On Shrove Tuesday, Bishop Bill launched Project Compassion at the Cathedral, with many of our schools present. This year’s Project Compassion theme is “For a Just Future”, taking on the words of Pope Francis – We can only build the future by standing together, including everyone. I hope the remainder of my message demonstrates how this has happened in a variety of ways during the week.
Once again we were commissioned to:
- Contemplate: Pay attention to your relationship with God: spend more time with God, experiencing God’s love for you and the world
- Pray: Take to heart your responsibility as a baptised person to pray for others
- Listen to and sit with the stories that Project Compassion offers each week of Lent. What is God asking of us through these stories?
- Act justly in all your relationships and in your care for the earth
- Be generous: Give as much as you can to the poor via the Project Compassion boxes. The stories help you know what a difference that money makes to our neighbours
- And fast: fast from the things in your life that are unjust.
That day was brought to closure with the wonderful Call to Serve Mass, with the Cathedral full of teachers and staff from schools in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.
Awards were presented before our celebration of the Eucharist, a fitting way to give thanks for all that we have been given. This also reminds us of our vocational call means - to spread the Good News to the children and families in our schools. Bishop Bill reflected on our need to be one with each other and our God.
The week then progressed to Ash Wednesday, where we are reminded each year of our need to seek healing and forgiveness, from the one who created us. “Repent and believe in the Gospel”.
Friday saw the Bishop’s staff, those who work in the Chancery, at the Catholic Schools Office, CatholicCare, St Nicholas Early Education, DARA and the CDF, join with the parish and the school principals for a beginning of the year Mass.
Fr Brian was the main celebrant this year because of his time spent working with us, over many years, as the Vicar General. Fr Brian will be appointed as Bishop of Wollongong on 22 February.
The words of the first reading from Isaiah (58:1-9) on that day were very powerful, causing us to reflect on the nature of what we do as a diocesan church:
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!
Fr Brian reminded us that Isaiah, the prophet, was speaking to a people who were in exile. He was reminding them what it meant to be a people of God. I think that it might also serve as a reminder to us. This because there are times when we feel like we are an exiled people trying to live as Christians in a sometimes hostile world, where our values are misunderstood, contested and challenged.
Bishop Bill and I then joined other Newcastle religious leaders: Christian, Jewish and Muslim, for a lovingly-prepared meal with the Newcastle Hebrew Congregation, at the Newcastle Synagogue. One of the Jewish members pointed out the importance of food for the Jewish people with the phrase: “Let’s eat”.
In their custom, there is a special symbolism about beginning a meal with bread and the washing of hands before breaking the bread and sharing it, reminding me of the priest washing his hands before our Eucharistic Prayer and the Consecration.
Powerfully, we were invited to share our story which reflected the many different backgrounds of those who were present. In a group of about 20, there were people from Afghanistan, Egypt, America, Poland, South Africa, England, and Australia.
What a melting pot of nations, but all who gathered were people of faith, joining together in the shared belief of our one God.
I moved from this meal to our farewell function for Fr Brian Mascord at the Southern Cross Hall, near the Cathedral. About 350 people gathered to say thanks and to wish Brian well, prior to him taking up the role of Bishop of Wollongong. It was a wonderful afternoon of joy and sadness, of friends every grateful for his presence among them. Since gathering, the following chorus has been re-playing in my head and in my heart:
You are ever a part of our lives; all the good you have shared will live on
in our hearts. (Song of Thanksgiving – Norbert and Callahan, osb)
Much focus was given to Fr Brian’s motto of his ordination as priest and bishop: For all things give thanks. This comes from the first letter of St Paul to the Thessalonians, which finishes with these words: May the God of peace make you perfect and holy; and may you all be kept safe and blameless, spirit, soul and body, for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. God has called you and he will not fail you.
I loved the words and our actions to the Litany of Saints that we prayed in what was referred to as the ‘Maitland-Newcastle scrum’, where we put our hands on the shoulder of the person in front of us, connecting with those who were directly touching Brian. This web of people and hands and voices was tremendous. This was a moment of great grace and blessing.
When Fr Brian is ordained as the fifth Bishop of Wollongong this week, there will be at least 400 people from the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle attending. Of these, Fr Brian has baptized, has married and has been their parish priest to many. There are also many who are members of his family or “framily” (those people who are not directly related to you, but who are considered as family), are friends or are work colleagues. Brian has also accompanied many people whose family members have died - and some those family members will also be present.
I am sure there are many in the Communion of Saints who are holding Brian closely, as he takes this next big step of his continued ‘yes’ to God’s call. More than 4,500 people will attend his ordination as Bishop Brian Mascord. You might like to pray for Brian as he takes on this leadership role not only in the Diocese of Wollongong but also in the Church of Australia.
Let’s keep reaching out, touching and holding each other as we journey towards Easter.