Homily – October 2019


 Readings: Zachariah 8:20-23  Luke 9:51-56

In today’s Mass we launch the Extraordinary Missionary Month decreed by Pope Francis. We launch this universal initiative of the Holy Father here in the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn on this the memorial of St Therese of the Child Jesus (1873-1897), virgin and doctor of the Church.

Therese Martin, the little flower, was born in Alencon, France in 1873. Her parents are now canonised saints. They are Sts Louis Martin and Zelie Guerin. They were both canonised together in 2015. We see tremendous coming together of this Extraordinary Missionary Month and the life of St Therese of Lisieux who, with St Francis Xavier, remain universal patrons of the missions.

The seeds of the vocation of St Therese are often pinpointed to Pentecost 1883. The little girl Therese told of the tremendous grace of being healed of serious illness through the intercession of Our Lady of Victories.

She also felt a tremendous grace of intimate union with Christ in 1884 when she made her first Holy Communion.

From such a young age she always wanted to follow her sisters, Pauline and Marie, into Carmel Lisieux.

We know the famous story of her boldly imploring Pope Leo XIII face to face, when she joined the Diocese of Lisieux for a pilgrimage to Rome. Despite being only at the tender age of 15, papal permission was granted. She entered the monastery in Lisieux in 1883 and made her solemn profession on the 8th of September 1890.

But in all this she could see the Grace of God. This is surely a hallmark of Holiness. To see the important moments in one’s life as not being manufactured by human effort but as a gift from divine initiative which we call Grace.

In regard to her particular Charism in the Church, it always strikes me that St Therese’s Charism was of trusting God through moments of trial. This is seen in her poems, small theatrical performances, her spiritual experience condensed in the “Little Way of Spiritual Childhood” and also the way she accompanied her “missionary brothers” through her sacrifice and prayer intercession.

She always saw and continues to see a missionary vocation to be a “beating heart within the Church that is loved, loves and generates love”. Her autobiography after her death, “The Story of Her Soul” clearly illustrates this in hundreds of different ways.

Hers was a life of incessant prayer, meditation on the scriptures, sacramental life and community with her sisters.

Her dying and death also indicates the way that she was able to bring together holiness and missionary life.

On the 3rd of April 1896 the illness started in her body that led eventually to her death. Her words continued to be memorial in the last things that she said, “I am not dying, but entering into life”. She died on the 30th of September 1897 at the tender age of 24. Her last words were “My God, I love you”.

St Therese of Lisieux was canonised by Pius XI on the 17th of May 1925.

With St Francis Xavier in 1927 she became the universal Patroness of Missions. And then more recently, on the 19th of October 1997, she was made a Doctor of the Church by St John Paul II.

This brief outline of her life, which would be known so well by so many, does however require a reprising in this October Extraordinary Missionary Month.

Surely her great contribution was in the fusion together of the contemplative and the missionary active life that all of us share as Catholic Christians.

The holiness and trust that she so clearly exhibited in her life was always and inseparably linked to her desire for the salvation of all, “especially the poorest”. This desire was purely an extension of the Saint with a missionary heart.

From “The Story of Her Soul” we almost feel like we are eavesdropping on a most intimate sentiment of her spiritual life when she says, “I would want to preach on all the five continents simultaneously and even to the most remote islands. I would be a missionary, not for a few years only but from the beginning of creation until the consummation of the ages”.

A particular expression of St Therese of Lisieux which means something very important to me is when she proclaimed “You know Lord, that my only ambition is to make you known and loved”.

Surely, in this October Extraordinary Month of Missions, we can take this as a motto for our missionary life … to “make Jesus known and loved”.

It is a constant desire to go forth from our encounter with the Lord Jesus and into the world and to spread the perfume and fragrance of Christ to all that we come in contact with and to whom all we pray.

The letter of His Holiness Pope Francis for the Centenary of the Promulgation of the Apostolic Letter “Maximum Illud” on the Activity of Missionaries in the World helps us all to see how the missionary impulse of Therese of Lisieux continues in our own time.

To be a missionary, like St Therese of Lisieux, does not necessarily mean a geographical commitment, although this is a possibility. But there must always be commitment that we have, like St Therese, to become a missionary at heart. Pope Francis in his promulgation letter quotes St John Paul II’s statement to the Bishops of Oceania (that’s our area) in “all renewal in the Church must have mission as its goal if it is not to fall prey to introversion”.

Our dear Holy Father, Pope Francis, with whom the bishops of Australia spent an unforgettable two and a half hours in spontaneous dialogue in recent times at our Ad Limina visit, is always warning us against hiding behind a false shield of holiness that in fact hides all sorts of selfish motives.

In his promulgation letter he says, “May the approaching centenary of that letter serve as an incentive to combat the recurring temptation lurking beneath every form of ecclesial introversion, self-referential retreat into comfort zones, pastoral pessimism and sterile nostalgia for the past. Instead may we be open to the joyful newness of the Gospel”.

These words are extremely important as now the Australian Church is well and truly on its journey towards our Australian Plenary Council. We must place our ecclesial life before the searching and searing light of the risen Christ so that all that is not of the Lord, all the things that are shadowy and bind us to egoisms, are to be dispelled.

Let us entrust this Mass now to the Lord and invoke the patroness not only of St Therese of Lisieux, the Patroness of Missionaries, but also Our Lady Help of Christians, the Patroness of Australia.

St Therese of Lisieux pray for us.



 Readings Hab 1:2-3; 2:2-4  2 Tim 1:6-8, 13-14  Gospel Luke 17:5-10

 Today’s Readings offer us a beautiful teaching on the gift of faith.

Many things could be said about faith being God’s gift to us as a sign of His merciful grace. I would like to choose two aspects of this gift arising from my reflections on the Scriptures of today.

The first aspect: it seems to me there is a perplexing nature to faith.

In the First Reading, the faithful complain that if they are faith people why then does so much trouble come their way. We live in an instant society today; we want perfect answers to our questions immediately. This perhaps is something that we share today with the people in the Bible.

They complain, “How long, Lord, am I to cry for help while you will not listen; to cry Oppression! in your ear and you will not save?…Outrage and violence, this is all I see…discord flourishes.” God’s response is patient and deep. In the poetic nature of the Scriptures the answer of God is as follows, “If it comes slowly, wait, for come it will, without fail…but the upright will live by their faithfulness.”

God’s answer to our impatience is that we must wait for God’s good time.

I heard an expression recently that I think summarises this beautifully. The wise saying was, “God’s delays are not God’s denials.”

In our earnest response in faith, as we find God’s answers very perplexing, let us allow God to take the initiative and respond in His own time and in His own way.

A second aspect of faith is its sacrificial nature.

In the Gospel today we hear the Apostles say, “Increase our faith.” The answer of Jesus again is somewhat poetic and requires our deep pondering. He says, “Were your faith the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mulberry tree. Be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you.”

It seems to me that Jesus is saying, “You already have plenty of faith…even faith the size of a mustard seed is more than enough.”

So again, our impatience with God and almost annoyance with Him is all part of prayer but must give way ultimately to God’s initiative and a faith that acknowledges that God has our best long-term happiness in mind.

I am reminded of a lovely little story from the medieval mystic, St Teresa of Avila. This great mystic was riding her horse from one convent to another. The horse bolted and she fell into mud. Lying in the mud, she looked up to the Heavens and said to God, “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few!”

Let us learn from the great Spanish mystic Saint Teresa to have a sense of humour in what you and I call “God’s delays.”

The Second Reading from the second letter of St Paul to Timothy gives us some good practical advice. He tells us to “bear the hardships for the sake of the Good News, relying on the power of God.”

Catholics over the centuries have always turned to the Saints for help in understanding how to live out a life of faith.

It seems to me that in one way or the other they say two things about faith.

Firstly, faith begins by falling in love with Jesus – Allowing the love of Jesus to touch us deeply. In other words, to allow the love, kindness and mercy of Jesus to touch us in the deepest corner of our being. The expression “Falling in love” can sometimes be very sentimental in today’s world but there is a truth about this with regard to our relationship with Jesus. Once we are in a love relationship with the God of all love everything else seems to fall into line no matter how difficult it is.

Secondly, the Saints, in living out their faith, always find some project of practical charity to express this loving faith.

Another Saint with a similar name to St Teresa of Avila is St Therese of Lisieux. Were as Teresa lived in Spain, Therese Lisieux lived in the France in the 19th century in a little town just above Paris.

She is a very good example of someone falling in love with the Lord and finding practical projects of charity to express that love.

She died at the very early age of twenty-four of Tuberculosis. It was really only after her death and our reading of her spiritual journals that we realised this young woman had reached the highest state of sanctity.

St Therese of Lisieux says in her writings that her First Holy Communion was a time that she experienced deeply the love of Jesus in her heart. In her final years, she expressed her love in an even richer way. She said her only ambition was “to love Jesus and make him loved.” She saw herself as the “little flower” in the garden of the Lord. She never wanted to be anything more than a little flower, as distinct from some bigger flower. She wanted to do whatever she could to be a hopeful and joyful presence in the garden of the Lord. Before she died, she was able to express this love of God in wonderful ways marked with the sign of Holiness. She said, “I am not dying, I am entering eternal life.” Even her last words were “I love you oh my God.”

With regard to her practical apostolate of love, it was expressed through intercession. She never left her convent but is now seen as the patron of all missions throughout the world. This is because of her prayer intercession. She said to others “I will spend my eternity interceding for all on earth. I will be a missionary on five continents.”

We think of St Therese, not only because it was her Feast Day a few days ago, but also because Pope Francis has named this month of October the “extraordinary missionary month.”

So let us all think about how we can allow the love of God to come more fully into us and how we can express this in small practical ways of charity.

Let the last words come from the words of encouragement of St Paul to Timothy when he says, “You have been trusted to look after something precious; guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”



 Readings  2 Kings 5:14-172  Tim 2:8-13  Gospel Luke 17:11-19

 Today’s Readings continue the meditation over the last few weeks regarding faith.

In the Readings today we see good examples of “partial faith” and “full faith.”

Once again, our eyes turn to the Gospel from Luke. So much of this Gospel is about Jesus “on the way to Jerusalem” and the Gospel writes about the different encounters Jesus has along the way.

Today Jesus encounters ten lepers.

Already, even before meeting Jesus, they show “partial faith”. They hear of Jesus coming and without even encountering Him, they yell out to him asking for healing. They called saying, “Jesus! Master! Take pity on us.” Jesus finds this type of prayer irresistible. Jesus, the Merciful One, is always ready to answer our prayers particularly when they are heart felt and call upon his merciful healing.

Jesus seems to indicate that the healing has instantaneously taken place. He then tells them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” This was the protocol followed; people would go to the officials, get certification that they are no longer contagious and then return from isolation to the community life.

This is what sin does to us. It separates us from the community. Through the merciful forgiveness of Jesus, especially celebrated in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are restored to full unity and communion with the community.

The ten go on their way in obedience to Jesus’ instruction. One of them responds differently to the other nine.

Sensing he is cured, he returned to Jesus “praising God at the top of his voice and threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.” The Gospel then goes out of its way to let us know that this man is a Samaritan. Jews and Samaritan had nothing to do with each other, Jews considered Samaritans outcasts. Jesus breaks through all these cultural taboos and accepts the man’s praise and thanks.

Clearly, this healed Samaritan has reached “full faith” by throwing himself at the feet of Jesus. This is a physical acknowledgment of Jesus as the Saviour and the Lord. Jesus then asks the obvious question, “Were not all the ten made clean? The other nine, where are they?” Jesus then says to the man, “Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.” The man goes on his way fully at one with Jesus, not simply healed physically but also healed in his very being through the grace of God.

This wonderful encounter, foreshadowed in the healing of Naaman in the First Reading today, shows us the absolute importance of the prayer of praise and thanks.

As I have mentioned to you a few times before, Catholics are very good at the “asking prayer” (prayers of petition) but perhaps not so good on the “thanking and praising prayer”. Yet the “praising prayer” is the highest of all prayer. We praise God for simply being God.

We too stand at a point of being on the journey towards the fullness of faith. We are all a little like the Samaritan leper who finds himself blessed and healed by the Lord and then a decision is needed. Do we go along with everybody else and “take charge of our life?” or do we return to the Lord with all our hearts and praise and thank him.

In this Mass now let us focus on praise and thanks of God. After all, that is what the word, “Eucharist” means – to give thanks.

Maybe you would like to pause for a moment in silence, just think of the many blessings the Lord has given you. Begin to articulate these in your mind and allow the prayer of praise and thanks of God to well up in your heart. Your prayer joins with all of us now as we move towards the Eucharist.



Readings Exodus 17:8-132  Tim 3:14-4:2  Gospel Luke 18:1-8

 In this Extraordinary October Month of Missions, we continue our reflection on faith from the Gospel according to Luke.

In Luke’s Gospel today Jesus told his disciples a parable “about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.”

Weariness is foreshadowed in the First Reading from the Book of Exodus. Here Moses, with the people of God, is in the midst of a major battle. Whenever Moses’ has his arms raised, victory is won. However, when Moses becomes tired and his arms drop down, victory is lost and defeat fast approaches.

This reminded me of an experience I had some time ago while waiting in a busy shopping centre.

All of a sudden, I heard the screech of a child. As I looked over, I could see a small child clearly lost. His arms were covering his face and he was experiencing the vacuum that comes from being lost. Then victory happened! He saw his mother coming towards him. His arms went up just like a “little Moses.” Although still sobbing, he realised that he was no longer lost but found.

This surely is a story about our lives as Christians. Selfishness and sin tend to make us withdraw, cover our faces and drop our defences. Faith tells us that the victory is in Jesus Christ and with our arms raised high, like that little child, we are assured of victory in the embrace of Christ our merciful and loving father.

Indeed, in history this bodily posture of arms raised is an ancient way of prayer. I recall when I lived in Rome that my college was not far from the underground burial grounds of Christians in the Catacombs. In these ancient burial places, we can still see some faint outlines of paintings that the early Christians displayed on the cemetery walls. There are paintings of early celebrations of the Eucharist. One thing to note was that they all had their arms raised.

This is the Orante position of prayer. Liturgically it is still in use. You will see during the official liturgical prayers of the Mass that the Priest will pray with his arms outstretched. I notice that a number of Catholics in Australia from migrant backgrounds automatically do this. So clearly, this habit continues in other places of the world. There is nothing stopping us from doing that. You may wish to have your arms raised as we pray the “Our Father” later in the Mass.

Now returning to the Gospel. We have the theme of praying always without becoming weary showcased in a lovely parable. Jesus tells the parable of a selfish judge who is trying to have some peace and quiet at home. However, there is a persistent widow knocking at his door unrelentingly looking for justice. In the end, the selfish judge gives in and helps her. He says, “Because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.”

Jesus makes a contrasting point. How much more would the selfless loving Father help those in dire trouble and calling on His mercy.

I was reflecting on this parable during the week. It would be interesting if we were to change places with the widow and the judge. For instance, if we see ourselves inside the house and with Jesus outside knocking on the door then the parable may have a different resonance.

We do not often think of Jesus so actively involved in trying to come into our lives, but He surely does.

Last Sunday we recalled the new English Saint, St John Henry Newman. I also thought during the week of a famous English Christian painter of the 19th Century, Holman Hunt.

He painted the very famous “The Light of the World.”

You would have seen this painting perhaps without knowing its name. It depicts Jesus knocking on the door of a house that clearly has not been opened for a long time. Jesus is holding a lantern. It is almost dawn. It portrays how Jesus knocks at our hearts wanting us to open up to allow His merciful love to enter.

Another Englishman, a poet called John Donne of the 16th Century, composed a beautiful sonnet on a similar theme. It is almost as if the person in this sonnet wants God to use force to come into his life.

A few opening lines of the famous Holy sonnet No.14, composed in 1633, says –

“Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you as yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend…overthrow me…break, blow, burn, and make me new…Take me to you, imprison me, for I, except you enthral me, never shall be free…except you ravish me.”

That is quite a poem! What an extraordinary expression! He asks God to enthral and ravish him.

This is surely a very beautiful prayer indeed. God is never passive to our needs. God is always there knocking on the door of our heart. Let us remember this as we continue the Mass, knowing that the Lord is not aloof to us but prays in us and is ready to respond to our every need both now and in the week to come.


Readings  Ecclesiasticus 35:12-14, 16-19  2 Tim 4:6-8, 16:18  Gospel Luke 18:9-14

 Welcome everybody on this beautiful spring day here at Galong Monastery were we celebrate the Extraordinary Mission Month of October on our Marian Mass and Procession Day.

The Church has produced some extraordinary missionaries over the centuries, but perhaps none as saintly as Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and Saint Paul.

In today’s Second Reading St Paul, the great evangelist of Christianity is reflecting on his life. Clearly, his life is in its twilight. He is writing this letter from prison. He says, “My life is already being poured away as a libation, and the time has come for me to be gone.”

There is an extraordinary humility in this great man. He reviews his life with all its sinfulness yet all it is incredible grace.  With great modesty, he gives all the glory to God.

A few days ago, I celebrated a weekday Mass in a Canberra parish. The Parish Priest was on holidays and the Parish had some difficulty in finding a Priest to take his place for this Mass. I was happy to be able to oblige.

After the Mass, I joined the Parishioners for morning tea. There were about ten of us. Looking around the table, I could see that I was the youngest person in this gathering! They were delighted to be with me and I was delighted to be with them. Soon after our morning tea began, I could see that we had a practical problem. People were talking over the top of one another. They almost all seemed to have a hearing problem. On one level, it was quite humorous. They seemed to be getting a little irritated with each other when their sentence was interrupted in full stream and a new topic all together began from the other end of the table. Sensing the tension, I decided to respond.

I said, “Can I tell you a little humorous story?” The story went as follows.

“An elderly man went to the doctor for a health check-up. At the end of the check-up, the doctor advised him that he was in reasonable health given his age and enquired if there were any other issues that he wanted to discuss. He confided in the doctor that he was very concerned about his elderly wife. He felt that his wife was losing her hearing. She would not admit this and refused to go to a doctor for a check-up.

The general practitioner gave the man a simple test that he could use on his wife when he got home.

When he went home, he did exactly as the doctor suggested. His wife was at the kitchen sink preparing the evening meal. She had her back to him as he entered the kitchen. He said from the kitchen door “My dear, what are we having for the meal tonight?” No reply from the wife. He did what the doctor said. He walked two steps forward and asked the same question, no response. He walked two steps forward again and asked the question a third time, again no response. He was starting to think that her hearing problem was more serious than he had first thought. He then did as the doctor suggested and when right up behind her and talked almost directly into her ear and said for a fourth time, “My dear what are we having for the meal tonight?”

She then responded quite firmly. She said, “Oh, for goodness sake Jack, for the fourth time, we’re having fish and chips!”

Who had the hearing problem?

Fortunately everybody in the little group laughed. They said, “Oh Bishop that joke is very close to the bone.”

From this wonderful group of very dedicated elderly Catholics, one man came up with an extraordinarily wise statement.

He said, “Well Archbishop, we may have a hearing problem, but we most certainly have a listening problem.”

This response demands some further reflection. It reminds me of what Pope Francis is continually telling us. He says that there is an enormous difference between hearing and listening.

In the First Reading today we are told of the Lord’s ways. We are told, “The Lord listens to the plea of the injured party.”

God is the great listener. This is quite different from God simply hearing us.

When we listen to God and we listen to one another, we are open to conversion. We are open so that what we are hearing can actually change our hearts. In listening, we are brought closer to the Lord and closer to each other in loving merciful compassion.

This is exactly what the challenge of the Plenary Council in Australia is facing now. The key question is, as we are now moving well and truly into the Plenary Council of Australia: “Are we truly listening?” When we listen to each other it is ultimately and exercise in humility. By “humility”, I mean that we are open to change, open to put aside all arrogance and hobbyhorses of our own and listen to the whisper of the Spirit within the gathered people of God.

In the Gospel today Jesus tells a parable of those “who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else.” It is a little like last Sunday’s Gospel detailing different approaches to God, one arrogant and one humble. Jesus makes abundantly clear to which side God is truly listening. It is to the one who beats his breast and says, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” The lesson of this story is in the last sentence when Jesus says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Here we now find ourselves listening to God in this beautiful outdoor Mass at the Galong Monastery. We do this on this day when we call down the blessings of Mary upon us and call on her intercession as we go with her to Jesus.

In Mary, we find a woman of faith who truly listens to all that God asks of her. She is an extraordinary missionary disciple because she has and extraordinary listening capacity to allow God to mould her and to move her, even into using her womb to become the mother of the Saviour.

As we rededicate the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary let us particularly recall the three words that have been given to us by the soon to be Saint Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyễn Văn Thuận.

This is the former Archbishop of Saigon imprisoned for over 13 years, many of those years in solitary confinement. He does have links with this Archdiocese because some of his family members live here.

From his prison cell, his listening heart said that the three words we must remember with regard to our devotion to Mary are the following three Latin words. I offer them to you all as a gift today. The first Latin word is ECCE – Behold the handmade of the Lord” (Luke 1-38). Mary is so open to whatever God wants.

The next Latin word is FIAT – “Let what you have said be done to me” (Luke 1-38). This is Mary’s big “Yes” to whatever God wants. Whatever God wants she wants. She is the real listener with her heart open to conversion.

The third Latin word is MAGNIFICAT – “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Luke 1-46). Mary never draws attention to herself but draws attention to her Son and tells us all, as she did at the wedding feast at Cana, “Do whatever He tells you”.

Let these three words be words that we take home as a gift from our gathering today – ECCE, FIAT, MAGNIFICAT. Let the great missionary of the ages – Mary the Mother of God and the mother of the Church, along with St Paul, always lead us to Jesus our Eucharistic Lord and Saviour.