Archbishop's Homilies 2003

Mass for the National Civic Council

Celebrated by Archbishop Denis Hart
at the Basilica of Our Lady of Victories, Camberwell,
on Wednesday, 3rd December, 2003, at 7.30pm


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today we celebrate the Feast of Saint Francis Xavier, the Patron of the Missions, to whom we dedicate the mission which we in the Church undertake for our brothers and sisters.

We remember deceased members of the National Civic Council. We pray for those who are living, that concern and dedication for truth will be their beacon.

Let us call to mind our sins, that we may live and work in the light of Christ.


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It is perhaps a fortunate accident that today’s Mass is celebrated on the Feast of Saint Francis Xavier, the Patron of the Missions.

As a young man of thirty-five, after ordination to the priesthood in Venice, he sailed for the East Indies in 1541, landed in Goa in the following year and worked among the Portuguese settlers and the native Indian peoples until 1545 when he went to the Malay Peninsula.

He returned to India in 1548, to Japan in the following year and in 1552 he returned to Goa. Then he set out for China, only to die on the island port of Shang-Chuen at the mouth of the Canton River in 1562. He had been only ten years in the East, but he made good and lasting converts and is venerated as the Mission Patron as a result. It was only seventy years later that he was canonised.

The challenge which Saint Francis Xavier gives us – he a man meek, humble and charitable, but not lacking in firmness. He made himself all things to all men in order to bring them to Christ.

This year we have celebrated twenty-five years of the Pontificate of Pope John II. Right from the start in his Encyclical Letter, The Redeemer of Man, the Pope has exercised a divinely developed teaching on the central role of Christ and his outreach to people.

Indeed, only twelve years ago in Redemptoris Missio John Paul says, “The Pope does not tire of repeating the Christo-centric teaching of Gaudiam et Spes: that the Son of God has by his Incarnation united himself in a certain fashion with every human being. That he has by his Paschal Mystery restored to humankind the divine likeness lost by the first Adam; that in him, humankind has been raised to an incomparable dignity.”

Jesus has shown what it means to be fully human. Indeed, it was Saint Iranaeus who said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”

The Good News is that God’s forgiving love; a love stronger than death, always ready to forgive, coming in search of the lost, is always mercy in Jesus Christ.

You and I know that knowing the truth about God and about our call as human beings imposes a grave obligation on believers. It is our role from the cradle to the grave to fix our eyes on Christ, to seek holiness and to witness to his truth by launching out into the deep of contact with our brothers and sisters to bring them to the Gospel. It is important to know that it is the role of the laity to sanctify the everyday world of family, life and work.

Pope Paul VI had stressed that this mission to people was not simply the proclamation of the Gospel by preaching and teaching and giving Baptism and the Sacraments, but extends to include the transformation of humanity from within. John Paul II has expressed concern about a certain reluctance to announce the Gospel which has emerged amongst Catholics in recent years. Sometimes excuses have been made that this is a violation of religious liberty.

Far from this, the Pope says, it is important to propose the truths of the Gospel to others who do not know it. To make this presentation is to respect their liberty by offering the possibility of accepting the Good News.

For a group of people like you it means, as it does for me, a spiritual attitude of mind that is totally committed to truth as the Pope says in Veritatis Splendor. That it respects the link between faith and reason and the intelligent explanation of the Gospel. It means by example, by invitation, by prayer and faithfulness that we can change the world in which we live despite the onslaughts of secularism and despite the vigour with which the modern secular society will seek to crowd out the preaching of the Gospel.

Indeed, through the years of his Pontificate the Pope has been increasingly concerned by what he describes as a crisis of faith:- The playing down of the passion, resurrection, saving power and, indeed sometimes even the person of Christ, the reduction of the faith to social values and a minimalist, reductionist approach to faith.

On the contrary, in his Letter, Beginning the Third Millennium, even in the context of today’s secular society he foretells a new springtime of faith and he emphasises that it is entrustment to Christ, authentic holiness and launching out into the deep, which remain our challenge.

Each of us must maintain the conviction that the living of Christian life cannot be reduced to number crunching, but is an activity in which the Holy Spirit enlightens human beings to the extent that they are united with him.

As we celebrate this Mass, let us not forget the challenge to personal holiness grasped strongly by Saint Francis Xavier. Let us remember that each of us is called to faithfulness and perseverance. Thirdly, let us remember that our personal lives can make a difference to those around about us and can in fact preach Christ. Saint Peter reminded the people of his day that the Gospel meant us to show the reason for the hope that is in you to the world.

That is our challenge and invitation from the great saint who died on the threshold of China, never losing hope that the faith can be lived and taught and grow, often in situations which humanly speaking are deemed impossible. Ours is a time for realism and challenge and dedication to truth. It is not a time for pessimism and recrimination. These words that the Pope used to the Bishops are equally applicable to all of us in the Church of today.


+ Denis J. Hart,
Archbishop of Melbourne.