|Photography: Alphonsus Fok|
The Bishop of Parramatta, Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, presided at the Commissioning Mass for the Diocese’s World Youth Day pilgrims on Sunday 30 June.
More than 1,100 people filled St Patrick’s Cathedral in Parramatta for the Mass.
Listen to Bishop Anthony’s Homily
Eighteen-year-old Harrison Craig recently won the second season of the Australian song talent show, The Voice. He won against the odds because of a serious stutter that makes him less than ideal for a voice job. Seal, his coach, congratulated him saying: “You sing for a lot of people without voices.” Not only did the boy’s father walk out on him when he was just six years old, but he’s needed regular speech therapy ever since. But Harrison had a sense of his destiny and dedicated himself to it heart and soul.
In tonight’s Gospel (Lk 9:51-62) Jesus teaches us about discovering our destiny and never looking back. It’s not just about a hobby or career. Jesus is talking about vocation, which is more than jobs and personal goals.
When Catholics hear the word ‘vocation’ they usually think priests and nuns, and we certainly need more of both. But the word comes from vocare, to call, and to say someone is ‘called’ is to say that they are selected from among ordinary people and graced for a particular life.
The Second Vatican Council taught that all the baptised are called to holiness and must discern by prayerful faith and critical reason how best to serve.
Young Harrison thought his destiny was to be a singer, knew it would be tough, but gave his all to his music, whatever the risks. For this we admire and congratulate him.
Yet he knows and we know that there is more to life than stardom. Our lives are for our deaths, our deaths for our eternal lives. God has destined us for heaven and our vocation is to be the best we can be till we get there. Your vocation is your custom-fit path to sainthood!
We can easily forget that. In a career-oriented society the focus is on skills and training, on things to help get ahead in a competitive job market, on things that will make people admire you, but not necessarily on helping us know ourselves and our high calling.
I trust our Catholic schools and universities are better at raising those not-for-profit sorts of issues. But even those with the benefit of Catholic family, education and parish can forget that life is about more than money and career, personal ambitions and work targets.
He never imposes. He invites, He callsTonight’s Gospel (Lk 9:51-62), on which we also reflected together last time we met, marks a major turn of events for Jesus and the disciples and so for us.
Jesus was popular while ever he worked miracles and taught nice things like the Sermon on the Mount. Now it’s as if He’s decided it’s time for some adult-to-adult talk.
My News really is Good News. It’s the way to happiness on earth and beatific vision in heaven. But to some it may look like Bad News, because it inevitably involves suffering from time to time. You’ll have to endure hard bits if you want to be a star in my contest. You won’t always have the acclaim of the crowd. My pilgrimage has many joys but also requires endurance. It will mean conversion, change of heart, new directions. That’s grown-up faith and that is what I’m calling you to now.
Tonight Christ encounters three kinds of resistance to that call. The first guy is the immediate enthusiast who then flags. Eager at first, he says he’ll follow the song coach wherever he goes. But when Christ says “The Son of Man has no place to lay his head” – in other words, the adventure of the Gospel can be tough at times – the guy slinks away …
The next contestant is the yes-but sort. Sure, I’ll come sing with you, she says, “but first let me bury my father.” We don’t know if that girl’s dad was actually dead yet or just old. Perhaps she was just sticking around for the inheritance.
If you’re alive to me you’ll put God’s kingdom before all your own plans, He says. You’ll make your life a pilgrimage to heaven, not a joy ride to the land of the dead. “Let the dead bury the dead.”
The last contestant is the professional procrastinator. In the Voice of God competition he says: “yea, I’ll come along for the ride, but first I gotta say my good-byes”.
Jesus calls for resolution: Commit now; surrender to the Father’s will. You can deal with the niceties later. You’ll never join me on my way to Jerusalem if you expect to tie up all the loose ends first.
Like we all soon will be, the apostles are on a pilgrimage – from Palestine to Jerusalem to the ends of the earth and finally to heaven. But like the other guys – the fitful enthusiast, the cautious yes-butter, the eternal procrastinator – they resisted sometimes.
They tried their hands at evangelising and the Samaritans wouldn’t listen. What’s their response? Kill ’em all Jesus, call down fire from heaven.
Not a very ‘Christian’ response, we might say. Christ Himself only ever proposes, He never imposes. He invites, He calls, He never forces Himself on people. We are free to accept, free to answer that call – or not.
No one can make you go on pilgrimage. People can make you go on a trip, sure. But pilgrimage starts with a choice. Yes, Lord, I hear you. I will open my heart and mind and ears to you.
Now if it was confronting for the apostles, it might be for us. But pilgrimage is about that. You Lord are the song that God the Father has sung from all eternity: the Word of God. I will join in singing that song. It requires training. It risks rejection. But my destiny is worth it.
Hearts made new through pilgrimage
So off we go to Brazil. There’s some trouble there at the moment – there almost always is before a World Youth Day. It’s as if the powers of this world don’t want anything so good to happen.
Of course, when the time comes, the crime rate drops to zero, the trouble-makers realise they’re just boring, and people are hypnotised by the warmth and idealism of our young people, their faith in God and hopes for humanity.
The dozen or so Aussie bishops will join 453 Brazilian ones, who knows how many from elsewhere, and one Argentinian Bishop of Rome.
Hundreds of clergy and religious from other countries will meet 57,000 Brazilian priests and nuns.
And 250 Parramatta youth will encounter the 170 million Catholics in that one country alone – the biggest Catholic country in the world – and who knows how many outsiders!
In Peru and Brazil the Church is at the heart of almost everything good that’s happening: in Brazil alone, the Church runs 3300 centres for special education, 1600 orphanages and 22 leper colonies.
There’s still much for the Church to do in a part of the world where one-quarter of the kids are malnourished and where child labour is rife.
Yet among such disadvantage we will see faith and hope and love like we rarely see at home. God wants you to see and hear and experience all those things: the Good News and the hard bits that accompany it.
Our Aussie bellies are usually full and our beds are usually warm. It may shake us up a bit to ‘see how the other half lives’ – the other three-quarters actually.
But, ironically, we will find that people with so little have much to give. They can be the voice for God calling us to greatness. And our beautiful Pope Francis who comes from among them will be with them.
In a recent homily, Pope Francis said: “You can’t talk about poverty in the abstract. That doesn’t exist! Poverty is the flesh of the poor, [it is] Jesus in this hungry child, in that sick person, in those unjust social structures. Go, look over there, at the flesh of [the suffering] Jesus. But don’t let yourselves be robbed of hope. The spirit of well-being,” the desire to be safe and comfortable can mean you never risk trying, this “can lead you to become a nothing in life! The young must stake themselves on high ideals: this is my advice. And where do I find hope? In the flesh of the suffering Jesus and in true poverty.”Tonight I commission you, my young friends, and your supporters, to go to meet Christ. He awaits you with arms wide open in love. He awaits you in all the fun and challenges of the people there. He awaits you in your own hearts made new through pilgrimage. Christ the Redeemer awaits the youth of the world at WYD2013 Rio! Let’s go!
BISHOP ANTHONY FISHER