A warm welcome to you all to this Solemn Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral. Today I am very happy to be commissioning the Sydney pilgrims as they set out for Kraków, Poland, for World Youth Day 2016 and so to give them my blessing and my bon voyage.
Sadly, due to my recent illness, my doctors will not let me travel overseas: happily, however, I have two new auxiliary bishops and have asked the youngest bishop in Australia, Bishop-elect Richard Umbers, who is concelebrating with me today, to accompany you in my place. Auxiliary Bishop Terry Brady, whom I also welcome this morning, will also be leading a group, and the priests with me this morning will be chaplains to our pilgrims. And I will be accompanying you all in prayer and watching from a distance.
There are more than 800 pilgrims travelling to Kraków from Sydney! That’s truly a number to be proud of. When I see so many young people fired with love of God, the Church and the world, ready to make the long journey of faith in company with two million other young people, thousands of bishops, priests and lay leaders, and one very happy pope, my heart is truly warmed, and my hope for the future strengthened. And so as we prepare for this Mass, for this pilgrimage and for the rest of our lives, let us repent of our sins and turn to the God who is so rich in mercy …
We’ve all heard the story of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37) many times before; though we all love it, it’s so familiar we easily switch off when it starts to be read. But, like any of Jesus’ words, it’s worth hearing again and pondering what new things the Word of God may be saying to us.
One of the early Church Fathers, Origen, suggested an interesting perspective on this story. Instead of thinking of the victim in the parable as some Jewish guy ambushed between Jerusalem and Jericho, Origen suggested this is the story of all humanity. We – you and I – are that man. We have all left Jerusalem, our safe place, our Garden of Eden. Along the road we have all been beset by bandits, our enemies Sin, the Flesh and the Devil, who beat us up emotionally and leave us dead spiritually. Even Priest and Levite, that is the Law and the Prophets, fail to save us and we certainly can’t save ourselves. We need a Good Samaritan, we need Jesus Christ, to pick up wounded humanity and take it to the Inn of the Church to be looked after.
This reading of the Good Samaritan story suggests that we are not just called to be nice to people, like a secular social worker or NGO, important as such work may be. We are called to keep company with Christ, to imitate Christ, indeed to be Christ’s hands reaching out to touch and heal those in physical need and also those suffering emotionally, morally or spiritually, as He would.
But how are we to keep company with Christ, if we are at the same time helping the man abandoned in the ditch? St Teresa of Avila once said that keeping company with God’s friends is a good way of keeping near to Him. Why? Because saints are good at making space for God in a world that tries to marginalise Him or pretend He doesn’t matter.
They bring God closer because they are close to Him. Because they are His artwork, contact with the saints brings us closer to the divine Artist.
Michelangelo described the sculptor’s art as releasing rather than creating: faced with a block of marble his task was to remove the excess, to clear away the obstructions disguising the true beauty of the David, Moses or Pietà lying concealed within. The saints dispose themselves to be freed from the dross that obscures the image of God in us.
They make space for God’s artistry amid the distractions of daily life. And in becoming His space, their lives become a space in which others may find Him.
This World Youth Day, my young friends, you will keep company with many living saints and saints-in-the-making, and with them you will try to make space for God. Pope Francis has also given you particular patron saints for your pilgrimage, including St John Paul II, founder of World Youth Day, and St Faustina, who, like him, lived in Kraków.
Other saints from those parts include Hedwig, Hyacinth and Maximilian Kolbe. In such saints you will see human beings truly themselves and finally fulfilled, a promise to each of us that if we are willing to enter into the kingdom of God wholeheartedly as Christ’s disciples He will make a masterpiece of us too.
The theme for this World Youth Day is: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7). Give mercy and you’ll be given mercy – divine mercy in abundance; and receiving divine mercy, be ready to show it to others. So we become the Good Samaritan. Baptism is for biography: for writing the story of God, here and now, as lived in you and me.
And so on your World Youth Day pilgrimage you should each ask yourself: what kind of character am I creating in the autobiography that is my life?
Recently released was the blockbuster movie, Batman Vs Superman, starring Henry Cavill as Superman. It’s a sequel to his earlier and better movie, Man of Steel, which came out just before the last World Youth Day. Perhaps you’ve seen it.
As Clark Kent searches for his true identity and purpose, he recalls his father’s words: “You have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be, Clark. Whoever that man is, good character or bad, he’s going to change the world.” Strip away the superhuman powers, the lycra and the clichés, and what’s left? Passion. Superheroes are passionate about their cause. They’re not controlled by those passions; they don’t catch speeding bullets or flip cars just for fun. But Clark Kent must make a choice: he must decide the kind of man he wants to be and apply his powers with passion.
We, too, need passion, direction, and that superhuman power we call grace! It might require a big change, as it did for the first disciples. It can be costly, even cost lives.
But it will make saints of us, make us really happy, and forever. When the apostles Rocky, Jimbo and Jonno heard the Lord call, they dropped everything and followed – they didn’t wait for more signs.
When Good ole Sammy in our story saw some guy lying mugged on the roadside, he didn’t wait for a more convenient time to help. When Mary Mag and the other gals saw Jesus was on the move, they packed up and went with Him – they didn’t wait for a later World Youth Day.
At some stage every faithful Catholic yearns for some wholehearted commitment to the Lord through religious life, priesthood, marriage and family, dedication to some movement, activity or cause: above all, to the person of Jesus Christ. There are many ways to do that, but at some stage you must choose.
We are called human beings, as if we were already complete, but we are really human becomings. We are still being made. We are making ourselves by our choices. Like Clark Kent and the Good Samaritan, we need to decide what kind of people to be.
Like the apostles and the holy women, we can give our all to the adventure of the Gospel. Hopefully your choice, right now, from today, is to be ever more truly Christ’s disciple, an example of mercy received and mercy given. That’s the beginning of becoming a spiritual superhero, the ‘merciful’ our world needs. That’s keeping company with Christ, the good-better-best Samaritan.
My friends, at this time of political uncertainty for our country, we must continue to pray for stable and good government in our land.
In a moment we will pray also for our World Youth Day pilgrims. I congratulate and thank Malcolm Hart, Gabrielle Sinclair and the national WYD team; Fr Michael Maclean, the Episcopal Vicar for Education; Fr Danny Meagher, chair of our archdiocesan World Youth Day committee; Bernard Toutounji and our Catholic Youth Services team; Kathy Campbell, Anthony Cleary, Robert Haddad and others from the Sydney Catholic Schools office; the families, parishioners, school communities and many others who have contributed to making it possible for 800 young Sydneysiders to set off now for World Youth Day in Kraków.
I thank in advance our chaplains, with whom I have concelebrated today; our partners, teachers and group leaders who will lead our young people along the way. Above all I thank the young people themselves for having the faith, imagination and courage to embrace this wonderful opportunity.
This is the edited text of the opening and closing remarks and homily given by Archbishop Fisher at the WYD Commissioning Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral on 10 July.