Homily – April 2020

5 APRIL 2020

 Readings  Isaiah 50: 4-7  Philippians 2: 6-11  Gospel Matthew 27: 11-54

We have just heard proclaimed the Saving Gospel of the constancy of God’s Love, Forgiveness and Hope in the midst of human fickleness and inconstancy.

In the Gospel Passion today, from Matthew, we hear of the crowds yelling out Hosanna! Hosanna! A few days later the crowds are yelling out Crucify him! Crucify Him! Here is the inconstancy and fickleness of the crowds.

Then, particularly in Matthew’s Gospel, we hear of the inconstancy of the Disciples at this crucial moment in the Lord’s Ministry. We hear of the betrayals and denials of Judas and Peter.

In the midst of all this is God’s unfailing constancy. He comes towards us, as mentioned in the Responsorial Psalm, “The Lord comes to my help.”

It is a saving message in the midst of our human fickleness that we too can resonate with in the midst of this Covid-19 Pandemic.

Pope Francis echoed these sentiments beautifully last Friday on the Solemnity of the Annunciation.

Pope Francis said that this time was not God’s Judgment on us but our judgement on ourselves. He called it a “time of choosing.” The choosing of our own self-sufficiency or our choosing of trust and hope in God alone.

The invitation to our Holy Week this year is like no other. As always, it is a time of deep conversion for us. However, in our present situation it is a particular time to move away from isolation and have an encounter with God, others and the world. It is a time where fear and anxiety become hope. It is a time when old routines, producing boredom, become new routines producing inner peace and practical charity to those most in need.

I ask you all to join me in your homes this Holy Week, starting in the deep pool of the Lord’s Pascal (Easter) Mystery accomplished out of love for us.The summary of all this saving action is in the Second Reading today from Philippians, chapter two. Here we once again hear how God “emptied Himself” for the sake of us all.

This time it is not in the catacombs of the early Church because of persecution but we celebrate this Holy Week in the online world of today necessitated by the current Coronavirus Pandemic.

Finally, my prayer is as we participate in Holy Week this week without congregations but via online platforms, all of us might become more and more truly a people of hope. This is what the world really needs now. Hope…Hope!

To reinforce this I would like to offer you finally a little acronym to indicate how our homes can become places of Easter Joy.

The word is H.O.P.E. This stands for Homes of Pascal Encounter = HOPE.

This is my prayer for us all over this Holy Week that our lounge rooms, our places of gathering as family and loved ones in our “stay at home world”, that all these places become homes of Pascal Encounter. For this we pray. Amen!

11am, 7TH APRIL 2020

READINGS: ISAIAH 61/1-3,6,8-9;  APOC.1/5-8;  LUKE 4/16-21

At the conclusion of last Sunday’s PALM SUNDAY Mass I offered a little acronym for this Holy Week celebrated in our homes in the midst of the global pandemic. It was H.O.P.E… I explained that it meant HOMES OF PASCHAL ENCOUNTER. From the demand to “stay home”, our homes this year are to become particular centres of Easter encounter.

If there is ever a word the world need at the moment it is HOPE.

This Chrism Mass is normally celebrated by the Bishop joined by his entire presbyterate. But this is no normal time. The priests both from the Archdiocese of Canberra Goulburn and the Diocese of Wagga Wagga join me online together to renew our priestly vows and bless the holy oils to be used in the sacraments over the next year.

The oils here to be blessed are in themselves symbols of hope.

The Oil for the Catechumens and the Oil of the Sacred Chrism will be blessed shortly but, unless in a moment of danger of death, will not be used for baptisms, confirmations and ordinations until after the pandemic subsides. But we have every hope they will be used in the months ahead.

There was the possibility of transferring this Chrism Mass to later in the year when COVID 19 no longer threatened our health. But, talking to a number of priests, we all felt it was better to go ahead, albeit online. There was the hope that the particular blessing of the Oil for the Sick, would give our people fresh hope at this terrible time. It would be seen that their priests were readying themselves to celebrate the Sacrament of the Sick with them in the uncertain times ahead.

This pastoral impulse gives particular expression to the Gospel today where Jesus, at the start of his public ministry, reprises and realises in himself the hope of the prophet Isaiah in the First Reading that the awaited messiah would be the one “to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and the to be blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free.” God would “comfort all those who mourn and to give them for ashes a garland: for mourning robe the oil of gladness, for despondency, praise.” What a proclamation of hope! Just what we all need from the Lord right now!

It is the priests who are particular stewards of these mysteries of hope. They live this out particularly as the ones who administer the sacraments of hope and healing symbolised in the oils now to be blessed.

Let us reflect for a moment on priests in our world today, especially those gathered online from the two dioceses.

To say that to live out the priesthood in Australia today is a challenge is a gross understatement.

There is the continuing shame and humiliation of all that the sex abuse scourge represents. There is the continuing pain of the courageous victims of criminal acts of so many, including the clergy. Also, the issues surrounding Cardinal Pell’s incarceration seem to never end.

Then there has been this year that is still young: the bushfires, drought, smoke, hailstones and floods, and now the pandemic! Despite what terminology others may use, priests are offering their people heroic and essential pastoral services in these bleakest of times. I have been continually uplifted by the sheer courage and pastoral creativity of so many priests from both dioceses that I have personally witnessed.

And even now their priestly routines have been severely impacted upon.

One of the most difficult days I have ever experienced since becoming a bishop was to recently instruct all priests in both dioceses to stop gathering their people in their Churches. Not only that, I instructed them to go and lock their Churches to insure that such gatherings could not take place.

Yet, again, I have seen priests in recent days instilling confidence in their people to gather online and to look out for those most affected by these necessary health and government regulations. This will continue for the immediate future.

I am encouraging priests to use every pastoral creative skill they can muster to rise up to the challenge of the moment and stand alongside their people, especially the frail and weak. They are to do what priests always do, albeit in new circumstances: to make known and loved Jesus “the Alpha and Omega … who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty”.

Finally, we are never alone in our difficulties. Jesus, the High Priest and Victim, always walks alongside us. Alongside Jesus is his Mother, Mary, and all the saints and angels. Alongside them are all those “who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and rest in peace”. Speaking to you from the crypt of St Christopher’s Cathedral, Canberra, I am sure my predecessors buried here awaiting the fullness of the Resurrection in hope, are also praying for us.

One day, please God, I will join them in this crypt. And there will be other world and local crises to respond to in the future. But for the time being, this is our time and our moment to take up the baton and run in the race towards the victory already won and celebrated in this Holy Week once again: Jesus Christ, Risen from the dead, our “hope and glory”

3pm, 10TH April 2020

ISAIAH 52/13-53:12;  HEBREWS 4/14-16, 5/7-9;  JOHN 18/1-19,42

In the Passion according to St John just proclaimed, one of the most venomous lines in the whole of the Gospels is surely the following uttered by the crowd: “Take him away, take him away, crucify him!” I have often wondered if any of this fickle crowd were also part of the crowd who a few days before on Palm Sunday were cheering Jesus with palm branches shouting: “Hosanna, Hosanna to the Son of David.”

First of all I need to explain the significance of palm branches. In the cultures of antiquity, palms signified victory and immortality. So when I see crucifixes and palms combined together, an important theological statement is being made: that the crucifixion of Jesus was the victory of God over even death itself. I could almost imagine at the bottom of such a palmed crucifix the words of Jesus could be: “Defeated I am victorious”.

So when on Palm Sunday they waved palm branches at Jesus they symbolised their hopes that Jesus would be the victorious King who would politically set them free. But the victory of Jesus in his death was not of a military kind – it was a victory of love over hate and hope over despair.

The challenge of life is to hand the palm branch of my life over to Jesus. I am not the victorious king over life, only Jesus is. This takes conversion and humility. There can be no arrogance or vanity.

In regard to this, one of the principles of the Christian spiritual life is often overlooked, even by the most pious of individuals.

That is, you do not start your prayer life by telling God all about your great success stories. Too many try to impress God with the stories of how they helped others in their needs, or how they have been so good on devoting certain times for daily prayer. All such examples are all well and good but they are not where encounter with Jesus begins.

Christian prayer begins when you do not tell God about your triumphs and trophies. True prayer begins when we start with our tears and tragedies.

That is why we need Good Friday.

We start with our calvaries, just like Jesus. His suffering and death begins our journey encounter with the all merciful God. Uniting our sufferings with the sufferings and death of Jesus is the pathway to God’s loving embrace.

We all struggle with this. Even on the first Calvary Jesus was left alone, apart from his Mother, Mary, St John and Magdalen and a few others. Everyone else had fled. It was all failure and weakness. It was all shame and humiliation. Too many wanted a Messiah who did not have to suffer. Someone who was a big success politically or in a military way.

After two thousand years of salvation history in Jesus, we still do the same. In a competitive and success driven world, we do not know what to do with our brokenness and vulnerabilities. We lack the humility of Jesus to take all the sins of the world and nail them to the Cross.

The initiative to do this is entirely God’s. We think it is entirely by our own efforts. We play God. And when humans play God they always fail. Look at the first 11 chapters of the Book of Genesis. Surrender is needed not vanity and arrogance.

Surrender is not a word a competitive society like Australia is comfortable with. “Only losers surrender”, people might say. But no one wants to be a loser.

Surely a loser might be a person who gives up without any hope. But his type of surrender deepens human dignity and is full of hope. It is trustfully placing our lives into the life of Jesus in his death and resurrection.

It is imitating Jesus in his great act of surrender into the loving and merciful arms of his Father in heaven. “If we die with the Lord we will rise with the Lord”, shouts the Gospels. It is an act of humility and inner strength when we place our weaknesses into the weakness of Jesus on the Good Friday Cross and then wait in hope for the Resurrection that will surely dawn on us.

Recently a priest was reminiscing on his First Mass as a priest. He recalled the homily given by a wise older priest. The priest wondered out loud not whether the newly ordained was strong enough to be a priest. He wondered if he was weak enough to be a priest in the image of Jesus.

The image of Jesus on this Good Friday in the middle of a global pandemic is of a naked and crucified Christ whose dying words in John’s Gospel are: “I thirst”.

The crucified Christ thirsts for our wounds and our deepest hurts and weaknesses. He wants to unite them to his sacrifice on the Cross.

The Letter to the Hebrews encourages us: “Let us be confident then …..that we will have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help.”

In this time of locked Churches, isolated in our homes, ordered not to leave our neighbourhoods, looking at the death and despair of a world in pandemic, we are, indeed, in need of help from on high!

God is not passive in our need. In Jesus, God says to us: put your wounds into my wounds. Put your hopes into my hope of the resurrection after three days. Die with me, rise in me. Just surrender to me with all your heart. Don’t let fear keep us apart.

Christians look on the beauty of the First Reading today from the prophet Isaiah and we say that in Jesus “On him lies a punishment that brings us peace, and through his wounds we are healed.”

Defeated/surrendered into the wounds of Jesus, we are victorious in the Risen Lord.

11TH APRIL 2020


We are all aware that we have an uninvited Easter guest this year: the Coronavirus. But it is not the only health/environmental crisis this part of Australia is confronting. We are still also trying to deal with the aftermath of the drought and bushfire tragedies.

In regard to the bushfire tragedy of only a few months ago, when reflecting on this Easter night, I immediately recall a type of Easter experience. In making a pastoral visit to the bushfire affected parishes a few weeks later, I visited a family who had just lost part of their home to a fierce fire. Yet when I arrived the waiting family were distracted by a burnt large tree on the periphery of the property. All eyes were on a large branch, badly burnt but still attached. It had to be pointed out to me what the fuss was all about. Then I could see it too. Already small but green shoots were appearing on the branch. It gave everyone hope. Out of death came the unstoppable force of nature regenerating itself with new life!

If this happens to nature and causes joy, how much more joy and awe waits those who witness the Resurrection of Jesus.

This is exactly what happens in the Easter Gospel just proclaimed. It summarises and crystallises all the biblical readings proclaimed before it on this Mother of all Liturgies – the Easter Vigil. They kind of anticipate and foretell the way of God made present in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

God always walks with his people. The readings demonstrate this. Whatever the crisis, God travels with his people and delivers them from all perils.

And so it is on this first Easter morning.

The Gospel indicates that it is ‘towards dawn on the first day of the week”, indicating the sun (Son) that will never set is about to dawn upon us. A few of the faithful women, present at Calvary, visit the tomb of Jesus. Mary Magdalen is there, the apostle of the apostles.

The words of the angel that startles all, have impressed me with renewed vigour in these days. The angel says: “there is no need for you to be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus ….”

These are words that refresh us all in our Covid-19 crisis when we are all confined to our homes and not permitted to exit unless for particular reasons. These are Easter words that sooth the fears and anxieties all of us carry. We are not to be afraid deep down because it is Jesus who we are looking for. And Jesus who always walks with His people in travail is with us now. With the Easter Jesus walking with us we are safe. We are redeemed! With have hope!

Then the angel tells them to “come and see” and then “go quickly and tell his disciples”. ‘Come and see … Go and tell’, is a wonderful summary of what is means to be ‘witnesses of the Resurrection’, the ancient fundamental definition of what it means to be a Christian. Firstly, there is the inner encounter of the Risen Jesus as Lord and Saviour through conversion. Then, once coming to this life changing experience as a grace from God, there is the going out to tell others as missionary disciples of the Resurrection.

This is exactly what happens to these two women. By this they are “filled with awe and great joy” and run back to the very place they came from – the fellowship of the nascent Church.

This strange Easter, when we gather here in the crypt of St Christopher’s Cathedral and celebrant online, may we too acknowledge that we are “looking for Jesus” in our fears, and experience afresh the “awe and joy” of Jesus rising afresh in our hearts. From this crypt/tomb, as missionary disciples in our particular world of disasters and anxieties, may we “go and tell” the eternal message of hope that He is Risen: Alleluia!

19 APRIL 2020

 Readings  Acts of the Apostles 2: 42-47  1 Peter 1: 3-9  Gospel John 20: 19-31

 During this terrible Coronavirus Pandemic we are consoled immediately by a wonderful expression used in the Second Reading from the first letter of St Peter “…though you may for a short time have to bear being plagued by all sorts of trials…your faith will have been tested and proved like gold.”

We all know about the testing of our Faith, with locked Churches and Masses on the internet, to say nothing of our own uncertainty about employment and the “stay at home” complexities of family life today.

Of course we know that this is the latest global Pandemic of this sort. In the early years of the Christian Church, following Easter, it wasn’t so much of a health issue but more persecution that required people remain indoors as much as they could.

In the Acts of the Apostles today, however, we find the four pillars or foundations that helped the early Church to thrive under great persecution.

These four pillars are mentioned at the beginning of the First Reading, “The whole community remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.” Let us try to appropriate these four foundational principals for our own time and place.

Then, we move to the Gospel of today. In the Easter Season we will hear so much about the Risen Lord and his post Resurrection appearances.

This is the case in today’s Gospel.

There is a certain commonality about the appearances. Always Jesus will follow a pattern. He does in today’s appearances, He said to them, “Peace be with you.” The first gift of the Resurrected Lord is Peace. Peace is not something that is superficial or changes from one moment to another. It is something deep and abiding, emanating from within the heart. This is the Peace that the Lord gives us.

Especially in today’s reading, we find the very next thing that the Risen Lord does seems to be somewhat unusual. The Gospel of St John says, “(he) and showed them his hands and his side.”

What was the Lord doing by showing them His hands and His side? He was clearly showing them His wounds. The Resurrected Wounds of the Lord. These are Redeemed Wounds. It’s not so much “face recognition” but “wound recognition” that the Lord demonstrates in His post Resurrection appearances.

He then “breathed on them and said: Receive the Holy Spirit.” This breathing on the Apostles has such a very rich biblical background. The biblical word for this is “Ruah”. God breathes, in the book of Genesis, into the nostrils of the first man Adam and gives him life. He now breathes life into the nascent Church and makes them – the community of the Holy Spirit. Here are our very origins. We are indeed the community of the Holy Spirit – the “Ruah” people of God.

Immediately a problem appears. It is in regards to St Thomas.

In all the lists of the Apostles in the Gospels St Thomas is always prominently present.

Following the Resurrection, our ancient tradition says that he became a great evangelist in the present day Middle East and then went down to the Western and Southern parts of India. Even today there is a great devotion to him in these parts of the world. Many Catholics who originate from Southern India (Kerala) name their sons “Thomas” in his honour.

At this moment he seems to be having a moment of crisis regarding his Faith.

He was not with the other Apostles when the Lord appeared and filled them with joy and deep peace.

He seems to be in a bit of a huff! He now says, having been told of the appearance of the Lord while he was absent, that he does not believe until he has further scientific proof. He insists that he must put his hands in the sides and in the wounds of Jesus.

Sure enough, some days later the Risen Lord appears again. Once again he appears to St Thomas in the way he insists. It is almost as if the Risen Lord says to St Thomas, If you can’t give me a hundred percent of yourself, I’m more than happy for you to, at least at this stage, give me fifty percent? So the Lord then invites St Thomas to come and put his hands in His side and in His wounds as he had previously insisted.

Thomas immediately sees the stupidity of his stubbornness and egoism and repents. In his repentance he gives us a beautiful little expression which perhaps could be seen as one of the first creedal statements of the early Church. It is only five words. It is “My Lord and my God!” Then the Lord in his great divine mercy says to St Thomas “Doubt no longer but believe.”

It is important for us to see that St Thomas represents us all. It’s almost as if we are living out the first sentence of the Second Reading today from St Peter when he says, “Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy has given us new birth.”

On this Divine Mercy Sunday, we thank the Lord for His merciful forgiveness which established us as His Community of the Holy Spirit.

Indeed, this episode with St Thomas teaches us a great lesson.

I think it is simply phrased in this way; when the woundedness and vulnerability of the Risen Lord comes to us and is met by our own woundedness and conversion, there we find divine mercy.

On this Divine Mercy Sunday never let us forget that we come to the Lord in our woundedness and place all our wounds in the Risen wounds of the Lord Jesus. Only from there comes healing, redemption and hope.

“For the sake of His sorrowful Passion have mercy on us and the whole world.”

26 APRIL 2020

 Readings  Acts of the Apostles 2: 14, 22-33  1 Peter 1: 17-21  Gospel Luke 24: 32

 We have just heard proclaimed to us the very familiar and loved story of the Risen Lord’s encounter with the Disciples on the road to Emmaus.

There seems to be three parts to this wonderful post-Resurrection encounter. I wish to address briefly the first and the third parts of the encounter and then speak at greater length to the middle or second part.

In the first part of the Emmaus scene we find two of the Disciples of Jesus on their way to a village called Emmaus and they are travelling “from Jerusalem.” In other words, they have got their backs, geographically speaking, to the Death and Resurrection of Jesus (Calvary) and they are moving away from these seminal saving events.

As they are moving away they’re talking to each other, as the Scripture says, with “their faces downcast.” In other words they’re dragging each other down. They’re bitterly disappointed that Jesus has not met their expectations and they are giving up.

Now let us turn to the third and final segment of this encounter.

We now find that they have done an “Emmaus backflip!” They have turned 180 degrees around. They are now returning “that instant to Jerusalem.” There seems to be a sense of them almost running back to Jerusalem. They are talking about their “hearts burning within them.”

They can’t wait to tell the Apostles remaining in Jerusalem all that has just happened to them.

What has happened to them? We now turn to the middle and second part of this encounter.

Without recognising Him, the Risen Lord walks alongside them. He describes them as “foolish.” He begins, what you or I would call, a Liturgy of the Word. That is, he explains the Scriptures to them and makes sense of it for their lives.

This intrigues them. There is an almost palpable curiosity for this stranger walking alongside them. They mention to him that “the day is almost over.” This is a point made not just regarding the position of the sun in the sky. It is also a point made about their relationship with the Risen Lord. Their relationship is almost over and darkness and hopelessness covers them.

During this Coronavirus Pandemic, we can resonate with all these experiences. It is a time when so many of us do feel fragile and lost. We do feel a sense of foreboding and loneliness. We are looking at the television at all these horrendous international stories, we see dislocation in our own country, and we are very fearful for our future.

Here we are, with the Disciples on the road to Emmaus, having the Scriptures explained to us. This happens in the first part of the Mass. It is happening right now as we listen to the Word of God.

In the First Reading St Peter, once recovered from his doubts and denials, has rallied to Easter faith. He speaks powerfully of the initial and fundamental message of Christianity. We call this message the “Kerygma.” St Peter says to the people, “You killed him, but God raised him to life…God raised this man Jesus to life, and all of us are witnesses to that…what you see and hear is the outpouring of that Spirit.”

I am sure that this is exactly what Jesus is saying in different words to these disillusioned Disciples. It affects a 180 degree turn in their attitude. They move towards repentance and find room for something unexpected and for the greatest surprise of their life to happen. This is called in biblical language, “Metanoia.” It is a return to the Lord with all their hearts in deep repentance and faith.

They now move into the equivalent of the Emmaus pub. The key words here are very significant. The Risen Lord “took…blessed…broke…and handed it to them.” This he does to the bread. In other words, he is celebrating Mass with them! The Mass is the meeting point for all of us with the Risen Lord. We haven’t made up the Mass. It is a gift from the Risen Lord to all of us for all time. Absenting ourselves from the Mass. is missing out on what Jesus wants to give us. We understand that because of the Pandemic we are all missing out on physically coming to the Church but we are trying our very best through spiritual communion.

Dear friends, let us get caught up in this scene and see it as something present for our lives right now and not just something in the Bible 2,000 years ago.

So here we are everybody. We are at the Emmaus pub for a counter tea! There are only two items on the menu. The first one is the “couch potato.” The second item is the “Emmaus backflip.” Let’s all choose item number two, the “Emmaus backflip” and return to the Lord with all our hearts. Here waiting for us is only Jesus, always Jesus, forever Jesus. Amen!