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Homily: A reflection on the National Council of Priests Conference

By Mons. Peter Jeffrey:

The principal celebrant of the concluding Mass at the National Council of Priests biennial conference in Canberra was Archbishop Prowse.

He spoke about a painting by a Canberra Priest hanging in the Cathedral. It is of the miraculous catch of fish on the Sea of Galilee.

The puzzling thing is the dark, heavy cloud indicating there is a great storm raging over the Sea of Galilee. I say puzzling because there is no reference to a ‘storm’ in the Gospel account. The priest said to the Archbishop when he asked him about “the storm” - “at present, in the barque of Peter (which is an image for the Church) we are all in a storm”.

Reactions to this are manifold – some may not pay any attention to it; others may walk away; others may feel justified anger. Or we can say the challenge for all of us is to stay in the barque of Peter and weather the storm!

At the Canberra conference, about 120 of us priests from all around Australia heard about the strength of the storm. Robert Fitzgerald who was one of the commissioners on the Royal Commission gave us the stark statistics from that thorough investigation. He himself was the state president of the St. Vincent de Paul society in N.S.W. and in spite of the shocking revelations from the commission is a faith-filled and active Catholic who is involved in Parish and public life.

However he did not evade any of the stark statistics coming from the Commission’s findings, and spoke of the failure of our church to adequately address the issues and in particular to apologise and adequately care for innocent victims.

Fr. Frank Brennan S.J. analysed the situation also. He spoke as a highly respected priest and legal expert. The case stories that he presented were an exhortation to feel the pain that people are experiencing. It is so important that we, especially those in authority in the Church must truly listen, when people courageously tell their stories.

More than that, we need to see that ongoing help is readily available for anyone effected. It may be only years later that a person manages to come forward.

Isaiah, in the 1st reading says: “The Lord has opened my ear”. We are learning, hopefully, to be a more genuine “Listening Church”! We have been stressing that recently as we prepare for the Plenary Council. It is all about our listening to one another to discern what the Spirit is saying to us in Australia in 2018 and beyond.

As the baptised People of God, we need to have the humility and the courage to speak boldly if we to transform our society and build the Kingdom of God in our contemporary Australia.

Isaiah’s words may give us greater courage and desire not to run away from the storm at sea but to ride the waves in the storm. He said:

“The Lord has opened my ear. For my part I made no resistance, neither did I turn away. I offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who tore at my beard; I did not cover my face against insult and spittle. The Lord comes to my help”.

In spite of the storm like that in the painting of the boat on the Sea of Galilee, we need to be (especially at this moment in the history of our Church in Australia) People of Hope.

As baptised into Christ, we are the Wounded Body of Christ.

We are not alone – Christ is with us on the journey – He is our hope.

As the Pilgrim People of God we are on a journey. Christ loves us where we are. He accompanies us on this journey together. This means our discipleship - our faith – if you like - is not STATIC. Our faith is a ‘relationship with Christ’ that can wax and wane but it is capable of and meant to GROW!

My namesake, Peter, might encourage us on the journey. He is so often the Gospel bungler. He is the one who speaks first and thinks afterwards. He is the fellow who defends Jesus with a sword one minute, then denies Him with a word the next. He shoots himself in the foot in this Gospel passage today. He knew Jesus to be the Christ (the anointed One of God) but he still does not want Him to get hurt.

We follow a crucified Christ – we need to look to the crucified Christ as the source of strength for ourselves and for the Australian Church at this point in our history.

We pray for those who have suffered wrongly at the hands of some in the Church whom they trusted. We pray that where needed we will reach out with listening ears and helping hands.

Did you notice the words from Paul to the Galatians in the Gospel acclamation? As we offer this Eucharist, may they be our words “My only glory is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, which crucifies the world to me and me to the world”

*This is a copy of Mons' homily on the 23rd Sunday in ordinary time, 2018

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