Homily for Mass of All Saints St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney
Homily for Mass of All Saints
St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, 1 November 2015
Welcome to St Mary’s Cathedral for this Mass for the Solemnity of All the Saints. On this day the Church celebrates and asks the intercession of that “great cloud of witnesses”, the communion of saints in heaven who earnestly await the completion of our race on earth in the hope that we will join them in heaven (Heb 12:1). Today we remember not just all those long recognized as saints but also the unknown ones who have lived godly lives and now live in Him for ever.
Today, I will also release a pastoral letter that marks the Year of Consecrated Life that runs until the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on 2 February next. It gives thanks for the significant contribution of men and women religious have made here in Sydney and calls for a renewed culture of vocations in our homes, schools and parishes. Please take home a copy and read it. Pray for those in consecrated life as they pray for you.
Homily for Mass of All Saints
St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, 1 November 2015
Amongst the heroes of my childhood were priests, nuns and brothers belonging to various religious orders. They were heroic in the sense of doing more than average by way of giving themselves to God and others. They made me want to be a hero too. My great-aunt Sr Mary Carmel was a Mercy Sister at the Mater Hospital in Crows Nest – where I was born – and she modelled faith and compassion for me, as well as ensuring our family went to religious-run schools and hospitals. Josephites, Mercies, Patrician brothers and Jesuits taught me and I was blessed to witness the variety of vocations, including the parents who raised me and the diocesan priests who ran my parish, all exercised generously in service of Christ and His people. In due course I entered a religious order – the Dominicans – myself and I received my priestly and religious formation from them. Pope Francis, who is also a member of a religious order, the Jesuits, proclaimed 2015 a Year of Consecrated Life so that the Church mightlook to the past of religious life with gratitude, live the present with passion, and embrace the future with hope.
Today and tomorrow the Church celebrates the journey of the Christian soul to God on the days of All Saints and All Souls. On All Saints’ Day we venerate the “huge number, impossible to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language” who now stand before the throne of God singing ‘Victory to our God and to our Lamb’ the Lord Jesus (Rev 7:2-4; 9-14). As those saints stand dressed in white that reveals their bright souls, so we pray on All Souls’ Day for all the departed whose hearts are being bleached clean in preparation for that happiest reunion. As we reflect upon the end of life – what it is all for – and the passage of the souls to sainthood, we recognise the unique gifts consecrated persons bring to goad us all Christian souls to be saints-in-the-making.
This month we celebrate fifty years since the Second Vatican Council published its document calling for renewal of religious life. At that time there were 20,000 religious in our country, and they were very prominent in the life of the Church and community. Today, there are fewer than 7,000 and they are not so visible. As a result, many young people have sadly never encountered consecrated persons and not had the opportunity many of us older ones had to be inspired and assisted by them.
Of course, much of the work of consecrated persons is hidden but fruitful. Religious life always ebbs and flows, and new movements and forms of consecrated life are emerging, even as others pass away. Many religious persevered through the hard times and remained loyal servants of God and His people, often embracing new ministries to the marginalised, even as they handed on their traditional works to faithful lay people to carry forward. But we should not pretend that the decline in numbers of religious in our country has been all for the best. Our Church is poorer without their contemplative prayer and active apostolates, their creativity and dynamism, and the example of their sheer devotion to God and his people.
Consecrated life, the Council taught, is supposed to be a school in loving. But in many ways modernity has forgotten how to love. As I’ve noted before, we have plenty of the heart-shaped, sentimental, self-pleasing, Valentine’s Day kind of loving: but what we most need right now is cross-shaped, enduring, self-giving, Easter Day kind of loving – the commitment and self-sacrifice over the long haul that faithful consecrated people show by example.
All Christians are, of course, called to live perfect charity, not merely religious. But consecrated men and women try to do this in a radical way. In a world that says that wealth, sex and power are the ways to happiness, they propose an alternative wisdom. They publicly profess the three evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience, imitating Christ “the chaste, poor and obedient One”. The life of a consecrated person when lived faithfully exemplifies St John’s call in our epistle to purify ourselves and so acknowledge the love that the Father has lavished on us by letting us be His children (1Jn 3:1-13). A young religious once told me that he wore his habit so as to be “an eschatological sign”. Not just by their dress but by their vows, life-styles, their very being, the consecrated show that this world is not all there is: God’s way, God’s life, God’s kingdom is to come! And because the baptised are a royal priesthood and a consecrated nation, you might say that every Christian is a little bit priest and a little bit nun! We must all learn from religious how to be signs of Christ and his Kingdom come.
Consecrated people have been vital in the history of our Church in Sydney. Pioneering priests, sisters and brothers brought the faith to Australia and built up much of our spiritual and social heritage. We think of those first Charity sisters who on landing in Sydney Cove went immediately to the female factory in Parramatta and later established our Catholic hospitals. Or our first bishops who were Benedictine monks. Or Australia’s most famous Catholic, St Mary MacKillop, who with her sisters established an extraordinary network of schools all over our city and country.
There are so many stories of heroic and hidden religious. Many still live in our diocese and new congregations and movements have come to us from overseas or been started recently. Together they enormously enrich us. They pray for us. Some work in traditional apostolates such as education and nursing; others in parishes, prisons or spiritual direction; campaigning against abuse of creation or the poor; or assisting refugees, the sick and abandoned. In such ways our consecrated past and present live out the Beatitudes vision which the Lord presents so powerfully for us in today’s Gospel (Mt 5:1-12). In their financial and spiritual poverty, they let God make His rich kingdom with them. In their gentle obedience and strong endurance through persecution and grief they show that true authority and consolation are found in the new earth and the new heavens. In the chastity of their pure and merciful hearts their eyes are opened to see God in those around them and in perpetual light. In their pursuit of justice and peace, they have reward enough, yet are rewarded greatly in heaven. If the Beatitudes are the road to sanctity, good religious are the road signs for us all.
To speak of a religious ‘charism’ is to speak of a grace, joy or love. Our Pope’s name-saint Francis of Assisi showed how men and women can love creation and all creatures, love humanity and especially the poor, and love the Creator of them all. As the Holy Father says, such authentic religious are a wake-up call for our world, radiating the joy of the Gospel and following Christ so closely they become magnets to others. And so as we gratefully acknowledge their contribution past and present, the Church of Sydney is determined consecrated people will feature in its future also. Happily there are young people willing to embrace the life of radical discipleship and find a deep and abiding happiness in doing so. As one said to me: “Christ has taken me on an adventure of discovering His deep personal love for me.”
I ask you all to pray for the renewal of consecrated life in our land, for increase of vocations and for their fruitfulness. Support our religious and join them in prayer, mercy or outreach. Encourage others to consider this noble calling.
And to our young people I say: listen to God speaking in your hearts, in Word and Sacrament, in your families and communities, in the signs of our times and the needs of our world. Visit our vocations website and make a discernment retreat. Be a hero! Join the great adventure of consecrated life! Help fill Sydney with grace, joy and love!