In the Gospel story that we have just heard we meet the intriguing figure of Nicodemus. Now Nicodemus was really somebody. He was one of the leading Jews and belonged to the leadership group that was called the Sanhedrin but he wanted to meet Jesus. Clearly something in Jesus had struck him, or something in what he had heard from the lips of this new Rabbi. So he goes under cover of dark because he’s afraid what the others will think. That’s because the Sanhedrin is out to get Jesus, and get him they will by stringing him up on the cross as an executed criminal. So Nicodemus needs to keep his visit quiet, and therefore he goes under cover of dark. He gets very much more than he bargains for. When Nicodemus meets Jesus in the night he calls him “Rabbi”- “teacher”. Yet Jesus then speaks of himself not as teacher but as the one lifted up by God as the bronze serpent was in the desert – not to condemn the world; God doesn’t do that kind of condemnation, but to save the world. This massive, indeed perfect, outpouring of the divine love, which leads the whole creation out of death, and its clutch, and into the fullness of life. This is the revelation that comes to Nicodemus from the lips of Christ at the heart of darkness. He meets Jesus in the darkness and it is there that he sees the brilliant undying light of the one who is lifted up. The Sanhedrin got him but they only succeeded in lifting him up as the sign of the eternal triumph of the perfect self-sacrificing love which is God.
Here today in the Cathedral each one of us comes as Nicodemus. Every one of us is looking for Jesus. He struck a chord in our hearts somewhere, somehow. That’s why we’re here, and like Nicodemus we will only find Jesus in the darkness. I know the Cathedral is full of brilliant Brisbane light, but at the same time we find the light which is Christ only at the heart of darkness. Darkness is not always nice. Consider for instance the darkness of poverty, mental illness, family strife, abuse of one kind or another. That’s the darkness within which the light of Jesus, crucified and risen, is to be found. It’s into that darkness that our agency known as Centacare goes. It’s a huge agency and its one of the jewels in the crown of the church in this part of the world. Men and women going forth in the name of Christ into the darkness, and there encountering Jesus Christ where you might least expect to find him. Yet who would have imagined that we’d find him nailed to a cross, but that’s where he is, and he is forever. Jesus, whose blood streams eternally in the firmament.
Today we commit ourselves to the Annual Catholic Campaign, which began last year and continues this year. You may remember that once upon a time we had a string of collections. The hat was always being passed around and we grew weary of it. Priests, people and even the Archbishop. What we seek to do now is gather up a number of those appeals, all of them important. Again these are “money for mission”, not “mission for money”. All of the important appeals are gathered up into this one annual campaign. Not only for Centacare, which is absolutely crucial, but also things like the Mary MacKillop School Access Fund, which guarantees places in our Catholic schools to the children of our poorest families who simply can’t afford it. They want a Catholic education but they can’t pay. And here are we, the Church, saying no child will be denied a Catholic education because of money. We now have to put our money where our mouth is and that is what the Mary MacKillop School Access Fund is all about.
The Annual Catholic Campaign also sustains the Priests Foundation. This is the Foundation that looks after our retired priests. Their number is growing and as their number grows so too does the cost. Now we can’t just push them out the backdoor onto the street and say “well, thanks for all you’ve done, goodbye.” It is a solemn duty that we care for those who have cared for us. What have they been, these men, through many years? They have been those who have led others into the darkness in order to discover the light which is Jesus, crucified and risen.
Just as we need to be grateful and hospitable to those who have served us in the past, so too we need to prepare priests for the future who can provide the kind of leadership the church needs and that Christ wants. Therefore the Annual Catholic Campaign also supports the Holy Spirit Seminary, and I can tell you as the one who signs the cheques Seminaries are extremely expensive places to run. Increasingly so! Yet without seminaries and the priests they produce we would be a church not just struggling but in danger of extinction.
We ourselves as the church are facing our own particular darkness in the form of the abuse of the young. You know that, and I know that, and it weighs heavy on all of us. One thing I can say about the Annual Catholic Campaign is not a cent of what is given by you, the people, will go towards defraying the costs associated with things like the McClellan Royal Commission and all that gathers under the heading of child sexual abuse. Not a single cent of the money raised by the campaign will go towards these. Justice will be done to the victims, but it won’t be done by use of the money gathered by the Annual Catholic Campaign and that I can promise.
The theme of this year’s campaign is “Our Church…Our Mission…Our Responsibility”. It’s not the church of the Pope or the Bishops and the priests. They matter, but they don’t matter ultimately. It’s “our” church, all the baptised, and therefore the mission belongs to each one of us, whoever you are, as much as to me. And so to, therefore, does the responsibility. It’s your responsibility, in your way, just as it’s my responsibility, in my way, as Archbishop.
Giving to the campaign is only one way, but it is one way of exercising our responsibility for the mission which is the church. The church doesn’t just have a mission, it is a mission. The church is a mission so giving is one way of exercising that responsibility. I can only hope that as you do give it is not done grudgingly. None of us likes to open our wallet too wide. We need to keep something for a rainy day, but I hope it’s not too grudging – the giving – and I’m sure it won’t be because there is a giving in the Christian life, a giving of money, which can be even joyful. So I invite you to contribute joyfully to this year’s Annual Catholic Campaign. Joyfully because you know the truth that this Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross proclaims – that sacrifice is in fact the only way to true life. If you try and cling on to everything and give nothing you lose the lot. This great feast of the Cross and its Triumph says that sacrifice is the only way into the true life that we all seek. It’s what we have heard in the great hymn that St Paul gives us in the letter to the Philippians – that Jesus Christ did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself totally even to the point of becoming a corpse dead on the ground and totally powerless. So in him we see a total self-giving or self-emptying, but then we are told in the hymn that God raised him on high and gave him the name that is above every other name – to the glory of God the Father. It’s by that path of self-emptying that we, like Jesus, will find our way into the Glory which God gives to those who go into the darkness and find the light.
Most Rev Mark Coleridge
Archbishop of Brisbane
September 14, 2014