Today as Br Sayyane is beginning his week-long spiritual retread to prepare himself for the final vows we also have heard the news that an Oblate, Fr Paul has passed away. One Oblate is going on retreat to encounter the Lord Jesus through prayer, reflection and time on his own while another Oblate is going to stand before the same Lord Jesus in his kingdom. It is a prophetic message for Br Sayyane that as an Oblate he is called to constantly search for the Lord in all his activities and moments of life. Before he left for his retreat he asked me for some recommendations in regards to reading he should do while on retreat. Of course there are heaps of spiritual writers, including such giants of faith like St Augustin, St Teresa of Jesus, St John of the Cross, Thomas Merton, but I recommended to Br Sayyane a couple of books written by the Late Fr Fernand Jette OMI. Fr Jette was our superior General a couple of decades ago. His great passion for Jesus and the Church was a mirror reflection of what we can find in the writings of St Eugene. Some Oblates even say that Fr Jette is the second father of our Oblate Congregation. During his 12 years as the Superior General he was tirelessly encouraging and challenging the Oblates to greater commitment to Christ and the Church. I am convinced that Br Sayyane will find lots of spiritual nourishment in his engagement with the richness and depth of Fr Jette’s Oblate identity. Please pray for this young man to have a faith filled retreat that can leave him with hunger for more. The hunger that can make him serve Christ and the people of God as a Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate.
Let me first print the word church for you: CHCH…. Looks like you disagree with my spelling, don’t you. What’s wrong with my spelling? You say that there should be U and R at the middle of the word. Say them together. Can you hear it? UR in the CHURCH. UR at the center and heart of the Church. It is not only the correct spelling of the word church but it is also the correct understanding of what the Church is all about. You are part of the Church like U and R are part of the word church. As you hear these words: “You are in the Church” don’t just keep them to yourself because you will never savor them until you say them to another Christian. So now turn to the person next to you and say: “You are in the Church” but don’t do it in the way your mum or dad did some years ago when you yourself were a bit naughty and they tried to quite you down by saying: “You are in the Church.” This time say these words with appreciation for the presence of your fellow Catholic: “You are in the Church.” I would like you now to think about some Catholics you love from the bottom of your heart so in your heart say as you think of them: “You are in the Church.” Now think about some Catholics you don’t love or maybe you even wish they would never appear on the horizon, think of them and say in your heart: “You are in the Church.”
So what does it mean that you are in the Church? Can you still remember our spelling discussion at the beginning when I wrote CHCH? We discovered that letter U and R stand for You Are. What CHCH stand for? It stands for Christ. As the Scriptures say: “He is the Beginning and the End, Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last.” We are in the Church because Christ has called us into the Church. We are in the Church because we love Christ. We are in the Church because we want others to learn about Christ and to come to love him.
Across the Globe we have some magnificent Churches like the Lateran Basilica in Rome which another anniversary of its dedication we remember today. However we cannot simply be content that we have built God such a beautiful Basilica, that’s enough. Remember the Gospel we have heard today. Not very often we meet Jesus angry. This time he is furious as he drives some people out of the Temple in Jerusalem. What happened in the Temple that it made Jesus react so harshly? The place that was to be the space where people could encounter the Almighty through their communal worship had become a market place. The building was impressive but people in it were not impressive at all. Jesus’ heart was broken that the building could raise people minds and hearts to the Almighty but the behavior of the people in the temple would make one lose faith straight away. To avoid such situation in our Christian worship we read in the Bible: “You are God’s building. Didn’t you realize that you were God’s temple and that the Spirit of God was living among you?” We are like bricks. A brick is good because it is used to build a building. When we give our lives to the Lord, when we live for others, we are part of that magnificent structure called the Church. The Church community is far more magnificent that the most impressive church buildings. Look at your beautiful church of our Lady’s, how many bricks were laid to complete this place of worship. To create a Christian community many believing and committed people are needed. So that people coming here could say: “We sense the Spirit of God in this Church community. All activities of this parish start with Jesus and finish with Jesus. For the sake of Jesus these people love and forgive each other.”
This is how Church should be spelled. Christ Christians Christ.
It has been an extremely joyous week. To top it up we learned last night that Fr Mark Edwards OMI was appointed an auxiliary bishop of Melbourne Archdiocese. As Oblates we are called to serve the Church and this call Fr Mark has received is all about serving the Church. Fr Mark has been closely associated with our Scholasticate, where he not only was formed to be an Oblate priest but where he also spent many years as a formator, helping young Oblates to prepare well for their missionary ministry. Br Sayyane was particularly over the moon at the news, as Fr Mark was his pre-Novice Master. It was Fr Mark who introduced Br Sayyane to the Oblate way of life and later he was also his Rector in the Seminary. In our Seminary the news was announced at 10 pm in the chapel where we sang the thanksgiving Magnificat and said prayers for Fr Mark. After that we gathered as a community to share stories about Fr Mark. It was great to see the excitement of the seminarians who rejoiced at the news so much. It is a sign that they have identified themselves with the Oblates deeply and good things that happen to the Oblates bring joy to our scholastics. St Eugene de Mazenod always insisted that as members of the Oblate Congregation we must develop a fraternal bonds with each other that make us a family of faith, rather than a team of ministers. We all are looking forward to December 17, when Fr Mark and Fr Terrence Curtin will be consecrated bishops at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, the very same church where Fr Mark was ordained a priest by Archbishop Francis Little in 1986.
This morning our morning prayer was particularly joyous as we received great news from Our Superior General in Rome that Br Sayyane has been accepted to the perpetual religious profession, which is called an oblation in our Congregation. It is the completion of the long discernment Br Sayyane has undergone. For many years as he has been studying Philosophy and Theology and acquiring pastoral qualifications for his future missionary ministry at the same time he has been also reflecting on the call to give his life totally to the Lord Jesus and his Holy Church in the Congregation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Over those years the Oblate Congregation on its part has also discerned Brother’s vocation. The final conclusion of such mutual discernment has been expressed in Brother’s request to be allowed to make his final vows as an Oblate of Mary Immaculate and in the Oblate Congregation assuring Brother Sayyane that in his desire to be one of us we recognize our common Oblate spirit. Br Sayyane will make his final vows on November 22, at Our Lady’s Parish where he has been assisting over last year.
I do believe that he has made the right decision. This morning when I passed the news from Fr General onto him he looked as if he had won Lotto. There was so much joy and peace in his eyes. I am not surprised, giving one’s life to Jesus is the best investment a person can make. Please pray for Br Sayyane as he is approaching that powerful moment in his life when he makes his oblation for life, taking vows for chastity, obedience, poverty and perseverance until death. I always find it heartening when people make such a commitment and they make it with joy.
In the midst of the examination time we had a community celebration of Br Anthony’s birthday. We began such feast with an Evening Mass with Vespers. As we praised the Lord for the many gifts he has given us we acknowledged that the gift of Brother Anthony was a special one. A community is not a crowd but the space where each person is unique and important. There is no community without individuals but the individuals who sacrifice themselves for others and are committed to others create a community. As we prayed for Br Anthony, we thank God for this fine young Oblate who places the needs of others before his own needs. I was touched by Br Anthony’s prayer at Mass for all those good people who wished him on his birthday. There was so much simplicity in his prayer but it was also deep Christian prayer that doesn’t places one in the center of attention but directs the attention of everyone to Christ and other people. Later in the evening we gathered together again for some fraternal time which some who don’t believe in Jesus would call a party.
Happy Birthday Br Anthony.
After the railway station was built in Marseille, France, where St Eugene de Mazenod was Bishop the city council decided to name it: St Charles Station. The decision made by the council shows that Eugene’s devotion to St Charles Borromeo was well known. The council knew that the old bishop was to be thrilled by that. Eugene himself contributed greatly to convincing the Central Government in Paris that Marseille should have a railway station. He was also well respected in the city, so it was appropriate to acknowledge his contribution to the wider community there. How much he loved St Charles is shown in his reaction to the station being named after st Charles Borromeo, he was over the moon having the Italian Saint acknowledged so publicly in the city where he ministered as Bishop. In fact all men in the de Mazenod family had Charles as their first name. St Eugene wasn’t exempted from that. He was baptized as Charles Joseph Eugene. However for Eugene it wasn’t just his family tradition he preserved what is known in the Church as Communion of Saints. Our Saints are not only our heroes, who can inspire us, but they are our intercessors in heaven, our committed supporters. When St Eugene was renovating the Church of Mission in Aix where the first community of the Missionaries was established he ordered a few statues, one of them was a statue of St Charles Borromeo. As Bishop of Marseille he donated a beautiful statue of St Charles to one of the city churches. Very often people saw their Bishop praying in that church to his dear patron.
St Charles Borromeo lived in 16th century Italy. Born to a noble family he could spend his life just having fun. However God had different plans for the young aristocrat. Because he was the second son so it was decided he was to have a career in the Church as his older brother was to inherit the family property. Slowly Charles was transformed by the grace of God into a committed cleric. When his brother died everybody was trying to convince him to give up the path to the priesthood. He was advised to get married and to take up the family inheritance. The young Charles declined. To ensure that nobody could take him away from the service to God and his Church he asked to be ordained a priest. It was done privately as there were suspicions that the family would stop the ceremony. Soon he became Bishop of Milan. First people thought that he was going to limit his association with diocese to taking money from it. Young Bishop however shocked everybody when he decided to move in to Milan. The city didn’t have a bishop living there for 80 years. As St Charles participated in the Council in Trent before coming to Milan, he started impleading the pastoral and doctrinal renewal introduced by the Council. If the city people were shocked having bishop living now with them, it was even a bigger shock when he started visiting parishes even in the Alps region. The chronicles of the local parishes dating back to 16th Century preserve records of the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan coming to participate in their daily life and worship. He would spend weeks or months climbing up the mountains or descending to the valleys to reach out to even the tiny Catholic Communities. Exhausted by his dedicated ministry he died while serving the city folks during the Black Death plague. He was 46.
When the Missionaries of Provence opened the first house outside the region of Provence they had to change their name. They chose to be called Oblates of St Charles. It was early 1825. A few month later when Eugene went to Rome to ask the Holy Father to approve the Order he decided to change the name to Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. However we still remember that brief period of time in 1825 when we were known as Oblates of St Charles. In fact it was an interesting year: at the beginning of the years we were Missionaries of Provence, then Oblates of st Charles and at the end of the year we were Missionaries Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Recently I have learnt about an interesting burial custom that exists among Buddhists in Laos. It is about a cord. When the body is taken out for the funeral one end of the cord is attached to the home of the deceased person while the other to the coffin. It must be a long cord as it extends to the cemetery. It is a symbol of the connection between the deceased and the living. At the cemetery the cord is cut in order to tell the deceased: “You have nothing to do with us anymore. Stay away. Don’t come back.”
My Sisters and Brothers! This custom expresses two beliefs.
The first one is that with death the person doesn’t cease to exist, that life continues after death. That what we believe too. Yesterday we celebrated the Solemnity of All Saints, we glorified the Almighty for his wonders in those women and men of our Church who are in heaven. Today we turn our thoughts and prayers to the Faithful Departed in the Purgatory. With the whole Church we profess that death doesn’t terminate life, life continues beyond death. If we pray to the saints it means that they can hear us and come to our aid because they are alive in the Lord. If we pray for the Souls in the Purgatory it means that our prayers can assist them because they are alive in the Lord. They haven’t dissolved into nothingness.
The second belief coming from the custom I have just mentioned is that the deceased are dangerous, that it is better if they stay away from us. It is what we Catholics don’t believe in. Our Departed Brothers and Sisters are not zombies we run away from. They are the beloved Sons and Daughter of God. The Saints have been embraced by God. They have heard the words of the Gospel spoken to them by Jesus: “Come to me all you who labor and are overburdened and I will give you rest.” They are full of love of God who is Love. Those in the Purgatory, whom we rightly call, Holy Souls in Purgatory, are sure of their Salvation though they need to undergo the process of purification so that God’s love can shine in them. For a couple of weeks I have been watching the tree outside our seminary chapel. Some time ago it was barren and seemed to be lifeless, now with the warmth of the spring overtaking Melbourne, it is coming back to life. What gets my attention are not trunk and branches but the leaves with such vibrant green color. The Holy Souls in Purgatory are like the tree outside our chapel. Exposed to the warmth of God’s mercy they become fully alive turning into fully alive people, alive with God’s love.
That’s why we pray for them. Good prayer is always filled with love. It contributes to those Holy Souls in Purgatory in their becoming the reflection of God’s love. As St Paul says in our second reading: “Hope is not deceptive because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.”
Let me finish with what I heard from that Laotian person who told me about the burial custom. He said that next to the Christian village where he grew up there is a Buddhist village. Those people were always afraid of the dead. If somebody died outside the village they wouldn’t even bring his body back to the village. But their Christian neighbors kept telling them: “Why are you afraid? They are your relatives, your friends. They love you even after death.” Now the Buddhist village is different they are not scared of the deceased anymore. They celebrate their funerals as celebration of gratitude and love.
Our Christians beliefs are not myths but they are reality that’s why they can bring home, peace and consolation to people’s life.
Have you ever been distracted at Mass? Thanks for you nodding. I started worrying that I was the only one. When I went to the Church of Beatitudes in Israel, precisely on the shore of the Galilee Sea, I found myself captured by the splendid view of the over the Lake and the surrounding hills. If our lecturer didn’t hurry us up probably I would be standing there for hours admiring the scenery. Then we went into the church which commemorates the event we heard in the Gospel: Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Today’s passage of the Beatitudes is the beginning of that sermon. As I was praying in the church there, it occurred to me how focused those people who were listening to Jesus that day when he was preaching must have been. It was so easy to be distracted by the scenery but they looked at Jesus not at the beauty of the nature, they listened to his words not to the soothing sounds of the lake.
My Dear Sisters and Brothers!
Distractions don’t happen only in the church. There are lots of things outside the church that take our mind from Jesus. For those who don’t find it a problem, that’s their problem. For those of you, who like me, would like to focus on the Lord Jesus better, because he deserves our attention and there is lots of insight into this life and the life to come he can share with us, I would like to introduce you to a crowd that can assist you and me how to manage those distractions we have. Actually it is a great crowd of people and we call them saints. They know what it is to have distractions as they went through life like we do, but now, in heaven, they are totally focused on the Blessed Trinity.
Have you ever thought what makes you distracted? Things we find interesting, captivating, important etc. We think that if we miss on those things of the world we are going to miss on happiness, joy, peace, fulfillment etc. However by giving our heart and mind to God we may miss some worldly things but we will not miss on happiness, joy, peace, fulfilment. Those gifts, those graces come only from God, only when they originate in God they last forever. Other things can give us, for example, some joy, but it will be short-lived.
To finish let me get practical. In our Catholic tradition we have various prayers, novenas, litanies etc. However there is a litany which is not very popular. I mean the Litany of Saints. Some people say it is boring to say the long list of the names. If it is boring it means that you don’t know those saints, you don’t know their lives. On this Solemnity of All Saints I would like to encourage you to compose your own litany of saints. It doesn’t need to have 50 names. You may start with 4 or 5 Saints or Blesseds. But allow their lives speak to you first, learn about them first, find something that connects you and them and then pray that litany of saints you have composed every day. I can assure you that the saints don’t need a hearing aid to hear you. When you say: Pray for us. They will do so. They will pray for you, even as they are totally captivated by the most splendid view that can be found in the whole Universe: the glory of the Most Blessed Trinity.
At the beginning of this homily I mentioned the soothing sound of the Galilee Lake. Those of you who cannot go there can go for a short drive to listen to the waves and to find how soothing they can be. But let me tell you this: The most soothing effect is brought by the words of our Blessed Lord as his words reach not only our brain but the depth of our soul.
On the eve of the Solemnity of All Saints, the Oblates from Victoria gathered at the Seminary for our monthly retreat. One could say that, as missionaries, we pray enough every day, so why do we need to make all this fuss about having a special day for prayer and reflection every months. The best explanation is that we gather every month because we love worshipping our Blessed Lord TOGETHER. Our Founder, St Eugene de Mazenod, wanted us, the Oblates, to be small church communities, where the spirit of the first Apostles and the disciples of Jesus is lived. That spirit leads us to evangelize but the same spirit leads us to value and protect the unity among us Oblates of Mary Immaculate. That’s why we don’t look at our monthly retreat as something we have to do but as a vital moment we want to have every month. Apart from that, there is no evangelization without allowing oneself being evangelized as an individual and as a community. An evangelizer is not the person who just calls others to conversion but an evangelizer is the person who is sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and is able to say: “I need conversion myself.”
Yesterday was a blessed day indeed: we prayed Divine Office together, we spend a prolonged time before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, we listened to a spiritual exhortation given by Fr Michael. I am always encouraged by this example of our Oblates who, doesn’t matter how old and experienced me be, are open to listen and be challenged by another preacher.
Fr Daniel OMI
An Oblate Priest