The Gift of Life - Opening Mass and Comissioning of Leaders for St Mary's College 2019

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > The Gift of Life - Opening Mass and Comissioning of Leaders for St Mary's College 2019

We have come together as a school community of students, teachers and parents as the new school year begins. It is always good and appropriate that we celebrate a Mass at the beginning of the year. Today the school community assembles in this cathedral which is the house of God. This cathedral helps us be aware of the realm of the spirit, the presence of God among us, within us.

We turn our minds towards God who is the author of each of our lives and the constant source of guidance and encouragement. We bring ourselves, our hopes and expectations for the coming year, and ask for His blessing on each of us and on the College as a whole. Today in this Mass we lift our hearts and minds to offer God our worship and praise, conscious that all good things come ultimately from the hand of God.

We are reminded of this in a particular way through the first reading at this Mass. This week the Church throughout the world has begun reading from the very first book of the bible, the Book of Genesis.

The Book of Genesis commences with a description of the God’s work of creation. Today’s reading describes the creation of the first human being. It described God forming the first person from the dust of the earth. This simply declares something we all know – that we are material beings. We have a physical body. It also reminds us that human beings are intimately related to the whole of creation. We are not separate from it, above it or outside it. Indeed God places the first man in the midst of the Garden of Eden and entrusts the cultivation of the earth to him. The man is told not only to cultivate the earth, but also to care for it.

Thus, the Book of Genesis reminds us of our responsibility to care for creation which has in fact been entrusted to us. We are to be good stewards of all that surrounds us. God has entrusted the whole of creation to the human beings. As the reading today says, God put the man He had created into the garden. This garden would supply what human beings need to live and survive. Thus the world around us is available for our use, to be cultivated. However, we are to use it wisely and responsibly. In our own time, we have become more conscious of the need to be good stewards of creation. We do need to consider what we will be offering to those generations who follow us. We do need to use the earth and all that is in it in such a way that it can be replenished for the future. This requires constant attention to the impact of our actions, and a desire to limit our own negative effect on creation.

The reading offers a beautiful image as God brings the first human being into existence. It says that God “breathed into his nostrils a breath of life”. This is a very personal way of describing the creation of the first human being. He was not just manufactured, nor mass produced. God took personal interest. This says something very important to us. God is interested in each one of us.

Life is a gift. God wanted each of us to exist. None of us chose to be born. We were given life. Thus, life is precious, a blessing. We thank God that we have life. It is a beautiful thing. It is something to be guarded and nurtured.

However, it also says that human beings were created with a divine breath. God breathed his own divine life into us. We human beings have not only a physical life, but we have an immortal soul. We have a spiritual dimension to our being.
God’s creation of human beings was the highpoint of His creative action. The Book of Genesis reveals something quite wonderful about who were are as human beings. We are told that God created human beings in his own image.
We human beings are different from everything else in creation. We are God’s special work. He has given us the dignity of being created in His image.

What is this image of God in us?

I would propose three elements in particular.

Firstly, as I have said we have been given an immortal soul. Animals and plants live and die, but we are destined for eternity. Our soul is immortal.

Secondly, God is love. This is something St John says again and again. Love is of the nature of God. And we human beings have been given the capacity to love. Animals can’t love. They can be loyal and even affectionate, but only humans can love. This capacity to love marks us out as unique in creation.

Thirdly, we human beings have free will. We can make personal choices. This is hinted at in the reading today when the Lord issues an instruction to the first man not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The first human being had an innocence, like a little child. God warned the man that eating of the tree would expose him to the reality of evil and hence of death. Sadly the story will go on to tell us that Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and ate of the tree, and exposed themselves to evil and its consequences.

God gave human beings this freedom to make moral choices. We are not robots or simply programmed to do what God wants. We have the freedom to choose. This is both our dignity and our great responsibility to use this freedom wisely and well.

As the new school year begins the reading from the Book of Genesis can remind us that we are the work of God’s creative love. God chose to create. What He created was good, and beautiful, and wondrous. We are the greatest of God’s work. Each of us have a dignity as human beings.

It is in this context that we commission the College Leaders for 2019.

I encourage those entrusted with leadership this year to promote the dignity of each person in the College. Realise that each person has had the breath of life breathed into them. They have been given an immortal soul. They are personally loved by God. They are entrusted with the gift of free will. The reading from the Book of Genesis inspires us all to nourish and protect the dignity of each person. This is the Christian understanding of human relations.

As leaders I encourage you to dedicate yourself today to contribute effectively to the common good of the whole of the College community in 2019.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Wednesday 13 February 2019