Homily for Mass for 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C + Installation of Fr Emmanuel Seo as Parish Priest

29 Aug 2022
+ Installation of Fr Emmanuel Seo as Parish Priest

St. Michael’s Church, Meadowbank, 28 August 2022

They are called ‘eternal pictures’ due to their remarkable durability. Mosaics are intricate images formed by joining together thousands of glass and stone tesserae or tiles—some as tiny as 4mm square.[1] The ancient Mesopotamians, Greeks and Romans decorated temples, bathhouses and palaces with them; Muslims used them for their mosques and public buildings; but it was primarily Christians who, from the fourth century onwards, fashioned mosaics into the dazzling artworks we know today.

With their signature use of shimmering gold leaf and radiant colours, Christian mosaics became common on the walls, floors and ceilings of basilicas, baptistries and shrines. (I don’t know if you guys have plans for filling the ceilings and walls of this church with mosaics!) Their value was threefold: they captivated the eye by their sheer beauty and so raised hearts to God; they told stories from the bible or hagiography and so informed minds; and they drew pilgrims, congregants and tourists to church.

To this day, people are awestruck by the splendour and detail of the mosaics in the churches of Ravenna or Rome; or the luminous Pantocrators of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople and Monreale in Palermo; or the modern equivalents in the Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood in St Petersburg and the Basilica of St Louis Missouri. I’ve also seen many visitors entranced by the terrazzo mosaics of the floor of the crypt of St Mary’s Basilica in Sydney!

Part of the enchantment of mosaics is how seemingly insignificant, clunky, even jagged tiles come together to fashion something so refined and beautiful. This suggests to me a metaphor for the Church, whose members Paul describes as God’s handiwork (Eph 2:10), but who come in all hues and materials, backgrounds and characters, some rougher or more refined than others, and who together are made into a masterpiece by Christ. It also offers us a way to think of the relationship between exaltation and humility in our readings today.

On the face of it, it’s a simple message, a typical Biblical reversal of this world’s thinking. In this world the high and mighty get the best seats, clothes, honours, and the lowly are ignored. But God is not impressed by titles and vanity: in His economy it’s the humble who are rewarded. Pride is a poison in the soul; humility opens the person to divine grace. Indeed, vainglory and true greatness are inversely related: the one increases as the other declines, as the two vie for the same, interior territory. Thus say the Sage, the Psalmist, and the Lord in our readings today (Sir 3:19-21,30-31; Ps 67(68); Lk 14:1,7-14).

Indeed, humility gets a very good wrap in the Bible.[2] In the New Testament Jesus is presented as humility itself: He empties Himself of divine glory, is born into a humble family, in a stable attended by farmworkers; He associates with the lowly, keeps quiet about His messiahship, eschews attempts to make Him king; He washes His disciples’ feet, renounces wilfulness and gives Himself so completely into our hands and the Father’s will that He is crucified.[3] In all this, Jesus models humility while instructing us in the art.[4]  

Which might make us think that the Christian way is to eschew all excellence and recognition. Yet in today’s Gospel (Lk 14:1,7-14) Jesus is eating with a posh crowd of the status-conscious. He gives them two lessons: if you are a guest, seek the humblest place; if you are a host, invite the humblest guests. But He doesn’t say humility requires us to avoid all occasions or honours: otherwise, Jesus wouldn’t be there Himself! No, the worker deserve his wages; we should recognise people’s good work, achievements, excellences.

So the same divine person, who emptied Himself to assume our human lot in Jesus, let us glimpse His divine glory in His miracles, Transfiguration and Resurrection. The Heavenly Father, Holy Spirit and Church likewise testified to His status. His earthly ‘father’ was of the royal line and His birth attended by kings, not just shepherds. He cared for whomever needed Him, including centurions, rabbis and officials, not only the poor. He rode into Jerusalem with the crowds and even the Governor acclaiming Him Messiah and King. That Jesus remained humble through all this reflects the virtue of His heart. Whereas those in today’s Gospel engaged in self-aggrandisement through events they organised or attended, Jesus emptied Himself in service of others. Where others engaged in various “look at me” projects, Jesus didn’t wear his authority on His sleeve as Christ, beloved Son, the new David, leaving it to others to identify Him as such. Where others sought to make themselves great or maximise earthly regard, Jesus taught true greatness is God’s gift.

Our word humility comes from the Latin humus, meaning earth or dirt. To be humbled is to be brought low, down-to-earth, accepting that we are dust and unto dust we shall return. To be brought to realise that we are fallen, flawed, weak, whatever our gifts and achievements. To face up to the fact that however central we might be in our own imagined universe, in reality we are unnecessary: God and the universe existed before us, will carry on perfectly well without us when we’re gone, and didn’t need to create us in the meantime. We receive our lives, as long or short as they may be, as pure grace. Humility is the recognition of our creatureliness before the Creator, of our need for redemption before the Saviour.

To be prideful, on the other hand, is to think we don’t need God to make and redeem us; at the heart of sin is the desire to make ourselves and everything around us to suit, to be gods of our own little universe. If our ambition is to fix the seating plans of life, hobnobbing with the hosts and guests, doing things for people so they will owe us, we are ‘drinking the Kool-aid’ and falling into the trap of pride.

The humble person, on the other hand, sees God and human dignity in all people, especially the poor, lame or blind, who can’t return our favours. They know that whether we are bigger or smaller pieces, gold or more neutral coloured, jagged or refined, we are all imperfect tesserae, and only a divine artist could bring us together as a masterpiece. In our parish of St Michael, He makes hundreds of tiles into the masterwork of the Church, requiring each tile to play their part, doing our best to conform ourselves to Christ and allowing Him to form us into a cohesive whole, indeed a thing of beauty.

Fr Emmanuel is now responsible on my behalf for the worship, evangelisation and service in this parish. As priest, he must sanctify you by prayer and sacrament. As shepherd, he must lead and serve as Christ did. As prophet, he must proclaim Christian teaching in season and out. But he cannot do this all by himself: together, priests and people make up the mosaic of the Church; only with all the tiles (that are all of you) contributing can we be the great Mosaic of St Michael’s Meadowbank. To strengthen him in his task, we will now celebrate the formal Rites of Installation of a Parish Priest. However belated, they are a useful reminder to us all, not just of his mission but of yours, as a family who know in all humility who you are before our Creator and Redeemer and what is possible by God’s grace. I ask you, of your mercy, to keep supporting Fr Emmanuel, as he prays for and serves you.

[1] https://www.mosaicartgallery.com/history-of-mosaics

[2] E.g. 1Sam 2:7; 2Chr 7:14; Ps 8:4; 25:8-9; 39:12; 95:6; 115:1; 149:4; Prov 3:34; 11:2; 15:33; 16:19; 18:12; 22:4; 29:23; Dan 4:37; Isa 45:9; 53:3; 66:2; Zeph 2:3; 9:9; Mic 6:8.

[3] Mt 6:10; 11:16-19,29; 20:28; 26:39; Mk 1:43-45; 2:15; 8:27-30; Lk 2:1-20; 7:31-50; 9:9-13; 15:1-2; 19:1-10; Jn 1:14; 6:15; 13:1-14; Phil 2:5-11; 2Cor 8:9; cf. Isa ch. 53.

[4] Mt 6:2,16; 11:11,29-30; 18:3-4; 20:26-28; 23:1-12; Mk 9:35; 10:45; 12:41-44; Lk 9:48; 14:11; 18:14; 21:1-4; Jn 3:30; 13:14. Cf. Acts 20:19; 1Cor 1:28-29; Rom 12:3,16; 14:11; Gal 5:13; Phil 2:3-4; 4:20; Eph 3:20-21; 4:2; Col 3:12,18-19; 1 Pet 3:3-4,8; 5:5-6; Jas 1:9-10; 3:13; 4:6-10.

Introduction to Mass for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C + Installation of Fr Emmanuel Seo as Parish Priest
St. Michael’s Church, Meadowbank, 28 August 2022

Welcome to St Michael’s Meadowbank to our Mass formally to install Fr Emmanuel Seo as your parish priest—even though he has actually been your pastor for three years already! He was unwell for a time, and gave us all quite a fright; then the world was unwell, locked-down and frightened again. Today we can celebrate however belatedly his installation, which should reassure him and you that we plan for him to stay put for a good while yet!

Fr Emmanuel was in fact my loyal Master of Ceremonies for some years and when we agreed that he should have the care of his own parish, he and I thought this would be just the right one. I am pleased to acknowledge members of his family here today, including his sisters and nieces. Also present today are his close mates Fr Epeli Qimaqima and Fr Greg Morgan.

Today’s Rite of Installation offers us all a chance to reflect on the various stages of our faith journey. This includes renouncing sin and embracing salvation in our Baptism, at every Confession, and at the start of every Mass and so we say…