Men of faith and courage

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP at Maximus’ Men’s night. Photo: Alphonsus Fok.

This is the edited text of the homily given by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP at the Maximus Men’s Ministry Network Mass at St Martha’s Chapel Leichhardt, 22 May 2024.

The Irish poet, dramatist and senator, William Butler Yeats, was one of the foremost literary figures of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1923 he won the Nobel Prize in Literature for “his always inspired poetry, which in highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.” A central figure in the resurgence of Irish literature, his influence stretched far beyond. His 1919 poem, The Second Coming, has been tagged “the most pillaged piece of literature in English.” Recently, some have suggested these jarring verses could have been written for our own times:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Yeats wrote this in a perilous period: Europe’s just-ended war had claimed 20 million lives and left a similar number wounded; the Irish were fighting a war of independence from Britain; the communists were taking over Russia and would ultimately murder or starve millions and rob the rest of their freedom; and a pandemic of Spanish flu gripped the world. Yeats’ pregnant wife, as well as his father, barely survived the disease, but 50 million others were not so lucky. The social order seemed to Yeats to be disintegrating and the apocalypse of which he spoke was not the coming of Jesus but of a “rough beast, its hour come round at last.”

There are similarities between then and now. While many hoped the Great War would be “the war to end all wars”, part two was only two decades away and would claim another 75 million lives. There’ve been plenty of battles since. Armenia, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gaza, Haiti, Israel, Libya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Syria, Sudan, Ukraine, Yemen: war is so widespread at present that Pope Francis describes it as “a veritable World War III”. COVID has taken 7 million people. On the home front, we witness violence against the vulnerable, cost-of-living pressures, political polarisation, threats to religion, fraying of social cohesion. Half of Australians think we are more divided than ever and three-quarters say they wouldn’t help someone who thought differently to them. Outrage and contempt reign.

Of course, the “us v them” stuff is as old as time. Jesus predicted that nation rise up against nation, tribe against tribe (Mk 13:8-10). In tonight’s Gospel (Mk 9:38-40), His apostles complain that someone from outside their men’s group was performing miracles in His name. But Jesus isn’t interested in asserting copyright. He was gradually enlarging their concept of neighbour to include traditional enemies like the Samaritans, a Syrophoenician woman, a swineherd from the Decapolis, some Romans and their quislings. He associated with tax-collectors and sinners, prostitutes and lepers. He radically inverted ordinary human affection and reasoning in telling them to love enemies, pray for persecutors, welcome strangers, make a Church “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”

Jesus isn’t into identity politics and tribalism. He’s the first ecumenist. He says that anyone who invokes His name against the devil or in favour of divine grace is effectively promoting His mission and so not to be stopped. What ties us together is not tribalism or team membership, but our common love of God and neighbour, loving like Christ even to the point of giving our lives for others. As we heard in last Sunday’s Pentecost Gospel (Acts 2:1-11), the first Christian homily ever preached was—to use an Aussie idiom—for Dagos, Lebs, Cro-boys, Samoans, Blue-eyes, Viets, Sudanese, Filos, you name it. There’s room for them all in the Catholic family, and like at the first Pentecost, we can understand each other.

God created great diversity in the natural order, the human order and the Christian order. What unites Catholics is greater than any differences: faith, baptism, communion. By “communion” I don’t mean the Eucharist—powerful as it is. Here I mean something like spiritual networking. Networks are interlocking systems that spread in various directions whilst maintaining a fundamental connection. Communion is Christian networking connecting with guys of all sorts, sharing our faith and life with them, so together we can build up God’s kingdom.

How do men do this best? There are several ways. Since its inception, the Maximus Network has connected with men’s ministries in various countries. It has supported groups in Austral, Bondi, Bonnyrigg, Eastwood, Gymea, Lane Cove, Liverpool, Moorebank and Punchbowl parishes. It has partnered with groups such as the Knights of the Southern Cross, of the Immaculata, and of the Precious Blood, the men of Schoenstatt, Catenians, Cursillo and Calix, and the Sumner House and Vianney vocational discernment groups. It has backed the work of MenAlive, the Men’s Rosary Crusade, the Camino of St Joseph, and the Catholic Men’s Conference. Each brings their individual temperaments, skills and experiences. But together in communion, we share our charisms and multiply our fruits with our brothers in Christ.

Some think male leadership is inevitably macho, toxic, controlling, even violent. It can be. But it need not be so. Men can be results-oriented without crushing people along the way; they can be both strong and gentle, emotionally and spiritually intelligent as much as clever or practical; their authority can be other-serving rather than self-serving. You can demonstrate these things. You can support each other and other men in cultivating virtue, strengthening faith, sympathising with hurts, seeing through vocation, above all, making saints.

Not easy! Our world, like Yeats’, can seem devoid of hope. Too much news or social media, too much “sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” and we can despair. Too much ambition and we end up like the businessmen in our epistle (Jam 4:13-17), proudly expanding into new markets and arrogantly scheming, all the while losing track of their ideals. Better, James says, to stick to what you know is good and trust in the Lord. So, while I like to brag about the growth of men’s ministry in this archdiocese, James reminds me and you that “You are mere mist, here one moment, gone the next. Better to say ean ho Kyrios thelēsē Ἐὰν ὁ θελήσῃ or  نْ شَاءَ ٱللَّٰهُ  In-shal-lah, what God wills.” Do His will and God will bless you all!

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