04 Dec 2019

St. Mary’s Basilica, Sydney, Wednesday of 1st Week of Advent A

In the aftermath of the Second World War, hostility, not surprisingly, abounded. In an effort to rekindle old friendships and build new ones, French President Charles de Gaulle conceived of a series of televised games, originally played between French and German youths but quickly enlarged to twenty European nations over the following two decades.

Known as Jeux Sans Frontières or Games Without Borders, these were not your usual competitive sports. Since the purpose was building bridges not rivalries, the games were deliberately silly, with contestants mostly university students dressed in giant lurid costumes performing weird and wonderful tasks. In 1978, for example, competitors wearing horned helmets had to race in large honey pots and try to grab soup ladles! The anglophone version in Britain and Australia was called It’s A Knockout, and there have recently been proposals to revive the games under the title Eurovision SuperGames.

Though people laughed at the Jeux San Frontières it had a serious purpose. As the name suggests, it sought to break down barriers and demonstrate our common humanity by having a laugh together. Unlike sports that are only fun to watch if your own country is winning – and we expect Professor Campbell to now root for Australia against the British Isles – these games can be enjoyed by all sides because, at the end of the day, how well you can grab a soup ladle in a honey pot isn’t much of a reflection on your national character!

Dear graduands, your university studies may sometimes have felt as ridiculous as honey pot races, as you sprinted to the finish line submitting your assignments one minute before they were due or jumped hurdles like class presentations on strange subjects. I hope you’ve been able to laugh at yourselves amidst the seriousness and stresses of study. I trust, too, that you’ve made some enduring friendships and learnt knowledge and skills to apply usefully in the future. But why does it matter?

The University crest has a Bible opened to the words In Principio Erat Verbum. These are, of course, the opening words of John’s Gospel in Latin – Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος in the original Greek, ‘In the beginning was the Word’ in English (Jn 1:1). From this verse comes the name of your unique core curriculum, the Logos Programme. Hearkening back to our book of origins (Gen 1:1), these words tell us that behind all of creation is an eternal Idea, Word or Love Song sung from all eternity by the Father, and sung in time to us as Jesus Christ.

So close to Christmas, we look forward to Mary bringing forth her child, this Word made flesh and blood, flesh and baby. Yet, another way of viewing Advent is as a season of God speaking: into the ears of Mary and Joseph, of Shepherds and Kings, and of all the world – to speak the divine Reason, Argument or Love Song, first through a newborn baby’s cry and in due course through the sublime words and deeds of the young man Jesus.

Tonight that young man’s miracles of healing the crippled, blind and mute, and of feeding the multitude (Mt 15:29-37) serve as a reminder that as you strike out on your own, you do not strike out alone. When St. Matthew writes in our Gospel tonight that the crowd ‘praised the God of Israel’, he is making it very clear that Jesus wasn’t preaching words and working signs to impress the Jews, but inaugurating a new reality in which all peoples could be united in praising the one God. That would prove a more powerful glue than any comic games. Jesus makes it very clear that Truth and Love are borderless, directed to building bridges not walls, relationships not rivalries. And His view of truth and relationships offers so much more than post-modernity’s knowledge as power and relationships as ‘you scratch my back and I scratch yours’. In preaching to the crowd Jesus points to a Logos that will enlighten and nourish the mind; in feeding that crowd He pre-empts a Eucharist that will unite and nourish the soul.

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In our Gospel story we encounter a God so driven by compassion and generosity that the people receive more than enough to feed their bodies and souls, extra basketsful so they can in turn feed others. That extravagant over-feeding – like happens regularly at Middle Eastern dinners: just ask the Lebs – is described also by the Prophet Isaiah in our first reading (Is 5:6-10). And that points, I hope, not just to the scale of the after-parties following your graduations, but to your minds and hearts being so well nourished at University that you’ll be ready to feed humanity thereafter!

Advent looks forward to a time when people will no longer cry out “We are hungry”, whether for material food or more intellectual; a time when the world will no longer be divided between haves and have-nots, overfed and starving, educated and ignorant. It’s the promise of a world without borders – and an aspiration for each of you in your lives post-Notre Dame.

Some here tonight are believers, some non-believers, and many still searching. But the message of Jesus whose ‘God of Israel’ is for all humanity, like the message of the Jeux Sans Frontières is that even these distinctions can be bridged by truth and love. It reminds us that success is not ultimately to be measured by the number of letters after our names, or the careers and salaries those letters enable, or the properties and gadgets those salaries purchase; nor by sexual conquests, power exercised, or social media fans multiplied – important as some of these things no doubt are. No, the Logos-made-man says truth and love are for more than this, for some higher things, dare I say for the making of saints.

Dear graduands, when you don your academic gowns know that this is not just for photos and your own glory, but to declare something about human possibilities. The black gowns come from the mediaeval clerics, especially the Dominicans or ‘Black Friars’, who inhabited the first universities and wore black cloaks over their white habits. Black and white were their chosen colours, because truth is black and white and so is the writing that communicates truth. The communication of truth and love, through every word and deed: that was their aspiration and so, I pray, will be yours. My prayer is that your university experience has unblocked the eyes and ears and mouth of your hearts, and fed your minds to over-flowing. And I charge you with this mission: take your newly minted degrees to whatever lies ahead, determined to see deeply and broadly and to make a real contribution. Congratulations graduands of the University of Notre Dame Australia! May God bless you and your futures!


St. Mary’s Basilica, Sydney, Wednesday of 1st Week of Advent A

Welcome all to St Mary’s Cathedral for the celebration of our Mass for graduands of the University of Notre Dame Australia.

I acknowledge concelebrating with me Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney, Tertiary Education Liaison and Trustee of the University, Most Rev. Richard Umbers EV; the Parish Priest of St Benedict’s Broadway, Fr Dominic Murphy OP; the founding chaplain, Fr John Neill OP; from the School of Philosophy and Theology Board, Very Rev. Eric Skruzny; and                                                                                                      .

I also recognize the Chancellor of the University, Hon. Chris Ellison; Acting Vice-Chancellor Peter Tranter; Deputy-Chancellor, Mr Michael L’Estrange; Deputy Vice-Chancellor Margot Kearns; Head of Campus Angus Brook; several trustees, directors and governors of the University, Deans and other officials; other Executive, Academic and General staff; and distinguished guests. A special welcome to the incoming Vice-Chancellor, Professor Francis Campbell, both to the University and to this country; we look forward with excitement to your leadership and pray today for its success.

Above all, to our graduands, their family members and friends: a very warm welcome to you all!