Pontifical Mass of the Third Sunday of Advent with the Rite of Dedication of an Altar at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, Wentworthville, 17 December 2017
Today is called Gaudete or Happy Sunday. The liturgy is filled with sentiments of hope, joy and happiness. Yet, we cannot ignore the elephant in the room. I am of course referring to the Royal Commission whose final report has been making headlines in the last couple of days. As a result of the intense spotlight on the Church’s abysmal failure to protect children, I find myself in a state of a liturgical dissonance. I cannot but feel a deep sense of shame. It should be a day of penance, sackcloth and ashes, especially for Church leaders like myself.
To say that we, the Church in Australia, are at a critical juncture is probably an understatement. There has never been a crisis quite like this one. It is a shameful indictment not simply on the perpetrators and their enablers but the Church’s collective systemic betrayal of the Gospel. We have been battered and bruised. We’ve been reduced in strength and status. We are in an uncharted territory.
I’d like to think of this critical juncture as analogous to the biblical exile. It was one of the most confronting and harrowing times for God’s people. Yet, it also turned out to be the catalyst for renewal in their pilgrimage of faith. They learned to be God’s people by way of humble trust, tenacious faith, justice and love. Perhaps we too can learn from them and recognise the time of our own exile as an opportunity to live the Gospel and deepen our commitment. Now is the Kairos or the opportune and graced time: time to live the Good News, time of repentance and conversion, time of living a discipleship of service and love, time to reclaim the powerlessness of Christ and the ethos of his Gospel.
The readings today speak about the mission of hope and renewal in the time of crisis. The first reading tells us about the call of Isaiah which is situated in the context of the exile. “The spirit of the Lord has been given to me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the broken-hearted, liberty to captives and freedom to those in prison.” Isaiah was sent to give fresh vision and hope to a people in distress. He was charged with a mission of reframing the hopeless reality into a new hope-filled future for his people. In the midst of dispersion and diminishment, he speaks of the rebirthing of the remnant people through nuptial and agricultural imagery. This rebirthing is the remaking of a people according to God’s design which is rooted in justice and integrity. The dispossession transformed them into people with a heart for the dispossessed.
The call to rejoice by the prophet and by St Paul in the second reading is somewhat tempered by the sombering message of John the Baptist. He was the voice crying in the wilderness calling all to repentance and conversion. This call challenges us to grow in our faith so we will not be so self-absorbed that we fail to see Christ in our lives or the lives of others. Much of the transforming power of our faith is lost when we have grown too comfortable with it. We must hear again and again the call to be faithful, to correct our course through life to go the way that God would have us to go.
As a Church, we are also called to “make straight the way for the Lord”. This is a summons to change, in order to facilitate the coming of the messianic era of peace, justice and integrity. The exiled Jews learned the new way of living and witnessing to their faith. This new way was no longer associated with the old symbols of Judaism but rooted in its core values of neighbourly solidarity, love and compassion. The exiled Church of ours must also learn new ways of embodying and conveying effectively the message of the Gospel to the culture in which we live. We must also learn to move from a position of power and strength to that of powerlessness and vulnerability; from a position of wealth and influence to that of being poor and humble; from a position of greatness to being a minority. The Royal Commission may well be a blessing in disguise after all.
Transition times are inevitably full of chaos, uncertainty and even confusion. As the Holy Spirit leads us in a new exodus, we are called to go forward into the future with courage. We need to remember that the tough times can be the blessed times. The Church was not at its best when it reached the heights of imperial power in what was known as Christendom. The Church was at its best when it was poor, persecuted and powerless. Consistently, we are challenged to be the beacons of hope in the midst of pain, suffering and despair.
Brothers and sisters,
Today, we call on God’s blessing on the new altar in our Church. We recall the Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple where the water of life flows from its altar. The old had been profaned and destroyed. Ezekiel imagines a renewed Judaism that will emerge from the exile and will be the source of life and hope like the water out of Eden. Let us invoke God’s blessing upon the whole Church in this time of cleansing and purification, so that we can emerge from this crisis renewed, restored and revitalised. May the Church then become a life-giving channel for all. May we strengthened in our resolve to be servants of the Kingdom and visible signs of hope for the people of our time. Then our sorrow will be turned into joy and our joy shall be complete.