Homily – November 2016

Isaiah 2/1-5, Romans 13/11-14, Matthew 24/37-44


We have now entered into a new Liturgical Year focussing on the Gospel of Matthew. We begin today our ADVENT SEASON.

The Gospel calls us to STAY AWAKE in anticipation for the Lord’s coming. We are to be ‘READY,’…. for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour’. It is a time of hope.
Not only is Jesus to come unexpectedly in time, but he comes unexpectedly in appearance. Who would have expected the Almighty Son of God to come unexpectedly as a fragile child in a Bethlehem stable, at an unexpected time of Roman Imperialism in the chaotic religious culture of Judea.

Also today, we welcome Pope Francis’ representative in Australia, our Apostolic Nuncio, His Excellency, Archbishop Yllana, as our Principal Celebrant. He is with us because it is a special day for all Australians. We look back to the Pastoral Visit 30 years ago of St John Paul II to Australia. In this 1986 visit, the Pope visited all States of Australia. It was however, his monumental speech in Alice Springs (29th November 1986) that we recall today.

We recall this important speech, particularly because it is cherished still by the thousands of Aborigines who gathered in Alice Springs to meet the Pope. Like the Advent Season itself, this address is full of hope and prophetic insight. I know some aboriginal friends who have memorised large sections of the Pope’s address.

Australia was called to STAY AWAKE to the on-going culture clash of the European settlement over 230 years ago with the oldest living culture on earth – the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We are to remain READY to walk alongside our First Australians as they continue the slow task of rebirth – supporting them to “walk tall and command respect”. There is so much remaining to do (eg. Look at the appalling suicide and incarceration rates). Societal attitudes and structural change must continue to help, not hinder Aborigines.

Like the Christ child himself, the Pope’s address was unexpected in both appearance and message.

In appearance, it was unexpected that St. John Paul II would himself travel all the way to Alice Springs in the desert of Central Australia specifically to meet and address our First Australians. His humility and explicit desire to meet personally the aboriginal people made an enormous impression on those gathered.

But who would have expected his prophetic message that has set the agenda for the Catholic Church’s walking with our First Australians ever since.
The Pope spoke with great admiration of all that Aboriginal people offer us. He admired their “spiritual closeness to the land, a quietness of the soul” taught by “The silence of the bush.” He made parallels between the “Dreamtime legends”, and the traditions of “those of Jesus and His people”.

Then St. John Paul II spoke of the continuing deeply troubling effects of the two cultures encounter from 1770 till the present. He was direct in his presentation. He spoke of Aboriginal dispossession of their traditional lands and ancient tribal ways. Using strong language to indicate the continuing effects today of their dispossession, he added, “The discrimination caused by racism is a daily experience.” He spoke of their endurance and that “the church still supports you today.”

Finally, Pope John Paul pledged the church’s ongoing support in the future. He said the Gospel of Jesus “esteems and embraces all cultures” and the Gospel “invites you to become, through and through, Aboriginal Christians.”

In a phrase remembered forever by Aborigines, he said “Australia will not be fully the Church that Jesus wants her to be until you have made your contribution to her life, and until that contribution has been joyfully received by others.”

So thirty years later on, have we joyfully received the contribution of our First Australians?

It has been indeed a mixed report card. I am amazed how many of us still have yet to make real friends with Aborigines. To acknowledge country, fly flags and display aboriginal artefacts, without personal friendships runs the risk of becoming tokenistic and patronising of Aborigines. We must really walk with and accompany them in genuine companionship and compassionate dialogue. We are taking such a long time to work with aborigines, rather than simply work for Aboriginal advancement in Australia.

With Advent hope, let us scrutinise our responses and carefully accompany our First Australians along the long road to rebirth.

Finally, and again quite unexpectedly, a desert storm began immediately after the Papal speech in Alice Springs 30 years ago. To so many Aboriginal people, it was a sign of creation’s positive response to the Pope’s prophetic speech.

Recently, Mr John Lochowiak, the Chairman of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council, offered a poetic interpretation of this event. He said, “As St John Paul II spoke a windstorm picked up the red soil from the earth and swirled it amongst our people. The dust seemed to intertwine with the words of love, hope and empathy. The message touched our souls and it touched our skin. Never before had we felt so welcome in the house of Jesus, as when St John Paul II spoke.”

In this Mass we thank the Lord for this beautiful address 30 years ago in Alice Springs to our First Australians. May St John Paul II, interceding for us from heaven, make the vision and dream of his speech a reality today.

This expresses our Advent hope and our sincere prayer in this Mass.



2 Samuel 5:1-11, Colossians 112-20, Luke 23:35-43

We welcome to our Mass today young adults who participated in the recent World Youth Day gathering in Poland. They have come together today and have met before this Mass to review the fruits of this time of grace with the Holy Father Pope Francis in Krakow. We also, in this month of November pray once again for all our deceased loved ones and those who have nobody to pray for them in their death. But particularly in this Mass, we pray for the deceased Archbishops and Bishops of the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn. Immediately after the Mass I invite you, if you wish, to join me in the Crypt at this Cathedral where we will say a special prayer for our deceased Bishops some of whom are entombed in the crypt below.

On this close of the Year of Mercy we thank the Lord for the many blessings of the past year. At the end of this Mass we will officially close with a Marian hymn the Year of Mercy for the Archdiocese, joining the Church Universal on this significant day. Let us always remember, that the Year of Mercy might end today, but the work of mercy continues forever.

In the readings today we find where the love and mercy of God originates. We hear this at the end of the second reading from St Paul to the Colossians. He states, Jesus “made peace by his death on the cross”. This is a sure anchorage for us to understand the meaning of mercy and peace. It flows from the Calvary Cross.

Last night I was invited to give an address along with other religious leaders at a Peace Symposium here in Canberra. Religious leaders were joined by diplomats and politicians.

It was interesting to hear such a wide variety of people explain the origin and work of peace.

Some of those gathered last night were basically stating that peace is the absence of war. Or clearly if violence and war are happening there is no peace. But for a Christian this true observation doesn’t go deep enough.

At a deeper level religious leaders, as distinct perhaps from others, would want to stress that peace comes from the God of all love and mercy. It is the fruit of God, the God of love. The great world religions claim God as the Merciful and Almighty One. Whereas this is a great blessing to be able to join people from other great world religions on this foundational matter, but for a Christian, once again it is still not enough.

Christians would want to say that peace comes from Jesus. Particularly, as mentioned above, Jesus’ death on the cross has given us the grace of peace and forgiveness and mercy by his death on the cross.

We recall from other pages of scripture that “God loved the world so much that he sent his only son into the world”.

There are essential Christian tenets to our understanding of peace. Peace is an encounter with Jesus the son of God, the son of the author of all peace.

But even so Christianity, particularly in the Catholic Church, would go deeper than this!

On this feast of Jesus Christ the King of the Universe we are eager to state that the true peace and love is always sacrificial. The Gospel of today is influential in this point.

For here we have Jesus the King of Peace on a throne that is not made of gold or prized wood. It is made of the simple wooden cross of Calvary. The throne of Jesus is placed in the centre of two others crucified alongside him. Both of them are criminals. And yet Christians and particularly our Catholic tradition are eager to proclaim that the true peace and love of God is found in the God of the universe nailed to the Calvary Cross. Nailed Calvary love – sacrificial love – is the very essence of what is.

That is why this day is called the “Solemnity”. This is why it ends the liturgical year. It is because it is the Triumph of the Cross! This is a scandal to those who cannot believe this. They would say, “How is it that the God of peace is crucified and not triumphant”. Yet we Christians say that God is triumphant in the Calvary Cross, because God raised him on high in the Resurrection and as Jesus goes back to the Father he takes all of fallen humanity with him and redeems us from all our inequities.

A final layer of understanding on peace and mercy on this last Sunday of the Year of Mercy, is that this sacrificial love must be expressed in a practical way. It is not good enough just to say our God is loving and mercy and how we are caught up in this love and mercy. Our commitment to our Christian tenets must be expressed in a way that favours the poor and the oppressed. Our evangelisation must always “pitch its tent” on the peripheries of society. It is here that God has found in a most elegant but unusual form – the form of the homeless – the refugee, the aboriginal person, the diseased and those who are dying of loneliness and oppression.

As we continue on with our Mass now let’s carry all these insights of the God of mercy and love in our heart. Let us continue to pray for an infilling of God’s graces on this last day of the Year of Mercy, knowing that God is with us until the end of time in Jesus Christ our Lord and Merciful Saviour.