HOMILY FOR MASS FOR DIAMOND JUBILEE OF PROFESSION AND RENEWAL OF VOWS OF THE RELIGIOUS SISTERS OF ST JOSEPH OF THE SACRED HEART - Mary Mackillop Memorial Chapel, North Sydney

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP,
12 Jan 2018

HOMILY FOR MASS FOR DIAMOND JUBILEE OF PROFESSION AND RENEWAL OF VOWS OF THE RELIGIOUS SISTERS OF ST JOSEPH OF THE SACRED HEART
Mary Mackillop Memorial Chapel, North Sydney

Well, the verdict is in. After a meticulous search through eight million books published between 1776 and 2009 for positive words such as 'enjoyment', 'peace' and 'happiness', researchers at Warwick University have concluded that 1957 was the happiest year in modern history.1

Whatever we think of this claim - or any claim that one year was the best - today's Jubilarians might put in a word for 1958! Certainly, it was a busy year: Robert Menzies defeated Doc Evatt to become PM with DLP preferences; a serving British Prime Minister [Macmillan] visited Australia for the first time; Qantas introduced the first round-the-world air service from Australia to London; Monash University was founded in Melbourne; a cyclone destroyed much of the city of Bowen; ANZAC Day became a public holiday; Johnny O'Keefe released his hit single, The Wild One; and Australia's first freeway, the Cahill Expressway, opened so the Josephite sisters could more quickly get to St Mary's Cathedral and the Archbishop more quickly get to Mary Mackillop Place!

Globally, things were no less exciting: Krushchev became Premier of the Soviet Union and de Gaulle of France; the first commercially successful passenger jet flights began, with the advent of the Boeing 707; NASA was formed and launched a satellite into space; Elvis was inducted into the army; The Bridge on the River Kwai was released; the microchip was invented; and St Clare became patron saint of television!

This was the world in which our jubilarians made their first profession as Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart. Sr Giovanni has described it as a time of turbulence and anticipation, telling me that she has 'never known such an electrifying atmosphere' as was felt in that year. I don't think that was due to the shenanigans around Menzies, Krushchev or Elvis, or the new technologies of computer microchips, passenger jets and satellites. No, 1958 was exciting for our newly professed sisters because it was the year St John XXIII was elected, and there was a buzz in the air even before he announced that he was convoking an ecumenical Council. So these women became religious at a time of great change in both Church and society, and in the decades that followed had to be wise guides through these uncertainties, opportunities and challenges. They became school teachers and leaders at a time when Catholic schools in Australia were still unassisted by government, but were expanding rapidly to the point of bursting, with class sizes mind-boggling by today's standards, physical plant increasingly inadequate, and staff (mostly nuns) full of youthful energy and exhaustion…

What times you've seen and served, dear sisters! Today we acknowledge your leadership and service through such times given in the inimitable Josephite way. You have known religious life, both pre-Conciliar and post, and that Church of which you are such faithful daughters. You've enabled our Catholic education system to evolve into the jewel of the Australian Church's crown. And you've witnessed our society become more ethnically diverse, affluent and technological. In was in this era that the Joeys extended themselves into secondary education; sent sisters for tertiary study in education, social work and other disciplines; and made themselves available for a wider range of ministries. Our Gospel recalls Jesus appointing His disciples to bear much fruit, fruit that endures (Jn 15:9-17): well, you've offered Him and His people a whole fruit salad, abundant, healthy, flavoursome and lasting, and the benefits for the Church and community have been enormous!

Our epistle is a blueprint for religious life: six decades ago, along with your habit you were called to put on "compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience" (Col 3:12-17). At times that compassion and patience have doubtless been sorely tried! You were called also to be "tolerant… forgiving… and grateful", and religious life, I know all too well, can challenge us in those areas even more than the apostolate. Above all, you were called to put on love. As St. Francis de Sales observed, this belt is indispensable: "Without cement and mortar, which knits the bricks together and strengthens the walls, the entire building is bound to collapse; a human body would simply disintegrate, unless it had nerves, muscles, and tendons; and if charity were absent, virtues simply could not stay together."2 Your love, as Jesus taught, is His love working through you and holding you together.

Through the thick and thin of sixty years, you have endured. In the end you will insist it was all grace, all God making more of you than you could ever have made of yourself alone. But it took your consent, your commitment, your vow made six decades ago, renewed every day since, and in a special way today. Sixty years ago we did not know if and when your foundress would be recognised as the saint you already knew she was. Today in this very special place she not only lies in state; she stands beside you, a proud mother and universally acknowledged saint, goading you on as she did in so many letters, to continue your progress to the perfection of charity - as the Second Vatican Council named the goal of religious life.

The goals of St Mary of the Cross and the agenda of St Paul in the Letter to the Colossians was not just the Christian dress code of virtues such as patience, forgiveness, love and gratitude: Paul concluded this exhortation by saying, "And may the message of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God." The virtues we put on in Christian and religious life, Paul is clear, are not just for the beautification of our own characters, but also for the ministry, and the examples he gives are ministries of teaching, of admonishing or counselling, and of musical thanksgiving or liturgy. But "whatever you do," he says, "whether in word or deed, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." You've been such teachers and counsellors, and you've made of your lives a sacred song of gratitude these sixty years past.

Our Gospel echoes this advice and joins in clapping those who heed it. Love above all, Jesus says. An active practical love, lived joyfully according to God's plan. A giving-your-all, laying-down-your-life kind of loving. A love that bears plentiful, good and lasting fruit. But there is one last aspect of this love noticed in our Gospel passage: "You did not choose me," Jesus says, "no, I chose you and appointed you." This is the experience of every religious. Our vocation comes unbidden, God's grace comes undeserved, our life is sheer gift, even amidst the hardships. Your successes have no doubt been many, though we often do not see the fruits of our labours in this life; when we do, we appreciate that our fruitfulness is beyond anything we could have done alone, even sometimes despite us. Perhaps the best any of us can hope for is to be able to say with Pope Francis, 'I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.'

Well, the Lord has looked upon each of you, our diamond jubilarians, and Australia is the better for it. Keep inspiring us, praying for us, leading and serving us, until that day when He calls you to Himself. Thanks be to God for each one of you!


INTRODUCTION TO MASS FOR DIAMOND JUBILEE OF PROFESSION AND RENEWAL OF VOWS OF THE RELIGIOUS SISTERS OF ST JOSEPH OF THE SACRED HEART
Mary Mackillop Memorial Chapel, North Sydney

What a joy it is to be here on this very happy occasion as we celebrate the diamond jubilees of Josephite sisters and their service to Church and society.

First and foremost, I would like to acknowledge our 30 Jubilarians and their 1,800 years of religious life, nearly as many years in total as there has been a Catholic Church. Indeed, you've been Josephites longer than your bishop has been alive, and what an inspiration you are! All of you are still doing the greatest work of religious - praying and pondering - and some of you are still busy at various ministries even if officially 'on lesser duties'. My friend Sr Giovanni Farquar RSJ, for instance, is still Executive Director of our Archdiocesan Commission for Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations and does an excellent job of it!

I acknowledge also the presence today of Sr Monica Cavanagh RSJ, Congregational Leader, and her Council; family members of the Jubilarians; leaders and members of the Sisters of St Joseph; and my brother priests and fellow religious.

Yesterday we buried Fr Kevin Muldoon and Fr Grove Johnson, and received the sad news of the death of Kim Hill who led our Aboriginal Catholic Ministry. As we celebrate today the thirty survivors of the class of '58, we also remember with gratitude and commend to divine mercy the several sisters from that year listed in our booklet as "RESTING WITH GOD". To everyone present, a very warm welcome.


1 Dominic Sandbrook, "Yes, 1957 really was the happiest year!", Daily Mail UK, 24 January 2017

2 St. Francis De Sales, Treatise on the Love of God, 11, 9