HOMILY FOR MASS OF THE SOLEMNITY OF CHRIST THE KING- St. Mary's Cathedral, Sydney

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP,
26 Nov 2017

HOMILY FOR MASS OF THE SOLEMNITY OF CHRIST THE KING
St. Mary's Cathedral, Sydney

It was only in the totalitarian twentieth century, in which crueller things were done by the rulers of the earth, on a larger scale and with more devilish refinement, than ever before in human history, that Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King. Against the pretensions of the Fascists and Marxists, he insisted that some values precede and transcend the state, and that reverence for God and His law, for the human person and human dignity, must be supreme. To celebrate Christ as King is to claim those higher values for ourselves. On this last day of the liturgical year we might usefully assess our nation and ourselves against those standards and ask what remedial help is needed.

There is much to praise about Australia today: our highly productive economy supports affluence for most people, there is law and order and widespread respect for human rights and responsibilities. In other respects, this year's report-card doesn't look great. Confidence in our political system is at an all-time low, as identity politics has replaced ideas politics, MPs come and go, and the government struggles to govern. Our detention policy on Manus falls foul of every test of solidarity and decency given by the Lord in our Gospel today (Mt 25:31-46); the lack of affordable housing is likewise a serious deficit; and to our shame contemporary forms of slavery are still found or funded in Australia. Our national security is threatened by terrorists, and a new lethal threat, euthanasia of the elderly and dying, was held at bay by only one vote in the New South Wales parliament. Most frighteningly, it will be legal South of the border - the first state-sanctioned killing in Victoria since capital punishment was abolished there in 1975. Altogether there is "room for improvement" on our national report-card.

The elephant in the cathedral is, of course, the marriage poll. As citizens we respect the decision and as fellow human beings we share in the desire for fairness toward same-sex attracted people. But the civil discourse over this matter (as on so many matters of late) was, frankly, dismal; there was little serious analysis of what marriage is and people were left to vote on the basis of sentiment. In the end, just shy of half of those entitled to vote ticked 'Yes' to redefining marriage, while the other half either voted 'No' or abstained altogether. This city, in particular, was deeply divided over the matter, highlighting a fractured consensus over fundamental institutions and principles. But those journos, corporates and politicians who engineered the result dismiss dissenters as benighted or bogan. To celebrate the 'victory', a deeply offensive public mural was erected, depicting a former Prime Minister of this country performing a sex act on a former Archbishop of Sydney as they took part in a same-sex wedding. Meanwhile our political masters cannot agree on what rights, if any, people of faith or traditional views of marriage should have in this brave new world.

I identify "room for improvement" on our nation's end-of-year report card conscious that, with the Royal Commission about to issue its final report-card also, church leaders are in no position to wag fingers at anyone. The humiliating revelations of that inquiry have goaded us to a much better response but also reduced the Church's credibility as a voice for life and love, faith and justice. This helps explain the vengefulness of some 'social progressives', their unwillingness to allow any space for believers, and the growing numbers declaring 'No religion' to the census. On the other hand, 19,000 young people have registered for our Australian Catholic Youth Festival starting Thursday week, so faith clearly has a future in Australia.

I leave it to your own consciences to assess your personal moral and spiritual performance this year by Jesus' standards. But as today's Gospel premonition of the end-of-days (Mt 25:31-46) suggests, people will be divided right and left, not on their social or ecclesiastical politics but on whether Christ's justice and mercy reigned in their lives.

As we come to year's end, we are confronted once again with the questions: who or what really rules in our world, our lives, our hearts? From whom do we take our direction? From Christ and His saints, Messrs Turnbull or Shorten, the media, the celebrities, our peers? What principles are sovereign in our lives: Jesus' tenets of nourishing the needy, liberating the trapped, and loving the unlovely? Or the values of this world, such as maximising wealth, power and pleasure, always getting our own way, and sacrificing for no-one?

To put it another way: when we pray 'thy kingdom come' in the Our Father do we really mean it? Calling Christ 'King' is easy in the Liturgy, but do we really want Him to rule our feelings, character and decisions, our relationships, institutions and destiny? Of course I do- you might say - that's why I'm here. But to ask Christ to be your King is to put your trust in His Providence, to commit to fitting your plans into His (not vice versa), so that His will will be done on earth - in us - as it is in heaven. There lies the remedy for the shortcomings of our culture and ourselves, but it will not always be comfortable...

Providence, as Christians understand it, is God's continuing creative and re-creative work. God doesn't make the world and then go on holidays, leaving us to our own devices. No, at every moment He continues to sustain the universe, to hold each one of us 'in the palm of His hand', even those who've never heard of Him or who reject Him. He is present and active even when we are not noticing. In a sense God can't help Himself: having made us immortal yet subject to the hunger, thirst, loneliness and other challenges identified in our Gospel, He has committed Himself and His Church to us for the long haul, all the way to heaven.

So, St Thomas Aquinas teaches, providence is divine prudence, God's constant knowing and active caring for us (STh I 22). It's His strange way of being King. It doesn't make us puppets: as our Gospel passage makes clear, we are free to serve or not. But for those with faith, knowing we can trust in providence is like spiritual oxygen, so we can breathe with confidence. To call Christ our King is to say God knows and cares, makes and remakes, all that is. And He is active very specifically in the life of each person. He is the local boss, as it were, not just the cosmic one. We pray for His intervention. Sometimes we see it before our very eyes. Sometimes we can't see it amidst the mess but only later do we recognize His guiding hand was there all along.

Trends in our contemporary culture can corrode our sense of God's presence and involvement, and make us despondent. Rather than moving us to some post-Christian scientific enlightenment, secularization returns us to our pre-Christian state, subject to the forces of nature and politics and our own self-will. But there is a remedy to the failures on our individual and collective report cards. As we stand to recite our Creed we declare with our feet and hearts and voices that we have been freed from those forces and fears and made free citizens of another kingdom. We declare that there is more to this wonderful universe and each person than power struggles and word games, politics and the market. And that we will not make things as precious as life and love into our private play-things. There is more, and that More is called the Almighty Father, maker of heaven and earth. That More joined our human race and gave Himself up for us men and for our salvation. And that More will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead for His kingdom will have no end!


INTRODUCTION TO MASS FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF CHRIST THE KING
St. Mary's Cathedral, Sydney

Welcome to today's Mass for the Solemnity of Christ the King. As our liturgical year comes to its close, we celebrate the One who rules in our Church and our hearts.

During today's Mass Dr Udo Borgert will be invested as a Knight and Mrs Lucy Denley as a Dame of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. This mostly lay Order is devoted to building up the faith and practice of its members in fidelity to the Pope and propagating that Faith; sustaining the Church's spiritual, charitable and social works in the Holy Land, and defending the faithful there. It helps finance 68 parishes, 73 schools, and several hospitals and welfare centres in the Lord's own Land.

I am pleased to acknowledge from Council of the Order, the Hon. Justice François Kunc, Alan Shearer, Michelle Pedersen, Tom O'Callaghan, Michael Price and Peter Crawford, and concelebrating with me Dean Don Richardson.

To everyone present on this happy feast, especially the Knights and Dames of the Order, a very warm welcome!