Last year, as we entered lockdown, the tools required to work from home were new to most of us, and yet we adapted and created new opportunities for the livestreaming of Mass, along with prayer and faith formation opportunities. While not being more physically and socially connected, technology has enabled us to be more virtually connected. However, even after one year, I still miss being able to greet people with a kiss, a handshake or a hug. I wonder if this will ever return!
In writing this message on Sunday 8 August, the feast of Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop, I am conscious of her legacy to us in Australia. We remember her as a woman of faith, imagination, courage, strength, love, compassion, simplicity, hope, leadership, prayer and witness. She trusted in God’s divine providence, a God who would never abandon her, and whose plans for her were beyond her understanding. This same God reveals God’s self to us in the moments of each day and, like Mary, we are being asked to listen, respond and trust in divine providence.
At the end of the Gospel reading from Matthew (6:25-34), for her feast day Mass we hear the words:
Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on God’s saving justice, and all these other things will be given you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
The words of the Collect give us a prayer for the week ahead:
O God, source of all goodness, who have shown us in Saint Mary, a woman of faith, living by the power of the Cross, teach us, we pray, by her example to live the Gospel in changing times and to respect and defend the human dignity of all in our land. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.
While reading the newspaper through the week, I read an article about a few groups who are running a social media campaign to encourage Australians to tick the ‘No Religion’ box on the census, which is to be completed this week on 10 August. In a letter from Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, to Catholic School Parents, he wrote:
This sells too many people short. We all know people of faith who practise only irregularly or who connect to God and Church in ways other than Mass attendance. They are all part of our family.
Knowing where all people of faith are, whatever their level of practice, allows us to plan for essential infrastructure such as Catholic churches, schools, hospitals and aged care services. It allows us to do what the Church has always done: to care for the local community.
In Catholic education, this translates into 1755 Catholic schools across the country, serving 777,000 students and their families, including yours.
Please encourage all your family and friends to mark their true religion on the census.
I must admit that it concerns me to think about what a post-Christian society might value and aspire to. Our diocesan synod process is attempting to plan a way ahead for the Catholic Church in our Diocese and for its place in our local context. How are we going to serve these communities?
It was on the feast of St Mary MacKillop in 2019 that Bishop Bill convoked our Diocesan Synod under her patronage. We are presently trying to seek out what God is asking of us as we try to move forward more faithfully as Christ’s Church. During that Mass Bishop Bill said the following as part of his homily:
It's good that we've done it on the feast of Mary Mackillop because in many ways Mary represents for us, I think the type of church that we do aspire to be. The scriptures were chosen to reflect to us this morning some qualities of Mary Mackillop, her generosity and poverty like the widow there in the first reading who having little, nonetheless shared it with God's prophet and all went well.
The Gospel asked us to reflect on Mary Mackillop's great serenity. "Do not worry. Do not be concerned. What are we to eat. What are we to drink."
The great freedom that the faith of Mary Mackillop gave her and the young women who gathered around her, went to extraordinary places in our country without obvious means of support and did their thing, not worrying.
Mary Mackillop was one of those who as we were instructed by the Lord in the Gospel sought first the Kingdom of God, knowing that the other things needed would be given to her. So, we go forward in that spirit.
The middle reading. St Paul writing to the Colossians is worth picking up as I've just done and reflecting upon for some considerable time. It has some precious words in it. "You are God saints, and he loves you." And then it lists off the things: “You should be clothed with sincere compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another, forgive one another soon as a quarrel begins. And over all these things to keep them together put on love. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts."
There is in some of those words, in all of those words really, the kind of church that we would aspire to be. As a people, in our communities, in our parish communities, and individually, that we might be marked as the people of Christ, the chosen race, marked by compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another, forgiving one another, and putting on over all of that a love that reflects the love of Christ.
Now as we prepare there are the things that we aspire to as individual Christians, as Christian communities, as a diocese, and, ultimately, as the Church in Australia; we aspire to be that sort of a people. And as we move towards our Synod, we hear the other exaltation of Christ speaking through St Paul as to how perhaps we come together. "May the message of Christ in all its richness find a home in you."
That's where we think about who we are to be by the message of Christ, the message of his life as much as his teaching. And then we come together, "teach each other and advise each other in all wisdom with gratitude in your hearts. Never say or do anything except in the name of Lord Jesus giving thanks to God the Father through him."
So as the Ceremonial of Bishops remarked, what we do is not simply about administration; it is about being the sacrament that the church is called to be. The sacrament that the individual baptised Christian is. The sacrament, the sign of God's power at work, that any parish, any community, is called to be, and that we as a diocese are called to be.
So, as we move towards our Synod, we let the peace of Christ reign in our hearts, and we try to let the message of Christ in all its richness find its place in us. Then we might share together what all of that is about and how we can better be that message of Christ incarnated in a people in this place and time.
So I would ask you all as we have gathered here today and begun in prayer, to keep constantly in your prayers the Synod, invoking the presence of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us all, of asking Mary MacKillop, patron, unofficial patron, first saint of our country, for her prayers for us as we journey together, try and serve the Lord, and shine the light in our place as she did in her place and time.
What a desire for us, expressed by Bishop Bill two years ago. This is still our hope as we journey with each other as we continue “To Build the Kingdom of God Together.”
Director Pastoral Ministries
10 August 2021