Homily for Mass for the 2nd Sunday of Advent B + Mass of Thanksgiving for newly formed Holy Family Catholic Parish Mosman

11 Dec 2023

Sacred Heart Church, Mosman, 10 December 2023

It’s not from the psalms, nor is it Bishop Brady’s personal anthem: no, the theme song of the American sitcom The Brady Bunch is one I suspect most of us of a certain age could sing from memory.[1] The pop culture phenomenon aired from 1969 to 1974, the brainchild of writer-producer Sherwood Schwartz, who also brought us Gilligan’s Island. The five series of the The Brady Bunch told stories of widower Mike Brady and his three boys who have formed a new family with widow Carol Martin and her three daughters, along with their witty housekeeper Alice, and their dog Tiger. So, theirs was a melded family, like the four parishes become one that is Holy Family Parish Mosman.

There are many reasons for the success of the show and its sequels beyond the catchy theme-song: the relatable characters navigated sibling rivalries, adolescent crushes, low self-esteem, parental restrictions, hurt and belonging, loss and hope—and, through love and the comedy of “real life”, they always found heart-warming resolutions to their challenges. In the days when families still watched TV together, it was a show for the whole family with its improving messages about human potential, courage, kindness and reconciliation. I leave it to you to make any comparisons with your parish!

The show also had some iconic lines, including Jan Brady’s mantra “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” and Greg’s antiphon “Everything is groovy”! And there were pearls of wisdom like Mike Brady’s “Alone we can only move buckets, but if we work together, we can drain rivers.”  For an unconventional family it proposed some rather conventional values.

People often think that to be religious is to be a slave of convention. Yet God has a penchant for the unconventional. Often in the Scriptures He uses situations that cut against the grain to serve His divine plan and people that don’t fit into the usual boxes. Last Friday on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception we recalled God’s unconventional choice of a young woman from nowheresville even before she was born. From the moment of her creation she was destined for greatness; ‘full of grace,’ ‘highly favoured’, sinless, this ‘blessed virgin’ surrendered completely to God’s will and put herself at the service of the Incarnation.

Now if Mary was an unconventional choice, picking her kinswoman Elizabeth’s son John was positively bizarre. In another popular TV series, The Chosen, charting the lives of the disciples as another kind of melded family, the Baptist is called “Creepy John”. For good reason. A kind of Judean hippie, he had long unkempt hair, wore camel skins, and ate honey-glazed cicadas. Not very Brady Bunch, not very Mosman! If John’s hygiene, dietary and sartorial habits weren’t enough to put you off, his blazing eyes and accusatory tone as he called all Israel to repentance were not what we’d call ‘pastoral’ today. If I get reports that one of your young priests is baptising people at Balmoral Beach after calling out the sinners of Neutral Bay, I’ll be alarmed!

John preached conversion, something that didn’t always work out well for the prophets. It cost him his head. Yet first he played a crucial role in salvation history. He was the saint of preparation, the finger pointer. Not a wagging finger of judgment but a finger of direction, pointing out the One to come, the One Israel had so long craved, the One who would free us from our sins, the One so great John was unworthy to untie His sandal. John implores us to turn away from self-centredness and look instead towards that One (Mk 1:1-8).

Each of the four gospels begins with an annunciation. Luke’s Gospel, being the most Marian, tells of the Annunciation to Mary of Nazareth by the archangel Gabriel. Matthew, more concerned to establish Jesus’ adopted lineage through St Joseph, begins with the announcement by the same angel to Joseph. John’s Gospel opens with a cosmic announcement, that in the beginning was the Word, the Word Who is God, the Word Who took our flesh as Jesus Christ. But Mark’s annunciation is different. It’s not to an individual or to the whole cosmos, but to a particular nation, the people of Israel. And it’s not by an angelic voice but by Creepy John. A fiery Baptist heralds a coming Messiah, first to the children of Abraham, that family chosen by God through the covenants to bring about His reunion with all of creation and all mankind. And so John, fulfilling the words of the prophet Isaiah (Isa 40:9-11), proclaims the advent of the One who is the glory of the Lord and the shepherd of humanity, the One who will gather all of the lambs in His arms.

John the Baptist’s mission of preparation for the coming of the Lord was addressed first to God’s people. He would remind them that theirs was a most unconventional family, one that had involved a great deal of intermarriage with strangers, and some rather poor behaviour, all too often indicating infidelity and doubt, and requiring conversion, turning around, return to God’s Law. It was to this unconventional family, John insisted, that the Messiah would imminently be arriving. God’s love and truth are coming incarnate as a man!

The annunciation was to Mary and Joseph, to the cosmos, and to the Jews, but the Baptist’s words of preparation, repentance, humility and conversion are for each of us. With just 14 sleeps to Christmas we ready our hearts for the redeemer, removing the clutter that gets in the way of His coming to us. The melded family of Beauty Point, Clifton Gardens, Neutral Bay and Mosman comes together as the family of faith, the new Holy Family, ready to welcome its greatest family member into your hearts and your world at Christmas. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Holy Family of Nazareth, pray for us.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85jKDa2zpus

Introduction to Mass for the 2nd Sunday of Advent B + Mass of Thanksgiving for newly formed Holy Family Catholic Parish Mosman – Sacred Heart Church, Mosman, 10 December 2023

Please be seated. Welcome to Sacred Heart church in Mosman, within the Parish of the Holy Family, for our Mass of the Second Sunday in Advent. Only 15 sleeps till Christmas—or 14 if you attend midnight Mass—when we will receive with joy our Saviour wrapped in swaddling clothes!

Fr Francis Timoney was appointed in 1899 as Parish Priest of the area and the Parish of Sacred Heart Mosman formally established in 1900 and there were soon two churches in the parish, one in Mosman and one in Neutral Bay. St Joseph’s Neutral Bay was split off from Mosman in 1914. Blessed Sacrament Clifton Gardens was divided off in 1927, and St Therese of the Child Jesus Beauty Point in 1955. Many facilities for parish life—presbyteries, churches, schools, aged care and disability care—were established in the decades that followed; many pastors served in the four parishes; and many parishioners made important contributions to Church life and the service of the community through different ministries. Much was achieved and there is history here to be very proud of.

However, in the century or so since those boundaries were drawn, much has changed in the life of the Church of Sydney and beyond. The Jesuits were involved for a time at Neutral Bay, but from 2001 it shared with Mosman Monsignor Eugene Harley as parish priest. Clifton Gardens joined the cluster in 2005. As the then regional auxiliary bishop, I remember taking part in discussions here with the pastor, the then-Father Terry Brady, and with the parish councillors and parishioners, about their hopes and anxieties for the future, and about what parish organisation would best serve the people of this area going forward. It was already foreseen that the four parishes might in due course be formally amalgamated, but there was no hurry. Fr Brady was made a bishop and you got Fr Philip Linder as PP of the three parishes and, very soon after, Beauty Point was added. Phil has been here ever since and this diverse pastoral region has been something of a finishing school for young priest assistants. So, the ‘Parishes of Sydney Harbour North’ evolved with shared pastors, staff, lay leaders and ministries.

But there remained still some duplication—or should I say quadruplication—which added unnecessary burdens and no longer reflected the pastoral realities on the ground. Parishioners came overwhelmingly to favour the amalgamation and near unanimously to favour a new parish named for the Holy Family.

So, after much consultation at local, deanery and archdiocesan levels, I decided to unite the four parishes by formal canonical decree last Easter. If it takes a long time to move on parish amalgamations, it can also take a while to get the bishop out to celebrate the new reality, but I’m here at last and it’s a real pleasure to join in your celebrations.

The new parish represents a clear commitment on the part of the Catholic Church to respond to pastoral realities and to continue to serve the people of this area as best we can into the future. The faith and gifts of the pastors and people of these suburbs should generate many new pastoral adventures in the years ahead.  

The new name of your parish captures something of the history of the preceding parishes, churches and schools, but also the notion of a parish as a family of families under the banner of that most exemplary family to which we look forward at Christmas. The new logo for the parish was designed by parishioners Cheyne and Kobus de Beer and it incorporates elements of the windows and statues of the four churches to form a beautiful new design highlighting the tenderness and joy of the Child Jesus in the arms of His parents.

I welcome in attendance today Mr Tim James MP, state Member for Willoughby; Her Worship the Mayor of Mosman, Clr Carolyn Corrigan; the Executive Principal of Sacred Heart and Blessed Sacrament Primary Schools, Ms Leanne Meehan; and other distinguished guests.

Concelebrating with me today is Fr Peter Christie, former pastor of Clifton Gardens; Fr Philip Linder, your current and much loved pastor; and assistant priests Fathers Mark Anderson and Fr Matthew Lukaszewicz, both relative newbies, whom you are helping to train even as they seek to serve you.   Gathering as members of this new family, let us model ourselves on the qualities exemplified by the Holy Family: charity, self-sacrifice, faithfulness, and joy. To everyone here on this celebratory occasion: a very warm welcome to you all.