Homily: Catholic Theological College Annual Mass, 2019

Catholic Theological College Mass
St John’s Church, East Melbourne
6th June, 2019

“Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid”.

Our response to those words spoken by Jesus in today’s Gospel, sets the pattern for our lives, for the Church, for the whole of society. Fear imprisons us and stops us being fully human. Uniquely in all of human history, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the one who as living love, liberates our courage.

“If it is you, tell me to come to you on the water,” Peter says, and Jesus replies, “come”. History does not relate what the disciples thought about getting out of a perfectly serviceable boat (!) but Peter was right, and they were wrong. The utterly absurd is completely reasonable when Jesus is the one who is calling. Peter gets out of the boat, walks a bit, and then fails. Love catches him, gently sets him right, and in a moment, they are both in the boat and there is peace. Courage failed, but Jesus is stronger than failure.

There is no doubt, that what we Christians need most today is courage: the present challenges of environment and economy, of human development and global poverty, can only be faced with extraordinary courage. We are called to step out of the comfort of our own traditions and places, and go into the waves, reaching for the hand of Christ. With faith and confidence in God, the chaos of life's stormy ups and downs, the demons of disappointment, setback, injustice and evil, can be overcome. Though as a world we might feel weak, broken and vulnerable, and facing very real dangers, the divine power of God, revealed in Jesus, is there for us to draw on. If we flounder, help is at hand.

The fear of the disciples was reasonable. People do not walk on water, but this person did. For us to trust and follow Christ is reasonable if He is what the disciples end up saying He is; “truly you are the Son of God”. Each of us now needs to heed His voice calling to us, and to get out of the boat and go to Him. Because even when we fail, we find peace and hope and become more fully human than we can imagine: failure forgiven, courage liberated, hope persevering, love abounding.

We all know and love Peter. He is strong in faith one moment and, like us all, weak and so fragile in other moments. In the midst of his frailty, it is quite clear that Jesus now makes him the leader of the budding Church.

In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we see the first healing performed by Peter and John. By this, they show that the work of Jesus is continuing in them. The fact that two of them are involved in the healing also indicates that the work of Jesus is being done not so much by individuals (although that may happen), but by people working together. The story clearly indicates that the power of Jesus has, as promised, been transferred to his followers.
Moreover, as Peter reminds us here, our real treasure in the Church is the living Christ. The knowledge and touch of Jesus, in the gospels and sacraments, is better than silver and gold; it has power to change our lives. In addition, the psalmist has just reminded us that God speaks to us in creation in a universal language that transcends words, in that the testimony of the heavens is silent, yet can be "heard" by men of any nation and understood in any language.

In the second reading, we have the story of his conversion, from St Paul’s own point of view. What is interesting is that his view of himself and his calling is based on his experience of what the Lord has done in him, to him and for him. He lives within the framework of God’s plan for him. In addition, the message he preaches is not in its essence, his own insights and ideas, rather it is based on God’s revelation to him. The revelation of God is communicated to us individually in ways which are fresh and personal but also consistent and in continuity with the teaching given to the Apostles. God reveals himself in every generation in a way that is always consistent but also always living and developing.

Paul’s faith was the experience of being loved by Jesus Christ with an entirely personal love; it was an awareness of the fact that Christ faced death not for some unidentified cause but for the love of him – of Paul – and that being risen, he loves him still. Christ gave himself for him. His faith was not a theory, an opinion of God and the world. His faith was the impact of God’s love on his heart. And so, this faith was love for Jesus Christ.

Nevertheless, the turn of phrase in the scripture that I find particularly important is taken from later in St Matthew’s Gospel and we used it today as our Gospel Acclamation. It is that Jesus says, “I will build MY Church”. It is the Lord’s Church. It is His Church. It is not simply our Church. We are a part if it but Jesus is our leader. He leads us in faith. He inaugurates His Church. He sets it up. The Church is the gathered people of God. We gather around Christ who leads us always.

Today’s readings invite us all to reflect on how these early followers of Jesus heard the Gospel and brought their own skills and backgrounds to the task of sharing it with others in many different contexts. The Apostles never forgot the ways in which the Lord touched their lives. They spoke about them, wrote about them, and handed them on as a true treasure, as we hear today from Peter and Paul and Matthew. Their lives nourish and challenge us for mission in today’s changing world.

We are blessed with great diversity in our Catholic Church in Australia – many perspectives, experiences and encounters of faith, walks of life and vision for Church. In next year’s Plenary Council, we are called to explore what it is that we are called to and how we are called to be the presence of Jesus in Australia for today, and for generations to come.

Therefore, we pray: when the storms of life assail us, help us Lord, to entrust ourselves to your mercy, that you might draw us out of the waters that engulf us, and place us in the safe harbour of your love, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.