Homily – November – 2022


 Readings  2 Mc 7:1-2, 9-14  2 Thes 2:16-3:5  Gospel Luke 20: 27-38

 We have now reached the month of November. Let us always recall, that this month is dedicated, in a particular way for praying for those who have died. It also draws us towards the end of the Liturgical year and, therefore, we start to move towards the end of our yearlong meditation on the Gospel of Luke.

The belief of life after death, or some sort of resurrection after death, had a slow Biblical development.

In the First Reading today we see a very strong example of some sort of belief in the resurrection of the dead in early Jewish days. It is a remarkable story of the raw courage of the Maccabees brothers who will gladly suffer death rather than compromise their faith. Under the influence of a King who threatens them with execution unless they obey the many Gods of his Kingdom, they refuse outright. They say “Ours is the better choice, to meet death at men’s hand, yet relying on God’s promise that we shall be raise up by him, whereas for you there can be no resurrection, no new life.” What a wonderful expression…”relying on God’s promise that we will be raised up by him.” There is raw faith in the midst of impending death.

By the time of Jesus in today’s Gospel, some sort of understanding of resurrection from the dead is the majority opinion. One influential group that did not believe this were the Sadducees. Perhaps they were more like the scientific world of today. Unless “the science stacks up” there is to be no belief.

They therefore present to Jesus a ludicrous story trying to trap Him. They present a very physical understanding of resurrection from the dead.

Jesus answers simply by referring them back to the “Burning Bush” and Moses where Jesus describes Himself as the “I Am.” Jesus is the “Eternal Now”, as theologians have described God.

Perhaps a brief understanding of our Christian understanding of life after death would be helpful.

Christians believe that at our death we are “transformed” into the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Our life is not simply some sort of resuscitation of the corpse, where it is still captured in the time and place parameters of our life here on earth. Jesus describes Himself “The Resurrection and the Life.” In our death, relying on the mercy of God in the midst of our sinfulness, we hope in God’s Promise that we too will be raised up into His Resurrection. Our understanding of life after death, therefore, is more of transformation than simply continuation.

There is a dimension here of this transformation that needs to be stressed. There is a social dimension to it.

Over these last few days, we have celebrated the Great Solemnity of All Saints Day. The following day we celebrated the commemoration of all the faithful departed – All Souls Day.

We are all part of the community of the Redeemed in the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. Christ’s victory over death has put a Death to death! We live in His presence in the Church. The Church bridges our life with the life to come as we share so intimately in the Body of the Risen Christ.

Perhaps this is becoming a little overly theological. Could I offer you a beautiful example.

I came across just last week a lovely story of a priest that many of you might know. Fr Bernard Maxwell, a Dominican priest, who spent many of his final years here in Canberra in the parish of Watson, died.

He was a Military Chaplain of the highest distinction. He served especially during the Vietnam War.

At his funeral it was recalled, that on the battlefield he came across a young Australian soldier who was dying and in agony. The soldier was calling out for his mother. Fr Maxwell went over to him and simply embraced him in his dying moments. He soon after died.

Apparently, In Fr Maxwell’s recent last days he recalled this incident. He mentioned to those around his bed that he “felt the life force of that young man drain away. It is like my own life now.”

In a beautiful reflection at his funeral, a Dominican Religious Sister thought it might be appropriate for us to imagine that this young man came down to Fr Berny on his death bed and embraced him as he died and then took him home to Heaven to meet the Lord.

It is a beautiful story, I think, of how no one dies on their own in our Christian faith. There is a social dimension to it. We are the community of the Redeemed and in our death, we join the community of the Triumphant with Christ in Heaven. Let us pray for this call upon God’s mercy and repent in a converted life as we await this moment in our own life.

For our little “Gospill” for today, I take it from the psalm that we sang just a moment ago. There is a lovely expression, “Hide me in the shadow of your wings.” Let this be our special prayer in the days ahead.

13 NOVEMBER 2022

 Readings  Mal 3:19-20  2 Thes 3:7-12  Gospel Luke 21: 15-19

 We are well and truly towards the end of the Liturgical Year, the year of Luke. We can tell this by the apocalyptic tone in the Readings. This means that the End Times are described in rather sombre dark tones. At the same time, there is the light of hope for those who are persecuted. We see this particularly in the First Reading. The text states darkly that, “The day is coming now, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and the evil-doers will be like stubble.” That is not the end of the story. Then the text offers the light of hope when it states, “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will shine out with healing in its rays.”

That same tone is expressed in the Gospel today. My eyes are immediately drawn to the last sentence. It states, “You will be hated by all men on account of my name, but not a hair of your head will be lost. Your endurance will win you your lives.” This word “Endurance” is worthy of further reflection. What does enduring mean?

From a theological point of view, when we are talking about God’s enduring love for us we start to move towards a central axis of our faith – the enduring presence of the Holy Spirit. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit endures forever. There is a lovely expression intimating this from Jesus at the Last Super in John’s Gospel he says, “You in me and I in you.”

In this month of November, we reflect on the enduring love of Christ particularly made manifest in the Saints and Holy Souls. In their particular apocalyptic times, they shone like sons and daughters of hope with the enduring trust in God.

On this World Day of the Poor, let me choose just two Australian saintly women who indicate this Godly light.

Firstly, there is St Mary of the Cross MacKillop. She died when she was only 67 years of age in 1909. She encourages us to endure even with the writings on her tomb, which I reflected upon in the past week when I was in Sydney for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. These words are – “Trust in God, in St Joseph’s care I leave you, remember we are only travellers here.”

There is another great holy woman of Australia who is on the way towards canonisation, please God.

Her name is Caroline Chisolm. She died when she was 68 years of age in 1877.

She was an English immigrant and convert to Catholicism. With her husband, she raised eight children. She remained in Sydney for seven years in its colonial times. She became like a social worker. Over her time she saw that the women coming to Sydney cove were largely homeless and without employment. They were prone to exploitation by the men of the colony. In a remarkable way to stand alongside these poor women, she placed over 11,000 women in homes and found them employment.

You may not know her great Catholic story yet she is well known in Australian history. A Canberra suburb is named in her honour. There is a big government school here in Canberra named after her. In times past, her face was on a five-dollar note.

So here, we find the enduring love of God of two wonderful women who reached out to the poor, either in education or in social assistance in their time and place.

In our own apocalyptic time, let us try to do the same. Let us witness to the enduring light and hope of God in the midst of so much darkness.

Perhaps our Gospel could be that which I mentioned above which speaks of the enduring presence of the Trinity deep within us. “You in me, I in you.” (John 14/20).

20 NOVEMBER 2022

 Readings  2 Sm 5:1-3  Col 1:12-20  Gospel Luke 22:35-43

 Today we celebrate the conclusion of a Liturgical Year and we bid farewell to our companion on the journey over this 12 months, St Luke’s Gospel. Today is the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year and it is a “Solemnity” – Which means this is liturgically at the highest level. It is the Solemnity of Christ the King, the King of the Universe.

However, what type of King is King Jesus? There is a stark contrast in the First Reading and the Gospel today about two types of Kings.

In the First Reading, King David is given great prominence. He is undoubtedly the great charismatic, magnetic and “trophy” King of the Old Testament. We hear that he has “led Israel in all their exploits”, that he is their leader, the people have formed a united pact around him, and he is seen as “the anointed David King of Israel.”

In stark contrast here to the “trophy” King, is the wounded King of the Gospel, King Jesus.

We cannot underestimate the Early Churches shocked response to know that Jesus is King yet this is symbolised not on the throne of adulation but on the throne of the Cross. He is mocked, jeered at, people stayed “before the cross watching Jesus.”

To get a sense of this stark contrast, could I offer a humble suggestion.

The clergy of the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn have just completed their yearly Retreat. We had wonderful leadership from our Retreat Director, Fr Brenden Byrne SJ, a biblical scholar of the highest order.

In making this contrast, he brought up an example of an experience he had when a priest, possibly a Chaplain to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), came into the clergy room and stated how much he envied the participants of the AA group.

How could there be envy of such a group of people who are desperately addicted to alcohol and searching for sobriety?

That is just the point. This “holy envy” derived from the fact that the priest chaplain felt that each one of the participants were totally dependent on God. Two things were happening in their lives. Firstly, they completely surrendered to the fact that they were powerless in their addiction. There was total honesty that they could do nothing on their own. Secondly, they came to believe that only God could heal them. They totally relied on God in hope.

The chaplain priest reflected that they responded to God in honesty, trust and hope. With every ounce of their being, they placed their trust in God at a level that others could only imagine.

Surely this is the type of love that Jesus wants, acknowledging him as the King Crucified and Risen from the Dead.

This is played out in a beautiful final encounter that Jesus has on the Cross with whom we now call, “the good thief” sometimes called in Tradition “Demas.”

Let us recall that Jesus is Crucified and bookended between two local thieves. One of these thieves starts arguing with Jesus and mocks him. The other thief rebukes his mate and humbly with great honesty and a growing faith in his last moments, calls on Jesus, “Remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

Jesus’ response is immediate, He says, “Indeed, I promise today you will be with me in paradise.” In the original biblical languages, “paradise” could well do with more attention in understanding what is happening here.

The word “paradise” literally means “walled garden.” The image here is of a very wealthy King who has his own personal garden, which is walled so that only those he wants are invited into the garden with him. That is exactly the type of paradise Jesus is offering “the good thief.”

As soon as we hear of this image, we start thinking of the Book of Genesis. Here with Adam, Jesus walked in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the evening with the First Man as His profound companion.

Therefore, when we come to understand Jesus the King of the Universe, we see him not just simply as a “New David”, but in fact, the “New Adam.” What was lost in Adam, now is restored in Jesus Christ through His death and Resurrection.

For our “Gospill” these following days let us join “the good thief” in praying his prayer that won so much love from Jesus on the Cross when he said, “Jesus remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

Let us repeat this little expression many times and come closer to Jesus in these last days of the Liturgical Year.

27 NOVEMBER 2022

 Readings  Is 2:1-5  Rom 13:11-14  Gospel Matthew 24:37-44

 Today is the First Sunday of Advent. It is also the beginning of a new Liturgical Year. Over the next 12 months, the Gospel of Matthew will be pre-eminent. Matthew was a Jew who mainly spoke, in his Gospel, to Jews at a pivotal moment historically and theologically in their lives. Historically because it was only a few years before writing his Gospel, in the year 70AD that the Holy temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by a vicious Roman attack. This caused enormous confusion and heartbreak among the Jewish people. Theologically because the rise of Christianity for not only gentiles but also the Jews meant something particular for Jews. They wondered if they became Christians would they need to leave behind their Jewish ways or was there some sort of bridge between emerging Christianity and Judaism. These aspects will be fundamental in understanding Matthew’s Gospel in the year ahead.

With regard to today’s Readings, there is a stress on time. We hear in the First Reading that “the day is coming.” The Second Reading from Paul talks about how “the time has come: you must wake up now…the night is almost over, it will be daylight soon.” In the Gospel today we hear of Jesus saying in a later section of Matthew’s Gospel, “stay awake because you do not know the day when your master is coming…you too must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you not expect.”

There is a stress here on time but it is a different type of time. It is not necessarily just the Chronological time of days, hours, months and years or in the Greek, “Chronos time.”

In the Bible, time has another meaning. “Time”, means it is the “favourable time” for conversion, to open our hearts to the Salvation that Christ brings us. It is not “Chronos time” but “Kairos time”, the time of repenting and believing.

We light the first candle of the Advent wreath today to signify not simply the Chronos but also the Kairos moment of Advent as we wear purple as a sign of repentance and conversion in these important weeks before Christmas.

The importance of Kairos time was emphasised to me during the week at a very special liturgy that we had in the Cathedral last Wednesday night called, “The Night of the Witnesses.” It highlighted the courageous modern day Martyrs of the faith. Sometimes we think of Saints and Martyrs as going back to the early Church. This is certainly true but the many showcased last Wednesday night were Martyrs of the last 20 years.

This message was brought home to us by the wonderful testimony of some inspirational speakers. For me, the input of Archbishop Amel Nona, the former Archbishop of Mosel in Northern Iraq offered a very special Advent message to us all.

Archbishop Nona is now the Bishop of Chaldean Catholics or Iraqi Catholics here in Australia and New Zealand. Ten years ago, you will recall Iraq was on the news almost every night and was comprehensively bombed and terrorised by ISIS before the Christian population fled Mosel and became a part of the diaspora of refugee immigrants to Australia and other countries.

It was at Easter time that the ISIS terrorists imposed a very strict curfew on everyone in the city of Mosel. People were only permitted to walk near their homes. To do otherwise tempted arrest or worse. Archbishop Nona thought that no one would come to his Cathedral for the Easter liturgy given the curfew. However, when he went into the Cathedral he found it a third full of people who had walked there at a time of great danger to themselves. He asked them directly why they had come to the Cathedral during the curfew. They simply said, “It is our Easter liturgy. It is our great feast; we must come regardless of the danger.” They had walked together in groups not only from nearby but also from the countryside, some of them walking for long hours. They walked together because walking on their own was more dangerous, especially the women.

Archbishop Nona reflected, “Such faith shows all great courage in adversity.” Their witness of presence gave him great courage and his story that I am now sharing with you I hope will give us all great courage when our faith is under pressure. Archbishop Nona also mentioned that it is impossible for Chaldean Catholics to separate their faith from their human identity, as they are tempted here in Australia due to the poisonous attitudes of a certain type of secularism, which separates faith from culture. Archbishop Nona mentioned that if it does become a choice between their material possessions, employment or households, they would always choose their faith over everything. What great faith!

I was fortunate to speak to many of the Chaldean Catholics afterwards with their large families and they are so grateful to be in Australia. However, they did make the observation regarding Catholic faith in Australia, in comparison to their situation in Iraq, that it is very low key here indeed!

Let us reflect on this experience with regard to this Kairos moment that Advent presents to us. I suggest three brief points.

Firstly, in our faith let us always walk together. This is our Archdiocesan theme of the next 12 months and it is the basic theme of Christianity in general. Christianity is never an individualistic Religion. It is communal. It is a social family Religion. We cannot live our full Catholic lives on our own. We do come to Church regularly especially for Mass even at great inconvenience to us because we know “it is our feast.”

Secondly, let us question once again this artificial division between faith and life. Let us not separate faith and life. Faith is not something like a piece of clothing that you can take off according to will. We do not put on a Catholic garment by coming to Mass or saying our prayers and for the rest of the time we take of the garment and act as if our faith does not mean anything practically. This is a great challenge in our workplaces, in our family life and society in general. We must, in the light of today’s Scripture Readings, “stand ready” and be prepared to “walk in the light of the Lord.”

Thirdly, two conversions are required. The first conversion is of the heart. Our attitudes must be converted in the Advent time, to align with the faith of the strong Chaldean community; this is the faith of the Gospels.

For instance, I notice that we are preparing ourselves to celebrate the birth of the Saviour at the same time as the Federal Government is preparing to launch legislation, which would eventually enable the ACT Government here in Canberra to legislate for Euthanasia. Whilst we Christians are looking forward to a birth, others are looking towards a death. This legislation regarding Euthanasia, which compels the Medical profession, under certain circumstances, to intervene and kill outright the most fragile of our citizens, must be vigorously opposed. We call for a greater understanding of Palliative care and increase in resources to make this easily available so that the thought of Euthanasia becomes an abhorrent option.

The second conversion is of the hands and the stomach. I was with the St Vincent de Paul Society yesterday. They do such great work for us here in this Archdiocese. They are preparing for a very substantial call on their practical services in the coming weeks. As we now prepare to construct the Christmas crib there are many ways we can give practically so that Christmas hampers can be prepared with wholesome food stuffs from our own homes as a gift to those who are struggling.

For a little Scripture text to memorise for the week I suggest the following…“Let us walk in the light of the Lord.” Indeed as Advent now is upon us, let us walk to the great Solemnity of Christmas by walking in the light and the dawn of Jesus Christ who gives new meaning, hope and salvation to all creation.

30 NOVEMBER 2022

The time has finally arrived for the opening of the extensively restored and beloved “Old Cathedral” of Goulburn, as it is affectionately called. Also for the dedication of a new altar mensa. With thanks to Almighty God, we recall this 150-year anniversary since the first opening of Sts Peter and Paul’s (November, 1872).

Over these days, when the faithful have inspected this magnificent restoration, one particular word has been used almost universally: beautiful

Let us reflect on the word “beautiful.” It is a word applied to this Old Cathedral , St Peter and Paul’s, and not to a museum or some majestic government building.

To savour the taste of theological “beauty” in the Church, let us turn to the Holy Scriptures for inspiration.

In the First Reading of today’s Mass (Genesis 28/11-18), we find ourselves not at Goulburn but at Bethel in the Holy Land. Jacob is tired. He uses a pillar made of stone and sleeps. He dreams. He has an extraordinary vision of angels going up and down a ladder from Bethel to the Heavens. Bethel has become a meeting place with the heavens. The promises of God’s love and closeness are offered to the people. They, in turn, can respond to this grace by offering praises and prayers that ascend into the courts of God.

Jacob wakes up. He reflected on his dream. He comes to understand that he is at a beautiful Holy Place. He exclaims: “Surely, the Lord is in this place, and did not know it” (Genesis 28/16). He plans to anoint the stone, a sign of God’s blessings on Bethel. This will give a foundation for a House to God he wants to build.

This beautiful and holy place at Bethel is to be a gathering place for the people of God.

Yet, there is so much more beauty to come. In the Second Reading (1Cor. 10/16-21), St Paul proclaims that the anointed stone upon which God’s people gather in “God’s home” is none other than the Cross of Jesus Christ. By re-presenting the Death and Resurrection of the Last Supper and Good Friday, Christians “form a single body.” The Eucharist makes Christ truly present. All that happens on the altar – and here I include the altar I am about to anoint – becomes “a visible sign of the mystery of the Church.” As it were, this “New Bethel” releases the sweet fragrance of praise “prayers ascending” and the nourishment of the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” descending. It is truly mysterious. Not mysterious in the sense of perplexing, but in the sense that what happens is so deep that the only word that is suitable to be used is that it is totally and completely beautiful. It is Jesus with us Sacramentally.

Due to our own personal histories marked by sin and human fickleness, the Catholic Church over the centuries is made up of sinners seeking conversion and forgiveness from our merciful and loving God. We do this especially in this current liturgical season of Advent. Yet, in our liturgies celebrated in a truly beautiful Church as this one, we believe that the merciful Risen Jesus leads us forward – “Walking Together”, as we are stressing in this year long Archdiocesan focus after the conclusion of the Plenary Council of Australia. As a result, we are beautifully made as the Holy Body of Christ, washed clean by the Blood of the Lamb.

This beauty is not just for us. It is for the entire world – the entire cosmos. It is the beauty of Jesus among us. It is what we propose and not impose on others: It is the intoxicating fragrance of the Holy Spirit offered to all who open their hearts to God.

This beautiful Old Cathedral says all this not in words, but in the serene and consoling architecture surrounding us. In a sense, this beautifully restored parish church evangelises us non-verbally. It suggests and prompts silence, stillness and a simplicity from the tortured and burnt out souls that visit her in the hope of a true way forward in life by “walking together” as one. We are united by simply resting in her beauty, to open our hearts to all that is beautiful, all that is good, and all that is true in life.

Pope Francis speaks to the power of beauty in art and architecture. He suggests they speak of God in ways beyond words. He says, “Expressions of beauty enable us to see the face of God who is Eternal Beauty” (4 August 2017).

Years earlier, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of encountering Jesus via “the way of beauty” (1 August 2011). If we are open to it, we can feel “the Lure of God” through the way of beauty.

Beauty leads us to a religious experience. We spontaneously ask questions that are religious and theological: “Where is this beauty from?”, “what does this beauty reflect?”, “Is the author of beauty, beauty itself (i.e. God).” In other words, through beauty, faith is born.

We see all this happening in today’s Gospel. On this Feast of the Apostle Andrew, the Gospel from Matthew situates Andrew with his brother Peter going about their everyday lives as fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. Then beauty incarnate arrives – Jesus arrives. He calls them to something totally unexpected, something totally new. So strong is the allure of his soul beauty, they “left their nets at once and followed Jesus.” They have been captured by the beauty of God. They are given complete freedom in leaving all and making Jesus their one and only love freshly encountered. After the Resurrection, Andrew (along with his famous brother Peter) become “fishers of peoples” – evangelisers/missionaries to the nations.

Dear friends in Christ, we are not here today simply to “wash nets” and make a beautiful Church even more beautiful. Something greater is at hand – a theological beauty. We are here to open our hearts to the allure of God present in all this beauty around us.

Sts Peter and Paul’s looks to its evangelising future and not simply to its glorious 150 year past. May this sacred place be a “New Bethel” to the good people of Goulburn and beyond. May it be an oasis of beauty in the concrete and steel of our modern world growing tired of false promises and misleading ideologies. May Jesus reign here in the Words proclaimed by the Gospels and Sacraments that make Jesus present in all beauty.

May this place and its surrounds become a beautiful pilgrimage centre that attracts pilgrims to Goulburn from far and wide. Let them leave this place as missionaries, like St Andrew, and say the words of Jacob from their hearts; “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” (Genesis 28/16).