Thank you all for joining us on this annual Walk With Christ procession on the Feast of Corpus Christi, especially in the 200th anniversary year of the Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament here in Sydney. I acknowledge today the presence of the auxiliary bishops, clergy, religious and lay faithful who helped organise or assisted in today’s procession.
In May 1818 the only priest in the colony of New South Wales, Fr Jeremiah O’Flynn, was arrested and taken back to England. Though credentialed by Rome he was not recognized by the colonial government and had for some months been conducting a clandestine ministry of baptisms, confessions, marriages and Masses in Catholic homes. One of those was William Davis’ home on the site of St Patrick’s Church Hill; another that of James Dempsey in nearby Kent Street. O’Flynn left a consecrated host behind in a pyx at either the Davis or Dempsey home, or both.
In a colonial Church with no priest or Mass that reserved Sacrament became the focus of Catholic life. It fell to the laity to keep daily vigil before the Sacrament and to recite the Rosary, teach catechism and pray Sunday Vespers before it. There is a stained glass window of this event on the West wall of our cathedral below the window of the Empty Tomb…
What these lay people knew was that the most precious thing in the world is the Blessed Sacrament, the most precious activity the celebration of the Mass, the most precious encounter that with Christ in Holy Communion. For “God so loved world He gave His only Son” (Jn 3:16).
What an awesome thing to consider: that so concerned was God to be close to us, to commune with us, to save us for an eternity of union with Him, that He took human flesh. The Creator of the world became a creature in that world, a most fragile creature at that, a babe-in-arms, God-with-us. And this we commemorate, not just at Christmas but every time we open our lips to receive Holy Communion, for yet again God is placed in a manger – the crib of our mouths.
Were this not enough, Jesus said “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, before rising on the third day.” (Lk 24:7; cf. Mt 26:45) What a doubly awesome thing to ponder: that the God who gave Himself into our loving arms at Christmas also surrendered Himself to our hateful hands in holy week. This we commemorate, not just at Easter but every time we put out our hands to receive the Host, for yet again Jesus is placed on a cross – the cross we make with our two hands.
Reprising every token of God’s saving love for us, even unto death, told in person-to-person, flesh-to-flesh contact, He is ours for the taking in Holy Communion! The ancients thought that none could look upon the face of God and live; but our God is so close, so intimate, that we not only look upon Him in the monstrance and adore, not only touch Him with our hands: we actually receive His substance into our substance, His Sacred Body into our bodies, His Precious Blood into our hearts, His divine life into our lives. No wonder those colonial Catholics cried out to God, to the civil authorities and to the Church to give them priests and Mass. And for these we cry out to God again in our day!
Those pioneering Catholics who kept vigil, when priestless and persecuted, could never have imagined that the Catholic community in Sydney would one day have the freedom and resources to sport one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world as its Basilica of St Mary and prime tabernacle for Our Lord. Or that by 2018 there would be 5.2 million Catholics in this land, gathered in 1400 parishes. Or that they would offer our community 10,000 hospital beds, 20,000 aged care places, 45,000 tertiary education places, 700,000 school desks, and innumerable acts of service and care every day. When we think times are hard in the Church let us not forget the struggles of our ancestors and what they have bequeathed us.
Of course, our struggles are real too. Many of us face them in our families, workplaces, community. Now, as two centuries ago, there are those who would marginalise believers and suppress belief if they could. But as we carry with us that triply awesome gift of God-in-our-hands, we do so in awe and gratitude, knowing He will never abandon us, and that this Blessed Sacrament is but a foretaste of the heavenly banquet to come!
This is Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP’s Ferverino for Benediction after the ‘Walk with Christ’ event. Given at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, Corpus Christi 3 June 2018