Fr Frank Brennan’s Homily for the 1st Sunday of Advent 2023

Fr Frank Brennan SJ, 3 December 2023



Homily for the 1st Sunday of Advent

Readings: Isaiah 63:16-19; 64:2-7; Psalm 80; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37

3rd December 2023

It’s the first Sunday of Advent. We enter into a month of waiting. But it’s not the passive waiting for a bus or a plane. We are waiting with great expectation of a better world, a better life, and better relationships with the coming of the Christ child at Christmas. We’ve all got work to do.  This new heaven and new earth isn’t going to be simply laid in our lap. The first injunction is: ‘Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come.’ What is it that we’re waiting for?

Today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah comes from that third part of Isaiah ‘which reflects a time period sometime after 520BCE (the end of the exile) and just prior to the rebuilding of the temple.  By this time, the community has returned to its homeland.  These last chapters are God’s vision and instruction for a reconstituted people’.[1]

We’re presented with a range of images of our God: ‘You, Lord, yourself are our Father, ‘Our Redeemer’ is your ancient name.’

‘Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down!

– at your Presence the mountains would melt.

No ear has heard,

no eye has seen

any god but you act like this

for those who trust him.

You guide those who act with integrity

and keep your ways in mind.’

‘And yet, Lord, you are our Father;

we the clay, you the potter,

we are all the work of your hand.’

Scripture scholar Carol Dempsey says, ‘These images of God are culturally and religiously anthropocentric and reflect a particular world view’ presenting us with the challenging question: ‘To what extent have our ancestors and people today created God in our own image, according to our own likeness?’[2]  We do rightly find God in our midst – in our relationships and in our concerns for our world.

As we wait for our God, we work towards God’s vision for us as a reconstituted people. On Wednesday I was privileged to be invited to the President’s Gallery of the Senate to hear Senator Patrick Dodson deliver his valedictory speech.  Departing the Senate, he recalled ‘for your reflection and contemplation’ the words from his Yawuru people that he shared seven years before in his first speech in the Senate: ‘mabu ngarrungunil, a strong community where people matter and are valued; mabu buru, a strong place, a good country where use of resources is balanced, and sacredness is embedded in the landscape; and, finally, mabu liyan, a healthy spirit, a good state of being for individuals, families and community, whose essence arises from our encounter with the land and people.’[3]

Now there’s an Advent vision for a reconstituted people.  Earlier in the speech, Dodson reflected on the quest for a reconstituted people in the wake of the failed referendum, saying: ‘It seems to me that we must again find, with renewed purpose, common ground on what this might look like and the form it might take into the future.  The 60-40 split in the referendum vote demonstrates to me that we are a divided nation.  We need to heal through honest and open dialogue, without the rancour and discord that infected too much of what passed for debate in the communication and chatter around the referendum.’[4]

That same day I participated in a panel discussion at the General Forum of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference on ‘The implications of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice referendum’.  Other panellists were John Lochowiak, the Chairperson of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC), Craig Arthur, the National Director of NATSICC, and Anne Walker, National Executive Director Catholic Religious Australia.

I spoke of seven implications:

  1. There is a need for church social justice bodies and church leaders to get better at calling government to account when the basic rules of political process are not being followed. Constitutional change is very different from legislative change or a new policy announcement by a government with a fresh electoral mandate.
  2. There is a need for us to better educate people in our pews and pulpits about equality. Equality is not the same as sameness.  There is a fine body of Catholic social teaching about the distinctive rights of Indigenous peoples regardless of their poverty, disadvantage or dispossession.
  3. There is a need for the Church to be more attentive to the despair which is being felt by First Australians in the wake of the 40:60 referendum defeat. This is the case especially in those remote communities which voted overwhelmingly in favour of the referendum.
  4. There is a need to educate our fellow Australians about the Constitution and constitutional change. The Australian Constitution is a boring document, little known or understood especially by new Australians and yet it can be amended only by a super-majority of the people.  Only 8 of 45 referendums have succeeded.  Only 1 of Labor’s 26 attempts has succeeded (and that was in 1946).
  5. There is a need to improve our Church structures so that NATSICC can be formally recognised as THE First Nations Voice in the Church. Government is not so much interested in what we say, but in what we do, and even more importantly, in how we structure our institutions to provide for self-determination.
  6. There is a need to acknowledge that racism is still an element of Australian society and identity, but racism was NOT a chief cause of the referendum loss. Bipartisanship is a necessary (though not necessarily sufficient) condition for constitutional change.  When the process and wording are deficient, more work needs to be done to foster some semblance of bipartisanship.
  7. There is a need to realise that the referendum loss now places the assimilation debate back on the national agenda. Gains of the last generation have been lost.[5]

At his farewell press conference, Patrick Dodson reminded us: ‘If you simply operated on momentum, you’d never go anywhere. You’d watch the polls, and go back to bed. But if you are about justice, and you are about dignity and you are about honour, and you are about integrity in this country, then you work towards to achievement of those things, and you work towards assisting the population to understand the necessity of these things. Why wouldn’t we as Australians want to embrace that and work in a positive way towards those positive outcomes, instead of wallowing in disagreement and division and discord and hatred and delivering nothing?’[6]

Seven years ago when Patrick Dodson came to the Senate, many of us had great hopes – hopes which are yet to be fulfilled, hopes which are now entrusted to a new generation.  In the week prior to his entry to the Senate, Dodson told the National Press Club: ‘For the vast bulk of our people the legal system is not a trusted instrument of justice; it is a feared and despised processing plant that propels the most vulnerable and disabled of our people towards a broken bleak future.’   He pleaded, ‘Surely as a nation we are better than this.’  It was distressing but ultimately reassuring to hear Dodson, the Father of Reconciliation, publicly telling his own people: ‘We will not be liberated from the tyranny of the criminal justice system unless we also acknowledge the problems in our own communities and take responsibility for the hurt we inflict and cause on each other.  Family violence, substance abuse and neglect of children should not be tolerated as the norm.  And those that perpetuate and benefit from the misery caused to our people need to be held accountable.’[7]

Praying that Patrick Dodson will be restored to good health, committing ourselves to a reconstituted people, and praying for a renewed spirit of reconciliation in our land this Advent we join the psalmist:

Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.

O shepherd of Israel, hear us,

shine forth from your cherubim throne.

O Lord, rouse up your might,

O Lord, come to our help.

Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.

God of hosts, turn again, we implore,

look down from heaven and see.

Visit this vine and protect it,

the vine your right hand has planted.

Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.

May your hand be on the one you have chosen,

the one you have given your strength.

And we shall never forsake you again;

give us life that we may call upon your name.

Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.


Fr Frank Brennan SJ is the Rector of Newman College, Melbourne, and the former CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA). Fr Frank’s latest book is An Indigenous Voice to Parliament: Considering a Constitutional Bridge, Garratt Publishing, 2023.


[1] Carol J Dempsey, ‘Isaiah’, in The Paulist Biblical Commentary, Paulist Press, 2018, p. 651.

[2] Ibid, p. 662.

[3] Senate, Hansard, 29 November 2023, pp. 32-33.

[4] Ibid, p. 32.

[5] Later in the week, it was a great privilege to join Marion Cheedy on Ngaarda Media broadcasting in the the Pilbara reflecting on the fabulous contribution of Senator Patrick Dodson to Australian public life and to the rights and aspirations of his people. Listen at

[6] See

[7] See

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