Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time with Blessing of Bell Tower and Commitment of Confirmands

26 Jul 2015

Introduction for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time with Blessing of Bell Tower and Commitment of Confirmands
Our Lady of Victories Parish, Horsley Park, 26 July 2015

Welcome to today’s happy occasion for the Our Lady of Victories Parish. By ancient tradition the sacred chrism is used to anoint the crown of those being baptized or ordained bishops, the foreheads of those being confirmed, the hands of priests, the walls of churches and tabula of altars being consecrated and for one other use: the blessing of bells! While our rite may be a little simpler today, it is a rare treat to bless a new bell tower and bells. So thank-you for the invitation and, more importantly, for the vision, planning, fund-raising and execution of this project!

The sacred chrism, as I said, has another important role: it is used to seal with the Holy Spirit those who are confirmed. So today I am also pleased to receive the commitment of those from this parish to be confirmed.

In our Archdiocese more broadly today we celebrate Marriage and Family Sunday. At a time of great confusion about the meaning and liveability of marriage and the family, when so many marriages and families are under pressure and struggling in one way or another, we need to pray and support each other more than ever.

I acknowledge: Fr Janusz Bieniek (Provincial for the Congregation of St Michael the Archangel), Fr Dominik Karnas (Parish Priest), Fr Peter Kaupa (Assistant Priest) and Deacon Paul Naggar; Mr Frank Carbone (Mayor of Fairfield City Council and parishioner); Mrs Therese Gaunt (Principal of Marion Catholic Primary School), Members of the Parish Council and Parish Finance Committee; and the many parishioners who donated to the bell tower project either financially or in terms of time and services during construction.

Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
with Blessing of Bell Tower and Bells and Commitment of Confirmands
Our Lady of Victories Parish, Horsley Park, 26 July 2015

The popular British detective series, Midsomer Murders, first aired in 1997 and has now recorded seventeen series of murder investigations, many macabre, some of them downright bizarre stories. In the great tradition of English crime fiction, it presents an Arcadian idyll of the English countryside, but with a dark underbelly: real evil intrudes, with remarkable regularity, disturbing the peace and security of these county folk. It is up to the ever-reliable Chief Inspector Barnaby and his various sergeants to detect and defeat evil and restore law and order by solving each mystery and capturing the perpetrator. It regularly draws a domestic audience of about 6 million and sells well in countries like Australia.

Now I’m not sure what parallels we might draw with the rural idyll of Horsley Park… But one episode from Season Five is titled “Ring Out Your Dead”. It concerns the campanologists or bell-ringers of ‘Midsomer Wellow’. As they prepare for a bell-ringing contest – the kind of sport like cricket that only Englishmen and those from their colonies could play – members of the group are murdered one by one and it is up to Barnaby and Sergeant Troy to track the killer down, which eventually they do. The episode ends with the bells ringing out the promise of peace and security once more.

Today, we bless the new bell tower and bells of Our Lady of Victories Church here in the Parish of Horsley Park. We hope that it is does not become the subject of a new crime fiction series, The Horsley Park Murders! What today does do however is reflect the deeply-embedded tradition in Christian culture of church bell ringing, a tradition that has become so sophisticated that it can support competitions measuring the performance of the bell-ringers and the accompanying music that the bells produce.

Church bells are uniquely Christian. Although bells were used in the cults of Ancient Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Rome, China and India, Christians co-opted and applied them to the rhythm of prayer and life particular to Christian culture. St Gregory of Tours in the sixth century referred to church bells, used especially as alarm clocks to get the monks out of bed at to their prayers, but loud enough to invite the local people to join in too. Eventually they became a regular part of church architecture and their sound part of the musical ambiance of a village or city. Church bells would announce the beginning of Mass or the Consecration at the heart of the Mass or that it was time to pray the Angelus. They would ring out our joy at events such as a couple’s nuptials, the election of a Pope or the end of war. So too they would slowly toll out our grief at the Funeral of a parishioner, a fire in the town or the death of a Pope.

A good detective looks to the context of events and today’s readings may situate our provision of bells as calls to prayer, especially to that prayer of prayers, the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass. St John tells us (Jn 6:1-15) that the multitude were impressed by the signs and wonders Jesus worked and were looking for more. We human beings are indeed sign readers and followers and we interpret them, like good detectives, against the background of our experience. So we are given little hints of what Jesus is about in John’s detective story: that He was healing people; that it was around Passover time; that Jesus was concerned about the deep hunger of the crowd; that the twelve apostles were intimately involved in what He did next; that Jesus had the people sit on the grass, amongst the elements of created nature; that what was then confected by Him was so precious that any leftovers were carefully gathered up; that in the miracle of the loaves and fishes the people saw their long-awaited prophet-king. All these details John records for us are not merely accidental: they are like warning bells, alarm bells, church bells, telling us something crucial about what is going on.

One time we use bells in church is at the moment that the priest lowers his hands over the elements of bread and wine and calls down the Spirit upon them. By this epiclesis God the Holy Spirit does something even more spectacular than the multiplication of the loaves that occurred that day on the plains of Galilee: the bread and wine become the very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. When that transformation is complete the bells ring again, three times, to tell the world that Christ has come. “Stop and listen,” the bells toll, “your Lord is present now in the Holy Eucharist, His sacrifice for you is renewed, His love for the world is made manifest under the appearance of bread and wine.” The tinkling in our detective story rings likewise: here is the sign, the healing, the food you hunger for most deeply; the successors of the apostles will tender it to you and gather up the precious remainders; here the elements of nature are transformed; here your long awaited Messiah is come at last. In the weeks to come we will keep reading from Chapter 6 of St John’s Gospel, as Jesus unpacks for us what this all means. It will come to its climax when He insists that this really is His flesh and blood, given for the life of the world, given to us so we might receive His substance into our substance, His eternal life into our mortal lives: and that whether we believe this will be the crunch-point over which many stay with Him but others leave Him.

I commend this parish on its new bell tower and bells and all those that contributed to this dream coming to fruition. Designed by the original church architect the tower is dedicated to the nine choirs of angels who constantly praise God; it now hangs the bells generously donated to the parish. When you hear it ring you must let it call you to prayer amidst the busyness of your life; you must let it remind you of what matters most, of the Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection of the Lord perpetuated in the Eucharist; you must hear its promise of God’s infinite mercy and His very particular love for every open ear. Join the angels who sing day and night before the throne of the thrice-holy Trinity.

Candidates preparing for Confirmation next month: St Paul calls you in our epistle today to live lives worthy of your vocations (Eph 4:1-6). How are you to do that? As I explained, when we call down the Holy Spirit and ting the bell in Mass, ordinary bread and wine are transformed into something extraordinary. So too, we will soon call down the same Holy Spirit upon you, to transform ordinary boys and girls into active apostles of Jesus. As you prepare for that day, practice what Paul recommends: forbearance, charity, unselfishness, gentleness, patience, unity. The Holy Spirit is ready to give you such gifts, but open your hearts now to receiving them and enacting them. Tell Jesus your sins and sorrows in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and then join us in this parish church every Sunday to ring out your joy to the Lord in the Eucharist!