Homily for Mass of the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C + Centenary Celebration of St Michael’s Parish

19 Sep 2022
Homily for Mass of the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C + Centenary Celebration of St Michael’s Parish

Lane Cove, 18 September 2022

Recently the ACCC reported that Australian businesses and consumers lost over $2B to scams and frauds in 2021.[1] This is more than double the amount lost in 2020. The numbers are staggering: more than one in ten adults has experienced some form of personal fraud, with credit and debit card fraud the leading culprit, as well as identity theft, phishing scams, fraudulent investment projects, crypto-currency Ponzi schemes and more.[2] Sadly, vulnerable elderly people or those challenged by English are particular targets of the swindlers. The scam artists’ methods are also evolving as they utilise advances in technology to keep one step ahead of the authorities.

Considering all this, today’s Gospel (Lk 16:1-3) is rather perplexing. Jesus seems to be endorsing out-and-out fraud or at the least some rather shady practice by a wasteful manager. Does He really side with an old-school scamster? No, on a closer reading He does not.

Well, we might notice that we are given three endings or “morals to the story” as if St Luke was given three different versions of the story by different witnesses or wasn’t quite sure what point Jesus was making. The first account has Jesus conclude thus: “Use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends in this world and in eternity”. So there is a place for worldly wisdom: accountants, lawyers, managers and investment advisers can make it into heaven after all! Being practical, astute or prudent is something Jesus advises repeatedly. He praises wise bridesmaids, who stock up on lamp oil lest the bridegroom arrive late; wise builders, who check they have the resources to finish before they start and then build on solid foundations; wise managers, who invest their funds well and provide for those in their care, rather than wasting their opportunities; wise kings, who sue for peace, if they know defeat is likely; and wise disciples, who go into the world innocent as doves but also wily as serpents.[3] Understanding your situation and responding innovatively, strategically, practically: these are not worldly vices but rather sound applications of our God-given rationality and creativity.

The Wise and Foolish Virgins by William Blake (1822) Tate Gallery; The Good Samaritan by Jacob Jordaens (c.1616)

Indeed, charity requires some astuteness: the Good Samaritan would have been no help if he didn’t know how to intervene and if he hadn’t the resources to entrust the man of an inn-keeper (Lk 10:25-37). Jesus might have encouraged frugality and reliance on providence (e.g. Lk 10:4; 12:33; 22:35), but His team kept a common fund to support them and to help the poor (Jn 12:6; 13:29; cf. Lk 22:36). So, too, the parishioners of St Michael’s invested their treasure in building the temporary church and school (now hall) in 1919, the ‘permanent’ Byzantine-style church in 1926 and the third and present modernist-style church in 1976 for $324,989—millions in today’s money. Apart from the church building much effort was put into the school: in 1928 they bought land at the corner of Longueville Road and Alpha Street to build a convent and establish a bigger school. In the 1930s rooms were added to the back of the school to form a high school, taking students up to third class of secondary school; the school continued to evolve in the subsequent decades. Resources were also devoted to ministries of various kinds for the worship of God, teaching of the faith, welcome and outreach to the community.

Thus the parish over the past century followed Christ’s advice today to use your wealth to build relationships of trust and friendship, rather than being greedy, miserly and self-serving. As the ancient wisdom goes: if you are a fair weather friend only, don’t expect others to come to your aid when you fall on hard times!

The second moral-to-the-story Luke gives us is: “If a man is trustworthy in small things he’ll be trusted in big ones, but if he’s dishonest in minor ways, he’ll be expected to cheat on a grand scale given a chance.” In other words: if you scam people don’t expect them to trust you in future. Money is at best a tool; character is more important. Jesus praises those of selfless, generous, honest, humble, compassionate and peaceful temper; He condemns those of greedy, selfish, deceitful, merciless, or hypocritical disposition.[4] Thousands of pastors and parishioners past whom we honour today sought with God’s grace to cultivate good character and still do so today, as St Michael’s seeks to be a manufacturer and home for saints. God and God’s own judge people by what they are, not what they’ve got. Swindlers watch out!

The third conclusion to the story is a punchy one-liner: “You can’t be slave both of God and of mammon.” Jesus warns against the perils of riches on many occasions: greed is the root of all evil. He advises putting God’s kingdom first in our priorities, selling up and giving away if our possessions are a distraction, helping the needy and laying up treasure in heaven.[5] Money is only a tool. Character is more important. So don’t let your possessions possess you. You must choose: put God and the things of God first, and all else you need will be given you; or put material things first and risk losing all that’s most precious. Again, scammers beware: Amos warns today that the path of greed and oppression leads to a very dark place indeed (Amos 8:4-7).

So, is Jesus pro-money or anti-money? Neither. He’s pro-God and pro-people, and anti whatever is against God or people. If money can be used to serve God and people, great. But value persons over things, character over control, and choose God’s kingdom over all else. Bank with the eternal bank, where neither moth nor rust consumes, and where fraudsters cannot get your card details (cf. Mt 6:19-21)! If you have material resources, contribute to the corporal works of mercy: helping the hungry, naked and homeless; visiting the sick and locked-in; burying the dead—as the pastors and parishioners of St Michael’s have done for a century now and are still doing for this district. If you have religious resources, apply them to spiritual works of mercy: teaching, correcting, counselling or comforting those who need it; forbearing the difficult and forgiving the hurtful; praying for the living and the dead—as this community has also done faithfully these past hundred years and long will continue to do. By such deeds we choose for God over mammon, we apply ordinary things to higher uses, and we build a bank account in the place that really matters.

Congratulations centenarians! Ad multos annos!

Archbishop Anthony at St Michael’s Lane Cove

[1] https://theconversation.com/australians-lost-2b-to-fraud-in-2021-this-figure-should-sound-alarm-bells-for-the-future-186459

[2] https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/people/crime-and-justice/personal-fraud/latest-release#:~:text=Personal%20fraud%20summary,-Personal%20fraud%20includes&text=An%20estimated%2011%25%20of%20Australians,2020%2D21%20was%20card%20fraud.

[3] The wise and foolish bridesmaids: Mt 25:1-15. The wise and foolish builders: Lk 4:28-30; Mt 7:24-27. The wise steward: Mt 25:14-30; 24:45-51. The wise king: Lk 14:31-32. The wise disciple: Mt 10:16.

[4] Mt chs 5-7; 12:46-50; 22:16; Lk 6:20-49; Jn 8:7-11 etc.

[5] Jesus on the perils of riches: e.g. Mt 6:24; 19:16-24; Lk 12:33; 16:13-15. On greed or love of money is the root of all evil: Am 8:4-7; 1Tim 6:10. Jesus on putting the kingdom of God first : e.g. Mt 6:24,30-33; 19:16-22; 22:37; Mk 12:29-31. On selling up and giving to the needy: Mt 5:42; 25:31-4; Mk 12:41-44; Lk 3:10-11; 12:33-34; 14:12-14; 21:1-4. On laying up treasure in heaven: Mt 6:19-21.

Introduction to Mass of the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C + Centenary of the Parish, St Michael’s Church, Lane Cove, 18 September 2022

Please be seated. I am delighted to be here with you all this morning for this joyous celebration of the centenary of the establishment of St Michael’s Parish Lane Cove. Immediately after the Great War the ‘Dorritt Street Hall’ was built as a temporary church and school in what was still part of the Jesuit parish of North Sydney. But the suburb was growing fast and so Archbishop Kelly decided to make a new parish of Lane Cove in 1922 and get the diocesan clergy and the Sisters of Mercy in to straighten things out! It’s no coincidence that during his time as archbishop there were parishes and churches dedicated to his name saint St Michael in Baulkham Hills, Blacktown, Daceyville, Hurstville, Meadowbank, Rookwood, Stanmore, West Ryde and of course Lane Cove, along with convents, schools and presbyteries. By 1926 it was time for a ‘permanent’ church, and one of ‘Byzantine’ style was constructed with commanding views of Sydney’s Northern suburbs.

That’s the church where I made my First Confession, First Holy Communion and Confirmation, served as an altar-boy, and attended Mass with my family and my mates from St Michael’s School and later Riverview, while the parish went through the growing pains of post-conciliar liturgical renewal and building a new church. I remember the old church as hot and over-crowded, with ushers trying to find us seats and Frank Hyde, the rugby league commentator, reading or leading the singing. By the 1970s it was clear that we’d outgrown that church as well. So in 1976, while the present church was built, we had Mass in the Dorritt Street Hall or in the Lower Town Hall: Her Excellency the Governor and the Mayor may be amused to know that some parishioners were disturbed that the Protestant Council would not allow the portrait of the Queen to be removed or covered during Mass! The ‘new’ church—itself now nearly five decades old—then sported a new youth group and youth Mass with the future Attorney-General Greg Smith, strumming his guitar and crooning along with other long-haired youth like myself! After joining the Dominicans and being ordained in Wahroonga, I returned to celebrate my ‘First Mass’ here on this very Sunday in 1991.

Through all those changes Monsignor Hughie McGuire was the parish priest—from 1922 to 1977—even if Father Farrar was largely running things at the end. Though I struggled with his Irish brogue, I appreciated his colossal service to this community. Since the Mons there have been seven more Parish Priests and a string of assistants: concelebrating with me today are the present PP Fr Sam Lynch; former PP Fr Martin Maunsell; former assistant priests Frs Brian Lucas and Gary Rawson; former parishioner Fr Bill Milstead; and we have apologies from several others who served here. I salute also concelebrating with me today Bishop Peter Ingham, Emeritus of Wollongong, and Bishop Bernard O’Grady OP, Emeritus of Gizo, in the Solomon Islands.

I am especially pleased to acknowledge the attendance of Her Excellency the Hon. Margaret Beazley AC KC, Governor of New South Wales, with Mr Dennis Wilson; the Hon. Anthony Roberts MP, Minister for Planning and Homes, with Alicia and children; and the Mayor of Lane Cove, Councillor Andrew Zbik, with Bronwyn and children. From St Michael’s Catholic Primary School, I welcome Principal Ms Jacqueline Lee and staff.

By serendipity of the lectionary today’s Epistle advises that “first of all, there should be prayers offered for everyone—petitions, intercessions and thanksgiving—especially for kings and others in authority, so we can live religious and reverent lives in peace and quiet” (1Tim 2:1-8). The presence today of the representative of His Majesty the King allows us to mark in a particular way the passing of Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia, of New South Wales, and of her other realms and territories, and give thanks for her life. She was a model of public service and dedication to duty, of calm and steadfastness in adversity, and of leadership and comfort for her people. She loved Australia and Australians reciprocated. We are especially grateful that in so busy and sad a time Your Excellency maintained your commitment to join us. We ask you please to convey the deep sympathies of the Catholic community in Sydney to King Charles and the royal family.

We also recall that the Queen was a woman of faith, who loved Christ as the true King of kings, understood her role as a religious vocation and sought to live that out with fidelity, attended church regularly, and articulated her faith in her Christmas messages. Today we pray God grants her a heavenly reward, and gives strength to King Charles and his representatives and ministers.

To everyone here today for our centenary celebrations a very warm welcome!