Homily – December 2019


Readings Is 35:1-6, 10  James 5:7-10  Gospel Matthew 11:2-11

Either directly or indirectly we have begun already our Plenary Council Pilgrimage in Australia. Directly – our representatives coming together in Adelaide (October 2020) and then Sydney (2021) is approaching.  Indirectly – our gatherings of all those interested throughout Australian parishes and communities is now well advanced.

I can only – once again – encourage you all to participate in our pilgrimage journey together, to where the Holy Spirit is leading the Australian Catholic Church in these times. How can we become a more Christ centred Church?

Through Baptism, we all become participants in the mission of Jesus in His Church. This mission of Jesus has three aspects – according to our ancient Tradition – sanctifying (priest), prophetic (prophet) and governing (King).


Much emphasis has been given to the governing (Kingly) office of Jesus’ mission. Clearly, the sex abuse scandal raises this dimension. However, even without this scandal in Australia, society’s aggressive secularism demands governing structures and foundational attitudes that are both transparent and accountable. So much of the helpful feedback so far is focussed on governance issues. We are grateful. This is surely a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst.


 When I attended the spectacularly successful Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Perth (Dec 2019), it was clear to everyone that the almost 6,000 new Millennial Catholics from throughout Australia were focussing on another aspect of Christ’s Mission: the sanctifying (priestly) dimension.

 The youth took for granted that the Catholic Church is to be transparent and accountable in Her governance. Yet, their incredible thirst and hunger for Jesus in Scripture and Tradition (especially our Sacramental life) was a great surprise to others.

Their insistence was for the Catholic Church in Australia to re-discover with the young a new and vibrant evangelising energy of the Holy Spirit. Just when many were surmising that the young had abandoned the Church, the opposite seems to be happening! The Sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation were in great demand. Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament (long periods of Ritual Silence) were a highlight for many.

It is especially pleasing to know that Regional Youth movements through large parts of Australia have now reached a certain level of sophistication. Returning from national (or international) youth kerygmatic festivals youth are able now to engage in the essential catechetical formation directed at missionary discipleship when they return to their home dioceses.


During the Perth Youth Festival, the third dimension of Christ’s mission became, for me at least, manifest in a most subtle manner. It was through the considerable presence of so many youth from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds. The prophetic (prophet) dimension of Christ’s mission was heard in their essential “voice” for the future of the Catholic Church in Australia.

I recall participating in several Plenary Council – “Listen and Discern Youth gatherings.” One had a good number of Aboriginal youth present. The affirming atmosphere of the festival gave them extra confidence to share openly their hopes and anxieties. Their sharings were prophetic. How can we be the Church that Jesus wants us to be without allowing the Holy Spirit to speak through this ancient culture in our midst who continue to be marginalised in our land of plenty? There was no doubt about their love of the Catholic Church and their desire to be active in Her future here in this new but ancient land.


Pope Francis often talks about the Church’s mission embracing together the head, the heart and the hands. After all, we are the one Body of Christ. Let us avoid any fragmentation of our tri-partite Baptismal Mission of priest, prophet and King. We need a logical and pragmatic HEAD to embrace the kindly/governance dimension. We ask for a HEART that is open to the sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit, to a conversion, like the youth. We pray too for HANDS that are ready to serve the marginalised and prophetic voice in our midst (especially the first Australians).

This is the Plenary Council worthy of the Lord’s blessing!



Readings  Is 7:10-14  Rom 1:1-7  Gospel Matthew 1:18-24

Over these weeks of Advent, the Scriptures have centred on some great Biblical figures: St John the Baptist, Mary the mother of Jesus, and St Joseph presented to us today.

As it is the Gospel of Matthew, St Joseph has a special focus. Let us recall that the Gospel of Matthew was written for a Jewish audience. St Matthew was very keen to link St Joseph with all the beliefs and hopes held by generations of Jewish expectation of the Messiah. We see this particularly in the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, which starts with Abraham and David and ends with Joseph.

We know that Joseph is the Foster father of Jesus. He is also the father of Jesus in every aspect except the biological one. This means all the expectations and legal transmissions from generation to generation passed from Joseph to Jesus.

The Gospel from Matthew today focuses on, what could be called, the Annunciation of St Joseph. We had The Annunciation of Mary, and now we have the Annunciation of St Joseph.

Throughout the Gospel St Joseph is described as a “just man.” He is totally faithful and docile to whatever God wants of him.

Here in the Gospel we find that the Angel speaks to him in his dreams saying, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus.”

This is exactly what Joseph does unhesitatingly.

As Christmas is about to dawn in a few days’ time, let us also have the docility and obedience of St Joseph, the “just man.” Justice, at its very heart, is building bridges and tearing down walls between each of us. The greatest bridge ever built was the impenetrable bridge of God with humanity in Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. In His divinity, God sends us Jesus who shares our humanity in all things but sin. In His Resurrection, Jesus takes us all in his resurrected humanity to God the fullness of all Divinity. This is the greatest bridge of all eternity. This is why we need Christmas once again to see how this has all taken place in the defencelessness of the little precious child of Bethlehem.

As a practical response to our Scriptures today, let us try over these days to build bridges and tear down walls between us. Christmas can be a difficult time for all sorts of practical reasons. Never let us be on the side of building up walls between others and ourselves. In our families, in our neighbourhoods and in our friendships, let us restore broken bridges and be a healing to each other.

This will be the makings of a great Christmas 2019!



 Readings  Isaiah 62: 1-5  Acts of the Apostles: 13: 16-17, 22-25  Gospel: Matthew 1: 1-25

Christmas in Australia 2019 is celebrated in quite a particular context: Bushfires, Drought, Smoke! So many people feel more fragile in these days and times before Christmas. It is not simply the bushfires that are burning not far from us here in Canberra, but also the bushfires that burn in people’s relationships. I am thinking too of the bushfires, the drought and the smoke that homelessness and loneliness cause at this time of the year. It too, brings a shiver to our spirits that in the midst of so much plenty there is so much inhospitality to people’s fragilities either practical or emotional.

So let us look out for each other over these times.

Clearly we pray for those attending to the bushfires and those impacted directly or indirectly by them. We think particularly of those who have lost their lives, their homes or are spending these day’s in dangerous work fighting the fires. We also think of the fragilities of people’s lives that become even more apparent in these times of coming together of family and friends in hospitality.

These thoughts are very much affirmed in the First Reading from the prophet Isaiah. The promise is that the messiah will come and “no longer are you to be named ‘Forsaken’, nor your land ‘Abandoned’, but you shall be called ‘My Delight’ and your land ‘The Wedded’; for the Lord takes delight in you and your land will have its wedding.” So what could be an annihilation in fact becomes a Wedding Feast. What seems to be an abandonment in fact is the presence of God in all the fragilities of our life and the year of 2019 that is quickly passing.

In this year of Matthew’s Gospel we hear the birth of the Saviour Jesus at Bethlehem through the eyes of St Matthew who places a particular emphasis on the role of St Joseph.

All play a part in one way or another.

It is interesting that the Scriptures together often talk about Jesus being born during the time of a great emperor and a powerful king. These are only historical benchmarks. The rich and the powerful do not play a key role in the birth of Jesus. Rather, it is the humble shepherds who come to the humility of the Bethlehem stable and adore the Lord as the first evangelisers of Christianity. Here they come and see the two great faithful ones, Joseph and Mary holding the preciousness of the little baby in their hands.

To see such humility in our mighty God and Saviour becoming a vulnerable little Bethlehem baby is an incredible awe inspiring moment for us to contemplate in these days of Christmas and New Year. It is so deep. It demands awe and silence to take it in.

We see these sentiments expressed in song in a favourite Christmas Carol composed in the 19th century by Mendelssohn. We sing the following lyrics from this famous hymn, “Christ by highest heaven adored: Christ the everlasting Lord; Late in time behold Him come, offspring of the favoured one. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate Deity: Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel! Hark! The herald-angles sing, ‘Glory to the newborn King’.”

In these precious days, let us ponder on the greatest beauty and grace of them all -Jesus who is fully God has now become fully human with us in all things but sin. He does not come as a king or as a great warrior but as a very fragile and precious baby in a very fragile world of His time.

In the fragilities of our own world let us embrace the preciousness of the new born child.

From this wellspring will come the Joy, Hope and Peace that the Angels sing on this night “Glory to the new born king.”

Happy Christmas and New Year to you all!