Fr DaveDear Friends,

At this time each of us needs what Faith we have and the support of our community – the community of family, friends, school, Parish and Church, and other groups that sustain us. You, like me, may at times feel confused, afraid, anxious or adrift – understandable in the face of a new reality – but we also need one another’s Faith to help us through… and they need ours!

Every experience can be a call to love more, and we need to care for each other and for ourselves too. How disappointing that our churches must now be closed to the public – this in addition to the recent suspension of public Masses by the Diocese of Broken Bay. We must remain people of Hope.

Might this period be a time of reimagining for us personally, as a community and as Church? Perhaps a time to revisit what we truly believe, to reconnect with the God within, the God who holds us in the palm of his hand. I find great strength in the following wisdom:

‘Buildings are closed, not the Church. We are the Church… and we remain open in faith,
hope and love!’

Fr DaveDear Friends,

           Do you, like me, find yourself struggling with your emotional response to the various disasters and crises that happen in our world – natural disasters that devastate nations and cause loss of life, challenging political and social issues, not to mention the widespread concern about the coronavirus and its destructive potential?

In many cases as we become saturated by the media coverage, we can become anaesthetised to what is going on around us, our senses become dulled, our love and concern a bit flat, and our perceptions of tragic events almost routine. It may be due to over-exposure to media reports or the inability to see how we can help in some constructive way. The present COVID-19 crisis may be an exception because of the way in which it can potentially affect all of us and our way of life physically, personally and emotionally.

We find strong parallels in our personal living, especially our faith, where we experience highs and lows. Some people I know well find it difficult to go to Mass for some months, even years, after a tragic loss, perhaps because of the memories of the funeral in a particular church, perhaps because their emotions are so raw that public liturgy and prayer threaten their emotional balance. I know too just how demanding it is to preside at several tragic funerals in a short period. Memories of funerals in Kyabram of 3 members of one family who died in a road accident, and of 2 sisters 13 and 15 years old who died of heart disease 5 weeks apart, still touch me deeply.

Fr DaveDear Friends,

Last Sunday’s readings provided us with images of our need to fight against temptation and sin, evident in the encounter between Adam and Eve and the serpent, and Jesus’ encounter with Satan in the desert. Battle imagery is common in some of our older prayers which contain expressions such as: this campaign of Christian service… battle against spiritual evils… armed with weapons of self-restraint. These refer to the human and personal realities of prayer, fasting and penance, and acts of charity on our journey as we follow Jesus with humility and patience.

We need to find our own Lenten language which helps us to connect to the Season – perhaps like ‘… the special season for the ascent to the holy mountain of Easter.’ I find the idea of Lent as a time for ‘standing still’ helpful, taken from the English derivation of the word meaning ‘springtime’, the same root that gives us the word ‘lengthen’ as the days get longer.

If we can master the ‘art of stillness’, we will be more open to Lent as a season for growth, planting ideas and habits that nourish the development of our inner life. Our core Lenten ‘practices’ should nourish our inner self and strengthen our faith through worthy participation in the Eucharist on Sundays and perhaps on a weekday from time to time, praying more as a family, being more attentive to those with whom we live, reaching out to someone who is poor, sick, elderly, lonely or overburdened – things that take us out of ourselves as we reclaim our true selves before God.

Fr DaveDear Friends,

Each time the Season of Lent comes around, I find a simple statement very helpful in focusing on the weeks ahead, such as, ‘Live your Baptism more truthfully.’ Lent helps us refocus as we are often reminded through the Alpha, RCIA and Sacramental Programs of that journey to Faith that challenges us at every age, young and old.

              Two key words for Lent are conversion and grace as we open our hearts to being reawakened to the God within us, in whose name we were baptised. That’s the outcome of the RCIA journey of course and one of the reasons we admire converts. My mother was a convert from the Anglican Church and a most remarkable woman of faith, prayer and trust in God. Yes, we admire converts, but then aren’t we all supposed to be converts? Conversion is not just for the ‘others’, it is for each of us.

The Holy Father speaks of Lent as ‘our path of conversion as individuals and as a community’ and quotes St Paul: ‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich’ (2 Cor 8:9). The power of the Liturgy lies in what we do together and there is power too in our taking our Lenten journey together – as parish, as family and so on – the unique dynamic of ‘our path of conversion as individuals and as a community’.

Fr DaveDear Friends,

For a Church that usually changes very slowly, our modern challenge is often how to cope with the rapidity of change – the experience of every one of us as technology makes today’s inventions redundant tomorrow. As a result, a week can be a long time in the life of the Church especially when people of good will who are accustomed to change want more change.

Last week I mentioned the ‘disconnect’ some experience in their encounters with the Church. This is often associated with our greater awareness of shortcomings in the Church which have been compounded by an unhealthy clericalism, limitations of the hierarchical model, a culture of silence, at times a too simplistic outlook on the world, slowness to change, attitudes to women, failures of our leaders and some of those we admired but who failed badly in ministry. 

Keeping things in perspective is a major challenge and I draw great hope from the emphasis of Pope Francis on the theme of Joy in his Apostolic Letters: Evangelii Gaudium – The Joy of the Gospel; Amoris Laetitia – The Joy of Love – on Love in the Family; Gaudete et Exultate – Rejoice and Be Glad – on the Call to Holiness; Laudato Si – Praise be To You – on Care for Our Common Home; Christus Vivit – Christ is Alive! – on Ministry to Young People.

Fr DaveDear Friends,

Last Monday, Prior Provincial Fr Peter Jones met in conversation with our Parish Pastoral Council to share information about the Province and particularly the vision and identity Augustinians bring to parishes – Communion, Interiority, Searching and Love. This identity is expressed in the day-to-day through Community, Liturgy, Formation, Mission and Social Justice.

The Order takes seriously its responsibility to highlight core Augustinian values in ministry as the ‘window’ on the Gospel and the Church. In turn, this applies to our schools where the values of Community, Truth and Love are the centrepiece of Augustinian Education, supported by the other values enunciated in parish ministry above. In Parish and College, this vision needs to remain fresh and alive and this is achieved through Province support of these ministries where various Augustinians work with leaders, staff and College Board members.

A few weeks ago I led an in-service session with the staff of Villanova College, our Augustinian School in Brisbane. In our reflection on Augustinian Charism and Spirituality, we grappled with what it means to be ‘church’ today. Those who are older recalled a quite different view of Church growing up, a different ‘culture’, fine for its time but the world has changed significantly. If the outcomes of our parish conversations here in North Harbour in preparation for the Plenary Council 2020 are any indication, people of all ages are ready for change. This is particularly so in our age where there is significant disillusionment with institutions such as politics, the banks, big business, media and the Church.

Fr DaveDear Friends,

           Some years ago, on my way to Buenos Aires for an Augustinian International Laity Gathering, I bought a paper from a young African-American woman in Atlanta Airport. She asked me where I was going and I told her. I then asked her what exciting things she had planned for the weekend. To my surprise, she said, ‘I’m going to church and I’m so excited!’ I thought, ‘Wow! Isn’t that the way it should be for each of us too?’

Whatever church this young lady attends, I suspect she is probably unaware of the core liturgical principle from Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy – ‘The Church earnestly desires that all the faithful be led to that full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations called for by the very nature of the liturgy.’ (Article 14) – yet, I sense that her church lives it!   

This is our weekly challenge as a Parish Community. Full, conscious and active participation invites us to fresh thinking, creativity, affirmation of one another’s gifts, acknowledgement of the varied spiritualities we follow within the Catholic Christian Tradition, and above all, a strong commitment to vibrant and prayerful liturgy so that ‘the Body of Christ will become more so!’

Fr DaveDear Friends,

Our summer holiday period should refresh us but it sometimes brings pain and sadness – these past months the tragic bushfires coinciding with the long drought, then some brief respite with torrential rains, storms and hail in particular areas, often with savage impact on individuals, families, communities, property and life. Our fireys have distinguished themselves yet again, well beyond the call of duty, and those from overseas have put their lives on the line for us and our safety, sometimes at great personal cost to themselves.

While the resilient Aussie spirit has been evident throughout this period, the emotional brokenness will be with us for a long time. As the grass turns green again and the trees sprout their buds, we must take care not to forget the ongoing struggle of individuals and communities that carry the scars of the tragedies and the powerful emotions that live just below the surface. As I enjoyed the luxury of a few weeks off after Christmas I was very aware of so many others in need of a break but unable to access their favourite holiday venues because of the fires.

Last Sunday the Church across the world marked the inaugural celebration of Sunday of the Word of God, promulgated by Pope Francis to remind us of the power of God’s Word and our need to proclaim the Scriptures well and listen prayerfully to the message. I am often in awe at the sharpness of God’s Word in times of crisis, a case in point I recall being the Mass readings the morning after 9/11. The same is true as we face challenging events.

Fr Dave

Dear Friends,

Christmas is a time to say Thank You! During 2019, our Parish celebrated many important, graced moments, thanks to the many ministries, activities and programs that support the community, families and individuals in their Faith journey – our Sacramental Program that touches the lives of so many adults, children and families; various faith formation activities, including Alpha, RCIA, Children’s Liturgy, the Catechist Ministry; outreach to those in need through Vinnies and the GIFT program; our Parish Schools of St Kieran and St Cecilia, ably led by Michael Gallagher and Fran Taylor, our dedicated school staff, and families; our local Catholic secondary schools; a range of other community-building initiatives in North Harbour; our Parish Pastoral Council (Co-chairs: Tim Wunder and Anne Halloway), the Parish Finance Committee (Chair: Paul Winter); and our Augustinian groups – Augustinian Formation Association, Friends of St Augustine, and Augustinian Volunteers Australia.

None of these ‘good works’ has much depth without a strong liturgical and prayer life in our Parish and our ‘full, conscious and active participation’ in the liturgy. Together, we form the Praying Assembly, the first sign of the Presence of Christ. The Eucharist and other Sacramental Celebrations and prayer experiences enhance our inner life and help us to grow as the Body of Christ. Many parishioners enhance our celebrations through preparation, coordination and participation in a range of liturgical ministries, serving the community week in and week out, helping enrich our liturgy which is at the heart of who we are in our faith and spirituality.

We are blessed to be part of a community for whom giving is a way of life, in generous, financial support of the Parish, as willing volunteers who are ready to help our community grow through sharing their talents in hospitality, setup and cleanup, home and nursing home visiting and Communion ministry, pastoral outreach to fellow parishioners and the needy, many working quietly behind the scenes. Thank you for your witness to Jesus’ practical love.

Fr DaveDear Friends,

During my Christmas homilies, I often invite people to share their ‘Christmas word’ – so be ready! Given the struggles of our nation and the personal distress of so many affected by the smoke-filled air these past weeks, we may all need that Christmas ‘word’ to lift our spirits and remind us of the bigger realities.

This 3rd Sunday of Advent focuses on an ‘Advent word’ as we light the third, rose-coloured’ candle in our Advent wreath. We celebrate Gaudete Sunday, Latin for ‘Rejoice’, reminding us of the foundation of the Christian journey, the Joy that must be evident in the Church. Pope Francis emphasises Joy in his Apostolic letters – The Joy of the Gospel, The Joy of Love, and so on.

The Advent Liturgy puts us in touch with the spirituality of the season as we prepare for Christmas. The simplicity of the liturgy is obvious; our celebration is ‘dressed down’. Besides the violet vestments, the Glory to God is omitted and the penitential rite is replaced with the lighting of the Advent wreath and the accompanying prayers, sometimes with a response, such as Come Lord Jesus.

Fr DaveDear Friends,

As I write this, there’s a storm overhead and the sound of sirens and other traffic noise on Condamine Street. Quiet is often elusive here, part of our experience in modern living where silence can almost feel threatening, yet we are invited into the Advent Season of waiting, stillness, reflection and expectation.

In the northern hemisphere, dwindling daylight sets the scene as the natural environment moves towards the growing darkness out of which emerges the newborn Saviour, Jesus the Light of the World! The Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent bids us to be ready and watchful for the Lord’s coming in glory. The Lord is coming to us and we in turn must come to him and be receptive to him.

As this new liturgical year begins, we are waiting for Christmas, a time of expectation and hope even as we deal with the tension between the secular and religious moods, the former focusing mostly on us, the latter focusing mostly on God. Even when we become caught up in the busyness and noise, something within us may crave at least some quiet time.

Our Scripture readings emphasise that ‘the time’ has come. The people of Isaiah’s time knew well the disastrous destruction of Jerusalem and their treasured Temple and looked forward to a future of restoration. So many in our country resonate with that experience in the wake of chronic drought and destructive bushfires. Always the question - Is our human spirit resilient enough to hope for restoration and healing?

Fr DaveDear Friends,

As I write this, there’s a storm overhead and the sound of sirens and other traffic noise on Condamine Street. Quiet is often elusive here, part of our experience in modern living where silence can almost feel threatening, yet we are invited into the Advent Season of waiting, stillness, refection and expectation.

In the northern hemisphere, dwindling daylight sets the scene as the natural environment moves towards the growing darkness out of which emerges the newborn Saviour, Jesus the Light of the World! The Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent bids us to be ready and watchful for the Lord’s coming in glory. The Lord is coming to us and we in turn must come to him and be receptive to him.

As this new liturgical year begins, we are waiting for Christmas, a time of expectation and hope even as we deal with the tension between the secular and religious moods, the former focusing mostly on us, the latter focusing mostly on God. Even when we become caught up in the busyness and noise, something within us may crave at least some quiet time.

Our Scripture readings emphasise that ‘the time’ has come. The people of Isaiah’s time knew well the disastrous destruction of Jerusalem and their treasured Temple and looked forward to a future of restoration. So many in our country resonate with that experience in the wake of chronic drought and destructive bushfires. Always the question - Is our human spirit resilient enough to hope for restoration and healing?

Fr DaveDear Friends,

There are still a few kings and queens around though their influence in the world is decreasing. Reflecting on this great Feast of Christ the King, one writer spoke about Princess Diana who, by the time of her death, had already been relieved of the title, Her Royal Highness. Somehow, despite all her weaknesses, Diana touched many people and those who mourned her passing gave her the title Queen of Hearts, a title not about political power but of affection and human warmth, perhaps with some understanding of her human frailty.

The Gospel of today’s Feast is almost unfortunate because it relates to the suffering and crucified Christ on the Cross, the one who seemed anything but a king. Jesus had calmed the sea and the winds, fed the multitudes, showed authority over demons, healed every kind of human illness, debated the religious authorities with superior, even kingly, wisdom. Yet, the Lucan Jesus hanging on the cross is the one loved and admired by believers as King of All Hearts, the one who inspired the saints and souls we celebrate during this month of November.

Fr DaveDear Friends,

           As we gather this Sunday, we are profoundly aware of the disruption of the bushfires in Eastern Australia, leaving a trail of burnt landscape, property damage, human misery and some loss of life. ‘Catastrophic’ is a word we are slow to use in any circumstance but it has kept us alert during the present crisis, as well as sharpening the reality of the crippling drought. So many people’s lives have been changed radically in these days.

What emerges out of tragic circumstances is the strength of the human spirit and the generosity of those who respond directly, especially emergency service personnel, and the wider community. Community is a fragile thing but we rise to the occasion most of the time.

As people of faith, we use the word ‘community’ freely because it expresses what we wish to be as Church where we find our true identity in our ‘communion’. Though not the only dimension of human experience, times of tragedy expand our vision of what ‘communion’ really means and can deepen our appreciation of Eucharist where we experience Christ with us.

Communion unites us on many levels, notably the Communion of Saints in which we are bonded to our Saints and our Beloved Dead and in turn to the wider Church and human community. We ‘become’ Church through what we do together – most perfectly our gathering for Eucharist and our reception together of Christ in Holy Communion. Our response to those in need flows from our ‘holy communion’.

Fr DaveDear Friends,

           In some ways, the Feasts of the Saints and the Faithful Departed are different sides of the same coin. We carry in memory the loss of loved ones individually and as a community, highlighted at a recent funeral in St Kieran’s where a lighted candle was placed at the end of the pew where the lady sat every Saturday night – such is our place in the community.

While serving in country parishes, I experienced the whole spectrum of deaths of people of all ages, including young children and babies – from farm and road accidents, various diseases and health issues, sometimes criminal activity, to mention a few. Funerals could be held on any day of the week, including Saturday and Sunday. There was usually no hurry and a farewell could take most of the day. In many cases, the same people came to every funeral, a significant challenge when preparing the homily!

During this Month of the Holy Souls, we pray for our dead, record their names in the Book of Remembrance, and perhaps visit their resting place. We may be surprised at how raw our sense of grief can be at this time and how easily we shed tears. Two thoughts give me strength, the realisation that we don’t have to be good at grieving and the fact that Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35).  

A helpful mantra is the following: ‘Pray, see more!’ How true this is and how slow we are to do this. A helpful prayer suggestion this month is to read the Beatitudes often and think about our loved ones and the beatitudes they exemplified. Whether our preferred introduction to each beatitude is Blessed, Happy or Holy, we need to realise that these are not commands but affirmations from the Lord which mean, ‘Congratulations! You are in a good place…’ In these days, the most poignant is of course, ‘Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted’ – the beatitude we live today.

Fr DaveDear Friends,

In this month of saints and souls, we reflect on both dimensions of our human living. You and I are called to a life of holiness but what does that really mean? When you think about it, who would have thought that the Australian Community would be so fascinated by the life of a 19th Century Founder of a religious congregation? Who would have thought that believers of all religions, and unbelievers too, would be captivated by someone like Mary MacKillop? Who would have thought that the media would give her Canonisation Ceremony such complete and fair coverage?

It’s not easy to blend a life of holiness with our living in a secular world, but perhaps this is where Mary’s story has a strong message. Her mission of providing education for poor children and working with struggling families captured the imagination of many. This is no real surprise when you consider how the Church nominates patron saints for a whole range of human activities and occupations, sometimes in unusual combinations! Some examples are:

St Michael – Security forces, police;

St Gabriel – Telecommunications and the Postal Service;

St Luke – Doctors, painters, artists, sculptors and butchers;

St Vincent de Paul – Charities, hospitals and prisoners;

Fr DaveDear Friends,

Dance is a characteristic of so many cultures – a medium by which people express and share life’s deepest meaning, differing roles, relationships between men and women, and in some cases the history of race and nation in both joy and suffering. The Church is like a dance, a dance with the Lord and with one another, a dance that takes us beyond ourselves as we engage with our call to be missionary disciples in our daily lives.

Growing up Catholic evokes in me warm memories of certainty about the Church’s teaching, the conviction that the Catholic Church was always right (infallibility and all that), the occasional concern at praying with non-Catholics (is this allowed?), and a bit of fear here and there to keep us on our game. The Church was comfortable with hierarchy, clericalism, and structure, and most of us enjoyed pastoral care and a strong faith community at the local level. Mission was about making ‘them’ like ‘us’.

Mission today engages with the world in all its diversity though the Church is still one, holy, catholic and apostolic, yet our missionary understanding is much broader. The Church is called to be ‘at home’ in all the human settings of people’s lives, to share the Good News, offer hope, help make the world one, to be holy and point to the holiness of the world.

Fr DaveDear Friends,

By now, many of us will be aware of some of the topics on the agenda of the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon in Rome. These include support for the ordination of married men of proven virtue, or ‘viri probati’, elders in their respective communities, as a way of addressing the lack of priests in the region, an idea favoured by two-thirds of the bishops present. While celibacy is a significant part of the Church’s tradition, it may not serve the needs of the faithful in every instance in today’s world. Formal ministry roles for women, possibly including the diaconate, have also been mentioned.

The concerns of the Bishops of the Amazon stem from their recognition that, in remote communities, people often go from one month to up to one year without the celebration of the Eucharist – also the reality in some parts of Australia, especially in country areas where priests are ageing or in short supply. Pope Francis’ pastoral openness is a welcome change from the Church’s sometimes narrower outlook in the past.

The Church, he says, is not a static institution but must be a community of believers which is ‘on the go’. To do so, Catholics need to stop brooding over past mistakes or what might have been. ‘If it is not on the go, it is not Church,’ Francis stresses. ‘A Church on the go, a missionary Church is a Church that does not waste time lamenting things that go wrong, the loss of faithful, the values of the time now in the past.’ He added that the Church should not ‘seek safe oases to dwell in peace’, but instead look to become ‘salt of the earth and a leaven in the world.’ The ‘sin’ against mission is ‘omission’, whereby believers become fearful and resign themselves to a view that nothing can be done. 

The Eucharist itself is ‘missionary’ as it forms us in faith and energises us in our Catholic identity. The exclusion of people from celebration of Eucharist for extended periods can hinder their faith journey as Catholics. Our Mission theme - ‘Baptised and Sent’ – communicates a dynamism in which the grace of our Baptism must be ‘broken open’ as we mature and embrace personally the faith commitment our parents made on our behalf. Even given the proportion of Catholics today who do not go to Mass regularly, the Eucharist remains the ‘summit and source’ of our faith and forms us as the Body of Christ.

‘Baptised and Sent’ – New joy in the Faith, Fruitfulness in the work of Evangelising!

Fr DaveDear Friends,

We continue our reflection on Mission and Evangelisation this week and focus more closely on ‘evangelisation’. Evangelisation is always God’s work, echoing the words of St Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975) that Jesus is ‘the first and greatest evangeliser’ (n 7). Indeed, Jesus engages us in every aspect of our lives and helps us to rediscover the freshness of the Gospel.

 This helps us to understand the importance of the Plenary Council 2020 theme: ‘How is God calling us to be a Christ-centred Church that is Missionary and Evangelizing?’ We need to find words to engage with our modern, secular world but the witness of our lives remains paramount, to quote St Francis: ‘Always preach the Gospel and if necessary use words!’ 

The term ‘new evangelisation’ was used for the first time by St John Paul II during his visit to Nowa Huta (Poland) in 1979, indicating the need for a new and fresh proclamation of the Faith, ‘reintroducing’ the Gospel in Western societies, especially those that have lost a sense of God to progressive secularization. The 2012 Synod on the New Evangelisation sought to intensify the Church’s public efforts to counter the impact of unbelief and secularity. Benedict XVI embraced the New Evangelisation especially in relation to those who have drifted from the Church in the West.

Fr DaveDear Friends,

           October is World Mission Month and this year Pope Francis has called for an ‘Extraordinary Mission Month’ and invites us to ‘do something extraordinary’. Over the years we have probably thought of supporting the missions through giving generously and supporting our missionaries in faraway lands – both very important.

However, the Church’s understanding has developed significantly in the last 50 or 60 years, especially in the lead up to, and the years following, the Second Vatican Council. This expansion in our thinking continues in the 6 themes proposed for our reflection prior to the Plenary Council 2020, particularly: ‘How is God calling us to be a Christ-centred Church that is Missionary and Evangelizing?’  The following reflections may help our understanding of the centrality of ‘mission’: