27 Sep 2020

St. Mary’s Basilica Sydney, 27th September

Music is beauty made of air. Plato said it gives “soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything”. Shakespeare called it “the food of love”. Einstein said he daydreamed, thought, even lived in music. Billy Joel says music expresses and heals our humanity.

Whether it’s a solo eight-year-old voice or the great organ of a cathedral, whether the plainchant and polyphony of Catholic tradition or the hard rock and rapping of modernity, whether childhood lullabies, classic symphonies or latest pop-songs, music has its power. Its magic is made of melody, rhythm, dynamics and colour. Our tradition uses the image of a choir to describe a gathering of angels or saints. What is it about choirs?

Well, one aspect of choirs like ours at St Mary’s is that while they all sing together they don’t all sing the same way or the same thing. Different voices and melodies combine to achieve harmony and produce a cohesive whole, greater than the sum of its parts, stronger, more beautiful, more affecting.

But what if one of our singers today broke ranks and sang a different song altogether? The result would be dissonance, even cacophony. The words, notes and rhythms would clash, the beauty be lost in the pulling in different directions…

In our Epistle this morning we hear in three verses what may very well be the first Christian hymn:

His state was divine,

yet Jesus did not cling to His equality with God.

He emptied Himself

to assume the condition of a slave.

He became as men are;

and being as all men are was humbler yet,

even to accepting death,

death on a cross.

Therefore God raised him on high

and gave him the name above all other names

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow

in heaven, on earth or in the underworld.

And the chorus to the hymn was:

Let every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:1-11)

Let Every Tongue Confess was sung by the early Christians of Philippi and beyond. Paul gives us the lyrics and even instructions on how to sing it: “Be in unison in your convictions and united in your love, with a common purpose and one mind… no competition among you, no conceit… or self-interest.” Paul’s thought today is that we must in our lives be a choir that sings the song of salvation in Christ with harmony not dissonance.

In our Creed today we will confess faith in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” (The Nicene Creed; CCC 811). Oneness is the first mark of the Church in our Symbol of Faith. What does it mean?

Well, to say we are one is to say there are not multiple churches founded by Christ – only one. If Christians are splintered into rival claimants to being the true Church, there’s a problem.

Secondly, to say the Church is one is to say the source of that Church is One. The one Father is father of all, the one Son the reconciler of all (2Cor 5:19), the one Spirit the soul of the Church.[1] At the last what Jesus prayed was “that they might all be one, as You Father and I are one” (Jn 17:22-23; cf. 10:30). As St Clement of Alexandria proclaimed: “What an astonishing mystery! There is one Father of the universe, one Logos of the world, and one Holy Spirit, everywhere one and the same; there is also one Virgin become mother, and I should like to call her ‘Church’.”[2]

But to say the Church is one is clearly not to say she is always and everywhere the same. There are many and varied voices in our Church, from boy sopranos to female mezzos to men basses, a great diversity of cultures, temperaments, gifts, offices and ways of life, contributing to the Church’s richness. So what binds us together as a choir? Our common faith is our communion in truth, expressed in the Scriptures and Tradition, in creed and prayer, in the lived proclamation of our saints. Our common worship is our communion in beauty, as we are united with God and each other especially at Holy Communion.[3] Our common life is our communion in goodness, that active charity “that binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col 3:14).

Unity is a great gift, sin and its consequences a constant threat (CCC 814). Rifts between Christians harm them and damage their witness to the world. So is breaking with the apostolic faith by apostasy, heresy or schism, or manufacturing differences and nursing grievances, or otherwise contributing to dissension and division.[4] Conceiving of the Church in political categories of left and right, progressive or traditionalist, or distinguishing ‘the institutional Church’ from the faithful is also unhelpful. Or talking of ‘the Australian Church’ as if Aussies have some unique revelation and are free to reinvent faith and discipline for ourselves. This is not the unity of one Church, not the music of an excellent choir.

So how are we to heal divisions? First we must seek conversion of our own hearts and minds, so that we are conformed more perfectly to the Father’s will and Christ’s Gospel (cf. Ez 18:25-28; Mt 21:28-32). We must reverence and get to know each other more deeply, through real listening and dialogue. We must pray in common. And we must collaborate in various ways with our co-religionists, with other Christians, and with other believers. (CCC 821) Our pastors are there promote Christ’s intention that we be united (CCC 815-6).

Today Diego, Dominic, Edmond, Isaac, Jacob, Liam and Luciano, you will receive God in your First Holy Communion. “Take and eat,” Jesus says to you today, “for this is my Body. I give you all that I am. I am all for you. And just as I change bread and wine into my Body and Blood, so receiving me will change you also. I will give you the grace to be your best selves, to give voice to your faith and ideals in your own unique range and register, and to live as a communion, a choir, with your fellows.”

Come back to Jesus, my young friends, every week, to sing His praises and whisper your needs, to offer Him your life and love, and receive Him into your body and soul. He will not only make you better choristers for our Cathedral Choir but, more importantly, make you all you can be in the great performance that is your life and ready you for the choir of heaven.


Before Genuflecting

Because current circumstances continue to impede attendance at Mass and reception of Holy Communion, I invite those who are joining us by live-streaming to ask God that by spiritual communion you might receive the graces of sacramental communion. Offer this Mass and your hunger for the Eucharist for the safety of your loved ones, of yourselves and of our world.

[1]    Vatican Council II, Unitatis Redintegratio 2; CCC 813.

[2]     St. Clement of Alexandria, Pæd. 1,6,42; PG 8,300.

[3]    See Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, On Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion (1992).

[4]    Origen, Hom. in Ezech. 9,1; PG 13,732.

Welcome to St Mary’s Basilica in Sydney for the Solemn Mass for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, as we continue to move a little closer towards ordinary life.

This Friday past a State Funeral and Pontifical Mass of Christian Burial was held here for Hon. John Fahey AC GCSG, Former Premier of New South Wales, Federal Minister for Finance and, most recently, Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University. He was a great Australian whose passing we mourn, and a reminder to us all of the way a Catholic conscience can inform a life of public service.

This morning I have the great joy to welcome seven of our young choristers who will be receiving their First Communion today: Luciano Chalco Arce, Jacob Cheong, Liam Kim, Isaac Lichaa, Dominic Tov, Diego Zurita Honig and Edmond Pallippatt. I welcome your families who are with you today to witness Jesus coming to you in a new way, lending you His life, making His substance part of yours.

To everyone else present in this cathedral or joining us via livestreaming, a very warm welcome.