Homily for the Celebration of the Passion of the Lord - St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, Good Friday

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP,
30 Mar 2018

"Holy Week, Holy Chrismation and Holy Matrimony"
Homily for the Celebration of the Passion of the Lord
St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, Good Friday

How are we to connect with the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ that we just chanted (Jn chs 18 & 19) and make the story our own? This Holy Week I want to suggest the crucial link is the sacraments. It's in the sacraments that Christ's Paschal mystery is remembered; in the sacraments that its fruits are applied to us here and now; in the sacraments that we have a foretaste of the heavenly life it promises us.1 We might think we're part of the Catholic thing, yet give the sacraments a miss for long periods at a time; or we receive them regularly but routinely, half-heatedly. Yet it's the sacraments that immerse us in Holy Week. At His Last Supper Jesus instituted the Eucharist and the Priesthood. But from the Cross two more sacraments emerged…

Your family, the nuns or a catechist probably prepared you for Confirmation as a child. But how did God prepare the Church for its Confirmation? Well, in Old Testament times He gave us the example of the Spirit 'falling upon' prophets or people and inspiring them with spiritual gifts.2 That Spirit overshadowed Mary at the Incarnation, John the Baptist at the Visitation, Jesus at His baptism in the Jordan. It impelled their missions. Jesus promised to share that Spirit in turn with the apostles.3 And so the first Christians knew that, as well as Baptism, they must receive 'the laying on of hands for the outpouring of the Spirit'.4With this fragrant and shining 'seal', they would be more rooted in the Blessed Trinity, more gifted spiritually, more attached to the Church, more effective in spreading the faith, more heroic in confessing Christ crucified.5

Having prepared His disciples for the Confirmation that would come at Pentecost, Jesus was ready for His Passion. And as we heard in John's account today Jesus' day of horrors came to its climax with his words "It is accomplished" as He breathed His last. I will return to those last words. But John describes Jesus' death carefully: "bowing his head he gave up his spirit". The old King James translation was "he gave up the ghost". That was the moment of Christ's destruction, when His human soul was separated from the body; but it was also the moment of His glorification, when the Holy Ghost was released upon the world. The same Spirit that hovered over the waters at creation, hovers now over the world at its re-creation. And on Easter Day Jesus will return, breathe upon the apostles, and say "Receive the Holy Spirit" (Jn 20:22). That breath will be cyclonic by Pentecost Day (Acts 2:1-14), powerful enough to turn frightened lads into bold evangelists. If you want to know how to participate in the Passion of the Christ, receive in the sacraments the Holy Spirit He exhaled from the cross.

One week ago ISIS were at it again, this time in southern France. Four died and 15 more were injured by a 25-year-old jihadi. But in a story reminiscent of St Maximillian Kolbe in Auschwitz, one man had his throat cut after offering to take the place of a young mother held hostage in a supermarket. A Legion of Honour awardee for service in Iraq, Arnaud Beltrame brought his experience and courage to the anti-terror squad. But there was more to him than testosterone. The gendarmerie chaplain says Arnaud was a practising Catholic who, following a deep conversion, radiated faith and bore witness in many ways - as it turned out, 'even unto death'.6

Now, just before Jesus gave up the ghost He said "It is consummated". The word gives us a hint that there's a marital aspect to all this… As 'marriage prep' for the Church, God long ago made man and woman for each other, for a partnership of the whole of life, ordered to their good and that of their children.7 We had centuries of marriages - some great, some disastrous - from which to gain experience and wisdom. As they realised in their nudity that they were sexual and sinful, the first married couple hid for shame. But marital love was always presented as good, good enough to be a metaphor for God's closeness to Israel.

So when Jesus came it was to make the Church His bride (Eph 5:22-23). His love for marriage was evident from His first great miracle at Cana, His many stories of wedding banquets, His betrothal gesture of foot-washing at the Last Supper. Whatever fashionable novels or movies might say about His friendship with Mary Magdalene, the fact is that Jesus had eyes for one woman only: the Church. He is completely faithful, even when she is unfaithful - even when some of her members are shamefully so. He gave His Body to her in the Eucharist. He gave her the spark of life, so many new children would be born of her in Baptism. He gave her His all, so He could say at the last that the marriage was consummated.

Our French policeman, Arnaud Beltrame, was to be sacramentally married himself in the middle of this year. Instead, he received the sacraments for the dying with his beloved Marielle giving the responses at his hospital bed. Christ's relationship to the Church teaches us what every marriage should be like: faithful, exclusive, complementary, life-long, fulfilling, life-giving, sanctifying. Even for the unmarried like myself, there are important lessons there.

If the Holy Thursday sacraments of the Eucharist and Priesthood teach us that we must live with Christ to worship and serve, the Good Friday sacraments of Confirmation and Matrimony teach the Church that she must die with Christ for inspiration and love. Only at Easter will we discover what she must do to rise again…

1 CCC 1084-90, 1111.

2 cf. Judg 3:10; 6:34; 1Sam 16:13-14; 2Sam 23:2; 1Kgs 22:24; Isa 11:2; 44:3; 61:1; 63:14; Joel 2:28-29; Zech 12:10; Ezek 11:5; 37:1. Also: CCC 1286-92.

3 e.g. Lk 4:18; 12:12; 24:49; Jn 3:5-8; 7:37-39; 16:7-15.

4 Acts 1:8; 2:1-4,38; 8:151-8; 10:38,44-48; 11:5,15-16; 19:2; 1Cor 12:13; Tit 3:5.

5 CCC 1303.

6 'Police officer who swapped places with hostage was a practising Catholic', Catholic Herald 25 March 2018.

7 CCC 1601-11