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God is good indeed

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Archbishop Patrick O'Regan's homily at his installation on Monday May 25 is reprinted in full below.

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My dear sisters and brothers, I greet each one of you today. Had things been different, I would dearly have loved that as many of you as possible could have been here today.

I am sad that you cannot be here but am pleased that this virtual alternative gives you a chance to share in today’s installation ceremony in some small way. You can see us even if we cannot see you.

Just under one week remains of the great Easter season. But for many of us we may still be waiting to feel the joy of celebrating Christ’s resurrection. It is the greatest cornerstone of our faith, and yet this year it is has been hard to find just where the new life, hope, triumph over death, and the glory of God is, in the midst of a global pandemic.

The world has been turned upside-down. The events of the first Easter were chaotic. The fickle crowds that welcomed Jesus triumphantly into Jerusalem turned on him but a few days later with such violence that he ended up dead on a cross.

The chaos of the disciples was everywhere. The confusion of the stories unfolding with some saying he was alive and that he would see them in Galilee, other seeing this as preposterous, abounded. Chaos, confusion.

It almost seems that God needs a bit of chaos to get going, maybe that is why God likes us humans so very much. It was the Spirit that breathed over the tohuwabobu. Yesterday we celebrated the great feast of the Ascension, a feast, which in a notable way, celebrates loss, distance and isolation, as well as great hope. All things with which, over the last two months or so, we have become all too familiar.

So Jesus leaves, ascends to the right hand of the Father; the Apostles experience loss and a feel isolated. They are plunged into an unfamiliar time. This in-between time seems interminable. The liminal becomes the normative; the waiting becomes the real.

And yet they were harbouring in their generous hearts a promise. A promise that the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit would come upon them. They could hear the slightly enigmatic words two messengers left behind after his ascension whispering in their hearts, ‘Jesus will come back’ and the promise of Jesus himself, ‘know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time’.

The liminal space gave time for thinking, anticipating and waiting upon the Lord. The disciples didn’t have to wait, long, but they had to wait.

Next Sunday we celebrate the great feast of the Church, Pentecost. The day we see God’s utter faithfulness made manifest. The Spirit was promised; the Spirit appears; on that day the gathered disciples and Mary were overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. Next Sunday we pray what is known as the Golden Sequence, the Veni Sancte Spiritus.

It really is a treasure and deserves to be better known and prayed. Some of its lines show what the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit does for us: Come, Thou Father of the poor, Come with treasures which endure, Come, Thou Light of all that live. Thou in toil art comfort sweet, Pleasant coolness in the heat, Solace in the midst of woe. Heal our wounds; our strength renew; On our dryness pour Thy dew; Wash the stains of guilt away. Bend the stubborn heart and will; Melt the frozen, warm the chill; Guide the steps that go astray.

Today we celebrate Mary under the title of Help of Christians. On the front of the small memorial card for today I have chosen an image of the Annunciation which comes from St Michael & John’s Cathedral, Bathurst.

I love the slightly raised finger of Gabriel just about to tap, or having tapped, Mary on the shoulder, and the Holy Spirit overshadowing her.

Mary and the early Church were both overshadowed by the Spirit. Each day the Holy Spirit overshadows us. As someone said in an email to me, as far as we know the Holy Spirit does not practice social distancing. The Spirit continues to overshadow us all.

I feel as if my life has been on a different trajectory since December last year when the bushfires started to ravage Eastern Gippsland and then witnessing their lasting impact first hand through February and March. I shall not forget my visits to Buchan and Mallacoota.

Then COVID stared up and then the call about coming here came. I have felt the tap of the archangel’s finger several times in my life. Always I am glad to say accompanied by the deep overshadowing of the Holy Siprit.

It ought not have happened! How is it that a Londoner born in 1832 (Julian Tenison Woods), meets up with a young woman (Mary MacKillop) 10 years younger than he who was born in Melbourne and they end up founding the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart in 1866?

Such an intersection could only have occurred by the extraordinary grace and providence of God. Grace was at work. Both of them, each filled with unequal parts of vision and practicality, were overshadowed by God’s grace. That story, so bound up with the history of South Australia and beyond, reminds us that when the Spirit breathes, overshadows, intersections happen that might never have been; ought never have been but through the goodness of God are brought to birth.

Being overshadowed, is part of the deal for the baptised; is not an easy path, but a necessary one. Down the back of where we lived in the small village of Perthville NSW, there runs a small creek, Queen Charlotte’s Vale Creek known simply as the ‘The Vale Creek’.

The biggest thing in our small village is the convent, started by Mary MacKillop and Julian Tension Woods in 1872 with some interesting intervention by the local bishop, Matthew Quinn.

It was across this creek that the famous incident occurred with Mary and Bishop Quinn. Creeks have a way of proving heroic virtue.

When I was young, I remember being down the back with my Dad one day, doing what I can’t remember, when I asked him, out of curiosity at the time (I’m sure I wasn’t trying to distract him to avoid work, of course) ‘Where does the Vale Creek go? What if I threw a little toy boat into the creek where would it end up?’

He thoughtfully answered that it ended up in Lake Alexandrina in a faraway place called South Australia. You see Perthville and South Australia are connected.

Never did I think I’d be here today in this role. I feel I am but a small tributary joining the great river of faith that is the Archdiocese of Adelaide, strongly flowing since 1842, the year Mary MacKillop was born.

Creeks, rivers and streams are both static and dynamic. The water courses need to be graced by rain to flow, to come to life, to be overshadowed by grace. Stagnate they can become rank and life becomes fetid and dull and lifeless. Yet in the inpouring of rain, received gracefully as a gift, it brings it to life, but it flows on, bringing life to other places as well.

I don’t care what they say, moving is not an easy thing. It has been hard to leave my family in Sale, and Bathurst before that.

Thankfully it is moving among families not changing families. Moving among families as I have often done, is not like when a snake simply sloths off its old skin, it’s more like an ever growing number of interconnected Babushka dolls sitting inside each other, one encompassing the other.

To my new family thank you for the welcome. I do look forward to settling in among you and working with you.

St Pope Paul VI had a wonderful image of being a shepherd. Sometimes, he said, it means walking before and beckoning, posting out the way; sometimes it means being behind and pushing like mad; and most times it means being with those to whom you are shepherd. The shepherd is one who has the mission of drawing people into communion. I hope that that is what will characterise my time in Adelaide. I wish to be a Good Shepherd in that way, so that God may be All in All.

In a world determined to be more individualistic, the deep Christian impulse is one of driving us to communion. At times this is counter cultural, yet it reveals at the deepest level who we are, who we claim to be, who we seek to be.

We are instruments of communion with God, ourselves, our neighbour, and the whole of creation. We seek to preach the Gospel to the people of our time, to make it life-giving, make it a real experience of communion, even in an imperfect world.

I would hope that we as good earthly and heavenly citizens can continue to make a profound contribution to the fabric of society, especially in being like the Angel Gabriel, tapping our society and our people on the shoulder reminding them of their dignity.

We want to allow the voice of those who have not a voice, to be heard. Communion is the organising principle of all that we must and ought do. It is the main modality in which we seek to be of service to our God, neighbour, our best selves and the whole of creation.

The journey thus far of the Plenary Council has taught us much, about listening and what God’s mission is, and the need to listen, to God and to one another. That takes time. COVID has given us more time.

As providence would have it both the coat of arms of the Archdiocese of Adelaide and my own, feature a boat. Every sail needs a boat, every boat a direction and ocean, every direction a navigator.

I pray that it will be that there be one boat. We have Christ as our direction and course, we have the mighty powerful wind of the Spirit behind us, we seek to navigate the course together.

Amado Nervo, a Mexican poet and mystic, wrote: ‘Alone we are a spark, but in the Spirit we are a fire. Alone we are only a string, but in the Spirit we are a lyre. Alone we are only an anthill, but in the Spirit we are a mountain Alone we are only a drop, but in the Spirit we are a fountain. Alone we are only a feather, but in the Spirit we are a wing. Alone we are only a beggar, but in the Spirit we are a King.’

Yesterday afternoon I decided to do for a walk to clear my mind a little. Not long after I started I noticed a new piece of concrete in the footpath. It said “We can do this”. God’s daily interventions are ever present.

This was encouraging to me, and with God’s help, the Spirit’s overshadowing, ‘we can do this’ together.

Just over five years ago, I came to adopt the prayer ‘God is good’, and its response, ‘God is good indeed’. Since that day I have repeated that phrase many times. Nothing has happened in that time that has caused me to stop saying it, for as long as God wants me here, may it be so.

‘God is good, God is good indeed.’

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