Diocesan Administrator Homily: Renaming and Blessing of St John Paul II Catholic College, Quakers Hill
Homily of Diocesan Administrator, Very Rev Peter G Williams, St John Paul II Catholic College, Quakers Hill, Wednesday 11 March 2015
“What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
- Juliet (Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)
Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet meet and fall in love in Shakespeare's lyrical tale of “star-cross’d” lovers. They are doomed from the start as members of two warring families. Here Juliet tells Romeo that a name is an artificial and meaningless convention, and that she loves the person who is called “Montague”, not the Montague name and not the Montague family. Romeo, out of his passion for Juliet, rejects his family name and vows, as Juliet asks, to “deny (his) father” and instead be “new baptized” as Juliet’s lover. This one short line encapsulates the central struggle and tragedy of the play, and is one of Shakespeare’s most famous quotes.
Well, whatever we may think about the story of Romeo and Juliet, names are important because they help define identity – in the first instance our own personal identity, and the second and more broadly places and institutions.
As we hear in the Gospel just proclaimed Jesus too was interested in names and in particular what His own disciples thought of His identity and who He was in terms of His mission. When Simon spoke those words: “You are the Christ, the promised one of the God” – Jesus not only affirmed this recognition but then added to Simon’s identity by the gift of a new name – “So now I say to you, you are Peter, and on this rock I shall build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
It was of course that the fisherman Simon, who had been called at the beginning with his brother Andrew from their fisherman’s nets by the shore of Galilee was no longer in existence – quite the contrary, he was still essentially who he was, but now he had an added identity – that of the ‘rock’ – cephas – means rock and in one sense Jesus was really giving Simon a rather exotic nickname. But of course the name Peter stuck, and after the death and resurrection of Jesus, Peter assumed the leadership of the fledging Church, and ultimately went to Rome where he became the apostolic leader of the local Church and thus began the line of bishops that now culminates in the person of Francis – Bishop of Rome and Pastor of the Universal Church.
The custom of multiple dedications of churches, abbeys and other places came about in the middle ages. It is not unusual when touring Europe and visiting medieval places of worship to find that they have several saints in the title. In the United Kingdom, Peterborough Cathedral is dedicated to St Peter, St Paul and St Andrew. Often local saints have been added alongside those we might designate as being on the “A” list!
Today, we re-name this school to honour St John Paul II, the 264th successor of St Peter. Pope John Paul II as many of you know visited this Diocese in 1986 as part of his first Papal tour and visited workers in a factory not far from here. It was a momentous occasion, for this same Pope had been responsible for the established of the Diocese of Parramatta as a separate Church from the Archdiocese of Sydney in the same year. In a way, it was an acknowledgement that the mission of the Church had strategically moved west and a local Church was needed to spearhead the ministry to Catholics young and old who were increasingly populating west of Parramatta.
Perhaps though, his most enduring legacy from the visit was the address he gave in Alice Springs to a large number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. From that speech, which still to this day is regarded by the indigenous peoples of this land as one of the most seminal discourses ever spoken to them by a non-indigenous person, I quote the following:
For thousands of years this culture of yours was free to grow without interference by people from other places. You lived your lives in spiritual closeness to the land, with its animals, birds, fishes, waterholes, rivers, hills and mountains. Through your closeness to the land you touched the sacredness of man’s relationship with God, for the land was the proof of a power in life greater than yourselves.
- Alice Spring (Australia), 29 November 1986
St John Paul identities that an understanding and closeness to the land, and an appreciation of the land as sacred, assists a people to understand themselves in relationship to the Divine. It is a fundamental and core part of the identity of every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. For the students of the past, the present and the future of this school, that is also part of your inheritance as you work out your own identity and place in the world as you continue your education. Up to this time in the short history of this school, you have been guided by the notion of Terra Sancta – your place in life in part shaped by being on Holy Earth.
Now the recently recognised Saint of the Church, John Paul II helps to move us forward in the onward journey of the process that would see us united to God through Christ and at one with the created world around us. In our case in this great South Land of the Holy Spirit, we cannot as he told the people assembled in Alice Springs disconnect from that which has shaped and made us who we are:
But for thousands of years you have lived in this land and fashioned a culture that endures to this day. And during all this time, the Spirit of God has been with you. Your “Dreaming”, which influences your lives so strongly that, no matter what happens, you remain for ever people of your culture, is your only way of touching the mystery of God’s Spirit in you and in creation. You must keep your striving for God and hold on to it in your lives.
Pope John Paul’s own personal motto was Totus tuus – from the Latin meaning “all yours” – and expressed his own consecration to the person of the Mother of God, but also his devotion as he later explained to the Mystery of Holy Trinity. It is that mystery that finds expression in this holy land, in our lives and in the Church. Our task now is to discern it so that we will make a difference in the world in which we live.
Today, we thank God for the past, we seek His blessing on the present, and we look forward to the future with hope. We treasure the traditions of the indigenous peoples of this land that have found expression here, and we remain confident that St John Paul II will aid us by his intercession and this College continues to produce young women and men of faith and purpose.
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