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Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP: Bringing the family together

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Members of the newly formed Holy Family Catholic Parish in Mosman. Photo: Supplied
Members of the newly formed Holy Family Catholic Parish in Mosman. Photo: Supplied

This is the edited text of the homily given by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP for the 2nd Sunday of Advent B and Mass of Thanksgiving for newly formed Holy Family Catholic Parish Mosman at Sacred Heart Church, Mosman, 10 December 2023.

It’s not from the psalms, nor is it Bishop Brady’s personal anthem: no, the theme song of the American sitcom The Brady Bunch is one I suspect most of us of a certain age could sing from memory. The pop culture phenomenon aired from 1969 to 1974, the brainchild of writer-producer Sherwood Schwartz, who also brought us Gilligan’s Island. The five series of the The Brady Bunch told stories of widower Mike Brady and his three boys who have formed a new family with widow Carol Martin and her three daughters, along with their witty housekeeper Alice, and their dog Tiger. So, theirs was a melded family, like the four parishes become one that is Holy Family Parish Mosman.

There are many reasons for the success of the show and its sequels beyond the catchy theme-song: the relatable characters navigated sibling rivalries, adolescent crushes, low self-esteem, parental restrictions, hurt and belonging, loss and hope—and, through love and the comedy of “real life,” they always found heart-warming resolutions to their challenges. In the days when families still watched TV together, it was a show for the whole family with its improving messages about human potential, courage, kindness and reconciliation. I leave it to you to make any comparisons with your parish!

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The show also had some iconic lines, including Jan Brady’s mantra “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” and Greg’s antiphon “Everything is groovy!” And there were pearls of wisdom like Mike Brady’s “Alone we can only move buckets, but if we work together, we can drain rivers.” For an unconventional family it proposed some rather conventional values.

People often think that to be religious is to be a slave of convention. Yet God has a penchant for the unconventional. Often in the Scriptures He uses situations that cut against the grain to serve His divine plan and people that don’t fit into the usual boxes. On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception we recalled God’s unconventional choice of a young woman from nowheresville even before she was born. From the moment of her creation she was destined for greatness; “full of grace,” “highly favoured,” sinless, this “blessed virgin” surrendered completely to God’s will and put herself at the service of the Incarnation.

Now if Mary was an unconventional choice, picking her kinswoman Elizabeth’s son John was positively bizarre. In another popular TV series, The Chosen, charting the lives of the disciples as another kind of melded family, the Baptist is called “Creepy John.” For good reason. A kind of Judean hippie, he had long unkempt hair, wore camel skins, and ate honey-glazed cicadas. Not very Brady Bunch, not very Mosman! If John’s hygiene, dietary and sartorial habits weren’t enough to put you off, his blazing eyes and accusatory tone as he called all Israel to repentance were not what we’d call “pastoral” today. If I get reports that one of your young priests is baptising people at Balmoral Beach after calling out the sinners of Neutral Bay, I’ll be alarmed!

John preached conversion, something that didn’t always work out well for the prophets. It cost him his head. Yet first he played a crucial role in salvation history. He was the saint of preparation, the finger pointer. Not a wagging finger of judgment but a finger of direction, pointing out the One to come, the One Israel had so long craved, the One who would free us from our sins, the One so great John was unworthy to untie His sandal. John implores us to turn away from self-centredness and look instead towards that One (Mk 1:1-8).

Each of the four gospels begins with an annunciation. Luke’s Gospel, being the most Marian, tells of the Annunciation to Mary of Nazareth by the archangel Gabriel. Matthew, more concerned to establish Jesus’ adopted lineage through St Joseph, begins with the announcement by the same angel to Joseph. John’s Gospel opens with a cosmic announcement, that in the beginning was the Word, the Word Who is God, the Word Who took our flesh as Jesus Christ. But Mark’s annunciation is different. It’s not to an individual or to the whole cosmos, but to a particular nation, the people of Israel. And it’s not by an angelic voice but by Creepy John. A fiery Baptist heralds a coming Messiah, first to the children of Abraham, that family chosen by God through the covenants to bring about His reunion with all of creation and all mankind. And so John, fulfilling the words of the prophet Isaiah (Isa 40:9-11), proclaims the advent of the One who is the glory of the Lord and the shepherd of humanity, the One who will gather all of the lambs in His arms.

John the Baptist’s mission of preparation for the coming of the Lord was addressed first to God’s people. He would remind them that theirs was a most unconventional family, one that had involved a great deal of intermarriage with strangers, and some rather poor behaviour, all too often indicating infidelity and doubt, and requiring conversion, turning around, return to God’s Law. It was to this unconventional family, John insisted, that the Messiah would imminently be arriving. God’s love and truth are coming incarnate as a man!

The annunciation was to Mary and Joseph, to the cosmos, and to the Jews, but the Baptist’s words of preparation, repentance, humility and conversion are for each of us. With just 14 sleeps to Christmas we ready our hearts for the redeemer, removing the clutter that gets in the way of His coming to us. The melded family of Beauty Point, Clifton Gardens, Neutral Bay and Mosman comes together as the family of faith, the new Holy Family, ready to welcome its greatest family member into your hearts and your world at Christmas. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Holy Family of Nazareth, pray for us.

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