22 Mar 2020

Our Lady of the Rosary Primary School Yard, Fairfield

Armageddon. There have been many signs of it lately: drought, bushfires, dry lightning, hailstones, now plague. COVID-19 has killed, infected or isolated people, and put much of ordinary life on hold. Even handshaking has stopped – and there’s been a run on toilet paper because Aussies think that’s what you eat in an epidemic! In any former age, people would have read these as apocalyptic signs that the world is coming to an end, that it’s our fault, and that we’d better repent quick-smart…

They’d be partly right. Some people’s world is literally coming to an end and for all of us it’s being drastically affected. Repentance, well that’s always a good idea, especially in Lent. But as for it being all our fault, John’s long Gospel today (Jn 9:1-41) makes clear that in this life there’s no easy relationship between what we do and what we suffer. Jesus rejects the idea that the man was born blind as punishment for sins committed in the womb, or in prospect of later sins, or for what his parents had done. No, Jesus says, sometimes bad things happen to good people. Don’t presume coronavirus is God’s punishment. Yet such happenings should shake us up, make us think about who or what matters most to us, reconsider what we’ll do with the time we have left.

Today Jesus heals a man blind from birth. But instead of healing him with a thought or word as He often did,[1] this is one of those occasions where he drew things out, by healing in stages, first absolving, or with some extra ritual of touch or anointing.[2] Today He mixes a paste of earth and saliva, puts it on the blind man’s eyes and sends him for a bath. What’s going on here?

Today we’re drawn back to the dawn of creation, when God said “Let there be light” and there was light (Gen 1:3), for in the re-creation that Jesus is effecting, He declares “I am the light of the world.” Where God takes soil from the earth to mould Adam, the first man (Gen 2:7), today He redeems a man with clay from the earth. In Genesis God breathed His breath into the clay man; in today’s Gospel it’s His spittle. No COVID-19 preventative measures here! No masks and social distancing to avoid breath, spittle and touch! This is God come close, very close, intimate with humanity. The Divine Potter moulds humanity with His own hands, and remakes cracked humanity with His own substance. All the sacraments are like that: visible signs incarnating invisible graces, signs by which we can see and touch and taste God.

So being sent to wash in the waters of Siloam evokes for us the sacrament of Baptism, as the man is healed by water. But the Eucharist is suggested, too, as he receives something of Christ’s own substance. There are even hints of Anointing the Sick, as Jesus uses a paste as a sign to mediate His healing grace. He doesn’t just touch the man’s eyes with the clay; the Greek word John uses is ἐπέχρισε, ‘anointed’, from which we get our words Chrism and Christ. Our first reading (1Sam 16:1-13) recalls a more traditional anointing with oil, by which the boy David was dedicated to God’s service as future king. Still to this day we anoint with holy oil at coronations and ordinations, at baptisms and confirmations – and when anointing the sick.

Image result for light of the world

So what do those touchy-feely sacraments actually do for us? The man born blind stands for all humanity, walking in darkness, spiritually blind. The Gospels describe the coming of Christ as the coming of a great light, light that shone most dramatically at His Nativity, Transfiguration and Resurrection.[3] For those with the eyes to see, Jesus is “the light of the world”. To follow Him is to walk in light not darkness, to live in truth not falsehood, to be “children of the light”.[4]

Furthermore, Jesus says to His disciples: “You are the light of the world… like a lamp on a lampstand that gives light to the whole house. So let your light shine before others.”[5] The light isn’t just for us. After anointing the blind man Jesus said “Go and wash in the Pool called Siloam – which means ‘sent’.” The Greek word for sent is from the same root as our words apostle and apostolate. So the man, washed and anointed, converted and healed, is sent on mission. Our ‘Eastering’ is likewise about being cleansed with Easter water, relit from the Easter fire, and commissioned to take the Easter Gospel to all the world. Lent readies us for that.

Fairfield’s Pool of Sending is, of course, the baptismal font of our church. There people are remade in baptism and every Easter. There they are healed – of sin, sickness and ignorance – by Christ’s Word proclaimed and sacraments ministered. From there comes so much life and leadership, teaching and preaching, worship and devotion, community and outreach. On an ordinary Sunday when there are no restrictions on the size of public gatherings, 1 in 5 Catholics from this area is at Mass, which is pretty good by Australian standards. But we ache for the absent 4 out of 5 and I challenge all Fairfield parishioners to consider how you might invite and include them, to make this the place of encounter with the Healing Lord for the whole district.

Today Raymond Hung encounters Christ at Fairfield’s Pool of Sending. He offers himself as a candidate for the Permanent Diaconate, to be sent for ministry of Word, Altar and Charity. When God chooses men to share in the ordained ministry, He moves them by His grace as He did the young David in our first reading. He inspires them to live, as St Paul exhorts us, not in idleness but in ‘goodness, righteousness and truth’ (Eph 5:8-14). And He forms them through and for the Church. Today is a new step for Ray on that journey that began in the Pool of Baptism many years ago. Now he must apply himself to completing his formation and studies, to growing in prayer, and to making himself a living Gospel where all may encounter Christ and His words.

God bless you Raymond. God bless Sydney and our world in this time of pandemic. God bless Our Lady of the Rosary parish.


Our Lady of the Rosary Primary School Yard, Fairfield

My thanks to all of you who took part in this Laetare Sunday celebration. As Fr Michael has mentioned, the strange circumstances of a pandemic forced us outside and has forced the cancellation of our party afterwards. But we thank God for the gifts of life and health, of faith and community, and that we were alive and healthy, faithful and fraternal enough to be able to celebrate our Mass today. Please maintain your own ministry of intercession for the sick and the dead and those at risk, for health professional and researchers, and for the authorities. The priests of Sydney will continue to offer Mass with you for as long as we can, subject to government restrictions and public health prudence. If they can no longer offer public Masses with you, they will offer private Masses for you. Our churches will remain open and our pastoral care increase, not decrease. God and you are our first concern.

My congratulations to the Parish on so much that is so good that is happening here. My thanks to Fathers Michael, Josh and William, the lay leaders, staff and volunteers. And my congratulations to Deacon Candidate Raymond Hung. God bless you all.


Our Lady of the Rosary Primary School Yard, Fairfield

Welcome to our outdoor celebration of Laetare Sunday. In the middle of this penitential season of walking with Christ to His Passion and Death, the Church breaks out with joy at the prospect of Easter and dresses her bishops, priests and deacons up like Easter eggs! And we certainly need some joy in this time of COVID-19 pandemic.

Nonetheless the Church calls us at this time to pray and fast: for those who’ve died, are sick or are at risk; for those caring for the sick, those seeking a cure and those leading us through this crisis; and for our whole community. As the government ramps up public health measures, the Church is determined to play its part, by constant intercession, healthcare and pastoral care.

This week I’ve conducted my canonical visitation of the Parish and been treated to Masses, devotions, and meetings with your parish clergy, lay leaders and individual parishioners. I’ve also met with leaders and students from the schools, young adults, the elderly and infirm. I thank your Parish Priest, Fr Michael de Stoop, with Fathers Josh and William, and all parishioners for the welcome I’ve received and commend you on so much good happening here in Fairfield.

In this Mass we also celebrate the Rite of Admission to Candidacy for the Permanent Diaconate of Raymond Hung – fear not: it is only a very short Rite! A special welcome to Raymond, his wife Stella and sons Raphael and Gabriel, and to everyone present this morning.

[1]     E.g. Mt 8:5-13; 9:20-22; 12:9-13; Mk 3:1-6; 5:24-34; 10:46-52; Lk 6:6-11; 7:1-10; 7:11-17; 8:43-48; 14:1-6; 17:11-19; 18:35-43; Jn 4:46-54; 5:2-15; 11:1-44.

[2]     Other examples include:. Mt 8:1-4; 8:14-15; 9:1-8; 9:18-19,23-26; 14:34-36; 20:29-34; Mk 1:29-31; 1:40-45; 2:1-12; 5:21-24,35-43; 6:53-56; 8:22-26; Lk 4:38-39; 5:12-16; 8:40-41,49-56; 13:10-17; 22:50-51.

[3]    Mt 2:2; 4:16;  Lk 2:32,79; 3:9,30-32; Jn 1:4-9; 3:19-21. At the transfiguration: Mt 17:2 et par. At the resurrection references to dawn and dazzling light: Mt 28:1,3; Mk 16:2; Lk 24:1,4.

[4]    Jn 3:19-21; 8:12; 12:35-36,46; cf. 1Jn 1:5-7; Eph 5:8-14.

[5]    Mt 5:13-16; cf. Mt 6:22; Lk 11:33-36; Jn 12:36; Rom 13:12; Eph 5:8; 1Thes 5:5; 1Jn 1:5-7 etc.