Homily – November – 2023


 Readings:  Numbers 3: 5-9  Responsorial Psalm 83  1 Timothy 4: 12-16  Gospel Matthew 20: 25-28

 A special welcome tonight to our dear Mark Ha and particularly his family.  I am delighted to welcome his parents who are here tonight from Vietnam.  They are joined by some of Mark’s siblings and extended family.

Immediately I want to thank them for nurturing our dear Mark in a loving family home filled with Catholic devotion.  It is something for us to thank God for that Migrant communities, in a most particular way, are offering their children the possibility of becoming Priests and Religious in Australia at this time.  The Vietnamese humility and great faith are a wonderful blessing to Multicultural Australia.

I also note, in this regard, that two of our Seminarians here tonight and both are from Migrant backgrounds also – Bran Grgic from a Croatian background and Cinnil Thomas from an Indian background.  This night particularly, as we welcome young people from far and wide, I do ask you to think seriously about the possibility that the Holy Spirit might be calling you to the Priesthood.  We pray for you and pray for an increase of Vocations in Australia, and especially this Archdiocese.

Having said all this, it is quite clear, even by looking around the Cathedral tonight that the “face” of our priests in Australia has dramatically changed in recent decades.  No longer are they just white headed, elderly, Western and talkative people just like me…but now there are also dark haired, young Asian, African and Latin American, usually quietly spoken men just unlike me (!) who are raising their hands to be the presence of God, through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, in our very irritable culture of Australia at this time.

To my dear brother Mark.  I thank you for maturing in your humanity and vocation over these years that we have walked together in a synodal manner.  When we first met you spoke very little English but now you are fluent and capable of correcting the bad English of the Anglo Saxons!  You have allowed the Holy Spirit to mature and grow in you in this Australian setting.  Thank you for your openness to the Holy Spirit.  May you continue to be filled with the charisms of your Baptism for the service of the Church in this Archdiocese for many years to come.  Now in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, even further charisms will emerge from the office you take up in His Church so that you can minister as a Deacon and, please God, later as a Priest in this Archdiocese.

Dear Mark, you have become a Deacon at a very significant time in the Church’s recent history.  We have most recently come to the end of the first global Synod on Synodality with the addition of a second Synod this time next year.  At the same time, here in this Archdiocese, we have declared the next 12 months as the Year of the Holy Spirit and are trying to learn the language of Synodality in new and fresh ways, led by our dear Pope Francis.

It seems that all of us, in the Catholic Church, are rediscovering the Grace of God in the third person of the Holy Trinity – the Holy Spirit.  We need to learn and re-learn from our Ancient Traditions our Theological understandings of the action of the Holy Spirit in our Pastoral life.

As Pope Francis continually points out, and many times over the last month, it is the Holy Spirit who is the protagonist or leader of the life of the Church.  We are re-learning the language of the Holy Spirit and appreciating the gentle breeze and whispering of the Spirit, who doesn’t shout out but tends to speak to the Church in subtle and quiet ways.  This requires of us an attentive silence in our Pastoral life which must be peppered with times of solitary prayer, meditation and fasting.  Only this kind of silence (from which we get the word Obedience), can the Holy Spirit truly make us the people that God wants us to be and not the people we feel God wants us to be.  We do not want to repeat the sins of the Tower of Babel in the Book of Genesis.

In being open to the Holy Spirit today we are re-capturing the gifts, fruits and charisms of the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Baptism.  As often commented, perhaps over the last centuries, we have overemphasised the Sacrament of Holy Orders to the neglect of the Sacrament of Baptism.  Without, in any shape or form, diluting the great gift of the Sacrament of Holy Orders we must, at the same time, appreciate the many gifts and charisms that are given to us in Baptism.

This has many implications for us in the life of the Church and particularly for Clergy.  We must never think that Clergy give Laity a Pastoral ministry by virtue of some sort of delegation.  The poor theology undergirding such a delegation leadership, leads to a type of Clericalism and Elitism amongst us.  The conversion of souls to Christ could never take place through a service that is really based on arrogance and a patronising understanding of each other, either from Clergy or Lay people themselves.

We must learn from the Second Reading tonight from St Paul’s letter to Timothy.  St Paul makes it quite clear in this Second Reading that each one of us is gifted by God.  He says, “You have in you a spiritual gift which was given to you when the prophets spoke and the body of elders laid their hands on you; do not let it lie unused.”  With this in mind, we continue to pray for a new Pentecost in the Church of today so that, in this Year of the Holy Spirit, in this Archdiocese, we might be open to the electric current of the Holy Spirit with renewed energies in the service of God’s People.

The word “Synodality” comes to mind in today’s pastoral life more than ever before.  It is a simple word meaning to walk together in ways that intersect through our common Baptism and our service of each other.  We must learn to disagree well with Gospel boldness and not through gossiping and chattering in ways that mimic the Political or Ideological world of a secular society.  Pope Francis, over the Synod time, has reminded us all that we are God’s Choir or Orchestra.  There are many different voices and instruments that must sing and play in harmony forming a new communion of evangelisation in our time and place.

With this brief summary of the exciting things happening in recent Roman Catholicism could we make some Pastoral conclusions about a contemplative and Marian Synodal Church and its implications for a Deacon of today.  What does this look like?  What does this require of the Deacon of today?  Many things could be said, but two characteristics come to mind immediately.

As always, there must be profound humility in the way we exercise the Diaconate.  This comes to mind when we reflect on the beautiful Responsorial Psalm of tonight, Psalm 83.  There must be a contemplative dimension to the Diaconate if it is to be of humble service to the Lord.  As the Psalm mentions, it is a “longing and yearning” for the Lord.  We are to find our home in the Lord just like “the sparrow herself finds a home.”  We find real happiness by joining those “who dwell in your house, for ever singing your praise.”  To live out the Diaconate in today’s Church encourages this Marian spirituality that breeds in the nest of humanity where we, like Mary the Mother of the Church, “treasure and ponder” all that the Spirit is whispering into the hearts of the Church today.

To be a Deacon in a Synodal Church today requires great docility or teach-ability.  We need to learn the language of the Holy Spirit afresh so that we can identify charisms in ourselves, in our people and in our Parish and Archdiocese, and call them forward in discernment to serve in the Church in evangelisation imperatives.

Secondly, a Deacon in today’s Synodal Church is to, in a fresh way, serve the people of God.

This perennial truth is restated in tonight’s Gospel were Jesus himself says, “Anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant…you must be their slave…not to be served but to serve.”  Even tonight’s preface of the Eucharistic prayer underlines the service a Deacon renders to the Church, “To Lead your holy people in charity…nourish them with the word…and strengthen them with the Sacraments.”

A fresh Synodal Deacon of today is to find exciting ways to do what the Lord spoke to Moses about in the Book of Numbers in the First Reading…we are to “Muster the tribe.”

What does this mustering of the tribe mean today for a Deacon?  Certainly it is to bring God’s sheep who have strayed back to the fold.  The Deacon, through his ministry, is to evangelise by moving people from a cultural Catholicism back to the new Pentecost encounter with the Holy Spirit in a Kerygmatic and fresh way.  In mustering the tribe the Deacon is to see himself in a Kerygmatic way and must be very comfortable in proclaiming afresh the fundamental and basic announcement of the Kingdom of God in ways that attract and draw people back home in Christ.

But this is not enough.

The Deacon today is not only to be a good shepherd but he is also to be a good fisherman.  He is not just here to bring Catholics back to the practice of their faith.  He is also here as a fisherman to go into the deep waters of nonbelief, especially in Australia, and to bring people for the first time into a profound belief.  He does this with all the Church.  Indeed he is to live out the four “All’s” of evangelisation – that is, “All the Baptised are to preach to All the people, All the Gospel, All the time.”

Learning how to be a fisherman and not simply a shepherd, is a particular task not only for Deacons, Priests and Bishops, but all the People of God today.

As your Archbishop, dear Mark, I see myself as the first Catholic Evangeliser in the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn.  As our Year of the Holy Spirit suggests, in the way we are presenting this, evangelisation is the mother who has three children – the children’s names are Encounter, Discipleship and Mission.

I am sure that the changes that have occurred in the Seminary over the past few years will continue again, in a dynamic way, in the years ahead.  I predict that the Seminary training in the future will become more about the skilling of Seminarians in the art of “apostolic” fishing.

It is interesting that at the recent World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal, Pope Francis called on everyone to become exactly this – Evangelisers.

In one of his speeches he quoted the beautiful phrase of St Ambrose, the fourth century Bishop of Milan, a theologian and statesman, the Saint spoke of apostolic fishing.  The Saint said, “The means to be used in apostolic fishing are like nets: for nets do not kill the catch but keep it alive, they drag them from the depths into the light.”  This is a profound direction from the past to lead us into a direction for the future way of training of Priests and Deacons in this new millennium.  Who knows in the future, the Seminary of a next generation might change its name and become the Seminary of the Good shepherd and the Good fisherman!  Note that St Ambrose makes it quite clear that what is required here is not fishing rods but nets.  Bringing people from the darkness of unbelief into the light of faith.  This reiterates a word that Pope Francis continually used at Lisbon, the word is “Everyone.”  This is an invitation for everyone not just for some.

So dear Mark, this is the exciting world into which we now ordain you.  I know you have a great love of Mary the Mother of God.  In a special way we now call upon her intercession in the Sacred Rites that now take place.  May Mary, the Star of Evangelisation, lead you in your diaconate in the times ahead.  We make this prayer through Christ our Lord, Amen!

5th NOVEMBER 2023

 Readings  Malachi 1:14-2:2, 8-10  1 St Paul to the Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13  Gospel Matthew 23:1-12

Welcome everyone to this Mass in which we particularly thank the Lord for the great blessings of the Religious Orders that serve so beautifully in our Archdiocese over the last 100 years and please God for many more years to come.

It is unusual for us to have Readings from the prophet Malachi.  In the First Reading today the prophet laments the fact that there is weak leadership among those who should be offering leadership to the People of God.  He speaks at a time when the People of God have returned from exile in Babylon.  It should be a time of rebuilding and refreshing of their faith.  But, the prophet indicates that this has been very slow moving and criticises the Religious leaders for showing poor leadership.

In the Gospel today the Lord makes it quite clear again that the essence of leadership is Servanthood.  Gospel Servant leadership is what it is all about!  Jesus himself says, “The greatest among you must be your servant.  Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.”

In preparation for today’s homily and the gathering of our Religious, I came across quite a penetrating article on Pastoral care that was directed towards the founder of the Mercy Sisters of Ireland, who have served in this Archdiocese over many years.  The article was reflecting on the Pastoral life of Catherine McAuley.

It talked about three levels of Pastoral care.

The first level is, Sympathy.  Here we approach someone in need in a polite academic way.  The second level moves from the head and goes to the heart.  This is called, Empathy.  Here we start to move into the level not just of thoughts but feelings towards those in need.

But, the third and deepest level of all the Pastoral care, in which the author suggests Catherine McAuley spent her time in evangelisation, is on the level of Compassion and Mercy.  This involves the Head, the Heart, and the Hands.  Here we walk alongside the sufferings of others and we try to do something practical to assist them.  This is the Charism which Catherine McAuley hoped to generate in the Mercy Sisters.  It is a Charism that is given to everyone who follows the Gospel way.

So today we thank the Lord for the, over ten, Religious congregations that are represented in the Mass today.  We thank them, the Brothers, the Sisters and the Priests, who have assisted us in the years past and we look forward to many years of others.  In this regard I particularly welcome the Blessed Sacrament Fathers who are choosing a new Apostolate here in this Archdiocese.

Each of the Religious Orders have a Charism.  A Charism is the gift of the Holy Spirit which they emphasise to bring people home to the Lord.

But, by virtue of our Baptism all of us have been given a Charism.  It is not just left to the Religious Orders.  This is something that has been emphasised very much in the recent Synod on Synodality in Rome.  That is, by virtue of our Baptism, we have all been given a gift and that gift should be used to the greater glory of God.  We are to help each other to discern and co-discern what that gift might be.

It is interesting in the Second Reading today from St Paul, he states that our Pastoral work is “like a mother feeding and looking after her own, children.”

Certainly a Charism begins and finishes with a Motherly or Marian approach to the suffering of others.

Let us continue the Mass praying particularly for the suffering of others overseas who are in the war zones of the Middle East, Ukraine and Yemen, and other war zones in the world today.  There are also war zones in our families, in our streets and in our communities.

Particularly in our Canberra community we need the Charisms of the Holy Spirit to defeat a terrible anti-life culture that is springing up that would suggest legalising small quantities of hard drugs is a good idea or introducing widespread legalised Euthanasia.  Yet the contradiction of all this is that at the same time Canberra is quickly becoming one of the loneliest cities in Australia.  The climate is ready for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit in this year of the Holy Spirit.  A fresh outpouring of a contemplative evangelisation just like the founders of the Religious Orders represented here today have suggested to us over the centuries.

So, our “Gospill” for today is to quote the little invocation we make to one of the greatest Saints of recent times who is a great intercessor for us in our need…St Therese of Lisieux the Little Flower.  We pray to her and we say, “Little flower, in this hour, send your power!”