Homilies – December 2015

GENESIS 3:9-15, 20, EPHESIANS 1:3-6, 11-12, LUKE 1:26-38

On this, the great solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, it would be right for us to think that the readings focus purely on Mary. On one level, this is correct.

In the first reading, Christians look at this book in the Old Testament and see it with the eyes of Mary. That which Eve was not able to attain, Mary has attained. Mary is the new Eve.

And then of course we have the wonderful Gospel passage of the Annunciation from Luke, in the gospel today. Here we have the great paradigm of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Mary is seen as first amongst the faithful for all of us.

However, on another level, the readings are not referring directly to Mary, but in fact are referring to Jesus and to His Church.

There’s an insight into this in the Preface of today’s Mass. Here we have the great paradigm of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

Mary, being born free from original sin, is meditated in the Preface that free from original sin so that God “might prepare a worthy mother of Your Son.” Here our liturgy directs that the reference to Mary is indeed directly referenced to her Son, Jesus.

Also, Mary’s role is seen to be very much the Mother of the Church. In the same Preface, on the next line, the Preface prays that Mary signifies “the beginning of the Church, His beautiful bride, without spot or wrinkle.”

The Church Fathers have often described Mary as the moon and Jesus as the sun. Mary does not radiate grace or mercy herself. She is, however, the radiant mirror of God’s mercy and grace.

And here is our entry into the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Mary becomes the Mother of Mercy. But God through, with and in Jesus is the source of all mercy.

On this most significant day for the Catholic Church throughout the world, we join Pope Frances in opening the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy here in the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn.

I’d like to make four very brief points.

Firstly, why choose the 8th of December?

Well it all has to do with what I have just said about Mary leading us to Jesus, leading us to the Church.

But it is also the closing on this day of the Second Vatican II Council 50 years ago (1962-1965). In his instruction on the Holy Year of Mercy, Pope Frances instructed that a great priority that we must give the teachings and the documents of Vatican II afresh.

With Vatican II, the Catholic Church has entered into a new era. Pope Frances talks about how the Church is trying to talk to humanity in a more accessible way. It is to give rise to fresh evangelisation.

Pope Frances then quotes two important expressions of St John XIII and Blessed Paul VI.

John XXIII wrote at a pivotal point of the Vatican II Council that the Church is to “use the medicine of mercy, rather than taking up the arms of severity.”

Blessed Paul VI talked about that the model of the spirituality of the Council was the paradigm of the Good Shepherd parable.

The word mercy is predominant in these saints as they reflect on the Second Vatican II Council. Pope Frances continues that on now in the Jubilee Year.

Secondly, let us refer to the motto of the Jubilee Year …”Merciful like the Father.” This motto comes from Luke 6:36. They are the Lord’s own words. Now to be merciful just like the Father is merciful to us.

This word mercy means loving kindness. There are three key words from the biblical languages to describe what mercy means. It is hesed love. This means steadfast love, it means loving kindness. That’s the way God loves us. That is the way we are to love each other. It is the soul of our apostolate.

Thirdly, our reflection is to lead to action.

Emblazoned in the Pope’s Bull or instruction on the Year of Mercy is the priority given to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. These are embedded in our Catholic faith and are to be focussed upon in our expressions of mercy in the year ahead. As you know, the corporal works are to feed the hungry and heal the sick; it is to clothe the naked and to visit those in prison. It is to welcome those who are on the periphery and to bury the dead.  The spiritual works for mercy instruct us to counsel, instruct, admonish, comfort, forgive, offer patience, and pray for others. We will hear much about these matters in the months ahead.

But they are to be activated particularly during the Lenten Season next year. The importance of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and receiving God’s mercy through this sacrament must not be underestimated.

Fourthly and lastly is the importance given by Pope Frances to pilgrimages and indulgences. This coming Sunday we will open and bless the Door of Mercy here in this cathedral.  In doing this, we join in with Pope Frances who will be doing the same in his own cathedral as the Bishop of Rome, the Basilica of St John Lateran.

As we bless the Door of Mercy here in our Cathedral at St Christopher’s, it will become for us a symbolic way of pilgrimage towards greater conversion in our lives as a people of God. The Door of Mercy will become like a moving into the heart of God’s mercy. It’s got nothing to do with sentimentalising or pietistically moving towards an understanding of mercy. Quite the opposite; it is an extroverted faith way God’s mercy is expressed fulsomely in our lives. We encourage people from throughout the whole Archdiocese to come to this mother church in the year ahead. They are to come through the Mercy Door as a way of receiving God’s mercy and indulgence.

So now, let us continue with our Mass asking God’s blessing upon all of us as we begin our Year of Mercy with this Eucharist.

Zephaniah 3:14-18, Philippians 4:4-7, Luke 3:10-18

We join Pope Francis and the entire Catholic world on this day, when the Extraordinary Year of Mercy begins. And on this day we bless and open the Doors of Mercy in all the cathedrals of the world.

This is a wonderful moment of grace. In opening all the cathedrals of the world, we invite Jesus Christ, the fullness of the Father’s merciful love on us, to enter into our lives during this Jubilee Year.

I have three words to offer you all today.

The first word is the word mercy.

All of us have a language. We all speak English. Many of us speak many other languages as well. But the mother tongue or the native tongue or the basic language of God is the language called mercy.

Mercy, in our biblical sense, means loving kindness (hesed). It is steadfast love, it is loving kindness. Not just any kind of kindness. Sometimes kindness can have a hook to it. There is something we want from somebody and we act kindly to them. This is not God’s loving kindness. It is an unconditional and loving mercy towards each one of us. It is God’s grace. It is God’s initiative of loving kindness towards us, before we respond to this initiative. Merciful love, loving kindness is not an idea or philosophy. We Christians say it is a person. It is Jesus Christ the face of God’s mercy for us all. An encounter with Jesus Christ is an encounter of tenderness and an encounter with mercy, as Pope Francis would often say.

So therefore, on this 3rd Sunday of Advent we rejoice. It is called Gaudete Sunday! Rejoice Sunday! As we wait for God’s coming at Christmas, we wait in joyful hope!

The second word I would like to offer you today is conversion.

In today’s Gospel, we hear the people say to John the Baptist, “What must we do?” It is a very practical question. It is the sort of question practical Australians like! What must we do in the midst of God’s merciful initiative towards us? John the Baptist preaches conversion. It is a message of repentance. All of us as a whole Church, and all of us as individuals are to turn around 180 degrees from darkness into light of God’s forgiving mercy. There are big conversions and little conversions in our lives. With Fr Tony Percy and Fr John Armstrong here with us today, they witness to the big conversion in their lives towards the priesthood. We pray for them on their Silver Jubilee and welcome their families, loved ones and priest colleagues present with us today.

Then there is the big conversion of married life, or religious life. But every day we’re called to make little acts of conversions. These conversions move away from selfishness and move towards selflessness. It’s a turning away from sin and turning towards grace. It’s on this day, therefore, that we bless and open the Jubilee Door of Mercy.

I pray that this Door of Mercy becomes a point of pilgrimage for the whole Archdiocese over the next twelve months. I pray that those who come through the Mercy Door truly feel that they are coming through the heart of Jesus, who is mercy personified. I pray that anybody coming through this door might receive God’s plenary indulgence of forgiveness, and is given strength through the sacraments, especially through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the mother of all the sacraments, the Eucharist, to turn afresh towards Jesus.

Particularly during Lent in 2016, this door will become a particular focus of conversion in the weeks leading up to Holy Week.

The third word I would like to offer you is the word acts.

Our merciful love of Jesus converts us, but has a practical dimension – there must be acts of mercy shown. As the motto of the Jubilee Year is stated, “Merciful like the Father,” we too must be merciful like the Father to others.

In the Second Reading today we hear from St Paul, the following, “Let your tolerance be evident to everyone: the Lord is very near.” We could perhaps change the word tolerance to the word mercy. The sentence therefore, becomes, “let your mercy be evident to everyone: the Lord is very near.” Over this year, Pope Francis calls us to visit again the Catholic tradition as it expresses itself in the spiritual works of mercy and corporal works of mercy. We are to activate our baptism and practically live out the life of grace and mercy that has been given to us. We particularly make our outreach to those on the periphery and the margins of society. Also, the margins of our own family and the margins of our neighbourhoods. We are to bring people the fragrance of Christ through his merciful outreach to them through us. There are to be numerous “random acts of mercy,” as Australians might refer to it these days.

As I mentioned previously, we are delighted to have Fr Percy and Fr Armstrong with us today. They have been activating not only their baptism, but also the Sacrament of Holy Orders, that was given them 25 years ago, in a moment of grace and mercy from the Lord. Priests will always be ministers of God’s mercy in a very special way. This is shown sacramentally in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) and most of all in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and mercy – the Eucharist. It’s not simply that they minister God’s mercy, but in these sacraments they become literally God’s instruments of mercy to us. God uses the priest, His priest, fragile though we are, to be living channels of His mercy to His people.

So therefore, we pray in this Mass, not only for our two Silver Jubilarians, but also for the entire Archdiocese, indeed, the entire Catholic world. We pray with our Holy Father, Pope Francis, in asking God’s blessing upon this Year of Mercy, symbolised particularly in the Door of Mercy. Let us place our lives entirely in this Mass right now at the service of God’s initiative of mercy and convert to Him, who is forever our Lord and Saviour, our Master Jesus Christ.

Micah 5:1-4, Hebrews 10:5-10, Luke 1:39-44

My eyes are immediately drawn to the first line of today’s Gospel. “Mary set out at that time, and went as quickly as she could ……”

This is the Gospel passage which we call The Visitation, the Second Mystery of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.

I’m particularly drawn to the fact that Mary set off immediately. She had every reason to do otherwise. She now knew she was pregnant, by divine gift. She could have well stayed at home and looked after herself. Others would have advised her, I’m sure, to do so. But she set out. It was not an easy journey either. The distance between Nazareth, where the Visitation probably took place, and Ein Karem, the suburb of Jerusalem when the Visitation took place is about 100 kilometres. It’s about the distance between Canberra and Goulburn.

Mary would not have gone in an air-conditioned car with tinted windows! She would have gone with a group of others, because it would have been dangerous to go on her own. She could well have been taken there on the back of a donkey. No easy trip for a pregnant woman!

I am immediately drawn to the fact that Mary came into Jerusalem on the Visitation, possibly on the back of a donkey, and 33 years later her son did the same on the first Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday).

Here we have Mary carrying the child in her womb to Jerusalem. There is Jesus fulfilling His role as a suffering servant and being cheered by the crowd in the first instance. They were singing, “Hosanna to the Son of David”. A few days later, they were yelling out, “Crucify him, crucify him!”

But here Mary does not know the future. Neither do we. We place the future in the hope that Christ will be with us at all times. But we can do something with the present. Sometimes the spiritual writers call it the “Sacrament of the present moment.” We respond to the present challenges in our life with joy and mercy, and with a great deal of prayer.

Indeed, the prayerful encounter between Elizabeth and Mary is a real canticle of mercy, as we begin now The Year of Mercy throughout the world.

I always like to think that The Visitation is the first Christian shared prayer in the New Testament. It’s not just between two people – Mary and Elizabeth – but it’s between four! It’s between Mary and Elizabeth, and the two children within their wombs – Jesus and John the Baptist.

As we approach the great feast of Christmas, let us too with joy and hope respond to the present moment.

It is wonderful at this time to be giving gifts and sending and receiving Christmas cards. Let us not be obsessed by these happy acts, however!

In The Year of Mercy, as we approach Christmas, it would good for us to think about how we are going to spend Christmas and the challenges that that bring, not only for us, but others in our family and in our neighbourhood.

You might want to think about the Christmas Masses. What are your plans? Many people who have much faith and some people who have no faith are attracted to the religious feast of Christmas. They want to see it as more than just a commercial feast! We should encourage this! So, you may want to invite your friends who don’t come to church at all, to the Christmas Masses. They might say, “No”, but on the other hand, they might say, “Yes”. Make sure the invitation is a gentle one, say that Archbishop Christopher wanted to invite as many people as he could from across the Archdiocese, to come to the cathedral, or to their local parishes! No matter what the response is, it is a great opportunity for us to be missionaries of mercy – evangelisers, in a very subtle way that simply proposes and never imposes!

So let’s makes plans now for the next few days. Let’s make sure that there are prayer and Christmas cribs and invitations for building bridges in our relationships with others. Let’s make this coming Christmas the best ever!