Homily for Feast of Blessed Mary MacKillop
Sr Moya Campbell, Sisters of St Joseph, my sisters and brothers in Christ,
As we grow older we see more in scripture than we ever recognized before. The transfiguration of Jesus is a case in point. The preface of the transfiguration Mass, labelled as the Mystery of the Transfiguration, says simply “He revealed his glory to the disciples to strengthen them for the scandal of the Cross.” I doubt that I had even noticed those words before and yet “the scandal of the cross” disturbed the Apostles and believers so much. What a shock it must have been when their champion, their hero, went meekly to his death despite having claimed equality with God and the arrival of God’s Kingdom, seemingly approaching His death without murmur or protest, making the scandal even worse by being rejected by His own people and crucified in the company of criminals. It is no wonder, considering their earlier expectations, that the Apostles were scandalized especially because they failed to understand his teaching. As well, in the Garden of Gethsemane to which Jesus retired after the last supper the gospel of Mark 13:33 says somewhat surprisingly “Jesus began to feel a sudden fear and great distress.” Most of us would probably wonder how Jesus could possibly feel the same type of panic we experience at times, and yet the Apostles for a moment saw their Messiah filled with fear. Was it any wonder therefore that the confidence of the Apostles crumbled, and they fled. Later in the evening when Peter was challenged as a follower of Jesus he stated “I do not know the man”. Perhaps he was doing more than merely telling a lie. He probably genuinely believed that Jesus had crumbled under the pressure. Nevertheless there is tremendous comfort in the gospel when we realize that to some extent Jesus and the Apostles are not unlike ourselves. It is the mixture of strength and weakness with which we can identify, even if the mystery of the divinity and humanity of Jesus, or the sinfulness and holiness of the early Church is noted, but not easily understood. Nevertheless such a mixture can comfort us all. There is no doubt the Church to which we belong is mysterious. We find in it both goodness and weakness, sanctity and sinfulness. All of us have heard of the Council of Trent out of which came a new beginning for the Church. However what few of us realize is that Paul III the Pope who organized the Council against great opposition, had himself been previously caught up in the sinfulness of his own time before he realized the Church deserved better than the life he was living. He changed accordingly. As Jesuit Bernard Lonegan said “real conversion demands its recipient be involved in both the muck and grace of actual Church life” –the implication being that it is only in the Church despite its faults and failings we will find Jesus.
I mention all this today, on the centenary of Blessed Mary MacKillop because Mary MacKillop is a superb example of how to thrive in the Church despite its problems because it is only in the Church we will find Jesus completely, first of all in the sacraments but just as strongly in its saints, both unknown saints, spoken of by Paul the Apostle, many of whom are not recognized, but also those outstanding saints such as Mary MacKillop whom we recognize and celebrate more easily. Loving the Church is never easy but as Peter the Apostle stated when all seemed lost “Lord to whom shall we go you have the words of eternal life.” Not then established but about to be through the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter might well have spoken somewhat differently after the resurrection:
“Lord to what communion shall we go, if not to your own Body into which we are now baptized” It is only within the Church, the Body of Christ that we will come to understand ourselves and Jesus because it is only in Jesus present in one another within the Church, that we will grow into Jesus.
Perhaps the greatest conviction we need to have as Christians, which Blessed Mary MacKillop showed in abundance, is the realization that God loves us as Paul in the letter to the Colossians reinforces today, when he describes all of us “as the chosen of God, the people whom God loves”. The realization that despite our sinfulness we are loved by God is the greatest truth we can ever possess. The scripture then goes on to describe how to cope with perhaps a more difficult challenge of the Church, its “members”. It says “Bear with one another forgive each other if one of you has a complaint against another.” Loving one another is perhaps the most difficult challenge we will ever have to face in this life and yet Jesus on the cross gives us the supreme example of forgiveness when he said: “Father forgive them they don’t know what they do”. How often do we pray that prayer, and how often must Mary MacKillop have prayed that prayer throughout her lifetime when she was confronted by almost impossible problems.
The gospel of Matthew then spells out the absolute priority we must seek in the gospel when it says. “Set your hearts on God’s Kingdom first”, and that is precisely what Blessed Mary MacKillop did throughout her life, and how brilliantly she triumphed in doing so.
As I grow older I have come to realize ever so slowly the need to set ones heart on the Kingdom because our lives fade away all too quickly. However if we are lagging a little in this regard, what comforts us is that a large number of saints came quite late to the wedding feast of the Lamb, and yet still did remarkable work for the Kingdom. If we can learn of the Kingdom a little earlier so much the better, as Augustine said, and with which most of us can agree, “Late have I loved thee o beauty so ancient yet so new, late have I loved thee.” Let us determine not to come too late to the wedding feast. Nevertheless no matter how late we come God goes on loving and forgiving us.
Today I pray that God may bless you the Sisters of St Joseph for all you have done in this Archdiocese since your arrival. Today let us all learn from Blessed Mary MacKillop, the great inspiration of our Australian Church, just how marvellous faith can be in spite of its many crosses. Living the faith as she did is meant to be one of life’s absolutely magnificent experiences. All of us can experience that magnificence if only we will open our hearts and minds to its mystery. May God bless you always and may Blessed Mary MacKillop continue to be your inspiration and your powerhouse of supporting prayer in the years that lie ahead.
Archbishop John Bathersby
August 8, 2009