Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

01 Feb 2015

Mass of Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
with Blessing of New Sanctuary, Confessional and Chapel
St Joseph’s Parish, Kingswood, 1 February 2015


Welcome to today’s Mass with a blessing of this parish’s new sanctuary, confessional and chapel. I acknowledge the Parish Priest, Fr Andrew, and his assistants, Frs Pawel and Maciej. I also welcome Mrs Fran Jackson, Principal of St Joseph’s Primary, Kingswood.

The renovations have been the fruit of the generous financial contributions of parishioners and the work of many, especially:

  • Polish architect Yolanta Riess von Risenhorst Bulyk, who designed the new sanctuary;
  • Brendan Burke Senior and Junior of Keltin Construction, who constructed the altar, confessional and chapel;
  • Bernard Shoemaker, who did the electrical work, and Barry and Anna Smith, who did the painting;
  • Roger and Clare Harris, who cleaned and undertook preparatory work; and
  • Mary Prazak, who upholstered the chairs, and sewed new chasubles, new altar cloths and tabernacle veil.

These renovations are a testament to the dedication and generosity of the Polish Dominican friars whose coming to this parish has been such a source of new life, and to this community of faith. I pray you will continue to give glory to God and draw many to join in your life of faith, worship and service.

Homily for Mass of Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B with Blessing of New Sanctuary, Confessional and Chapel, St Joseph’s Parish, Kingswood, 1 February 2015

Situated on an island in the River Siene at the heart of historic Paris is Notre Dame de Paris. Site of the ancient tomb of St Denis, the first bishop of Paris, and beginnings of the Church in France, it has long been the spiritual home of Parisian Catholics, sports one of the most beautiful and famous mediaeval cathedrals in the world, and is still today a pilgrimage site for millions who are awed by the architecture, stained glass and sculptures, and who venerate there the relic of the Crown of Thorns. It is also the portentous setting of Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame and the subsequent films and musicals.

Like many other churches, Notre Dame has not always received the respect it deserves. During the French Revolution its altar was dismantled, many statues destroyed, and a ceremony introduced to worship the new “Goddess of Reason” played by a living woman. But Christian worship eventually returned: the Pope officiated at Napoleon’s crowning there in 1804; it has been the centre of a liturgical and spiritual revival in France in recent decades; and something like 13 million people visit each year. Recently, without consulting the Catholic Church, officials from the French Ministry of Culture discussed charging admission fees so as to raise revenue for upkeep. That raised many questions: What are churches for? How are worshippers to be distinguished from mere gawkers, tourists from pilgrims? What about people who are a bit of both? Are churches mere historical curiosities in an increasingly secularised culture, artistic testaments to the faith of a bygone age but now revenue raisers for tourism authorities? Or are they about something else, something more enduring, and so properly open to all and sundry?

Today, I’m privileged to celebrate Mass and bless the fruits of the work undertaken here at St Joseph’s Kingswood over the past 18 months or so. These include a new permanent altar, a more prominent place for the tabernacle, an icon of St Joseph, a new confessional and a chapel dedicated to All Saints – all truly beautiful enhancements to this church. Whether you’ll now draw crowds of 13 million pilgrims each year is yet to be seen, but if anyone can do it, it’s your parish priest, Fr Andrew, and his excellent community. But why – why do we Catholics set such store by church buildings and generation after generation seek to improve them?

Churches are not just beautiful or historic works of human ingenuity – although the improvements made here are indeed both beautiful and historic. Sacred architecture, art and furnishings should point to something beyond them: our hope of eternal life in a New Jerusalem where we will worship the Risen Lamb in spirit, in truth, in perfect joy (Rev 22:1-3; Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi 12). Churches anticipate and prepare us for the heavenly Liturgy. Here our sins are absolved, the Holy Sacrifice celebrated, and we commune in and adore its fruits – all actions that prepare us to join the Lord m in eternity.

You might say, if you liked big words, that churches are eschatological: they point to something greater and more eternal than our everyday domestic, commercial and leisure concerns. They are also ecclesiological: they express our communion as a Mystical Body with Christ as our head and us His members (1Cor 3:9-17; cf. 12:12-13). Not just today’s members mind you, but our Christian brothers and sisters from earliest times emerging from persecution to build the great basilicas of Rome, to those mediaeval ones delighting in a new sacred culture and building Notre Dame, or those nineteenth century ones surviving persecution by the secularists, all the way through to the saints of Kingswood renovating St Joseph’s church in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and spread throughout the world living, dead and yet to come.

What’s more, churches are Christological: they point to Christ as the Living Temple in whom the fullness of divinity dwells bodily, the portal between heaven and earth (Col 2:9; Jn 14:6, 1Tim 1:17). In our first reading, Moses promises that God will one day raise up a new prophet for us (Dt 18:15-20). Like Moses, He will be one of us, made of the same building materials as us. But He will prove to be much more beautiful, for unlike Moses who must shield his eyes to God’s glory this new Prophet sees God face-to-face; not only do we hear God’s words from His lips, we encounter in Him the Divine Word sung by the Father from all eternity. So we must all be bricks and stained glass by which Western Sydney may come to see the eschatological, ecclesiological and Christological things, to glimpse Christ and find communion with Him.

If we are to be these beautiful ecclesial appointments, we must first listen to Him – so Moses insists today, so also will God insist at the Baptism in the Jordan and the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor (Mt 3:17; 15:5). As we see today in our Gospel, Christ has clout over all creation, even demons (Mk 1:21-28). His words are commanding. He teaches with authority, teaches something ancient yet new, something that catches our attention and changes our lives. He teaches on His own authority, with the assurance of divine truth, not relying on terrorist force or techno gimmicks or recommendations from others save the reference from the One who calls Him “my beloved Son”. He spun no spin: Jesus spoke with the clarity, directness, finality of God’s voice, so that some recognized this as revelation and others thought blasphemy. So it is that Paul joins Moses and the Father in calling us today to pay full attention to what Jesus says and does (1Cor 7:32-35). And so, too, do our church buildings: the sacred art and architecture, the vessels and vestments, the engineering and construction and decoration, all these things call us to listen to the One who is the Father’s greatest artwork, to be incorporated as colours and signs into that divine fresco ourselves, to become in St Paul’s words “God’s artwork, created in Christ Jesus to do those good works for which God prepared us in advance” (Eph 2:10). In bringing the tabernacle of Christ’s Real Presence to the centre of our church we say to ourselves and each other more clearly than ever: listen to Him!

Our word renovate comes from the Latin renovare, to renew. Renewal was in order here, and not just architecturally. Only a few years ago the attendance rate here at Sunday Mass had dropped below 5%, to one of the lowest practising rates in this diocese. But ecclesia semper reformanda, the Church is always reforming herself, always being renewed by God’s Holy Spirit, and these latest renovations are an example not just of your determination to hear the One who teaches with authority and to give Him fitting praise, but also to draw others to hear and adore Him with you. Numbers here are already on the rise. I pray these renovations will give new impetus to your evangelical efforts and that the reputation of this church “spreads rapidly everywhere, through all the surrounding Galilean [and Hawkesbury] countryside”. Congratulations priests and people. God bless this parish and its renovated church!