Homily for 130th Anniversary Mass of St. Joachim’s Parish, Lidcombe

26 May 2015

Introduction for 130th Anniversary Mass of St. Joachim’s Parish, Lidcombe
Memorial of St Philip Neri, 26 May 2015

Welcome to our celebration. Tonight we give thanks to God for the pioneers of St Joachim’s Parish, Lidcombe, those who’ve gone before us marked with the sign of faith and who contributed to the building up of this community; and those of the present day who continue to sustain it. 65 years of age is the traditional retirement and pension age and, though the age seems to be creeping upwards, few would expect those twice the age to still be working: but here we are, celebrating the 130th birthday of St Joachim’s and it’s still going strong. It is a privilege to join you in this Mass of Thanksgiving and launch of your parish history.

I am pleased to concelebrate this Mass with Fr Eduardo Orilla, the Parish Priest, Fr Ray Farrell, Dean of Auburn-Bankstown, Fr Laurie Cauchi, Dean of Randwick-Botany and other concelebrating clergy of the Archdiocese.

I am also pleased to acknowledge civil leaders Mr Luke Foley, State Leader of the Opposition, Shadow Minister for the Arts, Shadow Minister for Racing, Shadow Minister for Western Sydney and Member for Auburn, Ms Barbara Perry, former State Member for Auburn and Cr Irene Simms representing the Mayor of Auburn, Cr Ronney Oueik.

I am pleased also to acknowledge Mr Tony Corkeron, President, Sydney Archdiocese General Council, St Vincent de Paul Society, and above all the parishioners and friends of this parish. 

Homily for 130th Anniversary Mass of St. Joachim’s Parish, Lidcombe
Memorial of St Philip Neri, 26 May 2015

Most people know C.S. Lewis for his Narnia books and the recent movies based on them. Wowing the world with his tales of Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, their faith in the Christ-like lion Aslan, the perennial battle between good and evil, the heroism of the innocent and virtuous and the betrayal of the less child-like, Lewis the university scholar and Christian apologist told stories worthy of retelling again and again.

But it is his spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy, that Lewis traces his own tortuous path from believer to unbeliever to believer again. ‘Joy’ is, of course, the leitmotif of the book, and Lewis distinguishes it from ordinary pleasure and happiness. All three, he notices, leave us wanting more. This experience of frustration, desire, yearning struck him as crucial to what it is to be human. Joy, he suggested, is the quickening of the soul by an unquenchable desire for the infinite: that God-shaped ‘hole’ which St Augustine described as the restlessness of souls for God, that desire only be satisfied by the possession of God. 

Joy is certainly a strong theme in Christianity. Our Lord himself said He wanted His joy to be in us and our joy to be complete (Jn 15:11). His precursor John the Baptist leapt for joy in his mother’s womb when Jesus approached and when they finally met face-to-face declared himself overjoyed (Lk 1:41; Jn 3:29). In her song of praise, Mary proclaims: “My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour” (Lk 1:47). St Paul, likewise, said to the Philippians that what the Church wants for us is that we “be happy, always happy in Lord” (Phil 4:4-9). Indeed he thought joy was one the principal markers of the Holy Spirit in our lives (Gal 5:22-23). So we repeatedly hear that the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord (Jn 20:20; cf. 16:20-22; Acts 2:46) and that others rejoiced when they met them (Acts 8:8; 8:39; 13:52; 16:34). I remember once hearing U.S. Bishop Wilton Gregory say that Christians believe they are saved by a God of infinite love who wants nothing short of heaven for them; they really believe this – you just wish someone would tell their faces! Grim looks were not, he thought, great advertisements for the Christian thing.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has made a similar point, reminding us that Easter, not Lent, is the horizon for the Christian. His first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii gaudium, opens with him saying, “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.” To accept Christ’s offer of salvation is to be “set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness” and “constantly born anew”. Modern people can be so wrapped up in their own concerns that they leave no space for God, others, the poor. We need to reopen ourselves to encounter with Christ and experience there “a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy”. Such joy endures, even in great difficulty, because it is “born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.” This is a joy that stretches us beyond our work-a-day concerns and inspires our outreach to others. Once we have experienced this love we cannot but share it with others. And as joyful evangelizers we must not look “like someone who has just come back from a funeral!” We must deepen our enthusiasm, amidst anguish and hope, so people can believe we have received really good news and want it for themselves.
Tonight the Church celebrates the Memorial of St Philip Neri, the Italian priest who founded the Congregation of the Oratory. It started as a drop-in centre for young men living on the streets, a place to experience love and security, to learn and grow in faith. His motto was “Preferisco il Paradiso – I prefer Heaven” and he wanted his young people to experience a taste of heaven even while on earth.

He was a funny saint. Those who thought holy people are dour, cranky, solemn did not take to him. When pompous penitents made confession to him, Fr Pip would give them penances like taking his cat for a walk in the streets of Rome. When a novice was too grave, he stood on his head to make him laugh. When a would-be-holy man asked Philip if he could wear a hairshirt, he gave him permission as long as he wore it outside his clothes! When people looked up to him too much, he’d don ridiculous clothes or shave off half his beard. Like St Paul he tried to be all things to all people and was not afraid to play the fool for Christ (1Cor 4:10; 9:19-23).

Laughter is not much heard in churches: perhaps that’s to be expected given seriousness of what goes on – though the quality of the singing or preaching and behaviour of the children sometimes cause mirth. But in a sense Christians should laugh, more than anyone else: laugh for sheer joy that God bothered to make us, and still loves us despite the fools we so often make of ourselves, and gives Himself completely to us and for us that our joy might be complete. St Paul even dared poke fun at Death himself (e.g. 1Cor 15:55), so confident was he that the Christian has every cause to laugh for sheer joy.

Tonight is an occasion of such Christian joy. Tonight we celebrate the founding of our Parish 130 years ago and all the priests and people who have been reborn into baptism here, been nourished by Word and sacrament, been reconciled, married and anointed here, lived and died and been commended to God. Priests and parishioners have prayed and acted, laughed and cried, given and received here. In so doing, the bricks and mortar of this church have come to represent you, the spiritual house of God and real building blocks of the Church. Yours has become a house of joy, that deep, abiding, spiritual joy that is life in the Holy Spirit.

It was the pioneer chaplain, Fr John Joseph Therry, who in 1830 purchased this land. Edmund and Johanna Keating, prominent Catholics of the area, were set to work cultivating the land which came to be known as “The township of St Joseph at Liberty Plains.” The first Mass in this district was celebrated in their home, where our presbytery now stands. So there was already plenty of history here by the time my predecessor Cardinal Moran established the Parish in 1885 with Fr James Furlong as the first of the several priests who have served here up to Fr Eduardo and who have, in accord with our Gospel passage tonight, given their all (Mk 10:28-31). They have served and been supported by lay people of many backgrounds united to spread the Good News. A hall was built in Mary Street as a temporary church and school until a more permanent structure could be erected, in 1926, to accommodate the growing parish community. 

Today, this parish has many activities and a very healthy weekly Mass attendance rate of over 1 in 5, well above the diocesan and national averages. But we still miss the 4 out of 5 Catholics who are not at Mass with us and the many others who are yet to know this is their spiritual home. So after 130 years there is still work for you to do! I give heartfelt thanks for the witness to God given by the pastors and people of this parish. I pray that, like St Philip Neri, you will ‘prefer heaven’ in all that you do and one day we may meet merrily there. God bless St Joachim’s!