25 Oct 2021

StSt. Mary’s Basilica, Sydney, 24 October 2021

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 sparked the First World War and left his nephew Karl as heir presumptive. Karl had studied law and politics and was a military man. When the emperor also died, late in 1916, he succeeded to the several crowns of the Austro-Hungarian empire.[1]

Renowned for his piety, Karl put his Catholic faith into action, tried everything he could to negotiate an end to the Great War, as had Pope Benedict XV before him. But Karl was rebuffed by the Germans, British and especially the French. For these efforts the great French litterateur Anatole France described him as “the only decent man to have appeared in this war”. He did succeed in improving social assistance to the poor. But he was doomed to lead his crumbling empire for less than two years. On the day of the Armistice, he relinquished his administration, left the Schönbrunn Palace forever and went into exile and poverty.

Marriage of Emperor Charles I & IV of Austria-Hungary and Zita of Bourbon-Parma, 21 October 1911

Karl took his family with him. He had proposed to his wife before the Blessed Sacrament and married in 1911. The day after the wedding he told her: “Now, we must help each other get to heaven.” They led an exemplary married life. As he lay dying from pneumonia, aged only 34, he told his wife “I love you so much.” She then held a crucifix before him, he prayed for each of their children by name, and finally for his unborn. He forgave his enemies and then spoke to the corpus on the cross: “Thy holy will be done. Yes, yes, as you will it my Jesus” and gave up the ghost.

Miracles were soon attested at his tomb, and after fifty years his body was found incorrupt. He was beatified in 2004 by St John Paul II. The Pope declared his feast to be not the day of his death, as is usual, but the day of his marriage, 21 October, for it was marriage that sustained his heroic virtue. We are holding our annual Marriage Mass on the closest Sunday to that feast.

Today’s are noisy readings. “Shout with joy! Hail the chief of nations! Proclaim, praise, shout: The Lord has saved his people!” Jeremiah cries out (Jer 31:7-9). So does Bartimaeus: “Hail Son of David, chief of nations,” he shouts, “hail Jesus, which means God saves.” “Stop your unseemly carry-on,” the crowd chides, “the Master has more important things on his mind.” But he shouts all the louder: “Lord have mercy!” (Mk 10:46-52)

Christ Healing Bartimaeus by El Greco (1570), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Sometimes we need silence, to hear God. But at other times we rightly make a fuss. We make public prayers of intercession, for an end to COVID or some other need. We proclaim God’s mighty deeds and praise Him in music and processions. The prophet says the ones shouting for joy were previously sobbing—from exile, child birth, blindness (Cf.Ps 125). Our epistle says it’s the confused, weak or sinful who cry out for mercy (Heb 5:1-6). And Mark reports that the man following Jesus, singing his praises, is the same noisy fellow who was formerly begging for mercy.

So the cure is only the beginning. After the initial “Woop!” there’s a new identity: I’m now the returned exile, the liberated captive, the saved sinner, the wised-up seeker, the new-sighted man. Christians are those who’ve seen wonders and responded with faith, worship and action. As the Jews celebrate their deliverance by praising and proclaiming, ululating and psalming, so Christians “follow Jesus along the road” as they let our their whoopees. And, like the Jews, we do so liturgically: our priests, according to the epistle, make offerings for sins and sacrifices of praise.

Christianity, then, is a noisy religion, for it makes a holy noise of proclamation, intercession and thanksgiving. Knowing that, in Jesus’ words today, our faith has saved us, we want to shout it from the rooftops like excited lovers. Now that we are free to return to a more normal life, including Mass, our instinct is to celebrate, laugh and sing.

Christianity, then, is a noisy religion, for it makes a holy noise of proclamation, intercession and thanksgiving. Knowing that, in Jesus’ words today, our faith has saved us, we want to shout it from the rooftops like excited lovers. Now that we are free to return to a more normal life, including Mass, our instinct is to celebrate, laugh and sing.

Marriage, dare I say, is one example of the Christian song and dance act, the cry for help and response to grace. A place of confusion, sin and hurt, where people find mercy, reconciliation and healing. A place where people express the excitement that comes not just from romantic feelings or natural friendship but from redemption. These are supernatural graces, sacramental graces, given to those who embrace that state of life, that particular way of “following Christ along the road”.

Pope Francis has observed that: “The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis… the weakening of [family] bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with one another despite our differences and to belong to one another… the place where parents pass on the faith to their children.” Nowadays, the Holy Father says, “marriage tends to be viewed merely as emotional satisfaction that can be constructed or modified at will. But its indispensable contribution to society is that it transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple.”[2] If ever the world needed faithful married couples—trying like Blessed Karl to get each other to heaven—it is today. Our jubilarians are the lessons in loving we need if we are to recover from our civilisation’s crisis of love, commitment and self-sacrifice. 

Zita of Bourbon-Parma was 17th of 24 children: three of her sisters entered Solesmes Abbey but she was destined to other things. She married Karl of Austria and was with him when he got the news of the assassination of the Archduke in Sarajevo. He turned white as a sheet, realising he would soon be leading an empire at war. A devout Catholic and full of good works, Zita devoted herself to supporting him in his impossible task. She reared their children and nursed the war-wounded. Pregnant with their eighth, she heard her dying husband profess his undying love for her and for Christ. As a widow for the next 67 years, Zita treasured the memory of her beloved Karl and lived to see his cause for canonisation introduced.

She is now a ‘Servant of God’ and hopefully the wedding anniversary she shared with Blessed Karl will soon be their joint feast day also, for they are venerated for their extraordinary bond as spouses, parents and lay leaders, and for the service to faith and family, peace and the poor their marriage enabled.

Newlyweds and oldly-weds, you may think you were only prince and princess for a day at your wedding, but as Christians you are grafted onto the line of Jesus heir of King David. You have chosen, like Bartimaeus, to follow Christ on the road proclaiming God’s saving action in your lives. May you sustain each other’s faith and that of your children on the journey to the heavenly Jerusalem.


My thanks to Steve Buhagiar, Chris de Silva and the Life, Marriage and Family team from the Archdiocese for organising today’s Mass. Amongst those we are celebrating today I want to recognise in particular Natali and Peter Fry whose wedding was celebrated here at St Mary’s Cathedral 15 years ago, Garry and Clara Folcarelli 35 years ago, and Antonetta and Silvio Taglia-pietra 63 years ago, as well as many other couples who were married here. We also congratulate Joseph and Montserrat Baltasar who are celebrating their golden jubilee and Edelito and Cyntha Valero their diamond jubilee, and many other couples here in person today or joining us via live-streaming who are marking significant milestones in their married lives or just want to give thanks to almighty God for their married lives together. I wish we were free to shake hands, kiss and congratulate you all more personally, but in these strange times we are grateful to be able to be even this close to each other and to our Eucharistic Lord. Thank you all for the witness of your vocations and God bless you!

[1] Actually Emperor Charles I of Austria, Apostolic King Charles IV of Hungary and Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia, and King Charles III of Bohemia.

[2] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium: Encyclical on the Joy of the Gospel (2013) 66.

A warm welcome to St Mary’s Basilica in Sydney, where we can finally gather in person after months of COVID-lockdown: it’s great to have you back. After a long enforced ‘retreat’, God is calling us back to His altar to receive the food that sustains us in our spiritual lives and in all the good things we do. In coming back to Church, we are returning to God’s house and ours on earth, and the entrance hall to our eternal home. So welcome home!

Speaking of homes and home-makers, today we also celebrate the Archdiocese’s annual Marriage Mass, and so I am pleased to acknowledge all the couples renewing their vows today, particularly those married in this cathedral in years past, and those celebrating important jubilees, including some newlyweds married for 50 or 60 or more years. It’s great to have some of you here in person with your families and friends, and I know that others are joining us on-line.

To everyone present physically or virtually, a very warm welcome!