Homily – November 2017

Ezekiel 34:11-12; 15-17, 1 Corinthians 15:20-26.28, Matthew 25:31-46

We are now in the last days of our Year of Matthew. Next Sunday begins Advent and also begins the Year of Mark.

Over these days St Mark’s Gospel and the other Gospels will centre on the final judgement, that awaits us all.

Let us remind ourselves in a very focused manner; ultimately, according to St Matthew’s Gospel of today, we will not be asked about our regularity in prayer or the sacraments or other such matters, however important, but we’ll be asked purely on our response in practical charity to the periphery people. The Gospel of today summarises it all. When we go out to those on the fringes, according to the Lord, “You did it to me”.

There will be in this final judgement, according to what the Lord has told us in today’s Gospel, the coming of the Good Shepherd. At that moment, “All the nations will be assembled before Him and He will separate men one from another as the shepherd separates sheep from goats”.

In recent days I have been out at Kippax. There has been an opening of a new St Vincent de Paul centre. Even within two weeks of opening, 90 people have volunteered to assist in a practical way this centre which will directly help those who are on the periphery of life.

Let us remind ourselves again that here in the fair city of Canberra homelessness is a major issue. There was the perception that this issue was dissipating. According to St Vincent de Paul Society, it has simply been relocated. It has been relocated from the centre of Civic and now out to the suburbs. So homelessness is alive and well in this fair city! What is our practical response? In the light of today’s Gospel we need to be able to make this practical response not only in our society but in our families and neighbourhoods.

We consider these matters on this wonderful solemnity at the end of the Liturgical Year called “Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe”. Yes, Jesus is the King of the Universe. He is not simply King of human beings but King of everything. Even death itself comes under the liberation of the Kingdom of God.

This is meditated upon in the Second Reading from St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. There is a beautiful passage there from St Paul as he says, “For He must be King until He has put all enemies under His feet and the last of the enemies to be destroyed is death”. Jesus the King of the Universe has taken the sting out of death and has placed even this universal experience under His Lordship.

So we end the Liturgical Year with the sombre view expressed in what’s called Apocalyptic Literature. This means literature that shows the world coming to an end with great fanfare and a separating of the good and the bad. But it is a hopeful moment because Jesus is King of the Universe.

We need to be reminded of this in these days here in Australia. It seems to me that Australia is lapsing into some form of paganism. With what has happened at the same-sex marriage vote and subsequently, the fact that the state of Victoria has given the parliamentary green light to euthanasia, and the pressure put on us with threats to the fundamental human rights of our own religious expression and speech, we do feel that we are in a very sombre, tumultuous time of Australian history.

This can make us fearful and inward-looking and feel that we are under siege. Perhaps in a certain way we are.

But ultimately we are a people of hope, and joyful hope at that. Because Jesus ultimately is victorious.

He is the Good Shepherd looking after the scattered sheep. This is a lovely message from the First Reading from the Prophet Ezekiel. The Prophet reminds us that God “will keep my sheep in view. I shall rescue them from wherever they have been scattered during the mist and darkness”.

So in the mist and darkness of our times today we are given hope that ultimately and in the end God is victorious.

Could I end this homily by giving a little story that seems to summarise beautifully the readings of today.

When I lived in Rome for several years I ended up becoming a bit of a tour guide for people from Australia who were visiting the Eternal City.

If time was short I would often take them simply to St Peter’s Square and look at St Peter’s Basilica from the entrance of the colonnades.

I would ask the people the following. I would say to them to locate one piece of architecture that has been here for several thousand years and, indeed, even witnessed the martyrdom of St Peter upon which the Basilica is built.

People were wondering if it was a statue or whether it was one of the fountains. But in fact it was the Egyptian obelisk that is sited in the middle of St Peter’s Square that has been there for over 2000 years. It was war booty taken from Egypt by the Roman Emperor Caligula. It is a 4000 year old granite obelisk.

Originally it was placed in the middle of the Roman Circus that was built around what is now the Basilica and it became the centre spina which was their gravitational centre-point of the Circus. It was within that Circus that St Peter was martyred. So in a sense, this obelisk is called the “Roman Eye”. It would have seen the martyrdom of St Peter. In the 16th century it was moved with great care into the place where it is now. The top of the obelisk was a container made of gold that was removed and a Crucifix was placed on the very top of the obelisk. A new plinth was placed under the obelisk and on this plinth is written the following in Latin:

Christus Vincit
Christus Regnat
Christus Imperat
Christus ab omni malo plebem suam defendat.

In English this roughly means:

Christ Wins
Christ Reigns
Christ Overcomes
Christ frees his people from every evil.

Isn’t that a magnificent final statement of victory! Ultimately in the end Christ is victorious.

In the midst of all the persecution of Roman times and the travails thousands of Christians had in their martyrdom and persecution, ultimately God reigns. This is seen in the biggest Christian Church now built in the world and to which millions of people come as pilgrims and tourists every year.

So let us never be downtrodden and have a sense of defeatism. This is contrary to Christianity.

In the midst of the challenges and persecutions and hardships of today, we are victorious in Jesus Christ, King of the Universe!

Archbishop Christopher Prowse
Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn



Proverbs 31:10-13; 19-20; 30-31, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6, Matthew 25:14-30

As we pray for those who have died in our November Mass, we pray particularly for the deceased Archbishops of this Archdiocese.

Immediately at the conclusion of this Mass you may wish to join me for a brief prayer ceremony in the crypt underneath the Cathedral to pray in gratitude for the leaders of this Archdiocese that have gone before us, and marked with the sign of faith.

As we move to the end of the liturgical year the readings, once again, remind us that “This life if not the only life.”

Therefore the wisdom at the end of the ancient Thessalonians text of the second reading is very important. As St Paul says, “You are all sons of light and sons of the days; we do not belong to the night or to darkness, so we should not go on sleeping, as everybody else does, but stay wide awake and savour.”

It’s quite a blunt message isn’t it?

When we are hopefully aware of the shortness of our life, every day becomes an opportunity of expressing our faith in God’s grace!

Even in today’s public issues regarding same-sex marriage, the euthanasia debate, and the refugee issue, and the ongoing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders issues, there is no time for “sleeping”. We are to “stay wide awake” and respond to the present challenges to our faith and Australian life in the broader panorama that we “are but pilgrims here” as Mary MacKillop says.

There is a lovely Jewish expression or a little story that goes like the following.

A Rabbi reflecting on the golden rule, overhears two simple fishermen who have been colleagues for many, many years speak to each other.

One said to the other, “Do you love me?” The response was, “Yes, of course I love you.” Then the questioner asked further, “Do you know what causes me pain?” After a long period of time, his friend replied, “No, I do not know what causes you pain.” Then the response came immediately, “If you do not know what causes me pain, then how can you say you love me?”

In regard to the way not only we arrange our Australian society, but more particularly, the way we relate to each other, the importance of the quality of our love becomes paramount.

When we truly know what causes another person’s pain, then we are able to respond, as a gift from God, to their pain with the love and attention that truly heals.

This is the way Jesus loves us.

From the Calvary Cross, we might say to Jesus, “Do you know what causes me pain?”

From the Cross, Jesus would say, “Of course I know what causes you pain, I am dying for you, I am entering your pain more than you ever thought or imagined. I know you more intimately than you know even yourself. And into this deep abyss of your mystery, I plant my sacrificial love.”

But then Jesus could say back to us, “Do you know what causes me pain?” On a superficial level, we could say back to Jesus “Yes, it must be the wounds that you are suffering, the scourging’s and the nailing of the Cross and the crown of thorns must be very painful.” Jesus would say, “Yes that is true, but go deeper, go much deeper. Do you know what causes me the deepest pain?” And in truth, we would have to say, “No we do not know, Dear Lord.” Perhaps Jesus would say, “This is what caused me the deepest pain, that you have forgotten me! That you have gone on sleeping and forgotten me! You have caused disunity. You have caused each other pain, the terror that you have inflicted on each other would not have happened if you truly knew what my pain has been for the unity of my people.”

In these days before a new liturgical year starts, let us think very deeply about the pain that we have caused Jesus.

In these days when we pray for those who have died, let us think of our own finite existence and do all that we can to use every day to satiate the thirst and the pain on our Crucified Saviour.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse
Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn



Wisdom 6:12-16, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Matthew 25:1-13

Virtually on every page of the Gospels is written the message “This Life is Not the Only Life”.

We are reminded of our earthy pilgrimage on the way to our heavenly home in the month of November and as we move towards the end of the Liturgical Year – the Year of Matthew.

As we pray particularly for those who have died in the month of November, the scriptures assist us on understanding precisely our teaching on Christian death.

At the beginning of the second reading from the ancient texts of St Paul to the Thessalonians we have a wonderful summary statement of our teaching on Christian death.

St Paul reminds his people of the following comment, “We want you to be quite certain, brothers, about those who have died, to make sure that you do not grieve about them, like the other people who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that it will be the same for those who have died in Christ: God will bring them with Him.

This is our hope everybody… “God will bring our beloved dead with him.”

So let us continue to pray in this Mass for not only those that we mourn in their death but also those who have nobody to pray for them in their death.

On a broader panorama, there is also, in these days towards the end of the Liturgical Year A, the constant theme of Christ’s second-coming.

Our Catholic belief proclaims that, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again”.

In the early Church the feeling was that Christ’s second-coming would come in their own lifetime. 2000 years later, we still await the second-coming of Christ. Nevertheless, the response remains the same: we are to be ready when the Master arrives!

This teaching is showcased in the Gospel of today from Matthew 25.

Wedding ceremonies in antiquity were quite different from what we know of today.

In Jewish antiquity, there is a practice that the bridegroom would go to the home of the bride and, after ceremonies, would return with his new bride to his home.

As he approached his home those from the home would go out and greet him and form a procession as he brings his new wife into the home.

This is the context of today’s Gospel. The trouble was that the bridegroom and the ceremonies that involved the families were not precise and people could be delayed for a considerable period of time because of the festivities.

So the idea for those who were waiting at the bridegroom’s home was that they were to be ready for whenever the groom would return.

So the Gospel today talks about the bridesmaids who were wise and those who were foolish. Those who were foolish felt that the master would return precisely on time and they had their lamps lit to welcome him. Inevitably, he arrived late. When he arrived, and the shout went out to go and greet him, those who weren’t prepared for the late arrival would find they had no oil left in their lampstands.

The wise ones anticipated a late arrival and had plenty of oil ready to greet him in a festival of light. As those without oil went to buy some, the bridegroom arrived with his entourage and entered the house and the door closed. The others, once they had bought the oil, called out “Lord, Lord open the door for us. …. He replied, “I tell you solemnly, I do not know you”.

So the moral of that little parable is to, “Stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour”.

So as we await the second-coming of the Lord Jesus all of us are to be in a state of readiness. As earthly pilgrims waiting for the Lord to take us to our heavenly home we are to be in a state of conversion and repentance and alertness at all times.

In reflecting on this passage I thought of a recent story I heard when I was in India a few weeks ago to help lead a national retreat for bishops and priests.

One of the priests gave testimony of a recent experience in his parish.

He explained that he had a very busy Sunday and by the time the evening came he was very exhausted.

He told the sacristans to lock the Church whilst he remained in the Church a little longer to pray.

Alone in his locked Church he sat down on the Church pew and began to pray. It was only after a few minutes that he felt very heavy with sleep. He lay down on the Church bench for what he hoped would be a very short nap.

It didn’t appear to be too long before he heard somebody trying to unlock the Church. He sat up and realised that in fact it was daylight. Indeed, it was the sacristan returning to the Church to unlock the Church the next morning! He had slept the whole night in the Church in a deep sleep without realising it until then!

As the sacristan came in and saw the priest still sitting in the seat he said to the priest how impressed he was that he had prayed the whole night in intersession for all the people in the village!

The priest was placed in a difficult situation. Should he just say straight out to the sacristan that he in fact had been asleep the whole night in the Church, or should be just say nothing and allow the Holy Spirit to use his sleep for God’s greater glory!

The priest chose the latter option!

Now the sacristan was quite a chatter box in the village. In the days following he went around and was telling everybody what a saintly parish priest they had! He told them that the priest in recent days had spent the whole night in praying before the Blessed Sacrament for the needs of the parishioners! Over the weeks following, the priest noted that people were listening more closely to his homilies and indeed that their numbers at Mass were slowly increasing!

So it just goes to show you that even in our inattentiveness and sleepiness that the Holy Spirit can still use us for His greater glory!

Let us learn from the foolish bridesmaids in today’s Gospel and also “the foolishness” of the sleeping priest.

Even in the midst of all our foolishness and fragility God can bring His people home in His own way and in His own time. After all, one of the ancient definitions of Christianity is that it is a community of the Holy Spirit.

Come Holy Spirit! Let us stay awake to the Lord’s unexpected entrances in our lives!

Archbishop Christopher Prowse
Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn



Malachi 1:14-2:2; 8-10, 1 Thessalonians 2:7-9; 13, Matthew 23:1-12

In today’s Gospel St Matthew speaks to Jewish Christian converts on the newness of Christianity.

Let us recall that the word Christianity came later. In these early years, those who followed the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as disciples were described as “The Way”.

In Matthew 23 he counsels the new disciples to be servants in imitation of the Master, Jesus. They are to avoid “not practicing what they preach”. And they are to avoid “attracting attention”. There is to be no arrogance. There are to be no ego trippers! There is to be no “all about me” mentality.

But all are to be servants of the Lord Jesus.

There are many characteristics of Biblical Servant Discipleship, but from my readings in today’s Liturgy of the Word, two come to mind immediately.

First of all, the characteristic of a Biblical Servant is prayer.

Let us recall that the word “listen” when jumbled up together also makes the word “silent”. Servant disciples of Jesus are to be characterised by a listening prayer life that glorifies God.   

Even in the first reading from Malachi there is the criticism of those that follow God who “do not listen”. And those who “do not find it in your hearts to glorify my name”.

Catholics are very good at asking petition prayers, prayers of the faithful, and also prayers of asking forgiveness – the Penitential Rite. But indeed in the Liturgy, the vast majority of the prayers are glorifying, praising, thanksgiving prayers.

Even in the Eucharistic prayer, the word “Eucharist” means thanksgiving.

Bibical Servants are to be characterised as thanksgiving people who praise God for the many blessings that He bestows upon His people.

A second characteristic of Biblical Servants is that they are, as coming from the Second Reading from St Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, “like a mother feeding and looking after her own children”. Many times the Church is criticised as being too paternal or a product of a patriarchal society, but also the Church has a matriarchal dimension or maternal expression of the community of believers.

This Second Reading is a very ancient text indeed. Indeed, St Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is said to have pre-dated the writing of the Gospels themselves! So we have some of the earliest Christian manuscripts in this reading and the encouragement is to be like “mothers” in the way we care and look after each other.

I remember reading not so long ago that in history, despite what might be said today, that a mother’s main responsibilities have been to wash, feed and correct their children. When I read this I thought that the Church as mother also does this. We wash (Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation), we feed (the Sacrament of the Eucharist), and we correct (Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation).

We are also aware today, in welcoming members of our Catholic Care agency, that they, in a very practical way, watch over and protect God’s people as the “mother”.

Every year Catholic Care in the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn tend to over 100,000 requests on all matters pertaining to homelessness to family support to assisting those challenged by mental illness and in every other way that we can be a mother to those in need. So we welcome them and thank those that are here at this Mass today. However, this is something that all of us do by being servant disciples in the way that we are to be characterised by our practical charity to others.

Let us continue the Mass now knowing that God feeds us plenty with His Word and Sacrament and that as He has become the servant master of us all, so must we become servants of each other.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse
Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn