Homily for the dedication of a church on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe in Year C 2019 at St Madeleine Sophie Barat Parish, Kenthurst, 24 November 2019
Readings: Neh 8:2-10; Heb 13:8-15; John 12:31-36
Consecration of St Madeline Sophie Church: a new Church of faith, hope and love
It is with great joy that we gather here at St Madeline’s to invoke God’s blessing upon this magnificent new church, a symbol of the indomitable spirit, enduring hope and unwavering faith of this community. It is an understatement to say that this new church has been overdue. If we use the metaphor of a birth, it has been a long pregnancy. The baby has had a long gestation and a lot of blood has been shed. Just as a mother who is relieved after a painful labour, we can’t wipe the smile off Fr Vincent’s face all day today.
On his behalf, I’d like to welcome all the dignitaries who have joined us for this auspicious occasion. Bishop Bede Vincent Heather who blessed the original complex sends his best wishes. With him, myself and the parish priest, we have three Vincents. In horse racing terms, they call it a winning trifecta.
We must pay tribute to all the parishioners whose hard work, generosity and determination have made this day possible. Among them are the many pioneers who have gone before us. I also notice in church a few people in wheelchairs, frame walkers and even on crutches. They are like Anna and Simeon in the Gospel who expressed delight after having seen the fulfilment of a dream.
Today’s celebration is ultimately a celebration of a community. In other words, it is not just the physical building but the kind of church we desire to be. When Pope Francis began his pontificate, the people gathered at St Peter’s Square and many of them carried banners that read “go and rebuild my church”. It was of course a reference to St Francis’ dream in which he was told to rebuild the church that was falling to ruins.
Pope Francis, like his namesake, has dedicated himself to the task ever since that day when he bowed and asked the people for their blessing. It was a powerful symbol that signals a new way of being church. Instead of modelling on an old Christendom version of triumph, splendour and power, Pope Francis champions a much more humble, poor, servant and inclusive church. The servant leadership of Pope Francis is indicative of the new era of hope, even if we are struggling to find our way in the emerging and unfamiliar landscape.
Transition times are inevitably full of chaos, uncertainty and even confusion. As the Holy Spirit leads us in a new exodus, we are called to go forward into the future with courage. We need to remember that the tough times can be the blessed times. God’s ways often involve the pain of letting go, of beginning again, of going forward with hope and trust.
The Word of God today helps us to come to terms with our present situation and live it with courage, faith and hope. It speaks of crisis and opportunity, of new life through painful transitions. It also encourages us to be vigilant, to hold firm and not to lose heart.
In the first reading, we heard the moving account of the gathering of people in front of the ruined temple in Jerusalem. Ezra was the true leader in time of transition. He had the Torah read out to them and interpreted its meaning for them. He summoned their courage; he strengthened their faith and kindled their hope in the God of faithfulness and love. He opened their eyes the mystery of God’s unfolding purpose.
Whether it was Egypt or the land of promise, whether it was the exile or the homebound return, God’s purpose was to sanctify them, to make them into a people worthy of his image. Ezra managed to instil new confidence into a very shaken people: “Today is holy to our Lord”, he said, “Do not be sad and do not weep; for the joy of the Lord is our strength”.
In the Gospel, Jesus infuses hope in the hearts of His disciples as they approach the pivotal moment of their discipleship. He speaks of his impending death not as a failure but a victory, a victory not through a show of strength but a demonstration of love in vulnerability. Just as on the cross, He reveals himself to the good thief as the servant and powerless Messiah, here Jesus makes known his divinity through the moment of his greatest vulnerability.
Our celebration of this beautiful new church is indeed a fitting metaphor of the emerging church that God has commissioned us his disciples to rebuild. In many ways, we are like the returned exiles who gathered around the temple and committed themselves to the task of rebuilding their covenanted community.
In the wake of the sexual abuse crisis, we must be a humble, poor, servant and inclusive church that Pope Francis, the new Ezra, is leading the way. The brokenness of the exile, the brokenness of the crucifixion and ours have one thing in common: it can a venue for rebirth and new possibility. May we, as the Body of Christ, be transformed into the conduit of mercy, the sign of hope and the voice of conscience for our society.
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