Homily: Centenary of St Mary Help of Christians’ church; Heathcote

17th December, 2017

Isa 61:1-11; Luke 1:46-54; 1 Thess 5:16-24; John 1:6-28

heathcote olhc church 350px 300x300The Centenary of a Parish Church is a great occasion for any community. Today we celebrate one hundred years of St Mary’s Church, Heathcote which has been a true beacon in Heathcote; a place where the deeper events of life in the community have been celebrated now for one whole century. You will have memories of bringing your children to be baptized, or the celebration of First Holy Communions and Confirmations;  the joyful celebration of marriages and the sad occasions of bringing parishioners to their final resting place at the end of their earthily journey.

There will also have been moments that are even more deeply personal when you will have come here quietly and alone at a moment of trial or to thank God for some special blessing. The history of this community of St Mary’s Heathcote is intimately intertwined with what this Church has meant for many.
 On an occasion like this celebration today, people look back with justifiable pride at what their Church community has achieved. What emerges is the extraordinary contribution that a faith community of St Mary’s in Heathcote has brought to the society around us. Beyond what may have been noted and written in the media or the history books, everyone here today will have good memories of important events, joyful or sad, in their own lives, and how this Church building and the community around it played a central part in such events.

So many other dimensions of the life of this community also sprung up around the life of the Church. I am thinking of the Holy Rosary School where so many young students have been educated and of forms of social commitment and care of the sick and those who are deprived.

The world has changed since 1917 when the work of this Church building was completed. A lot can change in 100 years – but Our Lady Help of Christians Church has stayed pretty much the same, although throughout the years, Heathcote has added to the building which was consecrated and dedicated on December 13 and opened on Sunday, December 16, by the Most Reverend John McCarthy, Bishop of Sandhurst.

I know you are all so proud of the glass and lead of the beautiful stained glass windows which came from Italy and many other treasures which include the church’s applique wall hanging (1977) embroidered by ladies of the parish, which depicts the Sacraments of Initiation, Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist.

The church’s builder was Father Denis O’Dee, who was appointed to Heathcote in 1897 where he remained as parish priest for 40 years until his death in 1936. He is buried in the church near the altar. Many priests have  had the honour of serving in this parish, including Monsignor Frank Marriott who came in 1974 and was succeeded by many other parish priests, with Father Peter Ferwerda currently leading St Mary’s.

Today we celebrate one hundred years of this simple yet beautiful building. We celebrate a hundred years of many things of which we can be proud. This centenary is therefore an occasion in which we can remind our young people of the values that endure, and challenge our young people to be protagonists of those values in their world of today and tomorrow. People of my age have to learn to leave space for the young people of today who deep-down have their ideals, hope, and dreams and to encourage them to take on the task of authentically translating perennial values into the language of their times. I have great hope in our young people. If they are given the opportunity, they will work to change our world for the better. In our Centenary celebration we pray especially for the young people of St Mary’s Parish as the builders of Church life in the century to come.

On this third Sunday of the Advent season, the theme is traditionally one of joy. And why should we be rejoicing? Because we are soon to remember that the Son of God, Jesus the Christ, came to live among us as a human being and be one of us at Christmas.

The Second Reading today continues the theme of joy that comes to us through Jesus. “Be happy at all times” may seem a rather unreasonable demand. Yet, for the true Christian, joy is the underlying experience of daily living,  A key to our enduring happiness is an unconditional openness to where God leads us and a readiness to speak out and act boldly in his name.

Uppermost in our minds today, as we celebrate the joyous occasion of the centenary of St. Mary’s church, Heathcote, is surely a sense of gratitude to almighty God for all the blessings bestowed on the parish in the course of the past one hundred years. Consider the many baptisms, the First Holy Communions and Confirmations which have taken place, the countless Masses which have been celebrated down the years of the life of this church, not to mention the funerals of those who have gone before us. A parish church and its community are like a sanctuary where the Lord is to be found.

St Mary’s Heathcote is a place where the faith has been and is currently taught and lived; where gospel values are proclaimed and put into practice. At the centre of this parish community is the invisible presence of Christ who is alive and active in the lives of his people. We might apply the words of the prophet Isaiah in our first reading to this community.

Pope Francis would say that the parish is where we are touched and embraced by the loving mercy of God, where everyone belongs, and where no person is excluded or is beyond hope.  May I offer my warmest congratulations to you all on this wonderful centenary of St Mary’s church, Heathcote.