school grants are Catholic schools. No provision will be made in state grants for teacher salary increases or other inflation over the next four years, so that the value of the grants in real terms will decline each year. There will be no allowance for increased enrolments which for fast-growing areas such as Western Sydney means that if any of our schools grow from one stream to two during the freeze period they will only be half-funded.
Worst of all, Commonwealth grants, upon which the Catholic and independent schools are even more reliant, could drop dramatically because they are presently linked to state grants. While it is still far from clear, this could amount to a double whammy for our schools: the slashing of state funding followed by a linked cut to Commonwealth funding. The real cut could be several times the numbers so far estimated by the State Government.
We all recognise the tough financial circumstances for the State Government, but surely schools would be just about the last resort if cuts were really desperately needed. I am mystified where all the ‘waste’ and ‘mismanagement’ is that the Premier says we can cut out of the school system.
The bottom line will be higher fees or staff and curriculum reductions, or both. That spells real pain for families, for school communities and, ultimately, reduced opportunity for young people. Hence the mobilisation of Catholic leaders, teachers, parents and parishioners in recent days.
The Greens, who apparently hate Catholic schools, have yet again accused us of a cash grab. That is very unfair: many families in Western Sydney, including some of the families whose fine sons and daughters are being recognised tonight, really struggle to give their kids the Catholic education they deserve.
The Church does all it can to keep Catholic education affordable so that no child is ever denied enrolment because of an inability to pay fees. In doing so it relieves the state of NSW of a very considerable burden. But justice requires funding continuity for all children in all Australian schools.
You have already been asked to communicate that message to your local MPs. But I also ask you to pray. Our leaders are people of good will. They face tough decisions when it comes to budgets. Pray for them and for all our citizens, for that wisdom St James says comes from on high and is marked by justice and mercy.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - 25th Anniversary Mass for Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, St Patrick's Church, Blacktown,Friday 7 September 2012
Go to CCD Mass Photo Gallery
Today is an Ember Day, as is the first Friday in Spring each year in Australia. My guess is that, apart from those theological and liturgical wizzes we call SRE teachers, very few Australians – bishops included – know. But what on earth is an ember day?
On the face of it, it sounds like it’s got something to do with hot or smouldering coals, like the fire of the Easter Vigil or the ashes of Ash Wednesday. The popular motivational speaker Tony Robbins gets people so motivated they will literally walk on hot coals: it was recently reported, or misreported, that some had suffered burns as a result. I’m not proposing to bring that in as a test of my own qualities as a motivational preacher!
But is an ember day about such challenges?
In fact the word is not from ember or coal at all, but from ymbryne the old English word for the seasons. Just as the Romans and Celtics marked planting and harvesting times with various festivals, so did the Jews and Christians, starting each season with a period of fasting and abstinence. Some might think it scandalous that Christians are still following ancient pagans in this, but as the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine knows, the Church has always looked for the best aspect of the cultural pastures it has entered, embedded the seed of the Gospel there, and, if they are fruitful from a Christian point of view, harvested them for the kingdom.
Many dates in the Church’s calendar, such as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, are related to phases of the moon and farming seasons, and yet they have been Christianised and put to the service of Christian worship and sacrament.
The link to the physical heavens with its phases and seasons is not a matter of astrology so much as recognising that we are bodily beings in a physical universe, even if we are also spiritual beings in a spiritual one. Things like droughts and floods, eclipses and cyclones, the weather at planting, growing and harvesting time, all affect us deeply and are properly the subject of our prayers, whether of intercession or thanksgiving. In this 21st Century, with all its concern for the environment, climate change and stewardship of the natural world, such echoes of the cycles of nature in our liturgical cycle have a new resonance.
To start Spring with abstinence can be an encouragement to restraint in our exploitation of the natural universe even as we see it blossoming before our eyes. A day of penance can express our solidarity with those who lack our bounty, especially those who suffer through famine and the inequitable distribution of the world’s resources.
In all great religions, the faithful and their leaders have fasted and abstained from various things at various times in the hope of attaining some self-mastery and pleasing the gods. Our Muslim neighbours, for example, have recently been celebrating Ramadan by fasting from all food and water during the hours of sunlight for a month. The New Testament, too, opens with John the Baptist abstaining from drink and living on locusts and wild honey, and with then Jesus following in his path by fasting for 40 days in the desert.
In all these traditions asceticism was seen as a process of cleansing, purgation, weeding of the soul; by removing the thorns of vice and the thistles of sensuality, we make room for the virtues to flower; by a little self-denial we gain greater self-possession; by a little familiarity with want we grow in solidarity with those who are seriously wanting; and these experiences are helpful to everybody, not just the holiness professionals.
So still our Catholic tradition directs self-denial every Friday and fasting especially in Lent and Advent and before Holy Communion, and abstinence from meat at least on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Still our Church recommends mortification and self-denial of various kinds, but especially through fasting and abstinence.
I remember giving up coffee and tea one Lent and having my staff beg me to return to the drugs as it was becoming their penance rather than mine! For the young people with whom you all deal, fasting from SMSes, Facebook or PlayStation might be a harder and more worthwhile experience for a time.
So what is going on in our Gospel (Lk 5:33-39) with Jesus’ disciples getting a name for being gluttons and boozers while the disciples of John the Baptist and of the Pharisees are famous abstainers?
Jesus’ thought is: these are good practices, but we have to get them in perspective. If you are elderly or sick or on medication of course you don’t have to fast, the Church says. If you are celebrating a wedding or the presence of that Divine Bridegroom, Christ, on some happy feast, you don’t adopt dour looks and stick to bread and water. Use your common sense, He says, use that new common sense that is the faithful conscience.
Which bring us to Paul’s little thought (1 Cor 4:1-5) that we are stewards. He doesn’t mean stewards as butlers, housekeepers, waiters or airline hostesses. He talks of spiritual stewardship: “People must think of us as Christ’s servants, stewards entrusted with the mysteries of God.” He could have been addressing our SRE teachers.
You’ve been under the spotlight these past two years, with all the talk of establishing alternatives to SRE in the state schools and the questions about the quality of offerings. The recent review suggests there will be more scrutiny ahead. Most of it will be good for us, helping us to keep on our toes and make our good act even better.
But we must not lose sight of what it’s all about. We are stewards of a precious faith, a new common sense, in the context of other religious traditions and secular wisdoms, none the equal of our Catholic faith but all, hopefully, in awe at the wonders of our natural world and ready for gratitude and justice in relating to that universe.
The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine has a unique role as the steward of sacred mysteries for thousands of young people in our state schools, bringing them all to wonder and gratitude, self-mastery and solidarity with the needy.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - “Marriage Sunday”, 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 12 August 2012
‘The Jews’, as John calls the authorities, complain that Jesus is making all sorts of claims for Himself, including contrasting their ‘fathers’ or ancestors with His ‘Father’ – God (Jn 6:41-51). This, they think, is patently absurd since everyone knows he’s Joseph and Mary’s boy. It is interesting on this Marriage Sunday that people thought that to know His parents and clan was to know Jesus. Their instinct, though limited, was a good one. Had they really known His parents (God the Father and the Blessed Virgin) and His extended family (the Church He was forming before their eyes) they would indeed have understood Him better. Instead they ‘murmured’, as they had centuries before in the desert. Whether He was Bread from Heaven or not, they were rehearsing the same old grudge.
Some of you may know the trilogy (so far) of films called The Grudge, made by Sony Pictures. They are your typical haunted-house, monster-in-the-wardrobe, freaky-child-behind-you-in-the-mirror type movies, but with a Japanese twist. The unresolved wrong of a family massacre releases a powerful rage into the universe that becomes The Grudge. When a Toyko-based American nurse is exposed to it, it seeks to enrage her before claiming her life and moving on to another victim.
St Paul didn’t have this grudge in mind when he warned the Ephesians not to grieve the Holy Spirit by “holding grudges against each other, losing your temper, raising your voice … or otherwise being spiteful” (Eph 4:30-5:2). But if he didn’t know about Japanese films, Paul certainly knew about the power of grudges to destroy relationships, families and whole communities.
To hold a grudge is to persist in resenting someone, especially after some insult or injury, and to refuse to forgive, instead nursing the grievance and with it envy or hatred. Grudges grow like a cancer within us and between us and, left unchecked, can deeply damage our relationships and ourselves. Nowhere is that more obvious than in marriage. Veterans of marriage know well how marriage requires constantly forgiving, compromising, letting go. Making vows at the altar to unite for good, and through thick and thin, is about far more than sentimentality. Indeed Paul’s thought – and he could almost have been teaching a marriage prep course when he said it – is that instead of holding grudges and speaking spitefully, we must try to be kind, forgiving and self-sacrificing.
Marriage is a particular kind of friendship, one solemnly promised by a man and a woman, exclusive, permanent and open to family. What other friendships can learn from marriage, at its best, and vice versa, is the way the spouses make each other’s good part of their own and the two help each other grow in virtue, as the best version of themselves they can be. Paul suggests God the Father as our model in this, in the way He loves and forgives endlessly, like a doting Father; and Christ the Lord also as a model, in the way He sacrifices Himself for His beloved.
Grudges are not the only forces that can undermine marriages. You’ve heard me before on the many pressures on marriages and families today and the need for all of us to support them better. But the institution itself is now under great stress also. In the face of that stress, eight years ago this week the Federal Parliament restated the classical definition of marriage; now several state Premiers and some Federal MPs want to overturn that definition.
Of course, the tinkering with marriage has been going on for some time. Marriage is, we know, the proper home for sex: yet many today treat sex as a recreational activity rather than a conjugal one. Marriage is, we know, the nursery of family: yet many now make their sexual activity sterile, having marriages and sex without babies. Marriage is, we know, a lifelong union, yet our laws now allow divorce on demand, no-reasons-given, after only one year. Marriage is, we know, a solemn even sacred state, yet many today debase it with try-before-you-buy cohabitation or by marrying without sacred rites. Now the social engineers have set their sights on removing the ‘man and woman’ part of marriage as well. All that will be left is marriage as an emotional union: it’s enough, as they say, that people love each other.
But if marriage is just about feelings and promises it obviously can’t be limited to a man and a woman. Two men or two women might love each other, or more than two, as in the polygamous unions. How about a brother and sister or two sisters or a mother and son who want to marry? How about people who want to marry for, say, 10 years, with an option for renewal?
It is because marriage has always had those other elements – the complementarity of man and wife, permanence, exclusivity, openness to family, and so on – that people have taken so seriously the challenge of sticking together and persevering in love without grudges, loving in the way of God the Father and the Son. It is also why governments ever got involved in recognising and regulating marriage.
This is not, as those trying to bully us into silence suggest, about homophobia: many of us know and care about people with same-sex attractions and we wish the best for them. Nor is this about unjust discrimination. What justice requires is that we must treat people alike unless there is a relevant difference. So if an institution is designed to support people of opposite sex to be faithful to each other and to the children of their union it is not discrimination to reserve it to people of opposite sex.
What is unjust, gravely unjust, is to ignore the importance for children of having, as far as possible, a mum and a dad, committed to them and to each other for the long haul. What is also unjust is retrospectively to redefine marriage: for that tells those already married that they got married on a false premise; that they were wrong to think they were entering a lifelong and exclusive partnership of a man and woman open to raising children; that we have changed the meaning of their vows to being merely about loving each other, for as long as it lasts. That would be unjust to the many people already married and those who might like to be in the future.
Some people would say that after all the sex abuse stuff the credibility of Church leaders to speak about sex and relationships is shot. Whether or not that’s fair, it means it is more than ever up to lay people like yourselves to make the arguments to our community and our political leaders, and especially up to married people to give the testimony of their own lives in this matter. On this Marriage Sunday we pray for genuine friendship and love in every person’s life, married or unmarried; we pray to be free from grudges and misapprehensions that might undermine our relationships; and we pray for the witness of authentic marriages in our confused world.
Read Bishop Anthony’s letter to Federal Members of Parliament on the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012 and the Marriage Amendment Bill 2012
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B, St Patrick’s Cathedral Parramatta, 5 August 2012
The avid-Batman lovers among us may know that the latest suit worn by our hero, in The Dark Knight Rises, is composed of 110 separate pieces. For this final instalment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy a costume was made out of semi-flexible urethane-moulded pieces, all suspended on 3D polyester spacer mesh normally used in military, medical or elite sports operations. The cape was made from an electrostatically flocked fabric used by the British Army to minimise detection of soldiers at night; a special wind machine ensured it billowed like in the comic books.
In these popular stories the bad guys are often presented as beyond redemption. Like James Holmes, whose recent massacre of Batman moviegoers so appalled us, so the character known as the Joker in the series “just wants to see the world burn”. The Joker is not just bad, someone seeking the good in the wrong ways or places, but also mad, someone whose acts are literally senseless. But if the supervillains are presented in popular mythology as beyond redemption, in a way the superheroes are also. They may gain some superhuman powers or technologies, but they have their dark side and the suit there to hide that, as well as the rest of their identity. Batman is driven by the desire to avenge his parents’ murder. Violence in these stories begets more violence, even from the superheroes.
In today’s epistle St Paul tells us to cast aside our old pagan gear and clothe ourselves with Christ, put on a new look, God’s designer fashions made of the best materials: goodness, holiness and truth (Eph 4:17-24). But is faith and Baptism, Confession and Communion, our attempts to cultivate virtue and live good lives, really just a cover-up job? Is conversion just a spiritual Bat-suit worn on top of the same, unchanged person? There are dark versions of Christianity that say as much: that we are corrupt and depraved and nothing we can do, nothing even that Christ can do, can change that: the best we can hope for is that Christ will cover up our dark inner core, helping us to love contrary to our sinful nature and forgiving us when we inevitably fail. The Second Vatican Council, whose golden anniversary we celebrate this year, indicates in its document on the Church three ways in which the Catholic view of things differs.
First, conversion is about a radical interior change, an ‘unceasingly renewal’ (LG 7), so that as we make progress in the spiritual life it is more and more Christ living in us. We assume the mind of Christ – the Christian conscience – and the heart of Christ – His compassion. It’s not the old me, full of vengefulness and other vice, but dressed in the spiritual equivalent of high-tech polyester mesh. Rather, grace heals, transforms and elevates us, making us into God’s adopted children. The alb of the newly baptised is not about being whitewashed sepulchres full of corruption within: no, the white dress is to indicate that the person within is now a child of the light who must always walk in the light of Christ.
Secondly, the superheroes of popular mythology choose to be so. They may have some superhuman gifts or, like Batman, some technological assistance, but they are the cause of what they do. Christian heroism has humbler aspirations. We mostly seek to do ordinary things extraordinarily well; and when we do do well, we know it is God’s grace working in us. In making us and our world, more wonderful than fiction; in giving us so many opportunities to live and love; in redeeming us and forming us into a people of faith, hope and love: all this is, in the language of the Council, “the utterly gratuitous and mysterious design of God’s wisdom and goodness” (LG 2) – God’s work, not ours. Our task is merely to cooperate, to let Him do His thing through, with and in us.
Thirdly, to put on the Christ-suit, unlike a Bat-suit, far from concealing us, reveals us for who we really are, at our best, who we were meant to be. Far from losing our identities in some spiritual cover-up job, we become heroes by becoming most truly ourselves, the selves we were meant to be and deep down most want to be. As the Council taught us, Christ not only reveals God to us but also reveals humanity at its best; we in turn must demonstrate both to the world. If we human beings are dressed in the ‘Image of God’ brand, with ‘Made in Heaven’ and for heaven on the label, then the materials themselves – goodness, holiness and truth – actually affect us to our deepest core and then reveal us and our Divine Designer to the world.
In today’s Gospel (Jn 6:24-35) Christ describes Himself as that ‘Bread from heaven’ we encounter in His Word and that ‘Bread of Life’ we receive in his Sacraments. Ordinary bread satisfies temporary hunger, keeps us going a little longer, but doesn’t change us; whereas this Bread, He says, relieves our deepest hunger and gives eternal life. Christ satisfies, extends, identifies. Yet sometimes, I suspect, we hold back from giving ourselves over completely to Christ and letting the world see Him in us and through us. Perhaps we are afraid that Christ will ask too much or take away our identity. Yet as Christians have long experienced and taught: nothing is more liberating than giving our minds and wills over to Christ. He takes nothing that is true or good or beautiful from us, but only purifies and magnifies such things.
Freed by grace from unhelpful internal and external constraints, we can be the St Charbel or Maya, the St Onnab or Tim, that we are made to be. Superheroes may live double lives but we don’t have to. Our faith and life are not to be compartmentalised, with one the real me and the other for outward show. We must not put on the appearance of a good guy while leaving a dark gothic world developing within. Nor may we put on the outward appearance of worldliness, hiding the spiritual treasure that is within us for fear some people won’t like the real our religiosity. Either way we are not letting the Bread of Life and of Heaven feed and become our substance, the new me, remade as the beings we were meant to be and Christ enables us to be.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP for You Are Called – One Year to Go to World Youth Day Rio in 2013, Saturday Vigil Mass, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, July 2012
Download an audio file of the Bishop’s Homily
In favourable conditions the fastest way up a mountain without transport or paths is often to scramble up unroped, making use of the ridges and cracks. But when there are hazards – like inclement weather, rock-falls and crevasses, or various wrong directions you could easily take, when the paths are steep, slippery or unpredictable – then mountaineers know it’s safest to go in groups, well prepped and equipped, and to be properly roped.
Anyone who’s gone climbing in groups knows that you have to work as a team, synchronise your efforts, assist each other belay and arrest. Having a line connecting all the climbers enables them to help each other achieve the goal despite the obstacles nature and human error put in their way. If one stumbles while climbing a cliff, the rest yell a warning and fall immediately into a self-arrest position, locking themselves to the rock wall and hopefully arresting the fall of the one stumbling.
Amidst all the current Olympics fever we might reflect on what sports Jesus and His team specialised in. Jesus was so good at water sports they said He could walk on water! He also took part in an equestrian event on Palm Sunday.
There are several reports of Peter jumping, though whether long or high isn’t clear. He dived into the water on occasion, though he lacked the medallist’s style. He tried his hand at fencing in the Garden of Gethsemane.
We don’t know much about the athletic activities of the other apostles, except that John beat Peter in a sprint to the tomb on Resurrection Day. Several of them were into fishing boat racing, though they got the jitters in bad weather and sometimes nearly drowned.
They did a lot of walking, maybe even occasionally had a walking race, and sometimes they were quite competitive, as when they argued about who was the greatest and should get the silver and bronze medals, either side of Jesus the gold medallist in the kingdom of heaven.
In tonight’s Gospel – the Gospel from which the theme for World Youth Day Rio in 2013 is taken – it’s mountaineering they are up to, with the 11 surviving disciples joining Jesus after the Resurrection on top of a mountain and then falling flat in amazement before Him (Mt 28:16-20).
We’re not told how they got up the mountain. Christ left in spectacular fashion, ascending into the heavens; perhaps the disciples abseiled down afterwards. But first they got their coaching. He had done it before on mountains, most famously the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon is much shorter – as you might often wish they were.
Jesus sums up His teaching and their mission: that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit; that the Father sent and has given all authority to the Son who is Jesus; that He in turn sends the 11 – He passes on the baton of mission to His relay team, the Church; and that they must now carry forward the baptising, discipling, teaching, especially teaching His commandments, and must do so with supreme confidence that He is with them always.
What is that teaching that they must pass on, in word and deed? It is that teaching – those commandments – that they heard on their first mountaineering expedition with Him. It was in the Sermon on the Mount that they learnt the key to happiness that is Jesus’ wonderful beatitudes and His teaching that we must be salt of the earth and light to the world, that we must be genuine in our piety and eschew all hypocrisy, that we must be prayerful and charitable, living a kind of divine mercy and perfection, that we must put God’s kingdom first and keep His words.
In just one year from now, we too will be traversing mountains in Lima, waterfalls in Iguazu and beaches in Rio. Atop the famous Corcovado (or ‘hunchback’ mountain) above Rio’s harbour we will see Jesus the mountaineer, Cristo Redentor, Christ Redeemer. We will surely think again of Jesus preaching on the mountain and charging His apostles to go out from there to all nations making disciples.
Such pilgrim climbing will make physical demands of us and even greater spiritual demands. But like wise mountaineers in hazardous conditions, we will not go it alone. Christ the Redeemer is already waiting for us there. Our coaches will include Blessed John Paul II, founder of World Youth Day and avid skier, canoeist and hiker; his close collaborator and successor who will meet us in Rio, Pope Benedict XVI; and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, the young mountaineer who often said: “Verso l’alto! Reach to the highest! Upwards, upwards towards heaven!” And we will be in good company, on the winning team: we will have with us the young people of the Diocese of Parramatta and the universal Church.
Like mountain climbing, our lives have their external hazards and internal mistakes. There is the equivalent of inclement weather, rock-falls and crevasses, wrong paths easily taken, courses on occasion slippery and unpredictable.
How are we to negotiate such challenges? How are we to persevere when the going gets tough?
First, in this Year of Grace, by ‘contemplating the face of Christ’ and so being wholly focussed on getting to Him, on ascending His mountain, on reaching for the stars, for heaven.
Secondly, by doing it together, roped to a team of fellow pilgrim climbers, in a friendship with Christ and through Him with all Christians, that communion of saints both on earth and in heaven, striving l’alto verso, for the top.
So my young friends, get ready. Get the coaching, the prep, you need at our formation sessions and reflect on what you hear. Get the gear you need also: I don’t mean a walking pole like the one I’m carrying tonight or a climbing helmet like the one I’m wearing; I don’t even mean the WYD T-shirts you now have and will wear, I hope, as living billboards telling your generation all about World Youth Day.
No, I’m principally talking about the spiritual ropes, harnesses and karabiners you need: getting deeper into the Scriptures and the Catechism, the best navigational aids and safety harnesses for the expedition of life. Get to Mass and Confession often so that you build up your spiritual stamina.
Adopt a regime that contributes to your spiritual fitness. You might not yet be ready to do all that Our Lady of Guadeloupe, Rose of Lima, Martin de Porres or the Jesuit martyrs we’ll meet on our WYD journey, did. But you can start living the Sermon on the Mount and the Charge from the Mount right now, in smaller ways, improving the way you relate, looking at how you spend your time or who and what receives your attention.
Try to be, by God’s grace, a little bit holier each day, a little bit more transparent with that grace that is within you. Spiritual altitude training is about acclimatising yourself to the atmosphere in the kingdom of God – by ongoing, daily conversion, resisting the selfishness and envy, sloth and pride in our hearts and making those hearts fitting homes for that God we learnt in tonight’s Gospel to call Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
My young friends, you are called. Your climb to WYD Rio in 2013 begins tonight. Say yes, right now, tonight, to the challenge of getting yourself or someone else to Rio. I declare the spiritual Olympics are open.
Go to You Are Called Photo Gallery
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B, Parish Visitation, Golden Jubilee of the Church and Anointing of Consecration Crosses, Our Lady of the Rosary Parish St Marys, 22 July 2012
A young man wakes up in his New York apartment, brews his coffee and ventures out into the world. He checks his diary and the weather, messages a few friends, gets directions to his next appointment, snaps some interesting graffiti he sees along the way, orders concert tickets and, at the end of the day, shares a romantic view from his rooftop while serenading his girlfriend on his new ukulele (see YouTube clip above).
There’s nothing strange about any of this, apart from the fact that he does it all without maps, calendars, TV forecasts or face-to-face people. He’s not even wired to an iPod or iPhone. It’s the new ‘Project Glass’, Google’s super-smartphone that will be built into your glasses. In what some are calling the Eye-phone, you ask questions into the air, which are picked up by the microphone in the arms of your glasses and you then see the answers on the surface of those glasses. In the YouTube clip our hero looks up the weather, gets directions, takes photos, you name it, just by focussing on his inbuilt screen. Even his romantic evening is virtual: the girl is who-knows-where and they are Skyping through their glasses.
Such are the godlike possibilities before us: instant information and global communication. Like our epistle says, “you that used to be far off are now brought very close” (Eph 2:13) – though not by the Blood of Christ, as Paul had it, so much as by the techno-Trinity of Apple, Microsoft and Google. But does it really bring us closer or make us wiser?
In today’s Gospel the Twelve return from their first mission and Jesus calls them aside for debriefing (Mk 6:30-34). He could simply have read their minds or given them visions more spectacular than any EyePhone. But He wanted to be with them in person and to hear firsthand what they had to say. So He takes them away to a quiet place ... Jesus often retreats to desert or hills, sea or garden, alone or with His apostles. Not because He hates people: in fact He regularly mixes with the crowds. Nor does He retreat because He prefers to worship alone: no, Jesus joins the public worship in the synagogue and Temple and institutes His Eucharist as the perpetual sacrifice offered by Him with the Twelve and their successors, the bishops and the Church. But even He and they need peace and quiet from time to time, if they are to reflect on what’s been happening, if they are to listen to the voice of the Father whispering in their hearts, if they are to be redirected and recharged for their public mission. Amidst all the techno-babble, all the noise of modern life, we all need to make space and time for ourselves, our loved ones and our God.
Mass is one of those times and today we celebrate 50 golden years of Masses in this parish church and consecrate it as a haven of peace and communion for the people of St Marys. Many people find that here through the 12 weekly Masses and many other pastoral activities. As I complete my canonical visitation of the parish I must say I have been very impressed by the service provided by the Salesians of Don Bosco and their many collaborators here, and by the participation of so many. It is a very lively and faithful parish.
But we dare not get complacent. If 1300 or so gather here every Sunday that’s great, but that means more than 10,000 or so Catholics living in this parish are not at Mass. We’ve got work to do, as a Catholic community, to call people aside, as Jesus did, to be with Him – both the already-Catholics and those who don’t know this spiritual home. We must be mission-minded people, aware of the multitude ‘like sheep without a shepherd’. We must ‘take pity on them’, as Christ did, and set ourselves to teach them, to bring them to Christ.
So I ask this parish to consider: what are you doing about the state secondary school children with no catechist? What is your strategy to reconnect with the missing Catholics and to invite others to make Our Lady of the Rosary their home? How are you going to involve younger people more in the life of your parish? Each one of you must strengthen your own Catholic identity and piety and willingness to engage with others. Each of you must identify a parish activity to which you might contribute. You must nurture your community and form new leaders and lay ministers. Jesus takes us aside not so that we can become pew potatoes but so that He can send us out to change the world.
Technology creates more opportunities for informing and networking than ever before. Yet people still feel isolated, ‘far off’ from each other. They text each other in the same house or office, as if strangers. They split their attention, texting one while talking to another and thinking about a third. (No such distraction here, I’m sure!) The technology allows us not just to be alone or together, but to be ‘alone together’, living in bubbles, wired to earbuds, keyboards and touch screens, living imaginary profiles, and retouching our own image and all reality. But when Jesus takes us aside, it’s for one-to-one contact, for One-to-Twelve contact, for one-to-1300 contact with the real us. He wants our attention, unobstructed by gimmicks or gizmos.
How many of us have discovered that these possessions end up possessing us, that labour-saving devices actually consume more of us than ever before, that they cry like children for our immediate attention and distance us rather than drawing us into communion? Don’t get me wrong: I use them for my own research and for proclaiming the Gospel. But they cannot speak heart to heart to God in prayer or face-to-face with friends in Christ. We need quiet and we need company and technology alone provides neither. Real communion is achieved not by ‘following’ or ‘adding’ more people to our Facebook page, but by plugging into the Body of Christ and putting on the new glasses not of Google but of grace. In Christ there is a new perspective, new directions, new calendar, new roof-top intimacy, as it were, that comes from breaking down all ‘walls’ and experiencing that heartfelt compassion that unites us with others.
Our church community of Our Lady of the Rosary here at St Marys says this by its life; our church building also. Fifty years ago this community could not have its church consecrated as it had not yet been paid off. So it dedicated the altar and waited. Now you are ready for that next step in your parish’s life, completing the dedication of the whole building. It is a great joy to be with you for this, and to be with you as Christ would be, in person.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Mass for the Golden Jubilee of Ordination to Priesthood of Father Carl Ashton, Parish Priest of Sacred Heart Parish South Mount Druitt, Saturday 21 July 2012
I don’t know what sorts of baby photos there are of Father Carl. Back when he was born there was less photography but perhaps there is a snap or two of the future Parish Priest of Sacred Heart at South Mount Druitt with about the same amount of hair as he has now and a similar look on his face. These days parents start the photos – and indeed the videos – of their children even before they are born. With the miracle of ultrasound it is possible to see with remarkable clarity unborn babies as they develop and move about. Some women even Photoshop their baby’s sonogram on to a maternity shot of themselves full-bellied. In this world of the tech savvy, Fr Carl might not have a Facebook page or engage in tweeting, but there are plenty of unborn babies who do. Their photos and the messages scripted for them by their parents are tagged in family photo albums and viewed via the internet by relatives on the opposite side of the world.
It’s a brave new world, this one, different in so many ways to the world into which Fr Carl was ordained 50 golden years ago. Yet one constant is the preciousness of human life in the womb and thereafter – the image of God in the world – to which the Prophet Jeremiah gives testimony in our first reading tonight (Jer 1:4-9) and to which Fr Carl has given unceasing testimony in his preaching and teaching. Interestingly, pro-abortionists are increasingly uncomfortable with ultrasound because they say it makes it all too obvious to people that an unborn baby is just that – a baby, one of us, perhaps a future prophet or priest or other friend of mankind. And that, they fear, will weaken public support for abortion – another matter little talked about 50 years ago.
“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,” says the Lord tonight, “before you came to birth I consecrated you.” Before our own mothers had a chance to get snaps of us, our Heavenly Father already knew us, already loved us, already had big plans for us. He photoshopped His image on to us and carved our names into the palm of His hand. But if He gives every human being the dignity of that friendship with Him, He calls some in particular through Baptism, ordination or sacred vows to be consecrated for a holy purpose. He sets aside prophets and priests to speak for Him and so He promises to put His own words in their mouths. They are to respond, as Paul puts it, with “none of the reticence of those who are ashamed, no deceitfulness or watering down the Word of God; but stating the truth openly … preaching Christ Jesus, not ourselves.” (2 Cor 4:1-2, 5-7).
Today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ordination of a priest who has served with such courage and candour. Fr Carl Ashton has dedicated his life to this. He’s known to show up here and there, like an illusive phantom, out and about the business of the Lord, the great work of administration and preaching to which Paul adverted. He has been a man of faith, never watering down the Gospel or Catholic teaching; a man of hope, who held on through the tumult of the early years after his ordination, confident that Christ is always with His Church; and a man of charity, housing the needy and very much at home with the people of South Mount Druitt. As a seminarian once put it: “He’s done so much good for so many people … It’s priests like that that you aspire to be like.”
In this he is a priest after the model of that Second Vatican Council whose golden jubilee we also celebrate this year. Not of some imaginary spirit of the Council, but of its actual teachings: about the Scriptures and Tradition, the one deposit of Faith, guarded and re-presented to every generation by the magisterium of the Church and by her faithful priests, who sanctify, preach and govern in persona Christi and in communion with the Pope and bishops. He is an example of that affirmative orthodoxy, that joyful embrace of the Faith, to which popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have given such testimony and which make them a kind of living continuation of the authentic Council.
Already in those pre-conciliar years his peers recognised Fr Carl’s reliability, so that even the best and brightest would borrow his notes of seminary classes. In the post-conciliar years parishioners came likewise to rely upon his teaching, that clarity to which St Paul refers tonight, a Catholic light amidst the dark storms of secularism, liberalism and dissent. He’s kept fit, frighteningly fit, eluding the portliness of many clerics, perhaps by nervous energy, but also by regularly avoiding food altogether, or else eating All Bran when others are tucking into a roast, or giving himself careful rationed portions from doggy bags previously collected.
As I asked last year of his friend Fr Rod Bray, so I wonder again this year: how many times has bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ through his hands since Sir Norman Cardinal Gilroy anointed them? By now it might be approaching 20,000 times! How many tongues have received the Blessed Sacrament from those hands, how many foreheads the waters of Baptism or oil of the sick, how many hearts absolution or blessing with the sign of the cross? Hundreds of thousands, a countless multitude, that ‘many’ described in the Words of Consecration in the Mass.
“Holy Father,” prayed Christ in His priestly prayer at the Last Supper, “keep those you have given me true to your name [and united in your love]. Consecrate them in the Truth; your Word is Truth … For their sake I consecrate myself, so that they too may be consecrated in truth … [and] so that others, too, will believe in me.” (Jn 17:11, 17-23) Amen, says this faithful priest, this golden priest, by his teaching and by his life. Congratulations, Fr Carl, and thank you. Ad multos annos!
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B, Installation of Fr Albert Wasniowski osppe as Parish Priest of St Margaret Mary’s Parish, Merrylands, Sunday 15 July 2012
‘Get out there and evangelise.’ (Mk 6:7-13) The Twelve were still learning the ropes. They head off to get experience as preachers, to learn as much as to teach, and return to Jesus for more formation. But already He hints it won’t always be easy. They won’t always be welcome, nor will their message of repentance. And there is dark talk of unclean spirits, demons both within and without, resisting their progress.
Last weekend Thaddeus Ma Daqin was ordained Auxiliary Bishop of Shanghai. Shanghai is an ancient city with a population equal to that of Australia. I’m particularly interested in it as my mother was born and grew up there. Perhaps she was confirmed in the very cathedral church of St Ignatius in which the new bishop was ordained. It could almost have been by the same bishop, as the ordaining prelate Aloysius Jin Luxian was 96 years old! The new bishop, Thaddeus Ma, told the congregation he would now be devoting himself heart and soul to the episcopal ministry and evangelisation, and so would be quitting all connection with the patriotic association – the communist body that monitors and tries to control all Church appointments and activities. The 1200 strong congregation rose to rapturous applause.
It was incredibly brave. The new bishop knew he must heed the charge of Jesus Christ to the Twelve. He must get out there and evangelise. He knew it would be hard. In China, people are regularly arrested or ‘disappeared’ for being too publicly Christian. The atheist government waxes and wanes in its attitude, sometimes tolerating, at other times persecuting, Christians. The official view is that religion is naturally dying out, but it seems to be taking its time so the state tries to hurry it up. Worship, catechesis and pastoral leadership may or may not be permitted on any particular day. Catholics find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place – the ‘rock’ of the true Catholic Church of Peter and the ‘hard place’ of the state-controlled church.
Predictably the communists were not pleased by Bishop Thaddeus Ma’s declaration. He was whisked away by secret police shortly afterwards and is now under house arrest in a seminary. He could not even attend what was to have been his first Mass as bishop the next day. Government officials say he won’t be permitted to exercise any episcopal ministry. He may well die a martyr’s death.
‘Get out of here Prophet,’ said the officials to Amos in our first reading today (Amos 7:12-15). ‘This is the state church, the royal sanctuary, the national temple. You have to belong to the official brotherhood of prophets if you want to preach around here.’ ‘But I must be a shepherd to the flock,’ said Amos in reply, said Bishop Thaddeus Ma in reply.
We can’t help but be reminded of the early Church that so often faced persecution and martyrdom. The blood of martyrs was said to be the seed of new Christians, and there was plenty of blood and seed. By the time Mark was writing his Gospel it was already happening all around him. So he was careful to recall Jesus’ warnings about the persecutions associated with genuine preaching of repentance, genuine teaching of the Catholic Faith, genuine proclamation of the Gospel. It is reliably estimated that around 150,000 Christians are now killed for the Faith every year, which translates into 17 new martyrs every hour of every day.
As I said, there are demons within and without, obstacles to preaching both internal and external. The bad guys are not all ‘out there’ somewhere. In each of us there is fear, cowardice, laid-backness, party spirit, lukewarmness. There is understandable disillusionment about how some have let us down. There is justified disgust at the crimes perpetrated against the innocent and cynicism about how they were handled. If evangelisation was always hard it is harder when the Church’s credibility is damaged by such things. No wonder, we might say, that the Gospel is unwelcome in some places, given who carries it. And even when that is not at issue, we know how challenging that Gospel can be, even if it is also a tremendous comfort.
How much easier it would be to gather with a small group of the like-minded and wash our hands of the outsiders. How tempting to join the patriotic association and do whatever we must so they’ll leave us alone. Couldn’t we just stay home with Jesus? Not if it’s the real Jesus we want, rather than our own invention. The Jesus of the Gospel sends us out to bring Him to the world and bring that world to Him. He’s upfront from the start that it won’t always be easy. But it will be through Him and with Him and in Him. He will be beside us on the road and within us in our hearts.
Tonight we install Fr Albert Wasniowski osppe as your Parish Priest. To have the Provincial of the Pauline Fathers as your PP is a special privilege. But I had to find someone able to fill the big shoes of the beloved Fr Rod Bray. Fr Albert is now responsible on my behalf for the worship, evangelisation and service of this parish, along with Fr Damian Moskowski osppe, the Assistant Priest. In his priestly service Fr Albert must sanctify you by prayer and sacrament. In his prophetic service he must proclaim the Gospel and the teachings of the Church to you in season and out. In his shepherding he must lead and serve you as Christ did. He must build you up as one family, one flock, so you go back to the world not one by one, but ‘two by two’, as Christ sent us, as the united Catholic community of Merrylands, in communion with your bishop and thus part of the Diocese of Parramatta and the universal Church stretching across time and space. If he does this faithfully it will make Fr Albert a saint; it might even make him a martyr! But he cannot do it by himself. Together, priests and people can do far more than anyone could do alone. In the process it will make you all the saints God calls you to be.
Visit the website of the Pauline Fathers’ Monastery at Penrose Park, Berrima:
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fishop OP - 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B, Installation of Fr Robert Riedling as Parish Priest of Padre Pio Parish Glenmore Park, Saturday 14 July 2012
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‘Get out there and evangelise.’ (Mk 6:7-13) They were still seminarians, as it were, still learning the ropes from Him. This was what we’d call today their first ‘pastoral placement’. They would be there to get experience, to learn as much as to teach. Then they’d come back to Jesus for more formation. Only after they’d been through His Passion, Resurrection and Pentecost would they go forth as apostles. Already He hints it won’t always be easy. They won’t always be welcome, nor will their message of repentance. And there is dark talk of unclean spirits, demons both within and without, resisting their progress.
It was incredibly brave. The new bishop knew he must heed the charge of Jesus Christ to the Twelve. He must get out there and evangelise. He knew it would be hard. In China, people are regularly arrested or ‘disappeared’ for being too publicly Christian. The atheist government waxes and wanes in its attitude, sometimes tolerating, at other times persecuting, Christians. The official view is that religion is naturally dying out, but it seems to be taking its time dying so the state tries to hurry it up. Worship, catechesis and pastoral leadership may or may not be permitted on any particular day. Catholics find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place – the ‘rock’ of Peter and the true Catholic Church and the ‘hard place’ of the state-controlled church.
Predictably the communists were not pleased by Bishop Thaddeus Ma’s declaration. He was whisked away by the secret police shortly afterwards and is now under house arrest in a seminary. He could not even attend what was to have been his first Mass as bishop the next day. Government officials have declared he won’t be permitted to exercise any episcopal ministry. He may well die a martyr’s death.
‘Get out of here Prophet,’ said the officials to Amos in our first reading today (Amos 7:12-15). ‘This is the state church, the royal sanctuary, the national temple. You have to belong to the official brotherhood of prophets if you want to preach around here. ‘But I must be a shepherd to my flock,’ said Amos in reply, said Bishop Thaddeus Ma in reply.
We can’t help but be reminded of the early Church that so often faced persecution and martyrdom. The blood of martyrs was said to be the seed of Christians, and there was plenty of blood and seed. By the time Mark was writing the Gospel we heard tonight it was already happening all around him. So he was careful to recall Jesus’ warnings about the persecutions associated with genuine preaching of repentance, genuine teaching of the Catholic faith, genuine proclamation of the Gospel. It is reliably estimated that around 150,000 Christians are now killed for the Faith every year, which translates into 17 new martyrs every hour of every day.
As I said, there are demons within and without, obstacles to preaching both internal and external. The bad guys are not all ‘out there’ somewhere. In each of us there is fear, cowardice, laid-backness, party spirit, lukewarmness. Internal to our community there are divisions over persons, doctrines or practices; there is a proper comfort in being together but perhaps not enough discomfort about all those who not present. There is disillusionment about how some have let us down. There is justified disgust at the crimes perpetrated against the innocent and cynicism about how they were handled. If evangelisation was always hard it is harder when the Church’s credibility is damaged by such things. No wonder, we might say, that the Gospel is unwelcome in some places, given who carries it. And even when that is not an issue, we know how challenging that Gospel can be, even if it is also deeply consoling.
Tonight we install Fr Robert Riedling as your Parish Priest. He will be responsible on my behalf for the worship, evangelisation and service of this parish. In his priestly service he must sanctify you by prayer and sacrament. In his prophetic service he must proclaim the Gospel and the teachings of the Church to you in season and out.
In his shepherding he must lead and serve you as Christ did. He must build you up as one family, one flock, so you go back to the world not as lone individuals, but ‘two by two’, as Christ sent us, as the united Catholic community of Glenmore Park, in communion with your bishop and thus part of the Diocese of Parramatta and the universal Church stretching across time and space. If he does this faithfully it will make Fr Robert a saint; it might even make him a martyr! But he cannot do it by himself. Together, priest and people, can do far more than anyone could do alone. In the past few weeks you have demonstrated that you can rally around to support each other in faith and hope and love. If you continue to do this it will make you all the saints God calls you to be. And so together you must sit at the feet of the Lord and listen to what He is prompting in Glenmore Park today.
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Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Mass for the Silver Jubilee of Ordination to Priesthood of Father Bob Bossini, Parish Priest of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, Greystanes, Friday 13 July 2012
Last week the Vatican published a document on Fostering Priestly Vocations. One of the presenters in Rome was Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès OP, then Secretary for the Congregation for Catholic Education, who recently addressed 1000 principals and other leaders at our congress on Catholic Schools: Centres of the New Evangelisation organised by the Diocese of Parramatta. The very next day he celebrated Mass for our priests and principals. I then spoke on promoting priestly vocations, among other things, but the Archbishop didn’t let on that he was about to launch a document on this very topic for the whole Church! I’ve not had a chance to check whether he took any lines from my talk. But given how successfully he gave nothing away, it’s little wonder he has just be announced as Head of the Vatican Library and the Secret Archives.
I’m told the new document will examine the situation of priestly vocations in the world today, discuss the much-contested question of priestly identity and make some suggestions for the promotion of vocations. One such suggestion is surely this: let people see good, happy priests, courageous in proclaiming the Word of God, joyful in the service of God and His people, a good pastor after the model of the Good Shepherd in our Gospel (Jn 10:11-16). The man whose silver jubilee of priesthood we celebrate today is such a shepherd.
I’m not sure whether you, his beloved flock of Greystanes, think of him as a shepherd or are flattered to be called his ‘sheep’. A sheep doesn’t immediately conjure up thoughts of a courageous or thoughtful disciple of Christ. We tend to think of sheep as dumb, submissive, exploitable and expendable. If someone described Greystanes parishioners as ‘a bunch of sheep’ you might not take it as a compliment! Likewise the word ‘shepherd’ is not one we use in Australia for our farmers. The word is more likely to evoke images from Christmas cards and Christmas pageants rather than leaders, sanctifiers and teachers.
So why is it then that when Jesus calls us His sheep who know Him and listen to His voice, we are not insulted at all? Because we know He doesn’t treat us as mere animals to be led to the abattoir or the shearing shed and exploited. We know that in our need we can trust Him to nourish us with His words and sacraments, as a good shepherd ensures his sheep are well pastured. We know that in our difficulties He will guide and protect us, with a love and wisdom and divine power no ordinary farmer has. And we hope that that is the model for our priests.
What sort of a shepherd has Bob Bossini been? His experience is considerable and it is varied: at Salesian College Sunbury, BoysTown in Engadine, the Don Bosco Youth Centre in Brunswick, as superior of the Salesian communities in Hobart and Engadine, as associate pastor and then Parish Priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, St Marys, and now as Parish Priest of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, Greystanes. He’s been a religious and a diocesan priest, a school teacher, school counsellor, chaplain to Marriage Encounter and a spiritual director. Isaiah’s job description for a priest (Isa 61:1-3), that Jesus Himself took as His own (Lk 4:17-19), of bringing good news, friendship and healing to the poor, the captive, the heart-broken, has clearly been his charter also. Fr Bob has been described as a simple and humble man of God who knows how to deal with people individually, to lend a listening ear and a helping hand, and to connect with people in a light and casual way. He is a great one for encouraging the active participation of people in parish life and mentors many people in an affirming way. I have chosen to entrust my baby priest to his nurture, confident that he will have this priest as a worthy model.
Now before this starts sounding like a eulogy, let me tell you he’s not dead yet. In fact, I want at least another 25 good years of priesthood out of him. Then we’ll both be about ready to retire. It’s not a eulogy because he’s not dead yet and because I’m not pretending he’s perfect yet either. The men that Christ chooses as priests are not supermen, not saints, at least to begin with. No, God uses ordinary human beings like Fr Bob, with all their gifts and foibles, as His ministers, and does extraordinary things through them and with them and in them.
As we look forward later this year to commemorating the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, we recall its teaching that Christ left His Church in the care of shepherds after His own heart so that Christians might continue to be taught, sanctified and guided by Him. Until His return the apostles and their successors, the bishops and the clergy in communion with them, are so charged with that task that the Council could dare to say that whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ.
Such extraordinary claims could only be made by people with great faith in Christ’s continuing providential care, great hope for the Church as humanity’s best friend and great love for the shepherds and sheep, both presently of this flock and those referred to in our Gospel tonight, who are still to be.
More than 50 years ago a boy was called out of Egypt, as was Our Lord as a boy. In Bob’s case he was called to Australia rather than Galilee. Twenty-five years ago this week that same boy received the laying on of hands and prayer of priestly ordination from the then-Archbishop of Sydney, Edward Bede Clancy. His great Yes to the call of the Lord will, I trust, continue to bear much fruit in the coming years. While he started that journey at Springwood as a candidate for the diocesan priesthood, then spent more than 30 years with the Salesians of Don Bosco, he finally returned to the diocesan fold in which he will now be ensconced firmly for many more decades. Tonight we pay tribute to all those who formed and supported him in his priesthood along those several stages.
Download Pastoral Guidelines for Fostering Vocations to Priestly Ministry
Vatican Today: Fostering vocations to the priesthood is a constant challenge for the church
Tags: Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP homilies Catholic Diocese of Pararmatta
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Vigil Mass for 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B, ACTA and ACBA Conferences, St Mary’s College, Parkville, Saturday 7 July 2012
A story is told of a travelling circus camped on the outskirts of a town in rural NSW. One evening, shortly before show time, a fire broke out. The manager sent the clown, who was already dressed for his act, to ask for the townspeople’s help to put out the blaze and to warn them that it could spread to the village. But the people only laughed at him: they thought it was a brilliant ruse to interest them in the circus. They laughed and applauded his antics, but because they didn’t take the messenger seriously they couldn’t hear his message. By the time the bushfire reached the town it was too late and all was lost.
Something similar happened to Jesus when He returned home (Mk 6:1-6). On tour He’d made a big impact but His own now rejected Him. So He made His famous declaration that a prophet is not honoured in his own town, words that have become proverbial in many cultures. Why did this happen? Well, one reason might be that they were too familiar with Him. They thought they knew Him all too well. He wasn’t anything special and He had nothing to say that they didn’t know already.
Some of you might know the writings of the American novelist Anne Rice who, after years as an avowed atheist, had a brief reversion to the Catholic faith of her childhood, and took some time out writing historical fiction about the life of Jesus. After selling 100 million books in the vampire and evangelical Christian markets (overlap?) she spun back out of orbit, declaring herself pro-Christ but anti-Christian. Christians were just too quarrelsome and judgmental, she thought, not gay-friendly, feminist-friendly, Democrat-friendly or even vampire friendly. But her legacy – Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt – is a good read. In an author’s postscript she explained that she had long found the non-divine Jesus of secular atheists and liberal theologians unconvincing. She wondered at the tone of superiority, pity, even contempt in some exegetical and theological commentaries. She’d not encountered it in other fields of historical research. Good biographers, while never uncritical, are always sympathetic towards their subjects, she thought; they find redeeming qualities even in villains. Without interest, empathy, appreciation, we cannot hope to understand and communicate the past. So why, Rice wondered, is there so little friendship with the past, with Jesus, in liberal Jesus scholarship? It’s an interesting question.
I wonder if we theologians, exegetes, hierarchs and preachers sometimes risk being like Jesus’ hometown crowd, over-familiar with His life and message, context and interpretations. Do we sometimes feel like them that we’ve got Him all neatly sewn up? Prophets speak for mystery, for things we don’t really know when we imagine we do, and that is not always welcome.
There’s a second reason, perhaps, why Jesus was dismissed in His hometown. Quite simply: He wasn’t saying what people wanted to hear anymore. It was all very well when He offered consoling, poetic words like the beatitudes – at least as long as you didn’t attend to those words too closely. After all, they’d be the stuff of weddings and school Masses for centuries to come! But increasingly people found His message deeply confronting. Truth is the first thing that goes out the window when a community wants to protect the established order. Just think of the communists rewriting history, repeatedly, to ensure that even the dead offered no resistance. Or look at the reporting of the ‘same-sex marriage’ issue at the moment, with one side presented as for liberty and equality and the other side as benighted bigots. Victoria’s Deputy Chief Psychiatrist, Kuruvilla George, dared challenge this ideology when he joined 150 doctors in submitting to a federal inquiry the radical view that children do better with a mum and a dad, committed to each other and to the kid for the long haul. For this he was pilloried, driven out of his post on the Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission and threatened with being drummed out of both university and medicine. As a Dominican I recognise the ancient techniques of the Inquisition.
Tonight Ezekiel is sent to speak the Word of the Lord to Israel, ‘whether they listen or not’ (Ezek 2:2-5). So too is Christ. It’s not always a comfortable position to be in. Our lectionary says Jesus was ‘amazed’ by the reaction. ἐθαύμαζεν might be translated ‘He was in admiration’ or ‘awe’; but here it is something more like ‘He was stunned’ – so stumped He couldn’t even work miracles. In this golden jubilee year we recall that the Second Vatican Council called the Church a prophetic people (LG 12, 31, 35 etc.), speaking the Word of the Lord, guided by divine wisdom, persuading by beauty and love. But even that most optimistic Council recognised that this will sometimes meet stunning resistance from “the rulers of this world, the dark forces of iniquity” (LG 35 after Eph 6:12). If a prophet is despised in his own country, so too may be a prophetic people.
Prophets speak for divine mystery; they speak also for divine judgment and that may also be unwelcome. If someone comes along and says: you work too hard; you neglect your loved ones or your spiritual life; you are too materialistic or ambitious; you are a liar or full of prejudices … she won’t be greeted with open arms. If a prophetic people says the economy is based on creating and feeding false needs; that endless consumption on credit is unsustainable; that little ones like the unborn, mentally ill, elderly and boat people are regularly violated or neglected – they may be as unwelcome as an asylum seeker in Canberra.
his was God’s great gamble: He could give us what we want, plenty of presents, a spectacle or two, occasional riddles from a mysterious stranger we can politely ignore. Or He could become one of us, from a village or suburb like ours, come speaking divine mystery and divine judgment, and ask us in due course to preach and challenge likewise. That makes Him – and in turn us – harder to misunderstand but easier to write off. It makes His message – and so ours – more challenging and more readily rejected. To come so close as to be our familiar, carpenter, clown, may allow Him more successfully to reveal God to us, but it also risks revealing us more fully to ourselves than we would like.
Make your exegetes and theologians, pastors and people, a prophetic people, O Lord. Give them wisdom to speak of your mystery and courage to speak of your judgment. Open their eyes to the inexhaustible mysteries of God, creation and the human person. Increase their delight in those mysteries, even as they become more familiar with them. Grant them ears to hear and hearts to judge and words to speak. Grant, too, that they might be heard – when their words are truly yours.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Mass for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Sunday, 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B, 1 July 2012, Holy Family Parish, Mt Druitt
The Catholic Diocese of Parramatta is graced to have the largest concentration of urban Indigenous people of any diocese in Australia. On this Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday we recognise in a special way their spiritual connection with the land and history of this area and of all this continent, we honour their elders past and present and all their people, we acknowledge wrongs suffered in the past and commit to trying to rectify the continuing damaging effects of those wrongs, and we pray for justice and reconciliation between all Australians. We do so in faith and hope and love, celebrating the many involvements of Aboriginal people in the life of our local Church and calling them to assume their rightful place in the future of our Church.
Our readings today celebrate a God of life who takes no pleasure in a man’s death (Wis 1:13-15; 2:23-24). For life, He made us, life to the full (Jn 10:10). Jesus comes as proof of this. Jesus, the man of healing, the God of power, brings cure, restoration, reconciliation, even to our little lost daughter (Mk 5:21-43).
There’s lots going on in this Gospel, as in any sacred story. Jesus is interrupted en route to the girl. A woman with a haemorrhage wants to touch Him and draw forth His power. She’s desperate, trembling, breaking all taboos about women touching men and the sick touching the well. Jesus names her ‘daughter’ which means she is now kin, no longer distant, no longer taboo. As her faith and love grow, so does her strength. The encounter with Jesus heals. So too for another adopted daughter. The little one is dead. To touch her corpse is again forbidden. But Jesus is Lord of Life and to Him all men are alive. Life is restored. A child runs about again, hungry and talkative.
God made us in His image and intended eternal life for us. Death came by the devil’s envy and our sin, the sage explains. It was no part of God’s plan in the beginning.
In the beginning. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth – the sun and moon, seas and land, the creatures of the air and sea and land, the plants and animals and humans (Gen ch. 1). In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God from the beginning. From the beginning all things came to be through Him. He was the true light, coming into the world. And the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us, full of grace and truth. His name was Jesus (cf. Jn ch. 1).
In the beginning, in principio, these things happened and from the beginning,ab origine, they were God’s plan for us. Our word Aborigine means from the beginning. The first ones: the ones who know best the heavens and earth, the skies and seas and land, and the creatures therein. From the beginning, too, they were made to receive the Christ. “You are a part of Australia and Australia is a part of you,” said Blessed John Paul II, “And the Church herself in Australia will not be fully the Church that Jesus wants her to be until you have made your contribution to her life and until that contribution has been joyfully received by others.”
From the beginning, planted deep in your souls, was a spiritual sense, a hunger for God, a nous about the preciousness of things. Death was no part of God’s plan for us and Aboriginal communities have been especially resistant to ‘the culture of death’, to abortion and euthanasia and the rest. This Church, this country, will never be all it could be and should be, without your religious sense, your love for Christ, your sense of the preciousness of things – regardless of race, sex, age and size.
Christ respects yet transcends all taboos in our Gospel today, because He makes us His own daughters, His own kin, and draws near those most marginalised, outcast, excluded. With that contact, something extraordinary happens; people are healed, given back their dignity as the image of God, broken families are reunited, community life restored, newness of life begins.
Christ wants us to be fully healed, as it was ab origine, from the very beginning. He takes nothing away from us that is genuinely good, only raises and perfects it.
Some imagined becoming Christian must cost people their history, culture, identity. But as Pope Benedict XVI said on the day he was made Pope: “If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide … the great potential of human existence truly revealed ... beauty and liberation” experienced. There is no Christian reason to surrender anything true or good or beautiful in your culture and people. That is what Christ says, the Popes say, and the Church in Australia says to you today.
Just before Mass we had a rite of the water sprinkling which has been a sign of blessing and harmony among some Aboriginal people from time immemorial. For Catholic newcomers to this land it should immediately have recalled Baptism. Originals and more Recents, both see in water a promise of the Aboriginal God, the God who was here from the beginning, quenching our desert thirst and uniting us around His font. There are parallels, too, in the power of smoke in our ancient ceremonies; and in the bringing forth of messages, on wooden stick or paper from wood, Gospel stories echoing through the ages.
Sadly the parallels often went unrecognised, the common ground on which to build together. Fear of the unknown, arrogant self-assurance, mutual incomprehension divided our land and broke hearts, families, cultures. But we hope. As Pope John Paul put it: “The leaves are scorched and the tough bark is scarred and burned; but inside the tree the sap is still flowing, and under the ground the roots are still strong. Like that tree you have endured the flames, and you still have the power to be reborn.”
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Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP – Mass of Ordination to the Priesthood of Arnulfo (Larry) Tolentino St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, Solemnity of Saints Peter & Paul, Friday 29 June 2012
Hollywood is endlessly fascinated with the Catholic Church, its benighted beliefs and practices, its bad popes and priests, exorcists and the rest. Were the failed movie versions of Dan Brown’s novels not enough, they recently did it again with a movie called The Priest. I learnt about it from posters plastered on the walls near the chancery. Paul Bettany, the albino monk from The Da Vinci Code was back, this time playing a Catholic priest by day and vampire-slayer by night.
Well, that’s one model of priesthood ... In the film our hero rebels against a predictably corrupt and dogmatic ‘Church’ and disposes of anyone who gets in the way of his mission to save his niece from vampires. ABC film critic Margaret Pomeranz said it was a case of a visual effects director saying “oh, damn, I've got to put characters in there and a story. What a nuisance.” David Stratton rated it 1½ stars out of 5.
But still it showed. And it tells us something about the priesthood in the popular imagination, at least in Hollywood today. Priests are power hungry and callous; their dogmas without rhyme or reason; their decisions calculated to hurt whomever opposes them. With names such as ‘the Monsignor’, like the sinister ‘Magisterium’ in the 2007 film The Golden Compass, and dressed up in sacred garb, these clerical caricatures are always contra mundum, against the world, indeed against just about everything.
Well, as I said, that’s one model of priesthood ... Of course there is an against aspect to priesthood. Christ Himself opposed anything that diminishes the human person, such as sin and vice, sickness and death, ignorance and error, disunity and the devil. But He was for much more than He was against. As Pope Benedict XVI has said, “Be completely convinced of this: Christ takes from you nothing that is beautiful and great, but brings everything to perfection for the glory of God, the happiness of men and women, and the salvation of the world.” So if priests are sometimes counter-cultural, it is only so that they can be pro-cultural, pro-person, pro everything that contributes to authentic fulfilment.
Our feast draws attention to two warrior-priests of a sort: Peter, who once clumsily took a sword to the ear of an acolyte in Gethsemane; and Paul who was at the receiving end of a sword himself. They weren’t trained soldiers and their enemies were more real if more mundane than vampires: the demons within. One fought his own inconstancy, the other his stubbornness; one his lack of self-confidence the other his over-confidence. But any inadequacies were transcended by an abiding love for the risen Lord and a willingness to be His witnesses even unto death.
And death would come. In our first reading Peter was already in prison, one of many persecuted by King Herod in Jerusalem (Acts 12:1-11). Paul, too, writes from a prison cell but in Rome, where the Emperor Nero is hunting Christians, and Paul declares he’s fought the good fight as he foresees his denouement (2 Tim 4:6-8,17-18).
Being a priest today may be easier in some ways, but the internal spiritual warfare continues, intensified by individualism and consumerism, widespread moral disorientation, a hyper-sexualised culture and greedy economy, a polity that would see people die at sea rather than open hearts and borders. Externally, Christians face persecution as never before, with more martyrs than in Nero’s day. Even in safer countries there are challenges. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, reflecting upon declining religious freedom in America, recently declared: “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.”
I’m not so pessimistic, but we must be ever-vigilant to protect the rights and fulfil the responsibilities of our own commonwealth, even as we build God’s Kingdom. We each bring our gifts and foibles to that task. If the great founders of our Church, after Christ, were faithful yet needing more faith, virtuous but sinning, sinning but repenting, zealous but uneven in zeal, so are their successors, bishops, priests and people.
Tonight God calls Arnulfo Abelardo Tolentino from amongst his priestly people. We praise God that this man, Larry our brother, has generously responded. Like Peter and Paul he brings his past, his passions, his person. He is no albino, but like Paul Bettany, he’s an actor. His considerable experience in theatre, broadcasting and directing will hold him in good stead, both to evangelise the culture and to celebrate the sacred drama of the liturgy. Coming soon, to a parish near you, is not the 2011 film, The Priest, but a remake of The One High Priest, first made in 33AD starring Jesus of Nazareth, and remade a million times since in the lives of His priests. The actors don’t act for themselves: they act in the person of Christ Himself. Their audiences are not passive spectators with 3D glasses, but humanity, joyful and grieving, hopeful and anxious, aspiring to more, awaiting a champion.
Larry was about six when his Mother took him to Mass. At the offertory he saw people bringing up bread and wine, fruit, rice and other items common in Filipino culture. A man in white received the bounty with a smile. After Mass his mother noticed that Larry was unusually pensive and asked if he was sick. (People still ask that, if Larry is quiet for long.) “I’m not sick” young Larry declared, “but Mum, who was that man in the white dress?”
“That’s the priest,” she explained, “the one that brings Jesus to the people.”
“Mum, can I be like him?” Larry asked. “Why?” asked his mother, her heart perhaps thrilled, perhaps full of foreboding, perhaps both. “Do you want to become a priest?”
Not knowing what a priest was, Larry answered Yes. His mother asked Why. “Because I saw many people give him lots of food. When I grow up I would like people to give me lots of food too.”
Little did Larry know that he’d one day have the best seminary cook in the world. Or be in a diocese so multicultural there’s every cuisine imaginable. One that 1 in 5 of that diocese would be of Filipino background so that there’s plenty of lumpia, lechón, macapuno, even balut. Now Larry himself must be the cook, the one who prepares the Eucharistic meal, by which ordinary men and women are fed the Bread of Angels, the very Body and Blood of Christ the Lord. In recalling the great culture from which Larry hails, I call today upon all Filipinos of this Diocese to be proud of their Catholic heritage and keep strengthening and energising the rest of us, including giving us vocations.
My son, you are now to be advanced to the Order of the Presbyterate. You must apply yourself to teaching in the name of Christ our chief Teacher and Wisdom itself; to shepherding after the heart of Christ our Good Shepherd and model of servant leadership; and to sanctifying in the person of Christ who is our High Priest and the very sacrament we offer.
Today the People of God invite you to share in the most crucial aspects of their lives: their births, marriages and deaths, their sins and aspirations, their moments of touching the sacred and of desolation. Know what you are doing and imitate the mystery you celebrate. Do your part in the work of Christ the Priest with genuine love and joy, attending to the concerns of Christ before your own. United with your bishop, seek to bring the faithful together into one family and to lead them to the Father. In answer to Christ’s question today, “Who do you say I am?” join Peter and Paul in declaring by your every word and deed, every breath and heart-beat, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” (Mt 16:13-19)
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Mass of Thanksgiving for the Golden Jubilee of St Pauls Catholic College Greystanes, Solemnity of St Peter & St Paul, Friday 29 June 2012
In St Peter’s Basilica in Rome there is a mosaic copy of Raphael’s last painting, The Transfiguration, the original of which is now in the Vatican Museum. It was Raphael’s triumph and he died still painting it. It was carried at the head of the funeral procession to the Pantheon where he was buried and still awaits his own transfiguration. It’s a huge work, standing four metres high, and in two parts: the upper half shows a life-sized transfigured Christ, floating in the air in a tranquil ecstasy, surrounded by a nimbus of dazzling white light, with Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, either side and the apostles Peter, James and John shielding their eyes in terror and confusion.
Down below, in the lower half of the painting, is told the story of an epileptic boy, his eyes rolled back in a seizure, his desperate father at his side. While Jesus and His executive team are up the mountain, the remaining Apostles are trying to heal the boy – to no avail. In contrast to the tranquillity above everyone down below is contorted and agitated, pointing this way and that, as all human solutions fail. Only the epileptic boy, in the very moment of his convulsion, looks up to see Christ transfigured: he is the only one, as it were, who sees Christ for who He is!
In the middle of the scene below is a woman on her knees praying. She might be the boy’s mother, but she is also the Church, interceding for those in need, especially boys, like those at St Pauls, whatever their particular needs. Holy Mother Church bids Christ come and heal the boy, and so He does.
The painting is, of course, of chapter 17 of Matthew’s Gospel and it follows immediately after the scene in our Gospel today (Mt 16:13-19), where Jesus asks the apostles who they think He is. It is, as it were, God’s answer to that question: Jesus is the Glorious One, Jesus is the source of healing grace. But first the apostles are asked. Some people thought Jesus was John the Baptist returned or another prophet. ‘But you? Who do you say I am?’ He points His finger around this congregation today. In all you say and do, what does it say to the world about Christ? Who does it say you are, He is? Peter, it was, spoke up, professing the Church’s first creed: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
Peter got it right, more or less, and for this reason he was declared the Rock, the Key-bearer, the Binder and Looser, the first Pope. St Paul’s job, it would be, and that of his successors, to carry the whole message of the Gospel to the world (2 Tim 4:6-8, 17-18); Peter’s task it was, and that of his successors, to be a glue that binds those many races into one Church, those many gifted individuals into one community, with a rock-solid foundation that ensures continuity with the faith of the apostolic generation, the ones who like the epileptic boy, saw the things that Christ did.
Our readings recall the foundation of the Church and today we celebrate the foundation of this school, not on Mount Tabor but on Pendle Hill. St Simon Stock School for Boys (1958) first held classes in the open air and a garage, then in the first buildings opened and blessed by Cardinal Gilroy 50 years ago (1962). It evolved into Newman High and now St Pauls Catholic College Greystanes. The story is a complex one and after 50 golden years the buildings of the college are finer, the physical, human and spiritual resources more excellent, and the boys who emerge first rate. The college identifies itself publicly as one founded on the Gospel of Christ and the teachings of His Catholic Church. It welcomes young men into a community that seeks to preach and live as Christ did, a community of ‘mutual respect’ that enables ‘personal growth and achievement’ in young men who think for themselves, are confident, balanced and happy. These are high aspirations and they are summed up in your latest motto ‘Many gifts – one community’ – taken from the writings of St Paul (e.g. 1 Cor 12:4-13).
Today the Church celebrates two men whose demonstrate that such high aspirations are achievable. Peter and Paul complemented each other in many ways. One was an uneducated fisherman, the other a scholar-theologian. One was inconstant but flexible; the other ever-constant but unyielding. One was humble, the other a bragger. One a home missionary, the other sent to foreign parts. But what they had in common transcended all differences: a deep and abiding love for the risen Lord and a willingness to witness to Him, even unto death in Rome.
Like you and me, the great founders of our Church after Christ had their strengths and weaknesses, sometimes the very same qualities: faithful yet needing more faith, uneven in zeal, virtuous but sinning, sinning but repenting. And if first Peter and Paul were very human saints, with very human failings and strengths, so are their successors, so are we all. What they achieved was your school’s motto: they succeeded in making one community out of people with diverse natural and supernatural gifts.
Today we give thanks for a half century of helping young men grow to their full potential at St Pauls College, a golden anniversary of a work which has evolved into the great school we have today. Our task, for the next 50 years, will be to continue to be faithful to this calling of ours to gather in young men into a unity in their diversity, into communion with the One Lord.
Peter’s confession of faith and trust in the Lord and Paul’s valiant and heroic proclamation of the Gospel echo through the ages and across the world, even to 21st Century Greystanes. Grant us, Lord, in the next half century the grace to be worthy of those who have gone before us, the grace to make them proud so that the coming generations shall have their eyes raised to you in your glory and their feet planted firmly on the ground, together with our many gifts in one community.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP – Mass of the Nativity of St John the Baptist with Rite of Admission to Candidacy for the Permanent Diaconate for Willie Limjap and for the Priesthood for John Paul Escarlan, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Sunday 24 June 2012
For three months past our nation has been fixated not on politics, or same-sex marriage or even football so much as on a program called The Voice. Drawing audiences of up to two million a week, and three million for the finale, it was a coup for the Nine Network and the whole phenomenon of ‘reality TV’.
For those who’ve been out of contact with civilisation, let me explain that the series came in three phases: a blind audition, a battle phase and live performance shows. The audition, in which contestants are heard sight unseen, the judges must focus on the voice and exclude superficialities. Only when a voice truly impresses them, as one that could with coaching grow enough to win the competition, are the judges permitted to turn around and see the contestant they will coach through the rest of the competition. Declaring that the show had “shown me a new way, a new light, a new everything,” a new star was born when 19-year-old Karise Eden took the title.
Today the Church celebrates the birth of an earlier Voice, one crying out not in the Network Nine studios but in the wilderness. He too points us to a new way and a new light, indeed to One who is the Way, the Truth and the Light, and to a new everything, indeed to One who is the source of everything new.
It’s rare for a saint’s day to trump the Sunday celebration of Christ’s Resurrection in our liturgical calendar: the Holy Spirit at Pentecost or the Blessed Trinity may, but a saint’s birthday? It’s unusual in another respect: the Church normally celebrates their deaths rather than the births of her superheroes, because it’s only then that you know you’ve got a saint. We make a fuss of the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul, but no one celebrates their births; Our Lady’s Assumption in August is a major Holy Day but her September birthday passes by largely unnoticed. Yet today Baby Jonny gets the limelight. Why is that?
Well, because Baby was the judge at the blind audition of Jesus. At the Visitation, when Mary was perhaps two weeks pregnant, we are told that the unborn Baptist leaped for joy in his mother’s womb. He turned around his chair, so to speak, and declared that that yet unseen and unheard Voice would be the all-time winner. For a time John seemed to be a contestant, as the voice crying in the wilderness. But he insisted he was not the one; someone greater was coming (Acts 13:22-26). Then he heard Jesus’ voice and turned around his chair and declared “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world”. At every Mass, just before we receive Holy Communion, we hear the judge’s verdict: this is the One!
John the Baptist’s conception and birth closely mirrored Christ’s: both were miraculous, both to women who could not have expected to conceive. Both mothers experienced the power of the Holy Spirit, being filled with grace. Both fathers were confused, bemused, muted. Both boys were named unexpectedly (Lk 1:57-66, 80) and there were portents that something special was on the horizon for humanity. They paralleled each other, too, in lives of austerity, so that both had nowhere of his own to lay his head, until at last it was the executioner’s block and the cross. Both had a passion for God and the things of God; both preached as the prophets of old, preaching the truth whatever the cost. Both chose celibacy for the sake of God’s kingdom and gave their all for that kingdom. If John was to be the one to declare the winner, and Jesus was to be the true Voice of God, who made everything new, then John must precede Him, parallel Him, imitate Him, from first to last. And so we celebrate his first as well as his last, with feasts for his birth and for his death, just as we do for Jesus.
Today, in addition to celebrating the Nativity of the Baptist, we also admit to Willie Limjap as a Candidate for the Permanent Diaconate and John Paul Escarlan as a Candidate for Priesthood. The first is a married man who has juggled family, work and studies while being formed for this service, the other a seminarian whose somewhat convoluted formation has brought him to the verge of ordination in the celibate state.
Like John and Jesus there are many parallels in their stories. Both are Filipino Australians and in admitting them today for candidacy in this Diocese we recognise that one in 10 members of our Diocese is Filipino born; if one in 10 more is born here into Filipino-Australian families, Filipinos could make up as much as one-fifth of our people. They are people of great piety and evangelical energy and I call upon the Filipinos of this Diocese to be proud of their Catholic heritage and keep strengthening and energising the rest of us. Having been ‘coached’ like our singing contestants by their families, Filipino communities and then more formal clerical formation, they both heard the Voice of God even as teenagers, sometimes clearly, sometimes less so, and they persevered in discernment and availability.
My sons, like the young Karise Eden, a new and expansive future is opening up before you. You have been judged to have attained a maturity of purpose and to be sufficiently qualified to take a next step in your vocations. You probably won’t draw two to three million to hear your homilies. You won’t walk away today with a new car or a $100,000 cash prize. I can’t promise you a contract with SONY. But you will receive something far greater from the Way, the Truth and the Light who will continue to shape you for service and unite you more closely to Himself when at last you receive Holy Orders.
Christ commanded us: “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into his harvest.” You know His concern for His people, you see the needs of the Church, and you are ready to respond. You have discerned His Voice, vox-vocis, His calling voco-vocare, source of our word vocation. And you stand ready to respond generously to the Lord, to be made, in the words of our First Reading (Isa 49:1-6) a light to the nations, passing on the true Light who is Christ; ready to be made in a voice in the wilderness like John, passing on the Word who is Christ.
When God chooses men to share in the diaconal service and priestly shepherding of Christ, He moves and helps them by His grace. At the same time, He entrusts us with the tasks of calling and forming suitable candidates and consecrating them by the seal of the Holy Spirit. By the sacrament of Holy Orders you will be appointed to share in Christ’s ministry of salvation. So prepare now for that day. Learn day by day to live the life of the Gospel and deepen your faith, hope and love. Grow in the spirit of prayer and in the zeal of John the Baptist to win the world to Christ.
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St Paul was the first ‘bishop’ of the ‘diocese’ of Corinth (Acts 18:1-17). In today’s epistle he gives public thanks for the many graces God had showered upon that young church: great preachers, teachers and witnesses, fidelity to the Gospel and true worship, diverse and abundant spiritual gifts (1 Cor 1:3-9).
Paul was no rosy-eyed romantic about the Church. Some of his richest theological reflections were occasioned by bad reports from the Church in Corinth. There was sexual immorality, gambling, substance abuse, violence, you name it (1 Cor chs 5 & 6) – the sorts of things you find in the sin-city of Sydney but which are probably unknown in Toowoomba. As always, there were problems with the Liturgy (1 Cor chs 10 & 11).
Perhaps the biggest problem was division: immediately following Paul’s thanksgiving today we read about factions for Peter, for Paul, for Apollos and for Christ (1 Cor 1:10-13; cf. ch 3). Some lorded it over others because of their greater learning, maturity or gifts (1 Cor chs 1-4, 12). Deep divisions were emerging over marriage and celibacy, over various traditions and over relations with other religions (1 Cor chs 7 & 10).
Each party had its slogans and everyone was expected to pick sides. Paul had his own views on these things – he was pro-celibacy, anti-circumcision and didn’t much care what you did with idol meat – but his main concern was to reunite divided brothers and sisters.
In response to this Paul insists, again and again, that the true Church cannot be divided because the Church is the Body of Christ and Christ is undivided. Forget factionalism, he says, let go of ego, rivalries and hatreds. The role of an apostle must be that of a pontiff, pontifex or bridge-builder, bringing people together.
Even when St Paul was quite direct, as vicars general sometimes are, or frustrated that things didn’t go as planned, as bishops sometimes are, he wrote as a friend, a lover, as someone who wills only the good of the other. So Paul got to know his people and make their sanctification his first priority and soon they made him one of their own.
That getting-to-know-you-and-love-you adventure is ahead for Bishop Robert McGuckin as he is called to adopt and be adopted by a new family, the Church in Toowoomba. What might they reasonably expect of their new shepherd?
This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. That great council greatly enriched our theology of the episcopate. But when it did so, in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), it first reflected upon the People of God as “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Pet 2:9). They are, the Council taught, “a messianic people”, “a communion of life, love and truth”, “a kingdom of priests”.
The common priesthood of the baptised faithful and the ministerial priesthood of the ordained complement and are ordered to each other (LG 9-10). As bishops and priests share in a particular way in the triple office of Christ as priest, prophet and shepherd-king, they do so knowing that all the faithful also share in those offices (LG 11-17).
So the Council was not proposing a flat, Congregationalist view of the Church, as some have suggested, free of the supposedly sclerotic effects of hierarchy. It was, rather, a cross-shaped view, with both horizontal and vertical dimensions, with bishops and clergy there to serve and lead the laity but all called forth from one family dignified by Baptism.
There was no comfort here for the view of Monsignor George Talbot who famously wrote “What is the province of the laity? To hunt, to shoot, to entertain” – a position offered in protest at the larger role imagined for the laity by John Henry Newman (On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine 1859).
Newman’s bishop, William Ullathorne osb (1806-89), was drawn into the dispute. Ullathorne had, of course, previously been Vicar General of all of Australia, as Bob McGuckin probably feels he has been.
Believe it or not the name of the bishop to whom Ullathorne was Vicar General, the bishop than charged with care of the Mauritius, the Cape of Good Hope, Australia and other distant isles, was named Bishop William Morris (1794–1872).
After serving as Morris’ Vicar General in Sydney, Ullathorne finally returned home only to find himself named Bishop of Birmingham. In the dispute between Newman and Talbot, Ullathorne wondered publicly “Who are the laity?” and what have they to do with the Church, to which Newman famously replied “The Church would look rather foolish without them”.
Vatican II was a victory for Newman’s ecclesiology over Talbot’s but it was far from anti-hierarchical. It called the bishops successors of the apostles, a visible source and foundation of unity in faith and communion, transmitters of the apostolic line and tradition, with the fullness of the sacrament of Orders.
As collaborators with each other and the Pope, they exercise magisterium in teaching, stewardship over the liturgy, governance in local churches, uniting priests and people to each other and to Christ (LG 18-29). It’s a big ask!
But if Christ willed this hierarchy, as the Church believes, then those gifts for which Paul gave thanks in Corinth – of preaching, teaching and witness, of fidelity to the Gospel and true worship, of diverse charisms amongst the people – will be guaranteed in our day too.
A week ago at this altar a wedding was celebrated between a wonderful young couple whose engagement ring I blessed upon the altar at Cana in Galilee, while I was en route with them through the Holy Land to World Youth Day in Madrid.
The relationship which Bishop McGuckin will have to his new flock will be like that which began here last week. He too will wear a ring as a symbol of love for his people, his desire for their true happiness in this life and eternal happiness in the next.
He is now called, as Christ and His bishops are, to love the Church as a bride, giving his whole self for her. Of course, this match to Toowomba is an arranged marriage, with the Holy Father as matchmaker! But it is one which Bishop Bob accepts with joy.
We pray that the people of Toowoomba will likewise give thanks for Bob and take him to their hearts. It will not be hard. He is a compassionate man, a practical man, a friend to the sick and needy, as many priests know. He is a natural teacher and has a great sense of humour. He is an easy man to like.
He will also know what he is doing. His knowledge of Canon Law is legendary and only recently he was appointed Chief Justice of the ecclesiastical scene in NSW. He has been an enormous help to me and my predecessors as Vicar General.
He is a perfectionist, who sets the bar high for himself and those around him. He was described by one in the Chancery as “like a little terrier, nipping at your heels, keeping you moving, ensuring the job is done”.
I asked him recently if he would be attending the intensive course for new bishops conducted each year in Rome. His response was: “I could teach it!” He’s right. He knows the Church inside out. I dare say he knows bishoping better than I do. So it will come easily, I hope.
Of course there will be challenges. First, he’ll be losing his daily contact with us, which is a loss for us and for him. He’ll have a new world to learn and serve. And he’ll be at some distance from the sea and therefore from his beloved boat and fishing. Bishop McGuckin’s boat is named Bob’s Retreat, so that when people call for him on Mondays they are told “he’s on Retreat”! I’m not sure what they’ll say on Mondays in Toowoomba.
It is hard for us to say goodbye to you Bob. But we are very proud of you. You are the first bishop from the clergy of this young Diocese and we will always feel we own you, whatever your new adopted family say.
Christ now charges you, as He did the man in the Gospel (Mk 5:18-20): “Go to your people and tell them all that the Lord in his mercy has done for you”. All were and will be amazed. Thank you and God bless you Bishop Bob.
‘Honoured and humbled’: Mgr McGuckin statement
Most Rev Robert McGuckin: Ordination as Bishop of Toowoomba to be live streamed
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Mass for Institution of Acolytes, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, Tuesday 12 June 2012
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Some of you may have seen The World’s Strictest Parents where unruly teenagers are ripped from their familiar environment and sent to a strict host family in a foreign land for a week of intense rehabilitation. These popular shows, which have spread from Britain to the US, Germany, Denmark and Australia, are full of tantrums, hissy fits and whingeing as the temporary foster parents try to domesticate the feral teens. Another example of ‘reality’ TV’s adventures into adolescence is MTV’s My Super Sweet Sixteen, where wealthy parents throw extravagant coming of age parties for their super-selfish kids. In a sequel called Exiled parents from the previous program banish those teenagers to a remote and impoverished location to learn to survive without diamond studded smart phones and designer label toilet paper.
In our first reading (Ex 16:2-4,12-15) the Chosen People murmur against Moses and thus God, for taking them on a ride to hardship – in this case not to the iPad-free Amazon but to a desert without “the pans of meat” they imagine they’d enjoyed in Egypt. In fact, we know, life in Egypt was far from a party for the Jews: they were second class citizens, their rations repeatedly cut, their people beaten and killed as they built the pyramids with their slave labour. The dream then was escape. But now they are free the adolescent whingeing returns. God the doting parent gives in yet again, giving them manna and quail – the ancient near Eastern equivalent of chicken burgers.
Of course Israel wandering in the desert did suffer rather more adversity than the spoilt American goddesses given a few days hardship in front of the TV or the hungry crowd who hadn’t eaten for a whole day because they were listening to Jesus (Lk 9:11-17). In the latter story the disciples, realising that they had so little to share, asked Jesus to send the people away to find their own victuals. The Lord says, “feed them yourselves”. The disciples are uncertain how to stretch five loaves and two fish to feed 5000 men and perhaps several times as many women and children – a whole diocese of people in fact. Jesus tells them to break them up into parishes. Then He blesses and breaks the bread as a priest would at Mass. Interestingly, in John’s Gospel it is Jesus who then distributes this premonition of Holy Communion (Jn 6:11), but in St Luke’s version which we heard tonight, it is the disciples’ task to distribute the bread and collect it up. They are, you might say, being instituted as the first acolytes; it is not until the Last Supper and Pentecost that they will be made priests and thus ordinary ministers of the Eucharist.
Another point to notice here: it is what the disciples already have that the Lord multiplies. He takes what we give – our talents, efforts, lives – all of which are really His gifts in the first place, and then multiplies them beyond our imaginations. As a little yeast can raise a whole batch of bread, so by giving the little that we are, including the weakness and weariness, we discover that by God’s grace much can be achieved. The Creator blesses, we distribute, and by grace the effects are exponential.
So, in a sense, what Christ does to the bread, He also does to us. God blesses us with His graces – graces that in this Year of Grace we will come to see are many opportunities to experience and cooperate with His power in our lives. Then He breaks that bread that is us, breaks through the circumstances, excuses, heart-heartedness, vices, obsessions, selfishness that hold us back from serving and sharing. Then, like the kids in those shows, he tears us away from the familiar and comfortable to send us on new paths, where we might learn to share our lives, our new hearts, with “the crowd”. Through all this process, He brings us into communion with Him, who is the Bread of Life.
Tonight we acknowledge some men who rather than whingeing and whining about the state of the Church and the world have decided to give of themselves, to give generously, to God, to be bearers of the manna-bread in the desert of people’s lives, to be distributers of the Bread of Life to the spiritually hungry. “Give them something to eat yourselves,” Jesus says to His first acolytes. “We will,” respond these men tonight.
Soon the Church throughout the world will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. It was that Council that reinvigorated the office of acolyte by making it a regular lay ministry and not just a temporary stepping-stone to priestly ordination. It was that Council that described the Eucharist as “the source and summit of the Christian life”. Tonight, my dear sons in Christ, you are chosen for the ministry of acolyte and to be extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. In this week of Corpus Christi we are especially conscious that it is Christ Himself, Body and Blood, Divinity and Humanity, Soul and Flesh – all that He is – that you will minister to others. You will assist bishops, priests and deacons at the altar, give Holy Communion to the faithful in the liturgy or minister that precious sacrament to them in their homes or hospitals. What a privilege! What a responsibility! What a grace!
Strive, therefore, to live the mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ more fully in your own lives; to become like those disciples, witnesses to Christ’s Eucharistic life in feeding and providing for the spiritually hungry; to help by the example of your own life, to make us a Eucharistic people, generous, grateful, self-giving. Strive to understand the deep spiritual meaning of what you do and so make of yourselves a daily spiritual sacrifice to be joined with Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi Parish Church, Cranebrook, 10 June 2012
Once it was bush, then farm blocks within the boundaries of the ancient parish of St Nicholas of Myra at Penrith. Then, 30 years ago, the first Mass was celebrated in Cranebrook and some Mercy Sisters came to minister in the area, drawing after them a veritable menagerie of religious including a Redemptorist, Franciscan friars, Loreto sisters, a Good Sam, a Josephite … Twenty-five years ago the Parish Centre was opened and then 20 years ago you were erected as a parish and the young Fr Wim Hoekstra was appointed as the first parish priest. So today we celebrate a 30th, a 25th and a 20th jubilee. Through Corpus Christ Primary School, Xavier College at Llandilo, through pastoral care, family and grieving support, through the work of St Vincent de Paul, RCIA, CCD and the youth group, the parish reaches out to the wider community and to a future beyond those jubilees. But its first work, before all others, is identified by its name and by the tabernacle which we consecrate today: offering to God the Father His Eucharistic Son and feeding the Body of Christ that is Holy Communion to the Body of Christ that is the Church in Cranebrook.
Now, most sacraments you get only once: Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage (for most), Priestly Orders. Many Protestant denominations celebrate Holy Communion only occasionally. Even the Orthodox tend not to have Mass every day. Yet we Catholics come back for it time and again: at least weekly is our rule and for some of us more than once a week is our preference. Why is that? Are we gluttons for grace? Are we addicted to the Bible and Holy Communion?
If so, it’s not such a bad addiction! The fact is, we need to hear the Word of God, time and again, so it penetrates our ears and minds and hearts, so it converts and educates us at many levels. There is much we are still to hear or understand or realise in our lives and it’s good to let God’s word have a chance, by coming to hear it proclaimed and preached.
Of course, we need more than information: the aesthetics of church music, art, architecture and ritual all play their part in forming our Christian identity and raising our hearts to God.
Another reason we keep coming back is for each other, to be a support to each other and receive support from each other, as a community of saints and sinners, hopefully sinners becoming saints. Worship is very naturally a communal activity, something human beings, as social animals, have always tended to do together. If we want to say a really big please and a really big thank you to God – and the Eucharist is our biggest please and thank you – then we naturally gather with others to intercede and give thanks, to celebrate and worship.
A further and deeper reason for coming back to Mass, at least every Sunday, and receiving Holy Communion, whenever we are well disposed, reflects our natures, our anthropology, not just as thinking, feeling, worshipping, social beings, but also as bodily beings. We are not angels – which is more obvious in some cases than others – none of us is mere spirit or mind. We are physical, corporeal, breathing, eating, sleeping, walking, talking, touching, feeling beings; and that affects deeply how we attach to each other, become associates, friends, intimates, how we commune with one another and indeed with God.
Because we are bodily beings we are only ever truly present to each other if we are near each other, can sense each other, bridging gaps of time and space. Contact is most truly human presence when it is bodily as well as mental: telephone calls, tweets and smses are great but does anyone except Telstra really believe they are as good as actually being face to face? Is receiving a Valentine the same as holding hands? Is a promise to marry the same as living as husband and wife? Is sending your child an email as good as being there at their special event? We all know that if we really want to commune with another bodily being, we need to be physically present to them – and God, of course, knew that about us from when He first made us.
God so loved world He gave His only Son. What an awesome thing for us to consider: that so concerned was God to be close to us, to commune with us, that though He is pure spirit the Creator of the universe took human flesh; that the Creator became creature, the most fragile creature of all, a babe-in-arms, God in our hands. When we make a manger with our hands to receive the Sacred Host at Holy Communion, God places Himself in our hands, in our arms, yet again, as He did at the first Christmas. He is all-for-us.
What a doubly awesome thing to think that the Creator died for us upon the cross, that pure Life and the source of all life Himself experienced Death, as that most helpless of creatures, a dying man. When we make a cross with our hands to receive the Sacred Host at Holy Communion, God yet again puts Himself into the hands of sinful men, resigns Himself to cross and tomb, for us.
Just in case we still don’t get it, we still don’t know how total is His redeeming love for us, today He gives us His broken body and His life blood in the Eucharist, so that His substance can become part of our substance, so that God-made-man may raise man (and woman and child) to the life of God. The ancients believed that no one could look upon the face of God and live. But our God is so intimate with us, so close, so willing to place Himself into our hands, that we not only receive Him into our eyes but also into our bodies, our lives. God giving Himself completely into our hands and we in return offering our hands to receive Him: no wonder Catholics come back, week after week, or at least should do, to receive that awesome gift!
“Or at least should do.” Well, there’s the rub. At your most recent Sunday Mass count there were 429 of you here. The 2006 census said there were nearly 6,000 Catholics in the area. That means your Mass attendance rate is about one in 13, which is low for our Diocese and its participation rate is far from ideal. So even as we celebrate today with pride at was has been and is being achieved here, we are sadly conscious that 12 out of 13 of our own are not with us and that many more do not even know yet that this is their spiritual home. As we take pride in our past we must redouble our efforts to ensure this is a truly evangelising and welcoming parish that reaches out to others to include them in our Eucharist.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 10 June 2012
Listen to this homily at Bishop Anthony's iTunes Podcasts
Most sacraments you get only once: Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage (for most), Priestly Orders. In many Protestant denominations Holy Communion is also celebrated only occasionally. Even the Orthodox tend not to have Mass every day. Yet we Catholics come back time and again: at least weekly is our rule and for some of us more than once a week is our preference. Why is that? Are we gluttons for grace? Are we addicted to hearing the Bible and receiving Holy Communion?
Well, if we are, it’s not such a bad addiction! The fact is, we need to hear the Word of God, time and again, so it penetrates our ears and minds and hearts, so it converts and educates us at many levels. There is much we are still to hear or understand or realise in our lives and it’s good to let God’s word have a chance, by coming to hear it proclaimed and preached.
Of course, we need more than information: the aesthetics of church music, art, architecture and ritual all play their part in forming our Christian identity and raising our hearts to God. Here at St Patrick’s we do things in style and we are blessed to have an excellent cathedral choir.
God so loved world He gave his only Son. What an awesome thing for us to consider: that so concerned was God to be close to us, to commune with us, that though He is pure spirit the Creator of the universe took human flesh; that the Creator became creature, the most fragile creature of all, a babe-in-arms, God in our hands. When we make a manger with our hands to receive the Sacred Host at Holy Communion, God places Himself in our hands, in our arms, yet again, as He did at the first Christmas. He is all-for-us.
Were His Incarnation and Passion not enough, were all that person-to-person, flesh-to-flesh contact He has already made not enough, what a triply awesome thing it is to consider that God puts Himself perpetually into our hands in the Eucharist. Just in case we still don’t get it, we still don’t know how total is His redeeming love for us, today He gives us His broken body and His life blood in the Eucharist, so that His substance can become part of our substance, so that God-made-man may raise man (and woman and child) to the life of God. The ancients believed that no one could look upon the face of God and live. But our God is so intimate with us, so close, so willing to place Himself into our hands, that we not only receive Him into our eyes but also into our bodies, our lives. No wonder Catholics come back, week after week, or at least should do, to receive that awesome gift not just once, but time and again: God giving Himself completely into our hands and we in return offering our hands to receive Him!
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Champagnat Day Celebration and 50th Anniversary Mass, St Patrick’s Marist College, Dundas, 8 June 2012
The year 2012 is significant for St Patrick’s Marist: it marks the golden anniversary of the move to Dundas in what became the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta.
An ancient college by Australian standards, it was established at Church Hill in The Rocks, the cradle of Catholicism in Australia.
The Marist Brothers have many fine schools in this country; one at Westmead, also in our Diocese, has a good claim to being the oldest school in the country. But the first Marist Brothers’ school in this country was not in fact that at Parramatta then Westmead but this one at The Rocks then Dundas, and I am assured it has its own very particular character.
The official mission of the College is “to lead young people in the way of Mary, to know and love God in the belief that they can all become good Christians and good citizens”. “Inspired by the Gospel, as disciples of Jesus and in the spirit of St Marcellin Champagnat” the members of this college commit themselves “to strive to help all people grow to their full potential”.
Many of you will be familiar with the works of Paul Newton who painted Our Lady of the Southern Cross in St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, and the series of paintings now adorning the Chapel of St Peter Chanel in Domus Australia in Rome. His award-winning portraits include ones of Kylie Minogue, Alan Jones, David Campese, Sir William Deane, Bob Hawke and Marcellin Champagnat – which, I wonder, is the odd man out? One of his paintings of St Marcellin, commissioned by the Marist Brothers to celebrate the 125th anniversary of their presence in Australia, is copied here in the space in which we are celebrating this Jubilee Mass. It captures the “Montagne Incident”, in October 1816, when Pere Champagnat was called to anoint a dying boy, Jean-Baptist Montagne. He found the child utterly ignorant of the love of God and so gave him a crash course in Catechism before commending him to God. He determined at that moment to form an order of brothers who would teach the young to know and love God.
Newton’s version draws its inspiration from the tradition of Pietas of which Michelangelo’s is the most famous, but in this case it is not Our Lady holding the crucified Christ but Marcellin holding the dying Jean-Baptist Montagne. There are many intimations in the painting worthy of reflection and meditation. Not only does St Marcellin hold up the dead boy as the Sorrowing Mother does after Christ’s crucifixion, but he also presents him as a priest does at the elevation of the Eucharistic host. He looks heavenward, as Marist schools do, drawing the attention of their students to the higher things, to ideals, to sanctity, inviting them always to set their sights on the Kingdom of God. Such a focus might seem to some as “head in the clouds”, detached from the real world, but the saint’s holding a real boy’s corpse recalls that the saints, far from looking upwards to escape this world, do so seeking inspiration to live and love in this world. Far from being detached from human misery, the saints were more sensitive than others to it, and are the most passionate, humane, relatable and inspiring of human beings, concerned with the wellbeing and fulfilment of all others, seeing an intrinsic connection between this life and the next, a connection already begun.
In the painting Champagnat gazes upwards as he joins the rest of humanity in its search for meaning amidst tragedy, in its search for direction amidst confusion, in its search for vocation. The figure of Mary is present, supporting this Marist in his grief and making the work a sort of painted Sub tuum praesidium – a hymn I expect to hear before the day is out! Students and their teacher look on as the charism of the Marist Brothers is invented.
The Catholic tradition, stretching long back to its earliest days, has sought to enact the call of Jesus to reverence, educate and in some respects even imitate children, to welcome them and bring them to Him. Our Gospels record many incidents from His own childhood, as He grew in wisdom and knowledge and favour of others; of incidents where He blessed, healed, raised or praised children. In our Gospel today we witnessed Jesus calling a child to him, setting the child in front of them all as an example of the innocent faith of the citizens of His kingdom, and telling them to welcome children as they would Him (Mt 18:2-3). Ever since the Church has devoted itself to protecting children in the womb or newborn, and nurturing and educating the orphans, disabled, unwashed and ignorant – all the little ones, the young ones.
It is in that tradition that St Marcellin discovered his calling and the charism of the brothers. This college says it aspires to be “a family focussed on the formation of young people with strong minds and gentle hearts.” It aims through quality teaching and learning experiences, and through offering a “warm and friendly, yet ordered and disciplined” environment, to “nurture and challenge each student to become an informed, thinking person who acts with the compassion of Jesus and the reflective heart of Mary in creating a more just world”. That is a high and worthy ambition.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity & Episcopal Visitation, St Patrick’s Church, Guildford, 3 June 2012
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St Patrick said it was like a three-leafed clover; Blessed John Henry Newman, like a three-stumped cricket wicket. But whether you are Irish or English in your piety you might not find either explanation much helps. Thomas Aquinas simplified things by explaining that in the Trinity there are five proper notions, four real relations, three persons, two processions, one essence and no arguments. You can repeat that ditty for me at morning tea!
Now in case you think the medievals made these things unnecessarily complicated, consider Karl Rahner, the great theologian of Vatican II who tried to make theology more modern and accessible. He suggested we think of the Trinity not as three divine persons but rather as three subsistent relations. Well, that proposal didn’t take: I don’t know anyone who prays to the First Subsistent Relation through the Second in the unity of the Third!
Where else might we turn for wisdom in this matter? Well, one place is the less cerebral iconographic tradition. Some of you will know Andreî Rublëv’s famous and much imitated Old Testament Trinity. He took as his text the story of God’s visitation to Abraham and Sarah’s parish at Mamre. Sometimes in that story Abraham saw God as three angels or men or heard them say ‘we’; at other times he saw only One and heard Him say ‘I’. It would have been a very confusing story for a Jewish reader with the characters sometimes One and sometimes Three; but for us Christians this Three-in-One is surely a premonition of the Trinity.
In the famous icon the three are at dinner. Abraham and Sarah quickly cooked some bread cakes and a barbecued calf – a sort of hamburger in the days before McDonald’s. It is the story, then, of the day the Trinity came to dinner (Gen 18). If the Blessed Trinity knocked at our door at dinner time today, what might God have to say to us?
Our society is marked by a desperate quest for ‘personal identity’ and ‘relationships’ due to its loss of proper concepts of both. Our post-industrial age views people as independent atoms bumping off each other, radically separate, each trying to get their own way. Society, on this view, is at most a means to that self-serving end but all too often our rival.
Paradoxically, the same modernity that glorifies the individual and devalues community, often reduces the individual to a cog in the machine of commerce or the state. This threatens the dignity of the person, our very concept of ourselves and so our values. Paradoxically it also undermines community, because it takes individual persons, with a sense of themselves, to form real relationships and appreciate their common good. Yet when the Trinity comes to dinner, we meet persons who are not lost for a sense of their personal identity nor a sense of community. The Trinity is three persons, distinct but equal, distinct but united, neither so individual as to be mere colliding atoms, nor so communal as to lose their identity.
Indeed the three persons of the Blessed Trinity find their identity in their relating, their mutuality, their reciprocity. They give and receive from each other what they are: God the Father, for instance, is only Father because of His eternal self-giving to the Son. The Father exists as this very divine life-giving, self-donating or self-communication and the Son exists as receptivity of that being, as giving-in-return, in obedience and gratitude, as conversation.
Which is all very well for God, you might say, and maybe interesting to theologian bishops and canon lawyer parish priests, but what’s it got to do with us, in our everyday lives? In fact everything God reveals about Himself is for our sake, not His. God doesn’t need to be understood or admired: He’s perfectly happy in Himself. So when God reveals Himself as Trinity, He does so because, like all the mysteries of faith, this helps us understand ourselves as much as Him.
Although no analogy between us and God should be taken too far, we too are distinct persons: our freedom, and much of our dignity and happiness, come from our ability to be ourselves, to choose and act as distinct persons, and so express ourselves individually. That same distinctness makes it possible for God to love us without it being narcissism, as if He were in love with a mirror image of Himself; and it makes it possible for God to love each one of us, individually, the real me, not just some abstraction called ‘human nature’. Likewise, in our relationships with each other: even if we’ve got lots in common, we also celebrate our differences. When we unite in friendship it is as distinct selves, without obliterating distinction or freedom.
On the other hand, we also become ourselves by being with others: friendships, family, work, sport and other relationships of giving and receiving. This is much more than an investment strategy to get things we couldn’t get alone. The fact is: human beings don’t flourish as Robinson Crusoes. We thrive by being and doing things together, as common projects, a shared destiny. Catholics know, for instance, that it is principally through their parish life that they will commune with God and each other. Here we are saved and fulfilled as a community of individuals and as an individual community. According to our last Mass count about 644 souls are regularly fed Word and Sacrament on a Sunday here; others connect to us through the school or in other ways; there is now an additional Maronite Mass here on Sunday night as well. But at least 644 individuals find your identity and express your ideals partly through this parish community.
But according to the 2006 census there were 8,667 Catholics in this parish – perhaps it’s now closer to 10,000 – and that means 12 out of 13 Catholics are regularly absent. That’s about half the average practising rate in our Diocese and that rate is far from ideal. So we’ve got work to do, as a Catholic community, to draw more people into this family of faith – both those who already should be with us, as well as those who don’t yet know that. Like the Blessed Trinity in which One proceeds from another and One from both, in which One is sent on a mission of salvation and One of inspiration, so yours must be a mission-minded parish with parishioners on mission to inspire others. That means you must strengthen your own Catholic identity and your willingness to engage with others. You must, each of you, identify a ministry or activity of the parish to which you could contribute. You must nurture your community and form new leaders and lay ministers.
Now, Fr Peter Blayney is one of my young, very able, energetic priests. As a result he has many duties to perform: ‘if you want a job done you pick a busy person’. I renew my request to you made two years ago when I installed him, that you be merciful when he is drawn many ways and that you support him as your pastor. He tells me you have been most supportive and I know he has loved having being your parish priest.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP for Pentecost Sunday, with the Sacrament of Confirmation and Inauguration of the Year of Grace, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 27 May 2012
Spirituality is all the rage. Google presently lists 246 million web pages under that title. Bookshops that used to offer shelves of philosophy and theology now have large ‘spirituality’ sections instead, with exotic possibilities such as crystal power, astral travel, discovering the goddess within, tree-hugging, whale music, self-soothing – you name it.
Sudanese musicians headed the Pentecost entry procession, with representatives from 26 countries in national dress bearing flags.Photo: Alphonsus Fok & Grace LuOf course, Catholicism has always offered diverse forms of meditation, prayer, devotion and action, with many cultural expressions complementing each other. But when people today talk of ‘spirituality’, they often mean something rather different. It’s often code for ‘religion lite’: religion without creeds, rules or hierarchies; religion that makes no demands, requires no commitment, offers no sacrifice; a private faith of nice sensations and good karma mostly focused inwards. Consumers are invited to pick and choose from the spiritual supermarket shelf.
Whatever we think of these things, they point to a craving in the human heart, the survival of what Pope Paul VI called ‘the religious sense’. People still reach out, however imperfectly, for something beyond themselves. That is interesting in a century which the new atheists tell us will be godless.
Of course many people do seem to be inoculated or indifferent to religion. They think nothing is true, or true for everyone, or true for very long; getting their own way is what matters, not compromising to any force outside themselves.
But at the same time you had 2 million young people on their knees at a papal Mass last year in Madrid and 5 million expected for Mass next year in Rio. There were several hundred at Theology on Tap this week and a few hundred more for Breakfast with the Bishop yesterday.
There are far more people at Mass on a Sunday than at the football on a Saturday. So despite our limitations and detractors, the Church survives and the survivors want full-cream Catholicism rather than pop spiritualities.
Yet how do we know when a spiritual movement is of the Holy Spirit rather than merely our own spirit or the spirit of the age or some evil spirit? The Pentecost story tells us how (Acts 2:1-11).
First, Mary and the apostles gathered in a room for prayer. Any true Christian spirituality begins here: in the horizontal instinct to gather and in the vertical instinct to pray. We are a communion of saints in communion with God. Catholic spirituality is essentially God-directed and Church-supported: Christ it is who summons us in the Father’s name to that ‘upper room’ to pray and worship, give and receive. He gathers us into His Body, the Church, that He might nourish us with His Body, the Eucharist. There we receive the Holy Spirit. So it was at the birth of the Church at the first Pentecost. So it is today, two millennia later.
At Pentecost Mary, Peter and the lads gathered to watch and pray. Then came the second element of any genuine Christian spirituality: God came in power and love. In this case He came as tongues of flame. Tongues so as to grace their tongues; flame so as to fire up their hearts. So God turned ordinary blokes into preachers and martyrs. It is God who picks us, not the vice versa of consumer religion. Unlike New Age spirituality, He requires commitment and self-sacrifice, the testimony of our lives and even deaths. The God of Pentecost turns us inside out, converting and transforming us, filling us not with more of our own spirit but with that Spirit consubstantial with the Father and the Son.
We have many names for that Holy Spirit because no word captures His mystery and because He works in diverse ways in different people (1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13; Gal 5:16-25). In our Gospel today He is called ‘Peace’ and ‘Breath’ and He brings forgiveness (Jn 20:19-23). We also call Him Light, Counsellor, Comforter, Love, Truth, Paraclete. One name which St Thomas Aquinas said was especially proper to the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity is ‘Grace’.
Photo: Alphonsus Fok & Grace LuToday the Church in Australia launches a Year of Grace. We celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council that Blessed John Paul II called the greatest single grace of the 20th Century. We build on the more local graces of World Youth Day 2008 and the canonisation of Mary MacKillop in 2010. We are encouraged in various ways to contemplate the face of Christ and start afresh from Him, charged with the graces of Pentecost. Yet many Catholics would, I suspect, be stumped if you asked them to talk about grace. Some probably think it is a prayer you say before meals, or the name of an actress who became a princess, or a furniture removal company, or just one of those strange Church words.
The Fathers of Vatican II spoke of God’s presence to people even before or outside of Christianity, ‘giving all men life and breath’, moving them to seek God, revealing Himself to them ‘in shadows and images’ and propelling them to strive by their deeds to fulfil God’s will. But those who receive Christian faith, the Council said, are called by God, “according to His own purpose and grace. They are justified in the Lord Jesus, because in the baptism of faith they truly become sons of God and sharers in the divine nature. In this way they are really made holy. Then too, by divine grace, they must hold on to and complete in their lives this holiness they have received … following in Christ’s footsteps and conforming themselves to His image ... devoting themselves to the glory of God and the service of their neighbour.” (GS 40)
Kieran's confirmation.Photo: Alphonsus Fok & Grace LuSo grace is the name for God moving us to gather and pray; it is the name for God responding by sharing His life and love with us; and thirdly it is the name for us being moved by Him to respond with our own lives and loves.
Just before Mass I had the privilege of baptising Kieran, one of my own Chancery staff. In a few moments I will confirm him. This is his Pentecost, on which like those first Christians he will receive graces that re-create and save, that fit him for relationship with God and others. Our country needs such graces too. Our Church in Australia today needs such graces. We all do.
Pentecost offers us a fourth insight into genuine spirituality, any genuine life of grace. After gathering with the saints in Christ’s name and receiving the Holy Spirit, the disciples started talking. Not about themselves but about Christ. Not just to the like-minded, but to Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Aussies, the lot. Smelly oil and crystals are private and only spread through marketing. But the Holy Spirit is like wild-fire and communicates Himself through all who receive Him. The boys had barely received the Spirit and they were off to Greece and Rome and India with Words of Life for others.
Diocesan Business Manager Michael Digges lights Parramatta’s Year of Grace candle.Photo: Alphonsus Fok & Grace LuWe can all measure our faith against the standard of Pentecost. Ask yourself: are you called to this place and sustained here by the grace, the gift of divine life and love, of Jesus Christ the only Son of God? Are you by that grace of divine life and love, in communion with Mary, Peter and all the saints in heaven, and with the saints-in-the-making here on earth who gather in this upper room the Church?
Will you respond to that grace of divine life and love by gathering there every time Christ summons you, as He does every Sunday? Will you allow His words and sacraments – the ordinary means by which He mediates His grace to you – comfort and confront you and propel you to take the Gospel into your home, school, workplace, world?
In this Year of Grace we implore the spirit of Pentecost for our country, our Diocese our parishes, for our families and ourselves. Come Holy Spirit! Come fill the hearts of your faithful! Kindle in them the fire of your love!
Go to www.parrayearofgrace.org.au
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP for Mass for Neophytes, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, Friday 25 May 2012
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“Follow me”. The risen Lord says these words to Peter. They were the first words Jesus ever spoke to him and the last words Jesus ever spoke to him. In the first case Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee and saw two brothers, fishermen casting a net into the sea. “Follow me,” He said to Simon Peter and his brother Andrew and they left everything behind and followed Him. So too with James and John, the next two brothers He recruited. A simple “Follow me” from that man was enough.
Well in tonight’s Gospel we come to the other bookend of the story (Jn 21:15-19). Peter has come a long way. He’s about to assume leadership of the Church. The Risen Christ appears to him one last time, again on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus cross-examines him, asking His question three times because Peter had denied him three times. Had Jesus asked “Do you love me” the first time they met, Simon would have said no: he didn’t know him yet. This Jesus was a charismatic enough figure that you might drop everything to follow Him for a while, at least until you got His measure. But Peter couldn’t have said he loved Him yet. Now, at the other end of their story, he could say it, again and again, more and more emphatically. Something had changed in the meantime. But the call was the same: follow me.
The call was the same: but was it really? When first He invited them to follow, it was so they could hear and observe Him, gradually be converted, formed and informed, graced and inspired in His company. Neophytes have that experience. Perhaps when first you approached your parish you were just putting your toe in the water. As you heard, saw, experienced more of Our Lord and His Church you decided to keep coming. Then you went through Easter, as Peter did. For someone to ask you now, are you willing to follow Christ, is a different question. Your answer is less tentative and better informed. For Christ to ask Peter or you after Easter to follow is to ask you to be ready to give your all. Hence, the talk of Peter being tied up and led where he’d rather not go. The more attached you become to Jesus, the bigger is His call on you and the more He makes it possible for you to be and do!
Follow me, He says. He said it first to you many months or even years ago, when first you thought of becoming a Christian. Some of you vacillated for a while; others responded right away. Either way, He has now planted that call, echoing day and night, deep in your heart. Baptism does that.
Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t say: “Hey listen to me, I’m the guru, I’ve got great insights, believe me.” No, He invites us to walk with Him, to be His follower, imitator, apprentice, a young Padawan (in Star Wars speak). So where does the love bit come in?
Again, we might consider Simon Peter’s experience. The more he got to know Jesus, the more he loved Him, more than others did. He found himself not only inclined to follow Him but willing to die for Him. Love does that to you. From an early age we all experienced the desire to follow, to be like, someone we admired. We might have wanted to be like our big brother in his football skills, or like Mum or Dad who seemed so knowledgeable and capable, or like our sister who was so beautiful; we wanted to be like some friend or teacher or coach or boss we admired. We all want to mirror the good qualities in other people, without wanting to be a photocopy of them: after all, not everything about them is so admirable. But with Christ we don’t want to be like Him just in some respects. The more we come to know and love Him, the more we want to be like Him in every way. We want to identify ourselves with Him, or as Paul put it, put on Christ, live in Christ, be members of His body, have Christ breathe in us. Eventually, we hope, He will shape our identity and choices.
Love has another effect on discipleship. When we love we find we can’t privatise it, unless it is a jealous love, a furtive love, an imperfect, even pathological, love. Love calls for celebration, for publication. You may want to shout it from the rooftops or declare it before the altar of God. At the very least you’ll want your family and friends to know. Friendship with Jesus is like that. Those who answer “Yes Lord, you know I love you” then hear again the call to follow. Love and action are inextricably linked for Christians.
“Follow me” – at the start, at the end, and in between. You neophytes are living in between right now, and in a world which is not much into following. Of course, lots of people are slaves to fashion, popular opinion, peer group pressure, but the official line is that we are all radically autonomous, free to invent our personality, sexuality, values, commitments, free to reinvent ourselves to and follow or not our present beliefs. Modern freedom is freedom from nature, promises, God, anything that constrains our whims. But that’s not the freedom of the baptised, not the freedom of the lover. The baptised are free not just from things but for things. They are free to love, free to follow a Lord who says “I no longer call you just servants, I call you friends.” (Jn 15:15) They are free to share the truth and goodness and beauty of the Beloved Lord with others.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP for the Solemnity of Our Lady Help of Christians, Missionaries of Charity, Thursday 24 May 2012
Mother Teresa helper of the poor.It’s a delight to celebrate the Mass with you all today, dear sisters, and especially with Sr Joanne (General Councillor) and Sr Miriam Lucy (Regional Superior) with us on the national feast day of our country, Our Lady Help of Christians.
It is, of course, the Dominicans we have to thank for this feast, at least indirectly. St Pius V, a 16th Century Dominican Pope, who reformed the liturgy, seminary training, catechetics and much else, was the one who finally determined the mysteries of the Rosary.
He then asked all of Europe to pray that prayer because Europe was on the verge of falling to the Muslim hordes. He proposed that all Christians rely on the intercession of Our Lady at this time – a proposal that would not have endeared him to the new Protestant powers any more than to the Muslims.
But as we know, the Christian forces, against all odds, won the Battle of Lepanto and so the Dominican Pope instituted the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary and of Lepanto, Help of Christians.
Similarly, when Pope Pius VII was driven out of Rome, not by Muslims but by equally ruthless atheists of Napoleon’s French ‘Enlightenment’, he called Christendom to pray for assistance of Our Lady Help of Christians by praying the Rosary. Again God gave decisive assistance. After he returned in triumph to Rome on 24 May 1814 the Pope separated the Feast of the Rosary from that of Help of Christians and gave the latter its own new feast.
So when the Catholic chaplain to the colony of NSW, Fr John Joseph Therry, chose Our Lady Help of Christians as patroness of Australia, the feast day was then as new as the colony – though its pre-history went back to Mary’s assistance at the Visitation, at the Wedding Feast of Cana, at the foot of the Cross, in the cenacle at Pentecost – and at Lepanto.
Of course, the persecutors Archpriest Therry had in mind were not Muslim Turks or French atheists so much as the Protestant establishment! The statue of Help of Christians in our Cathedral dates back to those early days when Fr Terry dedicated the first church on that place to St Mary.
In early Australia there was another reason to honour her: the Rosary played a special role in keeping the Church going through thick and thin. When there was no priest to say Mass the people prayed the Rosary and recited the catechism, passing on articles of Faith and habits of prayer to their children. I know that you sisters try to do the same with the various groups you serve, people often as impoverished spiritually as they are physically.
Of course, the Missionary Sisters of Charity are gluttons for motherhood. One earthly mother and one heavenly one aren’t enough: they want more! The woman who founded this “Little Society” is known to you simply as “Mother” and the whole world follows you, preferring to call her Mother Teresa rather than Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. People know there’s no better title!
Half a century ago, that mother was inspired to found the Missionaries of Charity in response to Christ’s call to make Him known to the poorest of the poor through her humble service of love. Mother’s visitation to the needy has yielded fruit in thousands of active and contemplative religious, as well as lay collaborators, serving the disadvantaged in various ways.
As we heard in our Gospel passage (Lk 1:39-56) another mother’s visitation had a big impact a few years earlier. It was the Mother of God who would, in due course, be entrusted from the cross with the Motherhood of the Church, as Auxilium Christianorum.
She would be the first one to hear Jesus say ‘I thirst’, not in words, by in the cry of a newborn baby seeking His mother’s milk. She would be there to hear Him cry ‘I thirst’ a last time.
In between, she would learn it was for the souls of every human being, for their redemption and fulfilment that He thirsted, and so He went out seeking the lost and broken, the hurting and marginalised with the absolving, healing, dignifying touch of God.
If this was the mission for which the Father sent Jesus, it was also the mission He received in His mother’s milk. On hearing her news Mary’s immediate instinct was to go straight to be at Elizabeth’s side for the rest of her cousin’s pregnancy and perhaps to assist as midwife, before returning home to explain to her betrothed the three-month-old she was carrying herself.
Rather than take time to come to terms with the fact that she was to carry a child without knowing a man, rather than giving herself the space to celebrate the fact that that little One would be God’s child and humanity’s saviour, she went straight to work, comforting another person in need.
That was the Mother Jesus knew and gave in due course to the Church. And it was from her that in His human nature He learnt the care of bodies and souls.
Our readings today from the Old and New Testaments (Prov 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; Jas 3:13-18) tell us more about such good mothers. They are “always busy … doing good”, “holding out [their] hands to the poor, opening [their] arms to the needy”, “priceless” because “full of compassion”, “working for peace” and “bearing fruit in holiness”. Thus have women, down through the ages, made themselves ‘a perfect wife’ to Christ the bridegroom.
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP for Mass for the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, Year B, 20 May 2012, Shrine of Mary, Mother Thrice Admirable, Queen and Victress of Schoenstatt, Mulgoa