Homily for 6th Sunday of Easter 2007

During the week I attended the installation of Fr John Dobson, OAM, Parish Priest of Caloundra and Dean of the Sunshine Coast, as Chancellor of the University of the Sunshine Coast.

The title "Chancellor" as used in universities has its origins in medieval Christian history. The earliest universities were founded by the monasteries and great cathedrals. Places like Oxford, Paris. It was the bishop who was the Chancellor in charge of the institution. The Vice-Chancellor came into being as one who ran the university because the Bishop could not always be present. The vice-Chancellor is like the CEO of the company. Many modern universities have done away with this terminology and its ecclesiastical overtones to emphasise their secular status. It reflects the divorce of theology and science that happened during the renaissance and continues to the present day.

So it was interesting to hear the Governor, Ms Quenton Bryce AC, refer to the Catholic origins of universities in her address. She made the connection between John's priesthood and the medieval origins of universities.

People these days independently of any religious motive see an interconnectedness at every level of the universe. The environmental movement is one expression of this. From the smallest constituents of matter to the greatest galaxy all things affects everything else. And while science and religion may be talking about very different realities when they speak of "interconnectedness" such a convergence of ideas reflects something of the Kingdom of God for which we can be thankful. A Kingdom where all will be one under God.

There are connections everywhere in life. Everyday we come across people who via some winding route have connections with us. I find this particularly so at funerals. Even as people grieve the loss of someone and a relationship, at the same time they are reconnecting in a very real way with relatives friends and neighbours.

In the Acts of the Apostles we find the early Church engaged in a struggle to understand the workings of the Holy Spirit. What is inconceivable to some Jewish Christians seems to be what God wants, namely, the welcoming of gentiles into the Christian movement without the need to observe all the requirements of the Jewish law. All are invited into the Kingdom.

In the course of this struggle to understand they also discovered the truth of Jesus words in the Gospel for today. There are those who will not love Jesus nor listen to him. Rather they reject his word. This is the "world" in its threatening sense in John's Gospel. But it is the same "world" that God loves and for which Jesus died. He says of those who do love him and keep his word, "my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them" (John 14:23). Jesus wants an abiding connection between us and God and amongst ourselves.

This theme will be expanded in chapter 15 of John's Gospel that follows. There Jesus uses the beautiful image of the vine and the branches to describe the interconnectedness and interdependence of those who love and keep his word. The leaves and branches receive their life from the vine so they bear fruit in love. So the purpose of the vine is achieved. In the same way Christ's mission is achieved through us if we abide in love.

But there are people we don't really want to be connected with. Some we would rather forget for all kinds of reasons. At a personal level this is often the case. The summons of love will always challenge this tendency in us. But our lives are nevertheless intertwined. Prayer, which really is the life of the Spirit in us rather than something we do, is the great connector. The Spirit creates the Church when we accept Jesus' word. The Spirit can overcome all barriers.

The power of prayer is illustrated in another of Michael's stories:

An Irish priest is driving down town and gets stopped for speeding. A policeman smells alcohol on the priest's breath and then sees an empty wine bottle on the floor of the car.
He says, "Sir, have you been drinking?"
"Just water," says the priest.
The policeman says, "Then why do I smell wine?"
The priest looks at the bottle and says, "Good Lord! He's done it again!"

Fr Graham