Homily from Opening Mass at Marist College Ashgrove
I would first of all tonight like to thank Brother Neville Solomon for the invitation to celebrate this Eucharist - our prayer of thanksgiving in which we thank God for the blessings already received by the College and ask God’s continued blessings on the year that lies ahead. An occasion like this also gives me the privilege of talking to staff, students and parents about faith and seeking to encourage us all, myself included to further embrace the good news of Jesus Christ about the presence of the Kingdom of God in our midst and our need for action to move it towards that fullness at some time in the future known only to God.
All life is a process of learning provided by God to us if we are prepared to open ourselves to the voice of God’s holy spirit, who will share wisdom with us if we are willing, not always a great deal, but certainly some. My recent Christmas holidays filled with a mixture of pain and relaxation was an occasion for receiving a little of that wisdom. The physical pain was associated with an acute attack of sciatica, the worst I have experienced. However it was not all negative, because it made me realise as I recovered slowly looking like a tree leaning in the wrong direction the incredible blessing of walking, something I had taken for granted throughout my life. Only as I grow older do I learn to count God’s blessings as I should. In seeking recovery I both rested and walked around the bush tracks of my youth some of them totally overgrown with the passage of years. They brought flooding back a host of memories from the past. Almost every grain of sand in Stanthorpe for me is filled with some memory or other of the past. As I reflected on those memories I realised how important religion was to my life in those years and still is. Only last week my brother reminded me how 60 years ago we would both be up at 6.30am on the cold winter’s morning riding up to the small cold cream Church of St Joseph day after day to serve on the altar. Sadly, religion in general has waned not only in Stanthorpe but throughout Australia, a decline that not even the overflowing Churches at Christmas time can halt. Written 140 years ago in 1867 the magnificent poem of Matthew Arnold “Dover Beach is proving today to be only too true. Likening faith to an ocean Arnold wrote “The Sea of Faith was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d. But now I only hear its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar.” The final line communicates prophetically what was starting then and is reaching some type of completion only now. The faith I practised back in the 1940’s when a student at St Joseph’s Convent needed to change as it depthed Christ’s message with new insights discovered in the Second Vatican Council, but it was certainly never meant to disappear as it has for so many. Today faith is needed more than ever as we grapple with a society that is largely value free, consumer oriented and for far too many, materialistic. We need values and we need faith if we are to fulfil the vision desired by Christ, but because the spirit of God driving the Kingdom will always be with us the battle for faith will never be lost. At the same time it is certainly experiencing a difficult time at the moment.
What is needed more than anything else today is for all people, but particularly for young people, to engage Jesus Christ and his message with a faith that will drive their lives, not a faith that is a “maybe yes maybe no” type of faith but a full blooded connection in prayer and action with Jesus Christ and his vision, supported by a similar devotion to Mary the mother of Jesus, our Christian model of service to Christ. Only Jesus with his commitment to all, especially the most needy, and Mary the mother of Jesus with her quiet commitment to the service of Jesus will enable us to overcome the sad individualism of our age and its-all-too-often unbalanced views about the true nature of freedom. All of us yearn for freedom, and rightly so, but it must be freedom linked to responsibility. You young men here in Marist College Ashgrove, whether in your final year or your first have been given a remarkable opportunity through this College to contribute after the example of Saint Marcellin Champagnat to the Kingdom of God and the mission of the Church as you absorb the wisdom of God that lies at the heart of this College. Today the Book of Ecclesiasticus tells us that God pours forth words of wisdom. Let all of us listen otherwise they will be merely words spoken in a wilderness. When we do listen then we too will proclaim to Christ as Peter did in answer to Christ’s question “Whom am I”? “You are the Christ the son of the living God”. My greatest regret in life, and it becomes more significant as I approach my 70th birthday this year is that with the great St Augustine I too feel like saying to Christ, certainly not as sincerely or as effectively as he would, “late have I loved thee oh beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved thee.” As you prepare for another grace filled year of education here at Ashgrove College make sure that my regret at 70 will not be yours at the same age, no matter how distant it may now seem to you now. You have been given an excellent opportunity by your parents, teachers and fellow students to have an impact on the world into which you will graduate in a very short time. Make sure you do not squander the opportunity. Never forget, that no matter how successful you may prove to be in the fields of academia, business, art, sport, the Church or whatever, if your success is not accompanied by the wisdom of God offered to all, and manifest in the life of Jesus Christ, then the one life given to you by God may never realize its full potential, nor may you find the happiness available to all of us when we live in union with God and others, here on earth and forever in heaven. May God bless you all.