Homilies – April 2014


Today is Divine Mercy Sunday.  It is the second Sunday of Easter.  But particularly this Easter day we rejoice with the double Canonisations of Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II.  This historic event in the Catholic Church will take place in a few hours in Rome celebrated by His Holiness Pope Francis.

This Mass of Thanksgiving is to offer gratitude and thanks to God for sending us two saintly men who led the Church at a critical moment in the Church’s more recent history.

Both men are fittingly canonised on this Divine Mercy Sunday.  They were witnesses of Easter joy and mercy.  Blessed John XXIII initiated the Second Vatican Council just over fifty years ago and Blessed John Paul II participated in this Council and was instrumental in the crucial decades following this monumental ecclesial event of the 20th century.  The pastoral care of souls was uppermost in both saints ‘leadership’ styles.

John XXIII (1881-1963) was born in a small village called Sotto il Monte, Bergamo in Northern Italy.  He was a pious and thoughtful seminarian and began writing his spiritual thoughts in what eventually became a great spiritual testament called “Journal of a Soul”.  He completed his studies in Rome on the 10th of August 1904.  After a period of time in the Diocese of Bergamo he was appointed the National Director of Missions and was based in Rome.  Thereafter came Diplomatic Missions in various places.  In 1925 he was appointed Apostolic Visitor to Bulgaria before which he was ordained a Bishop in the Church of Saint Carlo in Rome.  Subsequent Diplomatic postings occurred in Turkey and Greece and finally to the important Diplomatic post in Paris France.  In 1953 he was appointed the Patriarch of Venice.

Surprisingly on the 28th of October 1958 he was elected Pope.

Immediately his pastoral style and simplicity and great humility projected a common touch amongst the people.

Even in my years both in Italy and Australia amongst the Italian community I’ve noticed when visiting some of their homes that many still have the photograph of John XXII in a prominent position in their homes.  He is known as “Good Pope John”…… full of goodness, integrity and with a great warmth about him.

He will be forever remembered for his announcement of the Second Vatican Council.  This took place on the 25th of January 1959 at St Paul Outside the Walls in Rome.  He told the startled Cardinals gathered that “I’m thinking of the care of the souls of the faithful in these modern times.  I’m gradually settling into my new role and beginning to see how it will fit into the overall history of the Church…… so now, trembling a bit with emotion, I announce to you my intention to hold a twofold event: a Diocesan wide meeting for this city and an ecumenical council for the universal Church”.

Pope John XXIII presided at the first session at the Council which met from the 11th of October until the 8th of December 1962.  He died on the 3rd of June 1963.

Blessed John Paul II (1920 – 2005), was one of the participants at the Second Vatican Council and contributed much to some of its more important documents.  He was elected Pope in 1978 and this began one of the longest Pontificates in Catholic history.  His early life is well known to most of us already.  He left an enormous literary legacy, and his many pilgrimages overseas including Australia made him a well-known figure internationally.  We will never forget his forgiveness of his would be assassin Ali Acra after the Pope was shot.  And he also fathered the Church into the new millennium in the year 2000 with some remarkable documents centering on Christ.  I had the great honour of meeting him several times as millions of other people did too.  Pope John Paul II made himself so much available to everybody.  He became like the Parish Priest of the world.

The years prior to his death made witness to the fact of the redemptive aspect of suffering.  I think, in time, this will be one of his lasting legacies….. gospel greatness in amidst human frailty.

At his Inaugural Mass as Pope in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI used the phrase that would possibly summarise the predominant theme in all of the enormous volume of writings of Pope John Paul II.  Pope Benedict XVI in this Homily said the following “if we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and good”.  In other words, what is fully Christian is at the very same time truly human.  This insight into Christian anthropology is a brilliant diamond that will illuminate the Church for many years to come.

And so, in a few hours’ time, Pope Francis will canonise these two great Pontiffs in a joint historic Canonisation Mass in St Peters Basilica, Rome.

In this Thanksgiving Mass, we praise and give gratitude to God for sending us two wonderful men filled with joy in the Holy Spirit, two Easter people in these fragile decades of world history.  We join in spiritually with Catholics, Christians and men and women of good will throughout the world on this day.

I believe the aspect that unites these two Pontificates together is their overriding concern for the pastoral care of souls.  The pastoral care of souls must be animated by mercy and love and give strength to new evangelising zeal to the Catholic Church in the modern times.  It set the scene for all the documents coming from the Vatican II Ecumenical Council.  It was a pastoral council, caring for souls as the church approached the new millennium.  Ecumenism and interreligious dialogue have benefited greatly from this Council and the good example of both Popes.

We pray to the Lord through their intercession in this Mass and ask God’s protection upon the Church in the years to come.

At the same time, we pray for our present Pope and Catholic leaders throughout the world that they be inspired by the heroism and simplicity of Saints John XXIII and John Paul II.  May the Lord continue to raise up great men and women of faith in our troubled times who truly make the pastoral care of souls the highest priority.


14 APRIL 2014

This is a day I have been looking forward to for some time. These are the first days of Holy Week 2014. I have been your bishop for a short time. We are just coming to know each other. It is my first Chrism Mass with you.

I know representatives of the entire Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn are with us this evening for this very special Eucharist. The oils will be blessed for sacramental use in the year ahead. They will heal and strengthen the People of God. They will help fulfill the promise of today’s Lucan Gospel of “proclaiming the Lord’s year of favour”.

The Oil of the Sick will become “a remedy for all who are anointed with it”. It will heal the body, soul, and spirit of God’s people and deliver those anointed from every affliction.

The Oil of Catechumens will gift those preparing for Baptism with “wisdom and strength”

We will pray that those who are anointed with the Oil of Holy Chrism “may be inwardly transformed and come to share in eternal salvation”. They will be given a share in Christ’s “royal, priestly and prophetic work”.

Traditionally it is on this day that a particular emphasis be given to the fraternal bonds existing between the bishop and his presbyterium. Indeed, whereas all baptized – the laity, seminarians, religious / male and female, the deacons, priests and bishops – all share in the royal, priestly and prophetic work of Christ, the High Priest, this annual Chrism Mass does focus in on the communion of priests with their bishop.

So may you allow me to say some words of encouragement particularly to my priests?

Dear brother priests, we are just establishing fraternal bonds with each other. I am systematically visiting you in your parishes. I have always felt as a bishop that the best way of entering into the life of a priest, especially a diocesan priest, was to visit him in his parish. The ministry of a priest then becomes not merely theoretical but something lived out in active and practical service to his beloved people.

Although far from visiting all parishes to date, I can already see that your parish people truly love you. Moreso, you truly love them with the love of Jesus. In the midst of a Royal Commission on child sex abuse by Church officials, and the confusing secularist society we all live in this wonderful country of Australia, the priesthood continues to be a most complex vocation to live out today. We live out the priesthood in the shadow of the Calvary Cross, as always but in a particular manner today. The courage and pastoral prudence of Christ are essential qualities that must be exercised daily.

Our new and fascinating Pope Francis offers another crucial pastoral gift that the priest is to exercise in new ways today: MERCY.

In just a few weeks time from now, Pope Francis is to canonize two former Popes – Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II. Both have been characterized pastorally by the stress they placed on the divine mercy and love of the Master. Both sensed that this is a time for mercy.

In speaking recently to his priests of the Diocese of Rome (6 March 2014), Pope Francis taught that mercy today needs to be expressed in two particular dimensions of the priesthood.

First, it is to be expressed in their role as confessors.  A priest must be close to his people in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It involves “the manner in which he welcomes, listens, counsels and absolves”. But it begins in his regular reception of the Sacrament himself, says the Pope.

We all know that our people respond to this sacrament so differently from years ago. When the sense of sin is confused or not addressed and everyone is considered a winner in society, then clearly we may have to wait some time for our people to come to the confessional. But when they do, they must not endure a torture chamber experience, as the Pope expresses it in Evangelii Gaudium (n.44). Rather, the priest is to make himself available for the celebration of this sacrament in his parish regularly. He is to publish in his bulletin when he will be available. He is to ensure that he can be found at these times in the confessional which is appropriately furnished. Moreso, people are to find him a confessor who gives “attention and a sympathetic ear”. He is to be a priest “of mercy and compassion, close to his people and servant to all”.

Secondly, mercy is to be a major characteristic of the entire exercise of his priestly ministry. The Pope likens the Church to a “field hospital” where “wounds need to be treated, so many wounds…. Mercy first means treating the wounds”. Just treat the wounds with the healing mercy of Jesus. No need to ask too many questions about the particulars of the wounds. No need to dumb down the pain of those hurting.  The Pope insists in priests avoiding being either rigorists or laxists in the exercise of their ministry. He says: “Neither laxity nor rigorism sanctify the priest, and they do not sanctify the faithful! However, mercy accompanies the journey of holiness, it accompanies it and makes it grow.”

So, dear brother priests of the Archdiocese, let the world know of us as priestly servants of divine mercy.

Let us be not only merciful to our people, but merciful to each other. I have heard much of the integrity and goodness of the priests of this Archdiocese. Let me experience this in the way you truly look after each other and respect each other, even if there are diverse opinions amongst you. Below such surface differences, let us dive deeply together in this Mass into the mystery of the depth of God’s mercy shown to us in the Death and Resurrection of His Son, Jesus, the Head and High Priest of our Faith.



EZEKIEL 37:12-14; ROMANS 8:8-11; JOHN 11:1-45

Once again, the Lenten Gospels challenge us all to look at life very differently.  In the light of our conversion to Christ, a new way of thinking and being and a new way for orientating our actions by different attitudes are proposed.

In the Gospel today we have the raising of Lazarus.  But it is the encounter with Jesus that we focus on.  Indeed, the raising of Lazarus is one thing, but the most important aspect of this Gospel is that Jesus himself is the Lord of life and death.  The accent is on Jesus more so than on Lazarus.

This beautiful encounter reminds me of a little expression:  “Two prisoners at night looked out of their prison cell, one saw bars, and the other saw stars.”

When we look at life from the difficulties that so often imprison us do we focus on the “bars” (the difficulties, challenges) or do we focus on the “stars” (Jesus Christ the light of the world in the midst of our darkness)?

With the illness and eventual death of Lazarus those gathered around his household all seemed to see the “bars”.  There are difficulties – there are frustrations – there is tension in the Gospel text.  All seems to be lost.  The death of Lazarus seems to be an impenetrable wall.  It is Mary that seems to express other people’s thoughts when she says “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  But Jesus speaks out with one of the most beautiful summaries of the Gospel that we could find.  He proclaims “I am the resurrection and the life.  If anyone believes in me, even if he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this ?”  This expression “Do you believe this” is addressed not only to the people of Bethany but indeed to all of us as we move towards Holy Week beginning next week…. “Do we believe this?”

There’s that lovely expression too when the Gospel says  of Jesus “still sighing.”  The compassion and the mercy of Jesus in the midst of this situation is so clearly apparent.  But already Jesus is looking beyond death to the resurrection and eternal life.  He describes Lazarus as “sleeping”.  We ourselves use this expression for the dead that they might “rest in peace.”  But Jesus is looking beyond the bars of death and looks to the life of the Father in the resurrection that is soon to happen in his own life.  In the resuscitating from the dead of Lazarus we know that one day Lazarus will have to die yet again.  But in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead death will have no power on us.  The rising of Lazarus is a faint shadow of what is soon to happen at Easter.

Another beautiful expression towards the end of the Gospel is the following “unbind him let him go free.”

Here it seems that Jesus is inviting us to cooperate and participate in the new life that is seen in seed form in the raising of Lazarus.  It seems to almost be an ethical message emerging .  That is, we too participate in an anticipation of the resurrection of our own bodies in Christ Jesus at the end of time in “unbinding” people.  In setting people free we are moving away from the prison cells that people keep in their heart and moving them towards the star that will lead all of us to the manger at Bethlehem.

At the manger in Bethlehem we find Jesus.  The manger has always been a symbol of the Eucharist.  It is a feeding trough.  In the Eucharist we find nourishment and deep peace in our hearts by participating in the sacrifice of Jesus to the Father on the Calvary Cross.

Let us join now in the Eucharist fulsomely as we move towards Holy Week beginning in just a few days.