6 June 2008 - Catholic Theological College

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Catholic Theological College
6 June 2008

One of the most important features of the recent Journey in Tasmania of the World Youth Day Cross and Icon, was the initiative to take both the Cross and the Icon to Hell’s Gates, at the entrance to Macquarie Harbour on the rugged West Coast of the island. Those planning the event were conscious that the World Youth Day theme has been abbreviated, and the words in Acts 1.8 “to the end of the earth” have been omitted. They wanted to take the Cross and the Icon “to the ends of the earth.”

The huge Macquarie Harbour, much larger than Sydney Harbour, but smaller, I am regret to say, than Port Phillip Bay, was discovered in 1815. It became a settlement where boats could be built, using the abundant source of timber that was close by, including the valuable Huon Pine. But it was soon to appeal also to the authorities as a good place for a penal colony, and the first convicts to arrive there named the entrance Hells Gates. Once inside the narrow dangerous opening, there was little chance of escape.

The opening into Macquarie Harbour is only 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 special moment when we raised the World Youth Day Cross on the upper deck, while the boat remained almost stationary in the narrow opening into the harbour.

In the Gospel of Matthew, we have become familiar with the assurance that “the gates of hell will not prevail against us”. We also know that this is closely linked to the primacy of St. Peter. Together with St. Paul, these two giants are the pillars on which our faith is grounded and supported.

Maybe St Paul did not have to pass through Hell’s Gates, but from the Acts of the Apostles we learn that he was travelling on a boat that sailed out of Alexandria. There were stopovers, first in Malta, and then in Syracuse in Sicily, at today’s Reggio Calabria on the toe of Italy, and then on to Pozzuoli, near Naples. From then on, the journey was completed on foot, passing along the historic Appian Way and into Rome. It was there, as we know, that his life’s journey came to an end with his execution by being beheaded.

A boat was also the means of transport that features in the gospel reading for this Votive Mass in honour of St. Peter and St. Paul. Jesus left the disciples to make their own way across the lake, but as so easily happens, the weather turned nasty and they were in serious difficulties. There were no Westpac or Police helicopters to come to their rescue. But the familiar voice of Jesus is what they needed to hear: “Courage, it is I, do not be afraid.”

Unfortunately, for Peter, those words were not enough. He commenced his walk on the water well enough, but then he began to falter and loose his way. Peter actually knew that whatever Jesus commanded would become a possibility. He had seen Jesus cure people, teach them, feed 5000 of them with just a few loaves and fewer fish as a starting point. Peter had no doubt that whatever Jesus commanded, that would happen.

But the success of his response depended on his faith. In 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 of a very human journey of faith. He seeks, he steps, he fails, he is saved, he praises, and then it all is repeated over again. But 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.

Here in the environment of Catholic Theological College, you, the students, with the assistance of the academic staff, are able to increase the level of your knowledge in many important fields of scripture, liturgy, theology, church history and so on. But as you learn more, a response is called for as well. As I said earlier, Peter knew that Jesus could deliver on his promises, but to respond adequately to the situation, still more was required.

I am sure that you are aware of the importance of reflection on what you learn, and the need to deepen your faith as you acquire greater knowledge. At some time or other, each of us will feel the “force of the wind.” We may be tempted to take fright. We may even wonder why Jesus seems to be so far away and out if 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. Every student who attends this theological college is a person of faith. We can gain support from one another, as well as the Word of God and the Bread of Life in the Eucharist.

The year here at CTC is now well under way. I hope that it is proving to be a time of growth in knowledge, growth in faith, and also growth in your capacity to manage the wind and the waves when they appear over the horizon.