Homily – December 2017

Is 61:1-2. 10-11, 1 Thes 5:16-24, Jn 1:6-8. 19-28

In our Christian Catholic tradition this Third Sunday of Advent is called “Gaudete Sunday”. “Gaudete” means rejoice. It is a Sunday of hope, joy and anticipation of the Lord’s coming.

It is almost like a “Hinge Sunday”. This is because to date the readings of the scriptures have been really looking towards the second future coming of Jesus at the end of time. This is a kind of Christmas where Jesus will come again but this time in glory.

But, from now on the readings will begin to look backwards at the first Christmas of 2000 years ago in Bethlehem.  

There is already a hint of this in the First Reading from the prophet Isaiah. This is the reading that Jesus himself read when he began his public ministry. You might recall that he went into the synagogue and opened the prophet Isaiah and read out a certain section. The certain section he read out is today’s first reading. In this reading there is the hope of the coming Saviour bringing “good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken; to proclaim liberty to captives, freedom to those in prison; to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord.” This is precisely what Jesus himself comes to bring. There is also in this reading a hint of Mary’s response in the Magnificat. In anticipation of Mary’s “Yes” and her decisive role in the incarnation the First Reading draws out some of the sentiments that Mary uses later on in the Magnificat. We read, “I exult for joy in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God.”

The Gospel reading today indicates that it is John the Baptist who is the Herald of the Lord’s coming at Bethlehem. In a sense, he is like a trumpet blast, or an overture before the symphony begins.

John the Baptist himself declares that “He came as a witness, as a witness to speak for the light.” He makes it quite clear that he is not the Messiah indeed, “I am not fit to undo his sandal-strap”, he says.

So the readings today are full of anticipatory joy in the midst of the penitential mode of Advent. Hence we have the Third Sunday of the Advent candle coloured in a pink colour which is the combination of purple and white colours.

In these days of Australia we need lots of hopeful joy in the midst of the penitential mood of the moment. This mood is not simply liturgical.

Although last weekend I spoke to you about the great joy of the Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Sydney, just a few days later we now have the publication of the Royal Commission into the Sex abuse issues in institutions.

As you know quite well, the Catholic Church features prominently.

The Royal Commission is something that disturbs all of us. I have written within the last 48 hours a Pastoral response to this publication of the final findings and recommendations of the Royal Commission. This can be accessed on the Archdiocesan website (www.cgcatholic.org.au). They reveal a picture of abominable shame and humiliation of the Churches, especially the Catholic Church. They reveal the diabolical criminality of some of our own towards the Lords “Poor little ones.”

The only real heroes here are the survivors who have been courageous in pursuing their tortured voice over many many years.

The Catholic Church looks forward now to examining these recommendations and a pledge that the publication of this report draws a line in the sand from which we can never go back to the inattentiveness of times past.

So in the ups and downs of our days prior to Christmas let us take the advice of the beautiful Second Reading from Saint Paul in this ancient text. He advices us all to “Be happy at all times; pray constantly; and for all things give thanks to God, because this is what God expects you to do in Christ Jesus.”

At the end of this lovely reading he reminds us to be people of faith and gives us the essential hopeful and joyful word that we need in our troubled times when he commends us all in the following words “May the God of peace make you perfect and holy; and may you all be kept safe and blameless, spirit, soul and body, for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. God has called you and he will not fail you.”

Archbishop Christopher Prowse
Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn



Isaiah 40:1-5. 9-11, 2 Pt 3:8-14, Mark 1:1-8

Whilst the Federal Parliament spent a considerable amount of time this week ensuring that religious freedoms were not legislated in the important area of marriage, over 19 thousand young people (ages 15 to 25) spent the whole week with 30 Bishops from around Australia ensuring that religious freedoms where enshrined in their hearts!

In the reading today an important word is “wilderness”.

It is mentioned in the first reading that “A voice cries, Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord.  Make a straight highway for our God across the desert.”

In the Gospel today from the beginning of Mark’s Gospel and not from its end as in last week, we are introduced to the biblical figure of St John the Baptist.  His was “A voice cries in the wilderness: Prepare a way the Lord, make his path straight.”

The word wilderness is something that is not just a geographical fact but it’s a factor also in our hearts and in our society.

For instance, in the Political world when legislation is put together that seems to be rather short sighted and immature, the Australian people are tempted to enter a societal wilderness.

In Sydney over the last week with the youth festival, whose theme was “Joy”, the young people were trying to move out of a wilderness where God is marginalised and the religious instinct in so many of them is artificially supressed.

But, the invitation of Jesus through the prophet John the Baptist is to “Make paths straight” by proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

This is the fulfilment of the prophecy from Isaiah in the first reading of God who wishes “to console my people, console them says your God.”  “God speaks to the heart of Jerusalem” and calls them to “repentance for the forgiveness of sin”.

The Second reading offers us three significant steps in our moving away from wilderness and our movement into the fullness of the Kingdom of God.

In the Second letter of St Peter he reminds us firstly, that God “is being patient with you all.”

Isn’t that a great wisdom to have deep in our hearts just a few weeks before Christmas.  That God is always patient with us.

I remember once, some years ago, waiting somewhat impatiently for my plane to leave.  It was an international flight and all the passengers where bunched up in a rather small departure lounge for over two hours waiting for the plane to be ready to board.  Nearby to me was a father and son.  The son had some sort of toy he was trying to put together.  He continually made mistakes.  He looked up to his father constantly and said, “Dad can I start again?”  Each time the father patiently said back to his son, “Yes son, you can start again”.  This happened so many times over the waiting period that on one level it was irritating but on another level is was beautifully consoling.  I thought that that’s the way God responds to us.  He never loses his patience with us.  He might be aggrieved at what we are doing but he is always patiently waiting for us to ask forgiveness and start again.  He always says to us “Yes, my children, you can start again!”

Secondly St Peter reminds us that God wants “nobody to be lost.”  There is an important image of God behind this which shows us that God is always the one leaving the ninety-nine sheep to go after the lost one.  He never sets us adrift.  Even though we might set God adrift, in his eyes we are never set adrift.

Thirdly, the Second Reading also reminds us that “everybody is to be brought to change his ways.”  Advent is a time of repentance of coming back to God with all our hearts.  We might think seriously about receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation over the next few weeks as a wonderful preparation for Christmas.

One word that was continually used over the last week at the Youth festival by the youth themselves was the word “Awesome”.  Everything was awesome.  It made me laugh a little bit with its repetition, however, it is a beautiful word actually and quite an Advent word.  God coming to us through the “Yes” of Mary and the initiative of God’s grace, is an “Awe-some” fact.  It engenders awe.  It engenders wonderment.  It engenders amazement.  Of all the creatures of the earth, God chose human beings to be the apple of his eye.

Let us be reminded, that as we move towards Christmas, to be in awe of the God who saves his people.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse
Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn



Isaiah 63:16-17; 64:1. 3-8, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:33-37

Happy New Year Everybody!

You’re probably saying to yourselves, “Bishop, you are one month ahead of yourself!”

Well chronologically you are correct. However, liturgically today is the beginning of a new liturgical season where we focus on the Gospel of Mark over the next twelve months. It is also the official liturgical beginning of our pilgrimage to Christmas with particularly today the lighting of the first candle of the Advent Wreath. We are making a chronological and liturgical “clock” with this lovely and ancient gesture.

Let us recall that there are four Gospels in the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Three of them are called “Synoptic Gospels”. They are Matthew, Mark and Luke. They are synoptic in the sense that they are similar and have parallel sections and clearly there is an understanding and knowledge of the different Gospels amongst themselves. This is not the case with John’s Gospel. It is of a particular theological status altogether.

It is only in more recent centuries that St Mark’s Gospel has been more fully appreciated. Mark’s Gospel is certainly important as data for Matthew and Luke, which are often seen as “the big Gospels”. But in more recent decades Mark has been seen as a real treasure in its own right.

Given the fact that we are beginning Mark’s Gospel today and will continue over the next twelve months, it seems surprising that we do not start at the beginning of Mark, which talks about Jesus’ early ministry. Indeed it is taken from the 13th chapter of Mark, which is towards its end.

It’s not so much in these beginning Sundays of Advent that we are focussing on the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem, it is more His Second Birth at the End of Time that is our focus in these early weeks.

It seems that the key focus for the readings today can be summarised in one word – WATCHFULNESS.

Talking to a married couple in recent weeks at the front of the Cathedral after one of our 11 o’clock Masses I marvelled at the way that they were able to focus in on our conversation but were also totally attentive simultaneously to their two young children running about nearby. They seemed to be able to do two things at the one time. I felt that we were engaging a very focused conversation but they were extremely watchful with their peripheral vision on their young children nearby.

I feel this is precisely what the Gospel today is referring to when it tell us, in so many different times, to “stay awake”! The Gospel today uses the lovely image of a door-keeper.

Jesus tells of a, “Man travelling abroad; he has gone from home and left his servants in charge, each with his own tasks; and he’s told the door-keeper to stay awake… because you do not know when the master of the house is coming”. This is clearly a reference to being like the married couple in the front of the Church. Being totally attentive to the present duties and responsibilities, but at the same time watchful and using our peripheral vision of faith to wait attentively for the Second Coming of the Lord at the End of Time. For the early Church this was something that they thought would happen imminently. But 2000 years later we are still asked to realise that this life is not the only life and that it is coming to an end and that Christ will come again. It helps us to outline our priorities and make sure that we are not considering the present moment as the only moment.

There is a lovely image in the first reading which indicates that this sort of watchful attitude is very much an exercise of trust in God’s loving providence. The Prophet Isaiah proclaims to God that, “You are our Father; we are the clay, You are the potter, we the work of Your hand”.

It is important to realise that we are the clay and God is the potter, and not the other way around. The other way around we make ourselves the architect of all that we fashion and is, in fact, a very good definition of the Biblical understanding of sin. It’s away from this arrogance that in Advent we must, in the words of the first reading, “return”. There is turning away from such arrogance and vanity and a focus on Christ’s initiative of grace in us and our pliability, like clay, in His loving arms.

So as we continue with our Mass now let us recall that in the four weeks prior to our Christmas that we are to be watchful to particularly include the least and neglected and forgotten in our society. Advent mustn’t just simply be a pious exercise in sentimentality. It always must have a practical response. Practical charity is best to begin in the family but not just stay in the family. It must also extend to the neighbourhood and in our society in general.

So let us be watchful and remember the good lessons shown by the married couple with the two children who were able to be watchful on several levels simultaneously.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse
Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn