Homily – February 2018

Genesis 9:8-15, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:12-15

On this first Sunday of Lent, the Church in her wisdom has offered us two key Biblical words for our nourishment in Christ: water and desert.

In the first reading today we hear of Noah and the covenant with God. The covenant is sealed with a tsunami of water over the whole of Creation. The Book of Genesis is very keen to stress that it wasn’t just over human beings but it was “With you, birds, cattle, and every wild beast with you: everything that came out of the arc, everything that lives on the earth”.  The water here is the sign of the covenant and the promise that “The water shall never again become a flood to destroy all things of the flesh”.

In the second reading from 1 Peter this symbol of water becomes a symbol of Christian Baptism. Indeed, Noah’s covenant of water is a type of foreshadowing of Baptism where St Peter says, “Which saved you now”.

Of course we all know that Baptism is the gateway of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. It opens the door for our Christian life in Christ.

The second symbol is the symbol of desert.

In the scriptures the desert is an ambiguous place. It is a place of meeting with God and learning God’s way very carefully in the pilgrimage in the desert. We see this particularly with Moses and the 40 years of wandering in the desert. We now see Jesus’ 40 days in the desert before His public ministry in today’s Gospel. In Lent we have the 40 days of Lent in our preparation for Easter. All of these are a time of conversion and meeting the Lord.

But the desert also is a place of meeting the evil one. In our fasting, abstinence and prayers the walk in the desert of our heart is hardly easy. When we strip away our own egoisms and self-interest we often find the presence of the devil more than before as the devil tempts us to return to our time of sin and selfishness. But here we have Jesus come in the Gospel of today from Mark and announce not a kingdom of darkness but a kingdom of light. Not a kingdom of bad news but a kingdom of good news. In Mark’s Gospel he proclaims the good news from God by saying, “The time has come and the Kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe in the good news”.

It’s interesting to note that the spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. This word ‘drove’ I think is of significance. It’s not as if Jesus went in to the desert in a way that was unreflected. It was the Holy Spirit Himself that was bringing us all through Jesus into the conversion of sons and daughters of God.

So Lent must be seen as something very serious. Repentance is not an easy period but it is a time of conversion to Christ. It presents a tremendous opportunity to enable us to be stripped of all our selfishness and to see Jesus face to face like never before.

We welcome to our Mass today those adults who are preparing for entry into the Catholic Church in the upcoming Easter Mysteries. It was an absolute delight to meet these lovely people in a ceremony before Mass – the RCIA Rite of Election. Our sincere prayers are with them.

So now let us continue on with our Mass with great courage on the Lenten pilgrimage to Easter knowing that Christ is with us and leads us all the days of our life.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse
Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn



Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46, 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1, Mark 1:40-45

Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Sick. Providentially, there is a beautiful miracle of healing in today’s Gospel. It is the healing by Jesus of the leper.

In the Gospel of today we hear this lovely encounter between the leper and Jesus.

The leper unexpectedly meets Jesus and says to him, “If you want to you can cure me”. Immediately the response from Jesus is as follows: Feeling sorry for him, “Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. ‘Of course I want to’, he said, ‘be cured’”.

It seems that this leper was a very courageous man. He sought out Jesus even before Jesus sought him. The expression, “If you want to…” is like an act of faith and an act of surrender into whatever initiative Jesus might offer. In the scriptures it is very rare for a healing to be given by Jesus unless some form of faith is shown beforehand. This is the man’s act of faith to Jesus.

The Lord’s response is most illuminating… “Of course I want to”. Jesus wants to heal us. There is no doubt about it at all, given this acclamation of Jesus.

The healing presence of Jesus continues in the world today. This is done in an institutional way, particularly through the Catholic Church’s global commitment to hospital and health facilities.

Even in the last few days the new CEO of Calvary Hospital Bruce came to visit me. What a proud tradition of healing we have here in Canberra. She is the CEO not only of this major public hospital but also of the palliative care hospital, Clare Holland House. In an Australian context, which is becoming more tempted with euthanasia, the healing presence of Jesus through palliative care can never be underestimated in our time and place. May we shout it from the hilltops! The topic of euthanasia should not even be on our lips in affluent Australia when palliative care, still needing more funding, is the best way of responding to those gravely ill.

But there seems to be a second miracle here as well.

At the end of the first reading the instructions given to the community of those with leprosy is quite clear. It really isn’t just simply leprosy as we know it (Hanson’s disease), it is all infectious skin diseases. But they really overdo it! Understandably there needs to be a separation from people who do not have this disease, but they should never be denied the love and companionship of the community. But here they are becoming somewhat victimised and having to yell out, “I’m unclean, I’m unclean”. Even in the synagogue they are welcomed but most stand well behind others and placed behind a screen. At the end of the first reading it is quite clear that, “He must live outside the camp”. This expression, “outside the camp”, is a place of social exclusion and marginalisation.

In the Gospel today Jesus breaks the taboo. Jesus is shown to, “Stretch out his hand and touched him”. At the time of Jesus, such behaviour was unheard of. From a ritual point of view, according to the taboos of the time, it made Jesus ritually unclean himself. Jesus doesn’t seem at all bothered by such things.

This may not be just something of 2000 years ago. In our own lifetime we remember with the HIV/AIDS crisis, in its initial stages many thought that the AIDS patient must not be touched and secondly some were even saying that that person has AIDS because of an immoral life. Such taboos are now well and truly dismissed from society, let’s hope. But in Jesus’ healing ministry, so popular was he, the people wanted to make him some sort of movie star. It had nothing to do with religious belief but the popularity and wanting to see some “circus” that make Jesus unable to move freely in the towns. Therefore he has to exile himself to the periphery. It says in the scriptures he, “had to stay outside in places where nobody lived”.

Isn’t it interesting that the leper was outside the camp until the healing of Jesus and then comes inside the camp. Jesus himself, because of his ministry and unwillingness to become some kind of movie star, marginalises himself and is to be found in the “places where nobody lived”.

As Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent begins in a few days, let us find Jesus by seeking out those on the periphery. It is the place where Jesus is to be found. Those that are marginalised, the poor and the oppressed are places of special privilege where Jesus can be found in an extraordinary way.

So make sure our Lent isn’t a selfish one.

The Bishops of Australia have asked us to have the first four days of Lent, that is from Ash Wednesday to the following Saturday, as four days of prayer and reparation for victims of the sex abuse issue. So many of those courageous victims are hurting deeply. So let us particularly make that a special prayer intention in the first four days of Lent.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse
Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn



Job 7:1-4, 6-7, 1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23, Mark 1:29-39

This Mass is a very historic Mass for our new Parish of St Matthew and St Vincent de Paul.  I will inaugurate shortly the new Parish Priest Fr Simon Falk and ask all of you to pray for him in his new ministry of service amongst you. 

This ceremony of induction is being celebrated within our normal Sunday Mass as we return from our Christmas holidays. 

In fact, there is a lovely symbol of Christmas which also is a great symbol of Parish life, I believe.  It’s the simple Manger of Bethlehem. 

There seems to be at least three points whereby the life of a Parish and the symbol of the Christmas Manger enlighten us.

The first point, is the importance of the Manger lies in the fact that the baby Jesus was placed in it.  Without Jesus being placed in the Manger it would be of no significance whatsoever.  It would just be another feeding trough for animals which of course is what a Manger is.

If the Parish is like the Christmas Manger, it means that the whole reason of existence of a Parish is because we place Jesus in the very centre of it.  The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and his immersion into the local community called a Parish is the absolute and fundamental beginning point of what a Parish means in our Catholic Christian tradition.

If in some way the centrality of Jesus Christ and our encounter with the Lord is in any way muted then the Parish will be just like any other gathering of good people albeit Religious.  But there will be no encounter with Jesus, there will be no conversion of hearts, and no healings and no proclamation of the Word of God with power and authority here.

So as we begin now the first year of our Parish of St Matthew and St Vincent de Paul in South Belconnen let us place the encounter with Jesus Christ as the number one priority of this Parish. 

Secondly, the Manger at Bethlehem gathers people together around Jesus. 

We know from our Christmas cribs that we have recently taken down and put in the box waiting for next Christmas that Jesus placed in the Manger in the stable at Bethlehem draws together people in adoration and praise of God. 

There is Mary and St Joseph.  There’s also the three wise men and the poor shepherd boys.  There is not only human beings though: the presence of Jesus in the Manger has gathered together the animal world.  As always the cow and the ox.  But it’s not only that it’s also the whole cosmos gathered around the Christ event.  We have there the importance of the Star of Bethlehem that brings the three wise men to the stable and we sing the hymn “Silent Night Holy Night.”  In the midst of the darkness of the night comes the light of Jesus.

In all this Jesus gathers us together. 

A Parish is where we gather together with Jesus in the centre.  Recall that a Manger is a feeding trough for animals.  In the Parish the food is the Eucharist and Jesus draws us together around the Eucharist as we celebrate his presence in Word and Sacrament.  We too have the Saints around us.  We see this symbolised in the statues but our Catholic instinct indicates to us that when we celebrate the Mass we celebrate it with not just this local community but with the entire cosmos.  It is Jesus who leads us in the Mass and all the Sacraments but particularly the Eucharist.  We are gathered together in the proclamation of the Word of God in the scriptures.  The Homily helps us to live this out in our daily life.  We are fed by all the Sacraments to be the people God wants us to be.

Thirdly, the Manger becomes a spring board for mission to the entire universe. 

Recall in the Christmas Manger and the Christmas Story that the first missionaries or evangelisers are the poor shepherd boys.  As always, God chooses the weak to confound the wise!  The poorest of the poor, the shepherds, are first to hear the Word of God and to be converted by it.  We see in the scriptures that they then go out from the Manger and start proclaiming the presence of Christ and calling people to see what is happening in this Manger.

The Parish never exists for itself.  It is to be a spring board for missionary activity, particularly in the locality where the Parish is placed.  Pope Francis calls us “missionary disciples.”  We go out from the Church as the Church to be Christ’s people to the world.

There is a double mission here.  The first mission, as the Saints call it, is “to make Jesus known and loved.”  This preaching is most often wordless but none the less effective in bringing people home to God by our word and example. 

The second mission is the social mission.  It’s the mission of practical charity to those on the fringes of society.  The Parish, especially through its groups, is to stand along those who are suffering and marginalised and to provide a response in humble charity to them in their needs.

So as we now go on with the Mass and participate in this lovely ceremony of induction of a new Parish Priest, we pray for Fr Simon Falk that he might lead this Parish particularly in the three foundations that I’ve just articulated.

I pray for you all and thank you so much for all that you have done over the years to make this coming together of a new Parish a reality today.  I know it has been difficult for some and will continue to be so.  But with our eyes fixed on the Manger image from the Christmas that we’ve just celebrated we will always know that the way ahead is a way of blessing because we place Jesus in the very centre.  We acknowledge the communitarian nature of the Parish that gathers people in word and Sacrament.  Thirdly, we exercise that double missionary evangelisation of preaching and practical charity.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse
Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn