Homilies – November 2013


Isaiah 63:7-9; 2Cor 4:5-12; Luke 5:1-11

Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

This wonderful Mass has been so much anticipated by the dear people of the Archdiocese of Canberra & Goulburn. The word “family” comes to my mind quite spontaneously. Immediately we give praise and thanks to God, our Almighty and Merciful Father, who has gathered us all together from so many diverse places through, with, and in Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that makes us the Catholic family that God wants us to be, in all our strengths and weaknesses. May this Holy Trinity guide the Archdiocesan family on this historic day when it welcomes and prays for her new Servant-Shepherd Archbishop.

When I reflect on my own personal family in this month of November, I think of my deceased parents, God willing, participating in this Mass in the great communion of the faithful departed. I have always thought I came from a somewhat ordinary and typical Catholic family of six children. However, given the fragile state of so many families today, I can now see I came from a united and loving family. The greatest gift my loving parents gave me, by co-operating with the creative energies of God, was life itself. But they also gave me another great gift which I wish to reflect upon in three points in this homily: My name – “Christopher”.

In the first place, devotion to St Christopher seems to have been more developed in Eastern rather than Western Catholicism. This was expressed in 1970 when his commemoration was dropped in the Roman calendar but promoted for local devotion. Be so that as it may, his life-story is instructive of Christian truths and discipleship, even today.

It seems that St Christopher was born about 250AD near present day Turkey. He has become the patron saint of travellers and transport. Even today, it is not impossible to see a little magnet of St. Christopher in the cars of the pious.

More specifically, legend has it that he was a tall man. He had a confused youth but was assisted immeasurably by his talks with a spiritual director. He asked this devoted hermit – “How could Christopher serve Christ?” The hermit’s answer was decisive in his life: It was by fasting and prayer. And, given Christopher’s size and strength, the hermit suggested he could serve Christ practically by assisting people to cross a nearby dangerous river. All this Christopher did with remarkable ability. But, deep down, he still was restless – until an extraordinary encounter took place.

One day, a little child asked Christopher to take him across the river. During the crossing the river became swollen and the child seemed intolerably heavy. Christopher could hardly make it across.

Once across, however, Christopher said to the child: “You put me in the greatest of danger. I do not think the whole world could have been as heavy on my shoulders as you were.” The child responded: “You had on your shoulders not only the whole world but Him who made it. I am Christ, your King, whom you are serving by this work.”

So St Christopher hence became defined as the “Christ-bearer”, “the one who carries Christ” through this encounter with the Christ-Child. He carried Jesus and the whole world on his shoulders. Or was it really Christ who carried Christopher and the whole world by his Cross and Resurrection?

So here I am as your new Archbishop. It is “Christopher” who greets you now. I want to be “Christopher” for you. I want to carry you and your burdens to Jesus, the great burden-bearer, across the dangerous river of life.

I resonate with the Second Reading of this Mass and say I am only a fragile earthenware vessel that makes this invitation to you. Our Christian boast makes it quite clear, however, “that the immensity of the power is God’s and not our own. We are subjected to every kind of hardship, but never distressed; we see no way out but never despair” (2Cor 4:7-8).

So will you let this earthenware vessel carry you to Jesus in the times ahead as your Archbishop?

I am knocking at the door of the Archdiocese of Canberra & Goulburn. On the one hand we really do not know each other. But, on the other hand, in our common Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, we know each other in the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. So please let me into your hearts to lead you into the Heart of Divine Mercy, Jesus himself alive in our Catholic Faith. Please pray for me.

Secondly I make my humble request for entry in this fine Cathedral that incredibly bears the same name: St Christopher. It is Christopher knocking at the Cathedral door of St. Christopher’s!

This Cathedral, like all Cathedrals, derives its name from the bishop’s chair (the ‘cathedra’). It is from this chair that the bishop presides over the Liturgy. By symbolic extension, it is from here that the Bishop ‘carries Christ’ to the entire Archdiocese as the visible agent of unity in teaching, sanctifying and governing. I am the seventh Archbishop. The former bishops of Canberra & Goulburn, those here present, Archbishop Frank Carroll and Archbishop Mark Coleridge and those who have died, have been successors of the apostles in service of the Gospel. I thank them sincerely for all their gospel efforts for this great Archdiocese. Let us pray for them in this Mass.

I look forward, in the years ahead, to listen to you all and to hear you recount the Gospel energies that have gone forth from this St. Christopher’s Cathedral and also from St. Peter & Paul’s in Goulburn, to all in this large and diverse Archdiocese. Starting 150 years ago in 1862, from the coast to the plains, from the mountains to the cities – how have you carried Christ to the peoples of this place? How have you carried the poor, the lost, and marginalised to Jesus, the Good Shepherd?

It is clear to see that you have done this most eloquently via education, health and social services. However, not only am I keen to hear “what” you have done. Pragmatic Australians are generally good in this area. But, I am keen to hear also “how” you have done this.

The First Reading draws out the key words of our faith to help us adjudicate the ‘how’ of our apostolic endeavours. These words – “great kindness”, “mercy”, “abundance”, faithful love”, “love and pity”, “lifted them up”, “carried them” (Isaiah 63:7-9) – must all be the attitudes that motivate all we do. It is the centrality and love of Jesus that must animate everything we do.

Starting afresh from Christ” is our first response (Novo Millennio Ineunte 28-29). Otherwise, St Christopher’s Cathedral will simply be “Head Office” rather than “the eternal pomegranate” that bursts forth from this sacramental liturgical centre the seeds of the Gospel to the entire Archdiocese and far beyond.

We look particularly in our times to our Holy Father, Pope Francis’ example for our apostolic motivations. He seems to be developing a highly symbolic and prophetic Papal Magisterium that teaches mostly by simple actions of loving kindness, humility and mercy to the poor and marginalised. Let us follow his inspired example.

Thirdly, and finally, “Christopher” can be a name that all of us share collectively. It can become a metaphor for missionary discipleship.

As this Year of Faith and Grace closes, we have been focussing in Australia, and the Catholic world, on evangelisation. Very recently, Pope Francis, addressed in Rome leaders of the Council that co-ordinates the “new evangelisation”. He said “Every baptised Christian is a “Christopher”, namely a Christ-bearer, as the Church Fathers used to say.” (14 Oct 2013). It is our missionary identity. It will be lived out near the Calvary Cross of our crucified Saviour. Our ‘Christopher’ identity will only be fully understood as we hear Jesus’ words: “Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, for my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Matt 11:29-30).

Our burdens seem to abound. For example, in Australia we are now in a time of a Royal Commission and Parliamentary Enquiries into child sex abuse where we truly feel for its victims. In our times globally, the “authority” of personal experience and self-determination seem to undermine rational and traditional authorities of any kind, including those of the Church. In our families, we see growing challenges to its stability and capacity to pass on religious belief in a culture no more “religious” but one of “choice”.

So, in these burdensome times, let the “Christopher” in each one of us truly believe that in Jesus alone the yoke becomes easy and the burden light. It is not us carrying Jesus, but Jesus carrying us! Ultimately, it is a crisis of belief – Do we truly believe this? We pray: “Jesus, carry us home to the Father of all mercies”.

In the final analysis, we are left with the primal choice found in today’s Gospel. When Jesus said to Simon Peter: “Put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4), he was left with a choice. He could ignore and dismiss the command of Jesus for good practical reasons and continue to mend and wash his nets. Or, responding in raw faith to Jesus, pay the nets out for a catch in deep and unfamiliar waters. We know what happened. Obedience in faith led to a bountiful catch. Two boats were filled to sinking point with fish.

We are all left with a similar stark decision in our troublesome times where the fish seem to be found in other waters. Either we sit on the shore of life and mend and wash our fine Church buildings and institutions. Or we learn from the Faith of St. Peter and evangelise afresh in unchartered waters but knowing Christ, the fisherman of us all, commands us to a “new” evangelisation. Let us respond with Petrine Faith.

Let us go out with courage and hope in the deep waters to the new depths of evangelisation opening up in our times – the depths of discovery and science, the internet and social media, art and beauty, the new poor in families – First Australians, migrants and refugees, the search for God, the city and rural areas, politics and economics, culture and inter-religious dialogue, the search for meaning and purpose in life. Let us go fishing with Christ!

So many of us were delighted to hear Pope Francis’ homily at the Chrism Mass this year, (28 March 2013) in Rome. He stated that pastors must have “the odour of sheep” on them in imitation of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. But, in the light of today’s Gospel, it could also be said surely, using another significant ancient Christian leadership metaphor, that the “Christophers” of the future must also have the “odour of Fish” on them too! It has been noted by others that bishops, priest and deacons make good shepherds but poor fishermen. Maybe we ought to reflect upon this as missionary disciples, named “Christophers”. We may not “smell” very pleasing to a world where institutional religions seem to be nowadays “on the nose”. But, then again, we might find ourselves better placed pastorally to respond to today’s challenges. We will become close to the “scandal” of Christ Crucified. It is at Calvary that we are truly commissioned to become “Christophers” in our world, aching and searching for God. Here we will find our hope for salvation.

It is this hope that perfumes the world with the alluring fragrance of ONLY JESUS, ALWAYS JESUS, FOREVER JESUS.


Readings   2 Samuel 5:1-3  Colossians 1:12-20  Gospel Luke 23:35-43

What a wonderful Sunday to begin my pastoral ministry amongst you – Christ the Universal King! Please pray for me as I begin my ministry with you in these days.

When all of us think of the word King we feel the word denotes power and control. Already in Australia we know that power and control can be used in an extraordinary negative way. In particular with the Royal Commission into child abuse we know that it can be even used in a demonic way.

However on the absolute other end of the extreme, the concept of kingship and power can be used in a most extraordinary beneficial way. We see this in the readings today. When we describe Jesus as universal King it means a power to service.

In the first reading the promise King is denoted as a shepherd. The shepherd who will serve the sheep.

Jesus uses this image in the gospel today. Already we know for instance in John’s gospel he is described as the Good Shepherd. Jesus tells us that the Good Shepherd has come to give life and is prepared to serve unto death.

In the Gospel today from Luke we have somewhat of an unusual selection from this Gospel. It is the crucifixion of Jesus. How is kingly power connected with the crucifixion of Jesus? Indeed, for Christians, this is the ultimate exercise of power. It is a power of service unto death! It is the power that comes from humble submission to the will of God and the salvation of all. The extraordinary power that is given by God even overcomes death. The Calvary cross is not the end of the story as we know. The resurrection shows that not even physical death can disturb the service the loving and merciful God gives us in Jesus Christ risen from the dead.

I am delighted that here at St Christopher’s Cathedral the construction of the Cathedral places the Bishop’s chair (Cathedra) directly under the cross. It is an enormous cross isn’t it, and it is directly linked with the Bishop’s chair and is so close to the altar. This is more than just an architectural nicety. There is a whole theology in this.

The Bishop’s power comes from the death and resurrection of Jesus. He imitates Jesus and God’s service of mercy and kindliness to his people. This is expressed most fully in the Eucharist.

The Gospel today also relates to human responses to Calvary power.

This is seen in the two thieves alongside Jesus. One wants Jesus to use his power to resume his earthly life. He wants to come down off the cross. He challenges Jesus to save himself and to save them as well.

The other thief, now called the good thief, humbly requests Jesus to use his power to lift him up into salvation. He asks Jesus to remember him in His kingdom. Jesus promises him salvation from the Calvary cross. In a sense, the good thief is the first canonised saint of Christianity.

Let us think carefully about these two responses to the Calvary cross. May we never run away from the cross of Jesus Christ. Like the good thief, may we always give complete control to the Lord Jesus asking him humbly to forgive our sins and raise us up through the power of the cross. Jesus is almighty and merciful. May we never be shy or doubtful that King Jesus is ready to forgive us when we ask in repentance.

On this last Sunday of the Liturgical Year at the conclusion of the Year of Faith and Grace, let us gather around the Calvary cross and proclaim the Lord Jesus as King and Redeemer and the all Powerful and Almighty one.

This takes us to the second reading. St Paul insists that Jesus be pre-eminent in all things. You might note that my episcopal motto is ONLY JESUS. In this motto I commit myself a poor imitation of Jesus the servant King. I pray that I will only be Jesus to you in the years ahead as your servant.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse
Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn