Homily for Mass with Consecration of Altar, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

04 Oct 2015

Introduction for Mass with Consecration of Altar, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
St Joseph’s Church, Oatley, 4 October 2015

Welcome all to this very significant occasion for the parish, as we consecrate your new altar and dedicate the renewed fittings in your church. I am pleased to acknowledge Fr John Doherty, your parish priest, Fr Michael McCarthy, retired parish priest, and Fr Peter Gardiner, a Passionist who grew up in the area. Fr John and I are particularly grateful to the anonymous donor whose generosity made the project of the new altar and renewal of the church possible; to architect George Yeremeyev and builder Chris Davine; and to all who lent their support. And I welcome our distinguished guests, friends of the parish and especially the parishioners, the family of God in Oatley.

The Rite of Consecration of an Altar is one of the most ancient and beautiful of our Church. Like the initiation of a new Christian, you will witness the ‘Baptism,’ Anointing or ‘Confirmation,’ Dressing in White, Giving of a Candle, and celebration of ‘First Holy Communion’. So it is a chance to reflect on our own Christian vocation.

By a happy coincidence I was last week able to venerate the relics of St Maria Goretti that were brought in her casket to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families and thereafter displayed at St Patrick’s Cathedral, New York. I thank David and Colleen McIntosh and their son, Michael, for generously providing a relic of that great saint to the parish for its altar.

Homily for Mass with Consecration of Altar, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
St Joseph’s Church, Oatley, 4 October 2015

Audio: http://www.xt3.com/library/view.php?id=18119&categoryId=36&episodeId=2293

They came in their millions hoping to see “the People’s Pope”. Last week the Holy Father visited Cuba and the United States. Secular journalists from around the world, America and even Australia were hugely positive about the visit, even in awe of the man. CNN’s religious editor said he was a unifier for an America divided on many issues, able to “bring our messy multitude together: singing, dancing, laughing, crying, hoping, praying.” Amid a heavy schedule of Masses and addresses to civic and Church leaders, and face to face encounters with God’s ‘little ones’ such as babies, prisoners, handicapped children and families, Pope Francis was able to maintain “boundless energy” drawn, according to an aide, from God and the people Francis met.[1]

After giving important addresses in Havana, Washington and New York on the foundations of a just society and the need to protect the family, the Holy Father ended up in Philadelphia, the ‘City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly affection’ (as they now translate it). There he participated in the World Meeting of Families, as I was blessed to do also. It was a festival of faith, life and love, as thousands of families joined their pastors in bearing witness to the beauty of married love, discussing the gifts and challenges of family life today, learning from various experts, and participating daily in Mass and prayer. I was especially privileged to accompany the Aussie pilgrims, eating and praying with them, and hearing daily from the children and parents what had struck them.

It recently surfaced that after addressing the U.S. Congress the Pope had a private meeting with Kim Davis and her husband. A county clerk from Kentucky, Davis made headlines when she refused to issue ‘marriage’ licences for same-sex couples. She says that to do so go against the Word of God and her Evangelical Christian conscience. For this she was gaoled by a judge exasperated that government officials might have such ‘old fashioned’ views. She is not alone in her punishment. Wherever same-sex ‘marriage’ has been legalized people have been vilified and discriminated against in business, employment, education and elsewhere for continuing to hold to traditional marriage – a view held by almost every human being in history until very recently yet now regarded by some as unspeakable. Recently released from prison, Kim Davis was invited to meet the Pope privately. It’s been reported that he embraced her, thanked her for her witness, exhorted her to “stay strong”, and asked her to pray for him. Though most would agree that Pope Francis is one of the most positive, non-judgmental leaders of our age, he is willing to call a spade a spade and he made it very clear on this trip that religious liberty is endangered today not just in the Middle East, but elsewhere around the world, even in democracies like the U.S. He said as much at the White House, before Congress, at Independence Hall and when visiting the Little Sisters of the Poor who are resisting government pressure to fund contraceptive and abortifacient health cover for their employees. On the plane home to Rome the Holy Father underlined that conscientious objection is a human right that cannot be abrogated, even for public servants.

Today our book of origins recalls the first marriage between Adam and Eve (Gen 2:18-24). Knowing Adam was alone and yet made for communion with another, God creates his complement, Eve, a human being with a different but equally valuable nature. She would answer Adam’s loneliness, be his life-long helpmate, and complete him in a way no animal, angel or man could do. For, as Christ taught in our Gospel, God made human beings male and female so they would leave mother and father and become one flesh, that is indissolubly married and, by doing what man and wife do, in turn become mother and father themselves (Mk 10:2-16).

Today’s readings present the origins of the Christian view that marriage is between a man and a woman. Of course this view is no monopoly of Christians and Jews: it is shared by every major civilisation and legal system in history, pretty well every serious religion and philosophy, and still today by international law and the laws of more than 90% of nations. The bishops of Australia have explained why this matters in a pastoral letter and you can see my talk on the topic on YouTube or the archdiocesan website. Though by far the majority view in history and around the world today, it has become unfashionable in Australia, especially in the media, and Christians need courage to stand up for marriage in their families and friendships, workplaces and the public square. Just this week the Catholic Archbishop in Tasmania was taken to that state’s Anti-Discrimination tribunal by a Greens candidate, simply for distributing the bishops’ pastoral.
What might all this say to our celebration today? The fifth century Syriac poet-theologian, St YAKUB A-SARUJ-É Jacob of Serugh, preached that “in his mysterious plan the Father destined a bride for his only Son”. Mysterious, indeed, you might say, since despite The Da Vinci Code fantasies we know for certain Jesus never married. St Paul explained that Christ’s bride was the Church, to whom He gave Himself exclusively, permanently, faithfully and so fruitfully that the family built on that marriage has grown to over a billion children today (Eph ch 5). As St Jacob taught, this Groom willingly died for His bride, declaring on His wedding bed – the cross – that “it is consummated” and sealing the marriage bond with His life-blood. So it was, as our epistle explained, that Christ was able to sanctify those who share His brotherly love (and sisterly affection) (Heb 2:9-11).

But Christ’s self-giving does not end with His death: He continues to nourish His bride by daily offering His Precious Blood.[2] So the altar is also Christ’s ‘wedding bed’, where His union with the Church is renewed: there, His total self-gift to His bride on the cross is extended, bringing her into ever closer union with God. There He anticipates the great consummation of God’s love for humanity when, at the end of time, all the saved will take part in the wedding supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:7-9). To our altars we bring “the joys and the hopes, griefs and anxieties of the people of our age”, to be transfigured with the bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood and to be received so that we too might be transformed. And so, too, it is before our altars that marriage vows are exchanged, making them a sign of Christ’s married love for us.

Our altars, then, are the centre-point of our churches and cult. I commend Fr John and the parish community for your vision in providing this fixed stone altar. Fr John tells me this project has taken a dozen years to come to fruition, and follows in the wake of renovation of the sacristy, bringing the confessional into the church proper, beautifying the sanctuary with a new floor, lamp and presbyter’s chair, and recarpeting and updating the fittings of the church. The crown of this long program of improvement is, of course, your new marble altar. And so we dress Christ’s bride the Church in our Sunday best, as Catholics have always liked to do.

St Joseph’s has a proud history of 52 years so far. It is Bishop Terry Brady’s home parish and our Archdiocese’s senior priest, Fr Frank Martin, recently honoured by the Pope, used to say Mass in the area before it had a parish church. Today marks another milestone and is an opportunity to launch into the future with greater evangelical energy. On any given Sunday, around 1 in 10 Catholics are at Mass here, for which we are truly grateful, and there are many inspiring works of prayer and outreach. Yet we know that 9 out of 10 Catholics in the area are not at Sunday Mass and many others in the district do not even know this could be their spiritual home. My prayer is that this beautiful new altar and renewed church building will inspire even greater devotion to our bridegroom, Christ, and an even greater determination by the people of St Joseph’s to give witness to their relationship to Him and to bring more and more people into the life of His bride the Church. Congratulations! God bless St Joseph’s Oatley!

2. St Jacob of Serugh, “Homily on the Veil of Moses: Guéranger, iii, 1023-5.