Fr DaveDear Friends,

          If asked what we miss most at this time, our response would probably include physical contact. We need touch in our lives because we are bodily beings and we relate most intimately through the warmth of a handshake, the casual pat on the back, and the hugs and kisses that express and affirm the love that grows and strengthens us in family life and relationships and keeps us confident in who we are.

Sometimes I feel a bit flat when the Easter Season is over. I miss the great energy in the Scripture readings on Sundays and weekdays, particularly the development and experience of the Early Church in Acts where we witness the apostles and followers engaging with the remarkable message of Jesus and his Resurrection. The Ascension of Jesus marks his return to his Father but it reminds us of his bodily absence too. No doubt, the disciples also missed Jesus.

On our journey of Faith we need to experience Jesus’ presence, to know him in our daily lives. Recall St Peter’s words from last Sunday’s 2nd reading, ‘Reverence the Lord Christ in your hearts’ – and the invitation in faith for us to reverence the Lord Christ in the hearts of others too, as they do in us. I sense that we ‘understand’ what this means because it describes the depth which our Faith can reach. Jesus’ Ascension allowed the disciples to grow in faith and it can help us to understand where our faith sits in the overall scheme of things.

Fr DaveDear Friends,

A month or so ago, Pope Francis stood alone in St Peter’s Square in the rain addressing ‘the city and the world’ and he prayed: ‘Wake up, Lord!’ This reflected the disciples’ anxiety during the storm on the lake when Jesus was asleep in the stern of the boat (Mark 4:35-41). When he awoke, Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?’

Francis prayed this way: ‘Lord, your word this evening strikes us…. all of us. In this world that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything… Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”’

The gradual lifting of COVID-19 restrictions is good news for us all, particularly the opening of our churches for personal prayer and Eucharist for small groups during the week. We look forward to greater freedom in coming weeks, eventually being able to gather for Eucharist as a Parish Community. I trust that this Easter Season is helping keep us buoyant in faith and prayer, but we need to be careful in case we lose what I like to call our ‘Easter sense’.

Fr DaveDear Friends,

              Happy Mother’s Day to all our mothers on this day! We give thanks for the love and the warmth of ‘home’ as Mums and Dads have nurtured us and kept us safe over the years. How fitting in today’s Gospel that Jesus is speaking to the disciples about being ‘at home with God’ and of how he and the Father ‘make their home with us’. The Gospel picks up this intimate and comforting theme: ‘There are many rooms in my Father’s house…. I am now going to prepare a place for you…. and I shall return to take you with me; so that where I am you may be too.’

In recent weeks, home has taken on a wider meaning for many families – not just as a place of close family bonding but a place where many parents work from home, and a place of formal learning for children. Many family homes are rearranged to accommodate activities for which most homes were never designed, not to mention the competing needs for privacy and quiet, and dealing with stresses not experienced before - ‘Where does work stop and family start?’

Church is home for us too and many parishioners express their appreciation of the Parish Mass livestreamed each Sunday morning, helping us feel connected as a community, strengthening us in communion with the Lord and one another, marking our communal identity as the Body of Christ.

Fr Davepope francis crossDear Friends,

              Have you noticed the striking pectoral cross worn by Pope Francis? Called the Shepherd’s Cross, it represents Christ the Good Shepherd, the model Pope Francis has followed in his pastoral ministry since he became a bishop. The image of Jesus carrying the lost sheep on his shoulders with the remaining sheep in the background helps us understand better how Francis has captured the imagination of so many through his uncanny way of connecting with people, his simple witness to the Gospel message, and his obvious enjoyment of those who cross his path.

How easily we forget the endorsement of the Church’s engagement with the world at the Second Vatican Council in the document The Church in the Modern World. This called us to a new way of thinking, a commitment to goodness and justice and fresh engagement with the world around us. Jesus came to redeem the World which is where we live and where he himself was ‘at home in the marketplace.’

The Shepherd’s Cross is a timely image for our Church and for each of us, particularly against the backdrop of the Church’s failures so brutally exposed in recent years. Few would have expected that so much pain and shame would be part of our experience as Catholic Christians, yet out of this comes a deeper awareness that we as the Body of Christ must embrace greater humility, honesty and transparency, and follow Christ in his simplicity as our loving and healing Shepherd. Sometimes our world holds on to past failures for their newsworthiness, claiming that nothing has changed, when the opposite is often the case.

Fr DaveDear Friends,

              As part of the refurbishment of the church in Kyabram in 2000, we commissioned new Stations of the Cross and chose the format followed for many years by the Pope during Holy Week at the Colosseum. Sounds like a pretty safe decision but wait, the Stations were Scripture-based. So far, so good! The 14 ‘new’ Stations approved by Rome in 1975 begin with the Last Supper and conclude with the Resurrection. The falls of Jesus were omitted because there is no mention of them in the Scriptures; most of the others remain.

The artist commissioned to depict the Stations, Fr Pat Negri SSS, drew the scenes from classic religious art works. For the 14th Station (The Resurrection), he chose last Sunday’s encounter between Thomas and Jesus portrayed in the work by Baroque master Caravaggio - ‘The Incredulity of St Thomas’ (1602). The title was brief – ‘Now believe!’ – Jesus’ simple invitation to Thomas and to us!

Each of the Risen Jesus’ appearances recounted in the Gospels carry this message – to the women at the tomb, Mary of Magdala, and on various occasions to the disciples… hiding in the upper room, fishing on the Sea of Tiberias (the ‘breakfast appearance’), in the upper room with Thomas, and on the way to Emmaus.

Fr DaveDear Friends,

You and I can only live in the now – though how easily we become obsessed with the past, both its achievements and opportunities missed, or preoccupied with the future, its promises and its fears.  Sometimes we rush through the present with little reflection or attention to the detail. Poet Fr Richard Hendrick continues to challenge us:

All over the world people are waking up to a new reality

To how big we really are.

To how little control we really have.

To what really matters….

He goes on to mention the realities of fear, isolation, panic buying, sickness and death, but acknowledges that there does not have to be hate, loneliness, meanness, disease of the soul because there can always be a rebirth of love. We may need to work at grasping the joyful reality of Easter this year because, in some ways, it is still dark and we feel the darkness.

Fr DaveDear Friends,

         Twenty years ago, I stood in the ankle-deep water of the baptismal font in the renovated church in Kyabram at the Easter Vigil Mass, baptizing adults as they knelt in the pool, in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The newly-initiated Christians then ascended the steps to the warm applause of the Christian assembly. In ancient Christian basilicas this scene was repeated year after year; St Augustine himself was baptized in this way by St Ambrose during the Easter Vigil in Milan in 387.

Easter reminds us of who we are, our identity as persons and as baptised Christians, the message we need more than ever. Baptism transforms us but we need to ‘grow into’ who we are. ‘Who am I?’ is a question many will ask during our present struggles… Am I my job, my family of origin, my hobbies or pastimes, my collection of experiences and memories? Some may feel disturbed in their identity – searching for even a fragile certainty – but reassuring loved ones that all will be well.

‘Christ Risen in Community’, the theme of our Easter Candle, may help us. It depicts two icons - Mary Magdalene announcing the resurrection and the three Mary’s who visited the tomb to prepare the body of Jesus. The image of Christ consists of the human and the resurrected Christ. This is the object of our Faith, the Christ to whom we witness, always together – an image for us now as we realise how much we need each other - we can’t do this alone.

Fr DaveDear Friends,

What do we most need in these times? I suspect we have much in common – patience, staying in touch, things to do, a hug now and again, a text or call from a friend, our faith, knowing we’re still loved, a sense of humour, a fresh way to pray… add your own thoughts to these and share them with those close to you. Above all, let’s reach out to others in these ways – our present troubles are not just about us. Everyone is hurting and each needs to be encouraged and to feel safe.

By now it’s pretty clear that our world will be different, especially in how we do things, relate to others, and live family life. In coming days, at times it may feel as if our life has stopped – what should I do next? But it’s not just about being busy. In a recent interview, Pope Francis urges us not to waste away the difficult days we are living but to attend more carefully to everyday details, since in small things we find our treasure – not an invitation to remain busy but to be more reflective about our living, the things we often fail to notice. The Prior General of the Augustinians in turn urges us to be vigilant ‘so that the physical isolation or other measures that are to be taken do not suppose an isolation of the soul.’

So how are we going with our ‘inner work’ – care of our soul, spirit, heart…? Call it what you will but deep down each of us needs to connect with our heart so that we are not defining ourselves by what we do – a big leap for some of us. I’ve suggested journaling before as a help, writing our thoughts, often in conversation with God. We could write about, ’the now of my life.’

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?