On the Commissioning of Parish Councillors
Statement Released: Tuesday, March 15, 2005
The biggest fault of Christians, but certainly not one of Christianity itself, is that Christians are tempted to concentrate on life after death as though it was the only life worth living, and neglect the life that we live before death. It is almost as if they wish to proclaim to the world this life and this world is miserable, devoid of joy, happiness and fulfilment, but that this will all cease when we finally meet God face to face beyond death. Such an understanding of Christianity does a vast disservice to Christ and undermines the compelling fullness of his vision. Christ engaged life at every level because every level was a part of God’s creation and reflected God’s glory by its mere existence. Christ could rejoice in almost every aspect of creation apart from sin, which as we well know is the neglect or rejection of God and the will of God. Thus he could rejoice in children, in the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, in the sick and suffering members of society, and just as St Francis of Assisi could address all creation as “brother and sister” I am sure Christ could do likewise. Monsignor Radano said a marvellous thing to me yesterday when talking about the present Pope. He said that in his sickness and suffering he has deliberately set out to show to the world the absolute value of all life, even sick and suffering life. As well, in directing his suffering like a prayer to others he has indicated how powerful suffering and sickness can be. So my dear people we are called to rejoice in life even as we anticipate the eternal happiness of heaven. When I was on the staff of Pius XII Seminary in the early 1980’s the Rector was Fr Maurice Duffy, a loveable priest who rejoiced in God, in life, and in people. When I was ordained Bishop of Cairns in 1986 I asked Maurice to hold the Gospels over my head which is part of the ceremony of Ordination of Bishops. Six months later his heart was infected with a virus and he died very quickly. He was not even fifty years old. His final words to his sisters at his bedside were: “I will soon know all about the mystery of the Guardian Angels”. Maurice was approaching death as the new adventure that it certainly is, not as an absolute tragedy. For Maurice death was about meeting God and he had no worries about that because God had been a normal part of his forty-nine year life. Recently I sat beside a prominent Brisbane man at a dinner – a very nice man. Nevertheless what he said saddened me as we discussed the proliferation of eulogies at funerals with their celebration of life and comparative forgetfulness of Christ who conquered death for all of us. How often we celebrate the life of the person but not the life of Christ who made it possible for us to live forever. In replying to me my friend said “Archbishop because we live in a world that does not believe in an afterlife, it makes immense sense to celebrate the life of the person who has died, life here on earth rather than life after death.” However the truth is once we believe in our relationship or communion with God and others in this life, then death should have no worries for us because our communion with God and others continues after death. It cannot be destroyed by death, indeed because of death it possesses a closeness to God and other people we never imagined possible in this life. This relationship of life and death, of life and eternal life, lies at the very heart of Christ’s message to us and of our normal Christian belief. It is a truth that we must believe ourselves before we can share it with others. You as Parish Councillors and therefore in a leadership situation in your parishes, working with your pastors, are uniquely positioned to lead people to that truth. But in the first place as I said you must believe it yourselves.
The scripture today is enormously helpful as we seek to understand this truth of all reality. The scripture shows God’s power in conquering physical death which because of the existence of the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ should come as no surprise to us. God’s victory over death means so much more than victory over mere physical death. All of us are enlivened by God in Baptism, and because of the power of that Baptism we are able to overcome all forms of death. So why should we be surprised that we are also enlivened by God in the physical death that lies ahead of us. It is so sad how death depresses some people as it did the English poet Andrew Marvel who wrote “But at my back I always hear death’s winged chariot hurrying near, while before me all do lie deserts of vast eternity”. But why should we be depressed like Andrew Marvel, rather than excited like Maurice Duffy? If we have lived in communion with God in this life, as we most certainly do, why will we not live in communion with God in the life yet to come. Of course God will lead us from our graves as Ezechiel said in today’s scripture, and of course Christ will help us conquer death as he did for his good friend, Lazarus, and of course “he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to our own mortal bodies through the spirit living in us”, as Paul suggests. All of this should come as no surprise to us because after all Christ came to give us life and life in its fullness, and that is the very heart of our faith.
So thank you my dear Parish Councillors as you participate in the renewal of this Archdiocese. I welcome your participation in parish and deanery level and assure you that in 2005 I will be praying that the Holy Spirit will come down upon you as you cooperate with your pastors and lead the parish by sharing your life-giving faith with as many other people as will listen to the good news that God has given to you. May God bless you always.
Homily delivered by Archbishop Bathersby at the Cathedral of St Stephen on March 13, 2005