Powerful Interests Are Attacking Christians

by Archbishop Anthony Fisher, OP

Descriptive Title

Archbishop Fisher's Homily for the Feast of the Resurrection 2018

Description

In his Easter Sunday homily on April 1, 2018, the Catholic archbishop of Sydney, Australia, Anthony Fisher, decried "powerful interests" that attack Christians and try to "exclude them from public life," and added that they want to cast believers as "Public Enemy No. 1." Speaking in St. Mary's Cathedral before thousands of worshippers, Archbishop Fisher said, “We may not always be as free as we are now to evangelize and baptize as Jesus mandated at the first Easter.”

Publisher & Date

Archciocese of Sydney, April 1, 2018

Quinoa and kale, açai powder and green tea, a FitBit and a personal trainer - these are our culture's secrets to living forever or till it feels like forever. There are even more 'out there' strategies: cosmetic, genetic or cybernetic treatments; getting yourself cloned or frozen till they have a cure; mind-to-computer uploading; and reincarnation into a younger body.

I'll leave for another day whether eternal mortal life is worth wishing for. Clearly Christians have something else in mind when they talk Resurrection. 'Resurrection' is not a paleo diet, cryo-technology or new-agery. But how do we connect with the strange Gospel tale we just heard (Mk 16:1-8) - or the rest of the Holy Week story for that matter? How could such events save, heal and elevate us?

The crucial link is the sacraments. In these Christ's Paschal mystery is remembered, its fruits applied to us here and now, and a heavenly life promised us.1 To miss the sacraments or receive them only half-heartedly, is to fail really to participate in Holy Week. For it's through the Eucharist and Priesthood that we join Jesus' Last Supper; in Confirmation and Matrimony that we experience the climax of Good Friday; and with three more sacraments that we rise from the Empty Tomb. Let me explain…

Last night five catechumens were baptized here after careful preparation over many months. But how did God prepare the Church herself for Baptism?2 Well, first He prepared her parents, the Jews. At the dawn of creation the Holy Spirit breathed on the waters, making them the well-spring of all holiness. The Great Flood foreshadowed regeneration, an end to vice and new beginning of virtue. Then the children of Israel passed through the Red Sea to freedom. The Prophets, too, called them to 'come to the water, all you who are thirsty' and promised God would 'pour clean water over [us so we] will be cleansed'.3

All this is fulfilled in Christ's baptism in the Jordan (Mt 3:13). Yet it's Easter water we baptize and are sprinkled with, and on this Easter Day that we all renew our baptismal vows. Baptism is inextricably tied to Holy Week because Jesus Himself described the crucifixion as the 'Baptism' He must suffer; Jesus Himself gave forth water from His pierced side as the source of Baptism; Jesus Himself appeared at Easter to tell His disciples to go out evangelizing and baptizing (Mk 10:38; Jn 19:34; Mt 28:19-20). This the Church has done ever since (Acts 2:38,41; 8:12-13; 10:48; 16:15). As St Paul explained (Rom 6:3-11), to be baptized is to die with Christ, be buried with Christ, and be raised up with Christ to new life. Baptism is the sacrament of rebirth, purification, justification, eternal life…

Not everyone agrees. In March 1963, Moscow radio's Sunday atheism program castigated Baptism as a 'health menace' and a 'senseless and dangerous rite'. The commentator claimed thousands of babies die of pneumonia following Christening and that weak hearts in adults can be traced back to Baptism in early years. Life-expectancy in the days of the Czars, when most people were baptized, was only 32 years, he said; whereas in the modern Soviet Union, where most were not baptized, it had risen to 69!

Of course, in recent years long queues of ex-communists have sought baptism in Russia! But as recent testimony before the Ruddock Inquiry into Protection of Religious Freedom in Australia highlighted, we cannot take the freedom to hold and practice our beliefs for granted, even here in Australia. Powerful interests now seek to marginalize religious believers and beliefs, especially Christian ones, and exclude them from public life. They would end funding to faith-based schools, hospitals and welfare agencies, strip us of charitable status and protections, cast us as 'Public Enemy No. 1'. We may not always be as free as we are now to evangelize and baptize as Jesus mandated at the first Easter.

Baptism wipes away all sin. Yet it cannot be repeated as sin, sadly, can. Hence the 'second baptism' of Confession, Penance or Reconciliation.4Again God prepared the Church for this. From Old Testament times we heard the call to confess our sins5 and we learnt of God's boundless mercy.6 In the fullness of time Christ came absolving sins.7 As our opening hymn and our first reading (Acts 10:34-43) both point out, it was sinners, in particular, that Jesus came to save. As we will hear in next Sunday's Gospel, the newly Risen Christ passed the authority to absolve contrite sinners to the apostles, saying, "Receive the Holy Spirit: those who sins you forgive, they are forgiven; those whose sins you retain, they are retained."8 So Confession is another beautiful Easter gift, stirring us to contrition and resolve to sin no more, enabling a life-long journey of conversion, reconciling us to God and the Church, and giving us 'pardon and peace'.

This precious sacrament, too, is threatened today both by neglect and attack. But priests will, we know, suffer punishment, even martyrdom, rather than break the seal of Confession. For Confession is a privileged encounter between penitent and God; here the Christian enters the silence and secrecy of the Tomb, to be re-Eastered; and no earthly authority may enter there.

So the Easter sacrament of Baptism regenerates the spirit; the Easter sacrament of Penance renews the heart; but it is the Easter sacrament of Anointing that restores the body. Our sacrament for the sick is not green tea or cloning. Our aid to the dying not the secular sacrament of euthanasia, either. No, following Jesus' example and mandate to heal and care for the sick, St James directed: "If someone is sick, call the elders of the Church to pray over him and anoint him with oil… This prayer of faith will save him from his sickness, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven." (Jas 5:14-5) But in a country with few religious liberty protections and many pressures for euthanasia, how free will Christian health providers like St Vincent's be in the future, how free our health professionals, how free patients even, to reverence life from conception to natural death, especially when others think them burdensome or better off dead? The future of our religious freedoms - and so of our sacraments - will depend whether our generation protects both the freedoms and the sacraments.

The women go to the Tomb today to anoint the broken body of Jesus and instead find it is risen. Like the Church after the Royal Commission and amidst many humiliations and challenges, like each of us when we feel broken of body or bruised of spirit: we need the healing power of God, anointing the sick person, even the sick Church, so we can be rebuilt, given new purpose and strength.

There's something even better than açai and kale here. The Maundy Thursday sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Holy Orders teach the Church to live with Christ for worship and service. The Good Friday sacraments of Holy Confirmation and Holy Matrimony reveal she must die with Christ for inspiration and love. And the Easter sacraments of Holy Baptism, Holy Penance and Holy Unction show we must repent and let Christ transform our spirits, hearts and bodies, that He might raise them up to eternal life.

Word of Thanks after the Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord
St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, Easter Sunday

Dear friends: before our final blessing may I thank you all for joining me for this celebration of Easter at St Mary's Cathedral. It has been a truly beautiful Mass. For that I want to thank the Dean Fr Don Richardson, the Cathedral Precinct Manager Helen Morassut, the Sacristan Mr Chris Backhouse, our Master of Ceremonies Fr Emmanuel Seo, and our team of cathedral clergy and staff, ushers, bell-ringers, acolytes and ministers, our deacons and seminarians. They've worked hard all Holy Week, prepared this Cathedral-church, rehearsed and then assisted at this Mass and many other ceremonies: I am deeply grateful.

The news of Christ's rising from the dead is the greatest news in history and deserves to be shouted from the rooftops or at least sung as an Alleluia chorus. For this we thank Mr Thomas Wilson, the organists and choir: they have done splendidly yet again this year.

Finally, on behalf of the Dean, clergy and staff of the cathedral, and my own behalf, my congratulations to the newly baptised and communicated, and a very Happy Easter to you and to all your loved ones. May God bless you abundantly in this holiest of seasons.

Introduction to the Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord
St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, Easter Sunday

People of Sydney I bring you a message of great joy, the message of Alleluia. Χριστὸς ἀνέστη - Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη! Christus resurrexit - Resurrexit vere! Christ is Risen - Truly, He is Risen!

I welcome all our regulars and our visitors, including former Ambassador Luis de Baca and his wife Lorena. Luis served as the US Ambassador-at-Large against Human Trafficking, a cause close to all our hearts. Concelebrating with me this morning are ______________________

In preparation for the renewal of our Baptismal vows and so we might receive the plenary indulgence granted by the Roman Pontiff under the ordinary conditions to all who devoutly assist at this Mass, let us repent of our sins.

Endnotes

1 CCC 1084-90, 1111.

2 CCC 1217-28.

3 On the dawn of creation: First Reading of the Vigil: Gen 1:1-2:2 (and Ps 103). On the great flood: Fourth Reading of the Vigil: Isa 54:5-14 (cf. 1Pet 3:20). On the liberation of Israel at the Red Sea: Third Reading of the Vigil: Ex chs 14 & 15. On the Prophets call to the water: Fifth Reading of the Vigil: Isa 55:1-11; ch. 12; Seventh Reading of the Vigil: Ezek 36:16-28.

4 CCC 1446 citing Tertullian and Trent.

5 Lev 5:5-6; 16:21; Num 5:6-7; 1Sam 7:6; Neh ch 9; Ps 32:5; 51 etc.

6 Num 14:19-21; Neh 9:17; Ps 86:5; 103:12; Dan 9:9; Isa 1:18; 43:25-26; 55:7; Jer 31:34; Mic 7:18-19; Acts 3:19; Eph 1:7; Col 1:13-14; 1Jn 1:9; Heb 10:17 etc.

7 Mk 2:1-12; Mt 9:1-8; Lk 5:20; 7:48 etc.

8 Jn 20:19-23. Cf. Mt 16:18-19; 18:15-20. Confessing and forgiving sins was already practiced in the New Testament period: e.g. Mt 3:6; Lk 17:3-4; Acts 24:16; Eph 4:31-32; Jam 5:16; 1Jn 1:9.

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