Homily – April 2019

 

HOMILY
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
SUNDAY, 7 APRIL 2019
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL
FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT (YEAR C)

 Isa 43: 16-21  Phil 3: 8-14  Gospel John 8: 1-11

 

In this week before Holy Week there are three categories of people with shameful pasts in today’s readings: a community, a man and a woman.  Let’s see how God responds to them.  May God likewise respond to us in our sins.

Firstly, in the First Reading today we hear of a people with a shameful past, the Israelites that are now in exile.  Quite simply, they took their eyes of God.  They forgot about God who had brought them out of Egypt and into “the land of milk and honey.”  In the midst of their sinfulness we hear from God through the prophetic words of hope and fresh beginnings.  God says, “See, I am doing a new deed, even now it comes to light; can you not see it?  Yes, I am making a road in the wilderness, paths in the wilds.”

Secondly, in the Second Reading today we learn of a man with a shameful past.  It is St Paul.  Let us recall that St Paul, before his conversion on the road to Damascus, was a persecutor of the early Christian Church.  He organised the martyrdom of the first Saint, St Stephen.  In his earlier days, his quest for perfection made him basically say, “I don’t need God, I am God!”  In his dramatic and immediate conversion from self-perfection to total dependence on the perfection coming only from Christ, we see how great the grace of God is in the midst of human sinfulness.

Summarizing his life, St Paul says, “I look on everything as so much rubbish if only I can have Christ and be given a place in him.  I am no longer trying for perfection by my own efforts, the perfection that comes from the Law, but I want only the perfection that comes through faith in Christ.”

Like the people of the Old Testament and like St Paul, we too can easily take our eyes off God and start to make ourselves “God.”  This is the fundamental biblical definition of what sin is…playing God!  In the Scriptures we find that whenever people or a person starts to play “God” they always loose!

Thirdly, in the Gospel today we hear of a woman with a shameful past.

It is the Gospel of the woman caught in the act of adultery.  She becomes therefore a public sinner.  Let us see how Jesus responds to this situation.

Jesus waits until the storm of the mob subsides.

The rabble rousers are accusing, condemning, trapping and interrupting.  They are not particularly interested at all in the woman.  They want to see how they can trip up Jesus.  The woman has become an instrument, a thing, not a person.

Jesus responds in a curious way.   He kneels down and starts writing something in the dust with his finger.  He seems to be wanting to separate himself from this terrible rabble by physically escaping from them without actually moving away from them.  His one question though is prophetic.  He says to them, “If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  In other words, the Scripture scholars say, He is basically saying to them that anyone who has not committed a similar sin of adultery should be the one to cast the first stone.  One by one they leave Jesus until he is left alone in the woman’s presence.

Jesus makes an initiative of respect and kindness to the public sinner.

He says to her “Women, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?”  He says this as he is looking up at her.  Even his posture is a reverent posture.  Rather than looking down on the woman he looks up at the woman “who remained standing there.”  He shows her respect and kindness.  No longer is she a thing but a person.  She responds courteously by saying “No one, sir.”  She addresses Him as “Sir” in response to His respect for her.  This encounter is the absolute opposite to the noise of the rabble.  It is almost like going to Confession.  There is much silence.  There is much non-verbal communication.

Jesus gifts the woman with mercy and hope.  Jesus says to her, “Neither do I condemn you, go away, and don’t sin anymore.”

Let us see what Jesus is doing here.  He neither condemns the woman nor condones what she has been doing.  He offers her a fresh start.  He gives her an experience of forgiveness which is both merciful and hope filled.

Jesus does the same with us.  Quietly now, let us silently place our own sin and shame before Jesus.  We all have shameful pasts.  Let us place it before the Lord silently…

Let us feel Jesus’s respect and kindness towards us as He has shown to the woman in the Gospel.  Let us receive Jesus as merciful hope.  Let us hear him neither condemning nor condoning our sinful past, but giving us a fresh start.  Jesus is giving us hope now.  In this week before Holy Week may we receive the Lord’s merciful love.  Maybe, you may wish to sacramentalise this experience by making it a priority of going to the Sacrament of Confession over the next two weeks.


 

HOMILY
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
THURSDAY, 11 APRIL 2019
AUSTRALIAN CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY (EAST MELBOURNE CAMPUS)
MASS PRIOR TO SENATE MEETING

 Genesis 17: 3-9  Gospel John 8: 51-59

 

We must never forget that the Christian community is a “theological” community.

In the First Reading today it is seen quite clearly in the dialogue between God and Abram, who now becomes Abraham because his whole identity has been changed through the covenant given through him to the people of God.

The covenant that God initiates to his people is one of our God who is faithful even if the people of God are not faithful in return.

We see this when God says to Abraham, “I will make you father of a multitude of nations.  I will make you most fruitful.  I will make you into nations, and your issue shall be Kings.  I shall establish my covenant between myself and you, and your descendants after you, generation after generation a covenant in perpetuity…”

That’s why we are a theological community.  It is God’s governance that we are wedded to.  It is God’s grace.  It is God’s initiative.  It is a covenant “in perpetuity.”  We are part of that “perpetuity”.

Over the centuries we have struggled with this.

For example, today the optional memorial is of St Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr.

A thousand years ago Stanislaus, the Bishop of Krakow Poland, excommunicated the King of Poland.  He reciprocated by murdering Stanislaus, making him therefore a martyr of the Church.

All of this was done in a very political climate.  It is almost as if the Church has become like a political community that has some theological anchor points.

We too can become somewhat distracted in appreciating the theological community of which we are heirs in perpetuity.

Over the last few months we have been collating responses to the Plenary Council of Australia.  This historic and monumental gathering together of God’s people in Australia has produced thousands upon thousands of submissions.  Some of these submissions, for reasons unknown to me, reach my desk.  I read some of them.  I must say, that many of the submissions struggle to be focused on the fact that we are a theological community.  In reading some of them, it is almost as if some respondents see themselves as a sociological community with a theological veneer.  This foundation will never bring us closer to what God is saying to the Church in Australia at this moment.  We will get distracted quite easily on the way.

No doubt, as we gather as a Senate for the Australian Catholic University, we can be tempted with the same unfocused vision.  We could think of ourselves as an educational community with a theological basis.  We are going to resist that.  That is why we are celebrating Mass right here at the beginning of our day together.

This beautiful chapel here at St Patrick’s Campus at the Australian Catholic University, is symbolic in representing something quite different.  The chapel is situated in the centre of the campus and is very different in architecture to any of the other rooms.  It is simply very beautiful and gives us a deep focus on the transcendent nature of all that we do.

The Australian Catholic University is a theological community with an educational expression of that mission.  Likewise we can say that the Catholic Church is a theological community with a sociological dimension, or a theological community with some political dimensions.

But we are a theological community.  It is God’s idea.  It is God’s Church.  These are God’s Sacraments.  This is God’s place.  To think otherwise traps us into a vision of various radical “horizontalisms.”  A theological community doesn’t simply just add a kind of vertical transcendent dimension but is both vertical and horizontal intrinsically.  It is the Cross that is the principal symbol of Christianity – it has a vertical and horizontal dimension and not one without the other.

During this Lenten period let us come back home to the source of the theological community – the New Covenant that has been shared through the blood of the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world.  It is Jesus, sent by the Father, and through His Death and Resurrection who has made us the theological community that God wants us to be.  It is a missionary community because it is a community that is filled with the joy and hope of Jesus, and is the fruit of the Resurrection, and the coming down of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.


 

HOMILY
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
AND APOSTOLIC DELEGATE OF WAGGA WAGGA DIOCESE
MONDAY 15 APRIL AND TUESDAY 16 APRIL 2019
CHRISM MASS 2019
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL, FORREST

Isaiah 61: 1-3, 6, 8-9  Apocalypse 1:5-8  Gospel Luke 4:16-21

 

There can be no doubt that the Catholic Church in Australia, this Holy Week, finds itself afresh on the hill of Calvary.

There is really no need to repeat the toxic societal context in which we find ourselves in Australia today – we know it and we feel it. Yet, on the other hand, there is no need denying it either.

Since we do find ourselves afresh on Calvary, let us consider therefore the company we are keeping. There were so few at the foot of the Calvary Cross on the first Good Friday. It was very much a “Marian” companionship. There was Mary the mother of Jesus. There was Mary Magdalen, St John, the apostle Jesus loved and some others. Let us not be like “the others” who fled or absented themselves “for fear of the Jews.”

As Missionary Disciples, we must approach this moment in our Catholic history here in Australia with faith not fear.

Let us all choose faith (not fear) in this Chrism Mass when we are all together being led by Jesus and Mary.

In this precious moment, let us listen to the “Calvary” words of the Lord Jesus: his last words on the Cross.

  1. “Father forgive them.” (Luke 23/34)
  2. “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23/43)
  3. “Behold your son…behold your mother.” (John 19/26, 27)
  4. “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15/34)
  5. “I thirst.” (John 19/28)
  6. “It is finished.” (John 19/30)
  7. “Father into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23/46)

These final words of Jesus are all words of surrender, trust and forgiveness. Let us never forget that Jesus embraced Calvary by walking defencelessly to the Cross.

Nothing is reported, in direct speech, of Mary’s words at the Calvary Cross. Presumably, she wailed tears of great grief witnessing her son’s torture and death. Her posture would have been as always, “treasuring and pondering” (Luke 2/19) all that God was doing.As mentioned, the Apostles with the exception of John, were absent or distant from this moment due to fear.

Where were they? What were they thinking?

In their fear perhaps they recalled some of the words that Jesus spoke to them in the three years of their discipleship.

“Will you go too?…Where will we go you have the words of everlasting life?” (John 6/66-69)

They may have recalled Peter walking on the water to Jesus. As soon as Peter took his eyes of Jesus he began to sink. (Matthew 14/28-31)

Poignantly, there is no mention in the Scriptures of the other Apostles in the boat encouraging Peter to keep walking on the water by keeping his eyes on the Lord. Once his eyes left the Lord he began to sink shamelessly.

However, we know after the Resurrection and Pentecost the fear of the Apostles was transformed into great faith. They were filled with the Holy Spirit. The Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2/42) indicate that the early Church quickly gathered around 4 pillars of stability – The teaching of the Apostles, the Fellowship, the Breaking of the Bread and the Prayers.

Let us now take a time leap to a more recent Australian example of faith rather than fear amongst the priests of our region.

As Anzac Day approaches I wish to take the example of a great Australian priest from Southern New South Wales. In the adversity of just over 100 years ago, he showed great Priestly Holiness while surrounded by the terror of war – the First World War.

I’m referring to Fr Thomas Mullins, former Parish Priest of Ardlethan and Barmedman. (Near Griffith & Leeton)

He was born in Limerick Ireland in 1876 and died in 1939 of an ongoing illness related to Malaria. He is buried in the Ardlethan cemetery. Fr Mullins arrived in Australia as a young priest in 1900. Travelling around his geographically huge parish as the Parish Priest of Barmedman and Ardlethan helped him develop into a great horseman. It was unsurprising, therefore, that he volunteered in May 1915 to be a chaplain for the 12th Light Horse Regiment. He served in Gallipoli. He was also a member of the 5th Light Horse Regiment, during the Palestine campaign, until Armistice.

As a “First World War” chaplain he showed outstanding leadership. He was mentioned four times in dispatches. In his Military Cross citation, he was famously given (January 1918), he was described as showing “great fearlessness and was right in the fighting line…he never left the trenches.” He was described as “a gallant soul and valiant.”

He left us all, even today, a fascinating ongoing legacy. He brought back to Australia, seeds from the ancient olive trees of Gethsemane in the Holy Land. He planted those seeds at Ardlethan where there is now an enormous olive tree. We thank Monsignor Kevin Barry-Cotter who took cuttings from that tree and planted them outside the West Wyalong Church. Those cuttings have now become a very substantial olive tree as well. They are continuing reminders for us of the gallantry, bravery and fearlessness of this great Priest War Chaplain.

And now we arrive at our present moment, 100 years later, the Chrism Mass in 2019. As mentioned previously, we are at a “Calvary” moment in our own Church. It is not in the context of war but the context of the sex abuse scandal and all that it revealed.

Although we are here in 2019, sacramentally, we are back on the hill of Calvary. We know that the Mass is the re-presentation of the Last Super that sacramentally makes present today the sacrifice of Calvary with Jesus our High Priest and Victim.

So in this moment of great fragility, let us hear Jesus’s final words. Let us respond in faith (not fear) and stand alongside Mary the mother of God, Mary Magdalene, John and the others.

Let us recall – keeping our eyes on Jesus lest we sink, the words of the Apostles when they say “to whom else shall we go, you Lord have the words of everlasting life.”

Let us be united in devotion to “the teaching of the Apostles, the Fellowship and the Breaking of the Bread and the prayers.”

Let us pray in this Mass, with the great Priests, Religious, and Laity who have gone before us and showed fearlessness in their times of trouble (like Fr Thomas Mullins). Let us say with St Thomas at the time of Pentecost, “We believe help our unbelief.” (Mark 9/23-25) Let us truly believe, paraphrasing tonight’s Gospel, that “these Scriptural texts are being fulfilled today even as you listen.”

Let us truly believe that the Lord continues to use us to “bind up hearts that are broken” as proclaimed in the First Reading and let us always exchange “despondency with praise.”

May I leave you with some inspiring words from one of our patristic greats – the Cappadocian Father: St Gregory of Nazianzus (330-390). As mentioned in a recent excerpt from the Second Reading in our Office of Readings, he said in a sermon, “…we must sacrifice ourselves to God each day and in everything we do, accepting all that happens to us for the sake of the Word, imitating his passion by our sufferings, and honouring his blood by shedding our own. We must be ready to be crucified.” I ask my brothers to please now stand and renew our Priestly Promises.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse
Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn
Apostolic Administrator for Wagga Wagga Diocese


HOMILY
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
SUNDAY, 14 APRIL 2019
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL
PALM SUNDAY OF THE PASSION OF THE LORD (YEAR C)

Isa 50: 4-7  Phil 2: 6-11  Gospel Luke 23: 1-49

 

May I offer you three simple pastoral observations that may help you enter into Holy Week over the next few days.

My first being the possibility that you might consider choosing a person from the Scriptures in the Passion Accounts that you feel some affinity with. This has been a suggestion going right back to the Patristic age of the Church. For instance you may feel an affinity with Mary, the mother of Jesus, how she responded to the last days of her son’s life. You in your prayer would like to “walk with her” and have that walk lead you closer to Jesus.

Others over the centuries have found a great deal of assistance in following Simon of Cyrene in today’s Gospel according to Luke. He was asked to assist Jesus in carrying His cross and we too wish to do the same thing. Simon of Cyrene might be of some help to us.

Even the famous English writer GK Chesterton who died in 1938 found a great affinity, in his reading of the Passion, towards the donkey that lead Jesus into Holy Week on the first Palm Sunday. There is a famous poem that he has written about the role of the donkey. You may wish to look that up in the days ahead.

My second observation is to notice that Jesus went to the Calvary Cross defenceless. In other words, He had total trust in His Heavenly Father, He went like “a lamb to the slaughter.”

It is interesting, in the Passion Accounts of the Lord, Jesus could have chosen other strategies.

For instance, Jesus may have wanted to talk his way out. He could have responded to Pilots question, “Are you the king of the Jews?” offering a vigorous academic or intellectually rational argument about his role during his trial. He did not choose this strategy.

Maybe he could have forced his way out of His situation. Buy force I mean, some sort of military response. Jesus does say to Pilot that if He were a King of this world he could get his followers to rise up and protect him. But, He said that his Kingdom was not of this world. So Jesus rejected the military strategy.

Thirdly, perhaps Jesus could have taken the Judas strategy and tried to buy his way out of his predicament. Judas thought that a financial deal of 30 pieces of silver would have been able to solve the situation that Jesus was moving towards. That was a disastrous strategy.

In all this we see that Jesus takes up a very passive response, yet in this defencelessness He fulfils all that was foreshadowed in the Old Testament, of the Suffering Servant of God.

Let us sincerely think about that in the days ahead as we carry our own burdens to the Calvary Cross. Let us take on, in a fresh way, the strategy of Jesus going to the Cross in a defenceless manner totally trusting in God the Father’s providence.

The final point is, understanding that Luke’s writing of the Passion shows differences from the other Gospels.

In Luke’s Gospel, throughout his whole public ministry and even up to his death, Jesus was forever offering a ministry of reconciliation and conversion to those he come in contact with. We even see this in the Passion Account. The way He converts the good thief to become the first Saint of Christianity, the way He forgives His executioners and the conversion of the Centurion. Even the better relationship that Herod and Pilot have because of Jesus’s Pasion…all these indicate how Jesus continues his ministry of reconciliation and conversion up to and beyond the point of His death.

Let us also try to replicate a hospitable and reconciling ministry in imitation of Jesus as portrayed in Luke’s Gospel. Let’s do this especially in the days ahead.

With these three brief and humble suggestions to help us to enter into the Holy Week that now begins. Let us continue our Mass and allow Jesus once again, in the Eucharist, become the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. With all the Church over the centuries we say happy are we who are called to the supper of the Lamb.


 

HOMILY

ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE

CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN

SUNDAY, 21 APRIL 2019

ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL

EASTER SUNDAY (YEAR C)

 Readings  Acts 10: 34, 37-43  Col 3: 1-4  Gospel John 20: 1-9

 

Alleluia! Alleluia! This is the Easter Word! It means, “may God be praised!” May God be praised on this beautiful Easter morning when we celebrate Jesus rising from the dead. Indeed, this is what the word “Easter” means for Christians: the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This demonstrates that Jesus is the Son of God.

The word “Easter” literally means dawn…the first light from the East at the beginning of the day.

Jesus is the light of the world. Darkness can no longer be triumphant. Hope springs eternal, just like the certainty of the dawn from the East, we are certain of the Lord’s Resurrection and the conquering of death.

One of the more traditional ways of celebrating this Easter liturgically is to begin the Easter Vigil before the dawn. The Mass starts in darkness but ends at dawn when the light streams into the Church. This surely brings out the true meaning of the word “Easter.”

Those who bear witness to the Resurrection of Jesus are called Christians. This is the ancient definition of “Christians”…those who bear witness to the Resurrection. This is at the very heart of what the word “Baptism” means.

I would like to offer you, on this beautiful Easter morning, two keys to unlock the “Easter Dawn” in our lives.

The first is “Forgiveness.”

Jesus’ last words on the Cross were, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He said this, not just for those who executed him but for all of us who have sinned against the Father.

They are only three little words but they have a great human energy that can change the “heart”…I…forgive…you!

If these three little words come from the heart, they are so powerful that the deepest walls that block our shared humanity can be transformed into bridges of unity and love. Let us commit to this forgiving key today.

The second key to unlock the “Easter Dawn” is “Healing Peace.”

Jesus’ first words at the Resurrection were, “Peace be with you.”

Peace is not simply a feeling, but a strong commitment to build harmony in the world. Building “Peace” requires us to do something practical.

We think of the recent terrible fires in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. So many hundreds of wonderful fire fighters came to the building’s rescue. Although the damage was terrible, it was reduced due to their heroic and gallant efforts to be “peace makers” during a terrible national and international tragedy.

On this Easter morning, let us also extinguish the fires of disunity and hatred and replace them with the soft and gentle light of peace that penetrates from the dawning of the Lord’s Resurrection in our hearts this day.

Happy Easter, everyone. Alleluia!