32ND SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME YEAR C HOMILY 2022
ST THERESE’S PARISH CENTENARY MASS
LET US REMEMBER, GIVE THANKS, REJOICE, BE GLAD AND LOOK FORWARD
Jn 15.9-17 Gal 3.26-29 Rom 12.9-16
Last weekend’s Faith column in The Sunday Age provided a nostalgic reflection on what might be called ‘Old Time Catholicism’ and ‘Catholic Culture’, which I well remember, looking back on growing up in St James’s Parish Gardenvale, in the 1950’s and 60’s. In many ways, it was a happy and seemingly uncomplicated time, when families went to Mass together; there were parish picnics, snow picnics and dances (which intimidated me!), regular social gatherings, YCS and YCW groups for the younger generation were very alive and active, and the parish priest was king, not to be questioned or challenged on any issue, including by the curates, generally speaking! Well, that much has changed, hasn’t it, and for the better?!
And it has to be said, there was a real sense of community and friendship through parish and school gatherings on a regular basis. And there was a real sense of connection between parish and primary school communities. So there’s much to acknowledge and celebrate as we look back there
At the same time, we can’t gild the lily, nor live in the past. Beneath outer appearances, there were exclusions, contrary to the spirit of the Gospel proclaimed and lived by Jesus. Divorced, and certainly divorced and remarried Catholics, not to even mention the word gay, were not made to feel welcome. There was too much of a sense of unhealthy Catholic guilt, and mixed marriages generally had to be celebrated in the sacristy, or the cathedral chapel, if you could afford it! There are those who can remember these situations, even here at St Therese’s. And, of course, there was no going into non-Catholic churches, even for weddings or funerals, without special permission, which could well be refused! (My maternal grandfather made up his own mind in 1959, at 83, I recall!). Walls were reinforced, rather than bridges built, in order to find our common ground in Christian faith and beyond, as Pope Francis demonstrates so well.
Times have, fortunately, certainly changed since then. My ‘Baby Boomer’ generation straddled Vatican II, as I can well remember my fascination with Latin Mass, and the Roman missal’s divided pages between Latin and English, then dialogue Masses coming in, then the full English Mass, with active participation and response of all present. The altar rail barriers came down, then came Communion in the hand, and locally, a new approach to seminary training behind Monash University at Clayton, with far more appropriate pastoral formation and parish experience. And then, somehow, the numbers went down from there! But it was also a time of massive change in our society and the world in general.
What’s the common factor between then and now? To my mind, we can’t question the validity of the Gospel message of Jesus, for one thing, the call to love – God, neighbour and self, as I always say, as we’re no use to anyone else if we don’t develop a healthy ego and confidence in our ability to make a difference in living the Gospel as Good News in our lives.
The Catholic traditions and celebrations continue to be strong and well celebrated, with the transition from Confession to Reconciliation, First Communion to First Eucharist, and the wandering sacrament of Confirmation, mostly for Grade 6, as a sign of growth in Christian maturity, before graduation to secondary school. A much improved focus on forgiveness and compassion over guilt and scruples, Eucharist now seen as Bread for the Broken rather than for the pure and the perfect, of whom there are none anyway, and, for me, the fruits of the Spirit being more meaningful and practical than just the 7 gifts, which you older lot should know by rote: “Wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord” (It worked for me anyway!).
This is where today’s Gospel comes into focus, with Jesus, in his Last Supper farewell discourse, starting off with the washing of the feet (not just about dirty feet!), as a call to service, continuing into his command to love as he has loved, in word and deed, to be his friends, as well as friends with one another and beyond. The resulting fruits of the Spirit emerge as the qualities or virtues we are called to produce – “love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”.
I mention these often, as a canon lawyer, because these are at the forefront of Jesus’ teaching, not a long list of rules and regulations. Unfortunately, Canon Law was often, and even now, sometimes used and abused, as a means of saying no to new proposals and ideas, rather than as a liberating force for the good of the faithful People of God.
And here at St Therese’s, we gather in faith to celebrate our parish centenary, acknowledging the evolution of a thriving faith community over those years, since 1922, also the year my parents were born. We can look back with some pride and satisfaction, on the achievements over those 100 years, the many celebrations of life and death, and sacraments in between, not to forget the friendships formed and memories shared, and the services provided to those in need, in all sort of directions, from St Vincent de Paul Society to the more recently formed Refugee and Asylum Seekers group, and our Senior Friendship Group, among so many others.
At the same time, we need to make the most of the present, in our own lives, contributing by our presence, to the continuing spirit of maintaining and growing our parish community. The future is uncertain, but challenging, for those of us who keep the faith and contribute to sustaining our sense of welcome, inclusion and belonging. Our post-lockdown profile demonstrates further reduced numbers in regular Mass attendance, and an ageing cohort, such that I can still feel young at 60+10 (as the French put it!), as a very, very doubtful fringe benefit!
Jesus presents a God in the image of a loving and forgiving father. Too often, this has been lost in an emphasis on obligation and punishment for transgressions. As Church, we’ve come a long way forward there, but we still need to be encouraging and engaging others to belong, and to lead by example, with a very long way to go.
The readings from Paul’s letters, chosen for today, emphasize the open community dimension of unity in diversity, and inclusion, as well as encouraging a sense of generosity of spirit, sharing of resources, compassion and humility through service. The old fundamentals of doing good and avoiding evil are at the heart of the Gospel too, but expanded exponentially into Jesus’ law of love and forgiveness, even of enemies, and that’s really hard, isn’t it?
‘Ecclesia semper reformanda’ is an old adage for a “Church always in need of change or reform”, but somehow human nature can tend to resist and deny this reality! To me, as a parish priest, the words, “But, Father, we’ve always done it this way!” are hardly music to the ears, but rather, anathema!! Just look at our own lives!
And let’s remember the last line of the last canon 1752, of the 1983 Code of Canon Law: “always observing canonical equity, and keeping in mind he salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law.” (even though this is in the section on “Procedure for the Transfer of Parish Priests”, so don’t go getting ideas! My take on this, in Australian lingo, is a fair go for all and for the good of the People of God!
And so, all are welcome, as we gather in faith to remember and learn from the the history, to express gratitude for the many who have contributed, and who continue to do so now, to being part of, and building up this community of St Therese’s Parish and School, and to celebrate Eucharist. We also look forward in faith and hope, to the future, for the next 100 years, a step at a time, but who knows in what shape or form parish life, priestly ministry, religious life, and mission, will evolve into by then?
Whatever happens, the Gospel Good News of Jesus remains universal and the same, and his Law of Love – of God, neighbour and self! So let us give thanks, rejoice, pray and celebrate together, as we move and look forward.
john hannon 6th November 2022
CONCLUDING NOTE OF GRATITUDE
As parish priest, on behalf of the whole community here of St Therese’s Parish, I acknowledge the commitment and dedication of all involved with the Centenary Preparation Committee. As the Johnny come lately for the last 5 years here at Essendon, I have largely relied on you, the parishioners, to plan and co-ordinate everything, and I thank you for that.
It has been said to me a number of times over the past 29 years I have been PP of 7 different parish communities and 8 Catholic primary schools: “Father, it’s your parish! What do you want now?” To which I always respond: “No it’s certainly not my parish; it’s your parish, and I am here to serve and pastor you, the People of God”.
(Adaptation has been part of the deal throughout my ministry: In 44 years as a priest, I’ve also been assistant or resident priest in 7 parishes in Melbourne and Ottawa, prior to being appointed a PP).
I also acknowledge the time, talent, effort and energy put in by those who have prepared the music and liturgy, particularly Felicity Baldock, our choir director, from St Columba’s College, Wendy Verbyla, our pianist, who has thankfully bounced back to be here, after an unfortunate encounter with a ladder, and to all our musicians and singers involved. And then thanks to Maria Manti and helpers with the décor in the church.
Then there are the carefully prepared historical displays and the background research required, so thanks to all, too numerous to name individually, but I know Maggie Catterall and Jo Wallmeyer were at the centre of it. And, of course, I am fortunate to have a great parish office staff, with Jac, Kathy Irene and Leanne, who have made a great contribution as well, in the background. The regular centenary committee, who have met regularly for the last 12 months or so, with Sister Cathy Meese, Kevin McCartney, John O’Connor, Jacinta Hyland, Annmaree Sharkey, Carmel Arenivar and the helpers from St Therese’s Primary School.
And now, thanks to all for coming from near and far. Enjoy the afternoon reminiscing and sharing your stories, with light refreshments.
john hannon PP 6th November 2022
AND ONE MORE REMINISCENT NOTE!
To highlight but one example of long and faithful service here, I spoke to Jo Wallmeyer the other day about her parish experience here, having begun in 1984 as a part-time secretary/factotum for Fathers Paddy Fitzpatrick and then John Mullaly and Bill Attard, for over 28 years, when they were parish priests here, coping with their diverse personalities and all of their foibles and eccentricities, along with those of the passing parade of curates!!
She also recalled her father telling her of the Mass celebrated here at her canonization on 17th May 1925, at which time the parish was names after her, following the temporary stand-in of Teresa of Avila, whose name seemed to stick, given the Australian ignorance of French spelling and pronunciation! Jo was involved in RE for government school children on Sundays in the 1960’s, prior to her marriage to the lively Leigh, who sadly died a few years ago, as have many other faithful parishioners who have contributed so much.
She spoke of the terrific, packed out Sunday evening Youth Masses of the 1970’s and 1980’s, with the enthusiastic encouragement and support of Father Terry Wade and others at that time. Great memories are there, but also hope for the future! As we remember, acknowledge, give thanks, and continue to live the Gospel.