Homily – December 2016
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
SUNDAY 18, DECEMBER 2016
FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT (YEAR A)
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL, FORREST
Isaiah 7:10-14, 10, Romans 1:1-7, Matthew 1:18-24
Let us recall that over the next Liturgical year our readings are mainly from the Gospel according to St Matthew. The gospel today is from St Matthew. It considers the birth of Jesus from the eyes of St Joseph. Let us record that St Joseph was a Jew. Mary was a Jew. Jesus was a Jew. The “Jewishness” of today’s Gospel can be really helpful to us as we approach, on this fourth Sunday of Advent, the Christmas mysteries.
In the first reading today a foreshadowing of Joseph’s response is offered with Gods dialogue with the King of the time, Ahaz. Where as, Ahaz faltered in his response to God’s will, Joseph did not.
From Isaiah chapter 7, the Lord said to Ahaz, “Ask the Lord your God for a sign for yourself coming either from the depths of Sheol or from the heights above.” Ahaz’s response is most interesting. He’s not saying no, but he’s not saying yes. He does want to do God’s will on one level but, clearly here, God’s will is not quite as important as his own!
Ahaz responds negatively to God’s request. His answer is a religious response! He say’s “No, I will not put the Lord to the test.” But through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord takes it upon himself to give a sign that he wants to bring his people home, he wants to bring his people close to himself.
The promise is given. “The maiden is with child and will soon give a birth to a Son whom she will call Emmanuel”, a name which means “God is with us”.
But when the heavenly request comes to St Joseph in today’s Gospel his response is, just like Mary, totally open to God’s Holy will.
To understand the Gospel we need to understand a little bit about marriage at the time of Jesus. It was so different to what it is today.
There were three stages moving towards marriage at the time of Jesus. The first stage was engagement. Engagement in Jesus’s time was not like engagement today. Today, engagement is the period just before marriage. However, at the time of Jesus, this was not so much a matter for the couple to decide. It was more a matter for the parents. Two separate families would come together and propose their respective son and daughter would make a good match later on in their life. Their son and daughter might be only children at the time.
The second stage, is the betrothal. This is the period where the couple are legally married but they do not live together.
This is the stage of today’s Gospel. It is perhaps a year or so before the marriage feast itself, the third and last stage. The marriage feast in those days went for several days!
But in the betrothal period of today’s Gospel, Joseph discovers that Mary is pregnant. He could act in either of two ways in such a case according to his cultural custom. He could formally divorce Mary. This would cause her and her family embarrassment. Or, and this is the option he chose, he could divorce her informally. This would save embarrassment and be all done in a subtle and discreet way.
So Joseph had decided to, as it say’s in the Gospel, “to divorce her informally”.
It was at this stage that the angel appeared and told Joseph that Mary’s conception was due to the Holy Spirit. God’s will, would be that “Joseph, take Mary home as your wife.” Then he was given more specific instructions. “She will give birth to a son and must name him Jesus”.
This all happened in a dream that Joseph had. Dreams where very important in Joseph’s life, as indeed in the whole Bible. They were a way in which God spoke to him directly. But, unlike Ahaz in the first reading, Joseph’s response was immediately docile and open to whatever God wanted. The scripture says it quite succinctly…”when Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home”.
We have much complexity in our own marriage arrangements today. It’s almost as if marriage, as an institution, has become so fluid that it is becoming somewhat compromised.
This slow maturation of the couple and the involvement of their respective families may have more to say to us in today’s world than we think!
What are we to make of this a week before Christmas?
Pope Frances, who yesterday celebrated his 80th birthday, as we pray to him today especially, has this to say about St Joseph.
St Joseph is one of his favourite saints. He mentioned recently that he has a small statue of St Joseph sleeping on his desk. Sometimes when he has pastoral issues that seem complex, he says that he writes them down and places the pieces of paper under the statue of the sleeping Joseph. By so doing, he wants to imitate Joseph in enabling God to give him a way forward in these issues. This could really help us in our own problems! Let us do the same! Let us share our problems with St Joseph’s dreams and wait for the Lord’s response!
We also have this expression in Australian english, “I’ll sleep on it.” When we have a problem and we wonder what we are to do, it’s best to wait and “sleep on it”. On a new day, fresh from our sleep, we often look at reality quite differently. This is important with email responses which are always immediate and sometimes impetuous. Maybe it’s a good idea for us to wait before we press the “send” button!
So we have two points to remember as we await, in a few days, the great festival of Christmas.
The first point for us to consider would be the following. Are we as Ahaz or Joseph in responses to God? Do we ultimately make a selfish but religious response to God? Or are we like Joseph? Do we ponder and treasure, and bring our problems to God in prayer, and wait for the inner murmurings of the soul to help us to respond prudently to the unbelievable complexities of life, especially family life today.
And secondly, how do we navigate through family complexities of today? This is especially so before Christmas, which brings its own challenges, doesn’t it?! Let’s learn from Joseph here. In regard to the complexity that he found himself with his pregnant wife, he had a choice of either what was best for him, or what was best for others? So let us think about our own family problems over the next week or so, and ask ourselves, “What is best for others in this complex situation I now find myself in?” And also, using St Joseph’s method of dreams, let us ponder and wait for a while so that we give an answer that is considered, rather than impetuous.
If we do these things I’m sure the next few days will prove an unexpected joy for us on many different levels, we had never thought or imagined.
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
SUNDAY 11, DECEMBER 2016
THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT (YEAR A)
SACRED HEART CHURCH, SOUTH WODEN, PEARCE
Isaiah 35:1-6, 10, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11
Thank you so much for inviting me to join in the 40th Anniversary of the dedication of the Sacred Heart Church here at South Woden, Pearce.
We have much to rejoice in! And today, as the third Sunday of Advent indicates, this is the day to rejoice because it is Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means rejoice!
In today’s Gospel, we find a somewhat strange question that the disciples of John the Baptist asked Jesus as he begins his Ministry. They ask Jesus “Are you the one who is to come, or do we have to wait for someone else?” It doesn’t seem the politest way of going about questioning the Lord, at least in the English language!
But Jesus’ answer is the most important part here. Rather than give a philosophical or theological answer, he tells them to go back to John the Baptist and to report as Witnesses to what they see happening. Jesus tells them to tell John that the “Blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the dead are raised to life and the good news is proclaimed to the poor; and happy is the man who does not lose faith in me”.
So the Lord gives a very practical response. He tells them to report what they see and hear.
After 40 years of this Parish what can we tell the Lord about doing his work here in this part of Canberra? In what ways over the last 40 years do the deaf now hear and the blind now see!
We can think seriously about the tenacity and Irish cunning of Fr Conway, the original Parish Priest here. People still speak of his pastoral energy and that was only matched by his personal generosity.
We can also think of the great generosity and loyal support of the original parishioners who paid for the Church through their legendary Housie nights each Thursday. This enabled this Church to be opened debt free. That is quite an accomplishment! We can see the generosity also expressed in the beautiful stained glass window featured here in this Church. But we also can see pastoral activity and energy in regard to Fr Richards proposal for a building project in 2017. I am also so pleased to hear that the Parish is wanting to relaunch the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults). We cannot really talk of a welcoming Parish that does not have a vibrant RCIA team, because the greatest welcome we can give to people coming to this place is the welcome of Baptism. More people than we think come to Mass who are not Catholics. Many people in the community are searching for God – more than we think! The faith and vibrancy of this Parish should have a big open door to welcome them, if they wish, to make a formal enquiry to the Catholic Church with regard to possible initiation through Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.
When I was praying this morning about the Parish’s Anniversary an image came to my mind. It was the image of a rowing boat on Lake Burley Griffin! Isn’t it interesting how people in rowing boats sit in one direction rowing the boat but the boat actually moves in the opposite direction to which they are seated. It reminded me of this anniversary day today. We are looking with joy and thanksgiving for all that has taken place in the past. But we are moving forward. The past helps us to move forward pastorally! It gives us the good example of past generations of Catholics in this Parish and the pledge that we are now to keep up their good work of Proclaiming the Good News to the Nations in the difficult times of present and in the future. This prevents today becoming simply a “Remember When” day. So often anniversaries of Parishes can lapse into sentimentality and nostalgia. Whereas it is important to look back with thanksgiving, there must always be a forward Missionary impulse into the celebrations of the Parish anniversary. I have every confidence that that is happening here with the gathering so many people from all around the world represented in this Parish in 2016 and following.
As Christmas nears let us remember an important foundation of our Catholic Faith.
We believe that there are in fact three nativities of Jesus in the world.
The first Nativity is his birth in the flesh 2000 years ago in the humble stable of Bethlehem in present day Middle East. When we hear of so much darkness of warfare and selfishness in the world, this darkness is conquered by the Light of Christ who came into our world 2000 years ago. Jesus is the expression of God’s immense love for us. God who is almighty has become so fragile and little in a small child. May it never be said of us that there is “no room at the Inn” in this Parish or in this Archdiocese for the Lord. Jesus is always welcome into our midst. How much we need him.
Yet there is also the promise that the Lord will come again at the end of time. This is seen in the second reading from today. St James tells his people to “Be patient, Brothers, until the Lord’s coming”. In the early Church they thought that Jesus might return again at any moment – in their own lifetime. 2000 years later we are still waiting for the Lord’s Second Coming. When He comes again he will come in Glory. He will come to judge the world with love and mercy. He will be asking all of us in what ways did we feed the hungry, visit the sick and imprisoned, clothe the naked and proclaim His Kingdom to the peripheries of our world. Let us prepare for the Second Coming with the sense that we are but travellers here on this Earth, as St Mary of the Cross would say.
But there is a third Nativity of Jesus. Not only has he come in the flesh and not only will he come again in Glory, but he comes to us right now through the Holy Spirit. We can almost call it the Nativity of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the love of the God the Father and God the Son. God shares the energy and life of love with us today.
I thought of this Nativity of the Holy Spirit recently when I heard of a wonderful answer given by an 80 year old nun when she was interviewed by a somewhat smug interviewer on the radio. He asked her “Sister, when did you decide to become a Religious Nun?” She answered brilliantly by saying, “This morning”!
Clearly everyday was a new day for this religious Sister! Everyday she renewed her commitment to her religious life afresh. Clearly the Nativity of the Holy Spirit was alive in her life on a daily basis! So it must be with us. Whether we are Archbishop, Clergy, Laity, whatever our professional life might be, when people ask us when did we decide on this particular calling we ought be able to say along with the Religious Sister, THIS MORNING!
Many people find it hard to live in the present moment of the Holy Spirit. So often we are weighed down by past memories that are not always happy. Often there is remorse and guilt and we can often live in the past. But we must leave the past to God’s merciful forgiveness.
Often, too, we meet people whose vision seems to be locked in the future. They talk as if they can’t really live until they have a new and bigger car, a second house, or until a future project of a practical nature is fulfilled. But we must ward against this as well. Clearly, we must have projects and visions that do help us in the future but ultimately we must leave the future to God’s Providence.
So here is the expression that we can take home today. “Leave the past to God’s Mercy, leave the future to His Providence, and let us do what we can to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit in the present moment”. Throughout our Catholic spirituality we have often called this “the Sacrament of the Present Moment”. We can see Jesus working us in the present time.
I conclude by delighting in the title of this Church. This Church is called the Sacred Heart Church. By virtue of being called the Sacred Heart Parish it becomes a Missionary Parish. The Sacred Heart is the love of God given to us freely on a daily basis so that we can be Messengers and Missionaries of Christ’s love in our world.
This anniversary day to which I am delighted to attend with you, helps us to renew today and not tomorrow or yesterday. But today the missionary impulse of our Baptism is to go forward from this Mass to be Christ’s Eucharist in the world in which we live.
May God bless you and I thank you for all that has been done to bring today together in such a beautiful way. We now go on with our Mass and thank the Lord of the Eucharist for the food that he gives us on our journey in life.
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
SUNDAY 4, DECEMBER 2016
SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT (YEAR A)
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL, FORREST
Isiah 11:1-10, Romans 15:4-9, Matthew 3:1-12
We are well and truly on our Advent pilgrimage now towards Christmas. It may be surprising, therefore, that the Gospel today does not talk about Christmas at all but showcases Baptism.
Not just one Baptism but two Baptisms in fact!
There is first of all the Baptism of St John the Baptist and then there is the Baptism of Jesus. It is John the Baptist himself who makes the distinction between the two Baptisms. He says in the Gospel ‘I Baptise you in water for Repentance, but he who follows me is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to carry his sandals; he will Baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Although this is quite a theological distinction the image that comes to my mind is that of a train!
It is almost as if the passengers are on the railway station platform and they see the train coming in the distance. They therefore prepare themselves. They stand up, make sure their baggage is together, gather their children and so on. The train is not there but it is on the way. They are preparing. This is somewhat similar to what I think John the Baptist is mentioning. There must be preparation and repentance in preparation for the coming of the Lord. Once the train has arrived, however, people change their mood, walk into the train and prepare for the train’s departure. In the case of the Lord, however, it is not a train but it is Baptism. Baptism initiates a person into the new world of the Body of Christ – the Church! Without Baptism we remain on the platform! With Baptism we move into the Body of Christ and we are led by “the Holy Spirit and fire”. The fire here is the fire within our hearts, the fire of energetically responding to that which is asked of us and to be always extroverted in our Faith.
This is somewhat foreshadowed in the first reading when we enter into the New World. When we enter into the New World of the Kingdom of God it is indeed a New World. We experience this in part at the moment but we are waiting for the Second Coming of Jesus for the fullness of the Kingdom of God to dawn upon us. This fullness is given some poetic foreshadowing in the expression of the first reading of a young child who led them. “The cow and the bear make friends, the young lie down together…. The infant plays over the cobra’s hold; into the viper’s lair the young child puts his hand. They do no hurt, no harm on all my Holy Mountain.”
It is a new way of living out our lives. In the second reading today from St Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul draws attention to one aspect of confidence and hope that we have by entering by our Baptism into God’s Kingdom fully alive in the Church. He tells us that we are never to give up. He doesn’t tell us that we have to be successful. But he does say that examples abound of “how people who did not give up were helped by God. And may he who helps us when we refuse to give up, help you all to be tolerant with each other following the example of Jesus Christ.”
I think the mood of Advent is best situated in this readiness to be the people God wants us to be at any given moment. Let us recall that Christianity is very much a present tense religion. Recall, we say that the KINGDOM OF GOD is close at hand. We do not say that the Kingdom of God was close at hand or the Kingdom of God will be close at hand. It is always the present tense. Christianity is a ‘now’ religion.
This came to my mind during the week when I heard of an 80 year old nun interviewed on the radio. She had spent most of her professed life at the service of the poor. The radio interviewer asked her the following question “When did you decide to become a nun?” Her reply was wonderful! She said “This morning!”
This is precisely an Advent response! We renew our Baptism everyday. Every present moment is a renewal of our Baptism. We try as best we can to live out the life of Grace that God has given us in Baptism by Faith. We refuse to give up. So indeed, this religious Sister starts off her religious life every morning with her rededication of her Baptism. Perhaps the radio interviewer was thinking of her life as a career. In just by saying “this morning” she draws attention not to a career but to the vocation she lives out as a Baptised Child of God and in this case as a professed Nun.
Let’s learn from her good example. Let us see our Christian life as a series of present moments. Sometimes in our theology they call it the Sacrament of the Present Moment. So many of us lead our lives in the past. We think of the things that we have done wrong or the things that we could have done better. If we don’t concentrate, we can easily be living physically in the present but with our mind and heart in the past. The same can be said of the future. It is good for us all to have plans for the future. But they are not to be obsessions. We place our lives in the Holy Will of God in the future.
So let us remember this little expression. “Leave the past to God’s mercy, and leave the future to God’s providence. Let us encounter Christ in the present moment of our life”.
So in conclusion, I ask you all: When did you decide to become a Catholic Christian? When did you decide to become a diplomat, or a politician, or a public servant? We can say: “This morning in this Mass”. And I can also say in answer to the question “When did I decide to become an Archbishop”, I can say in union with all of us in our Baptism: “This morning during this Mass.”