Homily – May – 2023

14th MAY 2023

Readings  Acts 8: 5-8.14-17  1 Pt 3:15-18  Gospel John 14:15-21

In today’s First Reading we get a glimpse of the Easter missionary activity of early Christianity.    In the First Reading St Philip, always noted for introducing diverse groups to the Lord, now continues to proclaim the Easter message to those on the periphery in a Samaritan town.  The Acts say that he “proclaimed the Christ to them.”  This means he proclaimed the Kerygma to them.  He proclaimed to them the intoxicating Good News that Jesus has died and is risen and calls us to conversion and surrender to the Holy Spirit to transform people into becoming the Missionary Disciples of the Resurrection.

This of course involves a conversion.  It is interesting to note that in this town “the people united in welcoming the message Philip preached.”  I am rather attracted to that word “United.”  In coming together as God’s converted people they formed the early Church.  We have become who we are meant to be as God’s Church when we welcome the Holy Spirit into our lives as God’s People.  Doing that, there will always be “great rejoicing.”

A wonderful image of our emerging Christian Church is the image of Mother.  Today is Mother’s Day.  We have always described Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as the “Mother of the Church.”  When we refer to the Church we use the pronoun “she” (not he or it).  It is always the feminine pronoun.

We are always feminine before the initiative of God’s grace in our lives through the Holy Spirit.  Our apostolate is to be “Mothers to the world.”  An ancient expression of this is the describing of motherly mercy as a “nurturing womb.”

Over the millennia this Holy Mother Church has been a mother in Health, Education and Social Services apart from many other apostolates but these are the main ones here in Australia.

At the moment, believe it or not, we are experiencing in this fair city of Canberra an attack on the Mother Church in our principal Public Hospital – Calvary Hospital, Bruce.

Calvary is at a Calvary point!  The ACT Government has stunned us all by wanting to compulsorily acquire the site on which Calvary stands.  This is despite the fact that we have only concluded 44 years of the 99 year lease.  Through terrible draconian action they are demonstrating all that is ugly in our fair country of Australia.  I have written you a letter and you will find it in the bulletins today.  This will explain this Health emergency in our midst in a fuller way.

For the time being I want to encourage you, if you are so inclined, having read about this to make a practical response by signing our electronic petition.

We place this whole situation in the motherly arms of Mary and call on her intercession.

I invite you to turn your heads toward the Marian shrine and we can have a moment of silence on this Mother’s Day and pray that this motherly expression of our evangelising work will not come to be the object of this terrible draconian proposed Legislation.

…Let us pray together now the Hail Mary.  Hail Mary…

I conclude by offering today’s “Gospill” which comes from today’s Gospel when Jesus promises us on these weeks before Ascension and Pentecost that the Holy Spirit will live in us “because he is with you, he is in you.”   There we have a beautiful expression in the next line, “you in me and I in you.”

Let’s repeat this beautiful expression, “you in me and I in you” and surrender our lives and all our situations into the arms of Jesus who sends us His Holy Spirit.

21st MAY 2023

Readings  Acts 1: 1-11  Eph 1:17-23  Gospel Matthew 28:16-20

Perhaps some of the most consoling words of the Lord Jesus are found in today’s Readings.

Particularly, all of us are drawn to the Lord’s final words before He ascended into Heaven when he says, “I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.”

We also feel these consoling words are echoed in so many of the psalms, especially psalm 23.  In verse 4 we all have memorised almost by heart, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil for you are with me, your rod and your staff: they comfort me.”

We should not be surprised that the Lord’s final consoling words of being with us are similar to the first words when he entered the world at Bethlehem where he was given the name “Emmanuel.”  Here again this word means, “God with us.”

On this great Solemnity of the Ascension we recall that Jesus physically leaves us as the Resurrected Lord and Saviour and returns to the Father in Heaven.

In the First Reading it is, “forty days” since Easter has passed.  The expression “forty days” is significant.  There were “forty years” in the desert in the Old Testament when the People of God travelled on their pilgrimage of conversion before they entered the Promised Land.  Jesus himself, when He began His ministry, fasted and prayed in the desert for “forty days.”

“Forty days” means a long time of preparation.  The Risen Lord has been preparing His Disciples for this moment of His Ascension for a long time.

In the Gospel it takes place “on the mountain.”  Again, we recall that the Ten Commandments were given to Moses on the mountain.  Now on the mountain Jesus leaves us but promises he will send the Holy Spirit which we celebrate at Pentecost.

There is a curious detail however.  Those that join the Apostles ask, “Why are you men from Galilee standing here looking into the sky?”  The Holy Spirit is promised at Pentecost and at the end of time we will join him, the Risen Lord in Heaven.  In the meantime we are not simply to passively stare into the skies with nostalgia.  It is almost as if this curious detail is saying, “In this in-between time get on with it!”  What is this “it”?  We are to, “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations.”  This command to evangelise takes many forms.  Could I offer two recent examples.

Firstly, a form of Evangelisation is happening today, we celebrate the 8th Anniversary of Pope Francis’ great Integral Ecology Encyclical, Laudato Si.

I am very happy to welcome today the Archdiocesan Caring for Creation Group.  I will present to them our Action Plan for 2023 – 2030.  One special feature of this wonderful group that has emerged in our Archdiocese is the great collaboration they have with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in this locality.  That is surely a sign of the Holy Spirit.  I offer them my welcome and deep support.

The second recent example is one that you will all know through the media.  That is the compulsory acquisition intent of the ACT Government with regard to our beloved Calvary Public Hospital at Bruce.

In the 200 hundred years plus of the Catholic Church’s presence here in Australia, we have involved ourselves particularly in the Apostolic Evangelisation works of Health, Aged Care, Education and Welfare.  Here in this fair city of Canberra we are the largest non-government employer for these important services of mercy to those on the periphery.

Therefore it comes as an enormous surprise to us, this hostile acquisition intent of the Government.  Never before has a Federal, State or Territory Government engaged in such a takeover of a Christian institution by compulsorily acquiring its assets, staff, and clients, ending its Ministry here.

The shock and terrible precedent this sets cannot be underestimated.

As part of evangelisation, apart from doing all that we can practically to reverse this decision, I do ask you to practically respond by signing our online petition (www.savecalvary.com.au).  Also I have requested a Prayer Vigil starting at 7.30pm here in St Christopher’s Cathedral in Canberra this coming Wednesday.  I have also invited our friends from Ecumenical and Inter-faith backgrounds.  Please come and join us if you can.  It will also be live streamed.

Finally our “Gospill” for this day is the consoling words of Jesus, “I am with you always; yes to the end of time.”

Let us be consoled always, no matter what situation regarding the challenges of our evangelisation activities, that Jesus is with us with the power of His Spirit.

28th MAY 2023

 Readings  Acts 2: 1-11  1 Cor 12:3-7  Gospel John 20:19-23

Today is the great Solemnity of Pentecost.  At this high liturgical moment we bid farewell to the Easter Season.

You may be surprised that in the Scriptures there are three different “times” for Pentecost.  The first Pentecost occurred, indeed, at the foot of the Calvary Cross.  Here Jesus breathed His last on the “little company of Mary” at the foot of the Cross.  There was Mary, Mary Magdalen, St John and a few others.

The other two “times” of Pentecost happen in today’s Scriptures.  The first happens immediately after the death of Jesus in today’s Gospel.  “The doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews.”  Jesus then stands amongst them, he showed them his hands and his side, His wounds, and says to them twice “Peace be with you.”

The Scriptures then say that “He breathed on them and said: Receive the Holy Spirit.”

The third and most celebrated moment Pentecost happened indeed “when Pentecost day came round.”  So there was a period of about 50 days since the Resurrection where the Disciples tried to gather together once more and wait for what was promised.  They experience the Holy Spirit and, in total contrast to what happened at the Tower of Babel in the Book of Genesis, they went out immediately proclaiming Jesus as Lord and were understood by people of all nationalities and languages.

When we search the Scriptures to find words to describe Pentecost, no matter what “time” a number of words seem to be commonly used.  We hear the words in today’s Scriptures, “receive…fill…breath…showing of wounds…wind…peace…own language…being sent…the marvels of God.”  So clearly it was not just a philosophical understanding of Christ’s Resurrection.  It was an experience.

If we then search the Scriptures for what responses were made to this experience of the Easter Jesus, there seems to be two aspects.  First of all they go out immediately to proclaim that “Jesus is Lord” as the Second Reading from St Paul mentions.  In other words they proclaim the Kerygma – the initial and fundamental proclamation that it is Jesus…the Lord…who is…not was or will be.  Secondly there is the commission seen particularly in the Gospel of obeying Jesus’ words when He says, “So am I sending you.”  They go out as evangelisers into the world.  We are all part of that evangelisation of the Holy Spirit until Jesus comes again at the end of time.

Not only in the Scriptures but also in the liturgy we are able to get a sense of what Pentecost is all about.  This is most beautifully seen in poetry in the “Pentecost Sequence” that was sung by the choir just before the Alleluia verse a moment ago.

This Pentecost sequence is sometimes called the “Golden Sequence.”  There are five such sequences at different liturgical moments in the Church’s life.  This one is 1,000 years old and is called the Veni Sancte Spiritus.  It is a long prayer but there is one part that touches my heart when this ancient sequence chants, “Bend the stubborn hear and will; Melt the frozen, warm the chill; Guide the steps that go astray.”  Here we see the quintessential action of the Holy Spirit which has a warming, melting, guiding and reassuring presence in the heart of the believers.

In more recent times I have come across a beautiful Australian expression of this in our own symbolism.

On this Reconciliation Week in regard to our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people I recall a story that the Apostolic Nuncio of Australia recently told me on his return from Northern Australia.

He and the local Bishop went into an Aboriginal community.  They welcomed him.  Not by using the smoking ceremony that is often used in this part of Australia.  The Smoking ceremony is not universally used.  There are many ways that different Aboriginal communities across our Nation welcome visitors.  This particular Aboriginal group did the following.

Warming their hands on the nearby fire when the Archbishop and the Bishop arrived they then placed, in welcome, their warm hands on his head, then on his heart and then knelt down and placed their warm hands on his feet.  The fire warmed and welcomed their visitors.  I think this is a beautiful Australian example of “melting the frozen and warming the chill.”

Let us always look for links between our Catholic beliefs and the sincere and ancient cultural beliefs of our First Australians, especially in this Reconciliation Week.

Of course once again we ask the Holy Spirit, in the intercession of Mary, to warm the coldness in the political heart of the ACT Government as they seemingly are prepared to go unrepentant towards the hostile compulsory acquisition of our beloved Calvary Public Hospital, Bruce.

This will come to a climax mid-week.  Let us continue to pray for the intercession of Our Lady Help of Christians to intervene and to help us in our time of need.

I invite you now to remain seated but turn towards the statue of Our Lady Help of Christians and pray in silence with me for a moment and then we will conclude with the Hail Mary.

The “Gospill” for today is the great summary of Christianity in three words – Jesus is Lord.