Homily given by Most Rev Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta
Holy Mass of the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, with the 50th Anniversary of Catherine McAuley Westmead at the Morley Centre, Sunday 6 November 2016.
We gather here to mark this significant milestone in the life of Catherine McAuley Westmead, the 50th anniversary of its foundation. I acknowledge the presence of many past and present principals, staff, students, parents who are here with us. You have contributed in so many ways to the rich and varied history of this great school.
So many lives have been formed, nurtured and enriched. They in turn have contributed to the flourishing of human relationships, families and society. We also acknowledge the vision and effort of those who are no longer with us, especially our pioneers. We honour the legacy of our founders by taking stock of the fruit of their labour as well as preparing for the harvest of the future in our turn.
Your college motto is ‘Strive for higher things’. When we strive for higher things, we fulfil our potential. When we aim for greater purpose in life, we realise the vision that God has conceived for each one of us.
Catherine McAuley was not content with the status quo, especially with regard to poor women’s conditions in the 19th Century. In her striving for higher things, she was determined to make a difference to their lives by providing educational opportunities for them. Like her Australian counterpart Mary MacKillop, Catherine endeavoured to bring the vision of Jesus Christ to bear on the lives of those who were excluded and condemned to a cycle of entrenched poverty and disadvantage.
Notwithstanding opposition even from bishops, Catherine stood by her conviction and along with her sisters cared for the poor women outside the cloistered walls. The Mercy tradition that she inspired is embraced even today, not only by the walking nuns or flying nuns, but also by young women like yourselves. You are entrusted with Catherine McAuley’s vision for a better world, in the name of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He consistently challenged our ingrained stereotyped attitudes, collapsed our conventional boundaries and stretched the limits of our love.
Today’s Gospel story illustrates how Jesus challenged the small-mindedness of his opponents and pointed them to the bigger concern for authentic living. The Sadducees approached him and posed a rather tricky question to him regarding a woman who had had as many husbands as Elizabeth Taylor and Zsa Zsa Gabor. If she had been married to all of them on earth, then “in heaven whose wife of the seven husbands is she?” they asked.
The difference between the woman in the Gospel story and Zsa Zsa Gabor is that the former was treated like a possession of her husband. Jesus could see through their misogyny, prejudice and short sightedness. Heaven to them was no more than an extension of the earthly experience and a continuation of the status quo, albeit through a privileged position. This kind of heaven fell short of the vision of the kingdom that Jesus taught. In fact, it was shot through with cultural biases.
No wonder there are people like John Lennon who reject this small-minded religion. “Imagine there is no heaven” he wrote in that famous song. Jesus in the Gospel story told his opponents that heaven is not like how they understood it. It is a state of transcendent fullness where we will be transformed. Hence, the children of the resurrection do not marry.
He reminded them that God is God of the living, not the dead. The question they had asked was inconsequential. He was basically saying, “Our concern should be about the living. We should be seeking the big stuff instead of the small stuff.”
What kind of question occupies our mind? Are we like the Sadducees, obsessed with seeking stuff that is petty, shortsighted and inconsequential? How do I improve my body image? Who has a crush on me? What kind of clothes should I wear on my date?
The Gospel challenges us with big picture stuff like integrity, justice, compassion, equality, love, inclusion, human flourishing, harmony with the natural world. It was the sort of stuff that Catherine McAuley was concerned about. She and other religious leaders like her took a prophetic stance not simply in providing affordable quality education and healthcare to the poor masses but fundamentally in meeting the great cultural challenges of their times.
They were pioneers and trailblazers rather than tail-lights in leading their people in the fight against injustice, inequality, prejudice and bigotry. They were driven by the kingdom vision of Jesus and his example of accompanying people towards that vision.
My dear friends,
As we gather to give thanks, let us be inspired to strive for what lies ahead, mindful of the way our pioneers have passed on to us their great legacy. Jesus Christ is the true source of our hope. For his life, death and resurrection have launched the course of history irreversibly in the direction of the kingdom.
While waiting and striving for the fulfilment of the kingdom in the fullness of time, let us live our lives in faith, hope and love. Let us do everything we are inspired to do to bring about a better future and a better world for all. In the words of St Paul, “May the Lord turn our hearts towards the love of God and the fortitude of Christ” as we strive for higher things.