24 May 2019

Cathedral Church and Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Mother of God, Help of Christians, Sydney

Jesus loved his Mum, loved her lots. We see Jesus with her on many occasions in the Gospels: his birth, presentation, flight into Egypt, finding in the Temple, first miracle at Cana, when out on mission, at the foot of the cross. Everyone knew Him as Mary’s boy. He knew she’d been through a lot, including some really hard things, for His sake. He knew there was worse to come, the prophesy that her heart would be figuratively pierced by a spear when His heart was literally so (Lk 2:34-5). We see her sticking by the Easter Church, ceaselessly praying as they awaited the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 1:14). Jesus was real close to his Mother.

Which makes His response today when people tell Him His Mum and relatives are here to see Him but can’t get through the crowd, seem rather harsh (Lk 8:19-21). Instead of saying “Tell Mum I’ll get to her as soon as I can” He seems to disown them: “They’re not my family: you guys who hear God’s word and do it that are my real family.”

Sounds pretty tough – but is that really what Jesus is saying? Quite the opposite actually! What Jesus says is “My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice.” In other words: what matters most about my Mum is not that she’s related to me but that she is such a good disciple. Some cultures think blood is what matters: are you a descendant of Abraham? Or King David? Or the prophet Mohammed? Are you of the priestly line? But Jesus says who-you-are and what-you-do matters a whole lot more than who you’re related to and any titles. If you want to be like family to me, be like Mary!

There’s another curious aspect to our Gospel story. It says Jesus’ “mother and brothers came looking for him”. But we know Jesus was an only child – otherwise He wouldn’t have been looking around for someone to look after His Mum after He died. So who are these ‘brothers’? Some have suggested he might have had some step-brothers, but there’s nothing in the Gospels about that. What there are, are various characters described as ‘brothers of the Lord’ (Mt 13:55; Jn 7:3-5; Acts 1:14), even though they had different parents to Him. The ancients often called cousins brothers and sisters. Or people you are close to, like when we say ‘Hey bro…hey sis’: it doesn’t mean literal blood brothers. So Jesus described the apostles as his brothers and the early Christians called each other brother and sister (Lk 22:32; Jn 20:17; cf. Acts 13:26,38; 14:2; 15:1,7,13,22,23; 22:5). So it was clearly a rather loose term.

But Jesus wanted it to be real. He wanted to make it possible for us all to be adopted into His family. The whole reason Jesus came, you might say, was so that we could call God ‘Our Father’, make Jesus our brother, live forever in God’s Family. If God the Father held out the adoption papers for us when His Son took flesh, Jesus sealed the deal from the cross. “You won’t just share my heavenly Father, you’ll share my earthly Mother as well.” So to the Church He said “This is your mother” and to Mary “This is your son” (Jn 19:26-7). If you ever wanted proof that Jesus loved His Mum and the Church, it is that He gave them to each other to look after.

Which brings me back to the question of who were those brothers and sisters who appeared with Mary were? I want to suggest today that they were you and me! Imagine you’d never seen a sunset – perhaps because you’ve been blind from birth or always go to bed at 4 in the afternoon. I could describe it to you – the shapes and colours, the way the light reflects off clouds and buildings, the peace and quiet, the awe we feel. If I was a really good poet, you might get some idea. But all words fail in the presence of the sublime, and you wouldn’t get the actual experience of a beautiful sunset from words. The only way to understand how awesome it is, is to see one for yourself.

Well, Paul says today that God is like a sunset. You can get some idea of God by hearing about Him from family, parish, school. But it’s only by having Christ living in your heart through faith and planted in your life through love that you’ll ever grasp the ‘breadth and length and height and depth’ of God (Eph 3:14-19). We can learn about how big and good and loving God is, but we’ve got to experience Him for ourselves.

How, then, are we to come to know God not just know about God? That’s where Mary comes in. As Jesus tells us in our Gospel today, she’s the perfect example: she is the sunset; look at her to discover what it’s like for someone to be touched by God, to be “filled with the utter fullness of God”. She’s at the door, asking Jesus to come and meet you, his young brothers and sisters.

Our Lady, Help of Christians, show us how to be hearers of God’s word and doers like you.

Our Lady, Help of Christians, adopt us as your children and as Christ’s brothers and sisters.

Our Lady, Help of Christians, help us to know the love of Christ and be filled with God as you are.

Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for us!


Cathedral Church and Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Mother of God, Help of Christians, Sydney

Welcome to St Mary’s Cathedral for this special Mass to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, Patron Saint of this Basilica Cathedral of St Mary, of the Archdiocese of Sydney, and of Australia.

I acknowledge concelebrating with me today Fr Gary Perritt CP and I salute Mr Tony Farley, the new Executive Director of Sydney Catholic Schools, along with directors and senior staff from the SCS office; and principals and teachers from our primary schools. Above all, I extend a very warm welcome to the students from every primary school in the Archdiocese, both congregational and systemic. For some of you it may be your first visit to our cathedral, which is the mother church of Australia.

Welcome my young friends on this Feast of the Patron Saint of Australia, of this Archdiocese, and of this Cathedral Church and Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Mother of God, Help of Christians. Know that you are always welcome here in your cathedral!