Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP,
8 Nov 2017

All Saints Church, Liverpool

A 17-month-old baby, a dozen children, a pregnant woman and mother of five, and three generations from one family, were among the 26 killed in a shooting spree at a Texas church this week. The Pastor's own 14-year-old daughter Anabelle was also a victim. The gunman was Devin Kelley, who had been discharged from the U.S. Air Force for fracturing his baby stepson's skull and assaulting his wife. He had a history of cruelty to animals. He'd already been through two wives by age 26. Though he claimed on LinkedIn that he was a former Bible-studies teacher, he had in fact been an atheist since childhood and regularly told his blog readers how stupid believers in God were. Unfortunately this disgruntled ex-serviceman, ex-husband and ex-Christian had an armoury of guns including an assault rifle. He picked a Sunday service at which to go on his rampage. Revenge, violence, desecration, blasphemy: it was intended to hit Christians where it most hurts. It was an act of anti-discipleship.

Unfortunately, evil acts like this, committed out of love for some strange god or hatred for people of faith, can give religion a bad name. When people heard the word 'disciple' they used to think of guys with beards and robes following Jesus around the desert, at least in the films. But in the age of terrorism the word can conjure up violent ideologues, brainwashed by some guru at their place of worship or their website of choice. And it can make us wary of the very word 'disciple' and the idea behind it.

That's a pity. Our word 'disciple' comes from the Latin word discipulus, meaning 'student', and so it suggests not just the robotic follower of a guru, but an active learner. A student isn't just a blank page on which some fanatic can write instructions. A true student undertakes a course of study, often one chosen by them. They must put in the hard yards of listening, reading, pondering, memorising, essaying etc. to see through the program, let alone to achieve any excellence in it. A disciple, likewise, chooses who and what and why to follow some belief, some community, some person worth believing in, and to follow well he must hear, examine, learn… Discipleship is not a thing you can achieve by a brief stint at Bible study or on the rebound from some failed relationship and career…

When Jesus compares discipleship to building a tower (Lk 14:25-33) He makes the point that it takes clear planning, solid foundations, necessary resources, committed action. Discipleship is not just about saying 'I love you Jesus' and then doing nothing about it; even less is it saying 'I love you Jesus' and then setting about killing Him in your neighbours. Our readings, tonight, give us a better blue-print. The Psalmist says we must keep the commandments, be generous, merciful and just, help the needy, behave honourably (Ps 111): that's a pretty good start. Paul echoes that plan, but adds that it must all be driven by love (Rom 13:8-10). "Love, and do what you please" St Augustine once advised.1 It's a dangerous line, and the risk is that it's all you'll remember from tonight's homily! But Gus was only following Paul, and Paul's thought was that if we learn to love as Jesus loved, the rest will fall into place. Jesus raises the bar even higher: put being a disciple first; let nothing get in the way, not people, not possessions, not even life itself; be ready for the cross…

Sound easy? I know it sounds hard. A young guy once asked Jesus how to get to heaven. Jesus gave the Psalmist's answer: keep the commandments. The lad answered instantly, "But I have!" (Mk 10:17-22). We probably think: come on, you're fooling yourself, no-one's that good. But Jesus, the Gospel tells us, "looked at him and loved him". The young man really was trying. He was up for a challenge. So Jesus says as he does tonight: give up whatever's distracting you from throwing yourself headlong into the life of God's kingdom. Jesus wasn't against family, friends, the good things of life: in fact, he was a great advocate of these. But everything in its place. Everything inspired by love. Love of God, first; love of people next; love of things last. Get that right and you really can 'love and do what you like'.

Disciples are students. Disciples of Jesus are students of love. That's the tower we build. That's what we are willing to give up other things to learn and be and do. And like any course of study, that can be challenging. Pope Francis has observed that in the school of love we have to learn to feel compassion for others, to show mercy even when its risky, and to be ready for derision more than thanks.2 Putting away our apps and devices for a time, putting others first and investing our energies in them, persevering when they're unresponsive or ungrateful, this hard kind of loving doesn't come so naturally. We have to practice it, learn it. And sometimes, our will-power just isn't enough. We run out of resources when the tower is half-built, the campaign hardly begun. Then we lean on the Church, on Christ, on God, for those divine foundations, plans, resources we need if we are to achieve all we might. Discipleship in the school of love means learning not only how to live lovingly, but how to receive love and give love, especially divine love. But how much love?
Some of you may know the story of Eileen O'Connor, 'the little mother', a poor young disabled woman from Coogee. A pram accident when she was three years old left her with severe curvature of the spine so she only grew to about 4ft and was in acute pain despite many operations. She endured this with heroic patience and a cheerful, hopeful disposition. A mystic, she had visions of Our Lady and a deep prayer life. A strong leader, she cared deeply about the poor and sick, and so at your age - when she was aged just 23 - she co-founded a religious Order dedicated to increasing the quality of life of the poor. It grew rapidly in members, houses and apostolates even before she passed away, five years later, aged only 28. She achieved more in 28 years than most able-bodied people do in 82 years! When her body was examined years later it was found to be incorrupt. Many visit her tomb in Coogee. I can think of no better example of someone who received the love of God, multiplied it in her heart, and passed it on to others. Many think she is a saint-in-waiting. I commend her to each of you as a spiritual companion.

If films are an accurate cultural barometer, our age is crying out for such heroes. In the short time since I became Archbishop of Sydney there have been two X-Men movies, two Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, two Captain Americas, and annual Star Wars films with another to be released just next month. With slightly fewer powers James Bond has had 26 goes, and Mad MaxIndiana Jones, and the Mission Impossible team keep on keeping on. Then there's Spider ManGuardians of the GalaxyAnt-ManThe Fantastic FourThe Avengers, The Justice League, Thor and quite a few others... We're clearly looking for heroes!

It's no different in the Church. The word Gospel, we know, means the 'Good News' of Christianity, but it's more than just an announcement like the 6 o'clock News on Channel 9: it's an invitation to love, to love heroically, to love like those Christian heroes we call saints. Who are to be the saints of the new millennium? You, my young friends, are the ones called to be saints. Called by the Scriptures and tradition, called by your Baptism and Confirmation, called by your Church and family. Jesus calls you by name. Will you stand with Him, with me, for faith, for friendship, for life? I have great confidence in you…

My young friends: there are voices out there that would sell you short. They say young people aren't up to much. That they're no longer interested in great ideals, no longer willing to sacrifice for anything or anyone. That they're only interested in themselves, in gadgets, consumables, fleeting relationships, even more fleeting pleasures. I say and the Church says with me: nonsense! Your presence here tonight demonstrates that you aspire to more than the shallow versions of fulfilment offered in the culture. By God's grace, with the support of family, friends and Church, you can do great things! You can build a tower that withstands the storms of life, and provides safe-haven for those most in need: the unborn and handicapped, trafficked women and refugees, the poor in finance or spirit, those with mental illnesses or spiritual ones… We need your generation to rebuild the natural, human and supernatural ecologies. And with Christ before you, Christ behind you, Christ within you, Christ all round you, you can and will!

All Saints Church, Liverpool

Thanks to my brother bishops and priests, to our host Fr Paul and the All Saints parish, and to our Youth Leaders Chris, Quyn and Ben. Thanks also to the teachers, parents and students who have come out tonight. After Mass we'll continue the celebration of Sydney Catholic Youth next door, and I invite you all to join us for faith, food and fellowship. I hope to see you all at the Australian Catholic Youth Festival, each with a tribe of friends, and see much more of you in the years ahead. I have great faith in God and in you. Together you will do great things!

Before our final blessing I would like to ask all youth leaders and ministers in the Archdiocese of Sydney to come up to the front of the Church, where I will give them a special blessing for the work they do in leading their peers towards Christ.

Lord God, in your loving kindness
you sent your Son to be our shepherd and guide.
Continue to send workers into your vineyard
to sustain and direct your people.
Bless these, your servants.
Let your Spirit uphold them always
as they take up their new responsibility
among the youth of the Archdiocese.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. R. Amen.


1 Augustine, Serm. in 1 John 4:4-12.