Homily delivered at the Solemn Mass and Liturgical Reception for the new Archbishop of Brisbane
Your Excellency, the Apostolic Nuncio
Your Grace, Archbishop Bathersby
My Brother Bishops,
Your Excellency, the Governor of Queensland
Distinguished Civic Leaders
Brothers and Sisters,
In these fifty days of the Easter festival, I greet you all in the name of the Risen Christ who stands among us. He is the one to whom we look first and last – not to me as the new Archbishop. All praise to him, “the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead” (Rev 1:5), “the Alpha and the Omega” (Rev 1:8), the beginning and the end. As I begin my apostolic ministry among you, I pray from the depth of my being that in seeing me, you will see him, that in hearing me, you will hear the one who has sent me.
Of my six predecessors in the See of Brisbane, four were born in Ireland and two in Queensland. I alone in the line was born neither in Ireland nor Queensland – a Melburnian born and largely bred, with my primary schooling done in Adelaide. So I am the first Australian-born Archbishop not native to this State. Yet I do not come among you as a total stranger.
It was in the late 1970s that the Spiritual Director of the then Pius XII Seminary in Banyo contacted me out of the blue and asked if I would lead the Holy Week retreat for the seminarians. I was an Assistant Priest in Melbourne, barely out of the seminary myself, but I accepted the invitation and led a retreat which turned out to be one of the more remarkable experiences of my early years in the priesthood.
At the end of the retreat, I read to the students the words of St Paul that we have heard today: “When I came to you, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest on human wisdom but on the power of God”. That retreat was an experience of the power of God, and I can only hope that my ministry among you as Bishop will be the same, though with a little less fear and trembling perhaps.
The name of the Spiritual Director who invited me to Brisbane was John Bathersby – and who but God could have foreseen back then that I would succeed him as Archbishop of Brisbane? A few years later, John and I met up again in Rome where we had both been sent to study. We were part of a memorable group of Australian priests in Rome at the time who enjoyed many a meal and a laugh, even the odd argument away from the slog of study and after a few glasses of wine.
I began my student days in Rome on the crest of a wave. But soon I was dumped in a way that forced me to come to grips with my own woundedness at a new depth. It was the end of adolescence – a rich and painful time when I glimpsed, as if for the first time, the mystery that lies at the heart of the Gospel. Hitherto, I may have spoken to others of the Cross, but now I had to live it myself in ways closer to the bone, even the broken bone.
Through the years, the glimpse I had then has become a dazzling vision of the truth of the Cross, which is why I have as my episcopal motto the words we have heard today from John’s Gospel, Sanguis et aqua, Blood and water: “One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came forth blood and water”.
In offering this great symbol, the evangelist looks back to the passage from the prophet Ezekiel that we have heard proclaimed. The prophet sees a stream of water flowing from the inner sanctum of the Jerusalem Temple, the Holy of Holies; and we have echoed his words in the Vidi aquam chanted as I entered the Cathedral. The stream becomes a great river flowing east into the Judean desert and down to the Dead Sea. Wherever the water goes, it turns death to life. The desert becomes a garden, and the Dead Sea teems with life.
In the Gospel of John, the Temple where the glory of God dwells is no longer the sanctuary of Ezekiel’s vision. It is the body of the dead Christ; and from the side of that new Temple there flows another river – not just water, but now blood and water, flowing out into the cosmos, turning all death to life. St Paul speaks the same truth in different words: “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). There is no weakness that cannot become strength, if we allow the power that raised Jesus from the dead to touch us at that point of weakness; and that power is the self-sacrificing love of God.
This is the vision that has come to me in deeply personal ways through the years. But what is most personal is also most ecclesial; what is true of me is true also of the Church. The great Christian teachers speak of the Church, the Bride of Christ, as born from the wounded side of the Lord. St John Chrysostom says that “it was from his side that Christ formed the Church, as from the side of Adam he formed Eve. As God took a rib from Adam’s side and formed woman, so Christ gave us blood and water from his side and formed the Church. Just as then he took the rib while Adam was in deep sleep, so now he gave the blood and water after his death”.
According to St Bonaventure, the soldier with his spear was made to breach the wall of the new Temple “so that the Church might be formed from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death on the Cross”. He goes on: “Flowing from the secret abyss of our Lord’s heart as from a fountain, this stream gave the sacraments of the Church the power to confer the life of grace, while for those already living in Christ it became a spring of living water welling up to life eternal”. Bonaventure concludes: “Press your lips to the fountain, drawing water from the wells of your Saviour; for this is the spring flowing from the middle of Paradise, dividing into four rivers, inundating devout hearts, watering the whole earth and making it fertile”.
The coming of a new Archbishop inevitably means a new threshold in the life of the Archdiocese of Brisbane, even a new beginning. But any newness that may come will not have its source in me. It will come from Christ or not at all. Here I make my own the words of Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter at the end of the Great Jubilee, Novo Millennio Ineunte. His call there was to “start afresh from Christ”; and the same call resounds throughout the Church in Australia as we look to the Year of Grace soon to begin: “Start afresh from Christ”.
The Jesus from whom we start afresh is not simply some wise teacher or wondrous miracle-worker from the distant past. Nor is he some peerless role-model who lived long ago and whom we must strive to emulate without ever managing to do so. He is the Lord crucified and risen who is here and now or nowhere and never. He is among us as presence and power; and the encounter with him is the very heart of the Christian life and of the Church’s mission.
In recent weeks, I have been asked, What is the Church’s greatest challenge in these times? Without hesitation, I have said and I say here now: our greatest challenge is to become a more missionary Church – and this at a time when a certain institutional diminishment can tempt us to circle the wagons in some supposedly self-protective manoeuvre. But the great mistake we could make now would be to circle the wagons rather than roll them out into new territory in new ways.
Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have sounded the call to a new evangelization, seeing this as the true purpose of the Second Vatican Council. Their call is no vapid mantra. It points to the need for a new surge of Gospel energy at this time – the kind of new threshold that we have seen before in the history of the Church, often in dark and difficult times. All our structures, strategies and services must be geared to this new surge of Gospel energy, this new evangelization, which can come only from a new and deeper encounter with the Lord crucified and risen.
The Church is wounded; the Church is always wounded in one way or another, though never unto death. The wounds of this time will be healed only if we come to Jesus, through whom flows the power that can turn all our wounds to fountains, all our weakness to strength. Only then will we be equipped, indeed empowered, for the mission, the new evangelization, to which not just the Popes but the Holy Spirit is now summoning the whole Church. We need to be born anew from the wounded side of Christ.
In the Gospel of John, we have heard the words of the Psalmist applied to the crucified Lord: “Not one of his bones will be broken”. This blends curiously with the name Brisbane which, I have discovered, means “break bone”, either because the original ancestor of Sir Thomas Brisbane had a broken bone or was known to be a bone-crusher himself. Now is not the time for bone-crushing of any kind, even if I will have to make some hard decisions, knowing that it is impossible to please all the people all the time. Now is the time to bind up the broken bones of the Church and the world, even if that binding up can have a pain of its own. But only Jesus Christ, he of the unbroken bones, can bring the healing that we need.
Therefore, we now enter his sacred mysteries as lame beggars bringing nothing but our need. We ask that he bind up all the broken bones, so that those for whom he died and rose may walk strongly and joyfully on the road home to Paradise, in the middle of which there is the throne of the Lamb, from where flows the spring (cf Rev 22:1-2) which divides into four rivers to water the whole earth, making it teem with life (cf Gen 2:10). Amen.
Most Rev Mark Coleridge
Archbishop of Brisbane
May 11, 2012