Homily for the National Mass for the Bicentenary of Catholic Education in Australia on the Solemnity of Our Lady Help of Christians at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 24 May 2021
Readings: Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; James 3:13-18; Luke 1:45
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today across Australia, the Southern Land of the Holy Spirit, we gather to celebrate a milestone of great significance for the community of faith and the whole nation. 200 years ago, here in Parramatta, the first official Catholic school was founded, thus, making our Diocese the cradle of Catholic education.
The Catholic pioneers responded to the needs of the poor and vulnerable, often children of convict forebears in colonial Australia. They took a prophetic stance not simply in responding to unmet needs, but by fundamentally reimagining the Gospel and recasting the Christian story in the light of the great cultural challenges of their times. “Never see a need without doing something about it”. In acting out of a strong passion for justice, they endeavoured to bring about a fresh hope for others.
As we gather to give thanks to so great a legacy, we renew our commitment to be catalysts and agents of God’s reign of justice. We are inspired by our pioneers and by the men and women of the Gospel. We recognise how much we owe to the history, stories and dreamings of our First Nations people. In the spirit of gratitude and fidelity to their prophetic leadership, we are called to accompany the young and to form them into a leavening force for the Kingdom.
The early Catholic pioneers entrusted this land to Mary Help of Christians whose feast it is today. We honour Mary not only as the mother of Jesus but even more so as an exemplar of Christian discipleship. She became a model disciple who followed her Son faithfully. Therefore, this celebration commits us to follow her example and become the community of disciples.
The Gospel tells us the story of how God’s plan unfolds and impacts on the lives of Mary and Joseph. In the story of the Annunciation, Mary was disturbed by the words of the angel that she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is a story that is a window into her life of faithful and courageous discipleship. Mary was anything but a fearful, withdrawn, uncommitted, indifferent person. 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, compassion, to raising up the fallen, loving the unloved and advocating for the defenseless. Just as in the life of her son, we too witness the passion for the Kingdom in hers.
My dear friends,
The Word of God today is a summons to us to live our lives with radical openness to God’s will that is revealed to us in so many ways. Like Mary, we need to be ready for divine interruptions; we need to adjust to life’s constant changes. Growth and transformation can occur if we learn to discern and act on what God requires of us in the light of lived experience.
The Church in Australia is also facing an interruption of tremendous proportions. We must humbly and boldly address the biggest challenge of our time and build a healthier Church for our children and future generations. This interruption calls for Mary-like deep discernment and courageous action rather than fear, intransigence, and defence of status quo.
After hearing the angel’s message, Mary’s life was fundamentally changed. She aligned her heart and mind to God’s unfolding plan. We must do the same as a community of disciples. We must have the humility and courage to see how far we have drifted from the vision of Jesus, repent of our institutional arrogance and orientate ourselves once again to the self-emptying journey of the humble Servant-Leader.
At this time of bicentennial celebrations for Catholic education, we feel a sense of pride and gratitude. We are heirs to a rich legacy, borne out of inspiring vision and unwavering resolve. Just as our pioneers did before, now it is our turn to apply the boundary-breaking spirit of Jesus. That is our prophetic mission. We reincarnate the Gospel that it may come alive again for our people in our time.
Thus, honouring their memory compels us to embrace our own reality with prophetic courage. Following the signs of the times, ours is a challenge to form a new generation that values the common good more than individual success. Just as the Pope calls for a new politics of inclusion in the light of the systemic inequalities in the world, we also need an education that forms young people into men and women of deep empathy, solidarity and communion as opposed to individualism and self-interest.
Let us pray that we have the faith and courage of Mary in responding to unmet needs. May Mary help us to be carers and protectors of those who have been entrusted to us. May she guide us as we seek to form them into a critical yeast for critical times ahead.
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