Homily for Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time on Feast Day of St Fiacre

30 Aug 2015

Feast of the Parish of St Fiacre and the Immaculate Conception, Leichhardt

According to our book of origins, the genesis of the human story was in a beautiful garden, full of flora and fauna, located near the rivers Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, gave up their privileged position and so ours in that garden “all for an apple”, disobeying God and committing the Original Sin; since that great Fall we’ve all been committing rather less original sins, exiled as we are from our first home (Gen chs 2-3). Though the Book of Genesis does not pretend to be a history or geography book in the modern scientific sense, human beings are historical and geographical creatures and so have long speculated about the precise site of that lost paradise. One contender has been Gobekli Tepe in eastern Turkey, home to 13,000 year old stone megaliths with intricate carvings on them, known as the “Temple of Eden”. One archaeologist has suggested that the “fall from grace” which had such dire consequences for humanity was in fact the move from a nomadic hunter-gatherer existence in the wilderness, to a more settled, agrarian existence as farmers and ultimately town dwellers that these ruins might indicate.[1] Another suggested site of Eden is in the verdant wetlands of Mesopotamia in Iraq, subject in recent years to the chaos of war and spoliation, not for the first time.[2] And then, of course, there is Eden on the south coast of New South Wales; few claim it was the home of Adam and Eve but it is certainly a natural refuge for those escaping the not-so-original sins of Canberra.

Whatever of the search for long lost Eden, gardens have played an important role in Christian imagination. The whole history of salvation might be said to be an attempt to recover that state of blessedness and peace, where integrity and justice ruled, and where man and nature, man and woman, humanity and divinity, were once in harmony. Such a romance was behind the passion of St Francis of Assisi for creation and its creatures, for humanity and its paupers, and for the Creator of them all; such an inspiration is also behind his namesake Pope Francis’ recent encyclical On the Care of Our Common Home: Laudato Si.

The context of our first reading today is the desire of Moses and the People of Israel, after wandering long in the wilderness, to “cross over Jordan to see the good land, the beautiful hill country and the Lebanon” (Dt 3:25). But God is still testing them, to see if they are ready for this promised land. In particular, He wants to see if they are committed to a new covenant relationship with Him, replacing that so spectacularly broken by Adam and Eve, ready to obey its wise commands rather than pursue self-will at the Tree in the Garden (Dt 4:1-8). Only time will tell…

In the fullness of time the Son of God came so that Paradise Lost might be regained. So often in the Gospels we see Him walking in the fields, preaching to the multitudes on hill or plain, escaping to some lonely place to pray or being transfigured on a mountain – on each occasion offering humanity a kind of reconciliation told in the beauty and harmony of creation. On the night He was betrayed Jesus was praying in a garden, presumably one of his accustomed places to commune with His heavenly Father. On the day He was resurrected He met Mary Magdalene in a garden and, indeed, she confused Him for a gardener like the first Adam. In the epistles of Paul and the Revelation of John, a new heaven and new earth are promised, a New Eden with rivers and fountains, fruit and healing leaves (1Cor ch 15; Rom 8:22-24; Rev ch 22). Arcadia beckons…

Today our parish marks the feast of the patron saint of gardens and gardeners – and of this parish – St Fiacre – and so appropriately enough after Mass we plant herbs. This seventh-century Irishman was ordained to the priesthood as a young man, lived at first in a hermitage near the river Nore in County Kilkenny, and then joined the great missionary migration of Irishmen to the Continent. At Meaux in France he found a bishop, (St Faro) willing to give him as much land as he could furrow in a day. Instead of using a plough Fiacre used his staff to draw a line in the soil around all the land he wanted, and the land then miraculously ploughed itself. The bishop was so impressed he let Fiacre keep it all – enough for a cell for himself with a garden, for a hospice for visitors that was ultimately a monastery, and for a garden shrine in honour of Our Lady.

www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=276; https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cc/VirgendeLourdes.JPG

At the other end of France is the most famous Marian shrine of all. It too is in a garden and many people the world over have imitated that grotto in their gardens at home or in the grounds of churches and convents. It was there in the garden at Lourdes that the lovely Lady revealed herself to St Bernadette as “The Immaculate Conception” and so we find another link to our parish.


Through his prayer, fasting and beautification of his garden, St Fiacre made the attainment of the new heaven and earth a little more tangible. Through directing St Bernadette to dig in the soil like a gardener and release a spring the Lovely Lady revealed herself as a New Eve who would co-operate with the new Adam, her Son, in regaining Eden for us. It is of course our calling to join Our Lady and St Fiacre in that garden that is heaven. In our epistle today St James also uses a gardening image, suggesting that through adoption by God we Christians are the “first-fruits” of a cosmic renewal (Jas 1:17-27). To be worthy of that garden he calls us to lives of integrity, purity and holiness, free of that hypocrisy Jesus condemns in today’s Gospel (Mk 7:1-23).

This Parish, under the leadership of its Capuchin Franciscan gardeners, presents as “first fruits” to God a healthy Sunday practising rate of around 17%. Yet that means that as many as 4 out of 5 Catholics in this area are not on Mass on Sunday. So there is more ploughing for you all to do! Be the Lord’s gardeners in Leichardt, workers in His vineyard. Weed vices from your own hearts and plant flowers of virtue that will draw others to Christ and His Church by their beauty.

Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us!

St Fiacre, pray for us!

St Francis of Assisi, pray for us!

St Bernadette, pray for us!

Introduction for Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
Feast of the Parish of St Fiacre and the Immaculate Conception, Leichhardt

Welcome dear parishioners of St Fiacre’s on this Feast Day of your parish. I gratefully acknowledge the Parish Priest, Fr Joshy and thank him for his invitation to be here today; Fr Adrian, Vice-Rector of Redemptoris Mater Seminary; my long-time friend Fr Ben, your Assistant Priest; Brs John and Jan. Dominicans and Franciscans go back a long way together – eight hundred years to be precise – and there are many jokes told about a Dominican, a Franciscan and, usually, a Jesuit, discussing or doing something together. But the Feast Day of your parish is no joke, and I am delighted to join you on this day, dear parishioners, with the teachers, parents and especially students of St Fiacre’s Primary School.

[1] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1157784/Do-mysterious-stones-mark-site-Garden-Eden.html

[2] https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21929285.000-garden-of-eden-to-become-iraqi-national-park/#.UfuqjlOE6ip