Homilies – March 2016
SUNDAY 6 March 2016
FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT (YEAR C)
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL, FORREST
JOSHUA 5:9-12, 2 CORINTHIANS 5:17-21, LUKE 15:1-3. 11-32
It has been a most challenging week for the Catholic community of Australia. The Royal Commission into child abuse by Church personnel has revealed tremendous pain for the victims and humiliation for the wider Church. We pray for the victims once again in this Mass. May they and their families and friends, and all of us, come under the healing medicine of the Lord, Jesus. We have begun a journey of healing, but the journey still has a long way to go.
There is also a sense of incompleteness in the Gospel today.
At the end of one of the most popular parables that Jesus ever offered us, the Prodigal Son, we find that the end of the story does not seem to be the ultimate end!
We have come to learn from our scriptural studies that the parable is better described, not as the prodigal son, but the kind and merciful father, who had two sons.
At the end of this parable, the three personalities are showcased.
The one constant throughout, is the merciful and kindly nature of the father.
No matter what his sons seem to challenge him with, the father responds with the utmost sensitivity, kindness and mercy. He places the miseries of his two sons into his heart. In his heart, he transforms their suffering into hope and steadfast love.
The loving father, therefore, is a symbol of Jesus himself. He is a symbol of the merciful love of God, who comes to us particularly in this Lenten Season, as we journey towards Easter.
Let us consider, for a moment the younger son. His issues seem to be mainly on the level of behaviour. In other words, his issues are in the externals of his life.
Even today, for a child to demand the inheritance of the parent before the parent dies, is an immense scandal. But this is exactly what the younger son does to his father. The father extraordinarily acquiesces to this unreasonable and cruel request of his younger son. The son then goes off and leads a life on the fast lane. He spends all the money and starts to feel sorry for himself. When he now comes back to the father, we are unsure of his long term motives. Is he truly repented? Or is he just deceiving his father and maybe will do the same again later on in his life?
The father, however, is not at all fussed about these matters. There is that lovely expression in the Scripture “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly!”
This expression that he ran to the boy when he was a long way off is such a beautiful expression. The Lord always runs to us even before we are truly repentant. Jesus sees us “a long way off” and comes to us before we come to him, with his merciful love.
In regard to the elder son, his issues are more internal, rather than external. It is quite clear that he has all sorts of sinful attitudes in his heart.
As the older son returns back home, he asks a servant what the noise is all about. It is the servant and not the father who tells him that his younger son has returned. He then finds out that the father is having a big party to welcome the younger son back.
Full of indignation and self-righteousness, the elder son confronts the father. Just before this happens, of interest to us, is that the father hears about the elder son’s disappointment. For a second time, he runs out of his “comfort zone” from the party and goes out to meet his elder son before he returns home. Once again, grace goes out to redeem sin!
In an emotional explosion, the elder son basically tells the father that he is a foolish, naive man. The elder son presumes that the younger son is unrepentant and should be punished for his promiscuity and selfish ways.
The elder son then reveals even a deeper side of himself. He says that “All these years, I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends.” There is so much jealousy in these lines and a feeling that he needs to be loved because of all the great things he has done.
With which of these two sons do we most identify?
I suppose most of us could, in our quieter moments of transparency, identify with the elder son. I suppose we would not be here at Mass today unless we were trying to lead a good upright and God-fearing life as Catholics. But what is going on in our hearts? Do we deep down there also find sinful attitudes of jealousy and self- righteousness?
Let us place all these mixed attitudes at the foot of the Calvary cross. Let the blood of Jesus purity and redeem them, and transform them.
Ultimately, the kindly father has the last word. He pleads for our compassion and mercy on others, as we expect the Father to be merciful to us. He says, “Your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”
Over these final weeks of Lent, let us make it a real priority to receive the Sacrament of Penance. In Confession, we are able to ask God’s forgiveness for all the times we have either, in our external actions or internal attitudes, been sinful and strayed from the path that our merciful God has given us.
SUNDAY 13 March 2016
FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT (YEAR C)
ST BERNARD’S CATHOLIC CHURCH BATEMANS BAY
ISAIAH 43:16-21, PHILIPPIANS 3:8-14, JOHN 8:1-11
Immediately my mind is drawn to the beautiful expression in the Second Reading.
The sentence that St Paul gives to the people of Philippi is almost like a little catechism. It is something that all of us should have emblazoned in our heart, particular in the Year of Mercy.
St Paul says the following, “All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and to share his suffering by reproducing the pattern of his death.”
In other words, St Paul is saying all that he wants is to have Christ fully present and active in his life. The biblical “know” is something more than an intellectual embrace. It is a personal encounter with Jesus, which affects all that Paul says or does throughout his whole life. It is his spiritual compass for all directions in his life.
As we progress on towards the Easter mysteries of our faith on this Lenten journey, we must truthfully and honestly say the same words as St Paul. Let us ask in this Mass for this grace to be able to completely say this with clear consciences.
In regard to consciences and the social implications of our moral decisions, our minds are directed towards the Gospel of today. It is the familiar encounter of Christ with the adulterous woman.
It is interesting to note, in the first instance, that Jesus only speaks directly to this matter about two thirds of the way throughout the Gospel episode.
It is a little bit like last Sunday’s Gospel when there was the encounter of the older son with the merciful father. The older son rants and raves and uses all sorts of expressions to indicate his annoyance at his father. It is only after he vents all this that the father begins to speak.
The words of mercy that Jesus uses in today’s Gospel, as also with the Gospel parable of last week, are words of mercy.
Jesus, first of all, gives us a teaching about mercy by his silence.
The first act of loving is always attentive silence. Jesus’ attentive listening is a real example to us that mercy is not only verbal or in action, but also in our attitudinal and silent attentiveness to what is going on around us.
What is happening around Jesus in this particular gospel episode is momentous, especially for the condemned woman.
Indeed, the intelligentsia who drag this woman in front of Jesus are not particularly interested in her situation at all. They want to make a political point to Jesus. They arrogantly say to Jesus that a woman in her situation must be stoned to death. They then want to know whether Jesus would do the same. They try to trap Jesus. He is on His way to “Jerusalem”. This is a way that they want to entrap him and make sure that his influence moves off ‘their stage’.
But there is Jesus silently listening to them. He then kneels down on the ground and starts writing something in the dust. We do not really know what he is doing there. Some commentators say that he is writing their sins in the dust. But whatever he does, they one by one change their arrogant attitude to one of meekness and begin to walk off.
This happens until the woman is left alone with Jesus. There is a lovely expression here in the Gospel where it says, “He looked up and said to the woman.” There is the Son of God, the Rabbi, the Teacher, looking up at the condemned woman. There is no tone of patronising here. It is one of kindness and one of helping the woman to move on in her life.
The woman responds to this courtesy of God. She says, “No one Sir.” I am particularly taken by the expression “Sir”. Perhaps she had never met Jesus before. Perhaps she has never heard of him before. However, she knows that Jesus is treating her with the dignity that everybody else in the crowd did not offer her.
This encounter is almost like her going to Confession. There is no denying her wrong doing, but there is no condemnation here. From the Lord, there is only forgiveness and merciful kindness. He then says to the woman “Neither do I condemn you, go away and don’t sin any more.” It is almost like giving her absolution in the Sacrament of Penance and telling her quite clearly that she is to mend her ways and to convert to something better than what she has been to date.
In the light of this beautiful Gospel encounter of mercy, let us think seriously about, over the next two weeks, receiving ourselves the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is a beautiful way to prepare for Easter. Like the woman, we scrutinise our actions and confess our sins. We do not receive the condemnation of God, but through the priest, God’s merciful forgiveness alive in His Church. We then receive forgiveness and make a firm conviction not to sin again.
This would be a beautiful way to prepare for Easter. May God bless you all here at St Bernard’s, Batemans Bay. May the beauty of creation surrounding you remind you always of the beauty of God alive in your hearts.
SATURDAY 19 MARCH 2016
MARY MACKILLOP MASS
150 YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF SISTERS OF ST JOSEPH, PENOLA
2 SAMUEL 7: 4-5, 12-14, ROMANS 4: 13, 18-22,
MATTHEW 1: 16, 18-21, 24
People today are fascinated with ancestry. We only have to look at the television and before long, advertisements come up about tracing your ancestry.
The Gospel today from Matthew speaks about the ancestry of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. Matthew speaks about Jacob, Joseph, Mary and Jesus, and says “This is how Jesus came to be born.” Both in Matthew’s Gospel and throughout the Scriptures, the refrain is always the same in regard to the generations that come and go …”Do not be afraid.”
In the First Reading today from 2 Samuel, David wishes to build a proper fixed dwelling for God to live in. However, it is quite clear from the prophet Nathan that God wants to have very little to do with such a thing at that stage. Through the prophet Nathan, God asks David “Are you to build me a temple for me to live in? … I’ve never lived a house… but have kept travelling in a tent for shelter…I have been with you wherever you went. … It is I who will build you a house. …I will be a father…. and my kingdom will last forever.”
So as we look back at our own spiritual ancestry, we are given hope, because of the promise God gives us that he will be with us until the end of time. Our ancestry is permanent in God’s embrace. Our future into eternity is under God’s merciful care.
This gives us hope and a deep sense of joy and identity of who we are.
It is not so much the personalities that are important, according to the second reading from St Paul to the Romans, but it is about the faith that links the personalities together. Do we really believe that God is with us as generations and generations go on? As St Paul mentions, “What fulfils the promise depends on faith.” This is a free gift from God.
Constantly, people are placed before us as signs of hope and faith. In our ancient tradition, Abraham has always been seen as the Father of Faith. In this second reading, even when all was hopeless and seemed useless, and the promises of God “could not be fulfilled, he hoped and he believed.”
And now enters St Mary the Cross MacKillop! She like us is a descendent of Abraham. But she like us has given us a marvellous example, here in Australia and now universally, about what faith means in our time and our place.
Mary MacKillop was only about 19 years of age when her encounter began with the local priest of Penola, Fr Julian Tenison Woods, who at that time was 28. Mary later wrote, “I heard the pastor … speak of the neglected state of the children and the parish … and I had to go and offer myself to aid him.” Here was the beginning of the Josephite Order.
We hear of Fr Julian Tenison Woods and his “ten years in the bush” as parish priest of Penola from 1857-67.
Fr Julian Tenison Woods (1832-1889) was a man of many talents. He was a scientist, missioner, educationalist, cofounder of the Sisters of St Joseph and founder of the Sister of Perpetual Adoration.
His mother was of Anglican piety, and his father was very much a product of the English Catholic revival of the middle1800’s. Fr Woods’ priestly formation was conducted by two religious orders, the Passionists and the Marists, and his seminary preparation for ordination was given by the Jesuits. Throughout his life, he developed his own quite unique spirituality through prayer and reading. He was the author of over 200 scientific publications.
Some of his authors describe him as follows, “He was a flawed vessel for the Lord to use.”
But whatever we might say about his personality, it was quite clear that God used him with Mary MacKillop. Authors describe him as follows, “Woods knew that it was God’s work, not his own.” This marks the man of faith from the Abrahamic ancestry.
Clearly, his pastoral contact with his parishioner Mary MacKillop was providential.
Mary MacKillop (1842-1909), was living in Penola as a governess and was able to have quite a lot of contact with Father Woods. There is not a huge amount of correspondence about the time of 1866 when the order was established, but later on in 1867, he wrote to Mary MacKillop from Abbotsford in Melbourne. In his written words in a letter to Mary, we get to know deep inside him to his feelings about the foundation of the Josephites.
He said “I have been a good deal at Abbotsford. I say Mass, and breakfast every morning at the convent of the Sisters of Mercy. It appears that they have heard of our Institute and they spoke to me about it, not very encouragingly at first, but when I made them understand how little we all want to be – how poor and anxious for the cross – and how our highest ambition was only to find fuel for the burning Heart of our Blessed Lord, they began to be enthusiastic too….”
What a great expression! “How our highest ambition was only to find fuel for the burning Heart of our Blessed Lord.”
150 years later, those expressions are full of Gospel fervour and Abrahamic faith. We pray that faith comes down upon us ever more strongly in this Mass.
But it is the particular day, 19th March 1866, on the Feast of St Joseph that we remember in this Mass. It was on this day that Mary appeared in a black plain dress as a sign of the special dedication in God’s work. Naturally, her outfit set the people talking! Historians say that the very next day in the local paper, The Border Watch, it was reported that “the school had an enrolment of 33 pupils and it was progressing satisfactorily.” Before this time, Australian education was in a real mess. This was before “ free, compulsory and secular” reforms of the 1870’s were made.
However, God used Mary MacKillop and Father Julian Tenison Woods very strongly at this time. We can get a glimpse of that even in these statistics.
Within 18 months of 1866, she gained 10 followers, and a year later there were 39 sisters.
By her death in 1909, Mary MacKillop had established 109 houses, staffed by 650 sisters teaching 12,400 pupils in 170 schools across Australia and New Zealand.
As we go on with the Mass now, we thank the Lord for the Sesquicentenary of the Penola establishment of the St Josephs of the Sacred Heart.
We thank the Josephites for their unbelievable contribution to the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn over so many years. We ask that not only they be blessed, but all of us be blessed with the intercession of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop on this day that must be celebrated surely in heaven as the day when two people listened very carefully to the living word of God and took on the baton of faith coming all the way from Abraham.
Let us live in the promise that the faith of Jesus Christ will be with us until the end of time. Let us pray for an increase in vocations for the priesthood and religious life, especially with the Josephite Sisters. Let us pray that their great influence be shared not only with Australia but also with the world for many years to come.
SUNDAY 20 March 2016
PALM SUNDAY (YEAR C)
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL, FORREST
ISAIAH 50:4-7, PHILIPPIANS 2:6-11, LUKE 19:28-40
After such a long, but centrally important Gospel of today, perhaps just a few brief words are necessary.
I would like to draw on an insight of Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI. His comments might be helpful for us because of the chronological proximity between Easter this year and Christmas. Indeed, many of us are shocked how quickly Easter has come along. It is true that this is one of the earliest Easters that we could have.
However, the comments of Pope Benedict XVI might help us to use this closeness to Christmas to help understand Easter and visa versa.
Pope Benedict XVI says in his readings that on the first Palm Sunday when Jesus came down the Mount of Olives that probably most of the people singing out, “Hosanna to the King, Son of David” were pilgrims and followers of Jesus. The citizens and people of Jerusalem were probably not representative in this joyous procession into Jerusalem.
Pope Benedict links this up with Christmas. Similarly, we find the people of Jerusalem and Bethlehem (a Jerusalem suburb) were not particularly interested or knowledgeable of the birth of Jesus the Saviour. It was the “outsiders” who were the ones engaged with this saving event. This is represented particularly by the three wise men who came from the East. They were engaged, along with the poor little ones who lived outside the city, for example the shepherds.
So let us think about these rather penetrating insights. Over this week now, beginning this Passion Sunday, are we going to be pilgrims and followers of Jesus, or are we simply going to remain in our comfort zones” in the city” of our hearts?
It takes a definite intention now in the Mass in the beginning of Holy Week to ensure that we are totally engaged with the saving events that we re-present over these days, particularly with the three days of the Triduum.
Let us recall that at Easter time there is always a touch of Christmas. At Christmas time, Jesus was placed as a little baby in a manger. A manger was a feeding trough for animals. At the Eucharist, which re-presents the death and resurrection of Jesus, Jesus becomes food for us. His manger symbolises for us his body and his blood given to us as food for the journey of life.
At the same time, there is a touch of Christmas at Easter time when we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is represented in a rather commercial way these days, but nonetheless significant way of Easter eggs. Let us just put aside the chocolate factor for a moment. But the idea of an egg, something that bursts out of the tomb of the shell giving new life is resonant of Jesus bursting out of the tomb and being resurrected by the power of God the Father.
So let us make a firm decision right now that we become pilgrims and followers of Jesus over these days. Let us not just remain in the comfort zones of our normal routine, however tempting that might be.
Also, let us see the whole week as a unity. This week is like a little retreat that we all could make even in the midst of the busyness of our school life, university life or work life.
Could I offer you a little pre-Easter gift? That gift is the Second Reading of today.
This is an ancient reading from St Paul. Perhaps it was even present before St Paul introduced it to his Letter to the Philippians. But, in this beautiful Second Reading, we find summarised the whole Christian message. How Christ “emptied himself” and became part of our humanity in all things but sin. He emptied himself even further to become a slave. In His death and His resurrection we see God raised him on high and “gave Him a name above all other names” so that all people for all ages “should bend the knee at the name of Jesus and very tongue should acclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Let us ponder on each one of the phrases in this magnificent summary of our faith in the days to come.
Finally, could I invite you to be very generous to the Good Friday collection for the holy places? We welcome at our Mass today the Knights and Dames of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Knights and Dames of Malta. Both these important groups in the Church offer spiritual and practical help for the holy places. We all know that the Middle East has become a place of great inhospitality to Christians and to others. Let us be generous in the Good Friday Appeal so that the holy places there might be maintained and given a great hospitality from people from throughout the world who still come in pilgrimage to the holy places.
MONDAY 21 MARCH 2016
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL, FORREST
This year we celebrate our Chrism Mass during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. All of us yearn to receive deeply the Lord’s mercy. We want Jesus to carry deep in his Sacred Heart all our miseries and redeem them. Despite our many failings, our sincerest desire is to be “Merciful like the Father”. That is, we wish to live out the spiritual and corporal works of mercy wherever we are placed and to whomever we meet, especially the neediest.
But the clergy (Bishops, priests and deacons) have a particular role to play in being ambassadors of the Lord’s mercy. The Holy Father, Pope Francis, gives us a saintly lead in being missionary disciples of mercy.
Whatever might be said of the Catholic Church in Australia in this humiliating time of a Royal Commission into sex abuse, globally the Holy Spirit has raised up an incredible witness of mercy in Pope Francis.
I agree with some commentators who say that the Pontificate of Pope Francis is largely characterised by highly significant symbolic gestures rather than words.
Two such symbolic gestures come to mind on this Chrism Mass evening in Holy Week 2016.
There is, firstly, the now famous photo of Pope Francis going to Confession as a penitent in St Peter’s Basilica. In a Year of Mercy, we see an unprecedented photo in the history of Catholicism of a Pontiff as a penitent in the Sacrament of Penance. It is worth a library of books on mercy. The Pope was later to reflect that before priests are to be confessors, they must be penitents. He led by example. Do we do this?
Upon reflecting on the First Reading from Isaiah and listening to Jesus’ self-description in the Gospel as the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah, another highly symbolic image of Pope Francis comes to mind.
It was just recently. At the end of his2 Apostolic Visit to Mexico he visited Juarez on the U.S. – Mexican border. A mesmerising photo was taken of Pope Francis looking across the Rio Grande, from South to North. He had just placed crosses on the platform symbolising migrants who had died trying to make the journey as refugees across into the U.S.
It was his pastoral location that made the photo so symbolic. Like the prophet Isaiah and Jesus himself in the Readings today, he was saying in a wordless manner that the Catholic Church was standing alongside the poor captives seeking liberty and the downtrodden hungering for freedom. In a Year of Mercy, he was symbolically proclaiming the Lord’s year of favour.
I believe that this is one real lesson all of us can draw from even now regarding the Royal Commission into child abuse. Whether deliberate, or in a vague unreflected manner, the Australian Catholic Church has been seen NOT to have been standing alongside the victims/survivors. We have been seen, correctly or incorrectly, to be on the wrong side of the “border”. Whether true reality or not, it is a perception in the eyes of so many. Our pastoral agenda in this ancient but new land in the next generation is to move that location closer to the poor and periphery of society.
Again, Pope Francis helps us to do this. When speaking to the clergy and religious in Mexico recently he said: “Woe to us if we are not witnesses to what we have seen and heard, woe to us. We are not and do not want to be “administrators of the divine”, we are not and do not want to be God’s employees, for we are to share in his life, we are invited to enter into his heart.”
In the same homily, the Pope warns against, what he describes as, “resignation”. It is one of the devil’s weapons. Resignation “paralyses us and prevents us not only from walking, but also from making the journey. A resignation that not only terrifies us, but which also entrenches us in our “sacristies” and false securities …. A resignation, which not only hinders our looking to the future, but also thwarts our desire to take risks and to change.”
As a Canberra and Goulburn presbyterate, I am sure we can learn much in this regard from the overseas priests who have joined us in recent months. Far be it for them to hide in resignation in the “sacristies” of their culture and home comfort zones, they have volunteered to join us in this far distant land so different from their home dioceses. One of their Bishops, my friend, Bishop Michael Apochi from Nigeria, wrote to me when the three Nigerian priests arrived and said that he was sending them from his diocese to ours as priestly missionary disciples.
So we too must get out of our “mind sacristies” regarding clergy in Australia.
Recently, Fr Bill Kennedy showed me a photograph taken exactly 50 years ago outside our Goulburn Church of Sts Peter and Paul. The big group of priests with one of my predecessors, Archbishop Eris O’Brien, were almost entirely Anglo-Celtic. Indeed, Fr Kennedy assures me that, at that time, the presbyterate of the Archdiocese was almost evenly balanced between 50% Australian born and 50% Irish born. If a similar picture was taken today, the multi-cultural mix in Australia would be manifest.
But, it is not as if overseas priests are here simply to “give us a hand.” This approach is so managerial and hardly worthy of who we truly are as priests. We are priestly people together, living in the merciful embrace of the Holy Trinity. Together we are grafted, by virtue of our reception of Holy Orders, onto the priesthood of the High Priest and Victim, Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour. So much so that when we who are Australian born meet up with a priest from overseas now in our Archdiocese we can truly say: “You are my brother priest!” It is a theological truth thus being expressed. We are one in the one High Priest, Jesus Christ!
So, therefore, now participating in this Chrism Mass, as sharers in the one Trinitarian and ministerial priesthood of Jesus, we renew our priestly commitments. We pledge to be truly brothers in the priesthood together in the service of the people of God in this Archdiocese.
As a symbolic sign of this Trinitarian union, we bless the oils we will use over the next 12 months in sacramental service of our people. We then celebrate the Eucharist together. Though we are from Australia, India, Samoa, Singapore, Nigeria, Vietnam, Philippines, South Korea, Italy, we are one in the Eucharistic Lord.
After all, we do say in the Eucharistic Prayer as one the prayer of Jesus: “This is my body. This is my blood. My body given for you. My blood poured out for you.”
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
FRIDAY, 25 March 2016
GOOD FRIDAY (YEAR C)
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL, FORREST
Hebrews 4: 4-16, 5:7-9
The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John 18:1-19:42
As a general rule, particularly before Christmas and Easter, I like to visit one of the prisons in this Archdiocese. This is even a higher priority for me during this Year of Mercy.
A few days ago, I visited the large prison here in Canberra. I was wearing the silver crucifix around my neck, which attracted many comments from the prisoners.
One prisoner, for example, said to me “Nice piece of bling, Padre!” He clearly thought that the crucifix I was wearing was a piece of jewellery. Surprisingly, these days, a considerable number of people would feel the same as he. Even today, Pop singers wear religious items like crosses and crucifixes as nothing but jewellery to advance their popularity. But principal religious symbols, especially the crucifix, are anything but pieces of bling or jewellery. The crucifix is the central sign of Christianity. It is the sign of Christ crucified that we remember in a special way today.
The large majority of prisoners, as I passed them, made no reference whatsoever to the cross I was wearing or to me as a member of the clergy. They seemed to be very busy with what they were doing. They clearly had their own concerns, which I am sure were very important.
A third group, however, really engaged with the crucifix. There were a number of occasions when I gathered together small groups of prisoners and we said some prayers around a table. I took off the crucifix and asked them to pass it from one to the other and to hold it devoutly. When they held the crucifix, I encouraged them to place on it all their burdens and all their sufferings and unite their sufferings with the suffering of Christ on the cross. They were exemplary in the way they did this with enormous devotion! They were a very good example to me of the power of the cross today.
I suppose when we reflect on today’s Gospel of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John, we see somewhat similar responses.
There is towards the end of the Passion, the soldiers casting lots for Jesus’ under garments and cloak. They possibly saw a commercial interest in even the Lord’s clothing! It wasn’t a piece of jewellery, but a piece of clothing that they thought might be worth a dollar or two! This is a very sad response.
A little like my visit to the prison, I am sure the vast majority of people in Jerusalem were unaware of what was going on with the passion and death of Jesus Christ, They were simply not engaged. It was probably not so much a matter of denial, but a matter of ignorance or indifference to what was happening.
Of note, it seems that in Jerusalem, the birth of the Saviour was similar to His death. At His birth we hear that in Jerusalem there was “no room at the inn.” On Palm Sunday, it appears that the people of Jerusalem were not engaged with the first Palm Sunday Procession. Commentators say that it was mainly the followers of Jesus and pilgrims to the city. And here on this first Good Friday, many seem to see it just as another crucifixion.
This was not just any crucifixion! It was the crucifixion and the death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Redeemer. As in the Old Covenant, the angel of death passed over the houses that had blood on the lintels of their doors. Now, in the New Covenant, there is the passing over of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of us all! It is a Passover from death to life, from darkness to light, from ignorance to conversion, from exiting out to entering in, from crucifixion to resurrection.
Even today, we are left with major choices about how we respond to Christ’s crucifixion.
In our efforts to surrender to the Cross, firstly, may I offer you one great divine reassurance? The divine reassurance is that God is merciful to us in the midst of all our sinfulness and ignorance and indifference. He comes to us well and truly before we come to Him. When He comes to us, He comes with forgiveness and the invitation to conversion. He comes to us particularly today every time we celebrate the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. We hear from today’s Gospel that from His side flowed blood and water. The Fathers of the Church indicated that this represents both Baptism and the Eucharist. We can meet Jesus afresh today as if for the first time through the sacramental life of the Church.
Secondly, can I also offer you one great encouragement…surrender to the crucified Christ! I invite you to enter into this great one act of passing over from death to eternal life. We are to leave selfishness and vanity and ignorance. We are to stop bickering and gossiping. We are to play our part to build bridges and to tear down the terrible walls of terrorism. We particularly remember those who have died recently in the terrorist attack in Brussels and in terrorist attacks throughout the whole world in these days. We also think of the homeless and those in family life where their life is very fragile indeed. From all this pain and darkness, we choose only Jesus. We choose to nail our suffering onto the Calvary cross and wait for the resurrection.
Let us do that now as we have the Veneration of the Lord’s cross.
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
SUNDAY 27 March 2016
EASTER SUNDAY (YEAR C)
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL, FORREST
Acts 10:34. 37-43 Colossians 3:1-4 John 20:1-9
I don’t think I am exaggerating or alarmist in saying that we are living in very fragile times in the world. There is the perception that humanity these days is a lot less caring and hospitable than in times past.
There is the daily lament that we lack care of the planet and this raises ecological issues. There is the lament that we lack care and peace-making, and acts of terrorism and the birth of death cults is a result. There is the perception that we lack hospitality in our own culture. There is so much, for example here in Canberra, of homelessness and the crises of housing affordability. In rural areas, there is so much loneliness and depression, and suicide rates are at unacceptable levels. There is lack of hospitality in our policies regarding migrants and refugee. There is the perception too that there is a lack of caring in the Church. We see this in regard to the Royal Commission into Sex Abuse. The Church has messed up in this area. We are trying to regain the primacy of the victims and the survivors in this crisis in society. And there is the perception that there is a lack of care in family lives too. There is far too much divorce and there are far too many dislocated families, and the resultant confusions regarding the complimentary of the sexes and gender issues.
What are we to do in the midst of all this darkness? We are a little like St Mary Magdalen in today’s Gospel. She comes to the tomb at the time soon after Christ’s death to anoint the body. She finds that the tomb is empty. She places herself in a tailspin of fear and despair with humanity. She says “They have taken the Lord out the tomb and we don’t know where they have put him.” It is like us saying today that they have taken the dignity out of humanity and we don’t know where they have placed it. In our own time today, we can easily join the ancient Christian Church in the first moments here. But it was only a short time later that St Mary Magdalen’s fears were soon overcome with joy. We too, must never lose hope. Despite all the reasons for dragging us down into the darkness, there is every reason for hope because of Jesus Christ, and only because of Jesus Christ. We don’t come here to Mass today just to recall merely a historic event. We certainly do that. But we come here, because in the midst of all that we want to be a people of hope. This is not a naive optimism. This is a realistic hope. This is because Christ, through His suffering and death, has nailed our darkness to the Calvary cross. He has taken our burdens and redeemed them. Only God Himself can transform sinful, broken, fragile humanity and transform it into something that reflects God’s original design for us all.
We are encouraged by the end of the First Reading today from the Acts of the Apostles. In this reading, we hear the repentant St Peter proclaim boldly “That all who believe in Jesus will have their sins forgiven through his name.” Let us truly believe this, particularly in this Year of Mercy.
Our reflections are best summarised in the beautiful short reading from St Paul to the Colossians in the Second Reading today. Here St Paul says, “Since you have been brought back to true life with Christ, you must look for the things that are in heaven, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand. Let your thoughts be on heavenly things, not on the things that are on the earth, because you have died, and now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God.”
This is our hope. Christ redeems our darkness and turns it into a dawn that will never set.
So therefore, let us praise the Lord. Alleluia!