Homily – December 2020


 Readings  Is 40:1-5; 64. 9-11  2 Pt 3:8-14  Gospel Mark 1: 1-8

 As we now begin our Biblical reflections in the year of St Mark, we observed last week that the Gospel was from the end of St Mark’s Gospel. Today, on this Second Sunday of Advent, we start with the beginning of St Mark’s Gospel. Strangely, we do not begin with the birth but we begin with a promise.

Before a musical production, play or opera there is often an overture by the orchestra to introduce the different music styles that are soon to transpire.

We could say that today’s Reading, especially the first verse of St Mark’s Gospel, does exactly this. It is a Biblical overture to the entire fundamental theme of St Mark’s Gospel.

Let us recall that in the Gospels the Scripture writers write in a very condensed manner. Whereas we might write two pages, the Evangelist might write simply one line. This is precisely the situation here in the first verse of Mark’s Gospel.

The Gospel begins with “The beginning of the good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

First of all St Mark’s Gospel, so prominent in our Advent season as we move towards Christmas, is the proclamation of Jesus Christ. The Evangelist is not talking about the personality of Jesus, although there is much bibliographical detail in the Scriptures. But they are not biographies. Nor is St Mark trying to present Jesus Christ as some sort of Gandhi or Mandela of antiquity. No, it is about Jesus Christ – “The Word made Flesh.” Every time we pray our Creed on a Sunday, we proclaim Him as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. He is the Anointed One who saves. He is the Word of Eternal Life.

Secondly, the Gospels and all the Scriptures proclaim the centrality of Jesus Christ. St Mark gives Him the title that is essential: “The Son of God.” This is Christianity’s central claim that not only is Jesus fully human but at the same time, He is also fully God.

It is through conversion, repentance and belief that we come to this central Christian claim not shared by any other religion, that Jesus is the Son of God.

Thirdly, one of St Mark’s favourite expressions now comes to our attention. Jesus Christ, the Son of God is the “Good News.” This “Good News” is quite particular. So particular St Mark mentions it seven times throughout his Gospel.

The “Good News” is not good advice or good information. The “Good News” is not fake news or false news or interesting news it is THE GOOD NEWS. It is liberation from all our captivities and slaveries. It is the “Good News” of a new dawn of human existence that can never be taken from us.

Into this central proclamation of Christianity, St Mark then introduces us to two great witnesses of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the “Good News.”

John the Baptist is the fulfilment of all that is in the First Reading from the prophet Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah is the great messenger of hope. He points out that the Messiah is coming. This requires great humility and simplicity from all of us. In these beautiful verses, Isaiah calls for us all to “Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord….Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low.”

Here Isaiah is giving great words of hope to those returning from the seventy years of exile in Babylon. They are so keen to return as quickly as possible to their homeland. For that to happen through the barren and mountainous areas of the desert, he calls that every “valley be filled in.” That all emptiness and false hope in the human heart be “filled in” so that a strait path can be made for the Lord. He also calls for every mountain and hill to be” laid low.” All that separates us from God, all arrogance and egotistical ways are to be “laid low” so that a highway is made for the fulfilment of our hope in the coming Messiah.

The second great messenger that fulfils all of Isaiah’s hopes and now comes into full play this week and next week in the Gospel, is St John the Baptist.

He dresses like, acts like, talks like, eats like and ends up like all the great Old Testament prophets. He is the greatest of all the prophets and the first of the New Testament. He is a kind of new Elijah or Malachi.

We notice this as he comes from the wilderness of the desert, like all the prophets. Like the prophets, he wears simple clothes and has an extraordinarily basic lifestyle. He wears camel-skin, feeds on locusts and wild honey. He calls for repentance and conversion. At the same time, he proclaims he is not the Messiah. He talks about “The Stronger One.” The one who he is “not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of His sandals.” He offers hope that the promise of the prophets will be fulfilled very soon.

Looking back after the Resurrection St Peter in the Second Reading becomes a messenger of the Lord’s Second Coming. He says, “What we are waiting for is what he promised, the new heavens and the new earth, the place where righteousness will be at home.”

All of this produces great eager expectation and Advent hope as we approach Christmas and await the Second Coming of the Lord and the end of time.

There is always a certain incompleteness in Advent. Although we are waiting eagerly and hopefully for the Lord, we still await the fullness of His presence.

As a practical example of this, look at the Christmas crib in front of you all. All the figures are there except Jesus Himself. We know Jesus is coming soon as we wait for Christmas to dawn upon us once again.

So let us recall now, as we go on with the Mass recall the essential trumpet blast or overture today of the beginning of St Mark’s Gospel. That, now and forever “Jesus Christ, the Son of God is the Good News!” Let us wait in simplicity and humility as He comes to us in the simplicity and humility of the little Child of Bethlehem.

13 DECEMBER 2020

 Readings  Is 61:1-2. 10-11   1 Thes 5:16-24  Gospel John 1: 6-8. 19-28

 Today is called Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday!

Last week we had the short prologue or overture to Mark’s Gospel where we heard in synthesis the Gospel’s message – “Jesus Christ …Son of God…Good News!”

This week for our Gospel we have the longer and magisterial prologue of St John’s Gospel. In this exceptional chapter of John’s Gospel, we find that the precursor figure of Jesus, St John the Baptist, features prominently.

In the Gospel he is described as “a witness to speak for the light.” He is also described as a man “sent by God.”

On this Sunday of great Joy as we approach the serenity of Bethlehem at Christmas, we offer reflections on the great figure of St John the Baptist.

When did St John the Baptist first have his encounter with Jesus Christ? It could be said that his first encounter with Jesus was when he received a Baptism of the Holy Spirit “In utero.” That is, in the womb of his mother Elizabeth. In the second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, The Visitation, St Elizabeth comments on greeting Mary that the child within her “leapt for joy (Gaudete)!” So, even before he was born, St John the Baptist encountered the presence of the Lord in the womb of His Mother Elizabeth.

When have you received an encounter with the Lord Jesus? It should be something we have at our finger tips to share when appropriate. Maybe even in this Mass someone will receive this fresh encounter with the Lord through the grace of the Eucharist!

When I reflect of the Ministry of St John the Baptist I am reminded of an expression of the 18th century Italian Bishop, who became a Doctor of the Church in Moral Theology and a patron of All Confessors. I am referring to the founder of the Redemptorists, St Alphonsus Liguori. As a patron of confessors, he advised priests to “Be a Lion in the pulpit but a lamb in the confessional.” In other words from the pulpit the preacher is to call for conversion and repentance. However, in the confessional, he is to show exceedingly the humble and merciful forgiveness and kindness of God.

I think St John the Baptist could well fit into this category.

He certainly was a Lion in the pulpit of his society.

It is said in today’s Gospel from St John, in reference to St John the Baptist that he is “a voice that cries in the wilderness: Make a straight way for the Lord.” In so doing he becomes the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah particularly expressed in today’s First Reading where the Good News is “to proclaim liberty to captives, freedom to those in prison; to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord.” There can be no doubt that St John the Baptist prepared the way of Jesus as Jesus was the total fulfilment of Isaiah’s Hopeful Messiah.

But, at the same time, St John was a lamb in the sense that he was extraordinarily humble and gentle, and always pointed to Jesus in the world in which he lived and not to himself.

Indeed, in the Gospel three times people interject and want to know whether he is the Christ and three times he says…”I am not the Christ.” Indeed, he says very humbly, “I am not fit to undo his sandal-strap.”

Let us also reflect for a short time upon St John the Baptist’s central proclamation which was always a call for conversion and repentance. The Advent Season is an ideal moment for this.

Our modern world has a problem in locating sin. If we cannot locate sin then receiving, at great depth, conversion and mercy may also be problematic.

In our moral life in today’s world, the discovery of Sir Isaac Newton (18th century), the English Physicist and Mathematician and his Third Law of motion comes to mind: “For every action (force) in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

By this I mean that a few generations ago some would comment that from the pulpit they would hear nothing but sin. In an overstatement perhaps of our Catholic Tradition, people sometimes felt that they could commit Mortal Sin accidentally. Now, in the present age, there seems to be an opposite and equal reaction. Now in the world it appears that nothing is really a sin. The last few Popes have often commented that there is an incredible loss of the “sense of sin” in the world. We sometimes hear of public figures, who have been rightly identified as lying in public, rebutting the allegations by saying that they did no lie but they “Misspoke.” Can you see how we are trying to talk away the harsh reality of our sin.

It is well and truly time for us to go back to a Biblical understanding of sin. In the Scriptures sin is ultimately “Missing the mark.” It is almost like the firing of an arrow in an Archery competition and missing the bullseye. This “Missing the mark” is a wonderful Biblical definition of what sin is. We deflect from our committed vision to follow Christ.

Another definition of sin refers to “Inner rebellion.” We become rebellious from God. Incredibly, we peripherise God and place ourselves in the centre of our lives.This is the quintessential definition of sin. It is here that I, in a sense, move into “Self canonisation” and refuse to admit the more devious side to our human nature.

When St John the Baptist and the Church calls for conversion it means that we acknowledge fulsomely and humbly that we are sinners. It means that many times we have missed the mark or have been rebellious to God. We ask, having identified the sin and its poisonous attitude, for God’s forgiveness and mercy and for His loving presence to enter us deeply. This is done every time we pray, but especially during the Sacrament of Reconciliation. There are extended times for confession for these days before Christmas. I wholly encourage you to take advantage of this wonderful Sacrament.

In the Sacrament of Reconciliation I acknowledge that I am a sinner. I throw myself at the merciful arms of the Lord. I receive deeply God’s merciful forgiveness. I receive the penance and absolution of the confessor. In the forty years I have been a priest, it has always been a highlight of the my Priesthood that I have been able to extend my arms to people who, not just superficially but really deeply from their inner being, confess their need for God’s forgiveness and pray over them the Church’s absolution.

As the great festival of Christmas approaches let us take to heart the proclamation of St Paul in the Second Reading of today from the First letter to the Thessalonians. In this ancient text, which predates the writing of the Gospels, St Paul tells us all to “Be happy…rejoice…(Gaudete) at all times; pray constantly; and for all things give thanks to God…for God had called you and he will not fail you.”

Ultimately our response can only be that of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who will move into centre focus in next Sunday’s Gospel. When she encountered the Lord in her life she became for all ages a woman of joy. A woman of “Gaudete!” She said it so beautifully when she said “My soul proclaims the greatness of God; my spirit rejoices in God my saviour. For he who is mighty has done great things for me. Holy is His name!

20 DECEMBER 2020

 Readings  2 Sm 7:1-5. 8-12. 14. 16   Rom 16:25-27  Gospel Luke 1: 26-38

 A key question arising from the Readings today surely is as follows: Where do we find God? Where do we find His dwelling place? Where is our true home?

That is: four brief reflection arise.

First, in the First Reading today the great Kind David proposes that the answer to this question can be found in the construction of a building for God.

In all their battles, King David has been accompanied by the Ark of the Covenant found in a tent. God has been with His people in all their battles. With God at the centre King David has vanquished all his enemies.

Now in the latter part of his life he has settled down in Jerusalem. He has built himself a house made of cedar wood. He has now a scruple about this. He says “Look, I am living in a house of cedar while the Ark of God dwells in a tent.”

Kind David intends to build a lavish palace for the Lord. However, through the prophet Nathan God responds to King David’s aspirations. God says, “Are you the man to build me a house to dwell in?…The Lord will make you great; the Lord will make you a House.”

Fundamentally God offers King David a promise. He is the one who will build a house and not David. It will be an eternal dwelling, “Your House and your sovereignty will always stand secure before me and your throne be established for ever.”

The second reflection to this key question of, “Where do we find God?”, can be found in the Gospel of today – “The Annunciation, the first decade of the Joyous Mysteries of the Rosary.”

Here in Luke’s Gospel the fulfilment of King David’s promise is found in Mary.

God will dwell not in a building but in the womb of a virgin.

However, in the incredible ways of our loving and merciful God, God’s plan (Grace) waits for human consent.

Mary’s human consent (her faith response) is given in silence and tranquility. It is given not only on behalf of herself but on behalf of humanity. It is the momentous of all consents. She says upon receiving this incredible invitation from the Archangel Gabriel, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me.” This is not a weak response from Mary. It is a full interior consent to God’s incredible New Covenant with humanity. God has chosen an unknown young virgin to be his instrument of peace. This is to make it quite clear that the initiative comes entirely from God.

Thirdly, let us consider Mary’s “Fiat.” By “Fiat” I do not mean and Italian car! The word “Fiat” is a Latin word meaning “Yes!” Through Mary’s “Fiat” and the “Fiats” of other great personalities of Salvation history we allow God to make a dwelling place in us.

For example, we know that St Joseph made four great “Fiats” to God. In this coming year of St Joseph, as Pope Francis has declared in recent times, we find that God’s will has been made known to St Joseph in four separate dreams. He responds with “Fiat” to each direction that God gives him. He does this “with a fathers heart”, the title of Pope Francis’s document on St Joseph. Let us not forget that Jesus Himself made many “Fiats” in His life. There is the “Fiat” at Gethsemane. Just before His Passion and Death. Jesus in the Agony of the Garden declares, “Not my will but yours be done.” This is the great “Fiat.” On the Calvary Cross another “Fiat” is discerned when His last words are spoken, “It is accomplished…into your hands I commend my spirit.”

The Church itself makes a great “Fiat” to God’s initiative at Pentecost. Apostles forming now the Nascent Church receive the Holy Spirit completely. This allows the Risen Christ to dwell in the Church as His own Risen Body.

Fourthly, let us consider the “Fiats” we are making personally and need to make over this Christmas period. We say “Yes” to our Baptismal commitment in the uncertain world of the Covid-19 pandemic.

I recall some years ago a woman asked me to pray for her. She had lost her precious Wedding ring and couldn’t find it.

When I asked her the next week, she indicated that her Wedding ring had been found. It was her comment that I remember well. She said, “With precious things, we often look for them in the wrong place.”

How true that is! As Christmas now approaches in a few days let us look for the precious gift of Christ among us in the Incarnation in the right place and not the wrong place.

I suppose the wrong places to find God is simply and only in the supermarket, or with an exaggerated expectation of particular gifts, or even, this is more pertinent to the present moment, our particular plans for holidays in the Covid-19 uncertainties of Australia at present.

On our journey to the Bethlehem Star at Christmas where we will find God’s dwelling place, let us recall we find God, in a stable not in a palace, at night not during the day, in a baby not in an adult King or Queen, in silence not in chaotic noise, in simplicity not complexity and at heart depth not in superficiality.

I conclude by praying the beautiful ancient 12th century Carmelite prayer to Mary, composed by St Simon Stock, “Flower of Carmel, tall vine blossom laden, Splendour of Heaven, child bearing yet maiden. None equals thee. Mother so tender, who no man did know, on Carmel’s children thy favours bestow. Star of the Sea.”

Let us allow the Star of the Sea (Stella Maris), Mary our mother, to lead us to her Son Jesus as Christmas now unfolds.


We made it!

In this incredible year we have had Bush Fires, the ending of the Drought, Smoke, Flood, Hail, Covid-19 deaths and self-isolation, Loneliness, Mental health issues, Social issues, job losses and now Holiday plans messed up! What a year!

Yet, on the other hand, when we look overseas we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but here in Australia! We pray for the healing of our World in this Mass.

But, let’s look at the First Christmas. It was not easy for them either.

Who knows, when Joseph and pregnant Mary arrived at Bethlehem and located themselves into a humble stable, they may have said the same thing…”We made it!”

They too had enormous issues to deal with.

Firstly, they were compelled to travel back to Joseph’s place of origin for a census. So they went from Nazareth to a suburb in Jerusalem called Bethlehem (a word meaning house of bread!…Already there is a Eucharistic feel.)

Mary was advanced in her pregnancy. There were no hospitals. The Scriptures don’t talk of any health care whatsoever. It would have been dangerous to travel at any time let alone with a pregnant woman. I suppose the travel was via Donkey or walking.

Not only that, on arrival at Bethlehem any plans they made for accommodation completely evaporated. It seemed that Bethlehem was a “full house!”

Just imagine St Joseph’s anguish trying to find accommodation for his wife who was very soon to give birth to their first child.

That terribly lonely line in the Scriptures, “There was no room at the Inn” can suggest all sorts of emotions and sentiments.

So they ended up in a stable. Let’s not sanitise this, it was a place for animals not for human beings.

At least it was something! But was is suitable for the birth of THE Saviour? We in the 21st century would think of health issues and all sorts of medical concerns. Who was to help them? Was this place worthy of the Messiah? Quite clearly, Jesus was born in utter poverty.

So when we say “We made it!” we say it with Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Are there any lessons to be learnt from the First Christmas for our Christmas here now in 2020? Of course there are! There are ways to help us make sure this year is a Christmas full of HOPE.

We can learn from the “fatherly heart” of St Joseph. He was “The Just one.” In other words, his relationships with God, the world and with others were in perfect balance. He was obedient to God. He never became centre stage. He was always found in the shadows trying his best to help others.

There is the trusting and contemplative heart of Mary. There is so much depth in her response to great difficulties in life.

There is the vulnerability of Jesus. This little baby is truly “The lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”…The Lamb!

There is the curiosity of the Shepherds. I am sure many people participating in the Mass now are curious about God without making necessarily any commitment. You are very welcome! Let the Shepherd’s curiosity lead you to an encounter with Jesus!

There is the light of the Star in the midnight of chaos. This bright star is sometimes called “The Bethlehem Star.” Incredibly and ironically in these days, the great conjunction of the brightest planets in our Solar System, Jupiter and Saturn, have conjoined in a once in a life time experience. It has often been thought that the “Bethlehem Star” was also shining onto the stable on the First Christmas leading people to the Lord. The whole of Creation is helping us to come closer to Jesus!

Also the Silence, Wonder, and Beauty of Creation is settling us down to understand more deeply what this Christmas really does mean. It is truly, as the famous German Hymn says, “A Silent Night, A Holy Night!”

So dear friends we made it! The Holy Family also made it! Let us learn from the Holy Family to give us hope in the darkness of these days. Let the “Bethlehem Star”, God deep in our heart, lead us always to Jesus.

A blessed and Holy Christmas to you all!