Homily for Blessing of the new Cathedral Administrator
Statement Released: Friday, February 24, 2006
Last year Sister Mary Brenda, one of the Sisters of Mercy at Emmaus, celebrated her 100th birthday. I was honoured that day to sit beside her at the celebration. She was renowned in Gympie as an infant school teacher and told me how on one occasion she had prepared the infant class for its first confession and first Holy Communion. After confessions in the Church she saw a group of boys murmuring to each other beside the Church, and wondered what could possibly be troubling them. She approached and asked what they were concerned about. Reluctant to speak at first, eventually one of them said “Sister we think some of the boys have mortals.” He went on “We compared our penances and found most of us have only one Hail Mary for penance, but some of us have three. We think they are the ones with the ‘mortals’”. Her story reminded me of my own first confession when I confessed to Father Roger Burke in the Church at Stanthorpe that I had been “playing with matches.” It seemed the simplest way to explain that I had been smoking horse hair wrapped in newspaper under my grandparent’s house near the creek and almost burnt it down. “Playing with matches” seemed the simplest way to explain the whole mess to Father Burke. It still warranted three Hail Mary’s for penance so I probably also thought that it belonged to the category of “mortal”. Such was the language of those distant days, “mortal and venial” with “missing Mass on Sunday” definitely a “mortal”. I mention it today not to criticise the past, because confession was an integral part of our faith and still is. Moreover even if in those days we were a little overburdened with, and perhaps even terrified by the consequences of sin, at least we were aware that there is a reality named “sin”, about which a multitude of people today seem to be blissfully unaware. All of us at various times still need to acknowledge that we are sinners, still need to confess in the sacrament of reconciliation, still need to receive absolution at the hands of the Church, and also still need to make a resolution to sin no more. The sheer joy of being unburdened of sin is surely one of the great experiences of faith – the peace and joy of being one with God again, a realisation that is the source of the very deepest spiritual satisfaction.
I mention all this today because there is a certain appropriateness about it on the occasion of the blessing of Father Ken Howell as the new Administrator of the Cathedral. The greatest service that the Cathedral provides for the people of Brisbane is the opportunity to make contact with Christ through the sacramental life of the Church, expressed most completely in the Eucharist, but supported in a most significant way by the other sacraments, especially the sacrament of reconciliation or penance. I also mention this sacrament today because the scripture is filled with God’s power of forgiveness and healing, both of which are enormously important. The first reading describes a God who will “do a new deed” i.e. “make a fresh start”, and who will as the scripture says “blot out everything”. The words refer to God’s dealing with the chosen people who have strayed and sinned, but they can also be applied to individuals like ourselves. The Letter of Paul to the Corinthians describes a God who says “yes” not “no”, and suggests that we too should be just as single- minded in our relationship with God. As we all know, it is impossible to say “yes” to God if we do not first of all repent of our sins. Finally the Gospel describes the marvellous healing of the sick man by Jesus, spiritual as well as physical. It reminds us, if we ever needed to be reminded, that because the Kingdom is present in our midst God’s power is available to all of us, not just for our own spiritual benefit but a benefit we can claim for other people. Sister Greta of the Brown Sisters, where I say a Mass each week, grew up in a Methodist household and told me that her mother was always telling her to “claim the promises.” It’s not a phrase you often hear in Catholic circles, but nevertheless it’s a most beautiful phrase indicating that because the Kingdom of God is present its power is also available. As a result it is possible for each one of us not only to pray with confidence for the spiritual healing of other people but, if our faith is strong enough, to pray also for the physical healing of them as well, in response to God’s promises. Finally, do we seek the spiritual power of God mediated through the Church for the forgiveness of our own sins? If we do not then we are neglecting a most marvellous sacrament given to us by Jesus Christ and mediated through the Church. If we acknowledge ourselves as sinners, as all of us are, then what are we prepared to do about it? Certainly the Eucharist dissolves minor sinfulness as we well know, sinfulness that Sister Mary Brenda’s class might well have called the “venials”. But what about those larger matters that the infants called the “mortals”, allowing for the fact that in those distant days we might have unduly inflated some of our own misdeeds? So today as we give thanks for Father Ken Howell’s new leadership here in the Cathedral let us also give thanks for the Cathedral itself that he will oversee as it provides magnificent spiritual service to the city of Brisbane through its sacramental life, never ever forgetting the sacrament of reconciliation available to all who seek its grace.
Fortunately today I no longer “play with matches”. I gave up smoking horse-hair after the catastrophe of the house fire 60 years ago, and even gave up smoking ordinary cigarettes 30 years later. Nevertheless I still remember my sheer relief on receiving absolution in my first confession and the tremendous sense of freedom that accompanied it then, and many times since. Let us not deprive ourselves of that joy through laziness or through an inability or reluctance to examine our own personal sinfulness. We have nothing to lose expect that terrible sense of being separated from God. Finally we too need to hear Christ’s marvellous words expressed in today’s gospel “I order you, get up, pick up your stretcher, and go off home.” Nothing, absolutely nothing, can compare with that incredible feeling of being at home once again with God. May all of us experience that feeling in our lives through the ministry of the Church, and may we never lose that feeling ever again.
Yours in Christ,
Archbishop John Bathersby