Homily – June 2019
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
We can all learn so much from young people. Their openness to God and to the Holy Spirit is more apparent than we think.
I’ve been learning quite a lot from the young adult apostolate in the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn over these months. They have given me three words, which, in their opinion summarises what Christian Catholicism is all about. I think there are three wonderful words which I wanted to share with you during this Confirmation Mass today.
There are three “B’s” in these words.
The first “B” is B for belong.
Becoming a Christian means that we belong to a community of believers, of faith. This is sacramentalised in a particular way in the Sacrament of Baptism. Here we belong to the community of faith. We become members of the Body of Christ. We enter into the family of the Catholic Church.
Let’s reflect on this for a moment. We are in a most atomised world. It’s all about “me”, it’s all about “I”. You only have to listen to the commercials on the television or radio to pick up key words, “me”, I, my choice”. This is very different for us in Christianity.
Our key words are “we, ours, discerning choices together under the influences of the Holy Spirit”. The transition from the “I to the we” and from the “me to the ours” must be quite intentional and deliberate. This is what Baptism is about.
In the early Church it was very rare to be baptising little children as we do today. They would wait until a person becomes an adult, and after three or four years of intensive preparation would then consider the possibility of Baptism. Over history, for all sorts of good reasons (e.g. high infant mortality), the Church allowed the Baptism of babies on one condition. That condition was that the parents and sponsors or godparents of the child would take their Catholic faith very seriously and educate their child in the faith, and the practice of the faith as the child grew.
One of our big problems in evangelisation today is that this transmission linkage is weak. Too often Baptism becomes a cultural rite rather than an entrance into the encounter with Christ, the life in His Church which is ongoing and quite dynamic, rather than static. The Catholic Church is not some sort of club or membership of a museum of great historical importance. It is the living breathing family of God, the communion of the Holy Spirit, God’s house, the body of Christ.
So let’s take this B for belonging very seriously as the children now complete their Baptism in the Sacrament of Confirmation, and be sent out as missionary disciples in our beloved Church.
The second “B” is b for believe.
Every time we come to Mass on a Sunday we recite prayerfully the Creed. It is a set of beliefs that articulate certain values and certain Christian principles and doctrines that are everlasting in the Catholic Church. We do believe in God, who is the Father of us all, and creator of heaven and earth. We do believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son Our Lord. Jesus whose life, death and resurrection are the centre point of Christianity. We do believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord the giver of life, who with the Father and the Son form the Trinity – God’s life amongst us.
These beliefs are not subjective or individual choices. They are the centrepiece of Catholic community’s articulation of the treasury of Christ amongst us over 2,000 years.
In particular, we believe that the bread and wine become, during the Mass, the body and blood of Jesus. We do believe that the Scriptures, the Word of God, is not just simply a book of significance to be read out occasionally. The Scriptures are the living Word of God. They are the “dynamite” of God. They do what they proclaim. They proclaim the presence of Christ amongst us, and the practical charity that all of us in justice, mercy and love, commit ourselves in our present world challenges.
Our belief is celebrated in the Mass. The Eucharist is not something that we occasionally drop into it at Christmas or Easter time only. It is something that we elect to do on a weekly basis. We are all members of a family. How often does your family need to be in touch with each other to remain family? Catholics say we need to gather together about once a week. This is our weekly Eucharist.
The third “B” is b for become.
This is where the Sacrament of Confirmation comes in. What we are doing today is not simply some sort of cultural rite that we offer to our children simply because we ourselves have been confirmed. It is far greater than that. Its where we are “sealed with the Holy Spirit.” Its where we are sent out as missionary disciples in the world of today. Its just not a present reality but it’s a reality for the rest of our life. As the children grow up and take on leadership and extra academic work and then an occupation, they are always to see in this day, their Confirmation, their true vocation to be the presence of Christ in the world. This is not simply some sentimental or occasional gesture of kindness. Its really quite tough love. Its being Jesus crucified on the Cross in the world of today. Christianity at this moment in the world is one of the most persecuted religions on earth. We need to have strong missionary disciples to be able to enter into the world and perfume it with the light and the fragrance of Christ. Only then will true humanity be able to blossom forth.
So there are the three “B’s” of Confirmation……. Belong, believe, become.
I hope you memorise these three words, remember them for the rest of your life, dear children. They will constitute a sure compass for you in the great challenges that await you. Be aware that we walk with you and we look forward to your continued contribution with us all as witnesses to the resurrection in our world today.
God bless you all as we now continue our Mass by renewing our Baptismal promises.
ORDINATION TO THE DIACONATE OF CYPRIAN ONUORAH
DIOCESE OF WAGGA WAGGA
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
FRIDAY 7 JUNE 2019
ST MICHAEL’S CATHEDRAL
Readings Acts 6:1-7 1 Peter 4: 7-11 Matthew 20:25-28
We welcome our dear brother Cyprian to his Ordination Mass to the Diaconate. We think particularly of his parents Cyprian and Mary and his four brothers and sisters in Nigeria. I know that they will be with us in prayer as we ordain their dear son and brother to the Diaconate. We thank them so much for the Christian family that has been the nurturing womb in which Cyprian’s vocation has blossomed.
The First Reading tonight from the Acts of the Apostles considers the biblical origins of what we now call the Diaconate.
The primary pastoral need, as articulated in Acts 6, was to give the greatest attention to the proclamation to the Word of God, to the prayers and to the service of the Word.
But a necessary pastoral need was also to give food to the needy (especially the widows). Therefore the early Church chose others to assist the Apostles in this service. In Acts, the description about who was to be selected for this task was immensely clear. They were to be full of faith and the Holy Spirit.
We see in our brother Cyprian, a young man 2,000 years later, also full of faith and the Holy Spirit.
The Second Reading from 1 Peter indicates that God’s choice is always a choice made in grace…“a special grace”, which leads, in surrender, to service of others.
In the Diaconate this surrender is co-discerned by the Church over a long time during the years in the Seminary.
In his very recent apostolic exaltation, Pope Francis in his document Christus Vivit (291-297) talks about three kinds of sensitivities in discerning a vocation.
The first sensitivity is that there must be careful listening to the Holy Spirit by all the community and especially the one felt called by God to Ministry. It is not simply hearing but a deep inner listening.
The second sensitivity is to discern with the Church that which is of God and that which is not of God; that which is good and that which is evil. Not all promptings are necessarily promptings of the Holy Spirit. It takes a long time for us to see precisely the foot print of God in our deepest feelings and thoughts.
The third sensitivity that Pope Francis mentions in regard to Priestly vocations is, “What is most pleasing to the Lord?” This is an even deeper listening to see what God is doing in our life.
From these three sensitivities we can discern the special grace of a vocation. I certainly encourage anybody here tonight who is perhaps thinking of a vocation to the Priesthood or Religious life to think seriously about these three sensitivities of Christus Vivit.
The Gospel tonight informs us again that leadership is all about service. The Gospel reminds us that some people come forward and want to “Lord it over others” or “Make their authority felt.” Jesus is adamant that such arrogant thoughts should be put aside. He says quite bluntly, “This is not to happen to you!”
When we take our eyes off the Lord and when we see a Religious vocation other than in the service of God’s people, we are sure to be on a dead-end street.
Indeed doing such can lead us into the very troubling sin of clericalism, which is spoken of a lot these days.
In clericalism, clergy feel superior to others because of their office or rank. They start to say that they are first rather that the least. The power is not power to serve but power for their ego. They start to separate themselves from those that they serve. They become self-sufficient and controlling.
As Jesus said…”This is not to happen to you!”
Pope Francis in a beautiful Homily, when he visited the clergy, religious and parish leaders in Assisi on the 4th of October 2013, talked about a tri-dimensional understanding of Christian leadership.
He talked first of all of a leadership that is to lead from the front. They are to offer a vision and a way forward for the people entrusted to them.
Secondly, the leader is to give leadership from the middle. The biblical chief motif of this is the sheep and the shepherd. This motif is often lost in Australia where on our farms there are thousands of sheep rather than four or five. Perhaps a better image for us is to see leadership like the drover’s dog. The drover’s dog, trying to gather together in unity thousands of sheep, somehow or other moves towards the middle of the flock and can often be seen standing on the backs of the sheep to look for those who are straggling. He then tries to bring them all in together. This is a kind of Aussie interpretation of a biblical motif!
Thirdly, there is leadership from the back. The Christian leader must always give great attention to ones who are struggling. In the well-known expression of Pope Francis, “Those who are on the periphery.”
Dear Cyprian and all of us, let us think seriously about the Gospel teaching on leadership as service. Let us always keep our eyes on the Lord who purifies us from anything that is not worthy of the Good Shepherd who lays his life down for his sheep.
So now let us continue on with the Diaconate Ordination. Cyprian know that we are walking with you. Please God, maybe in the times ahead, we will regather for your ordination to the Priesthood. In the meantime and in future times please try to live up to your name…Onuorah. You told me that your surname means, “The mouth that speaks on behalf of the community.” May not only your words but also your actions always speak on behalf of the Body of Christ, the People of God, to whom you now commit yourself in this Sacrament of Ordination.
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
SUNDAY, 9 JUNE 2019
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL
PENTECOST SUNDAY (YEAR C)
Readings Acts 2: 1-11 Rom 8: 8-17 Gospel John 14: 15-16, 23-26
I received a telephone call this morning from a friend. He wanted to wish me a very happy birthday. I was somewhat irritated by this. Being a good friend, he should have known my birthday is at the end of the year. When I questioned him about this he said, “But it’s OUR birthday!” That is true. Today is Pentecost Sunday, the birth of the Church. It is the moment the Holy Spirit came to fill the Apostles and the early Church with the promised Lord and giver of life, the third person of the Blessed Trinity, the Holy Spirit.
The word “Pentecost” comes from the Jewish feast of the Harvest Festival. It is fifty days since the Passover. Now is the time to gather and celebrate the harvest. In the Northern Hemisphere, it is the beginning of summer as it is the beginning of winter for us. The Christian Church, in a sense, “Baptised” this agrarian festival into the festival of the Holy Spirit were the gifts and the fruits of the Holy Spirit are harvested and used for the service of the Church in its essential role of evangelisation in the world.
We have a beautiful description of the Holy Spirit from the sequence of today’s Mass just prior to the Gospel. In this ancient Hymn, which dates back to the 12th Century, we sang “Holy Spirit, Lord of light, from thy clear celestial height, thy pure beaming radiance give.”
What a beautiful word…Radiance! Those filled with the Holy Spirit are to radiate the light and the love of Christ to the world.
I wish to make two observations about this wonderful solemnity of the Catholic Church.
The first, from today’s First Reading we learn of what happened at this first Pentecost. From the Acts of the Apostles we see that there was a powerful wind, tongues of fire and the early Church filled with the Holy Spirit. They went out immediately preaching the Word of God and were understood speaking, in a common language to all the peoples, of the marvels of God. This is in complete contrast to the disunity of the man-made type of Pentecost at the tower of Babel in the Book of Genesis.
The tongues of fire that come upon their heads indicate that the light of the Holy Spirit surrounded them.
This image has been with us over the centuries. Mainly coming from the Eastern Catholic Church, we in the West are accustomed to the halos above the heads of Saints. For instance just look at the stained glass windows in the Cathedral this morning. You will see each one of them has light surrounding their head, which we call the halo.
Because we too have been Baptised, Confirmed and received the Eucharist, we are fully initiated into the Church. It is not as if we are canonised Saints, but the light of Christ surrounds us too. Think of it almost as if we walk in a type a light cocoon or light bubble. Although we live in a very challenging and irritable culture here in Australia, nothing can take away the gifts of the Holy Spirit that God has given us. We have dignity and a radiance beyond all compare because Christ is not only in us but surrounds us.
So, as the day goes on, just think of yourself surrounded by the light of the presence of the Holy Spirit and live in that light and live in that faith. Do not live in fear but in the living trust of God who protects us from all harm. This does not mean he removes us from difficulties but he gives us a joy and a light in the darkness that so easily surrounds us in troubled times.
The second observation I wish to make is about who was there at the first Pentecost. In the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we have a full listing of the eleven Apostles who were there and it includes, “Mary, the mother of Jesus.”
I have sometimes thought that when Mary received Pentecost with the men and women of the early Church on this first Pentecost day, she may have said to herself, “I have been here before!”
In a sense, it was Mary’s second Pentecost. Her first Pentecost was when she said “yes” at the annunciation to become the mother of God. The Scriptures tell us of her being surrounded by the Holy Spirit and that she immediately went to visit her cousin Elizabeth and prayed the Magnificat. How could anybody pray the “Magnificat” without being filled with the Holy Spirit!
Her first Pentecost was when she became the mother of Jesus. This second Pentecost was when she became the mother of the Church.
Let us always take comfort walking the journey of life in the companionship of Mary. She always leads us to Jesus. She always gives birth to Jesus in our daily life. She also gives her motherly protective care to the Church, the body of Christ, her son. Let us find protection in her mantel of light and trust as she takes us to her son Jesus our Lord and Saviour.
Let us now pause for a moment in silence and allow the presence of Jesus, with the radiance of his Heavenly light, and his mother Mary to come down and surround us as we continue our Mass.
ARBHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
AUSTRALIAN BISHOPS; AD LIMINA APOSTOLORUM
THURSDAY 27 JUNE 2019
ST PETER CHANEL CHAPEL
DOMUS AUSTRALIA, ROME
Readings: Genesis 16/1-12, 15-16; Matthew 7/21-29
In this morning’s first Reading from Genesis, Abraham and his wife, Sarah, attempt to respond to a major crisis in their marriage which is still common today: that is, infertility.
Without entering into the ethics of Sarah’s strategy, and taken with Abraham’s somewhat reluctant acceptance, Sarah’s Egyptian slave-girl, Hagar, is seconded to bear a child from Abraham.
Once Hagar conceived, huge jealously and distaste grew in Sarah’s heart. Hagar fled.
Hiding near a spring in the desert an angel of the Lord appeared to the gloomy Hagar and asked her a crucial question: “Where have you come from…and where are you going?”
In the midst of our own seemingly spiritual infertilities in Australia, we bishops too believe the Holy Spirit is asking the Church in Australia the same question, although from a totally different cultural context: “Where have you come from…and where are you going?” What is God doing to the Church in Australia?
When you line up Australians with other nationalities we generally feel we are quite a pragmatic people – a people who ask “What are you doing?”, more than “Who are you…what have you become? A “doing” more than a “being” people.
This is all well and good. We have built Australia into a place with a lifestyle and standard of living that is the envy of the world. “They do things well” people say of us.
Tragically however, serious problems like euthanasia, mental illness, homelessness, the health of our Aboriginal First Peoples, and so on point to a soulless nation in search of meaning and purpose. We don’t really know who we want to be.
The Gospel today from Matthew shouts out that those who do not attend to these deeper realities of life are heading for a calamitous future.
Those that do not listen to the conversion call of the kingdom of God are like the stupid who build their houses on sand. The structure cannot withstand the rain, floods and gales of life.
Yet, those who listen and act on the word of God are sensible and will prevail.
So the key to maturity starts with listening and then acting.
As Bishops, and so many of our people so far in the Plenary Council journey, have involved ourselves in much listening in these months – especially for us last week in Ariccia. It has brought us together in deeper bonds of fraternity at most unexpected depths. There has been much “solace in the midst of woe” for us Bishops, as the recent Sequence from Pentecost has expressed for us.
As we met in Ariccia last week an international youth colloquium was taking place in the Vatican. They were considering what impact “Christus Vivit” is having around the world. There were a few youth from Australia there too. They were at our Mass last Sunday in this chapel.
At the end of Christus Vivit there is a section regarding vocation in life. It caught my eye. It was all about true listening. I think it could be easily applied to communal discernment – something we are all involved in at new depths in our Plenary synodal journey at present.
In this document, Pope Francis writes of three types of sensitivities we all need to cultivate as we attempt to listen to the Holy Spirit deep within.
The first sensitivity is to listen to each other’s faith stories rather than simply hearing.
The second sensitivity is to attempt to discern what is of God and what is not.
We are doing this already, aren’t we?
It was the third sensitivity that is the real challenge. It is to truly listen to the heartbeat of God within. Pope Francis calls this a listening to “what is most pleasing to the Lord”.
Lest all this sounds rather academic, I thought we all witnessed this so subtly just last Monday morning in our unforgettable time with Pope Francis. It was just one simple little thing but it shouted out in my heart when we saw it happen about three times. It was an image that was surely “truly pleasing to the Lord.”
It was Pope Francis taking his simple plastic bottle of water and pouring it into not his own glass but the glass of his hardworking translator. It was done so naturally almost unreflexively, he was “truly listening” and acting to the reality of the present moment. It was a saving gesture coming from a house built on rock/Petrus/Peter by Peter’s successor. The Pope was giving us a subtle example of what missionary discipleship and closeness to each other really means. What a beautiful gift of the Holy Spirit he gives us. So simple. So profound. True listening.
This Australian chapel bears the name of the martyr of Oceania, St Peter Chanel (1804 – 1841). This French Marist listened to the Holy Spirit in his heart and left his comfort zones of Europe and participated in the surprisingly late first evangelisation of our part of the world. To a certain degree this was done incompletely and still is a kerygmatic work in its first bloom – in our time – still awaiting a systematic outreach.
But the blood spilled by St Peter Chanel on the Island of Futuna offers us all a fertile soil for us in the future evangelisation of all Oceania including Australia.
May I conclude by offering you all again the miraculous Australian story that we all heard and celebrated in that great watershed moment for our youth apostolate in Australia – World Youth Day, Sydney 2008.
The agent for evangelisation here was unexpected and, like Pope Francis, so simple – it was Marjorie Liddy, the recently deceased Aboriginal elder from the Tiwi Islands.
There she was with her son fishing at sunset. Once night set in – all the brilliant stars came out. She and her son, sensing something special was happening both looked into the sky. When Marjorie told me this personally some years ago, her face became radiant. Clearly, she was recounting to me what she considered, and I am now sure it was, an apparition.
The stars seemed to dance. Her son said to her, “look mum”, as he pointed to a most unusual star formation, “It looks like bird.” “No son”, replied Marjorie, “it is the Holy Spirit”, this image eventually became the symbol of WYD Sydney 2008.
But the important point is this. Marjorie listened, discerned and declared what was truly pleasing to the Lord that what they were witnessing was not a bird but the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life.
As too many Australian people now look to the Catholic Church and say “It’s a bird”. We beg to differ with the prophetic leadership of our Aboriginal people we say “No, sons and daughters of Australia, She is the Body of Christ, the community of the Holy Spirit, in all her woundedness and fragility but, like the Southern Cross in our skies, the presence of Christ crucified and risen resplendent in our hearts.”
“Holy Spirit Lord of Life from the clear celestial height, Thy pure radiance give.”
Our Lady of the Southern Cross, Pray for Us. Amen