HOMILY FOR MASS OF THE SOLEMNITY OF OUR LADY HELP OF CHRISTIANS - St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP,
24 May 2018

HOMILY FOR MASS OF THE SOLEMNITY OF OUR LADY HELP OF CHRISTIANS
St. Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, 24 May 2018

When hundreds of thousands of the young people of the world gathered here in Sydney ten years ago to celebrate the World Youth Day, they were encouraged to make their way to the Cathedral as pilgrims have always done. Here they were able to consecrate themselves to Our Lady after the example of the father of World Youth Day, Pope John Paul II, who consecrated his papacy and himself to her under the motto 'totus tuus' = 'all yours'. But under which of the many titles Our Lady has accumulated down through the ages were the young people of Australia and their foreign guests to consecrate themselves?

When they made their way down the aisle, visitors were often astonished that one of most magnificent cathedrals in the world was right here at the very ends of the earth (as they saw it): I suspect many of them expected we would worship under umbrellas at the beach. And when they got to the end of the aisle they encountered a lovely new image of Mary before which to pray under the title of 'Our Lady of the Southern Cross, Help of Christians'. The figure was in the traditional pose and colours for Our Lady, but with a distinctively Australian background, a wattle halo, Aussie girl with Aussie baby looks. You can see the image for yourselves after Mass. But where on earth did this title 'Our Lady of the Southern Cross, Help of Christians' come from?

The name 'Help of Christians' comes from the sixteenth century when Europe was in danger of being overrun by the Turks, and Pope St Pius V asked all of Europe to fast and pray the Rosary to Our Lady Help of Christians for the defence of Christendom. Against all odds, the Christian forces won the Battle of Lepanto and so he instituted the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary and Lepanto. Centuries later, when Pope Pius VII was driven out of Rome by Napoleon and the Church in Europe was yet again in danger of destruction, the pious pope called upon Catholic Christendom to fast and pray for the assistance of Our Lady Help of Christians. When, against all the odds, he returned in triumph to Rome on 24 May 1814, he instituted this feast day.

Thus, when Archpriest John Joseph Therry chose 'Our Lady Help of Christians' as the patroness of Australia, the feast was still very new, though the persecutors he had in mind were probably not the Muslim Turk, or the French atheist, so much as the British Protestant establishment in the colony! He noted at the time that it was by praying the Rosary together that the lay faithful kept the Church alive in Australia in the days when the Protestant authorities banned all Catholic priests and Masses. Mary had worked her 'magic' here as in Europe…

So much for her title 'Help of Christians'. But what about 'Our Lady of the Southern Cross'? Well, it is under that title that our Lady is the patroness of the Toowoomba Diocese and of the Personal Ordinariate for Anglican converts to Catholicism in Australia. There are churches dedicated to her in the Margaret River (Dunsborough), the Darling Downs (Inglewood), Ipswich (Springfield Lakes) and Tempe here in Sydney, schools in Dalby (Darling Downs) and Wyndham Vale (Melbourne), an association of contemplative communities (OCD), and multiple images of her.1 It was to encourage Marian devotion here in Australia amongst the young and to give our WYD visitors a spiritual souvenir, that we commissioned an image for them of 'Our Lady of the Southern Cross, Help of Christians' and that under that title she would be the principal patron of that extravaganza of grace that was WYD 2008.

The ancient Greeks counted the Southern Cross part of the constellation of Centaurus; Peruvian Incas thought it was a kite; Indonesians saw a stingray; Tongans a duck; the Mâori called it 'Te Punga', the anchor which holds down the Milky Way; while Australian Aborigines saw it at the end of a giant emu in the sky or as a possum sitting in a tree. It was only when Christian eyes finally saw the constellation that is was identified as Crux, the Cross. Australia was, in a sense, a 'natural cathedral' with a cross above it, which for millions of years awaited the eyes of faith fully to appreciate its beauty and explain its meaning.

It's truly wonderful to think how a simple young woman, no older than some of the students in our Sydney Catholic schools, from the village of Nazareth, could come to be honoured by thousands of young people in a cathedral and country dedicated to her honour at the other end of the world. Yet great things can happen when you say yes to God! That one word, YES, uttered at the Annunciation and with her whole life thereafter, summed up Mary's openness to God and availability to do his will; her active service to the Child Jesus, cousin Elizabeth, the wedding couple at Cana and intercession on our behalf ever since; her contemplative pondering of all God did for her and for us; and her faithfulness through the Loss and Finding to the Cross and Tomb and beyond. Mary is "Help of Christians" because she was the first Christian, my young friends, even at your age; she was the best Christian, also, even from your age; and she shows what you can be. When you pray the Angelus each day, ask to be more like her - open and available to God, active in the service of others, contemplative in pondering all that's good, faithful to the end.

INTRODUCTION TO MASS FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF OUR LADY HELP OF CHRISTIANS
St. Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, 24 May 2018

Welcome to this special Mass to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, Patron Saint of Australia, of the Archdiocese of Sydney, and of this Basilica of St Mary.

I acknowledge Dr Dan White, our Director of Catholic Schools for these ten years past, along with all the teachers and leaders of our Sydney Catholic Schools. In particular, I extend a very warm welcome to all students, from every secondary school in the Archdiocese, both congregational and systemic. For some of you it may be your first visit to our cathedral, which is the mother church of Australia. This is your cathedral my young friends and you are always welcome here. Welcome to your cathedral on this Feast Day of St Mary, Help of Christians!

 
1 The images are in St Patrick's Cathedral, Toowoomba, by Jan Williamson; St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, by Paul Newton; Domus Australia, Rome, by Paul Newton; and the Church of Sts Ninian and Chad, Perth, by Michael Galovic.