Homily – Signadou Campus – Acu National Senate

Ezekiel 2:3-4, Matthew 18:1-5, 10:12-14

We welcome the ACU Senate (National) from all around Australia who have gathered today at the ACU Canberra campus.  Welcome!

Today is the Feast of St Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941) – the Martyr of Auschwitz, Germany.

In these months following the published recommendations of the Royal Commission into the Sex Abuse issue, the Church is in a state of deep self-examination.

In the Western World at least, is seems to me, that the Church is rich in doctrine, infrastructure and policies, but is poor in spiritual power.

The soon to be Canonised Saint, Blessed Pope Paul VI, in his Magna Carta document on evangelisation in the modern world, lamented the lack of spiritual power to truly change the hearts of humanity in today’s world.

We have been made aware, through the Royal Commission, how “power” can so easily be given a criminal and diabolical expression when it is removed from its deepest human meaning of service. 

However, the Gospels proclaim that true spiritual power is capable of changing the distracted gaze of humanity towards encounter with Jesus crucified and risen, and away from the selfish egos that draw us to ourselves.

This is the task of conversion.  It is a perennial task.  It is an essential task of the Plenary Council of the Australian Catholic Church in which we now journey towards its culmination in 2020 and 2021.

In the Gospel today, Jesus makes it quite clear that spiritual power, power that can really change hearts, is to be found in most unexpected sources.  When asked the question “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”,  Jesus calls before him a little child and sets this child in front of them all.  He then says to them, “the one who makes himself as little as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”  The most powerful one in the Kingdom of Heaven, therefore, is the one who is childlike before the Lord.  This should really give us something to think about in our confusion regarding the notion of spiritual power.

An eloquent witness to spiritual power comes from today’s feast of St Maximilian Kolbe.

Around this time two years ago, I was with a group from World Youth Day Krakow, Poland visiting the Auschwitz concentration camp.  It is an enormous camp of historic infamy.  We spent many hours there, and only traversed a small section of this death camp.  We did come to the place were Maximilian Kolbe died.

You may recall his story concerning a prisoner’s escape from Auschwitz.  The commandant, as a reprisal, selected at random ten prisoners to die by starvation as punishment.  One of those selected yelled out in grief that came from his heart, “My wife, my children, what will happen to them?”

We know the story of what happened.  Maximilian Kolbe came out from the ranks and volunteered to take this man’s place.  The commandant, not caring who was to perish, enabled the exchange to take place.

So here we were at World Youth Day two years ago, just outside the bunker under which these ten men perished.

After two weeks of starvation, the guards went down into this hellhole.  All were dead except Maximilian Kolbe.  They gave him a lethal injection that killed him outright. 

This simple Franciscan Conventual priest, who was well known in Poland for his pious devotion to Mary, now becomes a global modern Martyr!

As we stood in silence, outside the place where he died, with hundreds of young people from all around the world, you could feel the spiritual power of his martyrdom still present in the camp.

Let us always remember that in the poverty of our spiritual power today in the Church, we are called to martyrdom of different sorts.  It may not be of blood but it is a martyrdom of self-sacrifice and service and total attachment to the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

May this be in the DNA of all that we do in the Australian Catholic University.

Let this place be a place of great spiritual power and service, where hearts will be turned in conversion to the Lord who always accompanies us on the journey of life.