Mass for Religious

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Mass for Religious
Saturday 23 February 2013
Campbell Town

I am sure I am not the only one, but there have been times when I have wondered about the underlying themes which gave rise to the choice of particular passages of Scripture, which are assigned to special times of the year. In other words, why were particular passages chosen for the first week of Lent which is just coming to a conclusion?

It is interesting to note that the opening sentence of the First Reading for Monday of the First Week of Lent was “ Be Holy, for I, the Lord your God am Holy.” And the final phrase of the Gospel passage for today, Saturday of the First Week of Lent is “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It has been suggested that the overall theme for this first week of Lent is that of  a “New Way of Seeing.”

The call that comes to us is not to just acquire a few more virtues, but it is a call to holiness – to be totally recreated in our hearts. Perfection and holiness are, above all, a grace, a gift, and they come as a result of the effectiveness of the Word of God within us, in the same way as the falling rain makes the ground fertile.

With a new identity, there comes a new law as well. It is a law which goes far beyond the minimum of the Commandments and it strikes a cord with us as free and responsible persons. While the discussion may take place at an elevated level, in reality it comes down to the statement of Jesus “I was hungry and you gave me food.” The great sign of the new way of seeing is the place of forgiveness. Loving our enemies is linked closely to faith in God.

I expect that people like us have grappled constantly with the directive of Jesus “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”  As so often happens, apparently there is the Greek approach to the understanding of perfection, and then there is the Hebrew approach which is very different. Perfection in the understanding of the Greek tradition means to measure up to some ideal standard, to be completely whole true, good and beautiful. In the Hebrew tradition. to be perfect means to “walk with God,” in spite of the fact that we may not be perfectly whole, good, true or beautiful.

Our concept has been very much fashioned by the Greek understanding of perfection. Holiness is seen as measuring up to a certain benchmark. Sanctity is understood very much as achieving and maintaining something, namely moral goodness and moral integrity. But when the idea of holiness is something that only God can measure up to, it is not easy to give others, or ourselves, the permission to be human.

More attractive to us is the Hebrew concept, that of walking with God despite our imperfections. What God is doing is asking us to bring our weakness and limitations and with walk with God, never hiding, always remaining faithful, not matter what.

There is a story told of  an elderly African-American man who was standing nearby after the funeral of Martin Luther King. A reporter noticed that he was crying, and asked him why. Holding back tears he said: “He was a good man, a faithful man. He and Malcolm X. they stayed with us. He never gave up on us even when we gave up on ourselves. He stayed with us even when we weren’t worth staying with.”

It is all about fidelity, about being faithful about not giving up on our commitments and our communities. I think that is something that all of us here can rightly say – that we have been faithful, and continue to be, that we have not given up, that we have been full of faith.

Today in the calendar of the Church, we celebrate the feast of St Polycarp, one of the very early martyrs.   Tradition has it that he was known to St. John the Evangelist, and by him was ordained as Bishop of Smyrna. St Irenaeus heard him speak when he was a youth. Polycarp  was known as a steadfast witness of truth, a person full of faith. It was his steadfastness which brought him undone and when the first attempts  made to execute him by burning him at the stake, were unsuccessful,  he was killed by the blow of a sword.  He most certainly was one who was perfect in the same way as our Heavenly Father is perfect.

I wish to thank you again this year for your personal commitment to your vocation as a religious, and for the way in which you touch the lives of so many in the Catholic community, as the wider community as well. In other words, you have remained faithful.

I wish to thank you for your friendship and personal support for me, which I greatly value and I have greatly appreciated during my time as the Archbishop. I think we can safely say that this will be the last time that I will be joining you in this role. Surely within the next few months, the long anticipated change will take place.

In my time as a bishop, I have had the honour to meet many religious in other parts of Australia as well, who also show great leadership and witness in their vocation in the consecrated life. I think it is a great bonus to the Bishops Conference that an increasing number of Religious are being called upon to become bishops. In a number of instances, they have gained wider experience earlier as leaders of their respective congregations.

I very much appreciate the invitation to be present with you for this annual gathering, and in particular to be the celebrant of this Mass in which we reminded yet again to  aspire to holiness and to perfection, realising that while very demanding, they are not out of reach.