09 July 2012

Blog has been moved

Come and visit the new blog: frrick.me

I decided to consolidate my websites on the one server and to move from blogger to wordpress; so you will find the latest updates and resources available on my two new websites - at the new addresses: frrick.org and frrick.me

All of the posts from this blog have been transferred to the new site.

08 July 2012

Grace and weakness

The disciples in the gospel of Mark are at times amazed and astonished by the work and ministry of Jesus. Here, when Jesus makes his way back home to Nazareth, there is more amazement and astonishment - but not in the good way. The people think they know Jesus - they grew up with him and know his large extended family. How can he be one who brings in the kingdom of God?
In second Corinthians, St Paul has been defending his ministry against a range of people who are called false apostles who describe in great detail their powerful and incredible spiritual experiences. Paul can also offer his own amazing encounters with Christ, but instead he talks about someone he knows who had this most sublime spiritual encounter some fourteen years before (described in the opening verses of 2 Corinthians 12). But more than anything, Paul wants us to know about his weakness and this particular affliction that he has received - this thorn  in his side - that has kept him humble and allowed him to discover that 'my grace is enough for you.'

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Recorded at St Paul's, 8am (8'56")
Sunday 14, Year B
2 Cor 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6

02 July 2012

Crowds and sandwiches

In the Gospel of Mark we are treated to a rather brilliant example of the Markan sandwich - two inter-related stories that provide flavour, texture and context to each other to highlight the power of the kingdom of God that breaks into our existence through the ministry of Jesus. The woman suffering with the hemorrhage for twelve years and the twelve-year-old daughter of Jairus are both fearful, suffering, in need of healing and salvation, and both are supported by faith in the midst of a crowd that has other ideas and does not share in the same faith.

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Recorded at St Paul's, 10am (11'22")
Sunday 13B

24 June 2012

Centre of history

One of the deepest deficiencies of our current age is that our religious education presents the person of Jesus and the teaching of Christianity as if they existed in splendid historical isolation. You experience this in part with the tendency to focus only on the stories of Jesus - the parables and the mighty deed narratives drawn from the gospels, and perhaps a few lines from the writings of St Paul - and little more. Although formally most Catholics would acknowledge that the rest of the scriptures, including the writings of the Old Testament were equally part of divine revelation, in practice they are regularly ignored.
As we celebrate the nativity of St John the Precursor, we have to take account of the fact that both the Gospels and the writings of St Paul place the life and example of St John as central to the ministry of Jesus. So we must begin by taking time to remember what it was that provided the context of John's life and what he can continue to offer for us today.

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Recorded at St Paul's, Vigil Mass (6pm, 8'27")

17 June 2012

Mustard Seed Mary

Even though as a family we would gather to pray the Rosary every night, I have never had a strong devotion to Mary, and some forms of Marian devotion have been a real turn-off for me. So when I was discerning which Diocese to join, the fact that the Patronal Feast of the Diocese of Wollongong was the Immaculate Heart of Mary was something of a turn-off. I had always considered it appropriate that the two feast days of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary were celebrated side-by-side in the liturgical calendar, but that the Sacred Heart was a Solemnity (the highest form of the feast day) and the Immaculate Heart was only an optional Memorial - the lowest form. This provided the correct balance between the worship of Jesus and the honour due to Mary. Yet in Wollongong, since it is the Patronal feastday, the Immaculate Heart is also celebrated as a Solemnity.

So what do our readings today - complete with two images and parables of the seed taken from the 11th Sunday in the Season of the Year - have to offer us?

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Recorded at St Paul's, 10am. (8'21")

16 June 2012

Images of the Sacred Heart

Growing up our home was full of images of the Sacred Heart - not just in the lounge room but almost every bedroom also had a large image of the Sacred Heart. But many of the images can be somewhat ... interesting.
This first image is similar to the images that I grew up with (except our almost always seemed to be in an oval frame).

This image is more modern, but still very physical and a hyper-realistic depiction of the heart of Jesus, complete with the crown of thorns, flames and cross.

 This image is perhaps even more scary? Somehow the heart of Jesus is able to be held out and offered to us! A rather strange image in my humble opinion.

This image of Jesus comes not from the English or Irish traditions, but from the Spanish school of spirituality, which is content to feature the heart of Jesus in more symbolic ways. This is one of my favourite images of the Sacred Heart and expresses the authentic French spirituality powerfully as the risen Lord invites us to "Come unto me." This was the image that I chose for my ordination six years ago.

Finally the fresco that is found in the Visitation Chapel in the town of Paray le Monial in the middle of France, which is where St Margaret Mary received the apparitions of the Sacred Heart. This image firmly connects the devotion to the heart of Jesus with the crucifixion as Jesus opens his arms and heart to all people and declares: "Behold the heart that has loved [us] so much..."

Recorded at St Paul's, Camden, at a whole school liturgy with children from St Justin's.

10 June 2012

A sacrifice of blood

Although the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is the only feast day during the year where the traditional Latin name is still well-known, to call the feast Corpus Christi seems to do some injustice to the richness of what today's liturgy offers us. The readings today do not focus on the Body of Christ - but indeed on the Blood of Christ. Each reading, beginning with the description of the people of God entering into the covenant in Exodus 24, through the description of the feast of Yom Kippur - the annual Day of Atonement celebration in the Book of Hebrews 9, through to the remembrance of the Passover celebration with Jesus and the disciples in the Gospel of Mark 14 focuses on the blood of sacrifice.

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Recorded at St Paul's Camden, 5.30pm. (9'09")

03 June 2012

Go make disciples

It is no wonder that the Gospel of Matthew ends with the disciples gathered on a mountain. Mountains are key in the history of Israel, as well as being key to the ministry of Jesus. So I am sure it was with light hearts that the disciples made the journey from smelly Jerusalem that sunny Spring day to the fresh air upon the slopes of the mountain, with the gentle breeze sweeping across the landscape from the lake below. As the eleven gathered there, Jesus appeared to them and the natural reaction for most of them was to fall down and worship the one who was now demonstrated to be worthy of praise (although some hesitated - wondering if their concept of the one and only God could be extended to this very human Jesus). Then Jesus offers his final words to the disciples and to the Church - five short statements that provide us with the shape of church mission ever since. First he declares that all authority has been given to him - a somewhat bizarre declaration if it is not understood correctly. He ends with a reminder of the promise that was made at the birth of Jesus - that he will be called Emmanuel - God with us; now it will be Jesus who remains with his Church until the end of time. In between Jesus gives the church the Great Commission, the call to the church to GO! There are three elements to the commission: (1) make disciples; (2) baptise them; and (3) teach them. It is clear that the Catholic Church has been very faithful over the centuries to the last two, but that there is a natural priority and order to the commission that requires that the first step is to make disciples. Unless a person is allowed to be and called to be a disciple, the other two aspects appear to make little sense.

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Recorded at St Paul's (10'05")
Trinity Sunday. Matthew 28:15-20.

27 May 2012

Becoming the people of God

About a month ago I accepted the invitation of one of our parishioners - Peter - to go gliding with him. It is certainly an incredible experience as you are towed up a couple thousand metres by an old crop-duster, and then once you reach the designated height the cable connecting you to the plain is released and then you are on your own - somehow managing to glide and soar up there - and not crash. Rather cool - especially because the only noise (still fairly considerable) is of the air rushing past - you don't also have the vociferation of motors. As we flew around above Camden, Peter gave me a quick run through of gliding theory as we attempted to source any available thermals so that we did not just glide but also soar - the real object of modern gliding/soaring.He also explained that contrary to what I probably (and did) learn in science, that it is not really accurate to say that hot air rises, but that cooler air, being denser and thus heavier than warmer air, falls and causes warmer air to be displaced - and thus rise.
This started me thinking about the feast of Pentecost that we celebrate today - enriched with the imagery of the wind and fire of the Spirit - and celebrated by the first disciples as the festival of Shavuot, which also became known as the Harvest Festival or the Feast of Weeks, and celebrated seven weeks (or a week of weeks) after the Passover (Nisan 14), so that it usually fell on Sivan 6 or 7. [Today it is always celebrated on Sivan 6, so that it falls on the same day that we celebrate Pentecost this year.]
After being rescued from the slavery of Egypt and travelling through the wilderness for seven weeks, the people of God arrived at Mount Sinai - and for the first time in recorded human history - and perhaps the only time - God addressed himself not just to an individual, a family or a group of people - but to an entire nation (Exodus 19). God called this people as a treasured possession of the Lord - a chosen nation and a royal priesthood - a people who would be covenanted and be the people who received the law of God.
After the people settled into the promised land, this festival also took on the character of a harvest festival, when the first fruits of the summer harvest would be offered to the Lord. So both dimensions would have been in the minds and prayer of the disciples as they gathered in the upper room to celebrate Shavuot. The events of Pentecost could never have happened to only one or two holy people - it only made sense in community. And it could only make sense in a community that were caught up in the harvest and the desire to go beyond their own little world and their own little walls. Maybe this is what we are missing in the contemporary individual church?

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Recorded at St Paul's, 8am (9'41")
EPB [E8B] - Pentecost Sunday (Year B)

20 May 2012

Seated at the right hand of the Father

The Feast of the Ascension can strike us a quite bizarre affair - especially to one who grew up on a diet of science-fiction and imagined that Jesus somehow managed to add flying and living outside of the atmosphere to his walking-on-water and multiplying food - as well as raising the dead and getting through locked doors (after being resurrected from the dead). So today I want to allow St Paul's powerful prayer in Ephesians to inspire us to look deeper into the truth behind the feast, and particularly to consider what it meant for Jesus to be seated at the right hand of God. We begin with the description of the burnt offering in Leviticus 1.

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Recorded at St Paul's, 5.30pm (12'29")

13 May 2012

Love beyond walls

In the first century, the standard expression of the Jewish faiths was strongly influenced by the Pharisees, the most populous of the many forms of Jewish sects that were active at the time. Unlike other groups which were often on the fringes of Jewish society or groups such as the Sadducees which were deeply embedded in the very narrow world of the Jerusalem temple and its rituals, the Pharisees were widespread and mainstream, and consequentially able to influence most pious followers of the kingdom of God.

One of the characteristics of the Pharisees, is that they firmly believed that the one thing that still needed to happen to bring the Messiah and the establishment of the reign of God - was a people to so perfectly fulfill the law of Moses by keeping themselves ritually pure and isolated - that there would finally be a people capable of being the image bearers of God that the original creation intended. It is very likely that Simon Peter and the other apostles would have been deeply influenced by such religious thought. Even though Jesus showed them that it was possible to break down this ritual wall that surrounded Israel (and the current Rabbi-proof fence that surrounds Israel is only a contemporary exemplification of this ancient ideology), sociologically we know that such massive paradigm shifts do not occur quickly.

We see this manifested at the beginning of Acts 10, when Peter is up on a roof praying, mid afternoon on perhaps a warm day. As he prays he begins to be conscious of his hunger. As a bloke he would no doubt have been pleased that his prayer then became actualised when he receives a vision of a cloth descending from heaven containing all manner of food, accompanied by the voice of the Lord addressing him and asking him to 'get up, kill and eat.' Perhaps it is only then that Peter is able to focus enough to realise that the cloth does not only contain the usual forms of clean animals that the law allowed to be consumed, but also animals that were declared by the same law to be unclean and ritually forbidden because they would render the eater to be outside of the kingdom of God. It takes the Lord three goes before it begins to dawn on Peter that the Lord was making an actual offer and beginning to expand Peter's mind and categories. God was not bound to the walls that the thinking of groups like the Pharisees created. 'God does not have favourites.'

This follows as a rather logical consequence of the realisation that St John brings us to in 1 John 4 - that it is not that God simply feels love, or that it is one of his attributes - no, God is love. Not sometimes; not when he feels like it - but it is the deepest reality of God. And it is into this love that the Lord Jesus invites us. 'You did not choose me; no I chose you, and I commissioned you to go forth and bear fruit - fruit that will last.'

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Recorded at St Paul's, Vigil Mass. (10'14")
E6B - Easter, Sixth Sunday B

03 May 2012

Prepared for heaven

Bastien Joseph Isaiah Madrill, 18 April 1996 - 26 April 2012

It is always with a certain hesitation that I attend to a call like I received last Thursday evening, to visit a family's home after the death of a loved one. Although you have been invited, you are never quite sure what will await you when you arrive, and I am keenly aware of the sense of barging in and intruding on what has to be one of the most intimate and sublime experiences that any family will journey through. As the priest, you are not sure what level of faith will await you, or what level of antagonism or anxiety or anger concerning the church. When I was led into Bastien's bedroom and saw Joe and Claire and Michaela and Alexis gathered around his bed, it didn't take long for me to realise that I had been invited into a most sacred encounter.

The first thing that struck me that night was the extraordinary love that emanated from each member of this most incredible family. But as we began to pray and I offered the prayers after death, then it became clear that the evident affection and devotion that each and every person there had for Bas was founded in a deep faith and trust in the God of life.
After I had finished the prayers assigned to me, and we had prayed together for a few minutes, I tried to move into the background, and practice the very ancient tradition of the simple prayer of presence.
I hoped to allow each member of the family to continue to say goodbye, as I silently prayed as a member of St Paul's Parish in this sanctuary of the domestic church.

I prayed in silence and commended Bas into the merciful arms of our dear Lord Jesus; meanwhile the family prayed in a similar way, asking his guardian angel to escort him along this part of his journey.
Later that night, and then especially the next day, I began to get an insight into the enormous impact of the life of this young man - through the flood of tributes on facebook and then the silence and respect - along with the tears and the weeping of hundreds of students at Magdalene last Friday.
I have no easy answer to the question that has been asked so often since Bas was first diagnosed with cancer on 21 October, and especially since his death - why? As one girl asked me after Mass on Sunday - if God loves us so much, then why does he kill people? Why does he allow such suffering?

Of course, I do not believe that God is vindictive, or that God does kill people. I believe that God has created us in love as part of his natural order, but it is an order that is tainted by the wounds of sin and death. So yes, we experience the horrors of diseases such as cancer in this present world - but we are never meant to suffer them alone. We are always in the presence of a God who does love us unconditionally and who continues to lavish his love upon us.

When we suffer, Jesus is there suffering along with us. He did announce his name was Emmanuel - God-with-us. Not only that, but the place where the church should be most evident is when one member of the body suffers. It is then that the love of God's family should be most clearly experienced through the physical presence of the hugs and kisses, the touch and embrace, the love and grace of the body of Christ on earth. This is something that Bas so clearly received both implicitly and explicitly through the obvious love, faith and grace of his immediate and extended family.

Undoubtedly the reason that he touched so many peole with his love, was because he learnt a lesson that so many others can take decades to learn - if at all - the lesson of the gift. The lesson of grace.
Perhaps the reason that so many people were so deeply touched by the life of Bastien Joseph Isaiah Madrill, was because somehow he allowed himself to be touched deeply by God's love, and in so doing, he became a very sign and presence of the kingdom of God, here on earth. Somehow he discovered the secret of being a citizen of heaven much more quickly and with greater ease then so many thousands of others.

So why did Bas die so young? Because he could. Because he was ready for heaven and eternity in the new creation. Let us pray that we can learn to be citizens of heaven and allow the gift of love to mark our lives as well.
Bastien - rest in peace.

Play MP3 - Homily

Recorded at the Funeral Mass for Bastien. (5'36")

  • Tribute - written by Joe and Claire Madrill for their son Bastien, which I read out during the funeral liturgy (20'48"):
  • Play MP3 - Tribute letter

29 April 2012

Children of the Shepherd God

I am sure that if many parishioners ever bother to listen to the first line of the second reading today, they either choose to ignore it or doubt that it can actually be true. It is a rather extraordinary claim: 'think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called the children of God - for that is what we are.' If we imagine the love that God gives to us, I suspect that for many people 'lavished' is not the first descriptive word that would be chosen; perhaps 'grudgingly offered' would be closer. But this is something that John had experienced deeply in his life, so when he came to describe this reality, he wanted us to know how true the love of God was. To ask us to 'think' about it is not a great translation - because John uses a word that expresses that the love of God is something absolutely tangible - so much so that it could be seen and experienced directly - not just a concept to be thought about.
When we turn to the Gospel, we see the kind of shape that this love took on in the life and ministry of Jesus, when Jesus declares himself to be the Good Shepherd.

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Recorded at St Paul's, 8am (8'45")
E4B - Easter, Fourth Sunday B - Good Shepherd Sunday

22 April 2012

Resurrected body

One of the lovely things about the Gospel today (Luke 24:35-48) is that it deals with the nature of the resurrected body of Jesus and demonstrates that the disciples did not share the same drug-induced hypnotic experience, or simply remember the warm and fuzzy experiences of Jesus invoked by a vision of his ghost, and then go onto bear witness to his resurrection and commission to be bearers of reconciliation and peace in the world. Jesus has already appeared to the women (Mary Magdalene, Johanna, Mary the mother of James, and the unnamed others), to Simon Peter as well as the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Cleopas and another); when the two return from their encounter when their "hearts burned within us" as Jesus shared the scriptures with them, and after they had recognised him in the breaking of the bread, they returned that night to be with the Apostles and other disciples.
When Jesus turns up in the room, they are still shocked and amazed, and despite the witness of the two disciples, Peter and the women, they really don't know what to make of this Jesus who is able to suddenly appear before them. So they think they must be seeing a ghost. Which provides Jesus with a teaching moment to demonstrate by pointing to his wounds and asking for something to eat that he is not just a Platonic form of his former self, now that his soul or spirit have escaped from his body - which is still the most common and radically wrong understanding of heaven that way too many Christians believe. What does Jesus want us to know about the resurrected body and what it points to for our own future?

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Recorded at St Paul's, 6pm (9'27")
E3B - Easter, Third Sunday B

14 April 2012

A questioning journey from doubt to faith

Although in the debate on Monday night on the ABC1 TV program QandA between Richard Dawkins and Cardinal Pell, it seemed that doubt and questioning of faith was a very recent and modern phenomena, if you study the scriptures and Christian tradition carefully such doubts and questions are immediately apparent.
The passage from John's Gospel that we have just read would originally have been the conclusion to the gospel; chapter 21 is an epilogue added probably by John himself sometime later. When we look at the gospel with the filter of doubt and faith, we see lots of the characters struggle to make sense of what John presents so clearly in the opening line: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." In story after story, beginning with Nicodemus who comes to Jesus at night (in the darkness of unbelief), to the Woman at the well, to the man born blind, and finally to doubting Thomas, insiders and outsiders alike are shown to legitimately struggle with making sense of who Jesus is, how he can be who he claims to be, and how to respond to these claims. Each one in turn is led - sometimes gradually, always through a process of questioning faith - to a deeper understanding of who Jesus is and how best to respond to him. Like Thomas, we are invited to fall down in worship and take his same declaration upon our own lips: 'my Lord and my God.'

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Recorded at St Paul's, 6pm (9'49")
E2B; Easter, Second Sunday B

08 April 2012

Resurrection Sunday

Although we profess and declare that Jesus Christ is risen, and that through the resurrection, death has been defeated - sometimes it can feel like nothing much has in fact changed. Just this morning the news announced the discovery of a the dead bodies of around 100 young men killed in Syria - many showing signs of torture before being executed, and then some 125 soldiers killed in Pakistan when their army camp was overtaken by an avalanche. If death has been defeated - why is there still so much of the stuff around us. What does the resurrection mean and where can we receive something of the resurrection ourselves?

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Recorded at St Mary's, Leppington, 8am
E1B; Easter Sunday morning

06 April 2012

Stations of the Cross Reflection

A brief reflection offered at the end of the Stations of the Cross, celebrated at St Paul's, Camden on Good Friday morning.

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Length: 2'15"

A full recording of the service (slightly edited to reduce some of the silences and not including the final multimedia)

Play Full Service mp3

Length: 40'05"

Passover and redemption

Although John spends more time describing the events of the last supper - including the conversations across five chapters of his Gospel - he doesn't give us the details of the institution of the eucharist. He does give us plenty of details around the event, including ensuring that we know that it all unfolded during the celebration of the Jewish Passover. Of all the gospel writers, John is the most thorough in giving us seasonal time stamps for the events that unfolded in the life and ministry of Jesus - providing us with the feasts that provided the backdrop for the events. If we understand the background of the Passover and what took place during the meal - and all of John's first readers would have had access to that information - we gain many insights into what took place on that incredible night...

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Recorded at St Paul's, 7pm. (7'15")
Mass of the Lord's Supper

Post #200

01 April 2012

The Hunger Games and Sacrifice

Last weekend I joined the throngs - not in welcoming the Messiah to Jerusalem - but in watching the new hit movie, The Hunger Games - based on the first part of the popular trilogy written by Suzanne Collins. The action takes place in a future post-apocalyptic north America, where all that is left after the unnamed devastation are the capital (somewhere deep in the Rockies) and twelve districts. The heroes come from District 12, where the main industry is coal-mining. We discover that to 'celebrate' the quashing of the uprising that had happened 74 years earlier, when there was a 13th district that led the rebellion [apparently no longer in existence] a contest is held to choose two delegates from each of the districts - one boy and one girl aged between 12 and 18 to compete in the so-called Hunger Games. The object of the games is to fight to the death so that of the 24 competitors that enter the arena, only one is allowed to survive - and all of this is captured by hundreds of cameras and broadcast as compulsory viewing to the whole nation. Charming!
As I watched the movie (and then read the book this week), I was struck by how often stories and movies set in some distant future are so dark - the world and its peoples are scratching to survive in an environment marked by violence, warfare and hatred. Dozens of examples come to mind. So this scenario - as horrible as it is - only joins a very long list from human history or societies and cultures that have demanded no less than mortal combat and human sacrifice either as entertainment or as an attempt to deal with the angst that we have felt and continue to experience. The Capital here needs a scapegoat to remind the citizens in these far-flung districts that it is in charge.
When we gather today to remember the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, welcomed by hundreds of pilgrims from equally far-flung regions of the Jewish diaspora - perhaps many of them from Galilee and other northern districts, it seems that the liturgy barely allows us to catch our breath before the action moves to the final anointing of Jesus, the last supper, the garden, betrayal and arrest, trial and then the crucifixion. The need for a scapegoat - seemingly so strong in the human psyche - is answered in Judaism by the annual remembrance of the Day of Atonement, where a goat is brought through the crowd of pilgrims and then banished as a way of acknowledging the seriousness of our sin and dysfunction. But the goat is not enough. To only allow another to take on our sins is not enough if we know that we have to turn around and repeat all this again next year. The difference that Jesus brings to this reality is that he is not only a scapegoat - he becomes something unique in human history, because he is able to make this offering once and for all. He is not only one like us, but he is also God. So when he offers himself for our sins in our place, this sacrifice radically subverts the standard model because he freely offers himself in our place. He is not the scapegoat for he offers himself - not as something that has to be repeated each year - but as the once and only sacrifice that we have the wondrous privilege of remembering so powerfully each year.

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Recorded at St Paul's, 10am (4'45")
L6B; Palm/Passion Sunday, Year B.

31 March 2012

eMissal now includes Music

The industry-standard e-book edition of the English eMissal now includes all the music for Holy Week and the Easter Triduum, as well as the Ordinary of the Mass (including the fifty main Prefaces) and some of the music for the seasons of the year (Ash Wednesday - Pentecost). The ePub version of the Missal is in full colour and is optimised for viewing on 7" - 10" devices. An updated edition suitable for the Kindle will follow after Easter.
Although ICEL has not approved any eMissal version for use in liturgy, one of the requirements that they asked for before considering approval was that the e-book version should include the Musical notation, so this new version is a step towards complying with that request.
Sometimes I have separated the musical sections from the text-only sections (such as the Communion Rite) while in other places I have placed the music directly after the text - similar to the printed Missal.
The file is available for download now at: http://www.rmh.id.au/

26 March 2012

Annunciation - dreaming big and saying yes

The readings in the liturgy today provides a contrast between two figures - the great and mighty King Ahaz, and the young maiden Jew Mary. When the Lord, through the prophet Isaiah, appears before the king, and directs him to ask for a sign, he is given permission to dream big. "Ask the Lord your God for a sign for yourself coming either from the depths of Sheol or from the heights above." So he is given permission to ask for anything; the boundaries that he is set could not - in the Jewish understanding of cosmology - be any bigger. In response, the foolish and rather pathetic Ahaz is only able to respond with false piety - "no, I will not put the Lord to the test." It is hardly a test when you have specifically been given permission by the Lord to ask for something!
As we fast forward through 700 years of turbulent Jewish history, we arrive in Luke's telling in the village of Nazareth - an area that like all of the holy land is under occupation by the might of the Roman army. It was a dangerous time to be alive.
Even the simplest of what we now understand as ordinary activities and events could involve mortal peril. Indeed, sociologists tell us that childbirth and infancy were so risky, with such a high death rate, that just to keep the population of the Roman Empire stable (that is with a zero population growth), every woman of child-bearing age (which in those times was 14 years old - and it was a feat to survive even to that age) had to undergo five pregnancies - because so many mothers died in child-birth and so many infants died. So when the angel Gabriel appears to Mary on this day, and reveals such a confusing and utterly dramatic message, it is even more remarkable that the young Mary is able to respond so readily with the words that we know so well: 'I am the handmaid of the Lord; let what you have said be done to me.'

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Annunciation of the Lord.
Recorded at St Paul's, 9am. (06'08")

25 March 2012

A new covenant

Taking a friend out for a driving lesson a few weeks ago brought to mind my own experience of learning to drive a car. Growing up on a farm, our first driving experience was with tractors and motorbikes and eventually cars as we made our way around the paddocks. But once I actually received my Learner Plates and attempted to drive out on the roads of Bega, I soon discovered that roads and paddocks are different. All was going along okay, until another car approached in the opposite direction and I freaked out, pulling off the side of the road to allow them to pass. Thankfully as my skills improved, so did my confidence in driving. Now, so many years later, when I go for a drive, I don't have to really think about the mechanics of driving at all - it is now second nature.
It seems that God wants us to have a similar experience with his laws. At first we need to be given the structure and outlines of the law to shape us and guide us as we learn and grow in our knowledge of God and his ways - but the plan is that as we go along we begin to make these laws part of our being and they begin to be our second nature. It is unfortunate that so many people still think of the laws of God and the laws of the Church as merely external structures - which often make little sense - which are imposed upon us. But if I need a law to tell me not to kill the annoying person across the street, or to remind me that I should go to church on Sunday, or not to steal - then the laws have not yet become part of who I am.
The prophet Jeremiah provides us with a stunning insight into the heart of God - as he relates a most incredible promise. In the days to come, he tells us, the law of God will no longer be only written on tablets of stone, but now the Lord will personally write the laws of this new covenant deep within each one of us, so that we may truly know his way of life personally. It seems that even Jeremiah is so overwhelmed by this prophecy that he tells us four times in these verses that 'It is the Lord who speaks.'
In the ministry of Jesus we discover what it looks like for the laws and covenant of God to be written on the heart of a human being - indeed the word becomes flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. What is even more amazing is that Jesus offers to feed us and allow the New Covenant to come to life in every one of us as we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, and his promise to bring this covenant very near becomes actually real when we eat his body and drink his blood and so receive the very life of God within us. Amazing promises and even more amazing fulfillment!

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Recorded at St Paul's (8am) 09'33"

18 March 2012

Let them go up to worship in love

A Jew would recognise our first reading today as the very last passage in the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh. English bibles have tended to reorganise the order of the books in the Old Testament, so that we no longer follow the three-part division of the Tanakh into Torah (the Law), Nevi'im (the Prophets) and Ketuvim (the Writings), and now conclude the Old Testament with Malachi in the minor prophets. Likewise, we are probably not all that familiar with the two books of Chronicles, since our reading today is the only one during the three-year cycle of readings, and include only eight verses from the 1764 verses of the two books. It was St Jerome in his Latin Vulgate translation of the scriptures who provided the title of the books, when he called it the 'Chronicle of the whole of sacred history' whereas in the Hebrew Bible it was called the 'events of the days' or the 'annals of the years' and in the Greek Bible (Septuagint) it was called 'the things omitted'.

Chapter 36 of 2 Chronicles begins with the reigns of the final four kings of Judah - Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah - who did what was evil in the sight of the Lord God. The infidelity extended to the priests and the people, even though because of the compassion that he felt for the people, the Lord sent them prophets. These messengers were mocked and ignored, until in the end there was no remedy available. The city of Jerusalem fell to the invaders from Babylon, and the house of God was burned; those who were spared death were taken into captivity and sent into exile. Although the account of these days is dark, there is a final hint of light, because after the Sabbath of years that Jeremiah had prophesised (Jer 25:11; 29:10) Cyrus, a pagan Persian king comes to the throne. Cyrus is seen as almost a Messianic figure, because he acts to restore the people to their land once again, and finances the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem and the temple. So the final words of the Hebrew Bible are given over to a pagan king - who invites anyone in the people of God to remember that God is with them and to go up to the city and the temple. Interesting, hey!

It is therefore only really in the coming of Jesus that the true Messiah arrives, and his love is shown to be so strong that it can conquer every division - and even death itself. St Paul understands this well and provides us with a powerful summary of the Christian gospel of grace and mercy (Eph 2:4-10) which reminds us that this is as the result of God's action - bot because of anything that we have done.

Finally, all of this is brought into focus by the all-too-familiar line in the Gospel of John that reminds us of the centrality of God's love for the world (John 3:16).

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Recorded at St Paul's, 6pm Vigil Mass (09'09")

11 March 2012

Ten words of freedom

To soften the hard edge of these sacred commandments that are presented in Exodus 20, the Rabbis' would often tell a joke - such as 'when Moses came down the mountain, he began by telling the people: well, there is good news and bad news; the good news is that I managed to talk the Lord down from 20 commandments to ten; the bad news is that adultery is still on the list.' Or, when Moses had a headache, what did he do? He took two tablets. Or, when the Lord asked Moses if he wanted a tablet of the law, Moses asked him how much they were. When the Lord replied that they were free, Moses said, 'okay, I'll take two.'

All jokes aside - and especially those jokes aside - what we encounter in this text, which simply presents God speaking 'these words' - it is not until Exodus 34 that the title of the Decalogue, literally, the ten words is given - is a sacred covenant that is deeply founded in grace and freedom. Scholars tell us that the covenant is an example of a Suzerain treaty, and it is God who first identifies the parties: 'I am the LORD your God' and we are 'you' who he brought out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

I capitalise the word Lord to emphasise the point that in the book of Exodus, the Lord only uses the special name that he reveals to Moses in their encounter at the burning bush in the wilderness a total of three times. In Exodus 3:14, when the Lord tells Moses that 'I am who I am', and again in Exodus 6. The Jews called this name, the Sacred Tetragrammaton - the four holy letters of Y-H-W-H. This is the last time that this name is used in Exodus (and never in Numbers) - although it is often used in other books, including anachronistically in the book of Genesis. It is as if the writer wants to preserve the sacred name to these key moments to highlight the covenant that is being entered into.

When we look carefully at the structure of the text, we can see that the three positive statements that punctuate the unnumbered list, provide an ordering of the commandments into three groups of commandments - the first three that deal with the right ordering of our relationship with the Lord; the second that orders our lives or worship ('keep holy the Sabbath'), and then the last group, that in the Hebrew text begins the fifth commandment with 'Honouring your father and your mother' leading into the last five commandments. [In the church, we are used to numbering the commandments according to the structure, not of the Hebrew bible, but of the Greek Septuagint text, which combines the first two commandments into one and separates the final commandment into two. The Hebrew numbering is to be preferred, but it may provide cause for confusion when a penitent confesses to a sin against the sixth commandment, leaving the priest to discern whether they likely mean murder or adultery!]

It is also worth noting that the final commandment is entirely internal; no one can ever truly judge how much another person is guilty of coveting - and so it provides a necessary corrective to the rest of the list.

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Sunday 3B in Lent. 9'31"

04 March 2012

Sacrifice, obedience and the lamb

Our first reading from Genesis 22 contains what is often regarded as one of the finest examples of a short story in all or Western literature. In 19 short verses, the reader is taken on a terrible and shocking journey along with Abraham and Isaac - your only son, the son that you love - for three days until they reach the mountain of Moriah (which 2 Chronicles tells us would become the temple mount in Jerusalem). Although the reader knows that this is a test for Abraham, he is not in on that little secret; so we can only wonder how he endured these three days while he would have been beside himself in grief as he walked along with Isaac, prepared camps, ate meals together and shared stories around a camp-fire - and yet pretended that nothing was amiss in this horrible pilgrimage.

The lectionary reading skips over some of the details, so it well worth reading the full passage to see all the details - and especially the poignant exchange between Isaac - now carrying the wood that would be used to burn the sacrifice and his father, as in innocence Isaac looks up at his father and asks the powerful question: 'here is the flint/fire and the wood - but where is the lamb of sacrifice?' With the faith and obedient trust that has become Abraham's greatest mark and honour, he answers with powerful prophetic insight: 'The Lord himself, will provide the lamb - my son.' We are left to wonder whether 'the son' is meant to be ironic - a hint from Abraham to Isaac of the darker purposes that he is being forced to embark upon. When they reach the summit of the mountain, there Abraham binds his son - an act that provides the title for this sacrifice - the Akedah of Isaac (or in Hebrew, Akeidat Yitzchak). We are not told how old Isaac is at this point - at the end of Genesis 21 we are simply told that 'a long time passed' so Isaac could be a young boy (yet old enough to carry a pile of branches), or a young man. Whatever his age, it seems that Isaac, who now knows that he is to be the lamb of sacrifice, allows himself to be bound and so offered to the Lord.

It is only after Isaac, now bound, and placed upon the newly constructed altar, and as Abraham - presumably racked in grief and tears - reaches out with the knife to lunge it into the neck of his beloved son. As he begins to bring the knife down, it is then that the angel of the Lord intervenes to prevent this heinous crime of human sacrifice from taking place. Then we are informed that a short distance away, a ram is caught up in the bushes, and so is available to take the place of Isaac and be sacrificed. Note it is a ram - not the lamb that Abraham prophesied. After this passage, any careful reader of scripture should be looking for this lamb - when will God come through and answer this promise? When will God finally provide the lamb of sacrifice?

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Recorded at St Paul's 10am - with the assistance of Lachlan, Matthew and Ben, and a whole lot of rope from Bunnings and a huge knife from the presbytery kitchen.
The recording from the 8am Mass is also available: http://www.fecitmihimagna.com/

26 February 2012

Wilderness and floods

As we journey through lent each year, the Church provides us with similar foundations. Each year, on the first Sunday in Lent, we journey with Jesus out into the wilderness as he is tempted; on the second Sunday, we travel with Peter, James and John up a high mountain where Jesus is transfigured. These two elements can help to orient us through the season of Lent and prepare us for Easter.

In this year, the church pairs the temptation in the wilderness in the Gospel of Mark with the end of the story of the great flood from the book of Genesis. The connection between the two stories is even clearer when we remember that just before today's Gospel, Jesus has journeyed out to the Jordan valley, to be baptised by John in the Jordan River - when the heavens are thrown open, the Spirit descends upon him and the voice of the Father is heard - 'this is my beloved Son.'

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Recorded at St Paul's, 10am (11'40")

22 February 2012

Strange ashes

A lot of the things that we do as a Christian church are kind of strange. If you had never been into a Christian church before, and you happened to wander into this church today - particularly at the end of Mass - and saw several hundred, otherwise ordinary people, who have freely submitted themselves to have their otherwise beautiful and clean faces marked by a mixture of muddy ash. Odd, hey what?

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Recorded at St Paul's with St Paul's Primary children (8'05")
Ash Wednesday.

12 February 2012

Levitical cleaning

Reading the bible is a wonderful gift. But for many people, who with great zeal and commitment begin to read the bible in the book of Genesis, everything goes well for a while. The book of Genesis is interesting, and it is full of familiar stories beginning with creation and then the 'myths' of pre-history, followed by the wonderful narratives of the patriarchs - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his twelve sons, and then especially the story of Joseph and his exploits in Egypt. Things continue well in the book of Exodus with the story of Moses and then all of the plagues and the great events of the exodus itself, into the wilderness and the events around Mount Sinai. The story begins to slow down with the ritual descriptions and laws concerning the temple. But if the committed reader has made it this far, the next book in the bible is often the killer - the book of Leviticus.

I am pretty sure that no other book of scripture would single-handedly be responsible for so many people dropping off in their commitment to read the Bible. Although there are only 27 chapters (the first 16 dealing with feasts and festivals and ritual requirements; the final 11 dealing with moral and ethical behaviour), once we lose the sense of narrative and get swamped by the minute detail of these holiness codes and the concern to place all of life into one of three categories - unclean, clean and holy - it can all seem just too much to deal with. The question quickly emerges - "why am I bothering with this again"?

One of the problems in reading this book is that the context seems so-far-removed from our own experience, and it can be too easy to dismiss it as irrelevant - especially for Christians who can think that the sacrifice of Christ has removed almost all of these commandments and prescriptions - or the ones in Lev 1 - 16 anyway. But that can miss the richness of the Jewish worldview and the power of the story that lies beneath these laws which remain just as relevant for us today.

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Sunday 06B. Recorded at St Paul's Camden (12'57")

06 February 2012

fecit mihi magna

Many years ago, I read the biography of the then holy father, Pope John Paul II - 'Witness of Hope' by George Weigel (1999). One of the things that really struck me as I read his story, was the detail about his ordination as a deacon. It was essentially a private event, taking place during the darkest days of World War II, in the private chapel of his archbishop. Prevented from celebrating this occasion in the life of the future leader of the church in grander style, the young Karol Wojtyla made do with a hand-written prayer card to mark the occasion. He chose to quote from the Magnificat to express the wonder of what Mary experienced when the angel called her and announced to her that she would be the mother of the Lord. Like Mary, Blessed John Paul knew that anything that was good in his life was the gift of the Lord Jesus. So he was able to declare this truth in three words from the Latin Vulgate translation of the scriptures, quoting from the gospel of Luke, chapter 1, verse 49: 'fecit mihi magna' - fecit [he has done] mihi [to me] magna [great things].

When I was in turn ordained a deacon (3 Dec 2005), I chose to use this powerful quotation from scripture to express my gratitude to the Lord for all the wonderful and beautiful things that he has done in my life. So this website is a small way of helping to declare 'fecit mihi magna' - '[the mighty One] has done great things to me... and Holy is his name!'

  • I have now transferred all of my homilies across to the new website, and updated all the links on this blog to point to the new locations.
  • In addition to homilies from the past 4 years, the new website will also include talks, videos, and ebooks.

05 February 2012

Immediately driven

Every book in the biblical library has unique characteristics that set it apart from all other books in the bible. The passage that is our first reading today from the book of Job - dealing with suffering and pain - is fairly typical of this book. So also each of the gospels have particular ways of telling the story of Jesus that are unique. John features long and exalted speeches of Jesus; Matthew is marked by 5 large blocks of teaching that begins with the famous sermon on the mount, identifying Jesus as the new Moses; in the prayerful gospel of Luke, the most characteristic feature are the parables that are unique to him.

The gospel of Mark, that we are reading from this liturgical year, uses particular language. For example, the word euthus appears 72 times in the Greek New Testament - but 42 of those times are in the relatively short gospel of Mark. The word is usually translated into English as 'immediately' or 'straight away'. The use of the word helps to convey the breathless quality of this action-packed story of the ministry of Jesus. Jesus is on the move, bringing in the kingdom of God - through his teaching authority, but especially through the mighty works of God that Jesus does - to heal the sick, to forgive sins and to cast out devils. There is almost a child-like quality in the telling of the story: Jesus did this, and then he did this, and then he did this...

The gospel today also contains an insight into the reasons for the healing ministry of Jesus. When he goes euthus from the synagogue (last Sunday's gospel) to the house of his friend Simon-Peter, he is told euthus that his mother-in-law is sick with a fever - not a 'man-flu' either, but a serious illness that was potentially life-threatening. So Jesus goes to her bed, takes her by the hand and raises her to new life. Her response is key. She begins to serve them. This is the point of healing - it enables us to resume our rightful activity in the world in sharing in the love of God with those around us.

Then as evening falls (and the Sabbath ends) the crowds of people descend on the house to share in the mighty works of Jesus. This is what God does. This is what the kingdom looks like.

Even after an exhausting day of pastoral ministry, Jesus is up early in the new day - long before dawn - to spend time with the Father in prayer. Later, Simon and the other disciples will come to him, reminding him of the crowds that continue to press around their house, looking for him, wanting more of the action and the show.

The response of Jesus is amazing. He doesn't return to the crowd. He doesn't continue to heal. He declares that his place is somewhere else. His place is at another village, among other people who need to know the reality of the kingdom as it breaks into life on earth.

When we become so caught up in the activities of our jam-packed lives - full of so many good things - maybe we should take the time to do what Jesus does. Maybe we also need to go away to a lonely place and pray - to see if the Lord actually wants us to leave aside some of these good things - so that we can concentrate on the one necessary thing that the spirit will drive us to do?

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 - note all my homilies and other resources can now be found on my new website: http://www.fecitmihimagna.com/

Recorded at St Paul's, 6pm (11'22")
Sunday 05B

28 January 2012

Teaching with authority

Any male who had completed his bar mitzvah was eligible to read from the Torah in a Synagogue service and to offer commentary upon the reading. What the commentary contained would always be a reflection upon what the student had learned from his rabbi - who in turn would offer the insights that he had learnt from his rabbi - and so forth all the way back to Moses, the lawgiver. No one would ever attempt to set aside the Torah or to teach something that was contrary to it; no one would ever claim divine guidance or insights that could not be traced back to the teaching that they had received. The old ways and the received wisdom was always preferable to anything that even had the hint of something 'new' or 'radical' about it.

So when Jesus of Nazareth stood up in the Synagogue in Mark 1, and begins to teach something that no one had heard before, it is no wonder that his listeners were 'astonished.' And then he backed up this new teaching authority with the deliverance of a man who had many demons ...

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Recorded at St Paul's, Camden 6pm (12'07")
Sunday 04, Year B; Deut 18:15-20; Mark 1:21-28

15 January 2012

Called to follow

Recorded on my mobile phone at Zero Gravity 2012, a summer camp for 200+ teenagers held at Mount Tamborine on the Gold Coaast hinterland. The Sunday Eucharist was the culmination of the four-day camp. The readings of the second Sunday provided a great reflection on discipleship and evangelisation.

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08 January 2012

All the nations

We are so used to thinking about the Christmas story as told in the gospel of Luke, that Matthew's equally compelling story can get sidelined. When we do turn to Matthew's story, we can get so distracted by the crib scenes and carols that the true details also get lost. It is worth pondering the details of the visit of the magi and what challenge it still offers to the contemporary church.

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Epiphany Sunday. St Mary's Leppington, 8am (8'09")

01 January 2012

Blessed by the face of God

In the perception of the so-called general public, when people think about God - if indeed they ever think about God, the idea that will probably be conjured would be more like the idea of the force from Star Wars, then the biblical reality of God. Likewise, the idea of heaven as somewhere up there - a long way away from us - is a convenient place to store an inconvenient god. But this also is not the biblical vision.

As we celebrate today the feast day of Mary, the mother of God on this first day of the new 2012 calendar year, the readings that the church presents us with provide an opportunity to reflect anew on the place of God in our lives. So let us turn first to the teaching on blessing provided by Numbers 6. Just as we turn to the gospels - Matthew 6 and Luke 11 - to find the teaching of Jesus on prayer when he invites us to pray the Our Father, so we should turn to Numbers 6 to know what it means to receive and be a blessing.

When the Lord tells Moses to teach the sons of Aaron to pray and bless like this, we should hear the same direction being given to us, because in Exodus 19 the whole people are invited into covenant with God, as a kingdom of priests. In the blessing of Numbers 6, there are 6 elements in the three lines of the blessing. The first reminds us that whoever shares the blessing - priest or people - it is God who does the blessing; we simply share in this work.

1. May the Lord bless you
2. and keep you;
3. May the Lord shine his face upon you
4. and be gracious to you;
5. May the Lord uncover his face to you
6. and bring you peace.

When we turn to the Gospel today, from Luke 2:16-21, we see at least three elements that can help us to bring this teaching of blessing into our worlds. In reverse order within the text, they are: pondering and treasuring the word of God; being astonished by the words and works of God; and when we finally know what God wants of us (through this pondering and being amazed by God) then we cannot remain lost in procrastination - like the shepherds and like Mary - we must hurry to where God wants us to be.

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Recorded at St Paul's, 8am (9'13")