HOMILY FOR SANCTA SOPHIA COLLEGE ANNUAL ARCHBISHOP'S MASS - Sancta Sophia College, Camperdown

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP,
15 May 2018

HOMILY FOR SANCTA SOPHIA COLLEGE ANNUAL ARCHBISHOP'S MASS
Tuesday of the 7th week of Easter, Sancta Sophia College, Camperdown, 15 May 2018

 
In the 1987 humorous detective novel, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, the eponymous detective, Dirk Gently, declares that 'if it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family Anatidae on our hands.' The author, Douglas Adams - best known for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - is here giving a comic spin on the well-known aphorism often referred to as 'the duck test': 'When I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck.'

At the heart of this saying is the thought that our external lives normally reveal our inner, our external appearance points to our true nature. Of course, we all know that we can sometimes be rather different inside to the person we display to the world. We can be feeling anxious or depressed but put on a confident of joyful appearance. We can be a rather informal person at heart, but dress up for an occasion. In the digital world we can assume all sorts of personalities and avatars. And we all know people who do things 'out of character': a good person who has done a bad thing or, more rarely, bad people who do some good things. And then there are people who live a double life, sometimes for years on end. 'The habit does not the monk make', another old saying observes. So what really defines us?

The duck test suggests that if you are a duck on the inside it will eventually emerge on the outside. You can keep telling yourself that you are good 'deep down', but if rape and pillage is your regular behaviour, you are a Viking or worse. You can keep up the smiles much of the time, but if you are dark inside it will eventually show in some way. Human beings are complex and some can be great actors, but in the end maintaining a sense of identity demands some sort of integrity between the different dimensions of the person, between ideals, character and choices, above all between the external, acting, seen-and-heard you and the inner, feeling, unseen you. Without such integrity we eventually disintegrate, we experience a troubled conscience, fractured relationships, a messed-up personality.

And so in our first reading tonight (Acts 20:17-27), St. Paul farewells the Ephesians: he knows he is going to his trial and most likely his death. He doesn't put on a jolly face and 'Always look on the bright side of life' as he goes to his execution. Nor does he ask them to excuse any hypocrisy or duplicity on his part, 'Look, you guys, my intentions have always been good, I've loved you lots on the inside, it's just that I didn't always show it.' No - Paul knows that loving people on the inside and having good intentions is not enough. So he says instead: 'Judge me by my life; ever since you've known me, I've served humbly, I've told it like it really is, I've tried to be helpful, my conscience is clear.' So, too, Jesus in our Gospel (Jn 17:1-11) doesn't say 'Father, I've glorified you in my private prayers, not so much in my public life. But it doesn't matter, since you know my inmost heart.' No, Jesus practices integrity in His own life as much as he asks of His disciples; so He says, 'Father, I've glorified you on earth, by my words and deeds, my obedience even unto death. I've done the things you asked, made you known to others. That's all I ask of those who follow after me.' Sancta Sophia, Holy Wisdom, is not just a private possession: no, on Jesus' account we must live what's true and good and beautiful, we must practice the virtues we admire and the principles we ascribe to, we must truly be what we do and do what we most truly and best are. Use makeup and clothing and deeds to reveal the best you, not to hide behind!

Saying that our external life reveals and defines us, not just in other people's eyes but ultimately in our own and in God's, is no excuse for not attending to what's going on inside us. We can we the kindest, sweetest, most passionate person about justice and peace and the rest on the outside, which is great, but inside be dead, or seething with envy, or full of self-hatred. That was, in some ways, the error of the Pharisees: not that what they did was bad - in fact it was often admirable - but that they didn't cultivate generous, holy hearts to match their deeds. So they were hypocrites. And eventually that meant their deeds, too, were not so admirable after all. St. Francis de Sales observed that we are not made holy and wise - Sancta et Sophia - by greedily multiplying our spiritual devotions, but by doing what we do from a better and better heart.[i]

So, too, St. Catherine of Siena wrote that God rewards every good thing we do, great or small, not in proportion to the greatness and smallness of the deed so much as "according to the measure of the love of God" with which we do it.[ii]   Even the smallest good deed can tell of great love.


 
Which brings me to a modern rewrite of the duck test: 'If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, but it needs batteries, you probably have the wrong abstraction!' The point is: that we are not defined by external appearances or behaviour alone, but by the heart or character those externals truly reveal, by the principles, intentions, motives, that we perform by those actions. This was a crucial message of Jesus' life and teaching.

So here at the College of Holy Wisdom I hope and pray that each of you is becoming a true duck of wisdom and holiness, quacking a wisdom you have truly appropriated for yourself and feathered with good deeds that express your innermost heart. In the end may people be able to say of you as they said of Christ: 'To see Him is to see the Father, to know Him is to know God.'

[i] St. Francis De Sales, Sermon on the First Sunday of Lent

[ii] St. Catherine of Siena, Dialogue chap. 68


INTRODUCTION FOR SANCTA SOPHIA COLLEGE ANNUAL ARCHBISHOP'S MASS
Tuesday of the 7th week of Easter, Sancta Sophia College, Camperdown, 15 May 2018


It is always a pleasure to be here at Sancta Sophia College as the College Visitor for the annual Archbishop's Mass and Dinner. Thank you for your welcome; I look forward to this event every year.

I recognise our concelebrating clergy; the College Vice-Principal Maryanne Pidcock; Chair of the College Council Cathleen Crossley, and other members of the College Council and staff. I especially want to acknowledge Fiona Hastings, who used to work for me as Manager of the Children and Families Division of CatholicCare Sydney and took on the role of College Principal this year: I look forward to the continuing excellence in leadership which we have come to expect from Sancta Sophia Principals. Above all, I welcome the students of Sancta Sophia College, who have chosen to pursue holy wisdom here.


SANCTA SOPHIA COLLEGE ANNUAL ARCHBISHOP'S ADDRESS
Sancta Sophia College, Camperdown, 15 May 2018

Thank you Ms Hastings! It's a pleasure once again to join you for this annual Archbishop's Mass and Dinner. Founded in 1925, Sancta Sophia was Australia's first women's college, intent on proving that women can and should be at least the equals of men academically and professionally. I'm pleased to see that project still going strong! Indeed already by 1987 the number of female university students in Australia started to outnumber the number of males, and nowadays I believe there are 5 women for every 4 men at uni. There are those who would say that men today aren't up to much more than lifting heavy objects and being Archbishop!

When the Medici pope, Leo X, commissioned Leonardo Da Vinci to paint part of the Vatican Palace in 1513, Leonardo, rather than use the standard fresco colours of the day, insisted on providing his own paints. He spent over two months mixing his paints and his varnish without starting on the painting itself, at which point the pope accused him of starting at the end rather than the beginning. The two men fought, and Leonardo left Rome without once having applied the brush to the Palace.[iii]   There was a somewhat comic air to this incident, paralleling equally explosive scenes between Julius II and Michelangelo regarding the Sistine Chapel ceiling only a few years before, Leonardo's fight with the Dominican Prior in Milan over his famous Last Supper. On one account Leonardo wrote to Ludovico Sforza who was bankrolling the project to say he'd been struggling to find the perfect villainous face for Judas, and had now decided to use the complaining prior's face as his model.[iv] Whatever of the legends, it has often been observed that while art imitates life eventually life imitates art, and that says something to university students such as yourselves.

Art is the great transcender of culture. We can appreciate beauty in the baroque adherence to nature or the cubism of Picasso; in the impressionism of Turner and the formalism of Japanese woodblock; in Aboriginal dot paintings and the absurdism of Salvador Dali. Art, through its ability to portray the many sides of beauty, speaks to us all at the very core of our being, and challenges us to live not only for ourselves - that is, to paint not only our own joys and sorrows-but to live for others, to see in them the same emotions, the same joys and sorrows, that we find in ourselves, and to think about how our artistic expression connects or fails to connect with them.

Leonardo was a great artist - of that there is no question. But what good is it, being a great painter, if one never actually paints, as happened with Da Vinci at the Vatican Palace? One may as well have no talent in art; indeed, it is worse than having no talent, to have the gift, skill, artistry, and waste it. So, too, I'd say to students at the College of Holy Wisdom, don't waste your opportunities here.

Like Leonardo, each of you is in your studies 'mixing your own paints' and 'preparing the varnish' with which you will paint the self-portrait that is your life. And this is an important step; there is great value in taking the time to prepare oneself, to get it right. But we must be wary of only mixing paints for too long, lest we never get around to painting the picture at all.

So the thought I would like to leave with you tonight is this: just as we tell people in their HSC year that ATARs aren't everything, that a year from now no-one will even care, that they are at best helpful for getting into the next thing, so, dare I say, are your university years. Of course, I don't want to diminish your efforts or the importance of your studies: the Church whose College this is wants the best to graduate from it. But in the end what will matter more is the portrait you paint with your life and so the techniques you're developing even now. Ask the big questions, contemplate what are and will be your ideals, cultivate your character and your relationship with God, read furiously and debate respectfully, experiment and deliberate, beyond the next assessment task, so that when that day comes for you to speak of 'my alma mater, Sancta Sophia' you will think not just of your academic work, or the friends you made here, but also of the apprenticeship in which your developed the craft of painting a good life, the wisdom that will inform its perspective, the colours that will bring the sketch to life. God bless the art school that is Sancta Sophia! God bless you all!


[iii] Cf.Bard Thomas, Humanists & Reformers: A History of the Renaissance and Reformation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1996), pp. 154-155

[iv] 'Da Vinci", Mark Steel Lectures (The Open University), 7 October 2003, BBC