Thursday, April 19, 2012


The Homilies of Bishop Anthony Fisher
Homily - Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday), 15 April 2012
Homily Second Sunday of Easter 2012
During the Divine Mercy Sunday Mass, Bishop Anthony invested John Spillane as a Papal Knight, in recognition of his many years of service to the Church in the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta.
Photography: Alphonsus Fok & Grace Lu

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Introduction for Divine Mercy Sunday, Second Sunday of Easter Year B, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 15 April 2012
In today’s Gospel we see that Christ rose with those very wounds to which He submitted for the sake of all who are wounded by sin, anxiety or loneliness, shame or suffering. Even in glory He will not abandon His solidarity with the wounded. He is marked for all eternity with the tattoos of His life and death on His hands and feet and side, with the badges of divine mercy on His body. In our time devotion to the Divine Mercy devotion is celebrated especially on this ‘Low Sunday’ which is still Easter Day. And so as we are blessed with the Easter water we join St Thomas in repenting of our failures to believe in Christ’s resurrection and God’s mercy …
Homily for Low Sunday, Second Sunday of Easter Year B, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 15 April 2012
You might have seen the QandA debate on Easter Monday night on the ABC between the arch-atheist, Richard Dawkins, and the arch-bishop, George Pell. There’s lots we might say about that debate and the recent revival of old-fashioned rivalry between science and religion. One moment in the recent show that struck me as very much a Doubting Thomas moment, echoing today’s Gospel passage (Jn 20:19-31), was when Dawkins feigned astonishment that anyone really believed in the physical resurrection of Christ. He wondered aloud if it were just a metaphor, a poetical way of talking, rather like the way that Catholics say the Eucharist is the Body of Christ when ‘everyone’ knows it’s just bread.
What can we say to a world that is both fascinated with Christianity and incredulous about our talk of the Risen Christ and His Eucharistic Body?
Well, one thing we might say is that Dawkins is right to think Christian faith stands or falls on the Resurrection. From the 1st Century Christians and their opponents recognised this. Some sought to poo-poo the whole idea by claiming Jesus wasn’t really dead when they buried Him and that He later woke up and walked away. Others alleged that the Apostles had stolen the body, reburied it somewhere and then made up the whole risen-from-the-dead story. Still others said it was mass hallucination or hysteria – though they hadn’t invented the terms yet. St Paul himself says that if Christ is not truly risen then Christian faith and preaching are in vain; indeed that would make Christianity a lie, our salvation illusory, and “we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:12-19).
Paul’s point is still sound. Some people would like to delete from Christianity the Virginal conception of Jesus, His miracles, atoning death and physical resurrection, but keep the bits they like about Jesus as story-teller and teacher of the beatitudes. This has been called ‘Cafeteria Christianity’ or ‘Smorgasbord Catholicism’: picking and choosing according to taste. The ancient Greek word for such picking and choosing was αρεσις, heresy.
That won’t do for people who really know and love Christ and His Church. For them faith might not be simple, they may still have their questions, some things will clearly be more crucial than others. They won’t pretend that reading the Bible is easy or that a plain reading is always best. They know some Scriptures are in story-book form or poems or songs; some are law books or history books, wisdom sayings or prophesies; some are Gospels or epistles. Each conveys divine truth for our salvation. But to get that truth we have to consider what questions are being addressed, to whom and in what language. We have to read the Scriptures as a whole and within the Catholic tradition, not out of context. But if it’s really the Word of God we can’t just pick the bits we like or find easy and spit out the rest.
Some beliefs such as the Blessed Trinity or the Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection of Christ are deeply mysterious, but by that we don’t mean impossible to understand: no, we mean they are so intelligible we will spend our whole life and more coming to understand them. Some teachings are deeply challenging, but by that we don’t mean impossible to live: no, we mean they are so noble we’ll spend our whole life and more trying realise them. To say I’m a Christian but I find it hard to imagine what the resurrection will be like for us or was like for Christ is fair enough: we keep reading and listening, praying and contemplating, hoping that we are growing year by year in understanding, while humbly accepting we’ve still got a lot to learn. But what we can’t say, coherently, is that I’m a Christian and I don’t believe Christ rose from the dead. For Christians are precisely those who believe He did, and believe therefore that the Father has vindicated Christ and saved us through Him and given Him as a witness to how we ought to live and love.
Our Easter faith is this: that one man really has come back from the dead, not as a projection of the faith of His disciples, for none had the least idea of such a possibility and all of them a strong disinclination to believe it. One man has come back, not as a ghostly phenomenon, a spiritual experience, but in flesh and blood: “Put your finger here: look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it in my side.” One Man has come back and, as we heard in our first reading, this is what Christians have believed and preached, as their central proclamation, from the beginning (Acts 4:32-35).
So Prof Dawkins hit bullseye when he thought belief in the Risen Body of Christ was the lynchpin for Christian faith. By accident he hit upon another: belief in the Eucharistic Body of Christ. Again, he thought it entirely implausible, at best symbolic language. And again, the archbishop said: No, we really mean it, we really believe it, this is our Easter faith.
When Jesus instituted His Eucharist He made it clear that we must do this in His memory, not because nostalgia is good, not because He was afraid of being forgotten. We memorialise Him in this way because this makes His broken but glorified Body, His spilt but Precious Blood, available not just to doubting Apostles, but to every generation. The Body now enthroned in glory is by Easter made sacramentally present upon every altar of the world and so (at present) to 1.2 billion Catholics. We may be blessed, as Thomas was told, for believing without seeing Christ in the flesh, but we are blessed also to receive that same Body in a communion more intimate than we could have with any human being ‘in the flesh’.
Which brings me to a final point in the phoney war between science and religion. Science does so much good: modern medicine, transport and communications, electricity and many other wonderful things. But it has its shadow side: pollution, atomic bombs, nuclear disasters, terrible experiments. How do we distinguish good science from bad? How do we ensure it is good science that our best and brightest pursue, good technology that the rest of us enjoy? Science can’t answer that question, it can’t tell us what’s right and wrong. You have to turn to ethics, literature, history and, dare I say, religion for that. You need the gifts of faith and reason brought to bear on the most fundamental questions. And the most sublime wisdom ever offered to human beings, we believe, was Wisdom Incarnate, Wisdom in the flesh, in the Body. That wisdom is Someone who lived and taught, who died and rose from the dead, who is seated at the right hand of the Father but also present to transform us week by week at Mass. That Wisdom is Jesus Christ and He is truly risen as He said! Alleluia!

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