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Welcome pilgrims and their families to this special Mass commemorating our return from World Youth Day Rio. I especially welcome the priest chaplains, pilgrimage planners and leaders, parents and family members.
Already Lima and Rio might seem like a dream. It was not a dream. It was perhaps the realest thing you’ll ever do. Parents and teachers have already told me what a deep impression it has made on some of you. Perhaps, like me, you are still waking up early. Perhaps images keep coming back into your mind of the poverty of Lima, or the faith and joy amidst so little, of your work there, or the tree planting and final Mass and dance. Or from Rio’s Corcovado, churches and Copacabana Beach: the extraordinary gatherings, the beautiful liturgies, the catecheses, the preaching and presence of Pope Francis. Perhaps it’s some quieter or more private moment you treasure. Perhaps you’ve been ravenously reading the blog and checking out the photos that are still being uploaded – we are promised about a dozen more uploads still! Perhaps you’ve been talking about little else since you got back. Or else you are still digesting it all …
To recall some things for our trip and reflect upon its impact in making us missionaries for today, I would like to call on Jessica Fleming (a first year teacher at Patrician Brothers’ College, Blacktown) and Joshua Robertson (a student at the University of New South Wales) to give short testimonies.
Some of you might have seen the movie The Way. Producers Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez intended it to honour Christ and the tradition of pilgrimage. It’s the story of a father who goes to collect the body of his son who’d died on the Camino, the pilgrim way to Compostela where St James the apostle is buried. He ends up completing the walk in his son’s place. A small group attach themselves to him, each struggling with their own demons and on a journey of discovery. The cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is one of greatest in the world, with its spectacular approach, entry and apostle’s tomb. It also sports the Botafumeiro, a man-sized thurible for Mass, suspended from the dome and weighing about 80kg, plus another 40kg of charcoal and incense. Eight red-robed men push it like a swing until it almost reaches the ceiling, great flames spewing out in all directions and clouds of incense filling the cathedral. That’s Spanish religious drama for you! As we saw at the WYD Stations and Vigil, South America inherited some of the same flare. Maybe you caught it yourselves!
The characters in the film take a month to walk to there. But their arrival scene almost didn’t happen. Not because of blisters or other hardships: you know very well how pilgrimage actually builds up your resilience and resolve. The problem was the cathedral authorities don’t like filming inside. Emilio Estevez is an unusual Hollywood director: he responded to this crisis by getting the whole crew to kneel down and pray. “And it worked,” according to Martin Sheen: they got permission just 48 hours before the scheduled shoot. So in the film we see the Church-hating Irishman kneeling in the cathedral saying the rosary, a woman who’d had an abortion finding forgiveness at last, the father who’d lost his son to death reconciled at last. Big things can happen on pilgrimage because, as Jesus said, “I am the Way”.
Returned from our great adventure, we might feel like St James and the others after the Ascension, bereft of our Cristo Redentor, and wondering what to do next. Well, tonight Jesus speaks of bringing fire (Lk 12:32-48), like the great censer of Santiago emitting flames. Pope Francis’ prayed that from the Final Mass of WYD going forward, that every week at Mass for the rest of our lives we should experience the Spirit of Pentecost descending as tongues of flame upon us disciples. The Go-Make-Disciples Generation must have fire in their bellies, a real zeal for spreading the Gospel. They must have Lumen fidei, the light of faith in their minds, to enlighten the issues of today. They must have warmth in their hearts, compassion for every suffering soul. Such must be the fire enkindled in you by WYD that it will resist being snuffed out by a hostile world or half-heartedness within. “I have come to bring fire upon the earth,” said Jesus, “and how I wish it were blazing [in you] already!” As Pope Francis put at the Vigil: “The Lord is calling you today! Not [some anonymous] multitude, but you in particular, and you, and you, each one of you. Listen to what He is saying to you in your heart.” (Address at WYD Vigil 27 July 2013)
What should a blazing missionary of Christ be like? Well, one gift St Paul demonstrated in abundance is what Pope Francis has dubbed the gift of being annoying. When things are too calm in the Church or the world, the Holy Father says we need the grace to stir things up a bit, to create that ‘holy division’ Jesus describes tonight, the grace to tell Christ’s story even in the middle of our own communities. We must ask the Holy Spirit for prophetic zeal, spiritual aggravation, apostolic nuisance (Homily 16 May 2013).
Now let me be clear: I’m all for courtesy, manners, getting along. If you are a stirrer, deliberately aggravating people, it’s goodbye to friendship. But the opposite extreme is just as bad: the smarmy nice guy or gal, who always tiptoes around controversies and only speaks bland pleasantries. Jesus wasn’t like that. He stirred the pot when He had to. He was restless because humanity was at rest: asleep, smug, complacent. So He confronted the wealthy, powerful, comfortable and neat. Of course, He also calmed agitated people and situations. He preached beautiful beatitudes and brought healing in suffering. But He could niggle when it was called for. Jesus is the Way but also the Truth. As Pope Francis demonstrates so well, you can be a friendly person and still tell it like it is. He’s already talked more about the Devil than the previous two popes and he speaks the truth to power whether financial, political or ecclesiastical – all with a smile so infectious there are countless internet memes of it.
But being an apostolic nuisance, even with a smile, is not the whole story. The Go Make Disciples Generation must rebuild the Church, as was powerfully enacted for us at the Vigil. We already knew about building: we’d played our part in Lima building houses, churches, schools, old people’s homes, or at least improving them. As Pope Francis said at the Vigil, “before our own eyes young people have given themselves to the work of building up the Church … When ‘we build up a sweat’ in trying to live as Christians, we experience something tremendous: that we are never alone, we are part of a family of brothers and sisters, journeying on the same path: that we are part of the Church.” Together you did what St Francis did, repairing the physical Church as preparation for building up the spiritual. And so tonight I ask you, as Pope Francis did: “Do you want to build up the Church? ... Do you feel encouraged to do so? ... And tomorrow, will you have forgotten the yes you have spoken tonight? ... That makes me happy!” the Pope said. It makes me happy too!
“We are building up the Church and we are making history. Young people, please don’t put yourselves at the tail-end of history. Be active members! Go on the offensive! Play down the field, build a better world, a world of brothers and sisters, a world of justice, love and peace, of fraternity and solidarity. Play always on the offensive! ... Be living stones, forming a spiritual building (1 Pet 2:5).”
But how are we to be fiery disciple-makers, church builders, players for God on the offence? Some of you here tonight are called to do this as priests or religious; some as spouses and parents; some as committed single people in the world. Whatever your way it won’t happen overnight. It took Jazza (a.k.a. St James) three years’ prep before he was ready to go public. Though he and the other apostles had the decided advantage of being up close and personal with Jesus, there was still plenty of confusion and backsliding. Before they were ready to tell the greatest love story ever told, they needed to go to the school of Jesus Christ, they needed to go to Church.
I don’t know how much Latin you speak: Portuguese was certainly a challenge for most of us. But tonight I want to teach you a simple Latin adage. Repeat it after me if you would: “Nemo dat non quod habet: You can’t give what you ain’t got.” … You can’t make disciples without being a disciple first yourself. Young Christians today can only survive with their ideals intact and share their faith with others if they are grounded: solid in your relationship with Jesus, with God’s Word and sacraments as your foundations, regular in that conversation with God we call prayer, educated in Church teaching. It’s not enough to be high on Jesus all the time or down on the world or the Church. Discipleship requires a solid formation and a constant immersion in the life of the Church. To be like the Botafumeiro emitting holy smoke and sparks to set the world on fire, you need first to be lit up by God and have your coals stoked in His Church.
I call on you, the GMD Generation: take the fire from Rio, let it burn in your Christian love of God and neighbour, and then pass that flame to others. If you do that, the face of Western Sydney will be changed forever.
Thanks after Communion
I echo Fr Suresh’s words of thanks for all those who organised and took part in this beautiful Mass. We also give thanks for our families, parishes, schools, national and local teams who helped get us to Lima and Rio; for Harvest Pilgrimages our tour operator; Bishop Michael Kennedy and our friends from the Catholic Diocese of Armidale; and our priest and deacon chaplains, our seminarian servers, and our team leaders who looked after us while we were there. My very particular gratitude goes to:
You should all be very proud of your involvement in WYD 2013 in Rio. Our Parramatta group was bigger than any diocesan group from the entire US. It was bigger than some countries sent. And it was, I believe, the most moving WYD outside Australia I’ve led. God will use this to set some of you up for life as disciples, apostles and missionaries. We thank those who worked with Him to make that happen: Pope Francis, the Rio organisers, our own team, but also our fellow pilgrims. Many of you have made some important friendships through this journey. All of you have experienced the fact that you are not alone in this journey of faith. There are millions just like you. We saw four million of them last time we were at Mass together!
We are grateful to those who have organised tonight’s rather smaller but still beautiful Mass and party afterwards: our Music Director David Russell, Organist Michael Butterfield, our WYD Choir and musicians, Mr Smith, Fr Suresh and the team.
The theme of our upcoming Diocesan Youth Festival providentially comes from tonight’s Gospel: “I have come to bring fire to the earth”. To keep the fire of Christian love and the light of Christian faith burning within you, I encourage you all to attend the post-WYD Festival events. On 30 August at St Patrick’s Blacktown there will be an expo of all things Catholic. On 13 September, I will also be ordaining to the priesthood Deacon John Paul Escarlan at St Patrick’s Cathedral and I want you all here to support him! At Blacktown on 27 September there will be music by Gary Pinto and catechesis from me. I’ll see you all tonight at the party after Mass.
Tags: YAP Chat Column CYP Catholic Youth Parramatta Bishop ANthony Fisher OP
1. Two women on happiness
It was a rainy afternoon on a New York City bus when Gretchen Rubin had a sudden epiphany. “The days are long, but the years are short,” she realised. “Time is passing and I’m not focusing enough on the things that really matter.” In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to reading Boethius, Schopenhauer, Tolstoy, back issues of Psychology Today and umpteen self-help books. She consulted scientists and gurus. She chose a monthly theme such as ‘love’, ‘work’ or ‘energy’ to test-drive various theories of happiness. She drafted 12 new commandments, kept a food diary, daily journal, charts and of course a blog. Her tips became a best-selling book entitled The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun. It was the No. 1 bestseller in America for weeks, has been translated into 11 languages and has spawned an industry of talk-show interviews, calendars, greetings cards and videos…
Gretchen’s formula for happiness is for each person to develop their own commandments and stick to them. She’s big on order, but thinks we need novelty and challenge too. And money: she lives in a luxury Manhattan apartment and thinks money can buy happiness if spent wisely. If only it was that easy …
Our Gospel today talks about two happy guys, but they don’t get happy by reading happiness blogs or writing their own commandments (Mt 13:44-46). No, they are searching for something of real value and once they find it, they give it their all. St Rose, whose house and church we are in, was like that. She knew you don’t get happy by buying happy or trying happy. There is no happiness project; in fact focussing on happiness is the surest way to lose it. You focus on what is good and true and beautiful and true fulfilment is what results.
Born in 1586 and baptised Isabel de Flores she only lived for 31 years, yet her influence extended from Lima to the world. So many miracles followed her death that she was the first American canonised. Now she’s a patron saint of the Americas, of Peru and Lima in particular, of indigenous peoples, of the Philippines and India, of gardeners, florists and needleworkers, of people ridiculed for piety, struggling with vanity or with trouble in the family. That’s a lot of people looking to her for inspiration and intercession! How did that happen and did it make her happy?
As a young person Isabel was nicknamed Rose because she was as beautiful as one. The name stuck and the Archbishop, St Turibius, gave it to her at Confirmation. Inspired by a book about the great Dominican mystic, St Catherine of Siena, she embraced personal penance, prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, works of charity and holy virginity as a ‘pearl of great price’ she might give to God (cf. 2 Cor 10:17-11:2). She knew such a life would not be easy, but it was her path to holiness and so to happiness. It earned the ridicule of family and friends, who thought what she needed was sex and marriage – and quick. But she was resolute and joined some consecrated Dominican women.
During our time here we’ll hear about her extraordinary penances: I talked a bit about those at our last catechesis in Blacktown. They were strange stuff but they were never the main game for her. The main game was serving God and others and she did whatever seemed to help. Like the man in the Gospel who sells everything he owns to get his piece of the action in the kingdom of heaven; like the pearl merchant who throws all his resources into getting ‘the pearl of great price’; so Rose offered the good things and the hard things to God, praying for relief of the poor, for conversion of sinners and pagans, and for souls in Purgatory.
She was a rather exotic flower by today’s standards. But she invites reflection on the mystery of suffering and happiness. In the consumer society from which we come, we don’t put up with uncomfortable things. We expect healthcare, technology, government and especially money to fix everything. If some things can’t be fixed we marginalise those who suffer and even talk euthanasia. Rose and her people say to us: hold on; some things in life are important enough to put up with the struggle; you commit for the long haul, you sacrifice, it won’t always be easy, but it’s worth it.
Not that Rose’s life was without its joys. The Lord revealed Himself to her frequently, flooding her soul with inexpressible peace and ecstatic joy for hours on end. She was happy but her happiness came not through pursuing happiness head on, but through doing what’s right. “If only people knew how wonderful it is to possess divine grace,” Rose once said, “how beautiful, how noble, how precious. How many riches it hides within itself, how many joys and delights!” There are treasures worth giving everything for!
2. The pilgrim way
Gretchen Rubin wasn’t depressed when she started her search for happiness. She was beautiful, smart, professional, affluent … but suffering a mild malaise, “a below-the-surface restive irritableness”. So she went searching.
Pilgrims do that. The word comes from the Latin peregrinum which means wanderer, seeker, adventurer. We’ve wandered far from home – about 13,000km as the crow flies. Pilgrims go places and that sometimes changes them. Instead of a sea change or tree change, pilgrimage aims at P-change. Lima, Iguazu and Rio may affect you deeply, in your spirituality, identity and sense of mission. God may inspire you anew. Pilgrimage is about that sort of p-for-pilgrimage change. Seeing through that new identity and mission is what will bring ultimate happiness.
We start that new identity and mission today. We have a mission to fulfil here. We must share our faith and ideals through the work we do here. The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes St Rose saying, “When we serve the poor and the sick, we serve Jesus. We must not fail to help our neighbors, because in them we serve Jesus.” As we serve our neighbours during this mission experience in Lima, we’ll meet not only saints from long ago such as St Rose but living saints amongst our fellow pilgrims and the people we are visiting. They will all challenge us with the question from our Gospel: What is your life all about? What makes you happy? Is Christ your treasure?
The Swedish hymn Den Kostliga Pärlan begins:
O that pearl of great price! Have you found it?
Is the Saviour supreme in your love?
O consider it well, ere you answer,
as you hope for a welcome above.
Have you given up all for this treasure?
Have you counted past gains as but loss?
Has your trust in yourself and your merits
come to naught before Christ and His cross?
"Prophets, saints and pilgrims en route to Rio" WYD13 Pre-Pilgrimage Catechetical Address by Bishop Anthony Fisher O.P. at St Patrick’s Church Blacktown, 6th June 2013
Jesus seems a little grumpy in our Gospel reading (Lk 9:57-62). He talks as if He were against family, home-ownership, works of mercy like burying the dead, and plain good manners like saying good-bye and telling your parents where you’ll be. So what’s going on?
Well, one thing’s for sure, Jesus wasn’t anti-family. The Son of God chose to be born into a human family. He lived under obedience to His parents. He launched His public ministry at a wedding reception and in answer to His mother’s request. He preached on the indissolubility of marriage and made it one of His seven sacraments. He praised and blessed children. He visited His disciples’ families. Even from the Cross He provided for His mother’s care. In due course He gave her the greatest funeral in history, by carrying her body and soul to heaven and crowning her Queen! Clearly Jesus loved marriage and family, and so have His disciples ever since…
So why does today’s passage seem to run against the Gospel grain? It doesn’t in fact. At the heart of the Gospel is Christ’s rally cry: “seek first the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 6:33), put God and the things of God before all else. To encounter Christ is to find that He commands our immediate and undivided attention. To know, really know, Him is to sense an urgent, drop-everything-else kind of call. Obedience to Jesus means letting go of our mechanisms of self-protection and self-promotion, control of others and the future. Nothing should distract from throwing ourselves headlong into the adventure of God’s kingdom, not wealth or power or comfort or sex or popularity or substances or gizmos or anything. Nothing must get in the way, not even our good aspirations, plans, activities, relationships.
No goodbyes now: leave the dead to bury the dead. The prophets say and do some really ‘out there’ things to draw our attention to their message. They cry out ‘woe’, ‘repent’, ‘the end is nigh’; they consume strange substances such as locusts and wild honey; their eyes are aflame and their bodies naked of all but beards and animal skins… They are not the kinds of people your parents would like you to bring home as a boyfriend or girlfriend! The prophets are divine highlighter pens, fire alarms, saying: listen up, pay attention, something really important is being said here. But taking the prophet’s words seriously is not always the same as taking them on face value. Sometimes we have to go behind the attention-grabbing behaviour of a prophet like Jeremiah or a saint like Francis or of a pope with the same name, to the message for which our attention is being grabbed. That’s what’s going on when Jesus uses the radical language He does tonight.
Jesus asks a question: “Who do you say that I am?” (Mt 16:15) You are, in a sense, giving your answer right now just by being here tonight. You will be giving your answer again when you step onto that plane to WYD2013. All the world’s eyes will be on Rio, where our brand new Pope Francis will celebrate Christ with the youth of the world, with you! The media like him – at least for now – but they don’t really ‘get’ him. Recent astonished headlines have included “Pope makes sandwich for Swiss guard”, “Pope says atheists could go to heaven” and “Pope makes Mafia offer: Repent – or go to hell”. Of course it’s unusual for a Pope to make a ham and cheese sandwich for someone; of course we might be surprised who is in heaven and who is in hell when, hopefully, we get to join the heavenly crowd. But when the Pope says and does such things we know what he’s about. He is about Jesus Christ the Redeemer, the servant of all who died for all, and who asked the Father to send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into the future.
In a few weeks we will see perhaps the most famous image of Christ the Redeemer with His arms wide open. The media think it’s a sort of city logo for Rio, like the Opera House is for Sydney: but we know it is so much more than that. The image is of God with arms wide open for the Indians, the black slaves, the poor, the migrants of Rio; with arms wide open for the lost or confused, for sinners, criminals, even journos, if they repent; with arms wide open now for the young people of the world, for you. The pundits might be astonished that beautiful, talented young people like yourselves would want to receive His embrace when you could be shopping, clubbing or Snapchatting. It is shocking to our culture that so many young people would put Jesus and His kingdom first and gather for catechesis and Adoration on a Thursday night in Blacktown or save like crazy to go half way around the world for the same. Why would young people cast aside “sex and drugs and rock’n’roll”, the commercialism, technobabble, and other fleeting pleasures of the world, and flock to see a 76-year-old dude with a great smile and some cool hats but wearing the same old white stuff all the time and preaching the ancient Christian message?
The media, the world, doesn’t get it and so be prepared to experience a very different World Youth Day to that which is reported on the news. A few demonstrators drawing attention to themselves or a few commentaries on the implications of WYD for the Olympics, will probably be all they report back here in Australia. mX will say there’s a big rave on in Rio and then feature a few clueless people saying the Church is out-dated and that what young people today really want is a series of highs, followed by a gay marriage or two, and finishing with euthanasia. They won’t actually ask any of you. They won’t be interested in your ideals for yourself or your hopes for the world. The Holy Father, on the other hand, is there precisely to get to know you. He’s not into spin or negativity or fashion causes. He’s into the Good News of Jesus Christ and he cares deeply about you because Christ does.
I’d like to tell you a bit about my family – my Dominican family that is. On our way to WYD most of us are going to Lima, hometown of Dominican saints including St Rose of Lima and St Martin de Porres. From an early age they both went against the culture by rejecting the endless pursuit of power, prestige and position in favour of the service of God and humanity. Though regarded as very beautiful, Rose knew it was inner beauty, beauty of soul, that most matters. She wasn’t going to be anyone’s sex object. As a young girl suffering an excruciating operation without anaesthetic she came to realize what Christ had endured for her and us. She stopped complaining when things were hard and embraced hard penances that shock our generation. She’d wear a crown of thorns and put rocks and broken glass in her bed, practices I strongly recommend you don’t imitate. It was a different age. But her inspiration was that she wanted to be close to the suffering Jesus, Christ the Redeemer, and closer to poor and suffering people. When we meet hardships, as we might on our pilgrimage to Rio and certainly will on our pilgrimage through life, she is an example of patient endurance and attendance to what really matters. That makes Rosey well worth our attention. She died in 1617 and all the officials of Lima attended her funeral, with the archbishop presiding. She was canonised in 1671, the first saint from the Americas.
Her friend Martin de Porres was a bright kid in an age when blacks, ‘half-castes’ and ‘bastards’ like him weren’t expected to amount to much. His Spanish Dad had two illegit children with his negro Mum and came and went like happens in so many families in Australia today. Marty grew up in poverty when his father was away and in rather better circumstances when his father was more interested in him. He was apprenticed to a barber and learnt surgery on the side. He had a healing touch and might have amassed a great fortune as a miracle worker. But he wanted to use this Divine gift for God’s glory, not his own. So after work in the barber’s shop he’d volunteer in the slums – like we will do in Lima’s favelas. Soon Lima was full of rumours about his miraculous cures: headaches and fevers were relieved, dislodged eyes returned to their sockets, deep wounds healed while people watched.
Martin didn’t like the attention this drew and he’d retreat to the Dominican church for some peace and quiet. They eventually accepted him as a brother, gave him job of infirmarian or house doctor, as well as cook and cleaner. He continued his work amongst the slaves and outcasts and would sometimes offer them all the friars’ food and even beds. He was said to have talked the rats into living outside so as not to disturb the friars. In sacred art he’s often portrayed with a broom in hand, talking to friendly rodents, with beggars or lepers nearby and a rosary around his neck: of the thousands of Dominican saints, including St Dominic, St Thomas Aquinas, St Catherine of Siena, St Albert the Great, Bld Pier Giorgio Frassati, Bld Fra Angelico and so many others, he is undoubtedly the most popular and the only Dominican counterpart to St Francis. Fortunately, like Francis, Martin was an excellent fundraiser; he’d persuade so many to give that he fed many inside and outside the priory, provided dowries for poor girls and financed the first orphan school in the Western Hemisphere. Like Rose he embraced various asceticisms so as to unite himself with the sufferings of Christ and of the black slaves, plague victims or cripples of Lima.
As Martin’s fame spread he was soon sought out by the high-and-mighty as much as by the down-and-outs. Due to his mixed-up origins and profession, he could relate to people of all classes. Above all, Martin had discovered, early in life, that he was loved, if not consistently by his earthly father, infinitely and constantly by his heavenly Father. The God he knew loved the despised and outcast as much as governors and archbishops. He never forgot his equality before God with the highest and lowest. At his funeral in 1639 not only did a great crowd of the poor attend but all the members of high society vied to be his pallbearers. Bld John XXIII canonized Martin in 1962.
Both Rose and Martin were young and intelligent, if a little peculiar, but they heard God’s call in their lives and never looked back. We don’t have to do things like wear a crown of thorns or talk to rodents to be saints like them. We don’t have to stand on street corners calling the world to repentance like the prophets or produce miraculous cures while alive or dead – though that would be nice. We don’t even have to join the Dominicans, as they did, though for some of us it might just be our way to salvation. But we do have to find our way to serve God and humanity, our way to be saints. For Rose and Martin that meant serving the poor and that’s something we will join them in doing in Lima.
The poverty will be confronting. It is something most of us have never experienced. It will make us truly thankful for what most of us have here in Australia and hopefully more aware both of the poor in our own country as well as overseas. We must extend the loving hands of brothers and sisters to the people there and that they in turn will extend God’s loving hand and theirs to us. We will discover that there are some things more important that wealth and comfort and that one of those things – faith – Peruvians have in abundance. They understand tonight’s Gospel passage about putting God before all else. I hope they will infect us with their piety that endures through hardships.
Though our two Lima Dominicans were out and about serving God and people all the time, they were both at heart contemplatives. Though they made a difference in the world, what they most wanted to do was stay near Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady in the Rosary. Those times gave them the tranquillity that carried them through the busy times; that adoration recharged their compassion batteries when suffering from fatigue; that was where they got their identity and mission.
There’s a lesson in that for us amidst all the busyness of school or university or work or family or friends. It’s in the quiet times with God that we are most likely to hear Him. If we spend all our time doing things, even good things, we may leave no time or space or opportunity for God to speak to us. Even a pilgrimage can be like that if we are not careful: we can be busy bees with no time to taste the honey. So before you go and while you are away cultivate your contemplative side. Sit and be quiet and think and stop thinking sometimes. Stop talking for a bit, even to God, and just adore Him silently. Being a Christian isn’t a career, as Pope Francis has pointed out. It’s not about getting a holiness CV and achieving promotion to sainthood by doing lots of spiritual things that will draw people's attention. That was the last thing Rose or Martin wanted: they craved for anonymity, to be left alone. In the end God and His people wouldn’t leave them alone. But they were humble enough to let God do His work in them and they did what they did for His glory, not theirs.
The movie remake of The Great Gatsby was released this week. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jay Gatsby, a poor man ‘made good’ and living an endless party surrounded by luxury and beautiful women. Filmgoers will delight in the expensive costumes, elaborate sets, special effects. Already it’s evoked a wave of Gatsby-themed parties and a revival of 1920s flapper fashions.
The fashionistas might miss that the story is really a critique of the American Dream, the emptiness of the consumer culture on the eve of the Great Depression. Nick Carraway, Gatsby’s next-door neighbour who narrates the story, begins the film starry-eyed about the Gatsby lifestyle. But as he is drawn into Gatsby’s entourage, he becomes more and more disturbed by the promiscuity, drunkenness and corruption. Gatsby started out poor like Martin de Porres, but instead of turning his opportunities to service as Martin did, he is entirely focused on self. After an obsessive romance with a married woman he’s eventually shot dead. Though so long the favourite of high society none attends the Gatsby funeral as they had Martin’s. Instead of calling him ‘the Saint’ our narrator canonises Gatsby ‘the Great’, but there’s bitter irony in this as his hero had by then been exposed as a miserable liar and mafia operator. Amidst the poverty, Marty, Rosey and the living saints we’ll meet in Lima offer us a nobler version of greatness.
Next we’ll make a retreat at Iguazu Falls amidst some of the most spectacular natural scenery in the world and in the company not of Dominican saints this time but Jesuit ones – real heroes many of them, martyrs for the Faith. Hopefully we’ll find some spiritual superheroes amongst the 250 of us too. By the time we get to the Stations of the Cross on Copacabana Beach in Rio and the Vigil on the night before the Papal Mass, we’ll already have had lots of opportunities for private prayer, Confession, Adoration, Rosary, all those good things that make us contemplatives ready for conversion, ready for action.
But as part of your own spiritual preparation, between now and the next time we meet on 30 June, I encourage you every day to go to Mass or pray the Rosary or at least our pilgrim prep prayer and examine your conscience. Reflect upon the kind of person you are now and might become by God’s grace. Share your experiences of your pilgrim formation with your friends, relatives, fellow parishioners. Read the WYD newsletter and website with all its helpful practical and spiritual tips. Familiarise yourself with the itinerary and set a goal for each experience. Reflect on the lives of the WYD Patrons on the website. Join Rosey and Marty in meditating before the Blessed Sacrament. Bring your family and friends with you to our Commissioning Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral Parramatta on Sunday 30 June, at 6pm. Christ the Redeemer is waiting for you with His arms wide open in Rio. Christ the Redeemer is waiting for you with His arms wide open in the monstrance if our altar here, ready to embrace you in the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Tags: YAP Chat CYP Catholic Youth Parramatta Bishop Anthony Fisher OP WYD
One Year to Go to World Youth Day 2013 in Rio
Homily for Saturday Vigil Mass, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 28 July 2012
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, synchronize 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 Olympic fever we might reflect on what sports Jesus and His team specialized 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 2012 is taken – its mountaineering they are up to, with the eleven 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 eleven – He passes on the baton of mission to His relay team, the Church; and that they must now carry forward the baptizing, 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 Iguassu and beaches in Rio. Atop the famous Corcovado – or ‘hunchback’ mountain – in Rio 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 Bld 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 Parramatta Diocese 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 you give 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 acclimatizing 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 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.
Tags: YAP Chat Youth Column Bishop Anthony Fisher World Youth Day 2013 WYD 2013 One year to go St Patrick's Cathedral
Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Rouse Hill, 24th June 2012
The phoney vocations crisis
There’s a priestly vocations crisis at the moment right? Actually, I’m not so sure – for a few reasons…
First, because no bishop ever thinks he’s got enough priests. You can always do with more. I’ve got good work for at least another hundred to do, in my diocese alone, right now. If Fr Warren finds me another hundred, as I expect he will, I’ll have tasks for another hundred after that. That’s because the work of priests, proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world, offering the eternal sacrifice of the Son to the Father and mediating its graces through the sacraments and pastoral care, and leading and co-ordinating a community of service to our world, is a work that’s never done. No matter how well we do it, we could do more and better. There’s no right number of God’s agents. It’s like the old magic trick that starts with pick a number, then double it…
Some people peg the right number at the number we had in 1950 or 1970 or 1990. But why are those the years that we had it right? Or they peg it at the number of parishes. But why only one priest per parish and what’s the magic in the present parish boundaries anyway? Or they set a goal based on one priest for every 500 Catholics or 5,000 Catholics or 15,000 Catholics. But again: why that ratio? If we went by the number of active priests per active Catholic, you’d have to say that things just get better and better! Why? Because the number of active Catholics has been falling faster than the number of active priests, making the priest-to-practising-Catholic ratio better: but is that anything to be proud of? Not good enough, I say. So if there is a vocations crisis it’s the same shortage of labourers for the divine harvest which Jesus himself identified in around the year 31 ad and which the Church has had ever since: the shortage that means there’s always more we could do.
Secondly, the ‘vocations crisis’ in marriage and family life is much graver than that for clergy at the moment. Fewer and fewer people are deciding to marry at all: fewer than half in Australia of marriageable age are married today. Those who do, marry much later, usually after cohabiting with a series of partners, which sociologists tell us significantly reduces their ‘marital sticking power’. Most now marry outside religion and many decide from the start to have few or no children. A larger proportion of married vocations ‘fail’ (in the sense of being abandoned) than priestly and religious vocations fail. As a result many children grow up in fragmented or complicated families. All this presents a massive social challenge, as well as a tragedy for many individuals, including people we all know and love. And people are more muddled than ever about what marriage is these days, with talk of same-sex marriage, multi-partner marriage, even marriage to yourself! Yet we don’t hear sky-falling-in talk of a crisis of married vocations: perhaps we should, but until we do it is premature to talk about a crisis of priestly vocations.
Of course there is a case to be made that there is a problem at present amongst some priests regarding their sense of priestly identity and morale, though both are I think overstated. There is a case to be made that there is a crisis of reverence or regard for the priesthood amongst ordinary people and certainly in the media, especially as a result of celebrated sexual abuse cases and spectacular priestly defections. Yet, again, the disappointment that ordinary people feel when priests fail is tribute to the tenacity of their high regard for the priesthood. No one is disappointed when thieves prove to be inept or unfaithful to their trade because no one expects much of them. But with priests it’s still different because deep down ordinary Catholics – and maybe even some journalists – expect more of them, want more from them.
Now when I call into question the talk of priestly vocations crisis, I’m not jumping on the bandwagon of those who say good riddance to the priesthood, or that numbers of priests don’t matter, or that lay people can do and do do and will do the job better anyway, or that we should explore new models of ministry, or that we should ordain people not traditionally regarded as ordainable, or that we should pretend that protestant ministers are Catholic priests, or that we should plan for ‘priestless parishes’. There’s no such thing as priestless parishes: parishes are Eucharistic communities and units of pastoral life served by a parish priest. Some parishes might be waiting for a priest, hungering for a priest, but we should never resign ourselves to having parishes without the Eucharist and the rest that priests do. Nor can we ordain what we can’t ordain, or recognize as valid orders that are invalid. And nor can we reasonably rely upon the laity, who already do more and more to relieve their priests of unnecessary burdens, also to take on what are necessarily priestly burdens. So we do need priests. We always do.
My main reason for saying there is no crisis in priestly vocations is that God always provides. He doesn’t hold back the supply and let us wait it out for a while as a punishment for something, and then let just a few through to tantalize us. There’s no such thing as a ‘vocations shortage’ in the sense of a ‘water shortage’, because God always calls as many as He knows we need. The shortage, if any, is not in God calling but in people responding to His call.
Not rocket science
This year we celebrate fifty years since the opening of the Second Vatican Council. That’s like ancient history to most of you guys. But let me tell you it was an important moment for the Church, and still is today, and one of its central messages was that Christ calls every human being to holiness. That means you! You are called to holiness. You are called to be a saint. No excuses. No ‘I don’t know enough theology’ or ‘I’m not prayerful enough’ or ‘I’m not pastoral enough’ and ‘I’m not gifted enough’. Christ has called you to be a saint, His Church calls you to be a saint, and Christ and His Church never ask you to do what you cannot do. If Christ calls you to be a saint He gives you the wherewithal.
So if you don’t want to be a saint, if you are not planning on being a saint, go away, think about joining the Catholic Church, and once you do, you will know that that’s what we are, that’s all we are, sinners becoming saints.
Once that’s clear in your heads, you’ll notice there are an enormous variety of saints - every temperament, walk of life, history and interest. The Church has its scholar saints it calls ‘the Doctors’. It has its witness saints, who testify to Christ even unto death, it calls ‘the Martyrs’. It has its radically religious saints it calls ‘the Virgins’. It has its lay saints in the world it calls ‘the Holy Men and Women’. And it has its priest saints it calls ‘the Pastors’. So, one way of being a saint is by being a good priest. The process of figuring out what kind of saint you can best be is called vocational discernment. It’s an issue for every Christian, not just for certain young men. And it’s not rocket science.
I think there is a lot of nonsense talked about vocational discernment and that some of it is quite off-putting for people who might very well be good priests.
First, being a Catholic priest is a pretty ordinary thing for Catholics and so something every Catholic boy and young Catholic man should think about. The great English Catholic novelist and commentator Evelyn Waugh once remarked in his diary that being a priest is as ordinary as any other trade. Some men see to the water, electricity, gas or laying-on of bricks. Others lay on Grace. When a priest goes to the altar or font or confessional he has his tools like any other tradesman. He has to do an apprenticeship and, like modern apprentices, he also does a bit of college learning as well. He has to practice and listen to the older tradies. He has continually to see if the same thing can be done better. He isn’t a pagan shaman following the whispers of ancestral spirits; he doesn’t conduct auspices over the entrails of small birds – unless in reputable restaurants. He most certainly is not a psychotherapist trying to make people feel good about themselves. He just has a job to do – bringing Christ into people’s lives by preaching the Gospel and celebrating the sacraments – and that’s the easiest and most difficult of callings. It requires nothing except everything.
Our Lord Himself, when He spoke to His disciples, who had until that point been members of a very honourable trade – fishers – said, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men”. Jesus knew and used as examples various trades: shepherds, fishermen, vignerons, day labourers, builders, investors, stewards, waiters, bridesmaids, pearl merchants, home-makers. Particularly often he used imagery from the agricultural and cooking trades – seeds, shrubs, trees, wheat, tares, harvests, vines and vineyards, yeast and bread, oil, figs, mustard and various herbs, eggs, a fatted calf, fish and birds. What is required from the agricultural and cooking trades is patience. If faith itself is like the mustard seed, then we wait for it to grow in God’s time – a slow business. The fish and fowl too have minds of their own and dart hither and thither without any thought for fisher or fowler. You have to sneak up and lurk with intent. The yeast in the dough doesn’t rise as we want – it has its own rules. Just because you don’t feel holy enough, or smart enough, or dedicated enough doesn’t mean that Christ can’t teach you His trade. You just have be ‘ready, willing and able’, in fact only willing: the Church decides when you’re ‘ready’ and Christ supplies the ‘able’.
Discerning which kind of saint to be
You can begin your priestly apprenticeship now. You don’t have to wait till you go to a seminary or monastery to learn the tricks. Let me give you some practical, tradesman-like advice. If the road to hell is paved with grand intentions, the road to heaven is paved with small daily acts of fidelity. A good place to start is the Creed. You say it every Sunday at Mass. You say it when you pray the Rosary. If you don’t go to Mass or don’t say the Rosary, do. And when you do, you attend to the Creed.
The Creed tells us that God started it all and sustains it all – not us, God. God the Father Almighty made the world and God the Son in Jesus Christ remade it. By His Holy Cross He redeemed the world. Like the good carpenter that He was, He didn’t just fill in the cracked wood with wood putty, He gouged out the termites, replaced the foundations, restored the roof. He replaced the bad timber of the tree of the Fall with the good timber of the tree of the Cross, sin with grace. He set the table of the Eucharist at the heart of His new world, so that His bride the Church might live here joyfully until the end of time. From the ashes of sin and ugliness arose the Glory of God, from the corruption of the Tomb, Life Himself. Recite the Creed daily and remember that it’s a summary of the Gospels: so don’t forget to read them to. Let Christ speak to you through them.
What Christ has given to us, though, in His Gospels and in the Church’s creed, is more than words and doctrines, beautiful as they undoubtedly are. He has brought them to life in the Holy Liturgy, most especially in the Holy Eucharist. The divine tradesman hasn’t just left us instructions, the Bible and Creed as our cookbook, as it were. No, He actually cooks for us. The real Master Chef still kneads and bakes the bread that will become His Body. He still changes the water of ordinary life into the wine of the promise, then changes the wine of promise into the Precious Blood of divine life. The Gardener still wanders around watering, fertilizing, harvesting the wheat, dressing the vines, pruning us from time to time with little humiliations. The Shepherd still has us in His keep, the Fisherman in His net. So go to Him in the Holy Eucharist. If you want to know Him, spend time at His house – like any friend. Make sure you go to Mass on Sundays and sometimes during the week as well. Drop in for a quick word, then stay a while. That way, any seed of vocation that Christ has planted can be watered, and yeast can expand. It can grow through Him, with Him and in Him. Don’t forget to invite Him back to your house too – into your heart and into your life.
Like any apprentice, you learn by doing. Do as He does. Follow the Master in His trade. Keep His Commandments of love: to love Him above all, to love your neighbour as yourself, to love your enemies as if they were neighbours, your neighbours as if they were brothers, to love as He has loved, love even to laying down your life. Keep His Ten Commandments or words about what to reverence: God, Church, family, life, health, sex, relationships, creation, truth, beauty, people and things. Start now being a good priest by being first a good man, a good Christian, a saint.
Christ understands our weakness, though, just as a builder understands the flaws in the wood or a cook the limitations of the ingredients. He taps and mends, digs and prunes. Let Him do His thing in you. Go to Confession regularly. Grace is everywhere, but for us discerners it is especially present in this wonderful sacrament. It is embarrassing to kneel in the dust and admit that you are a sinner – a leaky roof, a straggly plant – but such self-examination, such admission of defeat, of need, is always pleasing to God. It is you admitting that you need the Master Chef, the Master Builder, the Master of Mercy. It will also teach you how to be, one day, a good confessor yourself – the minister of forgiveness must first be forgiven himself. A faithful heart is the most important tool of the priest’s trade. The Cross of Christ enters our lives in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Go there!
Fasting and penance with youthful enthusiasm, is a good discipline at this time in your lives. With enthusiasm, I say, but not kooky stuff like carving Christ’s name in your flesh or getting yourself nailed to a cross in Holy Week. Better to go to bed early, get up early and pray for a while. Or fast for a time from SMSes. Or smile when you feel least like it – especially at your family – not like chimpanzees do, baring their teeth before attack, but with real love; not just when you don’t feel it, but especially when you don’t feel it.
Sometimes people think priesthood is out of the question because chastity is difficult. Well, to be frank, nearly everyone, married or unmarried, young or old, professed celibate or living in the world, finds chastity a challenge. My novice master told us it only stops being a challenge about fifteen minutes after death. This is not a get-out-jail-free card, merely a statement of the obvious. It’s no harder or easier for priests. If most people today are unmarried then most people today are called to a chastity without sexual activity, perhaps for life, certainly for long extended periods; but even married people must learn a faithful chastity and resist various temptations. The world of billboards, TV and internet are full of sexual titillation. Through them the Evil One whispers: ‘if you’re not getting it you’re dead’, ‘try before you buy’, ‘sew your wild oats’, ‘it’s only human’ and the rest. They are lies. You are not the only celibate on the planet. Most people are not having sex most of the time. Some for a very long time. Some never at all. There’s self-denial in that. Not just of pleasure, recreation, but also of intimacy, bonding, family. But there are many good things in life, and opportunity costs in them all: you just can’t have everything, despite the petulant demands of modernity.
Apart from guarding your senses you can make them strong by feasting the heart and mind on really beautiful things. Great art, music, films, literature and Nature itself all lead us to God – they make his Mysterious Glory manifest in our world. Our city is full of theatres, galleries, opera and museums – make the effort to go. (Some of them are even free.) Most of you will have iPods and CD players that can help you learn about the long tradition of music in our culture – including, dare I say, classics from before 2005, and even the long tradition of sacred art and music. Branch out, listen to and see different things. Above all you ought to find some way of serving Christ in others: in the poor, by feeding and clothing them; in children ignorant of their faith, by instructing them in CCD classes; in the old and sick, by visiting them; in the bereaved by grieving with them. Nothing burns up vice quicker than the flames of an ardent Faith expressed in works of Charity.
Good friends, as well, are an aid to purity – as well as many other aspects of your humanity. Getting to know people, learning about them, enjoying their company, being chastely affectionate, discussing things with them, are indispensable for any human being. Priests especially need to exercise the art of friendship. When you and your friends share the same Catholic values and can help one another through trials and temptations, can pray for and with one another, go to Mass together, study the Faith together, this is a battle line against Satan, this is what he fears most – Christians, “one heart and soul in Christ, brothers dwelling in unity”, as St Augustine put it.
One step at a time
My generation didn’t hear much about religious and priestly vocations, whether at Church, at school or at home. Research suggests that one of the reasons for my generation’s relative absence from the clergy is that no-one ever invited them, gave them the space, the permission, to think of such a thing, to think about themselves and their suitability for vocation. The world around says: get into sex early and often; focus on career and accumulate lots of experiences, lots of possessions; keep ourselves busy and keep the noise levels up. Discernment calls for space, quiet, reflection. I grew up in the noisy world and it’s only got more so since. But even as the noise and the whispers conspired with my own cowardice and ungenerosity, there remained a nagging feeling that this is what God wanted from me: no thunderbolts, no angels, just an increasing certainty that in the priesthood and religious life I could be most happy and could help most others to experience ‘life to the full’. If you are waiting for an apostle, dressed in shining white robes, to appear and point his finger at you and say, ‘Hey, you, you’re called, get to the seminary’ well, here I am, a successor of the apostles, dressed in a whitish habit, and I’m pointing my finger at you!
God is usually more discreet. In my first days in the Dominican Order I recall an elderly lady giving me a copy of a prayer for vocations which was prayed in that parish every day. She said she had been praying it for me, long before she ever met me, that she was pleased to know who she was praying it for, and that she promised to keep doing it every day into eternity. I guess she’s still praying it now before the throne of God. It was and is deeply consoling that God’s people still want us priests, want holy priests, and will support us in so many ways if we are willing to be that for them. And that God calls us through them.
Well, I took about ten years to make up my mind, and when I finally decided to give up my life as a lawyer, my big income, my good social life, and all the rest, some of those closest to me thought I was mad and sometimes I thought I was too. Can you be sane and happy as a priest or religious? Well I’ll leave it to you to judge how sane I am, but after 25 years in vows and 20 in holy orders, with the little old ladies praying for me and now, as a bishop, a whole diocese praying for me, I can tell you I am happy, very happy. I love being a priest. It’s the best of lives.
Tags: YAP Chat Bishop Anthony Fisher Vocations Reflection Afternoon Catholic Youth Parramatta
TRUST IN GOD.
“In God we Trust”, is the motto of the United States of America. The Americans are proud and happy to inscribe this motto on their currency. Jesus reminds us of the same in Jn 14:1. “TRUST IN GOD”, says plainly. We are exhausted and overwhelmed with our problems and difficulties. We seem to arrive at a point of no return. It is a human tendency to rely upon the strengths of our own person but fail to realize that we are not ‘Almighty’. God is all powerful, Creator. He created us in His image and likeness and wants us to be happy. Being the Creator, He has given us everything that we need which may not be what we want. Our lives depend on Him. Whether it is victory or defeat, it belongs to God. We are His children and we are expected to behave like His children. People become restless and impatient when things don’t go as per their wish. But God has His plan for each of us. It is easy for us to blame God when things go wrong but we need to realize that God always wishes the best in our lives. So let us TRUST IN GOD.
Tags: YAP Chat Bishop Anthony Fisher Catholic Youth Parramatta
On Sunday Evan Ellis and I will be launching the Bishops’ Social Justice Statement for 2010 which is on Violence in Australia and what we can do to be peacemakers. Given how strong this theme of anti-violence is in our Catholic tradition and our current efforts at peacemaking, Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple in today’s Gospel might seem a strange event.
For one thing, the Jesus who is so much against violence, who commands Peter to put away the sword and for all of us to resolve our differences, turn other cheek and forgive endlessly, is running around turning over tables and chastising people with a whip! Of course, it demonstrates that there can be righteous anger: we should be angry when innocent babies are killed or when pension funds are robbed, or when people are driven out of their own country and forced to search for asylum, or when such desperate people cannot find safety and welcome anywhere...
So, yes, there is a time for righteous anger and a certain energetic activity that comes with that; but would we work up such a sweat about a building? Jesus clearly cares a lot about sacred spaces. Though he was known to preach and pray on mountains, hills and waterways, he did very regularly do so in synagogues and the Temple, their cathedral. Today’s Gospel says taht at this stage of his life ‘he taught in the Temple every day’.
Jesus’ concern for the Temple was not about a superstitious attachment to a building. Rather it was His sense of piety – that is, grateful reverence for ancestors and all sources of our being. His own ancestors had built the Temple around the ark of the covenant, beautified and defended it, and hallowed it with their prayers; their enemies had sacked and profaned it; another generation of Jesus’ ancestors had won it back and rebuilt it with their blood, sweat and tears. God was honoured there and friendship with God sealed by that.
But now, it seems, the Temple was being profaned again, not this time by foreign powers, but by the people’s own apostasy, their own compromise with the world, with their rulers and neighbours, with the culture, with comfort and convenience, with power and privilege.
When Jesus takes possession of Temple he throws a challenge out to all Temple authorities and worshippers, taht is to you and me: are we betraying the blood, sweat and tears of those who gave their lives for our Church? Thuis very month of November we’ve remembered those who died to defend our liberty (on Remembrance Day) and those who were made saints by building up the Church in our land (at Mary MacKillop’s canonisation and on All Saints Day).
Do we, in the Temple of our hearts, risk another great apostasy, another great compromise with the world, our neighbours, the culture, with comfort and convenience, power and privilege?
Do we profane the Holy Place of our lives, our people, ourselves, by turning our own hearts, those houses of prayer, that dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, into a robbers’ den, into an altar to mammon, into a sanctuary for consumption, a synagogue of self-indulgence?
And if so, or if it’s sometimes so, now is the time to allow Christ back in to drive out all that is unworthy from our hearts.
Bishop Anthony Fisher
Time and again we hear people say, 'Let us make this world a better place to live in'. I wonder whether we can really better what was made by God. In Genesis we come across God having an evaluation of his creation after each day's work and HE found it to be 'good'. How and when did it become bad so that we make it 'better'? Somewhere down the line we have begun to change the world from good to bad. This world is a gift from God, a free gift. The God who created this marvellous universe placed us in this world ensuring that we are safe. This world is loved by God Himself. (Jn 3:16). But we humans have changed this world into an unsafe place. When God created it, there was no hunger and decease. Peace and tranquility prevailed. The problem began when the humans wanted 'to be God'. He is a good Father, could we try to be His good children?
Tags: YAP Chat youth column Catholic Youth Parramatta
“Give me the share of my property that will belong to me”. Is there anything as such in our life? What is that belongs to us really? Did we own it from the ‘beginning’? Or did we acquire it along the way?
Often times, the prodigal nature in us takes us away from God and others. We go in search of a happiness that remains a mirage in our lives. The moment comes in our lives too wherein we realize that we are far from home and we need to return back. That is the journey that can lead us to real happiness – a journey to return. The Father awaits for us at home. To restore us back with our dignity to be called and recognized as sons and daughters. He awaits for us with the new robe and ring. Moreover, to be accepted as heirs of the kingdom.
Where are we now? Or What are we now? Sons and daughters or slaves working for someone else rather than enjoying the prestige of the Father’s home. It is our choice that has taken us away from home. It can only be our choice that can take us back to home again. Let us make up our minds and give it our best shot!
Fr. Suresh Kumar MSFS
Tags: YAP Chat youth column Youth & Young Adult Apostolate
“Fast – life”.
We live in a digital world. ‘Cutting edge technology’ has given way to ‘Bleeding edge technology’. Everything seems to be happening at the fraction of a second. Our life is filled with ‘instant’ formula. Instant coffee, instant tea, instant food, instant entertainment and even instant relationships! Where is the place for God or where is God in our life? We try to have that God experience instantly. We expect God to react immediately to our prayers. Our interpretations of the transcendence leads to have a different spirituality. A spirituality of the unknown. God comes in search of us since we are lost in the world. We have lost our identity of being the Children of God. We need to stop! To listen to the voice of God. He speaks through the voices of nature. He smiles through the smile of an infant. He laughs with the rippling of the running brook. Do we have the ‘time’? God wants to make one point clear, that is, about His love. Unconditional! Sacrificial!
Let us listen to the silence of God in the stillness of life. His words give us life!
Fr Suresh Kumar
“I will go on hoeing my garden”.
These words were St Francis’ answer when someone asked him what he would do if he were to learn that he would die at sunset that day. We have a mission to fulfill in our life. It is unique from person to person. A story to tell. If we don’t fulfill our mission, then no one will be able to do it.
Often times we are busy adding days to our life but we have got get busy adding life to our days. It is more important in being than having or doing. The challenge for us today is to find out the reason for our Being. We are not going to repeat our life. We have got to use our life to the fullest ability. Let us start today, now, this moment.
We have to be grateful to God what we have received but at the same time never forgetting to fulfill the mission of spreading the Good News of the Kingdom of God in a tangible manner.
Let us begin today, if we have not lived up to the expectations of God. We have got to travel a long journey so let us include everyone not leaving behind even a single soul. Let us reach out those who are in need. Let our smile spread the fragrance of God’s love. Let our lives be the living Gospel.
Have you ever wondered if your efforts in trying to share Christ with others, are really making a difference or if it's really worth all the struggles?... I came across a really nice reflection regarding this on the Doug Franklin Online website and it goes like this:
"The Ripple Effect
“Throw a rock into a pond. What happens? The water moves outward from the entry point in a series of concentric ripples. The bigger the rock, the wider the resulting circle. Similarly, the influence of leaders extends far beyond themselves. Like ripples in the water their impact moves from people close to them, to people further away, and to people on the perimeter. Leaders in key positions impact people they don’t know personally. Moreover, their impact may continue on beyond their own lifetime.”
What a good reflection to keep in mind especially when we are tired or tempted to give up! We will surely never know how many people were touched or the extent of our efforts in this life, but we will surely know in the next!
I imagine that last weekend many of you attended services and ceremonies celebrating Anzac Day.
With that thought in mind I had a dream: that in the future war will only be something linked to the past and people will not need to suffer terribly because of conflicts.
Looking at our world today this might seem almost impossible, but we can all try to do our best in our daily life to start building little cells of peace around us.
It may seem as if it is only something very small, like a drop in the ocean; but isn’t the ocean made of many little drops?
Tags: YAPCHAT column Youth & Young Adult Apostolate
Last Sunday I was particularly struck by the Gospel reading. I have heard it many times but it seemed that for the first time I realised what a great love Jesus had asking Peter if he loved him for three consecutive times. Soon after Jesus was arrested Peter denied Jesus three times and now he was given the opportunity to reaffirm his love and be reconciled.
Jesus in his great love gives us the chance to start again even when we do make mistakes!
I then asked myself: what is my attitude with the people around me? Am I willing to forgive in that same way? I have made the commitment to try and be more forgiving. How about you?
Tags: YAP CHAT column Youth & Young Adult Apostolate
We are now in Holy Week, a very special time central to our Christian faith; a time to celebrate the mysteries of love and passion of our Lord.
On Holy Thursday at his last supper, Jesus showed us how to love one another.
On Good Friday we witness the time of the greatest suffering of Jesus; he died on the Cross out of love for each one of us.
On Easter Sunday Jesus rose from the dead and fulfilled his promise.
More than 2000 years have passed but Jesus is still calling us to follow him and be his witnesses!
A very JOYFUL AND PEACEFUL EASTER to each one of you from the Diocesan Youth & Young Adult Apostolate. May the Risen Lord be always with us and among us!
Diocesan Youth Coordinator
Tags: Youth & Young Adult Apostolate Catholic Diocese of Parramatta columns
It’s with great excitement that on behalf of our youth team, I welcome you all to our brand new Parramatta Youth and Young Adult Apostolate site! After a few months of consultation and hard work (a big thanks to the great IT team!), here we finally have a dedicated cyberspace where we can meet, share and be updated.
2010 has just started…who knows what’s in store for each one of us! If you want to know what’s happening for youth and young adults across the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta, put, this link on your favourites and check us out regularly. We have great plans for our journey ahead: come and join us! Our aim is to provide always new and interesting information and updates on what is going on in youth ministry across the Diocese and we would love to continue to develop and enrich the website with and for you. Any questions, suggestions, comments, idea?
Please use the “Post your comment” box to give us your feedback. Hope to meet you again here!
Tags: Youth & Young Apostolate Catholic Diocese of Parramatta columns
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