Homily: St Joseph’s College, Echuca, - Commencement Mass, 2013



1st February, 2013

The readings we have for today have some interesting messages for us at the beginning of the school year and as we celebrate the feast of St Brigid. In the first reading the letter to the Hebrews, the sacred author praises the Hebrews for enduring a hard struggle with sufferings; having compassion for those in prison, and cheerfully accepting the plundering of their own possessions, knowing that having faith in God, they possessed something better and more lasting. The sacred author encourages them ‘Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised’.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is teaching his disciples and the people who have gathered. Jesus tells many parables that are taken from the experience of the people of that time. He narrates two brief stories: Firstly the story of the seed that grows by itself and then the story of the small mustard seed which grows into the biggest shrub. The farmer who plants knows the process: seed, the green sprout, leaf, spike, grain. The farmer knows how to wait.  He does not cut down the grain before it is time. But he does not know how the soil, the rain, the sun and the seed have this force or strength to make the plant grow from nothing until it bears fruit. This is how the Kingdom of God is. It is a process; there are stages and moments of growth. The mustard seed is small, but it grows and at the end, the birds make their nests in its branches. This is how the Kingdom of God is.  It begins very small, it grows and it extends its branches. It takes place in time.

Earlier this week, we recalled the story and the process of the building of our nation, Australia. I am sure everyone enjoyed this year’s celebration of Australia Day, and may have heard as I did, a number of people remarking on how blessed we are to live here in this beautiful country of ours.  We have been reminded of the story of Captain Cook, landing at Botany Bay in the year 1770, the establishment of European settlement with the arrival of Governor Arthur Phillips with the first settlers and convicts on the 26th January, 1788 and the challenging hardships that were endured by these early settlers in the new colony of Australia.   We recalled the heroism of many people throughout our relatively short history including those who have farmed the land, coping with ‘droughts and flooding rains’; those who have been to war to keep us safe and those who have even come from other countries to develop this great country in which we live.

But did you know that that very same year, of 1770 in France, a young Irish lad by the name of Daniel Delany was ordained a priest. However, as Ireland was in terrible strife, Catholics and others were constantly persecuted and so he did not return to Ireland until seven years later when it was a little safer. He went to work in the parish of Tullow.  The people there were poor, uneducated and very needy and he tried just about every way imaginable to educate adults as well as children. Despite all the setbacks, he didn’t give up and in time, the youth of the parish learned to sing and read, and they acquired a new sense of dignity, and so over time, there was a process of transformation in Tullow and the surrounding countryside. He was appointed a Bishop just six years later and Bishop Delany’s great understanding of the importance of education and vision of providing secular as well as religious education for his people, “rich and poor alike,” drew him eventually, some years later, towards the founding of a religious order, whom he placed under the patronage of Saint Brigid that religious order of sisters we know as the Brigidine sisters.

It is fitting that we celebrate today, at the commencement of the new school year, the feats day of St Brigid.  A friend of St Patrick, Brigid, ranks as one of the most remarkable Irishwomen of the fifth century and as the Patroness of Ireland. She is lovingly called the Mary of the Gaell and is a patroness of students. So it was fitting that Bishop Delaney chose Brigid as the patroness of his new religious order of sisters.

Today, we thank God for the blessing of Bishop Delaney and his faith, perseverance, insight and risk taking which have resulted in such far reaching contribution to education. We Thank God too, for the blessing of so many Brigidine sisters: many who left their homes in Ireland and came to Australia to establish schools such as this great one here in Echuca in 1886. Just think of all those valiant women who have contributed so much over the years since this foundation. Then too, those Australian women, like the sisters here in this community, who responded to Christ’s call to join the Brigidine sisters and continue the work of their holy founder. In recent years, many lay people, principals and teachers, have joined the Brigidine sisters in their work .We thank God for all these blessings and we also say Happy Feastday to you all!
As you commence your new school year, students, teachers and parents, in much the same way as Bishop Delany, you too will all be challenged to find ways to make the world a better place. Like the early Christians, you will also be challenged to hold fast to your Catholic beliefs and to continue to trust in God. I urge you to pray. Talk often with God. Speak to Him about your goals, pray that He will guide and support you.

However, remember the challenges of Bishop Delany. Creating anything meaningful takes time.  So today, at the beginning of 2013, I have a request to make of you, and that is:  Keep doing your best at whatever study and work you take on this year.  Mindful of your Brigidine motto: strength and kindliness, keep giving of yourself to others in the kindliness of good and supportive friendships and keep nurturing strong faith.  Keep close to your mother, father and family. And above all, keep close to God.

As you commence this important school year,

May the Lord bless you all and keep you safe in His care.


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