Apr 27, 2008

Homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter, Year A - Given at Cronulla and Bundeena on April 27, 2008.

Readings: ACTS 8: 5-8, 14-17, I PET. 3: 15-18, JN 14: 15-21


From Easter to Pentecost our readings focus on the promises of Jesus to his disciples and on the first preaching of the apostles. Up until last Sunday the readings have focused on the themes of resurrection, the Eucharist and the life and way of Christ – ultimately we have discussed how we as Christians are to live on a daily basis in relationship with God and relationship with his community.


 This Sunday our readings begin to prepare us for the celebration of the mission of the Church – the great event of Pentecost. Many think the Holy Spirit was not within the disciples until Pentecost. Many in fact separate and explain God as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. However, when the Son is present, the Father and the Holy Spirit are also present. When the Spirit is present, the Father and the Son are present. God is one. We all know this. We often describe God with three personalities, but God is a unified Trinitarian God.


Last week we heard the words that Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life.”

My friends, there is no life without the Creative work of the Father, there is no life without the Word and Direction of the Son, and there is no life without the Spirit – the force that gives and sustains life. The Father was in the beginning, the Son was in the beginning, and the Holy Spirit was in the beginning. God was in the beginning.


The Jewish understanding of “Spirit” is helpful for us today. In Hebrew (ruach), Greek (pneuma) and Latin (spiritus) the word for spirit suggests breathing.  The idea is that when a person is breathing, he or she is alive.  It is from this notion that the idea of an animating, life-giving, intelligent and active force comes.


My friends, before Christ was born as man, the Spirit of God was within humanity. This Spirit was placed within humanity when Adam and Eve were created in God’s image and likeness. Every human being has this Spirit. Some people call it the breath of life, others call it a conscience, others call it reason or intelligence, or maybe it is that little idea in our head that makes us think before we do something.


In today’s Gospel, Jesus says that he “will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you for ever.” Some think that this means that the Advocate – the Spirit, was not within humanity until Pentecost. However Jesus continues in John’s Gospel: “That Spirit of Truth… is with you, he is in you.” Jesus is saying this before he even suffered and died.


So why do we have the event of Pentecost?

The Jewish tradition taught that when the Messiah came, God’s very own life (breath, spirit and mission) would be poured out upon all the faithful. Through the event of Pentecost, the life of God becomes the life of the Christian and the life of the Church.


Today’s readings give us some idea of why the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. The 2nd reading from the 1st letter of Peter exhorts the followers of Christ to “always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have. But give it with courtesy and respect and with a clear conscience.” The Holy Spirit given at Pentecost, and given to us through Confirmation, helps us to give answers to people. It helps us to live out our lives as followers of Christ – we need wisdom, understanding, courage, right judgement, knowledge, we need a wonder of the awesomeness of God, and as Peter said we need to “Reverence the Lord Jesus in our hearts,” and show reverence and respect towards those not walking with Christ. The Holy Spirit is within each of us, but through the event of Pentecost, each of us is given a new mission – a mission to bring the joy and love of God to our world, communities and families. Through Pentecost we are given this mission – the mission of the Church.


But how do we live the mission of the Church?

I am sure the mission of God is far greater than reading at Mass, or taking up the collection, or singing or cleaning the church building.

All these things are important in helping us to have reverence for God’s sacred place, or helping us to have more knowledge or understanding, or a more tangible experience of the wonder of God.

But each of us is called to take the mission of the Church with us when we leave the church today. The Church is not limited to this building, or to the bishops, priests or the pope. Each of us need to make our homes into a domestic church – a place where goodness and love are present, a place where there is hope for something more than what we see in the world.


My friends, do we live as if we are working for God? Do we look at our lives and say – what would Jesus do if he was in my family and in my situation?


I often hear people say: “The Church should do this or that.” Some people are unhappy about what the Church is doing. If you see a problem, if you see something the Church should be doing, then take action yourself and do it. The Church belongs to the people of God. It belongs to you. Each Christian family is a domestic church. Within your family church, you should be doing outreach, you should meet to pray, to discuss the mission and you should live the mission. If you see something that should be done, then don’t complain or question why the local church is not doing anything, get in there and do the work which we are all called to do.


My friends, ultimately the advice I give is not sufficient because each and every person knows the way to live the mission of Jesus – it is placed within our hearts – but we need to listen and provide space for God.


A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with some kindergarten kids and they were telling me about how they wished their dads would sit down and chat with them, spend some time with them, and ultimately show them some love. Their family church was letting them down.


My friends, Pentecost is just around corner. Let us begin to think about some conscious ways we can live the mission and life of God. The Holy Spirit is within each of us. Let us prepare to be strengthened by this Spirit which gives glory, praise and honour to God and to all his creation.


Let us pray:

Loving Lord and Father, you breathed your Holy Spirit to be within us and to give us life. You sent your Son to show us how to be perfect human beings, by loving you and all creation every moment of our lives. Strengthen us with your power so that we can life your life and mission in the world. We ask this all through Christ our Lord, Amen.


Apr 20, 2008

Homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter, Year A - Given at Cronulla on April 19-20, 2008

In today’s gospel Jesus makes the declaration that he is the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through Jesus.


My friends, many of us have certainly heard these words of Jesus many times before. We wouldn’t be at church today if these words didn’t have some meaning for us.

On face value, one might think that everyone is going to Heaven, or maybe everyone is going to Hell, except those who have a belief and a relationship with Jesus. But the Gospel message is a little more complicated.


God created humanity in his image and likeness. Hardwired within humanity is a desire for love, order, relationship, peace and ultimately a desire to dwell with God. Life lacks meaning if we fail to respond to this desire for God.

But we look around the world – Not everyone is a Christian. Not everyone is a Catholic. Not everyone is very religious.


What happens to them? Do they go to Heaven?

Well, if it wasn’t for Christ and for his suffering and glorification, no-one would be entering into Heaven. And I mean no-one.

Through the offering of Jesus our Lord and God, our relationship with God has been restored. Because of the great act of Christ, heaven is now open to all of humanity. A place in heaven is given to those who live life, truth and love to fullest.


I often hear people say – my friends are no longer Catholics or even Christians, they don’t come to church, but they are very spiritual good people. They believe they can experience God in nature and that’s enough. Why do they need a church? Why do they need a family? Can’t they keep their faith to themselves? Why pray on Sundays? Why pray at all?


I am sure that most of us know of someone who has walked away from Christ and from regular practice of faith. It is not just young people, but I know of people in their 60s, 70s and even 90s who have abandoned faith and relationship with God. I often feel unhappy when someone gives up on religion and even gives up on God.  Faith is not meant to be lived individually. Faith is lived in relationship and within the context of a community and a society. By having faith, we should want to bring others to faith.


Some people claim that all religions lead us to God and some even say that religion is not necessary provided a human being lives a “good” life. But faith and religious practice requires risk and commitment.  We have to take a leap and trust what Jesus said. We have to believe in eternal life and believe that what we are doing here is what God wants. 


Surprisingly, the founders of some of the other major world religions were not entirely sure as to the way to God. 

The founder of Taoism (604-531 BC), said: ‘Get rid of all desires, you will have a contented life on earth; but I am not sure about the next life.” 

Buddha taught to reach self realization through total detachment and “nirvana”; but he was not sure if that would lead one to God. 

Confucius confessed that he did not know of an eternal life or the way to attain it. 

The founder of Islam, Mohammed, admitted that he had no hope of the future unless Allah puts His mantle of mercy on him. 

But Jesus claims that he is the only way to God, not just for Christians but for everyone. The catch is that his guaranteed way, his iron-clad agreement way to God involves commitment. 

Catholicism is the school of becoming more like God. We come to Mass week after week and we are reminded about how we must focus on God, walk the way of God, believe and how we need to live life to the full. The way of God involves giving – giving of time, our talents and ultimately all that we have so that the Kingdom of God can be spread and can flourish. God simply did not become man to feel better about himself. He came to give us life, to show us the way, the truth and the life.


For this week, I encourage you to take the message of Jesus to those who may not be consistently walking with God. Maybe it is your husband or wife or children, maybe it is a friend or a work colleague, or maybe it is at the bowls club or the pub.


Often people think: I have my religion and they have their understanding. Let’s leave it at that. Whatever the case, our faith gives us direction, it gives us the truth and it gives life and joy, not just in eternal life, but now also.


Statistics show that people who are committed and practicing their religion are considerably more happy and peaceful with life, marriages are more successful, and life doesn’t seem to be as difficult.

Maybe other religions have what it takes, maybe people don’t need any religion at all, but Christianity and living life in Christ in the context of a supporting family is much easier than doing it alone – and according to what Jesus says: eternal life is guaranteed for those who believe and live the life of Christ.


I know that I find happiness, peace and meaning in my life by serving God and his Church. Yes, I would have loved to have been married, but God is calling me to serve his kingdom in a special way. By conforming my life to Christ, I can pour out the love of God to all people I meet. Many people in the world ridicule me, and priests and future-priests for offering our lives as a service to God and to humanity. But I tell you now that life in Christ is fulfilling. I am at peace and I enjoy seeing people become more loving, more peaceful and more with God, not just in death but also in life. But I don’t just live this life for me – I do it because it is the right thing to do.


A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with a few kindergarten kids and they were saying that they wished their dads would sit down, chat to them and what they were ultimately asking for was for their dads to show them some love. I was disappointed to hear that some of the kids wished their dads were more like me.

Don’t leave it to the deacon, the priest or the grandparents to show love to those around us or to give a kind word.

Don’t just be nice when cultural norms require us to. Love and spread that love all the time.


My friends, let us share the message of Christ in our world. Let us take the message to our families, to our workplaces and to our friends and clubs. The message and way of love, truth and life are important. Let us live it with joy.


Let us pray: Jesus, you are the way, you have the truth and you are the source of life. Help each of us to consciously walk your way today. Give us understanding to see the truth and give us courage to live life full of love, peace and joy. Amen


Apr 15, 2008

Homily for 4th Sunday of Easter, April 14, 2008 - Given at Cronulla.

Readings: ACTS 2: 14, 36-41; 1PETER 2: 20-25; JN 10: 1-10


Today is often referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday.  Both the Old and New Testaments use the image of a shepherd and his flock to describe the unique relationship of humanity to God. Jesus is our Good Shepherd.


Today we heard psalm 23 (sometimes known as psalm 22), which is perhaps the most famous of all psalms and is often chosen for funerals. For many people, it is their most favourite psalm or Scriptural passage.

In the early Church, as early as the year 150, there is evidence to show that this psalm was sung after the baptism of Adults during the Easter ceremonies, as the newly-baptised made their way to the altar to receive their first Communion. It is not a coincidence that it is prayed today, in the midst of the Easter season, in the context of our Eucharistic celebration.  


Psalm 23 was considered by the early Fathers of the Church to be “a mysterious summing up of the successive sacraments of initiation” – Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist.”


Today I would like to focus on a few elements within this great psalm.


“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.”

St Gregory, bishop of Nyssa in the 4th century said “By this psalm, Christ teaches the Church that first of all you must become a sheep of the Good Shepherd.” Today’s gospel tells us that Jesus is the Shepherd and the gate or door to heaven. Shepherds at the time of Christ tendered and looked after their flock. At night, the shepherds would lead their sheep into an enclosed area, but most enclosed areas did not have gates, so the shepherds would lie down across the entrance and would become the gate or door. Jesus lay himself down for us, so that we would have limits and we would know that Jesus is protecting us and keeping us safe.


The Psalm continues: “Fresh and green are the pastures where he gives me repose.”

 St Gregory said that we “see in these pastures the catechesis required for Baptism, in which the soul is nourished with the word of God.”

St Cyril of Alexandria said “the place of green pastures should be understood of the words that are always fresh and green, the words of inspired Holy Scripture.” The Scriptures nourish the hearts of believers and the Word of God gives us spiritual strength. My friends, this is what we are doing at the moment. We have read passages from the Word of God, and now we are walking in the fresh and green pastures.


“Near restful waters he leads me, to revive my drooping spirit.”

St Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria in the 4th century wrote: “The restful waters without doubt signifies holy Baptism by which the weight of sin is removed.”


“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, no evil would I fear.”

St Gregory said: “You must be buried in death with Jesus by baptism. But it is not death itself, but a shadow and an image of death.” St Cyril says that baptism is not to be feared.


Psalm 23 continues: “My head you have anointed with oil.”

My friends, at Baptism and confirmation our heads are anointed with holy oil. Psalm 23 is loudly and boldly proclaiming the sacramental rituals of the Church. We didn’t invent this stuff because we liked complicated services.


It continues: “You have prepared a banquet for me in the sight of my foes.”

St Cyril says that this “sacramental table is the flesh of the Lord, which strengthens us against our passions and the demons.”

The Fathers of the Church understood this banquet as being the Celebration of the Eucharist. This is what we are entering into now. The last few weeks the Gospels have been talking about Eucharistic themes. The Eucharist, not just any old Church service, but the Eucharist is the service and celebration of the Risen People. The New Testament explains it, the Old Testament prepares for it, and Christians from the time of Peter have celebrated it. The Eucharist feeds us as Christians.


“My cup is overflowing.”

The earliest Greek translations of the Hebrew Psalm 23 translated this verse as “the inebriating chalice.” St Cyril makes reference and comparison between this verse and getting drunk. He says: “the inebriation that comes from the chalice of the Lord is not like that given by profane wine.” When we drink from the chalice, we don’t drink to get drunk.


Fr Witold was telling me a few weeks ago about how after Mass one Sunday, he drank the rest of the chalice, which was quite full, and he then finished the Mass. After getting in his car, he was pulled over and breathalysed about 100 metres from the church. Surprisingly, he was found to be completely without any alcohol in his system.


The Chalice of the Lord contains alcohol. But the effects are felt spiritually. St Cyril says “the chalice of the Lord inebriates in such a way that it leaves us our reason, it leads to spiritual wisdom, by it each person comes from a taste for profane things to the understanding of the things of God.” When someone is drunk, they can often be full of joy, carefree, and have a feeling of satisfaction. The Eucharist produces spiritual effects which are similar to those of drunkenness. We receive spiritual joy, forgetfulness of the things of earth, and even ecstasy of God through receiving the Eucharist. The difference is that the inebriation given by the Eucharistic wine is a “sober inebriation.” It is not like a drug. This is real. This is why people choose to come to Mass on Sundays and why many people choose to come to Mass every day.


St Ambrose said that “the inebriation of the chalice is good, for it does away with the sadness of a sinful conscience and pours out the joy of everlasting life.”


My friends, I could continue the explanation verse and word at a time, but I am not going to. St Ambrose said: “How many times have you heard Psalm 23 without understanding it?” Let us understand it and treasure what it is telling us.

Jesus our God, is our shepherd. He wants to protect, to nurture us and to give meaning, purpose, joy and love in our lives.


My friends, let us believe what is occurring in our midst. Let pray to receive the graces that God is wanting to pour out on us by eating at this banquet.


The Eucharistic Celebration is not a medieval invention of the Church. The Old Testament has prepared the way for Christ and has prepared the way for the Church and for the sacraments. What we are doing here is what King David prophesized about in Psalm 23, more than 3000 years ago.


This is our faith. Let us enter into this celebration expecting to receive Christ’s nourishment and power in our lives.


“Surely goodness and kindness shall follow me all the days of my life.

In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell for ever and ever.” Amen.


Apr 7, 2008

Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, 2008 - Given at Cronulla

Today’s Gospel recounts one of the great post-resurrection experiences in the early Church. The Gospel is full of meaning, and in 22 verses, Luke masterfully depicts a journey, an encounter with Christ, a lesson about the scriptures, a meal of supernatural significance, a return journey to Jerusalem and an experience with the community of believers.

According to Jewish law, faithful Jews were not permitted to undertake a journey on the Sabbath (Saturday). However, the day after the Sabbath was always a popular day for travel. The day after the Sabbath was the day of the resurrection of Christ, the day we now call Sunday, the day we undertake our spiritual journey.

Cleopas and his friend heard that Mary Magdalene found the tomb of Christ empty, and they were aware that Peter and John also visited the tomb, but saw nothing. In a similar way to Thomas in last week’s Gospel, Cleopas and his friend were unable to believe that Jesus was alive and they decided to return to their normal life. They moved on and began their journey away from Jerusalem towards a town called Emmaus (a town meaning “warm springs” – interpreted by some as meaning a place where one is lead towards the rivers of Hell.)

In the Scriptures, the city of Jerusalem is often connected with the Heavenly Jerusalem and identifying with Jerusalem was identifying with Heaven. The Gospel writer is illustrating the change in attitude of Cleopas and his friend. Through their actions, they had chosen to reject the ways of Christ and walk towards the “valley of darkness.”

In the midst of their journey away from faith, the risen Christ comes to guide them and support them. Calling to mind Psalm 22, “If I should walk in the valley of darkness no evil would I fear. You are there with your crook and your staff; with these you give me comfort.” The Risen Christ begins his encounter with “hard love.” He calls Cleopas and his friend “foolish men,” and he firmly corrects them for their lack of belief. Then Christ explains the Old Testament references to Christ, how Christ is the innocent lamb, how Christ will suffer and enter into his glory – the glory of his death and resurrection. The Old Testament is full of references to Christ and his glory.

Jewish custom compelled Cleopas and his friend to offer hospitality to their new friend. In the context of the meal, their friend (the Risen Christ) took the bread, said the blessing, broke it and handed it to them. As they received the broken bread they were no longer able to see Jesus as a physical person, but recognised Jesus in the bread they had received and eaten.

Since their minds had been opened to the glory of Christ, and they had recognized Jesus in their midst, they immediately began their journey back to Jerusalem and the way of eternal life, and they spread the good news to the community of believers they had previously abandoned.

Christians are called together on the day of the resurrection (every Sunday) to enter into the Emmaus experience. Our Mass begins with a recognition that each of us are “slow to believe” and that we are foolish in the eyes of God (Penitential Rite). We then read the Scriptures and Christ comforts us and opens ours eyes to Christ’s glory in the Old and New Testament. Once we see Christ in our presence, the bread is taken (the offertory), blessed (the Eucharistic Prayer), broken (the Lamb of God) and given to us (Communion). Having received Christ in communion, we are sent into the world to bring the message of Christ to others: “Go in the peace of Christ to love and to serve the Lord.”

The celebration of Mass is the great event of the story of Emmaus, the great celebration of the Scriptures and the great event of the Christian people. Let us listen to the Word of God, and pray that we will be given the grace to see Christ in the breaking of bread and enter into the journey towards eternal life on the day of resurrection with Cleopas and his friend.


Apr 2, 2008

Homily for 2nd Sunday of Easter (DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY) - Given at Cronulla, March 30, 2008.

Readings: Acts 2: 42-47; I peter 1: 3-9; John 20: 19-31



Hardwired within every human being is an urge to find inner peace. Some people look for peace through political activism, others try to find peace through success, fame, family, fortune, or through helping others. But ultimately, lasting peace can only be found in the Risen Lord. In today’s Gospel the Risen Lord stood among the disciples, he showed them that he was alive and he offered them his peace.

In recent times the Second Sunday of Easter has become known as the Sunday of Divine Mercy. Many people have tended to link this feast explicitly with Devotion to the Divine Mercy Chaplet, but Divine Mercy Sunday is about far more than a devotional prayer or a private revelation of God.

Accepting and understanding the need for God’s Mercy is essential for faith, for relationship with God, and for personal and communal peace. When Christ appeared to St Faustina in Poland in the 1940s, the Risen Lord appeared in the midst of World War II and the devastating holocaust which killed millions of people. After the war many Nazi officers confessed that somehow they had lost all sense of mercy, love and sympathy towards those who didn’t agree with them. Conversely, in order for those who were persecuted by the Nazis to find inner peace with God, they needed first to forgive the Nazis for their wrongdoings.

Forgiving someone is difficult, but it is especially difficult when it involves great acts of evil. The act of forgiving our enemies and those who have hurt us greatly is not normal for humans – forgiveness and mercy is a godly act. Faith in God and resurrection requires us to accept that each of us has sinned, that each of us has done terrible things to God and to those around us, and that each of us need the Mercy of God.

“The first man (Adam) was made of the dust of the earth; the second man (Jesus) is from heaven. Just as we have worn the likeness of the man made of dust, so we shall wear the likeness of the heavenly man.” I Cor 15:47,49.


After Christ appeared to St Faustina, she had an icon painted depicting how she experienced Jesus. It shows white and red rays of light coming from the heart of Our Lord. The white rays represent the sacraments of Baptism and Penance, sacraments in which our sins are washed away.  The red rays represent the Eucharist. In the Eucharist we taste and receive the death and Resurrection of Jesus within us.  These three sacraments make us both givers and recipients of Divine Mercy.  At the canonization of St. Faustina, Pope John Paul II said: “The Cross, even after the Resurrection of the Son of God, speaks and never ceases to speak of God the Father, who is absolutely faithful to His eternal love for man... Believing in this love means believing in mercy.”


The second part of today’s gospel presents the fearless apostle St. Thomas, in his uncompromising honesty, demanding a personal vision of and physical contact with the risen Jesus as a condition for his belief in Jesus’ resurrection.  Thomas typifies the doubts, skepticism, and hesitation that plagued all the early witnesses to the risen Jesus, and which at times can plague all of us.  Thomas was able to overcome his doubts by seeing the risen Jesus, but modern Christians, who are no longer able to "see" Jesus with their eyes, must believe what they hear. Belief without all the evidence involves a risk, but the risk of getting into heaven is worth taking.


The great profession of faith, “My Lord and my God” in today’s gospel is very significant because it is the foundation of our Christian faith.  Our faith is based on the divinity of Jesus as proved by his miracles, especially by the supreme miracle of his resurrection from the dead. “My Lord and my God” is significant because it culminated in Thomas’ self surrender to Jesus, his heroic missionary expedition to India in A.D. 52 and his fearless preaching and powerful testimony by life, which led him to his martyrdom in A.D. 72. It was faith in God and obedience to his missionary command that prompted St. Thomas to travel to India to preach the gospel and eventually face martyrdom. 

The Fathers of the Church prescribe the following means to grow in the living and dynamic faith of St. Thomas the Apostle:

1. Know Jesus personally and intimately by the daily and meditative reading of the Bible. 

2. Strengthen your faith by the power of the Holy Spirit through personal and community prayer.

3. Share in the divine life of Jesus by often frequenting the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist.

Mother Teresa presents it this way: “If we pray, we will believe; if we believe, we will love; if we love, we will serve. Only then can we put our love of God into action.”