On 13 September, Pope Francis received in audience the Augustinians attending the Order’s General Chapter in Rome. Journalist Robin Gomes shares the Pope’s reflection with us….
The first basic challenge of consecrated persons is to experience God together so that they can show God to this world in a clear and courageous manner without any compromise or hesitation. ‘This is a great responsibility,’ Pope Francis told some 150 members of the General Chapter of the Order of Saint Augustine, generally called Augustinians.
Search for God - Recalling the words of Pope Saint Paul VI in his 1971 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelica Tetificatio, on religious life, Pope Francis said that the tradition of the Church offers us this privileged witness of the constant search for God, in a unique and undivided love for Christ and in an absolute dedication to the growth of his kingdom.
Without this concrete sign, St. Paul VI warned, the charity of the Church would risk cooling down, the salvific paradox of the Gospel would be toned down and the ‘salt’ of faith would be diluted in a secularized world.
General Chapter 2019 - As I write this, Augustinians from around the world are in Rome for the General Chapter of the Order held every 6 years. The Australian Province is represented by Fr Peter Jones (Prior Provincial), Fr Tony Banks (Assistant General) and Br Salesio Lee (Delegation Superior in Korea). The Chapter receives reports from the various Augustinian groups throughout the world and addresses issues facing the Church and the Order – justice and peace, religious life, professional standards, vocations and many others.
Elections - The Chapter also elects leaders for the next 6 years and, early last week, the delegates elected the Prior General and several Assistant Generals who take responsibility for regions in different parts of the world. Fr Tony Banks has been re-elected Assistant General for the Asia-Pacific Region and we extend sincere congratulations to Fr Tony as he continues this ministry.
On this Child Protection Sunday, I share with you the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards published in May 2019, the framework for Catholic Church ministries and groups to build child-safe cultures and to advance the safety of children and vulnerable adults across Australia. These are framed within the guidelines promulgated by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Media commentary on the Church’s response to the tragic reality of child sexual abuse often implies that little or nothing has been done. In fact, for over 20 years now the Church has been refining its protocols for dealing with complaints and for creating a safe environment for children, particularly in parishes and schools. In the Province and Parish, we continue the development and implementation of policies in cooperation with diocesan bodies according to these Standards.
Celebrations of Father’s Day and Mother’s Day remind us of our responsibilities to create a bright future for our children in an increasingly fragile world. We are reminded of this fragility each year on the anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy which changed our outlook on the world forever. Yet, young people remain our hope and how wonderful it is!
I find great hope in our celebrations with the young – school Masses and liturgies and Sacramental celebrations where youth both experience and share their faith. This brings into focus the importance of our personal example and formation of our young, given the strong influence of society’s values where standards easily slip or are compromised because, individually or collectively, we lack the strength to aim higher.
In my 50 years as an Augustinian priest in schools, parishes and other ministries, I have come across many hundreds of children and their families, and I never cease to be fascinated by how parents do it – raise children, that is. Not being a parent myself is a disadvantage, but at the same time I have encountered extraordinary wisdom among parents. Of course as a priest, you need to be very careful in presuming to give advice to parents!
Some years ago in an article in a Canadian Catholic publication, ‘Your child is, ultimately God’s child’, Fr Ron Rolheiser OMI reflects on the fact that the children we have are never really ours,
Each year at this time, Augustinians celebrate St Augustine and his mother St Monica - both worthy models for us in our living. Augustine the Searcher knew the highs and lows of his humanness and learnt many things from his mother, surviving times of tension that strained their relationship. In 386 he embraced the Christian Faith and discovered a strong spiritual bond with her which culminated in their shared mystical experience at Ostia before Monica’s death.
As I celebrate 50 years as a priest, I am so grateful for the down-to-earth spirit of St Augustine and the familiarity with his life, teaching and spirituality. As Augustinians, we are called to bring to the Priesthood the richness of the Order’s charism – community and friendship, love, truth, the inner search for God, and a style of life that is ‘saintly and ordinary’.
Today I am very aware of the grace that family is – and how the lives of very diverse people bump against each other, so to speak. It was thus in my family – religiously diverse but so much richer for that, a family blessed with strong friendships. I treasure the influence of my parents – my Dad an Anglican, gentle in manner, unswervingly honest and faithful, and my Mum a Catholic convert, woman of deep spirituality and wisdom, who lived her faith in a saintly and ordinary way and carried the cross of sickness patiently for many years.
Migrant and Refugee Week 19-25 August
Migrant and Refugee Week begins on Monday, leading up to the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees next Sunday. The theme is taken from Pope Francis’ reflection on Jesus’ words, ‘Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!’ (Matthew 14:27), prompting our Holy Father’s insight, ‘It is not just about migrants: it is also about our fears.’ He goes further:
‘It is not just about migrants: it is about charity.’
‘It is not just about migrants: it is about our humanity.’
‘It is not just about migrants: it is a question of seeing that no one is excluded.’
‘It is not just about migrants: it is about putting the last in first place.
‘It is not just about migrants: it is about the whole person, about all people.’
‘It is not just about migrants: it is also about building the city of God and man.’
These words challenge us to embrace anew sound Christian values as the foundation of our response first and then interface with the complexities of our world and our nation’s response to migrants and refugees. How are we to live the Gospel in our Parish Community where so many individuals and families have come here from other countries – and still do? Together, we represent many nations and, no matter where we are from, we all crave a place where we can feel at home and where, as individuals and families, we can feel safe.
National Vocations Awareness Week is always held around the Feast of Australia’s first Saint Mary MacKillop on 8 August. This Sunday, we focus on the call to Priesthood and Religious Life. Mary’s journey to religious life has become familiar to us along with the people and places where she established Catholic schools – Penola SA, South Brisbane Qld, and close to us here at St Marys and Penrith.
A pivotal figure in Mary’s life was the former Parish Priest of Penola, Fr Julian Tenison Woods, testimony that God is at work even in the outback! Fr Julian enjoyed his ‘10 years in the Bush’! and travelled on horseback around his extensive parish which included the Coonawarra Region - ‘suitable for viticulture’ he noted in his journals - and Portland where he met the youthful Mary MacKillop who would later establish the Sisters of St Joseph.
Mary eventually came to her uncle’s property at Penola and she and Tenison Woods became firm friends. They shared a dream of setting up a school in Penola to cater for all Catholic children, including the poor. The school eventually became a reality and Julian and Mary hoped to form a simple community. Mary began wearing a plain black dress and bonnet. When Bishop Lawrence Sheil OFM visited Penola, he addressed her as ‘Sister Mary’ and her great story continued from there.
National Vocations Awareness Week invites us to pray about our personal vocation, the way in which you and I answer the call to follow Christ. As I reflect upon the life of our Parish Community, I recall the many occasions when our Church is crowded with families, children, parishioners and visitors, to celebrate significant events – Christmas, Easter, First Communion and Confirmation, major School events. What a good place to start our reflection on ‘vocation’!
We could indulge in a deep theological discussion about vocation, but why not name the reality we already live? Look at those who embrace the vocation of marriage and parenting and make every effort to do it well. Look at those in the extended family, parish and wider community – married, single, widowed, separated, divorced, religious or priest – who make such a difference through their affirmation, generous love and faithful service to their family, community and Church. The Christian vocation can only be lived ‘on the ground’!
Our Christian understanding hinges on our personal relationship with Jesus and the meaning of his being born as one of us. How easy it is to avoid the deeper questions of life and live on the surface – concerned with self, soothed by consumerism, keeping up appearances, tempted by easy values. Jesus’ humanness reminds us that there is always more – to look at Him rather than ourselves. Jesus ‘leads’ us, helps us interpret our living, and affirms us so that we can take responsibility for our own lives.
Did you know that, each Sunday, one Parish Mass is offered for yourselves, the people of the Parish – Missa pro populo, Mass for the people? This practice has been in place for many years and defines the pastoral relationship between pastors and parishioners.
While in Rome for the recent Augustinian International Lay Congress, the group attended the 10.30 am Sunday Mass at St Peter’s Basilica and Fr Paul and I concelebrated, along with around 40 other priests. As the long procession wound through the crowds of visitors to St Peter’s, many recording the spectacle on their cameras and phones, I was struck by the diversity of our Church in the many nationalities and languages among the crowd. Mindful of our bonds as a Parish Community with the wider Church I offered the Mass in St Peter’s for yourselves - Missa pro populo, Mass for the people.
Our Congress theme - Sharing the Joy of the Gospel - was most appropriate in light of Pope Francis’ emphasis on Joy in so many of his letters and homilies, though I did wonder why so few people smiled as the procession came by. I did make an effort however and several people came from behind their cameras to share a smile.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday
‘What is most intimate, most personal, is most universal’ (Fr Henri Nouwen)
We share a common human nature regardless of our ethnic background. We share fundamental needs. This includes the desire to belong, to be happy, to find fulfilment, to be safe, to be appreciated.
Suicide is often the last straw in a build up of unhappiness and pain. There is often a desire for the pain to go and often not focusing on the permanent consequences of taking one’s life. Our Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have suffered dispossession, displacement, violence of various types and much more. So often others have determined for them what they considered to be the best for them. The challenges facing communities are multifold.
The whole of Australian society is going through massive change. The present rate of change is possibly unprecedented in human history ever. It is affecting all of us in many ways. Many think that you cannot be sure of anything anymore. This has many implications in our search for meaning in life and values.
Last year I visited Tuan Anh’s family in rural Vietnam and attended Mass in the parish church, packed with people of all ages, the place where most of them would have received their First Communion. The significance of our First Communion or Religious Profession is part of a bigger picture of the Church in the world. What will the gift of Communion mean for these children? We pray that it will be a regular part of their lives, an opportunity to know the intimacy of Jesus’ presence as he nourishes us in our life and spirit.
When we receive Communion, Jesus receives us in return and welcomes us as we are. We receive him in the circumstances of our life now – experiences and memories, lives formed out of joy and struggle. While visiting the Augustinian Parish in Nagasaki, Japan, a couple of years ago, I was moved by the many elderly people who came devoutly to Communion and I thought to myself, ‘Many of you remember the Atomic Bomb in 1945, and somehow you survived.’ Each of the families of our Vietnamese Augustinians has a profound story too – of a divisive war, a battered landscape, religious beliefs tested – today a country moving forward, the Catholic Faith still strong.
Some years ago I was struck by the title of an article by Fr Kevin Doran (Intercom June 2010) - When Eucharist Becomes Communion. It is very timely now as our children receive their First Communion. Their experience of ‘first communion’ is the experience of ‘being touched by the mystery of relationship with Jesus’.
Every Christian needs this food over and over again so that our relationship with Jesus can grow and mature and our relationship with other Christians become stronger too. Isn’t this what we strive for as a Parish Community and as Family too? And let’s not forget the community of the family – the ‘domestic church’!
The feasts of the Church leading up to today – Easter, Ascension, Pentecost and Trinity - have highlighted the extraordinary relationship God has with us. In last Sunday’s homily, I quoted one of the great preachers of our time, Fr Walter Burghardt SJ, speaking on Trinity Sunday 1992:
Last Sunday, we celebrated Pentecost and gave thanks for the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of God’s own self, present in our midst – the unifying Spirit which provides us with a strong religious identity in our world of easy values and flexible standards. We need to know who we are while still respecting the diversity of our fellow citizens.
We are baptised with water into the life of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Baptism is the ‘biggest sacrament’ during which the sign of the Trinity, the Cross, is made several times – on the forehead at the reception of the child, on the breast at the anointing with the Oil of Catechumens, and on the crown of the head at the Anointing with Sacred Chrism.
The Trinity is the mystery of three persons in one God, so let’s not try to ‘explain’ it. In fact we can’t so let’s focus on our call to be part of the inner life of the Trinity. The Trinity isn’t just the community of God, it is the community into which you and I are invited and to which we now belong.
Though Pentecost marks the end of the Easter Season, our Parish Community rejoices in the coming of the Holy Spirit as we are reminded of our belonging to Christ, the ongoing presence of Jesus in each of us and in the Church, and the welcome we need to extend to all.
Reflecting on the first Pentecost, we can understand the fears that prompted the disciples to gather behind locked doors, yet this is the opposite of welcome. Very few people leave their doors unlocked these days. Even when we leave our car unattended for a couple of minutes, we usually lock the doors. We are more likely to find homes unlocked in the country than in the city - an unfortunate reminder of how we live, of our fears perhaps, and the times we close the doors of our hearts to other people.
Irish Augustinian Fr John Byrne reflects on how some people have the gift of breaking through our closed doors and asks: Do you have memories of people getting through to you and being with you despite your closed doors? Who brought you peace in a time of anxiety? These questions may resonate with us as we recall times of particular personal need. Sometimes when we show our vulnerability to another, they are freed to share their vulnerability with us – as the Lord did – ’Jesus showed his wounds to his friends.’
‘Well, I never knew that about you before…..’ How often have you said this to someone, even someone very close
to you, when an unexpected circumstance reveals a surprising aspect of the person we did not know existed? It happens in friendships, marriage and family life too. On countless occasions when planning a funeral, I have been amazed at aspects of the deceased person’s life story. One that comes to mind in my own family is that of a relative by marriage who managed to join the US Marines at age 13 and went into battle at Guadalcanal a year later.
Such knowledge changes us in our appreciation of the person and the expansiveness of what human beings are capable of – precisely the disciples’ experience of Jesus and Jesus’ experience of them. Jesus marvels at us too as our lives unfold. The Gospel readings during the Easter Season focus on relationships – between Jesus, the disciples and the women at the tomb; Jesus’ showing himself to them on the shore of the lake; shepherd and sheep; the community of the Trinity; love as the essence of discipleship; and today Jesus’ departure from his friends as he returns to his Father.
Sometimes I wish that the Easter Season would never end – but that, as you know, is the wrong approach. Easter does not end because every Sunday is the Lord’s Day and, even in Ordinary Time, the Sundays are not ‘ordinary’ but ‘ordered’ as the Church unpacks the Easter mystery throughout the year. The New Testament writings were compiled after the Resurrection, written from the perspective of ‘post- resurrection faith’.
Even during the Lenten Season, we do not put the Resurrection on hold but take the journey in memory of Jesus’ suffering and death that illuminates the splendor of his Rising at Easter. We Christians are a people who ‘remember’ and memory makes present the mystery of our redemption – profoundly repeated in the Eucharist…. ‘Do this in memory of me!’
Jesus’ discourse in today’s Gospel describes the power of his Word, the promised presence of the Holy Spirit, and his unique gift of Peace, ‘Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you.’ Some years ago, I read these words as part of the Anointing Rite of a close friend; as I did so he passed away. The passage has never been the same for me; we are bearers of Peace to one another and should never underestimate the unifying significance of the Greeting of Peace we share just prior to receiving Holy Communion – sharing our faith so that together we may believe.
Fresh from our reflection on Mothers’ Day and the World Day of Prayer for Vocations against the backdrop of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, this Sunday’s Gospel is taken from another of Jesus’ discourses in John on his ‘new commandment’ to ‘love one another, just as I have loved you’ – the virtue by which all will recognise us as Jesus’ disciples.
‘Climate’ is a trigger word today, perceived by some as defining one’s political leaning when paired with the word ‘change’ to describe the plight of our environment. By the time most of you read this, we’ll have some idea of the outcome of the Federal Election and the persuasive power of the arguments for and against climate change, among a host of other issues. Today’s column is not about the environment though I recommend the Pope’s challenging Encyclical Letter Laudato Si on ‘Care for Our Common Home’ written in 2015.
The word ‘climate’ sits easily with the Gospel – the climate in the Church, the climate of love, trust, mercy, openness, justice, transparency, forgiveness and reconciliation – each a dimension of Jesus’ new commandment of love, signs of his promise in today’s second reading from Revelation, ‘Behold, I make all things new!’
At times in the Church, things may not feel new at all but rather bogged down and stale - perhaps because the Church is too much about ‘the Church’ when the focus Jesus gives us is the Kingdom of God. Much as I love the hymn City of God, in fact we don’t ‘build’ anything – God is the Builder and our task is to bring forth the fruits of the Kingdom. The vision of John in Revelation is of a real place – the ‘new heaven and the new earth’, the new and transformed Jerusalem where we are at home with God.
On this Sunday, we celebrate Mothers Day and honour our mothers, living and deceased, in a variety of ways – through our prayers, blessings and loving wishes, expressions of gratitude and special gifts, and a myriad of other thoughtful gestures. Invariably mothers model the generous ideals we associate with discipleship and a sense of ministry.
Appropriately, today is also known as Good Shepherd Sunday where we recall fondly the patient, pastoral care and total love of Jesus – his ‘motherly’ qualities. Traditionally the World Day of Prayer and Thanksgiving for Vocations, this day is about our personal vocation. Every Christian is called to discipleship, some are called to ministry.
Recently, I spent time with 5 young people preparing for entry into religious life. Focus was the Eucharist and a highlight was a most engaging conversation about the Church and the Eucharist, particularly Pope Francis’ teaching about the kind of Church we are called to be:
‘The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door (The Joy of the Gospel n 46).’
The Holy Father, in his often disarming way, reassures us that the Church is not a tollhouse but the house of the Father. Discipleship and ministry only make sense in a setting of welcome.
Family life thrives where there is that sense of being ‘at home’, a spirit encouraged by the warm hospitality of Mums and Dads – a reflection of the ‘domestic church’, Church in the Family. We all need to belong, to feel welcome in our family, parish and wider community.
As I return to ministry in North Harbour after my surgery and recovery time, I wish to express my sincere appreciation to you all for your generous prayers and personal support these past couple of months. After my refreshing sabbatical in Chicago last year, further time off was definitely not on my agenda. All has gone very well, thanks be to God. My special gratitude to our Parish Team and to the Augustinians, especially Frs John and Fr Paul for their leadership and Frs Senan, Peter, Abel, and the Brookvale Community for their ministry support.
Some years ago, I found a cartoon that read, ‘If you’re too busy to pray, you’re busier than God intended you to be!’ I’m used to being busy, most if not all of the time but, during my recuperation, I often found that the time passed very slowly and some days were quite boring. Yet there was time for reflection and journaling, time to discern what this second chance at living might mean, a familiar invitation to many of us as we face even ‘routine’ changes in our personal and family circumstances or work life.
In today’s Gospel, the disciples are dealing with change. They do so by returning to what they knew – fishing. It’s so easy to seek out the familiar but returning to one’s original occupation in the workforce can be fraught with difficulty where technology or work protocols have changed. This probably was not the case with the disciples though on this occasion they are initially unsuccessful – they laboured all night and caught nothing!
We have a saying, don’t we: ‘Seeing is believing’? But Jesus seems to suggest the opposite: ‘Believing is not seeing!’ He says to Thomas, ‘Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’ In our scientific age we seem to think that unless we can put everything under a microscope and see it and detect it, unless we can measure it, then it can’t be verified and therefore need not be true and so need not be believed. Wasn’t Thomas of this same earthy, scientific bent? ‘Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into his side, I refuse to believe.’
And yet, when we stop to think about it, the most important things in human life cannot be proved scientifically. For example, the human love of spouses for each other, the love of parents for their children. When someone says, ‘I love you,’ we can’t respond by saying, ‘Hold on a minute till I wack this lie detector onto your arm and I verify if you’re telling me the truth or not!’ Of course, our attitude must be one of faith and trust that they are telling us the truth. We do, however, have one way of helping our act of belief and that is by observing the actions of the person towards us. The actions of the person professing love for us will, of course, be a good indicator of their sincerity and truthfulness. If a person says that he or she is your friend and then starts immediately to talk about you behind your back, then you don’t believe that person.
So it is too with our various religious beliefs; for example, our belief that God exists, our belief in the incarnation, that God became man, our belief in the Trinity, our belief in the resurrection, our belief in God’s unconditional love for me. None of these can be proved scientifically. They all have to do with a relationship of love and trust, of faith that doesn’t see or even understand everything.