04 Aug 2019

Regina Cœli, Beverly Hills, Sydney

Vanity of vanities, the Preacher says, all is vanity! (Eccles 1:2; 2:21-3) In so many ways, ours is an age of self-absorption, even self-obsession. More than 80 million photographs are uploaded to Instagram every day, mostly people’s selfies, and 1.4 billion people – 20% of the world’s population – publish details of their lives on Facebook.[i] Many people do various things specifically to multiply ‘friends’, ‘fans’ and ‘likes’. They want to be admired. Meanwhile, diagnoses of Narcissistic Personality Disorder have gone through the roof in recent years. Whether the social media are manufacturing this self-obsession, or merely reflecting it, or a bit of both, Qoheleth the Preacher in our first reading would have more material for his social criticism today than he had back in 200 or so BC. Narcissists, whether in the strict psychiatric sense or the more common informal use, have a distorted self-image, an exaggerated sense of their own value, an excessive concern with their looks, prestige and control – and they are all too common today. What’s the antidote?

Last week in our Gospel Jesus taught us the Our Father (Lk 11:1-13;Mt 6:8-13). It is perhaps the favourite prayer in the Catholic treasury. But the shortest and sweetest is the Glory Be. It’s an antidote to narcissism because, like John the Baptist, it says I must decrease so the Christ may increase; it points away from ourselves and towards God. We rightly use it as a ‘finish up’ prayer after meetings or other prayers and perhaps at the end of our day after examining our conscience, interceding for others, and thanking God for all the good things, before we sleep.

Where does this prayer come from? The origins of the Glory Be are in the Great Commission – Our Lord’s parting charge to the disciples to go out to all the world, teaching and baptising, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, confident that He is with us always (Mt 28:16-20). The Church has been doing that ever since Ascension Day. It preaches God as Trinity and initiates in His name, signifying that the one baptised is now a child of the Father, a sibling of the Son, a temple of the Spirit. So to pray the Glory Be is to recall our Baptism and ask the Trinity to renew the grace of God dwelling within us. During this Parish Visitation I’ve witnessed a desire to share the faith and grace of baptism with others here in Beverly Hills.

But the Glory Be is not just about Baptism. Mass begins “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. It ends with a blessing along the lines of “May Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”. In between, at the end of the Eucharistic prayer, the priest sings “Through Him, and with Him, and in Him, O God almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honour is yours, forever and ever.” So the Mass is framed and punctuated with Glory Bes, as is the Christian life. Both are a long extended Glory Be, addressed to the Father, by the Son, in the Holy Spirit. We offer Jesus back to the Father, who gave Him to us, along with ourselves, and in the process we receive that Spirit who is the life and love between them. Then, after receiving Him, we are sent out again in the name of the Trinity, renewing the mandate of the Ascension and Baptism, to make of our lives a Glory Be. During this Parish Visitation I’ve witnessed a desire to worship God in a warm community become a Holy Communion.

If Baptism and Eucharist are a Glory Be, so is the Sacrament of Penance. After confessing our sins the priest absolves us “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, rebaptising us, as it were, returning us to our baptismal innocence. Invoking the Trinity once more recalls that the penitent is the prodigal son restored by the Father’s mercy, the Son’s Passion, the Spirit’s gifts. Reconciliation restores us to the possibility of making our lives a Glory Be. In this Parish there is a desire for such reconciliation, too; it is a desire we must further cultivate.

When we make the sign of the cross over ourselves, or receive a blessing from a priest, or are confirmed, married or anointed when infirm, the Trinity is again invoked and praised. All sacraments and sacramentals are versions of the Glory Be that effect some particular grace in us. And the Glory Be itself asks for all such graces, as the image of the Trinity is renewed in us.

So there’s a lot packed into that simple prayer!

In our Gospel today a man errs, not by being rich, not even in building ever-bigger barns, an ever-bigger empire, for his wealth, but in his ‘vanity of vanities’ forgetting what all human projects are for: for the glory of God and the service of humanity (Lk 12:13-21; cf. Eccles 1:2; 2:21-3). If we use our wealth to such ends, we make of our lives a Glory Be. So, too, Paul reminds his beloved Colossians (Col 3:1-11) not to dwell too much “on the things of earthly life” but to “put on Christ” and “let your thoughts be on heavenly things”.

Every time we raise our minds and hearts to God, we enter into the Holy Trinity’s eternal dialogue of love. Every time we give glory to that Father, Son and Spirit, it is not for God’s benefit, as if He needed our praise for His own self-respect or was chuffed by our clapping. No, our praise of God benefits us, as it is a corrective of our vanity, gives us a sense of proportion, and opens us up to communion with the One who is the source of all grace. It is to this end that the Parish of Regina Cœli exists: to make us “rich in the sight of God”, in the things that really matter, in faith, hope and love.

What’s more, our parish exists so that if God says to us “This very night the demand will be made for your soul” we may be confident that His saving grace will be ours “as it was in the beginning, [not just] now, [but] ever shall be”. As I complete my Visitation of this parish, I notice that there is much good happening here, including leadership and teaching, worship and devotions, ministries and groups. But we are also aware that only about 1 in 6 Catholics from the area is at Mass here on a Sunday. So I challenge you all to consider how you might reach out to the remaining 5 out of 6; to invite and include them; to make this a true spiritual centre for the district where God is glorified and humanity built up in holiness and happiness. In a culture of vanity, of vanity of vanities, of Glory be to me, let us be a Glory Be to God people!

Glory be to the Father…


Welcome to Regina Cœli for this morning’s Mass for the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time. This week I have conducted my canonical visitation of the Parish of Beverly Hills, and so been treated to Mass and classroom time with the children of the parish school, visits to the sick and homebound, meetings with your parish priest, principal, teachers,sacramental coordinator and catechists, parish and finance councillors and other lay leaders, and a delightful parish dinner with ordinary 240 parishioners. Yesterday I had the special joy of ordaining seven new priests at St Mary’s Cathedral. I ask you today to keep them in your prayers as they offer their first Masses of Thanksgiving this morning. One of them attributes his conversion to Catholicism and his vocation to the priesthood to Fr Peter Kwak, your pastor. I thank him for his dedication to his vocation which has so touched others. And I thank all of you for the very warm welcome I have received and commend you on so much good that is happening here in Regina Coeli. To everyone present this morning a very warm welcome!

[i] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/17/i-narcissist-vanity-social-media-and-the-human-condition; https://www.familyandmedia.eu/en/internet-and-social-network/social-networks-and-the-selfie-disease-if-the-real-problem-is-vanity/; https://www.intellectualtakeout.org/blog/were-all-narcissus-now