17 May 2008 - World Youth Day

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World Youth Day
Homily 17 July 2008

During my introduction some minutes ago, I told you that I come from the island of Tasmania, the most southern state in Australia. The West Coast of Tasmania is particularly rugged, with numerous mountains and a coastline that is constantly battered by strong winds and high seas coming in from the Southern Ocean. One of the most significant features of the West Coast of Tasmania is Macquarie Harbour. There is only a very narrow opening from the ocean into the harbour which is larger than Sydney Harbour itself.

One of the most memorable moments during the recent Journey of the World Youth Day Cross and Icon in Tasmania, was the initiative to take both the Cross and the Icon out to the entrance of Macquarie Harbour. It was seen as if we were taking them to “the ends of the earth.”

Macquarie Harbour was discovered in 1815, and it soon became a small settlement where people were involved in building wooden boats. There was an abundant resource of timber, in particular the very valuable wood known as Huon Pine. But the location also appealed to the authorities of the time as an ideal site for a penal colony, and soon there were convicts living and working there in very harsh conditions. It was the convicts who gave the narrow entrance the name of “Hells’ Gates.” Once inside that narrow opening, there was very little chance of ever making an escape.

The actual opening to Macquarie Harbour is one 120 metres wide, and there are problems with the rush of the strong tides through the narrow gap. Even today, navigation is not easy, and the movement of larger vessels is very limited. It was a very special moment when we raised the World Youth Day Cross on the upper deck, while our boat remained almost stationary in the narrow opening to the harbour.

In the Gospel of St. Matthew, we heard the assurance from Jesus that the “gates of hell will not prevail against us”. We know that this is very closely linked to the position of St Peter as the first Vicar of Christ. St Peter, and that other great apostle, St. Paul, are the two giant pillars on which our faith is grounded and supported. It is a wonderful moment
today for us to welcome Pope Benedict, the successor of St. Peter to Sydney for World Youth Day 2008.

Maybe St. Paul did not have to pass through Hell’s Gates, but from the Acts of the Apostles we learn that he did undertake some very dangerous sea voyages on a number of occasions. On his final journey to Rome, he travelled first to Malta, then to Syracuse in Sicily, and to today’s Reggio Calabria on the toe of Italy before landing in Pozzuoli near Naples. From there to Rome, the journey was made on foot.

Some of the most moving experiences of the disciples happened when travelling with Jesus in a boat. On one occasion, when the wind and the waves were so strong that the apostles were in fear of their lives, Jesus was fast asleep in the stern of the boat. On another occasion, he left the apostles to sail across the lake on their own. Again the weather turned
nasty, and they were in serious difficulties. There were no Police Rescue helicopters in those days. But then Jesus appeared saying “Courage, it is I, do not be afraid.”

It was on that occasion that Jesus invited Peter to leave the boat and to walk on the water. Peter had seen Jesus cure people, feed 5000 of them at a time, starting with just a few loaves of bread and an even smaller number of fish. Peter had no doubt that whatever Jesus commanded, it would happen.

But the success of his response depended on his faith. Having the courage to leave the boat, Peter came to realise both the extent of his own weakness and the power of Jesus. Had he remained in the boat, his faith would have been worthless, and never put to the test.

Peter is the model for us of a very human journey of faith. He seeks, he steps, he fails, he is saved, he praises, and he gives the right answer on occasions as well. In the Gospel passage today, we heard Peter give the perfect answer to the question from Jesus.

These experiences were repeated many times over. Every time he fell, and his faith failed, he rose up again and became closer to Christ. He also had the good sense to call for help when he realised he needed it. Peter’s failures only made him love Christ more – only made him rely more on Christ as well.

At some time or other, each of us will feel the “force of the wind and the waves.” We may be tempted to take fright. We may even wonder why Jesus seems at times to be so far away and out of sight.

Even though we will never be asked to walk on the water, we can get that sinking feeling just the same. The beauty is that we are not thrown back on our own resources. We are a community of believers. That is the reason that we have come to World Youth Day in the first place. We can gain support from one another, as well as from the Word of God and the Bread of Life in the Eucharist.

I hope that your time here in Sydney, and your experience of World Youth Day, will prove to be a time of growth in knowledge, particularly of the place and presence of the Holy Spirit, and also a time of growth in your capacity to manage “the wind and the waves” when they appear over the horizon.