Homily – St Augustine Parish Yass 180 Year Anniversary

Josh 21:1-2, 15-18, Ephesians 5:21-32, John 6:60-69

There is an expression that states, “Christianity is not supposed to make sense.  Christianity is supposed to make disciples/missionaries.”

We see this expressed particularly in the readings today.  It is reflective of our important anniversary today – 180 Year Anniversary of the foundation stone being laid for the Yass Mission, St Augustine Parish.

In the first reading from the book of Joshua, we need to recall the social context of this reading.  The culture was polytheistic – which means they worshipped many Gods.

The fundamental originality of Judaism is a call to worship the “One God”.  A decision must be made by the community.  They cannot worship the “One God” and then at other times worship many gods according to whim or fancy.

We see this monotheism inscribed in the First Commandment of the Ten Commandments – “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other Gods apart from me.”

Joshua makes the choice of the people abundantly clear. 

He says, “If you will not serve the Lord, choose today whom you wish to serve, whether the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are now living.  As for me and my House, we will serve the Lord.”  It’s a rather blunt message, isn’t it!

To the people he spoke to this would have been a big challenge.  They worshipped gods for different things.  They wanted to worship the “One God” but due to necessity and need, they clearly would switch allegiance.  To do otherwise seems to them to make no sense.

In foreshadowing the New Testament, a radical decision has to be made.

Upon reflecting on the God of Abraham, Moses and Jacob, they see that the “One God” has been with them in their slaveries and in their journeys and provided for their every need.

They, therefore, declare in a counter-cultural way, that they will serve the “One God.”

They declare, “We have no intention of deserting the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors out of the land of Egypt…and preserved us all along the way we travelled and among all the peoples through whom we journeyed.  We too will serve the Lord, for He is our God.”

All this foreshadows the Gospel of today.

Over the last month in our Sunday Gospels, we have been meditating in readings from chapter 6 of John’s Gospel.  So for many Sundays now we have heard Jesus declaring himself as the “Bread of Life.”  He declares “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood will have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

To the people Jesus is teaching, such declarations are most perplexing.

A little bit like our scientific world of today, they look on this teaching in a very literalist way.  They do not have the sense of symbolism or the understanding of Sacrament that we have today.  Therefore, some of them are scandalised by this sort of teaching.  It is tantamount to them that Jesus is advocating some bizarre form of cannibalism.

Some of them walk away.

Jesus then says to the twelve, “What about you, do you want to go away too?”

St Peter, as the first Pope and setting the Apostolic Tradition that we celebrate today speaks for us all when he says, “Lord, whom shall we go to?  You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.”

So here it is again.  To so many Jesus’s teaching doesn’t make sense.  But Jesus wants to make Disciples and Missionaries.  Even if they don’t understand it completely, Jesus calls upon their faith to believe that without him discipleship and being missionaries on the journey of life would be impossible but there are nourishment and guidance – especially in the Eucharist.

And so we come to today’s commemoration – 180 years since the Foundation Stone of the Yass Mission.

On this day 180 years ago, Bishop Polding and three priests including Fr Charles Lovat, who was to become the first parish priest here at Yass, gathered with the Catholic community of the area and prayed down God’s blessings upon this Parish in which we celebrate the Mass – specifically here in the “Lovat Chapel.”

Many saintly people gathered on that day.

We already have St Mary of the Cross MacKillop and other females are strongly being suggested as future Australian Saints.  We could say that on this day in this place 180 years ago, two other possible Saints gathered.  One being Bishop Bede Polding.  Already his life has been seen worthy of Canonisation.

Also present was the first parish priest of Yass, Fr Charles Lovat.  He too was a very saintly man. 

I read with interest in more recent times from the famous book, The Men of 38, by John O’Brien, the following about Fr Charles Lovat.  It does express the feeling of people that knew Fr Lovat and his ongoing influence of holiness over the decades.

John O’Brien writes, “No man ever left a more fragrant memory behind him”.  Twelve years after he had left the district, Dr Morgan O’Connor wrote of him, “The name of this holy priest is still remembered and revered in the hearts of the people, and is ever associated by them with all that is saintly and good.  They spoke of him as the gentle Fr Lovat, the scholarly Fr Lovat, the saintly Fr Lovat.  A splendid tribute to a minister of God – gentlemanliness, scholarship, sanctity bestowed by popular acclaim; and if his unselfish zeal is not by this time apparent these pages have been written for nothing.”

Fr Charles Lovat was well known as an academic and a man of God.  He was a Jesuit priest and before coming to Australia was mainly involved in formation of priests.  This continued in Australia until he was appointed parish priest of Yass by Bishop Polding.  I suppose his family back in England thought this was a matter of great stupidity.  I am sure they wondered why such an educated and cultured Englishman would be assigned to a colonial outpost in the middle of this new colony of New South Wales.  Perhaps they said amongst themselves that this placement made no sense.  However, Fr Lovat seized this appointment with great energy and enthusiasm for the Gospel.  It is here that he expressed discipleship and missionary zeal for the Lord.  His diaries show him being extremely earnest and zealous and he proved himself a great horseman travelling around what would now be described as about three or four Diocese in Australia.  

I know your present parish priest, Fr Mick Burke has a great devotion to Fr Lovat.  Why don’t we join him?

We Catholics do believe that we pray with the communion of Saints as we raise our voices through, with and in Jesus, our Lord and Saviour.  May we, at least at the local level, also pray in the company of Fr Charles Lovat who has such a claim on our attention due to his saintliness.  I am sure the Lord would not mind if we also pray with him for the bestowing of God’s blessings upon this place in the next 180 years.

I thank all of you so much for coming with your vigour and Catholic piety in these troubled times.  But of course, this time is not a time of “remember when” moments.  The Catholic Church was never a museum piece or simply a historic remembrance.  We are the Body of Christ!

So as we now journey on with our Mass and are fed with Jesus, the “Bread of Life,” let us recall always, in the ups and downs of our own lives that “Christianity is not supposed to make sense.  Christianity is supposed to make disciples/missionaries”, just like Fr Charles Lovat.