14 Apr 2022

St Mary’s Cathedral, Thursday, 14 April 2022

Listening has been a particular theme of Pope Francis’ pontificate. Amidst the information overload and polarisations of modernity, and while promoting a more synodal Church, the Holy Father has regularly called us to listen more closely to what God and His people are saying.[i] He begins his message for next month’s World Communications Day[ii] with the deep human need to be heard and warns those of us charged with teaching and forming others that we must listen to them first or risk giving them the right answers to the wrong questions. How tiresome is the pastor who talks only about himself, or treats his congregation as wells down which to pour his wisdom, but who never stops to inquire about their lives…

This year’s Passion of St Luke is a noisy affair in which the ear is engaged from start to finish. It begins with Jesus telling Peter and John to “listen” and instructing them on arrangements for the Passover meal. When the hour came, the disciples were “all ears” as He instituted the Eucharist. But they were all snores by Compline time in the garden. Arrested amidst quite a ruckus, Jesus stood mostly silent through the trials that followed, and His few words made Pilate tremble and the Jewish leaders block their ears.[iii] As He was dragged to His death, He was surrounded by yelling soldiers, wailing women and sneering onlookers. There were more words from the cross, with other prisoners, His nearest and dearest, the soldiers, God. Then at last, Jesus cried out in a loud voice and the heavens and earth shook, the Temple veil was torn asunder and graves erupted.[iv] Only then came the noise-cancelling headset of death, the silence of the tomb.

At the height of tonight’s episode, soldiers suddenly break in upon Jesus’ prayer and, in the melee that ensues, Peter cuts off someone’s ear.[v] What’s this all about? Some read it as an object lesson in Jesus’ preference for non-violent resistance. Yet that doesn’t fit so comfortably with Luke’s report that it was Jesus Himself who told His men to bring swords (Lk 22:36-38). What are we to make of Malchus, the hapless victim, and why did he lose his ear rather than a finger or eye or (worse) his life? Might Jesus’ earless captor be a symbol of the wilful deafness of many to the Word of God?

Some months before, while explaining the Parable of the Sower, Jesus quoted Isaiah about soundproofed hearts: “You listen but never understand, look but never perceive. For the heart of this people has grown dull, their ears can scarcely hear, their eyes are tight shut: otherwise they would see, hear and understand… they would be converted and healed.” (Mt 13:13-15; Isa 6:9-10). If some are wilfully deaf, He continued, others are blessed with ears and hearts open to receiving the word of God and keeping it; restored and transformed, they bear much fruit (Mt 13:16-23). Only in this year’s report from St Luke of the episode with the high priest’s servant do we hear that Jesus healed the man’s ear—a fulfilment of His earlier prophecy of conversion and healing. In Mel Gibson’s 2004 film, The Passion of the Christ, Jesus heals Malchus’ ear just before being dragged away by the guards, leaving him sitting dazed and ripe for conversion…

Hearing lost and regained, selective or redeemed for faith: this is part of the story of the first Maundy Thursday night. Ears and hearing are crucial to much of human life. Parents hear their baby’s cry and respond attentively; babies learn their parents’ voices and bond securely. Soon other sounds comfort or alarm, attract or distract us. We distinguish siren blast from hiss of snake, a slow drip of water from breaking waves, gallop of horses from a howling dog, breaking of glass from popping champagne, the wedding march from the death march, and come to know what to associate with each. We learn much by hearing parents, teachers, peers, media. With the gift of language, we share facts and feelings. By words spoken and heard, laws, policies and promises are made, wars declared and peace negotiated, literature articulated and drama enacted. Through music, too, feelings are expressed and influenced, performers and listeners united, present circumstances transcended.

Ears have many sensory and symbolic associations. We talk of having a word in someone’s ear, playing it by ear, talking someone’s ear off, or not believing our ears. Something can reach our ears, be music to our ears, fall on deaf ears. Someone can be wet behind the ears, have steam coming out of their ears, have their ear to the ground, or have not much between the ears. We can have a tin ear, a burning ear or be all ears.

The ear is especially crucial in Catholic faith: while we might read the sacred page, or might touch, smell or taste the divine in the sacraments, yet the sense most favoured by God in His communication with us is hearing.

As St Thomas Aquinas said, regarding the Holy Eucharist, “Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived. How says trusty hearing? That shall be believed. What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do; Truth Himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.”[vi] Our most sacred liturgies are made for hearing, as we proclaim the Scriptures, preach the homily, profess the creed, and articulate our orisons. Microphones in churches reliably fail, but bells, organs and choirs maintain interest. Sacred music is in fact one of the Church’s greatest contributions to the cultural patrimony of humanity.

Indeed, the very act of faith is one of listening (e.g. Rom 10:17). We cry out to God, cry out to God that He may hear us.[vii] Christ is the ear of God, hearing our supplications, alert to our groaning. As God “inclines His ear” to us, so must we to Him,[viii] in that conversation that is life with God. Sometimes what we hear is attractive, demands repeating, inspires action; sometimes it is disconcerting and the temptation is to close “the ear of our hearts”.[ix]

Thus the Torah begins with the call “Hear, O Israel!” (Dt 6:4; Mk 12:29). Jesus repeatedly exclaims “Let anyone with ears listen!” (Lk 8:8; 14:35 et par.). Since it is God, above all, whom we need to hear, we pray He reveal Himself and that we will have the grace to respond. St Augustine said we must learn corde audire, listening with the heart: “Don’t have your heart in your ears, but your ears in your heart,” he said.[x]

“We all have ears,” Pope Francis observes, “but even those with perfect hearing are often unable to hear another person.”[xi] In contemporary culture people often “talk past each other” and are only willing to hear what confirms their prejudices. Civic leaders, such as in Russia today, use weapons in place of words and turn words into weapons. In election campaigns achieving power is valued above truth; in the media, size of audience more than depth of communication. Soundbite and slogan, spin and sneer are the way of the anti-social media. And there is so much noise around us that deep listening is very difficult indeed.

In the cathedral of Braga in Portugal is a shrine to its first bishop, Ovídio (95-135 AD)—in Latin St Auditus. A medieval statue has an angel touching the saint’s mitred ears as he intercedes for the deaf and for us all to be good listeners. In a deafening and deaf world, priests must be specialists in listening and exercise “the apostolate of the ear”. We teach our people how to listen to their inmost hearts, listen to other voices (even uncomfortable ones), and above all listen to God in His word and sacraments, in sacred tradition and the present moment. We listen in confession to their sins and in our pastoral lives to their joys and disappointments, hopes and fears. And so we must cultivate and help them cultivate character traits like listening with great patience, awe and docility to being surprised by truth, an ecclesial ear for hearing God’s still, small voice whether in a grand synodal process or a quiet personal prayer, and a discerning heart for sorting God’s voice from that of other spirits. For this we are priests. For this we are apostles of the ear.

[i] E.g. Pope Francis, Message for the 50th World Day of Social Communications (8 May 2016), 24 January 2016; Address at the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Synod of Bishops, 17 October 2015.

[ii] Pope Francis, Message for the 56th World Day of Social Communications (29 May 2022), 24 January 2022.

[iii] Mt 26:65-66; 27:1-24; Mk 14:61-65; 15:1-15; Lk 22:71; 23:1-24; Acts 7:57.

[iv] Mt 27:45-53; Mk 15:33-8; Lk 23:44-8.

[v] Mt 26:51; Mk 14:47; Lk 22:50-51; Jn 18:10-11,26.

[vi] St Thomas Aquinas, Adoro te devote, as translated by Gerald Manley Hopkins SJ as Godhead Herein Hiding.

[vii] Ex 2:23; 1Sam 7:8; 2Kings 19:16; Judith 10:1; Pss 5:1; 10:17; 17:6; 31:2; 55:1; 71:2; 86:1; 88:1-2; 102:2; Isa 37:17; Bar 2:16; 3:1; Dan 9:18; Joel 1:14 etc.

[viii] Ps 78:1; Prov 4:20; 5:1; 22:17; Isa 55:3; Jer 25:4; 34:14; 35:15 etc.

[ix] Sometimes what we hear is attractive (e.g. Mt 13:16; Mk 3:8; 4:16; 14:11; Lk 1:41,44,58; 2:20; 5:1,15; 6:18; 19:48; Jn 1:37,40; 3:29; 7:40; 12:18), demands repeating (e.g. Mt 10:27; 11:4; Lk 2:20; 12:3), inspires action (e.g. Ex 15:26; Mk 4:20; Lk 6:47-49; 11:28; Jn 8:38; 10:3,27); but all too often we close “the ear of our hearts” to things we find too disconcerting or challenging (Jer 7:24; 35:15; Ps 58:4; Mt 19:25; 22:22; Mk 6:2; Lk 1:66; 2:18-19,47; 5:22; 7:9; 9:7; 17:6; 24:36-37; Lk 4:28; 22:71; Jn 3:8; 8:47).

[x] St Augustine, Sermon 380.

[xi] Pope Francis, Message for 56th World Day of Communications.

St Mary’s Cathedral, Thursday, 14 April 2022

My thanks to you, dear brother priests and bishops, who renewed your priestly vows today and daily renew that commitment by your service to God and His people. The oils we consecrated may be collected outside the Eastern doors near the entry to the sacristy; they highlight your daily work and, on behalf of the Church of Sydney, I thank you for that service and for your unending support in bringing the Good News of Christ to every ear. I invite the clergy and seminarians to join me now for lunch in Cathedral Hall. May God bless you and all God’s holy people in the sacred days to come.

St Mary’s Cathedral, Thursday, 14 April 2022

Welcome to this year’s Chrism Mass. It is a joy to be together again after a couple of difficult years. Today as a sign of our communion, the bishops and priests of Sydney will concelebrate together, assisted by the deacons and some representatives of the People of God. We will renew our priestly promises, praying that we will continue to hear the “still, small voice of God” that inspired our vocation and respond with generous and faithful hearts. In consecrating the oils for the sacraments, we recall that our pastoral service for God’s people is above all a sacramental mediation of the graces of Christ the High Priest.

I acknowledge the presence today of auxiliary Bishops of Sydney, Terry Brady, Richard Umbers and Danny Meagher; Vicar-General Gerry Gleeson; Dean Don Richardson; the seminary rectors, episcopal vicars and regional deans; our priests, deacons and religious; and our beloved seminarians. I also welcome representatives of our parishes.

We pray for those of our brothers who could not be with us, especially due to sickness and frailty. We pray also for the repose of our brother priests who have returned to Our Lord since our last Chrism Mass: Cardinal Edward Cassidy, Bishop Bill Wright, Frs Michael Butler, Penisimani Folaumoetu’i, Rom Josko, Paulino Tui Kolio, Colin Mason, Michael McCarthy, Anthony Simari, John Snehadass and Reg Wilson. Amongst the religious clergy who’ve served in the diocese: Max Barrett CSsR, Stanislaus Barry CM, Jim Esler SM, John Neil OP, Vladimir Novak OFM, Francis O’Shea CSsR and John Worthington SM.

We recognise with gratitude those priests celebrating major milestones. Our diamond jubilarians: Frs Neil Brown, Terence Sullivan, John Walter and Ray Weaver, with religious Kevin Canty CM, Nicholas Lucas OFM, John Mello CS, Pax Scarf OFM and Robert Walsh SJ. Our golden boys: Frs Joe Camilleri, Bob Hayes, Geoff Plant, Gary Rawson, John Tran and John Usher, with Kevin Bates SM, Greg Cooney CM, Michael Whelan SM and Brian Wilson SM. Our silver souls: Frs Andrew Feng, John Hayes and Chris McPhee MSC. And any others I’ve missed!

Since our last Chrism Mass, we have also been blessed with the episcopal consecration of Danny Meagher; the priestly ordinations of Daniel Drum VDMF, Stephen Drum VDMF, Anderson Gallego Rodas, Rafael Silva Galicia, and Majid Al Hanna; and the diaconal ordinations of Mark Anderson, Ben Gandy, Michael Kasiita, Benjamin Saliba and Adrian Simmons. Twenty-four other clergy that I am aware of have come to work or retire in our Archdiocese in the past year! We welcome seminarians from both Sydney seminaries, looking forward to the day when they will join us at the altar. To everyone present, a very warm welcome to you all.