Homily – December – 2023

HOMILY
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
HOLY ROSARY WATSON
3rd DECEMBER 2023
FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT (YEAR B)
AND MASS ONLINE

 Readings Isaiah 63:16-17; 64:1. 3-8  1 Corinthians 1:3-9  Gospel Matthew 13:33-37

When I carefully and prayerfully reflected on today’s Readings in the light of this final Mass for the 60 year Anniversary of the Dominican family leading this parish, my thoughts were drawn to the Second Reading from St Paul.

In his First Letter to the Church at Corinth he has the following to say: “I thank him that you have been enriched in so many ways, especially in your teachers and preachers; the witness to Christ has indeed been strong among you…”

When we think of the Dominican Fathers and their contribution to this parish, particularly over the last 60 years, we think of the Charism of the Dominicans.  Here we have St Paul praising the teachers and preachers among us.  To a certain degree, the Dominican family have been the “Specialists” in teaching and preaching in the Church over the last 800 years.

Now it is time for us to thank them for their 60 years of great pastoral service in this parish and bid them farewell with a great deal of love and graciousness in our hearts.

Returning to the Charism of the Dominican family we think of the word, “Veritas.”

Veritas or Truth helps us to describe who God is.  God is the utterly other and is indescribable, but we still try!  We think of the three, what are sometimes called, transcendentals of who God is.  These are Truth, Beauty and the Good.

In other words, all that is true, all that is beautiful and all that is good belongs to God.  With the Dominicans they have particularly emphasised the Truth, the Veritas.  Their Charism in the Church and in this parish has very much been a real triumph of Veritas.

Truth or Veritas is not merely a movement towards Doctrinal purity or a desire for some propositional way of looking at God alone.  Although all this is important, ultimately, Jesus is Truth.  Truth is experiential.  It is an encounter with Christ.  This is the first aspect of our Year of the Holy Spirit where we talk about evangelisation as – Encounter, Discipleship and Witness.

In the 12th and 13th centuries the founder of the Dominicans, St Dominic, encountered Jesus in a way that set his heart and mind on fire.  Very quickly, he was able to gather together people who also were attracted completely to the Truth of God and had a desire therefore to preach it to the world and to the glory of God.  We can see that their encounter with God moved to the Discipleship stage and then ultimately to the worldwide evangelisation which this parish and the wider Archdiocese has been bathed in over the last 60 years.

And so we gather today to thank the Dominican Priests, Dominican Brothers, Dominican Sisters and Lay Dominican associates for all that they have done and will continue to do in this Archdiocese, albeit in a different manner.

Talking to some of the Dominicans in the Sacristy before Mass, it was thought perhaps over 100 Dominican Priests, Brothers and Sisters have contributed in some way to the evangelisation of this Archdiocese in this parish over the last 60 years.  Over 100!  What a tremendous contribution the Dominican Order has made to this Archdiocese.

We regret they are leaving us but we understand the challenges they face in Australia in these troubled times.

These are troubled times in which to evangelise.  That is why we need the encouragement of our Year of the Holy Spirit to centre our minds on the focus of evangelisation and never retreat from our God given mandate to proclaim to the world the Good News of Jesus Christ, in Scripture and Tradition of the Catholic faith.

We all know of the challenges in Australia, particularly, given the Sex Abuse tragedy.  Criminal activity has been found in our ranks and we are doing all that we possibly can to stand alongside the victims and walk with them in their everyday struggles.  Also, there is the continued and strengthening challenge of Secularism in Australian society.  Who would have thought, even a year ago, that a Catholic Public Hospital would have be taken over by the local government without any proper consultation or compensation.  However, this is the new world we are living in!

We are pleased that the parish of Holy Rosary Watson has been strengthened over these years and will continue to grow, with this whole Archdiocese, to evangelise in the troubled waters of today.

As you can see from the new Parish Bulletin in front of you, and in the entrance to the Church, we are soon to welcome another Religious Order, the Blessed Sacrament Fathers, into our pastoral care in this area of the Archdiocese.  I know they will make a marvellous contribution.

Today our purpose here, in a most fervent way, is to thank and praise the Dominican family for their contribution and wish them well in the years ahead.  For this we pray, Amen!

HOMILY
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL
10th DECEMBER 2023
SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT (YEAR B)
AND MASS ONLINE

 Readings  Isaiah 40:1-5; 9-11  2 Peter 3:8-14  Gospel Mark 1:1-8

 As we prepare for Christmas the Church’s Liturgical Calendar has now moved towards a sustained meditation on the Gospel of Mark.  We leave behind our meditations over the last twelve months on the Gospel of Matthew.

The Gospel of Mark is, by and large, the witness of St Peter.  It is the earliest and shortest of the Gospels.  Its tone is vivid and direct and offers encouragement to people during difficult times.

In the very first verse of the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark, today’s Gospel, we see all this come together.

The opening of Mark starts with, “The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Here immediately and in a very direct manner are the two major claims of Christianity.

First of all it is the claim that Jesus is the Son of God.  No other Religion in the world, despite their appreciation of the Holiness of Jesus, states like we Christians that Jesus is the Son of God.

We see on the Calvary Cross how Jesus entered into our misery and into our pain, all things but sin.  At the very same time He is the Son of God.

It is interesting to note that the first person in Mark’s Gospel who makes this claim explicitly is an unusual candidate.  It is the Roman Centurion at the foot of the Calvary Cross who, seeing how Jesus died and the way He approached His death, claims Jesus as the Son of God.  It wasn’t one of the Apostles or one of the people gathered at the foot of the Cross, it was the Roman Centurion…the unlikely one to acknowledge the Divinity of Jesus.  This is in chapter 15, towards the end of the Gospel.  In the middle of the Gospel in chapter 10 we see Bartimaeus, the blind man regaining his sight from Jesus in a miraculous healing.  The Scriptures indicate that he then follows Jesus up to Jerusalem, on His Way of the Cross.

The second major claim is that Jesus is the “Good News.”

The “Good News” of Jesus Christ is that He frees us from all human captivities.  It is the Gospel of freedom.  It is now the Gospel of announcing the new era of divine intervention which is proclaimed by John the Baptist.  It is a proclamation of joy and hope in the midst of great difficulties.

Let us not forget the context in which Mark wrote his Gospel.  It was at this time that all the persecution, mainly through the Emperor Nero, of the Christians were taking place.  In the midst of all this darkness comes the joy and the hope of Christ who is “Good News” for people in hard times.

We too are in hard times but of a different nature all together.  For example, as we approach Christmas the wars are still being fought in the Middle East and Ukraine and then of course the largely forgotten wars in Africa and elsewhere eventuate the slaughter and hardship of so many people.  Even in our own city there is talk about introducing extraordinarily liberal and radical legislation in regard to Euthanasia.  How much darkness there is in our world!

However, the “Good News” continues of Jesus Christ in the midst of all this.

By way of an example, in more recent times a dear friend of mine, a Priest overseas, was given a Cancer scare.  He is quite a mystic and a leader internationally on Christian meditation.  All this was put to a fresh test when he was given a Cancer diagnosis.  Looking back on those days now he was able to quickly spiritualise the experience and brought out three expressions which could be real “Good News” for us in the hard times that all of our lives experience, quite often at this time before Christmas.

He mentioned that we are always reminding ourselves to be prepared for things like this but we are not truly prepared.  This is a real Advent aspiration isn’t it?  He then moved to the importance of trust.  We have to trust in the diagnosis of our Doctors and the best advice they give us is something that we would be rather reluctant to reject.  So trust is a big issue.  Lastly to accept the pain and inconvenience of the operation and then the healing process in the weeks and months following.

So in our Advent Season this experience of “Good News” in hard times can be summarised by his experiences, be prepared, trust, accept.  Let’s try to think about this carefully in the weeks ahead before Christmas.

Also let us not forget about the traditional reconciling actions that all of us as Catholics have been called to respond to in our penitential times of Advent and Lent.  The coming of the “Good News” of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is forwarded by Prayer (perhaps more intensely and more slowly), Penance (the importance of Confession before Christmas) and Alms giving (the importance of practical charity especially to St Vincent de Paul Society with food goods to those who will be finding the next few weeks very hard to celebrate.)

In regard to Gospel for today my eyes were drawn very much to the Second Reading from St Peter were he says, “While you are waiting, do your best to live lives without spot or stain so that he will find you at peace.”

So let our Gospel for this Sunday be “Do your best” or as other people sometimes phrases it – “Do you best, let God do the rest!”

HOMILY
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL
17th DECEMBER 2023
THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT (Gaudete Sunday)
(YEAR B)
AND MASS ONLINE

 Readings  Isaiah 61:1-2; 10-1120-26  1 Thessalonians 5:16-24  Gospel Matthew 1:1-8

You may recall last Sunday we reiterated the two non-negotiables of Christianity found in the first verse of the first chapter of Mark, who we follow over the next twelve Ymonths of the Liturgical year.

The first non-negotiable is that Jesus is described as “The Son of God.”  It is a statement about the divinity of Christ, fully divine.

The second non-negotiable is about the “Good News” in hard times being proclaimed by the coming of Jesus into our world.  Jesus entered into our misery and showed us, especially on the Calvary Cross, how He was also fully human.

So there we have the summary of last Sunday’s Gospels which proclaimed loud and clear that Jesus is fully Divine and fully Human.  Not one or the other but both.

This Sunday we have two more non-negotiables offered to us in the Liturgy of the Word.  There is the preaching of John the Baptist and the conversion of heart which is absolutely essential to our Christian way of life.

Another non-negotiable is that we are to praise God and rejoice in God at all times.  This is mentioned in the Second Reading but is very much a key point on this Third Sunday of Advent – Gaudete Sunday or Rejoice Sunday!

In meditating on these two bases of our faith from today’s Readings may I share with you a recent experience that I had that draws this together nicely.  A few days ago the Lord gave me an opportunity, in the light of the First Reading today which is “Proclaim liberty to captives, freedom to those in prison” to visit the Goulburn Correctional Centre.

I celebrated two Masses there.  One Mass in the Maximum Security section.  We were all surprised to see over 70 prisoners join in the Mass, possibly due to the enlightened policies of the new Governor.  This gathering together of prisoners from different divisions was somewhat unprecedented.  It did show, however, the immense Spiritual hunger and desire to come closer to Jesus during Christmas time by those who find that the prison is their home for the time being.

I told the men a story which I would like to now share with you.

I mentioned to them that I presume they are looking forward to the day when the locked doors will be opened and the chains on the gates removed so that they can walk out free.

I shared with them a story where I was recently very keen to go INTO a situation that was heavily secured by locked doors and chained gates!

A few weeks ago I was in Brazil representing the Australian Bishops at an International Conference on Migrants and Refugees.

This was a fascinating gathering together with Bishops from all around the world.  I won’t go into that at this stage.  The point that I wanted to make, is that on the last evening some of the parish priests from the huge Sao Paulo Archdiocese invited me out for a farewell evening meal.

Before I left, I made some enquiries, yes, there would be no trouble in going and the main gate could be unlocked by the pressing of some security buttons.  So I felt confident when I set out that this was not going to be an issue.

However, we arrived back at the Seminary compound at 10.00pm.  Even the outer perimeter fence was securely locked.  Sao Paulo is a city with an enormous drug problem.  It is simply not safe, in my estimation, to be walking outside in the public streets at night.  Yet that was what I was doing on that evening.  Fortunately one of the Parish Priests was there and we were trying to find if there was a secondary door that we could enter.  No luck.  Our telephone numbers were not helpful.  Nobody was answering.  As a last resource, we started yelling out hoping somebody inside would hear us.  Eventually a lady did appear out of a nearby home.  She was rather irritated.  Clearly we had woken her.  By this state it is 10.30pm.

Following a discussion with the Portuguese speaking Brazilian priest, she unlocked the gate and let me in.  Then she pointed to a sign that was quite clear and it read in Portuguese “All the gates would be locked at 9.00pm each night.”  I thought this was rather an early locking time if you were going for a meal.  At least from an Australian point of view!  Anyway, I waved goodbye to the parish priest and walked up the 300 metre path way to the compound were the Seminary was.

Sure enough, this compound was also securely locked but I had been given instructions to ring certain bells, which I did, but to no avail!  I could hear the bells ringing in the office but the office was clearly closed also!  I thought Brazil was the country of the Tango and other exotic dances.  However, it appears that everyone is in bed by 9.30pm!  By now it is about 11.00pm and I was thinking about having to climb the fence.   As before, I started yelling out to see if anyone could her me.  Eventually an elderly man did arrive.  He seemed not to be with the Seminary but his group rented the Seminary basketball court and they were just finishing up for the night.

He came up to me.  Of course I don’t speak Portuguese and he didn’t speak English.  I pointed to my cross and Episcopal ring to let him know that I was actually not a threat but a visitor to the Seminary.  He seemed totally unimpressed and walked away.   I continued to ring the bells and yell out.  About 10 minutes later he come back.  Quite unexpectedly, he did not say a word, but just simply opened the gate from the inside and walked off.  If the first gate opening was a bit of good luck, this was a very blessed moment.  I was so grateful.

I had not panicked and was activating the P.U.S.H. prayer attentively, meaning Pray Until Something Happens.  This was not the end of the story.  When I got to the Seminary I went right around this huge compound and not one external door was unlocked!  I was locked out for the third time but was determined to get inside.  The telephone number I had was now activated because I was within Wi-Fi distance of the building.  But, nobody answered!  It is now 11.30pm.  I walked around the compound a few times wondering what to do.  It was getting quite late and the rain was starting.

In desperation, I walked towards the wing of the building were the visitors, including myself, were housed.  I started yelling out at the top of my voice if anyone could hear me could they come and open one of the doors.  Absolutely no response.  By this stage it is Midnight or even later.

When this completely failed I walked around to the other side of the building where the Seminarians were.  I did see a couple of lights in the window and started to yell out again.

Eventually one of the windows opened.  It was one of the Seminarians I had met during my stay.  He had recognised me and came down and opened the gate for me!  My third gate opening!

As I said before, the prisoners at Goulburn Correctional Centre are keen to get out and I was keen to get in!   I am sure they understood what I was getting at.

Eventually I went to my room.  It was the only locked door I had a key for.  I walked into my room and knelt down by the little bed they provided me and thanked God for this third miraculous opening of locked gates.  Clearly the Lord was trying to tell me, not once, twice but three times, how he is the great un-locker of doors and un-tier of knots!

I mentioned to the prisoners, perhaps it is applicable to all of us, sometimes we cannot physically do much about our external circumstances and “prisons” but we can do a lot about our internal attitudes of the heart to these circumstances of life.

Jesus is the one who is the blinding light in the midst of the darkness of Bethlehem.  In the midst of all of their difficulties and problems, which we continue to have in our world and in our family and private lives, it is the Lord who never abandons us.  His grace still amazes us in the way that he comes into our lives and is so eager to transform our attitudes and bring them, by repentance, into the victory of His Redemption.  In the darkness of the world redemption is at hand!

So just to conclude, may I make two brief points.  If you ever visit Brazil make sure you are home before 9.00pm and secondly, never forget the P.U.S.H. prayer.  It really helped by out.  Pray Until Something Happens!  Let that be our “Gospill.”