HOMILY FOR MASS FOR PATRICIAN BROTHERS' COLLEGE FAIRFIELD 65TH ANNIVERSARY - St. Mary's Cathedral, Sydney

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP,
16 Mar 2018

HOMILY FOR MASS FOR PATRICIAN BROTHERS' COLLEGE FAIRFIELD 65TH ANNIVERSARY
St. Mary's Cathedral, Sydney

The Sydney Church in which I grew up was still a rather Irish one. Already by then my parents and schoolmates, like many Sydney Catholics, were not: they represented the much more culturally diverse Australia that emerged after the Second World War in places like Fairfield. But my parish priest was an Irish Monsignor, Hughie McGuire who'd set up the parish in 1922 and held office there for 55 years until 1977. One day I asked my parents whether Monsignor Maguire spoke any English. My mother said: "What do you mean Anthony? What language do you think he's speaking at Mass or when talks to you when you are altar-boy?" "I thought he only spoke Latin!" I said. As a young Aussie boy I could not understand the heavy Irish brogue in which the Australian Church still spoke.

The nuns continued my enculturation, mostly by adding a series of myths about the superior spiritual temperament of Celts. St Patrick was so important that we named churches and cathedrals after him, so important we could break our heroic Lenten penances on his feast day, so important that we were taught Irish songs and stories about snakes and three-leaf clovers. When I attended your twin school, Holy Cross College Ryde, even taller tales of Patrician exploits were told, especially about St Patrick's particular love for Rugby League.

The best source for the real story of St. Patrick is his own Confession. This autobiography, and other historical research, suggest he was English, not Irish - something the Irish have spent 1600 years trying to disprove! The real Paddy grew up in a Christian family at the edge of the crumbling Roman empire, knowing and caring little for his faith. But when pirates enslaved him he came to appreciate the freedom of the children of God and their superior morality. On regaining his liberty, he embraced the vocations of monk, bishop and apostle to Ireland.

St. Patrick travelled ceaselessly up and down the emerald isle preaching the Gospel. By AD 461 he had almost single-handedly converted almost the entire nation. The Irish, in due course, were to continue his inspiration by sending missionaries to England, Europe, the Americas and beyond in the centuries to come, eventually even to far-away Australia. Here in this cathedral we have a chapel to the Irish saints in recognition of the role of St Patrick's sons and daughters in building the Church in this land.

We don't have thousands of Irish priests and religious anymore in Australia to help families, parishes and schools pass on the faith. Nowadays we must rely largely upon the lay leaders, staff and students like yourselves to be the missionaries of our age. Which makes you all honorary Patricians. St Patrick would be pleased to know that a college in Fairfield founded by an order named for him is ranked amongst the top Catholic Schools in Sydney and the schools in our state! It has, as Cardinal Gilroy hoped, provided an open and welcoming community to people from every culture. A recent newspaper article recounted the story of a young Malteser, Ed Scicluna, who arrived in Australia in 1956 as a ten-pound migrant, started in Year 6 at the College a month later, and ended up Dux; now his grandson is in Year 12!1

While in many ways our Australian culture still lives on its Christian heritage without knowing it, many people live from day-to-day as practical agnostics, as if God did not exist or does not matter. Though a recent major atheist conference could barely gather a few thousand interested people, Australia is in many ways less religious than the Ireland Patrick set about converting. Powerful elements of our universities, media and politics are determined to expunge Christianity from the face of the earth, like the guys in our readings today (Wis 2:1,12-22; Jn 7:1-2;10:25-30). Even more troubling than the outsiders red-hot against the Church at present are the insiders who are lukewarm about it. Often they've been inoculated to 'the faith of their fathers' by receiving only small doses of dead faith like in a vaccination programme; when their times comes to pass on the faith, they can't give what they haven't got. Others go searching in all sorts of places for meaning and are left bruised or dissatisfied. Yet as the recent Australian Catholic Youth Festival attended by nearly 20,000 young people demonstrated, young people are looking for more and better and deeper…

This 'more and better and deeper' is exactly what Jesus is talking about in our Gospel this morning. The Jewish authorities argue amongst themselves whether He could be the Messiah and decide that a small-town guy like Him, who'd grown up amongst them, couldn't be the One. None was willing to look any deeper. If they had, they'd have learnt the Christmas news that He was the last in the line of David, the One promised by the prophets, identified by wise men, saluted by angels, and cherished by shepherds. They'd have seen the Holy Week signs, too: His being hailed in Jerusalem with Hosannas to the king, His dramatic cleansing of the Temple, His humble resignation to His fate so we might be saved. But they were interested in power and privilege, not truth.

Why this unwillingness to face the truth? When Jesus told Pilate at His trial that He had come to bear witness to the truth, Pilate responded cynically: "Truth? What's that?" Now truth, if you've ever looked for it, can indeed be hard to find and hold onto with any certainty, even harder to communicate effectively to others. Some things in life are just complicated, there are many considerations, different points of view. At other times we are disinclined to do the heavy brain work truthing requires. Our age lacks confidence in its ability to identify and articulate the truth; it encourages a certain laziness in speculative and moral thinking. Indeed, modernity fears those who have too much certainty, that they might be ideologues, fanatics, terrorists.

But I think there's more to modernity's flight from truth than old-fashioned timidity or humility. Today, I suspect, it's most often an unwillingness to look too hard at God, our world or ourselves for fear of what we might see. Truth can interrogate us, cut us to the quick regarding our unjust institutions and approaches, our long-ingrained prejudices and ideologies, our inhumane behaviour and relationships. Truth can demand an intellectual, moral and personal conversion, and so modernity can be very resistant.

However, truth need not be so scary. As the Irish of old and the first students at Patrician Brothers Fairfield found, truth can free, unite and impassion us to act authentically. It allows our persons and lives to become another Gospel, where the world may read the truth. Which is why we need this College to keep turning out not just gifted young men, good citizens, future leaders and professionals, but also future priests and brothers, husbands and fathers, missionaries and saints.

As we give thanks for 65 years of the Patrician Brothers' College Fairfield helping young men grow to their full potential, we ask Almighty God to make this generation worthy of those who have gone before us and what they bequeathed us, worthy of those presently entrusted to our care and what they can do with their many gifts, and worthy of those yet to come and what they could make of our Church and world. May young men emerge from our school building on their personal strengths, passions and talents, building even more on God's grace at work in them, sharing St Patrick and Bishop Delany's goals of "recognising and proclaiming the presence of Christ to all people and all of creation".


INTRODUCTION TO MASS FOR PATRICIAN BROTHERS' COLLEGE FAIRFIELD 65TH ANNIVERSARY
St. Mary's Cathedral, Sydney

Welcome to this Mass to celebrate the foundation of Patrician Brothers' College, Fairfield. We call 25th jubilees silver, 50th anniversaries golden and 60th jubilees diamond, but was only last year, when Queen Elizabeth II was celebrating her 65th anniversary as queen, that term 'Blue Sapphire Jubilee' was settled, a colour that particularly suits this college. Around same time she was being created queen, the Patrician Brothers were creating their college at Fairfield in response to my predecessor Cardinal Gilroy's concern that we be present in the burgeoning post-war suburbs with their new migrant populations. So I am delighted to join you for your Blue Sapphire Jubilee celebrations!

Concelebrating with me this morning are: Fr John Nguyen OFM.Cap, an old boy whom I had the pleasure of ordaining last year; Fr Michael de Stoop, Parish Priest Our Lady of the Rosary Parish Fairfield; Fr Peter Strohmayer OSPPE, Assistant Priest at St. Margaret Mary's, Merrylands; and Fr Liem Duong, Parish Priest of Sacred Heart Parish, Cabramatta.

I also acknowledge present here today: my friend the principal Mr Peter Wade (himself an old-boy of the College) and all the members of the school staff and student body. I welcome also Dr Dan White, Executive Director of Schools, and all others from the wider education world. Welcome also to Mr Guy Zangari, State Member for Fairfield, representing the civic community; and of course our illustrious alumnae and generous parents. I'm particularly pleased to recognize Br Paul O'Keefe FSP, Provincial Leader of the Patrician Brothers; Br Peter Ryan FSP, Congregational Leader of the Patrician Brothers, and other members of the Patrician Brothers, whose association with the school goes all the way back to 1953 when Brothers Peter Johnson (Principal), Kevin Samuel and Eugene Kelly opened the college on the Dreis family vineyard. A warm welcome to you all.