Homily by Fr Frank Brennan SJ for the Second Sunday of Advent 2016, 4 December 2016, St Ignatius Church, Toowong, Qld
If Peter Quin were here, he would probably make some comment about being all 'massed out'. We celebrated the wonderful funeral for Peter on Friday. Yesterday we were in St Stephen's Cathedral with Archbishop Coleridge formally marking the centenary of the arrival of the Jesuits at Toowong. This evening, we celebrate the last Eucharist of the centenary year, the second Sunday of Advent.
During the centenary celebrations, there's been much talk about buildings and the foibles and characteristics of particular Jesuits. Buildings and foibles would amount to very little but for your faithful presence. You the people of God are the parish of St Ignatius and have been this past century. It's your presence, your prayers, your faith that has animated the Church in this place and allowed these buildings and foibles to communicate God's love which is the grace that sustains us.
When I was living in these parts in the early 1970s, I was thinking about joining the Jesuits. One morning on the way to uni on my Honda 70 motor scooter, I thought I would call in at the Manresa presbytery just across the road and have a chat with the parish priest Richard Galbraith. I rang the bell. Fr Tom Johnson answered the door rather austerely: 'Yes'. I said, 'Good morning Father. I was wondering if Fr Galbraith is in.' 'Do you have an appointment?' 'No, I don't.' 'Then you'd be well advised to make one.' He shut the door and a year later I joined the Jesuits. Isn't God clever?
One Sunday morning Richard Galbraith was preaching here when there were many planes flying overhead. The church just happened to be right under the flight path that morning. In exasperation, Richard gave up mid-sentence declaring; 'I leave it to you, Mr Ansett.' He was a gentle man who abhorred conflict of any sort, but he could be very determined.
You all knew Peter Quin's foibles and characteristics much better than I did. He gathered his large clan in Canberra two years ago. He led a simple family Eucharist in the Jesuit community chapel there. The clan then gathered at the Australian War Memorial to honour Peter's father, Dr Bernard Quin, who had been a doctor on Nauru during the Second World War caring for the lepers and the Australian army personnel who were resident there. The Japanese had rounded up the senior Australians in 1943 and Peter's Dad was decapitated. Peter once observed that there was one person in the world he found particularly difficult to forgive — the Japanese soldier who decapitated his Dad.
Peter loved nothing more than to lead you the parish in worship, calling you to the table of the Eucharist — the banquet at which for just one hour a week it was possible to dream and imagine heaven on earth as described by Isaiah in today's first reading:
Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbours,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra's den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair.
Peter was not some naïve unworldly fool. But he was one of whom Paul wrote in the Letter to the Romans. By endurance and by encouragement of the scriptures, he had hope — hope in things as yet unseen and unachievable. Just as John the Baptist spoke of Jesus, so too we might now recall Peter, the great baptizer whose winnowing fan cleared the threshing floor of our lives and relationships helping us to sort the wheat from the chaff. Peter knew there was both wheat and chaff in every person, in every relationship, and in every situation. He was sufficient an optimist always to discern the wheat, and sufficient an experienced realist to detect the chaff in the finest and most refined of situations. Like all good pastors, he displayed:
a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
a spirit of counsel and of strength,
a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD
These days, you, his parishioners have been feeling like those disciples on the road to Emmaus. Now that he has disappeared from your midst, you are left saying to each other: 'Did not our hearts burn within us as he broke open the scriptures and broke the bread for us?' The last thing he would want is for you to sit around moping and wondering what might come after him here in the parish. He would be telling you to get out there and make a real difference, whatever your passion, whatever your job, whatever your position in life.
When Peter was parish priest of St Mary's North Sydney, he was summoned one day for a meeting with the archbishop. He had a fair idea what it was about. On arrival, the archbishop said he had received ten letters of complaint. Peter said, 'I'll happily consider the complaints if you'll also consider the 100 letters of congratulations and thanks I have received and brought along today.' That ended the formal meeting and the two clerics then enjoyed a cup of tea and a bit of banter.
Last night just as a huge summer thunderstorm was breaking, Fr Gaetan blessed the new stained glass window here in the Church in thanksgiving for the Jesuit Fathers of Toowong for their care of the parish these past 100 years. The window depicts Fr Richard Murphy arriving in his T model Ford in 1916. We think also of Leo Flynn in his legendary VW and Fr Gaetan in his Ford Focus, the same car preferred by our Jesuit Pope Francis. We think of all those who these past 100 years have helped us to prepare the way of the Lord making straight his paths.
I recall another hot December night just 31 years ago when Stephen Astill and I were ordained in St Stephen's Cathedral. Next morning, Steve celebrated his mass of thanksgiving here in this Church. Steve who was a long time missionary in Nigeria is now pastor in Western Australia and joins with us in spirit across the Nullarbor this evening as we renew the promise and our hope that the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord.
Happy Centenary and may you continue to be blessed abundantly in the next century whatever your buildings and surrounds, and whatever the foibles and characteristics of your pastors. Be assured
There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord.