10 Mar 2019

Most will be familiar with Aesop’s fable of the elephant and the mouse. As the story goes, the elephant spares the mouse when the mouse begs for his life, suggesting that one day he might be able to help the elephant. The elephant scoffs at the idea of a tiny mouse ever helping an enormous elephant, but lets him go anyway. Sometime later, the elephant is trapped in a hunter’s net, and cries out for help. The mouse hears his cry and runs to help, freeing the elephant by gnawing through the ropes.

Though this story was first told by an Ancient Greek freedman some 600 years before the birth of Christ, the echoes for us Christians are many. In the Christian faith, which our Catechumens will today publicly embrace and profess, it is our belief that one man – Jesus – freed all humanity from the bonds of sin by humbly taking on the burden of our captivity, though He himself was innocent. You might say that the mouse in our story is a type for Christ: as the elephant laughed at the thought that so humble a creature could save him, so many laugh at the idea that humanity’s Saviour was born in a lowly manger to poor parents. Yet Christ, like the mouse, frees us from the hunter’s net, for the hunter is Sin and Death, and the net our own finitude and failings.

Of course, the example par excellence of this breaking us free is found on the Cross and at the Tomb. Though it seemed the hour of humiliation and defeat, Jesus made His crucifixion the hour of our salvation and of His glory. Though He seemed doomed to the silence and ignominy of the tomb, Jesus broke free of the chains of death and promised the same for us. One of the earliest Church Fathers, the Alexandrian scholar Origen, claimed that we can find another ‘prison-break’ in the Gospel: the story of the Temptations of Jesus in the Desert which we have just heard (Lk 4:1-13). Origen’s bright idea was this: by His death on the Cross and His rising from the dead, Jesus saved all humanity, opening to us the gates of heaven. But how do we get to those gates in the first place? The road, Jesus Himself recognized, is narrow and difficult (Mt 7:13). And on that road, Origen thought, “we live in constant danger of being ensnared by sin, caught in the nets concealed in our path by […] that mighty hunter [Satan] who opposes our Lord.”[1]

Origen is right. Though we see the gates of heaven in the distance, and all of us want to pass through, there are many temptations and distractions along the way that can catch us in their net. But by resisting the temptations in the desert, Christ has shown us that we can break free of the traps of our daily troubles too. Christ makes a path through those snares that we might follow.[2] And this is why the path is narrow: not because God wanted to make it hard to get into heaven, but because it is a pass Jesus has forced through the many snares of life. And by cutting this path through the jungle of life for us, Jesus has, like the humble mouse, given us the courage and freedom to cast aside the temptations and distractions in our own lives, and become, in turn, a mouse for others.

Which brings us to today’s joyous event. At a time when there are so many challenges to the Church in our society, it is a source of great consolation and hope that you are ready to enter our family. We will need your fait hand enthusiasm to help renew our Church. As you celebrate today the Rite of Election of Catechumens and Presentation of Baptised Candidates, you join the priests in our first reading today who, as in the hinge-point between our liturgy of the Word and liturgy of the Eucharist at Mass, lead the people in a public profession of faith and receive the gifts they offer (Dt 26:4-10). The God who delivered Israel through the Red Sea will deliver you at Easter through the waters of baptism. But first you must make an offertory of yourselves to God and profess your faith in his saving power. As you make your profession of faith, commit yourselves to an ever-deepening conversion not just in the desert days before this Easter, but in all the years ahead. You will have your own demons with which to contend: know that with Christ at your side you can be victor over all. You will have your own sins to confess: know that with Christ in your heart, the infinite mercy of God is yours. You will have your own temptations and distractions in the journey of faith: ask Christ crucified to break their nets so you can bring liberty to captives yourselves.

Dear catechumens and candidates: my congratulations to you on achieving another marker in your spiritual journey. Give yourselves now totally to Christ in this last period of preparation, formation and pre-baptismal or pre-reception catechesis. I pray that your present desire to know, love and serve Christ in His Church will flourish in post-Easter lives of closeness to Him, especially in your continued involvement in the life of your parishes which will sustain you in the years ahead.

And on your behalf and my own, I thank our priests and catechists, those involved in the catechumenate office or in parish RCIA teams, godparents, sponsors and families, and all those who have influenced you or accompanied you to this day or will do so in the years ahead. Welcome to the Catholic Church!


St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica, Sydney, 10 March 2019

Dear catechumens and candidates, godparents and sponsors, relatives and friends, priests and catechists, those from the catechumenate office: welcome to St Mary’s Cathedral at the beginning of Lent, when the Church joins Jesus for His forty days in the desert, contending with temptation through fasting and prayer, and demonstrating victory – Christ’s victory in us – through acts of charity. What a day of joy this is for all involved in the RCIA, for the entire Archdiocese, and especially for our catechumens as they take this important step on the road to Baptism and for our candidates on their way to full communion with the Church. We give thanks today to all who’ve been part of your journey in faith. They have shown the faith and enthusiasm of St Andrew who, once he’d gotten to know Jesus, ran off to get his brother Simon, and bring him to Jesus: I thank you all for your commitment and dedication. It’s often said that parishes without catechumens don’t fully experience Lent and Easter. Well, bishops without catechumens not really experience episcopacy fully either – for in the ancient tradition bishops took an active part in instructing those preparing for Baptism at Easter. Most of what we know about the catechumenate in the early centuries of the Church, that was restored to us after the Second Vatican Council, is in fact from those instructions to catechumens by the Church fathers. So I thank you for giving me this opportunity to be part of your Rite of Election today! A very warm welcome to you all.

[1] Origen, On the Song of Songs, 3:13

[2] Ibid.