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Helper of all humanity

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archbishop homily Mary Christians - The Catholic Weekly
Images by Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2023

This is the edited text of the homily given by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP at the Mass for the Solemnity of Our Lady Help of Christians, Year B, at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, 24 May 2024. 

You’ve probably all heard of Siri, Alexa, Bixby and Google Assistant: in fact, at your young age, you probably know more about these things than I do. Some of you have already used them and most of you will in the future. They are virtual assistants for your smart phone, watch, tablet or computer, that perform tasks like reading out messages, searching the web, playing music, setting up a meeting, giving directions, ordering takeaway, translating things, and so on. Part of their appeal is that you can talk to them and they talk back. They respond in a “human” voice and idiom that gives it a more personal feel. Virtual assistants seem real.

Siri and friends are there to lend a helping hand. But they aren’t flawless and there are some obvious downsides. They can misinterpret commands or provide inaccurate responses that mislead or frustrate us. They lack real emotional connection, and so don’t pick up the non-verbal cues and emotional nuances. Siri doesn’t empathise, doesn’t even really understand, even if she makes all the right noises. There are privacy and security concerns, too, because what Siri hears so can the tech companies and the hackers. And with any technology, we can become complacent, lazy or overly dependent.

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Yet these virtual assistants—like robots and the whole AI universe opening up before us—are tapping into a real human need. We are creatures made for relationship and no matter how great our talents and energy levels, there are times in life when we need help. One of my favourite saints, St Catherine of Siena, used to say God deliberately made us limited, incapable of looking after all our own needs and wants, so we would have to lean on each other. To put it another way: God designed us for friendship with others and when we try to go-it-alone, we struggle like fish out of water…

God didn’t just create us, needy and incomplete, to force us to seek help. No, He actually provides the helpers we need: our parents, siblings, extended family, our neighbours, teachers, schoolmates, all the groups we are part of. Most graciously, He gives us the church, brothers and sisters who share our faith and ideals, and support each other to live well. Each of you became part of the Church when you were baptised, and you become even more so by confirmation and Holy Communion.

What’s special about this community is that it extends beyond our time and place. It’s like a “virtual” community that connects you with people you’ve never met, people from all over the world, from the past and future. Looking around our beautiful cathedral, at the windows and statues, we see lots of reminders of the spiritual family we can connect to and who are interested in hearing from us and helping us. They are not just examples to us of how to be great Christians: they are spiritual assistants, close to God, ready to ask Him for our needs and wants…

But God has a way of surprising us and, just when we think we’ve seen it all, He gives us more… Jesus the Good Shepherd is our greatest Helper. Last Sunday at Pentecost He sent us the Holy Spirit as another Helper. But as He was dying on the cross, and saw His best mate John crying his eyes out, as He contemplated how lost His disciples would feel without Him, He decided to give us one more Helper: someone more maternal, cuddly, accessible. He gave us the greatest assistant in creation: His own mother Mary. She knew about human relationships, interconnectedness, needs, and the help we can be to each other.

When Mary received the news that she would carry God’s Son, protect Him, bring Him up well, be His best helper (Lk 1:16-38), she didn’t just rest on her laurels. She ran immediately to her old cousin Liz, who was also pregnant with a special child, John the Baptist (Lk 1:39-56). Soon Mary would have to flee to Egypt as a refugee with Joseph to keep her own baby Jesus safe (Mt 2:1-18). She brought Him to the great Cathedral in Jerusalem as a baby and at the end of primary school (Lk 2:22-50) as part of His religious upbringing. She taught Him in the first Catholic school, His home in Nazareth, where He “grew in wisdom and stature, in favour with God and people” (Lk 2:51-52). She went with Him to His first public engagement as a young adult, at the wedding reception in Cana, interceded for the married couple in their need, taught people to obey Him (Jn 2:1-12). She accompanied Him at various points in His mission, and ultimately all the way to the Cross where she helped Him die well (Jn 19:25-27). She stayed and prayed with the apostles in their desolation at His death and ascension (Acts 1:12-14). Jesus knew Mary was the best of Helpers to those around her. And that’s why, as He was dying on the cross and worried about us, He gave us his mum to be our second mum too.

So, Mary is a mother for all humanity, for all the Church. But she’s a special patron for us in Sydney. Among her many names—Mary, Mother of God, Mother of the Church, Queen of Peace, and the rest—her special name here in Sydney and throughout Australia is “Mary Help of Christians.” She got this name because she helped the Church by interceding for it when its very survival was at risk. She got this name here in Sydney because she helped the baby Australian Church survive when it had no priests, no Mass, no sacraments, and as it was growing grew up, with poor members and unfriendly authorities. So, the first Catholic Church ever built in Australia was on this site and was named for her. So was the first cathedral. So was the whole Church of Australia. The early Catholic community of Australia knew what a helper she had been to Jesus, and to Christians down the ages, and so they wanted her for their own.

Fast-forward two centuries and Catholics are now the biggest religion in Australia and that little Hyde Park chapel now its greatest cathedral. From here she has graced our schools, parishes, hospitals, welfare services, aged care homes, so many wonderful spiritual and corporal works of mercy—helping works—that following her example make the Catholic Church this country’s greatest virtual assistant.

My dear young people, always remember that you have a Helper, not in your iPad, but in your heart, and she’s the greatest of all human helpers. Call upon Mary Help of Christians to bring you closer to her divine Son and to pray for you and your loved ones in all their needs. She’s there to help!

Happy feast day, my young friends. Mary Help of Christians, pray for us.

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