I am holding you by the right hand - Bethlehem House Mass 2018

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > I am holding you by the right hand - Bethlehem House Mass 2018

I am reading the life of Charles O’Neill at the present time. Charles first met the St Vincent de Paul Society as a young engineer in Glasgow, Scotland. He joined the Society in 1851 and soon became president. It was in this role that he established links with the International President in Paris.

His work took him to New Zealand where he became involved in many ventures and had a parliamentary career. He did help the Society to be established in Wellington. However, it was when he relocated to Australia that he became very active in the Society.

The Society did have some preliminary starts in Melbourne and Adelaide but it was the formation of the Society at St Patrick’s Church Hill in 1881 that is considered to be the formal establishing of the work of the St Vincent de Paul Society in Australia. St Patrick’s was under the care of French Marist priests who no doubt had a knowledge of the Society and were keen supporters of its work. Charles O’Neill worked among the very poor in the Rocks area of Sydney. It was the very worst of areas of Sydney at the time, dangerous and depressed. Crime, poor sanitation, opium dens, and razor gangs all infested the area. There was great poverty and much suffering.

The biography of Charles O’Neill reveals a Catholic man whose heart was formed by the spirit of the Society. His early exposure to the Society never left him. His life as a Catholic layman was captured by the desire to serve the poor.

The spirit of the Society lives on in Bethlehem House. It was founded as a work of the Society. It was formed by laymen from the Cathedral Parish whose hearts had been formed by the spirituality of the St Vincent de Paul Society. They saw a need to assist homeless men.

It began as a giant leap of faith, as many spiritually-inspired ventures are. In the end it is the call to love the poor that continues to motivate its work.

It has had to become more professional as the years have rolled on, but what makes it special is the spirit of Christian love for the homeless that continues to inspire those who volunteer to assist its work.

The issue of homelessness is very high in the mind of many in Tasmania as we are experiencing a spike in this societal problem. The Church is engaged in a variety of ways in assisting the homeless. CatholicCare is busy actually building new dwellings and offering affordable housing to many who have been driven out of their accommodation by rising rents. Indeed CatholicCare will open 38 brand new homes in the weeks before Christmas. I am sure this will bring great joy to those families who will be able to move into a new house just before Christmas.

We have also launched HART, an initiative within the Archdiocese to find ways to help those who are caught up in homelessness. HART seeks to assist in a practical way those who are homeless and are on the streets. It will be promoted through local parish communities.

Bethlehem House offers its own special service – a bed, a decent meal, access to support services. I take this opportunity to thank all who are part of the work of Bethlehem House.

Today is the feast of St Nicholas – the original Santa Claus. As Bishop of Smirna in modern Turkey he went around providing gifts for the poor. The images of a kindly old bishop with a flowing beard has inspired the modern image of Santa, a creation of the Coca Cola company.

As with so many of our modern customs, especially those around the celebration of Christmas, their origins lie in Christianity. So when you see Santa Claus, think of St Nicholas – his model and exemplar.

We have entered the short liturgical season of Advent. This season has a special flavour of hope. We join with the Jewish people in their confidence that God will fulfil his promises and provide a saviour for them. The season reminds us that God sees the great needs of humanity and is moved to come to save.

It is the spirit of Christianity that inspires the desire of the human heart to reach out to help those in need. As God has done to humanity as a whole in the sending of his own Son, so we Christians are inspired to reach out to assist those who are in need.

In the reading this evening the prophet Isaiah said, “I, the Lord your God, I am holding you by the right hand.” This phrase captures something wonderful about the heart of God. God reaches out to us in our frailty and need. He wants to take us by the hand.

Just consider this for a moment. Put out your right hand. Place it in the hand of God. Know that God is with us.
We can be reminded of a beautiful truth: God is with us as we continue to serve the homeless through the work of Bethlehem House.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Wednesday, 5 December 2018