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Walk with Christ 2023: Archbishop Fisher on adoration and witness

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Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fosher OP delivers a fervorino for the Walk with Christ to thousands gathered in front of St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, 11 June 2023. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fosher OP delivers a fervorino for the Walk with Christ to thousands gathered in front of St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, 11 June 2023. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

A fervorino given by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP for Walk with Christ 2023, St Mary’s Basilica, Sydney, 11 June 2023.

C.S. Lewis said that “In Heaven, everything is either silence or music.” The Christian God is the Word, the God who speaks. Yet, paradoxically, He dwelt voiceless in His mother’s womb for nine months, entered the world as a wordless baby, lived in obscurity in Nazareth for most of His life, and accomplished His redemptive work muted in His Passion and Tomb. Much of what He did, He did quietly, and it reduced the witnesses to silence also. This continues in the Holy Eucharist, our primary encounter with God in this world. I will never forget the Vigil of World Youth Day at Randwick Racecourse in 2008, when half a million mostly youngsters knelt in total silence before their Lord in the host. It was the loudest silence I have ever heard, and the most moving.

Silence can be difficult to come by. Traffic and construction, work and entertainments, computers and smart devices, modern life is one big sensory overload. Yet ordinary life can demonstrate a quiet focus: the way the Lover looks upon the Beloved; the mother, her newborn child; the viewer, an artistic masterpiece; the fan, their favourite performer. All these are inklings of that silent attention we call adoration, the gaze of the creature upon its Creator.

As the late Pope Benedict XVI pointed out, when the Vatican Council called for participatio actuosa—actual participation—in the Mass, it did not mean that everyone should be busy doing something, least of all for the hour we give back to God. There is another way of actual participation and that is contemplation, pondering as Mary did. We can sit quietly, letting the words and actions of the Liturgy wash over us, being immersed in the mystery like a fish in the sea.

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Actual participation in the Eucharist is first and foremost contemplative. It ponders the breaking of Christ’s Body and spilling of His Blood on the Cross, that moment of our salvation which He anticipated at the Last Supper and extended through time in the Church’s celebration. Here we encounter a man and God whose love for us is so total He would give us absolutely everything He is. We contemplate that saving mystery at Mass, in Eucharistic Adoration, or in private prayer. Here we may all return the loving gaze of God, as much the one kneeling at the back as the one standing up the front. “Keep watch with me,” Jesus says, “Watch and pray.”

In silence—but also in song. Language is first and foremost for the praise of God. God the Father eternally sings forth the Word His Son. That Word took flesh so all flesh might hear and speak to God. Like St Dominic who always spoke either to God or about God, we can in turn make our life a song of praise.

One model for this is Mother Mary. In Eastern iconography she’s a timeless figure, often still pregnant with her unborn Son visible through her glass belly, his hand held up in blessing. This Mary is like a monstrance bearing the Sacrament for all to see. In Western iconography she’s often portrayed as Italian mama with a big fat bambino. But at the Visitation she carries Him within, as if in a Eucharistic procession, to her cousin.

Thousands walk through the city of Sydney towards St Mary’s Cathedral for the Walk with Christ Eucharisti procession on 11 June 2023. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Thousands walk through the city of Sydney towards St Mary’s Cathedral for the Walk with Christ Eucharisti procession on 11 June 2023. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

At that encounter the child leapt in Elizabeth’s womb. He might have been doing somersaults for joy that Jesus and Mary had come. Or perhaps he assumed a kneeling position, his hands together in adoration. Neither would have been very comfortable for Elizabeth! But either way, the response was to Mary the living, walking monstrance and especially to the Divine One within. The encounter provoked her Magnificat, a song of praise before the tabernacle of her body and amidst the early Church of Mary, Elizabeth and John.

Silence and song, these are our best responses to God’s presence on earth as in heaven. But there’s a third response proper to this life. St Paul’s Greek word for it is kataggelló, meaning to announce like an angel, publicly and widely. Our English word for it is proclaim. Some things are worthy of making a hue and cry, drawing them to people’s attention, like the town-crier in premodern times promulgating decrees or declaring headlines. Christians are the town-criers of God’s news.

Preach always, St Francis said, and if needs be use words. Sometimes only words can communicate the message. Sometimes actions speak louder. The truth, goodness and beauty of the Gospel, are told in silent adoration or loud hymnody, but also in actions like our Eucharistic procession today—an emphatic statement of what we stand for.

Do we still need such public proclamation today? A week ago a voracious ACT government, uncomfortable with Catholic works and ethics, initiated a hostile takeover of Canberra’s only Catholic hospital. It was an unprecedented grab of a church asset and ministry in a nation that purports to respect religious liberty—more the stuff of Henry VIII, Napoleon or Stalin than modern democratic Australia. Closer to home, in this very state, euthanasia laws will come into force in November that require church institutions, even nursing homes run by nuns, to provide or host voluntary killing of patients. This is another failure by a supposedly democratic state to make room for Christian conscience and activity. More than ever, Australia needs to hear the Gospel and see its expression in works of mercy as the great boon these are to our world. More than ever our parliaments, courts, hospitals and other institutions need the wisdom and graces that come from this Blessed Sacrament.

I am enormously grateful to all who have taken part in this act of adoration and witness today. If anyone was in doubt as to whether faith in Christ was still to be found in this city and nation, yours is an unmistakable yes! Today we have walked with the God who first walked with us: in the Eden of our creation, in the deserts of our wandering, in the Holy Land of our redemption.

Today we have talked with the God who first talked to us: in godly commandments and prophetic words, in Jesus the truest Word and His sublime teachings, and in the doctrines of His Church. Today we have entered the very presence of the God who first made Himself present to us, in wind and flame, in taking our flesh, and then in giving that flesh to us in the Eucharist. Walking or kneeling, in silence or song, today we have made ourselves living monstrances like Mary for His Real Presence, and offered Him to a world that needs Him more than ever. God bless you!

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