The Nativity of the Lord – Year A

In the beginning was the Word:

the Word was with God

and the Word was God.

He was with God in the beginning.

Through him all things came to be,

not one thing had its being but through him.

All that came to be had life in him

and that life was the light of men,

a light that shines in the dark,

a light that darkness could not overpower.

The Word was the true light

that enlightens all men;

and he was coming into the world.

He was in the world

that had its being through him,

and the world did not know him.

He came to his own domain

and his own people did not accept him.

But to all who did accept him

he gave power to become children of God,

to all who believe in the name of him

who was born not out of human stock

or urge of the flesh

or will of man

but of God himself.

The Word was made flesh,

he lived among us.

And we saw his glory,

the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father,

full of grace and truth.

Jn 1:1-5. 9-14

God sent a present into the world, the gift of a loving presence named Jesus. The Gospel stories indicate that Jesus gave few material things to people.  What he gave most was his personal presence, gifts that were treasures of the heart: belief in self, inner healing, peace of mind, compassion, forgiveness, dignity, and justice. This loving presence lives on in us and is the central focus of Christmas gift-giving.

Sharing the gift of personal presence means that we see ourselves as a gift holding the goodness of Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Like Jesus, we can give from our inner abundance, gifts from the heart.  Moments lovingly spent with another, for another through prayer or through personal presence, carry more beauty and have more endurance than anything material we could give. What greater things could we share than gifts that reflect the great love we have known in the person of Jesus: our care and concern, our hope, our joy, our understanding and forgiveness, our kindness, our patience, our acceptance of how things and people are?

When we think of our hurried pace of life, we see how Advent gets lost in the Christmas rush. The messages are all around us: ‘Buy this and you will be happy; buy that and you will show your love.’ Sharing presence is hard in a culture that keeps promoting material things as a sign of how much we love others. Sharing presence is difficult in an environment that encourages us to be as busy as possible so that we will be rich, successful, important, and able to buy more things.

When we are busy it is easy to miss awareness and communion with those around us and with those in our larger world. Advent is a good season to be more deliberate in sharing ‘the present of our presence’. It may be through a phone call, a letter, a visit, or through the bonding of prayer as we focus love and attention toward those who need the strength of God to be with them. We may think of other ways to share our presence in order to deliberately choose being over doing. When the feast of Christmas arrives, may we be more aware of the power of Emmanuel’s presence within us and our ability to warm the lives of others because of this gift of love.

Anthony Cleary,
Director, Mission and Identity

Christ the King – Year C

The people stayed there before the cross watching Jesus. As for the leaders, they jeered at him. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’ The soldiers mocked him too, and when they approached to offer him vinegar they said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’ Above him there was an inscription: ‘This is the King of the Jews.’

One of the criminals hanging there abused him. ‘Are you not the Christ?’ he said. ‘Save yourself and us as well.’ But the other spoke up and rebuked him. ‘Have you no fear of God at all?’ he said. ‘You got the same sentence as he did, but in our case we deserved it: we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus,’ he said, ‘remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ ‘Indeed, I promise you,’ he replied, ‘today you will be with me in paradise.’

Lk 23:35-43

The Kingship of Jesus Christ is a matter not often mentioned in modern times. However, during the time of Jesus most Jews expected that the Messiah would be a king, one who would liberate the nation of Israel from Roman occupation.

Jesus did indeed come as a king but his kingship is of a kingdom that “is not of this world.” Those expecting a warrior messiah who would expel the Romans were disappointed in the young man from the humble town of Nazareth who spoke of peace. Both Jesus’ humility and his rejection of violence were reasons why many rejected him. This is evidenced in the people’s choice of Barabbas over him (Mark 15: 6-15) for Barabbas had led an insurrection against the occupiers and he advocated violent resistance. Some Jews however discerned Jesus’ kingship and the true nature of his kingdom. Jesus’ kingdom is the Kingdom of God. Giving testimony to this is the way in which he was greeted upon his entry into Jerusalem, the crowd shouting “blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 19:38).

It is ironic that at the moment of his ultimate rejection, the crucifixion, the kingship is publicly proclaimed and acknowledged. The inscription above Jesus’ head, “This is the King of the Jews”, proclaims his kingdom in three different languages-Hebrew, Greek and Roman – that is, to both Jews and Gentiles. Pilate defiantly refuses to remove this inscription, despite the protest of Jesus’ enemies and advises the Chief Priests “what I have written, I have written” (John 19:21).

Jesus’ kingdom is on offer to all those who repent and believe. There is no ‘time limit’ on its availability. This is seen in the good thief’s repentence. He had led a dissolute life, engaging in petty thievery. However, moments before his death he heard Jesus’ words of forgiveness offered for those sinning against him: “Father, forgive them for they know what they do.” These words were a grace that transformed his heart and opened his eyes to see who Jesus really was and what he had to offer; “remember me when you come into your kingdom”. Although this was a last-minute conversion by the ‘good thief’ it was one that assured him a place in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Like the good thief, we too can share in the reward of the Kingdom of Heaven. One hopes, however, that ours is not a last minute conversion but rather that we live a life in which our eyes, ears and hearts are forever opened to Christ the King.

Anthony Cleary,
Director, Mission & Identity

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Yr C

When some were talking about the Temple, remarking how it was adorned with fine stonework and votive offerings, Jesus said, ‘All these things you are staring at now – the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another: everything will be destroyed.’ And they put to him this question: ‘Master,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, then, and what sign will there be that this is about to take place?’

‘Take care not to be deceived,’ he said, ‘because many will come using my name and saying, “I am he” and, “The time is near at hand.” Refuse to join them. And when you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened, for this is something that must happen but the end is not soon.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will fight against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes and plagues and famines here and there; there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.

‘But before all this happens, men will seize you and persecute you; they will hand you over to the synagogues and to imprisonment, and bring you before kings and governors because of my name – and that will be your opportunity to bear witness. Keep this carefully in mind: you are not to prepare your defence, because I myself shall give you an eloquence and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relations and friends; and some of you will be put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name, but not a hair of your head will be lost. Your endurance will win you your lives.’

Lk 21:5-19

This account from Luke’s Gospel has become known as the Olivet Discourse, or little Apocalypse, occurring just prior to the passion narrative. Jesus’ discourse, preached on the Mount of Olives, is considered to be a prophecy of the ‘end times’.  More importantly perhaps, this discourse affirms a message that is ageless and enduring i.e. we need to persevere and be faithful in the face of trial and tribulation.

‘All these things you are staring at now – the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another: everything will be destroyed.’ The Olivet Discourse opens with a prophecy foretelling the future destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, the centre of Jewish worship and sacrifice. Such a dramatic event had occurred once before in 586 BC, when the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar descended upon Jerusalem. This event itself had been prophesised in the stark and dire warnings of the prophet Jeremiah.

In the time of Jesus, the Temple had just undergone a complete renovation, commenced decades earlier by Herod the Great. The structure was now immense, with many of its stones measuring nearly 12 metres in length. According to Jesus, its indestructible appearance is only an illusion and he gives a warning reminiscent of that of Jeremiah. Though he leaves the timing of this future calamity obscure, his words will bear truth within two generations, when Roman armies under Titus destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70-and on August 10th! This was in fact the same day as the destruction wrought by King Nebuchadnezzar. This catastrophe was a historical preview of the end of the world, showing how God’s judgement upon the one nation of Israel prefigures the judgement of all nations.

In the midst of this coming trial, the followers of Jesus must fearlessly persevere despite persecution. Persecution will provide opportunities for Christians to publicly proclaim the gospel. Luke elsewhere recounts several such episodes where believers are locked up in prisons and hauled before kings and governors (Acts 4; 5, 8; 12; 16; 25; 26). Unlike professional orators who rehearse their speeches before delivering them, Christian disciples should only prepare to be faithful. Christ will give them the words through the Holy Spirit. Stephen was an example of this by his powerful witness in Jerusalem (Acts 6:9-10), as were other early Christians (Acts 4; 26). Whilst having apocalyptic overtones, the Olivet Discourse provides a source of hope, for Jesus assures us that anyone who suffers in his name will ultimately be rewarded for “your endurance will win you your lives.”

Anthony Cleary,
Director, Mission & Identity

Event: Aboriginal Catholics and Reconciliation

The Justice and Peace Office, on behalf of the Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher OP, invite you to hear the address, ‘Aboriginal Catholics and Reconciliation’ by Dr Miriam Rose Ungunmerr Baumann.

As a leading Catholic educator, pastoral carer and cross-cultural relationship builder, Dr Miriam Rose Ungunmerr Baumann has spent decades sharing her unique knowledge and wisdom about how to live in and relate to this country.

We are fortunate to have Miriam as a Critical Friend of the Reconciliation Action Planning process for the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney. Now Miriam has an opportunity to share with us her reflections on her experience as the 2021 Senior Indigenous Australian of the Year, and how she sees the journey of Reconciliation for us all. 

This event will be held at St Mary’s Cathedral school hall on Friday, 7 October, 5.30pm – 7.30pm.

To register, click here or download the flyer by clicking on the image below.

Pentecost – Year C

In the evening of the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you,’ and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again,

‘Peace be with you.
As the Father sent me,
so am I sending you.’

After saying this he breathed on them and said:

‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’

John 20:19-23

The Feast of Pentecost takes place fifty days after Easter and celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, thus fulfilling the promise of Jesus. In Christian tradition the Feast of Pentecost marks the birth of the Church as the Apostles were now empowered to fulfill the mission Jesus had given them to go out and preach the Good News and to be true witnesses to this. The events of Pentecost are recalled in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

There are two alternative Gospel accounts that can be used on the Feast of Pentecost; John 20:19-23 and John 14: 15-16 & 23b – 26. John’s Gospel (20:19-23) tells us that on the night of Jesus’ resurrection the disciples were gathered in fear behind locked doors. Jesus came among them and said ‘Peace be with you’ showing them the wounds of his hands and side. As the disciples rejoiced, Jesus then commissioned them to continue his mission of love through the forgiveness of sins ‘As the Father sent me so I am sending you … receive the Holy Spirit. For those sins you forgive, they are forgiven.‘ The sacrament of Penance is a gift from God given to the Church by the risen Lord as the first fruit of his own death and resurrection. Given to the Apostles, Jesus’ healing love, the power to forgive sins, continues to be worked and seen through the Church today.

A particularly striking image in this passage is that of Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit upon his disciples, creating a strong parallel to Genesis 2:7 in which God breathes life into the lifeless human form. In this sense we consider that with the resurrection we are offered the gift of a new creation.

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is not restricted to the annals of history but we too can continue to be strengthened and nourished by the Holy Spirit. We receive the Holy Spirit at Baptism and again in a very special way at Confirmation with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is through these gifts, and the fruits that they bear (Gal 5:22-23) that we are enabled to be true Christian disciples.

We are reminded by Jesus that “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).

May we pray for a new Pentecost, in which we, like the Apostles, are strengthened so as to be true witnesses of the Risen Lord.

Anthony Cleary
Director, Mission & Identity