30 Oct 2016


I don’t often quote the German philosopher, Frederick Nietzsche, as he was no friend of religion. He thought that all believers and especially Christians were weaklings for prizing mercy towards the poor, sick and ignorant, for talking of forgiving enemies, turning the other cheek, and so on, and for masking the nausea and disgust he believed we should feel about life. Famous for his concept of the Übermensch – the superman without limits – he wanted to usher in the era of these champions for whom morality is irrelevant, those who are unconstrained by tradition or faith, courtesy or charity. These singularly bad ideas proved all too influential in the century past. Yet nobody’s ideas catch on unless there is some truth in them. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra Nietzsche rightly said that if the disciples of Jesus really believed their doctrine they would look more redeemed. He told some Christian colleagues: “It’s not your arguments that tell against you – it’s your faces!”

Here Nietzsche correctly caught on to the fact that our Scriptures and doctrinal tradition give us every reason for hope and joy, and that should show on our faces and in our lives. The Philosopher in our first reading, for instance, says that no-one is beyond redemption: we only come into existence and continue to exist because it is God’s will; and if a good God wills us into being and holds us in being, now and for all eternity, then we must be basically good and worth saving. So, says the Wisdom of God, God never gives up on us, but “little by little tries to correct us”, to bring us back to ourselves (Wis 11:22-12:2). And, lest we despair that it’s too late for that, the world has slid too far down the slippery slope, or that we personally are beyond repair, Paul declares in our epistle that we should not be alarmed: God can and indeed will do extraordinary things so that our Lord Jesus Christ is glorified in us and we in Him. Though there’s no excuse for complacency, there’s no cause for despair either: near or far, there is time before the end for Christ to make you anew. (2Thes 1:11 – 2:2)

And so Jesus comes today to dine with sinners (Luke 9:1-10) and rather than avoid the scandal of it all He says: this is precisely why I came; I came to call sinners, to find the lost sheep, to be the physician of souls, to receive back the prodigal son. This is the very meaning of my holy name: Jesus means “God saves.” Jesus comes today into the house of our souls, into the dining room that is the church of Blakehurst, and chooses, as the first reading puts it, “to overlook our sins so that we might repent.” And if anyone needed to hear that Good News it was surely Zacchaeus. He was “filthy rich” not just in the sense of very rich but filthy because he got rich by cheating the wealthy, exploiting the poor and, worst of all, collaborating with the Roman oppressors. This tax collector was the most hated man in the community, boycotted by all respectable people. Yet when he heard Jesus was in town, he climbed a tree to have a look…

He climbed a tree because, of course, he was very short. It is a happy coincidence that I get to celebrate Zacchaeus Sunday here at Blakehurst with the Zacchaeus of Sydney priests, Fr Isidore. Not that he is filthy rich – far from it. Nor that he is small of heart either. But he is the sort who might have to climb a tree, or at least the sanctuary steps, in order to see Jesus over the heads of the crowd…

“Come on down little Zack,” Jesus says, “hurry up now! I’m here to visit YOU. Today salvation – Jesus who saves – comes to your house. For the Son of Man comes to seek out and save what was lost.” As we approach the end of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, and this Diamond Jubilee Year of our parish church, today’s readings remind us of God’s infinite mercy, His willingness always to give us another chance. All that is required is that we be willing to let Him, that we be ready to work with Him rather than against Him in His renovation project for us and for our world. Jesus comes like one of those TV home renovation series like The Block, House Rules or Reno Rumble, where teams move in to turn your home into a dream house to live in or to sell; all we have to do is give Him the keys and let Him and His team have free reign!

So even for Zacchæus there was hope. He did not have to do much: just look out for Jesus, open his eyes and heart and house, and then let Jesus take the initiative. No end of jumping up and down on the spot would have helped him see, no end of spiritual callisthenics would have brought him salvation. What he had to do was dispose himself to receive Jesus and let Jesus do the rest.

Zack was short, so he ran ahead and climbed a tree to see Jesus. But aren’t we all spiritual dwarves, too small to meet Christ? Don’t we fail, time and again, to see and hear Jesus? Like Zacchæus we all need that sycamore tree that is the Church, that is our parish of Mater Dei Blakehurst, to hold us up so we might see Christ. And your own local Zacchaeus Fr Isidore is a living reminder of that.

I used to think sixty sounded old: now I know that for someone or something like the parish church of Blakehurst to be celebrating its 60th birthday means it is just coming into its prime! Blakehurst-Hurstville South with your churches of Mater Dei and St Raphael have a long history and today marks another milestone along the way. You have a wonderful patron in the mother of God and from the time of Father Michael Kennedy to your present parish priest Father Isidore you have had some great priests and parishioners. Yours is a parish in which people say they experience a true spirit of community, compassion and care for each other. You strive to grow in holiness and to open your hearts to the mystery of God. You have some dynamic ministries, including sacramental ministries, two primary schools, an active parish council, youth group, Legion of Mary, St Vincent De Paul, home rosary and much else besides. 1 in 10 of the Catholics in this area are regularly here for Mass on Sunday. In all sorts of ways you are working to build up the kingdom of God in this area.

But that is no cause to be smug. If 1 in 10 Catholics are at Mass on a particular Sunday in this parish, 9 out of 10 are not, and that makes the participation rate here lower than in many parts of the Archdiocese of Sydney. There are also many non-Catholics yet to find their spiritual home also. We do not underestimate the challenge of this: our efforts to bring Christ to the world so that we can bring the world to Christ are hampered by a rapidly secularising culture in which even institutions as basic as marriage are being deconstructed and redefined. The Übermenschen – the supermen and women – want to abolish every boundary from faith or tradition, from nature or charity. This means we must redouble our efforts to be truly intentional disciples, who reach out to others, inviting them, welcoming them, evangelising them and sustaining them on their way to God. Frederick Nietzsche thought that by looking at our faces – and seeing whether we were joyful or po-faced – one can tell whether we really believe Christ has redeemed the world. That’s a good test, but a better one might be looking at how many new faces we draw week by week to join us in joyfully celebrating the gospel of mercy.

Today Jesus joins us at Zack’s house in Blakehurst. But He doesn’t just come for our 60th birthday but for every Sunday celebration of our Eucharist. He wants to see you again next week, preferably with someone new you’ve brought with you. Congratulations dear diamond jubilarians! Ad multos annos!



My congratulations to Father Isidore and to you all on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of your church. I don’t expect to be around for the centenary, though the ever young Father Isidore may be! As I look out today at the many faces, young and old, that make up this parish, I know that this parish will be in good hands going forward. I rely upon the younger people here to remind others at the time of the centenary but the celebration we had back in 2016. Perhaps one of the young faces I see here today may even be where I’m standing now! A very happy birthday to you all.


Six decades ago Fr Michael Kennedy and the members of his new parish worked hard to build this church in a year and a half; and so within a few months he went from saying Mass on the back porch of a house to saying his first Mass here. There have been four parish priests since then, and a number of changes to the building, including the new windows and other recent work to spruce it up. It’s a great joy for me to join you for this Diamond Jubilee celebration. I acknowledge Fr Isidore the parish priest, Fr Brendan Quirk the regional Dean and Parish Priest of St Mary McKillop Rockdale and St Gabriel’s Bexley, Monsignor Henryk Micek of St Patrick’s Kogarah, and Fr Peter Christie. I am also pleased to acknowledge Hon. Scott Morrison MP, the Federal Treasurer and Member for Cook, Mr David Coleman MP, the Federal Member for Banks, and Mr Mark Coure MP, the State member for Mortdale.

Today we will have an opportunity to recognise in particular those who have contributed towards our lovely stained glass windows. But as we begin our Mass today, we remember with gratitude all those who built this church and who’ve contributed to the parishes of Blakehurst and Hurstville South over many decades, and we commend them and the future of this parish to Almighty God.