Saturday, 29 July 2017
The Homily at Mass on July 28, 2017 on Fr Peter's Retirement
Exactly 20 years and six months ago I came to Newtown after Fr Jeremy Flynn disappeared in the Bass Strait. The Dominican friars had held the fort for about 6 months between Fr Flynn and myself.
I was keen to come to Newtown because I had wanted to work in the inner city and I was chaplain to the University of Technology, Sydney. The fit seemed right to the powers that were and to me.
Newtown offered a few challenges such as getting used to new arrangements, the closure of the primary school previously run by the Good Samaritan Sisters till the year I arrived and some liturgical innovation took some time to take off.
I found that soon gifts and possibilities emerged. The new approach to liturgy soon found a home at Newtown. Simplicity, accessible music, nourishing homilies, communion under both kinds and baptisms at Sunday Mass became valued by the parishioners. Children's First Communion and Confirmation and adults becoming Catholics were done simply and professionally.
Into this mix came the gift of LGBT Catholics. I had been a part of the ministry with LGBT Catholics for some years through my contact with the Friday Mass when it was celebrated at Elizabeth Bay. This group taught me something I had learned before in a different way from Aboriginal Australians in Redfern. I learnt that being different is something to celebrate - especially when discrimination dulls the heart. The antidote to discrimination, dispossession and disempowerment for Indigenous Australians is, where possible, to tell stories, laugh and have a cook up. I learned that difference does not have to end in fear and anxiety that casts the other as dangerous or the enemy.
I had already begun raising the consciousness of discrimination and 'othering' found so often in Australia among the dominant culture. Combating this is the gospel response to the way we sometimes see Aborigines, women, asylum seekers, the poor, Muslims and divorced people. It was not such a long way to apply the same principle to LGBT Catholics. Parishioners welcomed LGBT Catholics their families and friends not just on Friday nights but at every level of parish life and it became accepted for people to be known as LGBT even to the extent of celebrating baptisms of gay couples at Sunday Mass. I don't know if this shocked anyone but I never heard anyone from the Newtown faith community question the practice. LGBT Catholics are able to participate fully at every level of parish life. I learned that, like Aborigines, they wanted to be accepted as legitimate members with gifts to bring, not treated as clients of the church purely because of their sexual orientation.
LGBT Catholics are not the main game at Newtown but the way Newtown parish has accepted LGBT Catholics as members is significant as a living symbol of everything Newtown parish has come to be and stand for in my time here. It is this story that is repeated in the way the parish has supported those in need through the St Vincent de Paul Society, the Barkat Foundation, the Asylum Seeker Centre and our community outreach to such groups as Alcoholics Anonymous, the Turtle Lane Community Garden, the many projects engaging ecumenically and as multifaith in the broader community. These and many more are not the "other" to be feared and kept at arm's length, but people to be included and honoured and valued as sisters and brothers.
It is this more than anything that I have valued in Newtown parish and it is the worshipping faith community that has been the container in which the giftedness of all, marginalised and discriminated against, has found a home, a faith family. It is this of which I am most proud because we have achieved this together and in a simple life-giving way.
We are a lot more than the things mentioned above. I must mention the Catholic Indonesian Community, the faithworks program, adult ecumenical faith groups, liturgical ministries and practical support in church care and liturgy preparation. These groups have enabled our ongoing life at faith, liturgy and personal levels.
It has been a wonderful journey. It's a story of God jealously favouring God's own - but God's own spread beyond our imagining. It's about us seeing the abundance of seed thrown around as in the Jesus' parable and carefully awaiting its fruiting spontaneously and without prejudice.
I am very grateful to have been a part of this marvellous embodiment of the gospel. Thank you all for making it happen. I wish you all the best in transition and into the future. You will always be in my prayer and heart.