Homily for Mass for Giving Thanks to God on the 50th Anniversary of Catholic Education by the Holy Family of Nazareth Sisters at St Andrews College, Marayong, 15 February 2017
We gather here to mark this significant milestone in the life of St Andrews College, the 50th anniversary of its foundation. I acknowledge the presence of Mons Ron McFarlane, Fr Henryk Zasiura, Mr Nic Vidot current Principal, Mr Paul Easton, Director Performance CEDP, past principals and distinguished guests.
In a particular way, I wish to acknowledge the presence of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth and the memory of those sisters who have preceded us. We owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude for their vision, dedication and leadership. We honour their legacy by taking stock of the fruit of their labour as well as preparing for the harvest of the future in our turn. Using the words of the prophet Isaiah, “let us sing the praises of the Lord’s goodness and of his marvelous deeds in return for all that he has done for us” through his handmaids.
I chose for my episcopal motto “launch into the deep” to remind me of the call to step into the unknown in an obedience of faith. Similarly, it was a leap of faith when the sisters left their home country Poland and came to very unfamiliar shores. As we can see by the pictorial history of the college, it was not exactly the land flowing with milk and honey when the sisters arrived here. It was a rugged bush with not much of an infrastructure of any kind. Yet with the energy of their faith, hope, love and the generous support of the people and the American Province, the sisters built and nurtured this college into what it is today.
Much has changed since this place was teeming with nuns in habit. It was like a scene in the Sound of Music. Oh the good old days. Then with the passage of time, things began to change. As religious in a post-Christian society, the sisters face formidable challenges, not the least of which is their dwindling numbers in places like Australia. Let’s face it: Can nuns compete with Justin Beiber or One Direction for the girls’ attention? Hardly, I don’t think.
And yet, the sisters are not sitting around, moping and hoping for the good old days to return. They are busy getting on with the mission God has given them to do. In a lot of cases, they are reinventing themselves so to speak and re-birthing their charism in unexpected ways. They are thinking outside the square by virtue of their creative obedience to the Holy Spirit. They are busy with nurturing and delivering new life. They are like the embers in the ashes that will start the fire the morning after. The words of St. Paul may best describe what many religious sisters today are doing “Death is at work in us but life in you”. That is divine regeneration at work.
Divine regeneration is very much at work in this college. The ember of faith, hope and love is being rekindled in this place. It is coming to new life perhaps not through nuns in habit but through the young women and men who are inflamed with the passion for justice, for equality, for dignity, for the fullness of life and love that is at the core of the Gospel. The ember of faith, hope and love is not extinguished even if this generation of bearers of the ember may diminish and even die out.
In today’s Gospel, we encounter Mary as a model missionary, one who followed the footsteps of her Son in giving her life in service of others. She certainly did not hold back in fear; she did not stay in her comfortable environment. Rather, it was a constant journey into the unknown, a courageous confrontation with life’s many uncertainties. The flight into Egypt, the years of living in exile, the constant uprooting and replanting, the journey to Jerusalem, the agony at the foot of the cross…. Mary knew the rough and tumble of motherhood and more.
The Magnificat is Mary’s song of praise to God. It is also a window into her life of faithful and courageous discipleship. Mary was anything but a withdrawn, uncommitted, indifferent person and a mere push over. The God she served was one who filled the poor with good things and sent the rich empty away. In other words, Mary was committed to justice, to compassion, to raising up the fallen, caring for the uncared for, loving the unloved.
My dear friends,
As we gather to give thanks, let us be inspired to strive for what lies ahead, mindful of the way our pioneers have passed on to us their great legacy. Jesus Christ is the true source of our hope. For his life, death and resurrection have launched the course of history irreversibly in the direction of the Kingdom. While waiting and striving for the fulfilment of the Kingdom at the fullness of time, let us live our lives in faith, hope and love. Let us do everything we are inspired to do to bring about a better future and a better world for all. May we be open to the guidance of the spirit as we journey with each other and together meet the challenge of delivering new life for the world.
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