18 Apr 2019

On Corcovado Mountain in Rio de Janiero stands the famous statue of Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) – probably the most famous statue of Jesus in the world. Christ with His arms outstretched evokes the Creator-Provident God, supreme over the cosmos, holding creation in being and pouring out His blessing upon it.

Because it’s white and atop a mountain, it also recalls the transfigured Christ, with arms outstretched and radiating like the sun, a promise of His resurrection and ascension. Yet before Christ’s human body was suffused with perpetual light, He would be humbled; before His ascent to the throne of glory, He would be cast into the realm of the dead. No Christian can look at Christ with arms outstretched and not think also of His crucifixion.

On this day two millennia ago Jesus addressed His Farewell Discourse to His first apostle-priests, washed their feet, fed them His Eucharistic Body, and took them out into the darkness. His heart, He said, was deeply troubled (Jn 12:27; 13:21) – so troubled He would sweat great drops of blood and beg that the cup be taken from Him (Lk 24:41-4). The Sacred Heart is a heart of flesh not stone, and it bears the full reality of human suffering from the inside.

There is yet another significance in the image of Christ with arms outstretched, and that is the posture of priestly prayer and sacrifice. The Sacred Heart mediates divine grace and endless mercy through a human body, and then through the bodies of His brothers. When we see a priest offering the Mass, we should think of the transfigured Christ creating and sustaining the world, of Christ Crucified forgiving and redeeming that world, and of the Sacred Heart of Jesus embracing and blessing it all. And from that Heart, we and our people take heart: that where there is suffering and darkness in our lives He has been there, He is with us, transforming it for us; that where there is violence in the womb or home, conflict between neighbours or nations, injustice or indifference, that more and better are possible; for the heart of God is for us all.

Where does this cardiac spirituality come from and where does it take us? Well, it’s from the Bible that we get phrases such as “take heart” and “take to heart”, “stealing” or “breaking” someone’s heart, getting “your heart’s desire” or being “cut to the heart”, having a heart “ready to burst” and being “of one heart”. The Bible speaks of hearts that are reverent and believing, or disobedient and fickle; true and upright, or false and bent; of hearts generous or grudging, loving or hateful, brave or faint, proud or humble, faithful or astray, wholehearted or divided, glad or sinking. It praises truthful, grateful and resolute hearts, and condemns lying, closed or selfish ones.

So when Jesus spoke of the “pure of heart” or those “with lust in their hearts” He presumed a long tradition about the heart as the seat of good and bad feelings, thoughts and deeds (Mt 5:8,28). Our hearts, He taught, are where our treasure is: the things we value most highly will frame our temptations, words and actions (Mt 6:21).[1] God probes the human heart and, if we let Him, refashions it after the pattern of His own (Lk 16:15).[2] And so Jesus praised those with pure, humble, wise, forgiving or persevering hearts, but criticized the dull, hard or doubting heart, those with “hearts weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and anxiety”, those whose hearts were far from God.[3] His task was to bind up broken hearts (Isa 61:1-9), convert hearts, renew hearts, replace hearts of stone with tender hearts of flesh.

When Jesus spoke of hearts being conformed to God, He was not just indulging in moralising from a distance. As a baby, His mother had been warned that He was destined to be opposed; and that when His heart was pierced it would be as if hers was also (Lk 2:34-5). In the Sacred Triduum that long persecution comes to its climax. Along the Way of the Cross we hear Jesus praying the Divine Office with heartfelt anguish and we see those Psalms enacted before our eyes (Pss 22 & 38). Finally His troubled heart, His throbbing and melting heart, now filled with every human anguish, is broken altogether and run through. “Then one of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance, so there came at once blood and water” (Jn 19:34; cf. Rev 1:5-8).

If all this is so we might receive spiritual heart transplants, hearts of flesh for hearts of stone, hearts near to God rather than astray, hearts after that Good Shepherd gentle and humble in heart – how are we to receive them? Who will minister to us the Baptismal Water and Eucharistic Blood flowing from Christ’s side? “I will give you shepherds after my own heart,” God promised, “who will feed you with knowledge and understanding” (Jer 3:15). The sirens of our age notwithstanding, without priests the Church cannot live out her mandates to “Go and make disciples of all nations” and “Do this in remembrance of me” (Mt 28:19; Lk 22:10). Without shepherds, she cannot lead and feed as Christ asked. But if priests are to bring human hearts in line with that of God, they must first conform their own hearts to Christ’s: what animates and guides them must be a pastor’s loving heart.[4] Only then can we join Christ in converting hearts, renewing hearts, replacing hearts of stone with tender hearts of flesh. Where the age of the self is so soft-hearted as to recognise no limits, we preach so that hearts must be just; where the age of indignation is so hard-hearted as to blame everyone else, we serve so that hearts might be merciful.

So, we take heart. Amidst the challenges of the present day, we hear God’s promise to form shepherds after His own heart. And we hear the words Jesus spoke to His first priests on this day two millennia ago:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, believe also in me… Peace I leave with you; my own peace I give to you… I no longer call you servants, I call you friends, for I’ve shared with you everything I’ve learnt from my Father. You did not choose me, no I chose you and appointed you to go out and bear fruit… If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first… So do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid… I will see you again, and then your hearts will rejoice, rejoicing with a joy that no-one can take from you! (Jn 14:1,27; 15:15,16,18; 16:6,22; cf. Phil 4:7)

Word of Thanks after the Chrism Mass

St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, Maundy Thursday

My thanks to our bishops and priests who renewed their priestly vows today and daily renew that commitment by their service to God and His people. The oils we consecrated today also highlight the daily work of our priests and, on behalf of the Bishops and People of Sydney, I thank them for that service. I thanks as well our deacons, seminarians, servers and choir.

In particular I want to record my thanks to Fr Emmanuel Seo, who last Triduum this is as my Master of Ceremonies. He has done an outstanding job at keeping me on the straight and narrow, as well as those assisting me and those hosting me for various liturgies, not just here in the cathedral but throughout the Archdiocese. Thank you Emmanuel.

I am grateful also to the young and older people of Sydney who join with their priests in celebrating these holiest feasts, but also in celebrating the sacraments all year round. May God bless you fathers and your people in the Sacred Triduum ahead.

Introduction to the Chrism Mass

St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, Maundy Thursday

Welcome to this year’s Chrism Mass. As we gather in this glorious gothic cathedral, we are conscious of the grief of our brothers and sisters in France, who mourn the loss of Notre Dame de Paris, one of the greatest cathedrals of all the world. It is all the more poignant that the fire occurred in Holy Week in the very church that houses what is believed to be the original Crown of Thorns. The Church of Sydney knows about such losses, having twice lost our cathedral to fire, as did our daughter diocese of Parramatta. As we consecrate our oils today we pray that the healing and strengthening balm of God will allow our co-religionists to rebuild with the inspiration of generations past.

The task of rebuilding the Church is one for every age, but especially so here in Australia at present. For that task we are blessed with shepherds who will today renew their priestly promises, as testimony to their communion with Christ; they will concelebrate the Holy Eucharist, as testament to their communion with their Bishop and each other; and they will consecrate the oils for the sacraments, as testimony to their communion with the people they serve.

I acknowledge the presence of auxiliary Bishops Terry Brady, Tony Randazzo and Richard Umbers, Vicar-General Gerry Gleeson, Dean Don Richardson, our several episcopal vicars, all my dear brother priests, deacons and religious, and our beloved seminarians. I also welcome representatives of our parishes and schools.

We pray for those who could not be with us today due to sickness and frailty; and we pray for the repose of our brother priests who have died since our last Chrism Mass: Jose Bairos, Eric Burton, George Connolly, Denis Foley, Graham King, Paul Ryan and Brian Yates. Several religious priests who worked for or around our archdiocese also died, including Marist fathers John Jago and Paul Cooney, Vincentian James Maloney, Jesuit Jose-Maria Enedaguilla, MSC fathers Doug Smith and Adrian Meaney, Blessed Sacrament father James Dekker, and Scalabrini father Lauro Rufo.

Today we celebrate with gratitude those priests who have achieved major milestones in their ministry: in particular, our diamond jubilarians Paul Foley and Kevin O’Grady, our golden boy Phil Linder, our silver jubilarians Toan Nguyen, Brendan Quirk and Joseph Trong – and any others I’ve missed!

Since our last Chrism Mass we’ve also welcomed several new priests to Sydney, including the newly minted Fr Matthew Meagher, and religious fathers Emmanuel Chuntic CS and Alan Wong SJ. We also have 15 newcomers from religious congregations or other dioceses. Our recently ordained permanent deacons, William Fernandes and Christopher Roehrig, are joined today in their service by our transitional deacons William Chow, Ronnie Maree, Joseph Murphy, Miguel Angel Perez Campos and Moises Tapia Carrasco; John Jang is overseas.

Our Good Shepherd seminary is now close to bursting at the seams. We welcome seminarians from both seminaries, looking forward to the day when they will make and renew their priestly vows and join us at the altar. To everyone present, a very warm welcome.

[1]     Also Mt 9:4; 12:34; 15:18-9; Mk 7:21; Lk 6:45; 12:34; Jn 7:38; Acts 5:3-4; 8:22.

[2]     Also Acts 15:8; Rom 8:27; 1Cor 4:5; 14:25; 1Thes 2:4; Heb 4:12; Rev 2:23.

[3]     Mt 5:8; 11:29; 13:15; 15:8; 18:35; 19:8; Mk 2:6; Lk 5:22; 18:1; 21:34; 24:25; Jn 12:40 etc.

[4]     John Paul II, Pastores Dabo Vobis 15,22; cf. 1Sam 2:35; 13:14.