Fr DaveDear Friends,

           On this World Mission Sunday, we continue our reflection on ‘mission’, our call to witness to God’s presence and action within creation, part of our dynamic relationship with our evolving world. Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter Laudato Si is a timely reminder of our responsibilities as Christians to promote goodness in the world.

Mission has been viewed in different ways over the centuries – as our call to exercise dominion over creation, as a call to stewardship of the good things of the world, or as a call to kinship, building community and strong relationships. The last mentioned is the preferred priority in our times, especially when we witness the impact of human society on the world around us in the disparity of wealth among nations and the gap between rich and poor, the depletion of resources, and global warming. Whatever one’s view of environmental realities, the call to care for ‘our common home’ is part of our missionary call.

The theme for the Pope’s Message for World Mission Day – ‘We cannot but speak about what we have seen and heard.’ {Acts 4:20) -  invites us to draw strength from the wonder and vision so evident in the disciples’ experience of Jesus in the beginning:

Fr DaveDear Friends,

           In this month of October, we focus on World Mission and this year Pope Francis has chosen the words from Acts 4:20 – ‘We cannot but speak about what we have seen and heard.’  Mission is about this – sharing our Faith that God loves our humanity so much that he chose to become one of us in Jesus and made our experience his own, ‘joys and sufferings, hopes and concerns’ (cf Gaudium et Spes, 22).

In this first reflection on Mission, we need to reflect on our human experience if we are to discover the truth of who we are as individuals, as the human family, and in turn to come to terms with our responsibilities for one another. As we focus attentively on the achievement of being 70% or 80% fully vaccinated, we may feel a chill up our spine when we hear of so many countries where the figures are still in single digits or the teens. What happened to all the rhetoric and promises of generous sharing of vaccines along the way?

Our World Mission theme sounds empty if what we speak is not backed up by our actions. We need a strong sense of who God is and who we are as Church – otherwise we will have nothing to say. The Second Vatican Council expanded our appreciation of the Church in many ways – the Church in the Modern World, for example. The emphasis on ‘full, conscious and active participation’ in the liturgy broke open further our identity as Church and our call to be the ‘real presence’ of Christ in the world.

Fr DaveDear Friends

              At this time, we are eagerly anticipating the gradual lifting of lockdown restrictions in coming weeks when we can move about more freely and our children can return to school gradually. Our churches will be open this coming week for private prayer and devotion and then hopefully Masses will resume in a couple of weeks time. But how will it feel?

Some years ago, my spiritual director and I were talking about holidays and he commented, ‘Don’t expect too much of holidays!’ He was responding to a comment I’d made about not feeling as refreshed as I should after time away. Sometimes it’s like that… we feel a bit let down by good experiences when they are not as satisfying as we had expected.

As we look forward to the lifting of restrictions, we may find ourselves expecting too much. Together we have been through something very significant – traumatic for some - and this weekend marks 107 days since this lockdown began. When we add in the fact that we have faced an unstable situation since March last year, emotional reactions are no surprise. It will take time to return to some ‘normalcy’ in our lives and to support our children as they return to the routine of schooling, even though so close to the end of the year.

Fr DaveDear Friends

              How wonderful that relief from our lockdown is in sight – relief for each of us and our families who have been under great stress for many reasons. This week I share with you some quotes from Pope Francis’ 2016 Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia - The Joy of Love: On Love in the Family. During 2021 we are invited to reflect on and enjoy these quotes as a way of personal, family and marriage renewal. You may decide to pray about them individually or make them part of family prayer and conversation.

Fr Daveworld day of migrants and refugeesDear Friends

        On this Sunday, we seek to meet the challenge of Pope Francis’ Message for the 107th World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2021… that we ought to work ‘Towards an ever wider “WE”’.

        Recent, tragic events in Afghanistan confront us yet again with the incredible suffering people are forced to endure and how Australia might respond by offering places to those wishing to come here… like our response to refugees from Vietnam and Syria. We are aware too of the present plight of the Tamils, known as ‘the Biloela family’ from Sri Lanka.

While acknowledging the legal complexities of responding to refugees and asylum seekers, this is a stark reminder of how we need to respond as Christians. The 20th anniversary of the Tampa incident in August awakened memories of the divisive and at times bitter debates on this issue about which we have yet to find a compassionate consensus. Hopefully, this annual World Day of Migrants and Refugees can renew our resolve.

 Archbishop Christopher Prowse, Chairman of the Bishops Commission for Evangelisation, Laity and Ministry, provides a commentary on the Pope’s 2021 Message. Francis writes: ‘We are all in the same boat and called to work together so that there will be no more walls that separate us, no longer others, but only a single “we”, encompassing all of humanity…’ and goes on to say: ‘…we find many migrants and refugees, displaced persons and victims of trafficking, to whom the Lord wants his love to be manifested and his salvation preached.’

Fr Daveseven sorrowsDear Friends

          Every one of us knows sadness and sorrow in some form… indeed, the present lockdown may awaken feelings in us which we might describe as ‘COVID fatigue’ or ‘burnout’ or other expressive name. In any event, it is important to realise that sadness is part of every life, a shared experience even when we keep our feelings private.

          Most of us know sadness well. Reflecting on the many funerals I’ve presided at over the years, I’m aware that some people carried a sadness far beyond my comprehension where I wondered how loved ones could ever come to terms with their loss – people of all ages, diverse circumstances. Remarkably, many families can still celebrate the joy of the person who graced their lives.

Sadness and loss are far broader than death as we well know but they can dominate and change lives, not always for the better. Simplistic platitudes rarely help and we need to find some way of understanding suffering as part of the fabric of our living. Certainly we were not created to suffer, yet it is something we all know well.

September is the month of Our Lady of Sorrows and it is interesting to look at some of the feasts in the Church’s calendar during this month. This past week, we celebrated the feasts of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and Our Lady of Sorrows on consecutive days, so the whole reality of suffering and sorrow was quite prominent in the liturgy. A week or so before, the feasts of the Birthday of Mary and Our Lady of Consolation reminded us of the joy in our Faith.

Fr Davesafeguarding sundayDear Friends,

         For many years now we have been celebrating Safeguarding Sunday in September. Occasionally it has coincided with Father’s Day which presented a few challenges in terms of doing justice to both but this reminds us of the unique role of both fathers and mothers in keeping children safe, especially during this time of lockdown when the physical and emotional health of all of us may be at risk.

 The theme of Safeguarding Month this year - ‘Participation of Children and Young People in Catholic Communities’ – broadens the focus beyond the issue of sexual abuse and is in fact an affirmation of all family life. Our response to the pandemic requires us to be proactive in keeping our children safe in the family and in their ongoing school learning, both impacted significantly by the pandemic. The Family is the primary Catholic Community for children and their parents – the Church in the Home… the first place where children and young people ‘participate’.

Fr DaveDear Friends

        When you visit St Cecilia’s or St Kieran’s Churches or our Parish Centre, you will notice a number of posters and leaflets that relate to Safeguarding. In each venue and in St Kieran’s Priory too you will find a framed document from the Augustinian Province – Commitment to Safeguarding – signed by Fr Peter Jones as Provincial and myself as Professional Standards Coordinator.

The safety of our children is paramount and the Diocese of Broken Bay has developed policies and practical guides to assist us to ensure this. Our schools too follow policies and protocols that promote child safety. Even as our schools guide our children through ‘home-based learning’ (HBL), programs are carefully designed so that children are not exposed to unsuitable material on the internet.

September is Safeguarding Month and the theme this year is ‘Participation of Children and Young People in Catholic Communities’. Last week’s bulletin contained an invitation to you to participate in various activities – mostly online – that deal with different aspects of safeguarding. The Diocese is continually producing and updating resources in this area. Parents may be interested in a webinar on Thursday 9 September on online sexual harassment and image-based abuse.

During Safeguarding Month, we are invited to participate in prayer, particularly the Liturgy of Lament on Thursday 9 September at 7.00pm. This opportunity to gather online and pray to God focuses on the suffering caused to our most vulnerable and to give public expression to our sorrow. I have attended this liturgy at the Cathedral on a few occasions in previous years and have found the experience very moving.  

Fr DaveDear Friends

        Our journey continues as we try to stick together and deal positively with our present circumstances, though even the word ‘positive’ has been tarnished by the experience of the past 18 months. When I ask people how they are going, most try to be cheerful but there are very few superlatives any more. I’m sure this will change but in the meantime we need to be truthful about the frustration, fatigue and burnout that touch us more often than we would like. The sun still shines to comfort us and the sky is clear – something we easily miss but worthy of a superlative!!

So many people are missing receiving Holy Communion. For some this tests their connectedness to the Church, yet we are bonded in other ways, through shared suffering for example. Few of us would choose suffering if we were free to do so, yet the Cross of Jesus touches all of us… ‘The Cross finds us and we cannot go back to the way we were.’ We grow personally through suffering because God remains present and active in our lives and wastes nothing in our experience.

assumption Fr DaveDear Friends

           The recent Olympic Games have been a blessing for many of us, in the opportunity to put aside our present troubles if just for a brief time and in the tenacity of the human spirit so often evident among the participants in both victory and defeat. As the setting for the Games, Japan excelled in sharing its culture and warm hospitality.

           During the Games, the 76th anniversaries of the bombings of Hiroshima on 6 August and of Nagasaki on 9 August, the day after the Closing Ceremony, gave us pause to reflect on the chequered nature of our history that we need events like the Olympics to heal. Five years after these bombings in 1950, our world faced more challenges with the beginning of the Korean War, the Chinese invasion of Tibet, the Soviet’s first test of an atomic bomb, Jordan’s annexation of the West Bank – all contributing to the hard curve of human history. Today 70 years later as COVID extends its tentacles across the world, we could describe similar scenes in Afghanistan, Myanmar and many other places.

Memories like these that cost so many lives are not lost on the Church because we cannot exist in a protected bubble aside from the events that affect people’s lives – clear in the Church’s Social Teaching and emphasised in the strong message of the Second Vatican Council. The proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption in 1950 by Pope Pius XII reflects this awareness and affirmation of the preciousness of all human life - Mary, the mother of Jesus, had completed her human and baptismal identity by being assumed bodily into heaven - a belief held by the Church for many hundreds of years.

Fr DaveDear Friends

          When choosing a secondary school for their child, parents consider many factors, including the particular ‘tradition’ of education – Augustinian, Good Samaritan, Jesuit, Loreto, Josephite, Marist, Brigidine, Mercy – associated with a specific religious charism or spirituality, often one they may have experienced themselves. This reflects our high expectations of the experiences and institutions that form us and others, hence our interest in where high profile people went to school, such as Olympians, sportspeople, politicians, ‘Australians of the Year’, etc.

I began school with the Brown Josephites myself – a seemingly traditional religious congregation in garb and lifestyle, founded by Mary MacKillop. Mary didn’t have much of a profile in those days – just a rather bland and faded picture on the wall - but the Sisters themselves were very ‘hands-on’ in the community, always ready to look after those in need - in the home cooking an evening meal where the mother was ill, for example, teaching the poorer children in the second school in the parish, located in the ‘housing settlement’, a collection of huts which were formerly an American Military Hospital during World War II.

mary mackillopWhen Mary was declared a Saint in October 2010, the Archdiocese of Brisbane and several others declared her their Patron, quite ironic in Brisbane’s case as Mary and her Sisters had been expelled from the diocese in the 1870s by the first Bishop James Quinn. In 1871, she was excommunicated by Bishop Laurence Sheil of Adelaide – who later relented on his deathbed! Mary was a strong-minded woman and would fit in very well in the world of today.

In testing times, we need some personal anchors – knowledge we are loved, belief in sound values, supportive people around us, our religious faith and common sense. The latter are very evident in the spirituality of Mary MacKillop and for this reason I share with you today some of her sayings that reflect her ‘Grace of Common Sense’:

Fr DaveDear Friends

          The prospect of several more weeks in lockdown challenges our sense of hope, personal security, even our identity, especially when faced with extended periods on our own. On the positive side, this may be a time for reflection on our life experience, on how God has been and continues to be active in our lives – perhaps a time to write about our personal story.

This week’s reflection is prompted by last Sunday’s blessing in response to Pope Francis’ initiative in establishing the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly celebrated on the 4th Sunday of July - a significant statement about the people in our lives whom we need to bless and whom we blessed at Mass last Sunday.

The life of each of us is important and celebration of grandparents and the elderly brings us back to basics, respect for all human life actually, to quote Pope Francis, ‘Grandparents and the elderly are not leftovers from life, scraps to be discarded. They are a precious source of nourishment… They protected us as we grew, and now it is up to us to protect their lives, to alleviate their difficulties, to attend to their needs and to ensure that they are helped in daily life and not feel alone.’

Fr DaveDear Friends

                       From time to time we come across phrases or expressions that are full of meaning and bring significant experiences alive. For me ‘Moments of Grace’ is one of these because it covers a broad spectrum of events and experiences which remind us of the ‘mysterious hand of God’ in our lives.

         This past Sunday was a moment of grace for many as we celebrated the Rite of Presentation and Blessing of Children preparing for Confirmation in August. What was unusual was the fact that this happened during the Mass livestreamed at 9.30am. Over 200 households participated at the time and 500 more visited the YouTube site later in the day – not our usual way of staying connected but definitely an experience of Church Community – Church in the Family, Church in the Home, the Domestic Church – indeed, our shared moment of grace.

St Augustine, despite his early life struggles, retained a strong sense of the presence of God in his life. He was open to moments of grace and eventually the full reality dawned on him…

Late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you! And behold, you were within me and I was outside, and there I sought for you, and in my deformity I rushed headlong into the well-formed things that you have made. You were with me, and I was not with you. (Confessions 10.27). 

Fr DaveDear Friends

           Our uncertainty continues as once more we are thrown back on our own resources as individuals and families. The lives of all of us are impacted, our anxiety and doubt are real, and we feel our humanity sharply. In our world which is so often oriented towards achievement and success, we know the frustration of being unable to ‘fix’ this pandemic.

           I recall someone saying once, ‘The real question isn’t so much whether God exists but whether God ever thinks of me!’ - more than a pious thought, I suggest. Much of our teaching about God seems to focus on a God who seems to do little or nothing but simply watches – a characterisation of course, but one that keeps God remote from us. In fact, anything we say about God is incomplete, as St Augustine teaches, ‘If you think you have understood God, then it is not God that you have understood!’ (Sermon 52) 

Thankfully over time, each of us develops a personal spirituality – the outcome of our life experience, faith formation, religious practice and beliefs, life in family and Church – our response to the ‘fire within us’ and our engagement with the deep hunger for meaning within each of us which guides us in our deepening relationship with God. A strong theme in the Scriptures is that of God as constant presence – God-with-us – God within – God alive in us and present in our neighbour – the energy and fire of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.

Fr DaveDear Friends

The prospect of a third week in Lockdown is yet another personal, family and community challenge to us. Adrift from our normal freedoms, we need to reflect on how best to look after one another and ourselves as we serve the common good. In my recent letter to the Parish Community, I suggested that we include some personal prayer in our daily routine and ‘take some quiet time with the Lord’. I take courage from the words of a fellow Augustinian on the golf course some years ago, ‘It’s all practice!’ - true of golf and true of prayer!

            So, how do you find prayer - a source of comfort and peace or a bit of a drag at times? We need the deep conviction that prayer is powerful, brings guidance and inspiration, and offers an experience of the Lord’s closeness. But what is prayer supposed to do? Is our prayer meant to ‘change God’ and how he deals with us, or is it meant to ‘change us’?

Fr DaveDear Friends

         As we enter the second week of COVID lockdown, we celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday, the beginning of NAIDOC Week, and honour the deeply religious and spiritual traditions of our indigenous people who celebrate their spirituality, identity, culture and survival. Our Australian aboriginal people arrived first on the land and first fished in its waters and seas.

This year’s theme is Heal Country. The notes provided by the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council refer to the Encyclical Laudato Si’ where Pope Francis calls us to continue to seek greater protections for our lands, our waters, our sacred sites and our cultural heritage from exploitation, desecration, and destruction.

The Gospel too strikes a chord with indigenous people as Jesus returns to his ‘native place’ – Nazareth – to a non-accepting, hostile reaction, after being welcomed in other places. Mocked and disregarded in his own home Jesus no longer ‘fitted in’ with the expectations of the locals, a similar experience to our First Nations people who have often suffered a similar reception to Jesus in Nazareth.

The wisdom of indigenous people and their continued care, love, and respect for ‘country’ and understanding of the natural environment weres acknowledged in a recent update on the lasting effect of the bushfires 18 months ago which documented lasting damage to the environment in many areas, including wildlife, forests and farming areas. The term – Country – encompasses far more than the physical land. ‘For us, Country is a word for all the values, places, resources, stories and cultural obligations associated with that area and its features. It describes the entirety of our ancestral domains.’ explains Professor Mick Dodson.

Fr DaveDear Friends

         In February 2006, the Augustinians accepted responsibility for St Cecilia’s Parish and on this 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 25 June 2006, the twinned Parishes of St Kieran’s Manly Vale and St Cecilia’s Balgowlah became the Catholic Community of North Harbour.

Last Sunday’s Gospel of the storm on the lake reminded us of the demands and risks of moving to a new place – part of our story at that time. In his homily on the 12th Sunday, then Parish Priest Fr Peter Wieneke OSA acknowledged this reality for those who were called to make the crossing and land at a new place - the Catholic Community of North Harbour – and he invited all parishioners to a Mass of Union in the Brimson Centre at St Augustine’s’ College, Brookvale on the following Sunday.

Fifteen years on and our Parish Community is blessed with supportive and generous parishioners, wonderful schools, and diverse ministry opportunities. The COVID pandemic continues to test our resolve and limit our capacity to do all the things we want to do on the scale we desire - community gatherings, liturgical celebrations, and the sacramental program where our enrolment numbers far exceed those of most parishes in the diocese. That being said, we seek to move forward and make the best of the opportunities we have.

Fr DaveDear Friends

     Our Parish preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation has begun with some 195 children and their families enrolled. This is a call to us all to reflect on how our lives show forth the grace of God dwelling in us in the Holy Spirit. Addressing parents recently, I was acutely aware that the gifts and the fruits of the Spirit are in many respects the qualities that are already present and active in our family and personal lives.

This is evident when parents, the first and best teachers and friends of their children, bring them forward for Confirmation, honouring the promise they made at their child’s Baptism and accepting responsibility for forming them in the practice of the faith. The family as a domestic faith community, the ‘domestic Church’, is the place where our humanness is nurtured and we first experience God’s love. In the family, ‘faith happens’ – ‘The childhood religious awakening which takes place in the family is irreplaceable.’ (General Directory for Catechesis n 226)

Fr DaveDear Friends

        Pope Francis has been a remarkable pastor, particularly in his emphasis on Mercy as the Name of God, reminding us that we are never lost, that our God seeks us out to show us mercy, forgiveness and healing – a refreshing reminder of the God who is Love and never stops loving us. Yet, both our Church and our World face great challenges in addressing the evil of sexual abuse.

My ministry experience covers a variety of ministries in different dioceses and states and I have never doubted the goodwill and affirmation of those I have come to know during those years. That being said, I also know that the sexual abuse crisis has scarred us all, caused scandal and confusion. Even where we know that our children are safe, the spectre of public figures accused of abuse continues to haunt us and keep alive doubts within us.

Fr DaveDear Friends,

           Today we celebrate the wonderful Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ and focus on the place of Eucharist in our lives. The experience of this past year has certainly affected the approach of many Catholics to the Eucharist – for some a strengthening of their desire to receive Communion, for others the question of whether one can get by without it. One thing is clear – the amazing enthusiasm for the Eucharist of Catholic residents in our care facilities after over a year without Mass.

When it comes to the Eucharist where do we begin? Perhaps the pandemic experience has sharpened our sense of our personal limitations. We can’t do all the things we’d like to do and exercise unlimited freedom in celebration and travel – that fundamental realization that each of us is broken! In his popular work, A Broken Bread for a Broken People, Australian Scripture scholar and theologian Fr Francis Moloney asks the question whether, in light of the practice of Jesus and the Eucharistic practice of the early Church, our contemporary Church is still 'clasping sinners to her bosom'. The Eucharist is meant to be the place where people meet the Lord despite their brokenness.

‘Brokenness’ is fundamental to the Eucharist… indeed, in breaking bread for his disciples Christ gave an example of what it means to allow oneself to be broken for the good of others. Pope Francis explains that the Eucharist gives us the strength to do this, ‘Jesus was broken; he is broken for us. And he asks us to give ourselves, to break ourselves, as it were, for others.’ In essence then, ‘The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak’.