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Archbishop Fisher homily for the Third Sunday of Easter Year B, Day of the Unborn Child

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Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP at the Day of the Unborn Child procession on 14 April. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

This is the edited text of the homily given by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP at Mass of the Third Sunday of Easter Year B and Day of the Unborn Child at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, 14 April 2024.

עֲלֵיכֶם שָׁלוֹם Shalom aleichem. Ερήνη μν Eirēnē humin. Pax vobiscum. Peace be with you. So Jesus greets His disciples in today’s Gospel (Lk 24:35-48) and His other post-resurrection appearances (Jn 20:19,21,26). It was, of course, His customary greeting, blessing and farewell, one common in the Ancient Near-East and the Graeco-Roman world. The apostles followed suit, proclaiming peace in Jesus Christ (Acts 10:36). Paul opens and closes most of his epistles with “Peace be with you”. Still today, people in Israel greet each other with Shalom, and in Gaza with ٱلسَّلَامُ عَلَيْكُمْ As-salamu alaykum—a greeting with a special poignancy in those parts at present. For Catholics it has become the liturgical ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’: bishops always begin Mass with “Peace be with you” and often conclude it with “Go in Peace”, recalling the Easter Lord.

But when Jesus offers us His peace, it comes as a spiritual package-deal with His presence. Christians identified Him with the Old Testament dream of a Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6). Luke’s Gospel opens with a prophecy that, in Jesus, God “will give light to those in darkness and the shadow of death, and guide them into the ways of peace”; He will bring “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to people of goodwill” (Lk 1:79; 2:14; cf. 2:29). As the Scriptures unfold, we learn that true, lasting peace is a divine gift, resulting from an encounter with the God of Peace in Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

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Yet Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances do not immediately provoke peace or calm. The Gospels relate reactions of fear and trembling, disbelief and confusion. Stranger or ghost, they are not sure what they’re dealing with. So He shows them His “holey” hands and side, inviting not just “Doubting Thomas” but all of them to let go of their scepticism and encounter Him in His glorious wounds. Only then does the mood change to recognition and joy, awe and worship.

While bishops and clergy imitate the Risen Lord in their greetings, they happily don’t join Him in showing their battle scars to the congregation. Instead, they show the wounded and glorious Christ by celebrating the Mass. Today’s Gospel offers us the contours of every Eucharist since the first. To begin with, the disciples gather on a Sunday, in a special place. Next, Christ enters—now in His priest—and greets them with His liturgical g’day, “Peace be with you”. Then, He reflects with them, Luke tells us, on everything written about Him “in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms”, opening their minds to understand the sacred texts, so that their hearts burned within them (cf. Lk 24:32).

Finally, He comes to “The Breaking of the Bread,” when the disciples recognise Him really present (cf. Lk 24:35). We see Christ in His priest receiving what has become His Body and Blood—and proving again He is no ghostly figment of our imaginations but real and alive and present—and then He shares it with His disciples in Holy Communion. Finally, with “Go in Peace”, He sends us out, so that, in the words of our text today “repentance for the forgiveness of sins might be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

No matter where you go in the Catholic world, you can join 1.4 billion lay faithful, 5,600 bishops, 400,000 priests and 50,000 deacons called to gather on Sunday. No matter the language, ethnicity or particular church: wherever you are, there’s something familiar about the structure and rhythm of the Mass. It’s familiar because it’s what we’ve always done, ever since the Last Supper. Every Sunday we gather to “break open the Word” and for “the Breaking of the Bread,” recognising Christ really present in word and sacrament, receiving Him into our bodies and souls. No phantom, no stranger, no fantasy, but the very Jesus who is the Word made flesh, the flesh made Eucharist, the Eucharist made Church. No longer in fear and trembling, disbelief and confusion, we now recognise Him with awe and worship, joy and peace.

We don’t just begin and end Mass with Christ’s peace blessing. In the middle, the priest says again: “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” Then we offer each other a sign of peace. We express that physically, with handshakes, bowing, looks of recognition, as well as words, for this is no ordinary worldly peace we share: it is the Peace of Christ, which surpasses all understanding; the Peace of Christ, that the world cannot give; the Peace of Christ, that transforms hearts and minds from hatred to love, from ignorance to wisdom; the Peace of Christ, that sends us out to serve every human person, especially the most vulnerable.

This past week the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith released a long-awaited document, Dignitas Infinita. It could not have been more timely! Here in Sydney and beyond we are appalled and grieving the multiple murders and injuries at Bondi Junction yesterday, including the stabbing of a baby and murder of her mother, and we pray for the dead, the injured, the traumatised and grieving. We celebrate the courage of the baby’s dying mother, of the policewoman who attended, and of other bystanders who assisted. The attacks by Iran upon Israel today, escalating the terrible conflict in the Holy Land, also highlights the reality of the violence in human hearts and our urgent need for Christ’s peace.

The recent Vatican document rearticulates the concept of human dignity as developed in the Christian faith and the civilisation it spawned. It reiterates that every person is created in the image of God, everyone redeemed by His Son Jesus Christ, called in our first reading “the Prince of Life” (Acts 3:13-19), everyone destined to greatness on earth and in heaven.
Talk of our ‘ontological’ or ‘intrinsic’ dignity means every human being is of incomparable worth, a value not conferred by the state or society, popularity or self-regard.

As creatures willed into being by the infinite God, our value is truly inestimable, and cannot be reduced to our social contribution, economic status or human interactions. It cannot be reduced to our age or stage of development, our sex or race or the like. The Gospel of Life that the Church never tires of proclaiming is that every human being, from the moment of conception until natural death, is a child of God worthy of the reverence we show to the holy things, and every attack on the human being a kind of sacrilege.

The Vatican document also warns us against the fudging language used by some around human life at its beginning and end to skirt around a fundamental truth: that the unborn, sick, disabled and elderly are as precious as the rest of us; but that, because they are voiceless and powerless, we should be even more attentive to their dignity and rights, their care and support. If even the most innocent among us are unprotected, we are all at risk, and every human right.

To share in the Easter peace of Christ is to join Him in experiencing God’s unwavering love for all people, His care for those most at risk, His conferring on even the least of these Dignitas infinita, infinite dignity. Go in peace, Christ says at every Mass. Go forth, proclaiming repentance and renewal to all nations. You are my witnesses—to life and love and peace.

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