Homily – October 2017

Exodus 22:20-26, 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10, Matthew 22:34-40

We all know that discerning the essential from the non-essential is a daily challenge. Just ask any parent of teenage children on this matter!

But in the readings today the challenge is to discern quite clearly that which is absolutely essential to the following of Christ and that which is of lesser priority.

We already know this on the cultural political level.

We all know in regard to, for example the same sex marriage issue, that discerning the essential role of traditional marriage and children is our greatest priority here. Other elements are of significance but not absolutely essential to the role of traditional family life in a healthy society.

Another example on the cultural political level is the issue of euthanasia.

It is absolutely essential that the medical profession protect and heal life. The suggestion that certain types of circumstances might permit the medical profession of deliberately ending life is an abhorrence. The issues involved in these matters can be worked through via palliative care.

But also in the biblical world, Jesus is challenged in today’s gospel to discern that which is essential from that which is not essential.

At the time of Jesus there were multiple regulations and rules and Jesus is asked to discern that which is essential.

He articulates this beautifully. He says, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind”. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second resembles it, you must love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole of the law and prophets.

The two essential points on this matter is first of all what is meant by love.

The love that Jesus talks about is not sentimental or purely emotional. It is sacrificial love. It is nailed Calvary love. It is servant love.

In the first reading today this love can be focused upon by thinking of our origins.

The Lord reminds Moses, “For you lived as strangers in the land of Egypt”. In other words, don’t forget your humble origins! This will help you to love humbly and to work for justice in a way that is other-giving rather than self-giving.

The second essential point on the Lord’s teaching in the gospel today is that love of God and love of neighbour are really one commandment. They cannot be separated.

If we have love of God but no love of neighbour then Christianity all of a sudden becomes a pietistic cult or a sect. On the other hand, if we have love of our neighbour but no love of God then Christianity is simply reduced to a philanthropic organisation like many others. No, it is both love of God and love of neighbour. It is not two lungs on the one body. They find a unity in Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.

In recent times I have returned from India where I was leading a retreat for Bishops and Priests in Goa.

The rich religious culture of India showcases two wonderful Saints who have placed love of God and love of neighbour in a wonderful symphysis coming from the heart of Jesus.

First of all there is St Francis Xavier, whose incorrupt body is buried in the Basilica at Goa. He was also to come towards that which is essential for his life by the challenge that was given by his colleague and friend Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. Ignatius Loyola challenged the young and somewhat brash aristocratic Francis Xavier at a crucial moment in this life by posing the question, “What does man gain by conquering the world but losing his soul?” This had a profound effect on Francis Xavier and turned him away from just being an ordinary person to an extraordinary person who discerned the essential aspects of life and he became one of the greatest evangelisers and baptisers since St Paul.

The other great Indian Saint is the well-known St Teresa of Calcutta or Mother Teresa as we know her. Her life moved from a somewhat ordinary life as a religious sister in India to an extraordinary woman who eventually became a Saint through a wonderful graced moment in her life. She was travelling by train to a retreat and she was moving towards Darjeeling where she had a real encounter with Christ who graced her with a vision beyond her comprehension. It gave her courage and faith to be able to lead the extraordinary life that we all know that she led.

So let’s ask the Lord to give us all the graces we need to move us to a perception of what is truly essential in our life and to put aside that which is confusing and non-essential.

I believe that elderly people have a particular contribution to make in this area.

I remember years ago an elderly lady to whom I gave communion on a monthly basis, she had enormous wisdom in her twilight years. I recall once mentioning to her challenges I had in the weeks preceding my visit to her. At one stage she looked towards me and she said, “I wouldn’t worry too much about that if I was you, Fr Chris”. She was completely correct! I had confused that which is essential from that which is non-essential. Her truth speaking in such a lovely manner really freed me up and assisted me.

We all need truth speakers in our lives. These are people who are wise and don’t carry selfish agendas but speak the truth to us in a way that liberates us. Let us pray that we find these wonderful people in our families and in our friends.

Let’s now continue with the Mass and ask the Lord to grace us with nourishment for the journey of life – in His body and blood.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse
Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn



Isaiah 5:1-7, Philippians 4:6-9, Matthew 21:33-43

The parable today indicates just how Jesus speaks directly but in a very indirect way!

This seeming paradox is based on the assertion that Jesus can say the most direct matters to His listeners by using the indirect method of constructing parables.

The parable today talks about a land owner who planted a vineyard and then went away leaving the vineyard in the stewardship of tenants. When the landowner returned and sent servants to collect his produce, the tenants, “seized his servants, thrashed one, killed another and stoned a third”. The second time, the landowner sent other servants, and they did the same.

Finally he sent his son to them. “They will respect my son”, he said. But when the tenants saw the son they said to each other, “This is the heir, come on, let us kill him and take over the inheritance”. The point of the parable is that Jesus says, “The Kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit”.

The people that Jesus was speaking to would understand that he was talking about the leadership of the People of God at that time.

The first reading states that, “The vineyard of the Lord of Host is the House of Israel, and the men of Judah that chosen plant. He expected justice, but found bloodshed, integrity, but only a cry of distress”.

When Jesus gives us all a responsibility He expects us to be faithful stewards and produce a harvest of fruit for the Kingdom of God.

Clearly this hasn’t taken place and this is why Jesus is so direct in His speech.

In a sense He has predicted His future death and resurrection. He is predicting that, as in the parable, the son will be killed. Also He, as the Son of God, will be killed. But God will raise Him in the resurrection and forgiveness and the seeds of the Kingdom of God will be planted afresh.

It is easy enough for us to look back on this and to think of this as something in the past, but it’s a present and very profound responsibility all of us have to do all we can to promote the Kingdom of God and allow it to flourish not only in our lives but to all that we come in contact with.

This reminds me of an experience of an elderly and sickly priest of more recent times.

In the last two years he has spent quite a bit of time in hospital.

For the first time in his life he found himself last year in a ward of four people of which he was the only male!

This was challenging enough but also another challenge presented itself rather quickly.

The woman in the hospital bed opposite him was forever praying from a particular prayer book. She never really spoke to any of the other patients in the ward as she seemed to be totally preoccupied with her prayers from her clearly beloved prayer book.

The priest made the observation over a few days that whenever the medical, domestic or cleaning staff came anywhere near her she was ferocious in her attitude and statements to them. The food was never what she ordered or it wasn’t hot enough, the medication was causing her dizziness or whatever and the domestic staff didn’t clean what they should have cleaned, and so on!!

Over a few days this was starting to really irritate the priest.

He told me that at one stage he felt like getting out of his sick bed, going over to her bed and taking her prayer book immediately off her and giving her another prayer book. He said to me, “Clearly the prayer book she was using wasn’t working!”

I thought of this in regard to today’s parable and our gathering here today at St Clement’s Galong for our Annual Marian Mass and Procession.

We believe that Mary, the Mother of God, is always reading from the correct “prayer book”!

Mary is forever young and forever renewing herself in her Son!

Not only that, she is always interceding and keeping us focused on her Son Jesus in our world of today.

As we all know, the Catholic Church is going through unprecedented turmoil at the moment, particularly here in Australia. There are many experiences amongst us of great change and feelings of asking ourselves where is the Church heading?

But it is always Mary who points us in our confusion and the fogginess of our insight towards her Son Jesus Christ. She is forever the one who is the great signpost to where Jesus is to be found. Indeed like any mother the child is to be found in the loving arms of the mother. If we find Mary then we will always find Jesus because He is with His mother!

I thank you all for coming from all parts of the Archdiocese to our Marian Procession today. I am delighted to have led the inaugural Youth Pilgrimage Walk from Galong Township to St Clement’s here this morning. I pray that this is the beginning of many years of a youth component and pilgrimage to this historic procession that is dear to the hearts of all of us in the Archdiocese.

I particularly thank Fr John Airey CSsR and all at the Redemptorist Monastery here for the care that they have taken in offering us hospitality and ensuring all the grounds are ready for the huge crowds that are here today.

With you I pray that Mary blesses our Archdiocese. I once again now reconsecrate the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. May Mary always protect our Archdiocese from any harm or any danger. May Mary protect all families and communities and neighbourhoods from the “terror of the night”.

Let us all recommit ourselves to the intercession of Mary. She leads us to Jesus. And let us say together now, Hail Mary full of Grace…

Archbishop Christopher Prowse
Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn



Ez 18:25-28, Phil 2:1-11, Matthew 21:28-32

The Gospel introduces us to two types of disciples.

The first disciple could be called a “self-corrective” disciple.

These are the disciples who are very much aware of their humanity and their sin and weakness and disobedience.  However, there is always like the one in the Gospel, who “afterwards thought better of it” and then obeys the Lord.

There is humility here.  There is repentance and trust.  In seeking personal freedom this disciple could identify with the ancient Portuguese expression, as the one who “writes straight with crooked lines.”

We see indications of the first disciple, the self-corrective disciple, in the first reading today from the prophet Ezekiel.  Here the prophet says “When the sinner renounces sin to become law abiding and honest, he deserves to live.”

The second type of disciple implied in the Parable today of Jesus could be described as the “self-deceptive” disciple.

These are the ones who say one thing but do the opposite.  In today’s Gospel the man when charged with a particular responsibility says immediately “Certainly, sir… but then did not go.”

There is arrogance here.  There is sinful deception and a superficiality.  Discipleship here never goes deep enough.

This disciple refuses to really take on personal responsibility despite the fact of always “looking good.”

Jesus shows us the “perfect way” to respond to God in the Second Reading from St Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.

This is an ancient text and precedes even the writing of the Gospels. 

The way of Jesus is the way of self-renunciation.  It is the way of “self-emptying” on the journey back to the Father.

We see this beautifully and almost in poetic manner in this text…”His state was divine, yet he did not cling…but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave…But God raised him on high…that every tongue should acclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.”

This is a wonderful definition of what a Christian disciple is.  It is being in total imitation of Jesus who took on our humanity in everything but sin and then in his death and resurrection how God the Father raised him on high. 

This final expression: “Jesus Christ as Lord” is one of the most ancient creedal statements of Christianity.  We have the whole of Christianity in four words…”Jesus Christ as Lord.”

Today we celebrate the imitation of “The Perfect Way” of Jesus Christ in the “Little Way” of St Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897).

St Therese died at the very young age of 24 years of Tuberculosis.

She was canonised as a Saint only 28 years after her death. 

But in her own little way she imitated so completely the way of complete discipleship.

When I reflect seriously on the life of St Therese of Lisieux I think she lives out four paradoxes of Christian discipleship beautifully.  She truly is this “self-corrective” disciple.  She is very much aware of her own sinfulness but she was guided wonderfully by her saintly parents and sisters and chose the way of humility in a most extraordinary way.

I think the first paradox of St Therese of Lisieux is that she is the patron of the missions yet she never left her convent.

She insisted that she would spend her heaven doing good on earth.  This is symbolised in the rose petals and roses that we will bless at the end of this Mass today.  The falling down of rose petals is indicative of the falling down of her intercessory care for the Missionary Church.  When Catholics first came to this country of Australia she was one of the first Saints we made as one of our Missionary Patronesses.

Having said all that, she never left her convent and yet at the same time her intercession for the Universal Church can never be doubted.

The second paradox of St Therese is that she encouraged and counselled Priests yet this was done without really personally knowing them.

This was done through her letter writing and prayers of intercession for Priests that where undergoing difficulty.  Indeed, she continues to do that.  For example, I was gifted with a wonderful little relic of St Therese of Lisieux years ago and I often place on this relic Priests that are concerning me in my various responsibilities.  I ask St Therese to look after them as she looked after the ones when she walked this earth.

The third paradox of St Therese is that she is a brilliant example of community life yet she was never really appreciated as such by her community.

This is because her “Little way” was so subtle.  She saw that her vocation in life truly was to the vocation to love regardless of what ever happened in her life.  We see little community examples of this which are quite delightful.

She always had the great way of turning a negative into a positive.  For example, in her writing we are aware there was one of the choir sisters near her in the monastery that annoyed her with the grinding of her teeth!  St Therese turned this nuisance noise in her mind into part of a “symphony” that sang God’s praises!  Then there’s another example of her being on laundry duty and the sister accompanying this, continually tended to splash water everywhere including over St Therese.  This annoyed her!  But she took it as means of renewing her baptismal vows through water!  See how love can turn a negative into a positive! 

The fourth and final paradox to my mind is that she was a spiritual writer of the highest order yet this was never known until after her death.

After her death, as we know, her biography was published…”Story of a Soul.”  It’s about her life’s journey.

We can read this autobiography and see in her a very fragile human being.  At times she was temperamental, self-absorbed and even stubborn.  Yet, she was repentant and like a “little flower” saw her vocation in turning her whole vision towards Jesus Christ, the Light of the World.

As we now continue with our Mass let us move in prayer invoking her intercession in all our needs.  St Therese of Lisieux, pray for us.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse
Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn