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Vol 38 No 2


Jim Quillinan

Michael Trainor

Trish Madigan OP

Michael Fallon MSN

Phil Riordan

Mark Raper SJ

Bob Irwin MSC



Celebrating 150 years


Homily Delivered by Fr Bob Irwin MSC at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church, Randwick on the occasion of the year of celebration for the Sesquicentenary of the Society of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.

TODAY WE COME together to celebrate the year of thanks for the 150 years of existence of the Society of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, to publicly and solemnly celebrate this year of grace with the Chevalier Family, friends, benefactors and the whole people of God.

It is a day to remember and celebrate the ways that God has been creative through the lives and the mission of the members of the Society. It is a time too, to renew, and so we share the Eucharist in a spirit of gratitude and thankfulness which leads us to humility.

We remember that on 8 December 1854, Fr Jules Chevalier, a small, determined, thirty-year-old French Priest in the Diocese of Bourges founded the Society of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, now ministering in more than fifty countries. They first came to Australia in 1882. He had prayed a novena prior to that date and asked Mary for a sign, which he received. Later, he pledged our MSC would honour Mary with the new title of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, hence this church of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart here at Randwick, hence this Shrine, hence many of the Sisters in the Congregation today, the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.

As the years progressed, he was able to bring to fruition his plan for a lot more then just a Congregation of Priest and Brothers. Jules Chevalier was indeed a prophet of his time. He founded not just a Congregation of priests and brothers, but in due course, a movement of people who were called to manifest a God who is near, a God who loves each person in the world, especially the poor and the lonely. He wished to establish a congregation of priests and brothers, congregations of sisters (which he did found in 1874—the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart—and he commissioned an MSC priest to found the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart). He also wanted to set up groups of lay people and diocesan clergy who would live their lives based on God’s love for them, and as a united family spread the news of God’s love for each and every one of us.

We remember that in the time of the foundation of the Congregation, in the France of his time, he read the signs of the times, he discerned the mal moderne. As he had grown up in the small town of Richelieu, built by Cardinal Richelieu some centuries before, he saw the Cardinal’s palace being dismantled, literally, stone by stone. In his time, he saw that the Church was in difficulty, and he saw that there was indeed a considerable amount of what he might call, bad religion. He saw the evils of his time as contempt for all authority, especially that of the Church; he saw the abandonment of prayer and the sacraments; and he saw what he called ‘an ignorance of revealed truth that could enlighten humanity, keep it aware of its duties, and halt its moral depravity’.

His solution to the times was devotion to the Sacred Heart. We, in our time, must read the signs of the time, we read the good and the bad in the time in which we live, and need to find the same solution, in our own way and in our language.

It is not difficult to list the negative aspects of our own times.

• In the areas of religion: we see a decrease in, or little experience of God, we see secularization, fundamentalism, religious rites that have become unintelligible for the people, atheism, the crisis in the clergy and vocations to religious life.
• In the family: we see stress in human relationships, huge numbers of broken marriages.
• In the society in which we live: we see that we are moving to a less compassionate society, perhaps, but certainly a society of hedonism, an exaggerated sense of self-importance, consumerism, urban and rural violence, urban sprawl and intolerance of neighbours.
• In our politics: we see imperialism and narcissism and North American and Western arrogance, we see terrorism everyday. Recently, we saw a weakening of the role of the United Nations and thus of the capacity of the world community to deal with its difficulties.
• In economics: we have seen an impoverishment and exclusion on the one hand, and consumerism on the other.
• We have seen a re-arrival of a form of Jansenism, which seems to stress that everything is wrong with the present time and with the flesh.
• It is not difficult to become depressed. It is not difficult to wonder: what is the solution? It is no wonder that many people race back to the past to whatever they believe was the ‘golden era’. We watch our families break up; we watch our children leave the Church; we watch the numbers of vocations decrease; we watch all our clergy being besmirched because of the evil deeds of a number; we watch different people trying to come up with different solutions.

We ask ourselves the question sometimes: how can we continue to believe in these difficult times?

In one sense, the times are not much different from the times that Jules Chevalier lived in, and the solution is the same. That is why he founded us. That is what we must be consistent with.

When Missionaries of the Sacred Heart look at the present world we see the evil but we also see the good, and we believe that God is at work in the world today:

• We see good things in religion: we see an increase in the presence of women and of laity in general, we have rediscovered that the laity have a dramatic role to play in the Church of now and of the future.
• We see a search for spirituality, but dissatisfaction with authoritarianism in the Church.
• We can read the clergy scandals as a time of cleansing, a time in which we come back to the basic call to religious and priestly life. The young men and women who wish to consecrate themselves as priests or religious must indeed take on the dream of what chastity and celibacy are about.
• We see good things in politics: in many people struggling for justice and the defence of human rights.
• We understand that globalization can make the spread of the Gospel easier if we can only tap into its usefulness.
• We have seen volunteers for all kinds of ministries and missions—not necessarily Church ones—people of generous heart.

One of the things that strikes me as most interesting is that the greatest weakness of our present time (according to many people), is this exaggerated sense of self-importance, this over-emphasis on the importance of the individual. Yet if we read it right it is a very positive sign.
At last, individual people are known as individuals and are to be respected as such. They are neither cannon fodder nor are they sheep, each of them is known and loved by God. Certainly, there are many excesses, but there are just as many excesses when authoritarianism has its way. A strong emphasis on the importance of the individual is, in fact, the foundation of our Christian ethic. If we combine the fact that God loves the individual with the message of Jesus that I must love others, we have the whole basis of what our Christian message is meant to be.

What Do We Stand For?

Missionaries of the Sacred Heart are sure of who they are. We are a movement of people who believe in the love of God for each one of us, a love that is individual, concrete, and eternal. We go out to all people to tell them this good news and we work together with people of similar mind, because we know that Jesus’ heart and the love of God, revealed in the heart of Christ, are the only way forward. It is what gives us the confidence to believe, in these special times. We are people of the heart; we are lovers of the gifts that God has given us. We don’t condemn the world outright; we see the energy of the Spirit in this crazy beautiful world in which we live.

The MSC form a brotherhood—and by extension, a brotherhood and sisterhood in mission— focussed on Jesus who shows us how much God loves us.

We are not pessimists, nor naive optimists, but we are people of hope and courage.

We are people who love our Church, which must work conscientiously to make sure it understands the times and not just condemns them; to make sure it is relevant to the needs of today’s people.

We believe in a Church of compassion, not of fear.

We believe in a Church that was founded for the salvation of all and not for the condemnation of people.

We see the hand of God in the times in which we live.

We believe that love is the only way, not a soft sentimental love but a love that challenges and yet comforts, a love that is courageous and yet is humble, a love that is hopeful and yet not blind to the problems of our world. It is a love that is strong and determined but does not crush the bruised reed. It is a love that is faithful and generous. Like Christ, it is compassionate, tender and merciful.

We as Missionaries of the Sacred Heart have a consistent ethic of life; all our responses are seen in the light of God’s love for each person.

As the Psalmist says today: ‘Our soul gives thanks to the Lord and we never forget all his blessings, for the Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy.’ Our ministries, our jobs, our roles may vary, but our core mission remains the same.

Our mission is the love of God: we give all of our life to Christ. Christ gave us his Spirit of love, putting love into our hearts, giving us the will to serve the people of God and to free them from their fear by reminding them and convincing them of God’s love for them.

Our way forward remains hopeful only if we remain consistent with our vision, for only if our mission is clear can we engage in many different ministries. Our way forward is to recognize the gifts of our charism, of our spirituality of the Heart, and of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, as gifts to the world of today. Our way forward consists in recognizing the giftedness of the Spirit of God in the laity, in remembering that we are a movement not just of clergy and religious but a movement of the whole world. Our way forward is to work together as a Church family, to stand strong in our belief of a loving God, a compassionate Church, a people who are led by love and not by fear.

Beware the cynic who suggests this is not possible. Beware the cynic in your own heart.

We are a gifted people. Let’s give thanks to God for that, and get on with the job.

May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be everywhere loved. Forever.

—Bob Irwin MSC, Provincial