Fr DaveDear Friends,

                      The Gospel readings during the Easter Season focus on relationships – the relationship between Jesus, the disciples and the women at the tomb; Jesus’ showing himself to the disciples on the shore of the lake; shepherd and sheep; the community of the Trinity; love as the essence of discipleship; and today our being drawn into the hospitality of God’s own life – the remarkable promise that God will come to us and make his home with us.

Each of us knows well the need to feel at home. Much as I have enjoyed my periods of overseas study in the US and Ireland and participation in conferences in Rome and the Philippines, returning home brings a sense of relief - even boarding a Qantas flight with its familiar décor and Aussie crew. In our time as we offer a new home to those from overseas, we should not underestimate the effects of dislocation on migrants and refugees, especially those from the Ukraine escaping the trauma of the war, and the demands on us to extend ‘thoughtful hospitality’.

     Our sense of ‘being at home’ suffered a jolt during the pandemic, particularly the separation from family members and community. The impact on various groups is currently being documented, particularly school children. While efforts to help people remain connected have been very important, we are now in the process of rebuilding our families and communities, including our Parish Community.   

Fr DaveDear Friends

        In the last few years, I have had the privilege of participating in staff presentations at both of our Augustinian Colleges on the Augustinian Charism and core values – Community, Truth, Love and Interiority. Other values connected with these hold them together and bring them to life as a way of following Jesus and living the Gospel. One of these is our identity as the Body of Christ and that emerges from our celebration of the Eucharist and reception of Jesus in Holy Communion – what it means for us to be Church.

We need to constantly refresh and deepen our understanding of the Church. One of Pope Francis’ most important contributions to our understanding of the Faith is a fresh paradigm or model of ‘church’ – particularly significant in our time when many struggle with their experience of the Church – to quote one source, ‘The glass in our window is dirty, obscuring our view, discouraging some from even bothering to look!’

Francis has been working hard to meet people where they are at, very much a ‘hands-on’ Pope, who from the start has shown true pastoral sensitivity. He demonstrates a remarkable earthiness and directness in speech and is open, inclusive and non-judgemental towards people in all sorts of circumstances, responding with compassion as any genuine pastor should.

Fr DaveDear Friends

        Given the movable nature of the date of Easter, it is quite unusual for the 4th Sunday of Easter – traditionally Good Shepherd Sunday and World Day of Prayer for Vocations – to coincide with Mother’s Day. While the title ‘shepherd’ has a male connotation, it should not be difficult for us to recognise the qualities of the ‘shepherd’ in both Mums and Dads, and in many others who show us extraordinary care.

Gratitude for Mothers - In our Easter readings recalling the appearances of the Risen Jesus, the women disciples who followed Jesus faithfully to the end are very prominent, especially in the accounts of the appearances of Jesus after his death. These women are the first believers in his Resurrection, the ones who told the news to the apostles – their testimony not given much credit by the men – yet the women are in fact ‘the apostles to the apostles’!

In our Society and Church, there is much discussion and debate over the role of women, yet the pivotal role of mothers remains undisputed, their special nurturing qualities, and their place in passing on the Faith and, with fathers, encouraging sons and daughters and grandchildren too to find their way in the world and follow the call in their hearts.

Fr DaveDear Friends

         In the midst of an election campaign, our thoughts invariably turn to leadership and who we believe should lead our country. Some leaders unashamedly promote themselves and their superior leadership qualities while others talk about their party’s performance in government or opposition as the case may be. Humility is not easy to find and at times campaigns easily become bogged down in peripheral issues, some very personal and some that distract from people’s genuine concerns. We know too how quickly political rivals, voters and the media are ready to pounce!

Being a leader is a challenge and we come to realise that we don’t just take on responsibilities automatically and do them well. We need to grow into various roles… as husband, wife, parent, leader, professional person… with a bit of ‘trial and error’ along the way!

Leadership underpins the Scripture readings today with Peter having the highest profile. As we reflected on Thomas’ journey to belief in the Risen Jesus last Sunday, we realised that virtually every person named in the Gospel was a doubter, with the exception of Mary the mother of Jesus. The community was not expecting Jesus’ Resurrection – including the women and the disciples – though we realise now that their different experiences of fear, grief and doubt prepared them to meet him. As we reflect back, they were doing the best they could but the women were more open to recognising Jesus than the men.

Fr Davedoubting thomasDear Friends,

        Easter Joy is very real and we are refreshed by deeper insights into familiar readings and rites. At the Easter Vigil, baptism and reception of new members into full communion with the Church remind us that the Spirit is still at work in our midst. Life is changed by the Resurrection of Jesus and every one of us needs to work at letting Christ fully into our lives.

I am finding it more difficult to write about the Joy of the Resurrection in light of the personal life events that challenge us, not to mention the ever-present darkness touching so many during the still-present pandemic and the daily sadness of the war in Ukraine. Thankfully, many find comfort in the promise of the Mercy of God.

Joy, Faith and Mercy soften reality and bring perspective and hope when all hope seems lost. In his first Easter homily as Pope, Francis encouraged us to be always open to the ‘newness that God wants to bring into our lives’, especially when we are ‘weary, disheartened and sad’. He continues:

Let us not close our hearts, let us not lose confidence, let us never give up: there are no situations which God cannot change, there is no sin which he cannot forgive if only we open ourselves to him.

Fr DaveDear Friends,

           God’s Great Surprise – how else can we describe the Easter Event? There is no complete explanation for this other than the incredible love of our God who says again and again, ‘Trust me!’ The ‘empty tomb’ raised many questions for the disciples. They did not yet understand the scripture promise that Jesus must rise from the dead. In John’s Gospel (20:1-9), Mary Magdalene, Peter and the other disciple find the stone rolled away and Jesus’ body gone. What has happened?

What has happened? - a very good question, even for us. Though we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ throughout the Church year, we can very easily take the reality for granted and at times become a bit flat in our faith. The disciples at the tomb were stunned at the emptiness. We should be stunned that Christ is risen!

Amidst our Easter Joy, we recognize the darkness in our world – the plight of many in our country for whom the aftermath of the floods is still a grim reality, the agony of violence and war in the Ukraine and other places around the globe. The enormity of the Easter event herlps us to hold on to hope for a better life and a better world.

Fr DaveDear Friends,

           Our learning about life and its meaning continues, no matter what age we are. My recent 7 days in isolation with COVID was a massive challenge as it was totally contrary to everything I wanted to do and be at this time – an experience many of you know well. One saving grace was quality time to prepare a talk for those in the RCIA program about the reasons Jesus came into the world, what the Paschal Mystery means in our daily lives, and the Holy Week Ceremonies.

Each of us needs to revisit this Mystery of our salvation. Many are following a program of Lenten reflections in search of new insights into the meaning of our lives. Even in isolation none can escape the horrors of war on our television screens – our suffering pales into insignificance in the face of the unspeakable events in the Ukraine and the heartbreak in our own country of those displaced by the floods.

Fr DaveDear Friends,

           Yes, I know it’s an unusual title but at least you’ve read this far! A few days ago, I came across the following quote in a book by Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing:

        ‘Some of Christianity’s harshest critics have suggested that what is wrong with it is that         it sets itself the absurd task of teaching happy people to be unhappy so that it can         minister to their unhappiness’(p 141).

Some suggest that our focus on suffering, death and the next life can destroy our capacity to enjoy this life. Freud linked the level of anxiety in Christians to this tendency. Certainly we need to tell it like it is but God’s wish is for our real happiness. Everyone grapples with the realities of suffering and death, but Jesus’ wish is that we live life to the full.

Jesus promises us his Joy in the context of our close relationship with him as the vine and the branches and the extraordinary fact that Jesus’ love for us mirrors the Father’s love for him. We are to abide in that love: ‘I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete’ (John 15:11).

Fr Davemother teresaDear Friends,

           God’s Word challenges us in these days… Last Sunday, Jesus’ beatitudes offered teaching that is beautiful, affirming, supportive but also very disturbing and challenging. Today, Jesus’ teaching pushes vulnerability to fresh extremes… finishing with ‘Love your enemies! God is generous and compassionate to all - God’s name is ‘mercy’ and we must be merciful too - a truth that is not always popular!

        As Church, we must be merciful, especially where society finds mercy hard - ‘What’s the Church doing about refugees and asylum seekers?’ some ask! It’s not always obvious but then, to a large extent, the issue has gone quiet. Certainly there have been undertakings from government in relation to refugees from Afghanistan and we trust that these commitments will be honoured. Then there is the Biloela Tamil family and the delicate legal processes to determine if they can stay in Australia and return to Biloela.

For many of us, it was the Novak Djokovic issue that awakened us to the plight of asylum seekers held in Melbourne’s Park Hotel for several years. Certainly, the political aspects are complex and unanimity difficult to achieve, but the Gospel must be our guide. Pope Francis and the Church in Australia speak up for refugees and asylum seekers in the hope that hearts and minds will change and the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers will be more humane and more respectful of human dignity.

Fr Davechurch life surveyDear Friends,

           The National Church Life Survey is a worthwhile and exciting project and, over the years, many parishes, including North Harbour, have benefitted from the results provided by parishioners’ responding to detailed surveys about parish life. The current survey is happening in over 3,000 churches of all denominations, including 300 Catholic parishes. The results will be very relevant as parish communities readjust following the COVID disruption.

The NCLS will provide information including:

  • ·The profile of those coming to Mass - age groups and gender, education, migrant background and employment;
  • ·What parishioners currently value in the parish;
  • ·What parishioners see as priorities for the future;
  • ·How parishioners relate to God through prayer, the Mass etc;
  • ·Current involvement of parishioners;
  • ·Percentage of parishioners who are growing in their faith;
  • ·Who is outreaching to the community and how;
  • ·Relationships with other parishioners – how strong is the Parish community?

My experience with the NCLS in previous parishes is that the data is very useful to the community in understanding who we are, our strengths and weaknesses, our likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams. It is a great Pastoral Planning resource for the Parish Pastoral Council, the Parish Team and other Parish groups in helping us to move forward.

Fr DaveDear Friends,

        Recently, the Parish prepared a video to assist parents of children who are already confirmed and now preparing for First Reconciliation. In the video, we look briefly at all the Sacraments and how they relate to each other. In every Sacrament, our God looks after us on our human journey and is always there for us when we need strength and healing. Reconciliation/Penance offers us peace of soul when our human weakness gets the better of us and we sin. Through confession and absolution, we receive God’s forgiveness as he embraces us warmly and gives us grace and strength to start again.

Sacraments change us for the better and, as we know, Baptism is the ‘biggest’ Sacrament of all and Eucharist is the ‘summit and source’ of our spirituality and faith. But how well do we understand the Eucharist? My experience of Eucharist is that growth in understanding is virtually endless.

The experience of the pandemic has made us more aware of our vulnerability and need of healing. Healing includes protection from harm, hence the often severe restrictions in care facilities and hospitals. As we grow in our understanding of the Eucharist, an important dimension is its healing power – healing of body, mind and spirit.

Fr DaveDear Friends,

        Since the first case of COVID was diagnosed in Australia 2 years ago, our individual and collective responses to our life circumstances have changed often. Every aspect of family and parish life, including participation in the Eucharist, has been impacted, and we have often had to make painful decisions – because of our collective vulnerability.

        How easy to become very self-focused at this time when our Christian calling still beckons us to reach out and live life to the full. Whether we are present or not, the Eucharist – ’summit and source’ of our Christian life – remains an essential way in which we stay connected to each other as members of the Body of Christ. Even when deprived of the Eucharist, we are still sent forth to ‘do’ Eucharist – ‘Go in peace to live the Gospel in your life!’ – a permanent ‘missioning’ whereby we carry within us the very ‘presence of Christ’ into our daily lives and continue to be his ‘real presence’ in the world. ‘Be what you see and receive what you are!’ St Augustine tells us in Sermon 272.

pope francisThis Sunday - the Sunday of the Word of God - Pope Francis will confer the   ministries of catechist, lector, and acolyte upon lay men and women for the first time in St. Peter’s Basilica. The group includes candidates from three continents. Two people from the Amazonian region in Peru will be formally made catechists by the pope, along with other candidates from Brazil, Ghana, Poland, and Spain. The ministry of lector will be conferred on lay Catholics from South Korea, Pakistan, Ghana, and Italy.

Each of these ministries will be conferred through a rite prepared by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments that will be presented for the first time when the candidates will be summoned, called by name and presented to the Church before the homily. Those called to the ministry of lector will be presented with a Bible, while catechists will be entrusted with a cross, a copy of the pastoral cross used by popes St. Paul VI, St. John Paul II, and sometimes Pope Francis (pictured).

Bishop AnthonyMy dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Greetings in the Lord as we commence another year. Many people are hoping for a smooth 2022 compared to 2020 and 2021. With the Christmas Season not far behind us, I have not lost sight of the Star of Hope – the symbol and sign of Emmanuel, God-with-us. 

There have been a few disruptions to our ecclesial and social communities already this year. Despite the challenges that continue to emerge during this pandemic, I would like to encourage you to remain strong in your faith and to be vigilant in your love and care for others. We are people of hope, but we are also people of faith and love (cf 1 Corinthians 13:4-13). 

Faith, hope, and love are virtues which prompt us to behave in an honourably good manner. They are often spotted in the smallest acts of tenderness and kindness made towards others; by putting the weak, the sick, or the vulnerable before ourselves. They are also visible when one defends the rights of others, especially when another person may be compromised or injured. For the Christian disciple, faith, hope, and love are also seen when our duties or obligations are met with cheerfulness, honesty, integrity, and compassion.

baptism of the lordDear Friends,

Today’s Feast marks the conclusion of the Christmas Season and the beginning of Ordinary Time.  It’s a feast of transition from Jesus’ hidden life to that of His public ministry.  It also echoes the theme of the Epiphany in that the Baptism of the Lord is another manifestation announcing Jesus’ divinity to all of His first followers and to the disciples of John the Baptist.

First of all, it needs to be pointed out that Jesus did not need the baptism of John.  John was baptizing as a call to and sign of interior repentance.  Jesus had no need to repent.  But, nonetheless, He comes to John.  John resists at first but Jesus insists.  Why did He receive baptism?

First, by accepting the baptism of John, Jesus affirms all that John has said and done and affirms his sacred role of preparing the way for Jesus and for a new era of grace.  Therefore, the Baptism of Jesus acts as a bridge between the Old Testam

christmasDear Friends,

As we approach the end of 2021, we have much to be thankful for in the love, friendship, support, ministry and outreach we have experienced. One positive outcome of the pandemic has been that the ‘ministry’ we exercise and experience in our families has become more intense and focused as we have needed to respond to one another in different ways and hopefully grown closer in the ‘domestic Church’, the ‘Church in the family’, and stronger in our Christian Faith.

Many parishioners have expressed grateful thanks to the Parish Team for their support. This affirmation is much appreciated. The experience of us all is that there were times when each of us felt uncertain and pretty helpless, yet together we have made it this far. I know there are parishioners who continue to feel anxious about returning to Mass, particularly those with certain health issues. Each needs to follow his/her conscience in this regard and be at peace within.

Fr DaveDear Friends,

              During Advent, we listened to the prophecies of Jesus’ birth and encountered some of the people who set the scene for this great event. We were conscious of Mary’s invitation to become the Mother of God and her response, as well as Joseph’s struggle to come to terms with what was happening to his fiancée. And so we celebrate the birth of Christ and honour the Holy Family.

           At Christmas, we affirm family life in all its beauty and potential but we are very mindful of families struggling at this time, especially those on the Northern Beaches affected by last Sunday’s freak storm, families of the children who died in the jumping castle accident in Tasmania, victims of the typhoon in the Philippines, and all who suffer in our world. We pray too for those who struggle with the flaws and the brokenness in families.

We know that we need to work at family life and so in 2016 Pope Francis presented an Apostolic Exhortation – Amoris Laetitia – The Joy of Love: On Love in the Family – which expresses the beauty of Jesus’ teaching on Love and the Church’s teaching on married and family love. The foundation of all love is God’s love for us and his ultimate, loving embrace of us in the birth of Jesus as one with us, Jesus who himself was formed in the family by Mary and Joseph.

As we recall the birth of Christ, we celebrate the Holy Family - our models, but we must take care not to de-power their human example by surrounding them with an aura of unreality. In every family, people’s lives bump against each other as they grow through different ages and stages. This is true of Jesus as he moved from childhood into adolescence and adulthood, and grew in his awareness of who he was and his mission from his Father.

In Amoris Laetitia, Francis shares frank common sense about family and relationships:

Fr DaveDear Friends,

              ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’ is our Advent mantra but it can be our Christmas mantra too because, in the words of Fr Richard Rohr, the mantra means that, ‘all of Christian history has to live out of a kind of deliberate emptiness, a kind of chosen non-fulfilment’ (Preparing for Christmas p 4).

           Beautiful as they are, Advent and Christmas are Seasons full of meaning. All the familiar celebrations and the gifts are fine but spiritually both are about remaining open to grace and the action of God in our lives, a time for restating the meaning of, and our hope for, our spiritual journey.

Former Belgian PM Herman Van Rompuy - poet, blogger, devout Catholic, and a ‘shrewd political operator’ - was once asked how he would describe his own faith. He replied –
‘An experience of longing for God’ – hence the title of today’s reflection.

Fr DaveDear Friends,

          At this time in our World and in our Church, we need the message of joy proclaimed so enthusiastically in today’s Scripture readings, especially in the prophecy of Zephaniah and St Paul’s letter to the Philippians. In his reflection on this day, the late Fr Russell Hardiman described the holy joy of the believer proclaimed by Zephaniah:

‘Such joy cannot be so self-contained. It must become a shout, a loud one at that, a heart-exulting rejoicing that would wake up anyone who had fallen asleep in a world gone sadly awry. This is no put-on-a-happy-face joy that denies the past or masks the truth, but a grace-inspired joy, joy inspired by God…’ (Pastoral Liturgy Vol 43,1).

 Despite its somewhat sombre mood at times, Advent is in fact a Season of Joy and we continue to sing Alleluia. This Third Sunday, traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday, takes its name from the first word of the Latin entrance antiphon meaning ‘Rejoice!’ Our readings are about joy. Zephaniah describes God in our midst dancing, ‘with shouts of joy for you as on a day of festival,’ and St Paul urges us, ‘I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord…’

Fr DaveDear Friends,

Last Sunday we blessed the Advent Wreath and lit the first candle. This Sunday, we light two candles, a subtle sign of the growing anticipation of Advent as we prepare for Christmas. While the wreath is quite common in churches today, it is hardly mentioned in the liturgical books. Yet, somehow the custom appeals to us as a form of symbolic communication.

The Advent Wreath is an adaptation of a pagan custom in which candles were placed around a wheel during the northern winter solstice in December, a prayer that the sun might come around again. We can easily see the transition to honouring Christ as the Light of the World. Indeed, Christmas lights are a popular tradition on trees and homes at this time of year.