I wish I could be greeting you all in person on this most holy of weekends, but alas I must be content with wishing you all a blessed Easter via this letter. The last few weeks have been hard for many of us, and this has been a surreal Holy Week, but I have no doubt that our Lord is able to bring forth beautiful fruit from the present trials, just as he brought forth glorious new life from the horror of the crucifixion. Fr Matteo and I are holding you all close in a particular way this week, and I pray that the joy of Easter may surround you all in spite of the challenges we face. Our thanks to those who’ve been dropping off cards and gifts for us – that’s very kind. I also want to thank Deacon Patrick for his generous presence in the parish at this difficult time. As my gift to you, let me share a new song I’ve written in the past couple of days, inspired by our unique Easter this year – I hope you like it! https://youtu.be/FuXupN4g9h4
This time last year, much of the world was moved by the heart-breaking images of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris being ravaged by fire. This iconic church, upon which construction began in 1163, is arguably the second-most important architectural achievement of Catholicism’s 2,000-year history, after St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Its loss would have rivalled the destruction of the first Temple of Jerusalem or the Library of Alexandria.
And as the flames raged on, and it seemed likely that the entire building would be destroyed, one scene stood out to me above the rest. It was the sight of countless Catholics gathered in the surrounding streets, singing hymns to our Blessed Mother, while the cathedral dedicated to her was burning in the night.
To me, this captured in a nutshell something essential about our Catholic faith – namely, that it is alive; that it is living. The beauty of seeing 21st-century Parisians kneel and pray as their greatest tribute to Christ burned is that, nine centuries earlier, their ancestors created this cathedral for precisely this purpose. The spiritual ancestors of those singing hymns in the streets designed and built this grand building—not as an artistic treasure or architectural marvel, not as a beacon of culture or a landmark of history—but precisely to foster and encourage the kind of living faith that was on display on those Parisian streets as their precious cathedral faced destruction.
As more stories from the fire began to emerge, we subsequently learned of how the chaplain of the Paris fire department—Fr Jean-Marc Fournier—had demanded to be let into the burning cathedral with his firemen, risking his life in the process. And before he retrieved any relics or artefacts—even the priceless relic of the Crown of Thorns—he first ran to the tabernacle to retrieve the Blessed Sacrament – to retrieve and protect Jesus truly present in the consecrated Eucharist.
The makers of Notre Dame de Paris lovingly formed its beauty so that Catholics would see it; they gave it bells so Catholics would hear them; and they intended this church as a constant reminder of our living faith and our dependence upon the living God. If the stories of the faithful singing in the streets—or a priest risking his life to protect the Blessed Sacrament—are any indication, we can say with full hearts that the cathedral’s makers succeeded in that mission.
Our Catholic faith is alive because Jesus Christ is alive. Despite all the reasons why Catholicism could be written off as hopelessly lost—the scandals, the growing secularism, all of it—the faith lives on, because—as G.K. Chesterton once put it—it has “a God who knows the way out of the grave.”
Let’s be honest, the past couple of years have not been an easy time to be Catholic here in Perth. The depressing headlines of scandals and abuse, the traumatic saga of Cardinal Pell’s trial, the death of a beloved local priest in controversial circumstances, images of an iconic Catholic landmark in flames, to say nothing of the various personal trials and tribulations that we no doubt all wrestle with. And now add to this the inability for us to gather together to celebrate the sacraments as a parish, against the backdrop of fear and suffering throughout the world.
And yet, the narrative of Holy Week drives home for us an essential principle – namely, that our hope is not the kind of hope that is dependent upon favourable circumstances. If our hope were dependent upon favourable circumstances, we might as well pack it in right now, just as Jesus’ followers might as well have packed it in on Good Friday. No, Easter hope was born in the most unfavourable of circumstances. Easter hope is based on the fact that ours is a God who has taken a most horrific death, and transformed it into the most wonderful new life; ours is a God who has taken the most extreme darkness, and transformed it into the most glorious light; ours is a God who has taken the most brutal rejection, and transformed it into the loveliest of invitations.
This is why the image of Parisian Catholics gathering to pray and sing while their most sacred building was ablaze with fire is such an apt symbol of Holy Week. Remember, even though much of the cathedral would be mercifully spared the worst, this was not at all clear as the faithful sang on the streets. And yet in their song of prayer was evident a powerful truth – that as majestic and important as our great cathedrals are, they are not the Church. Rather, the Church is those Catholics finding grace in the love of the risen Christ, and all of us sharing in that grace even in the face of terrible loss.
When the risen Christ appeared to Thomas—doubting Thomas—and showed him his hands and his side, Jesus said something of great significance for us. He said:
‘You believe because you can see me.
Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’
The reason why those who have not seen the risen Christ in the flesh are able to believe in him nonetheless is because they have seen him… in alternative flesh. They’ve seen him in the lives of holy Christians, whose selflessness and charity is unexplainable without the presence of Christ within them. And they’ve seen him in the sacraments, whose powerful grace manifests Christ to us in tangible ways that are impossible to fully explain.
And the reason why such believers are happier than someone like Saint Thomas who could prod the risen Christ with his finger, is because encountering the risen Christ in the fruit he bears here and now is in many respects even more impressive and convincing. We’re not just talking about some material evidence stored away in a laboratory somewhere. We’re talking about something alive and active—two thousand years after the fact—something making itself known throughout the world as we speak, touching the lives of countless people – such as those who had the faith to sing hymns while their cathedral burned, instead of cursing in the dark. Such a witness shows us not only that Christ rose from the dead, but also that the risen Christ has the power to transform lives.
We Christians have the audacity to claim that the Resurrection is not just another story or myth or fairy-tale. We stubbornly insist that it actually happened, and that it has changed everything.
This is what makes us Christians. Not being kind to our neighbour, or forgiving people who’ve hurt us, or helping the poor. Plenty of people do these things who’ve never heard of Jesus. No, we are Christians because we believe that Jesus is alive. And we believe that Jesus is alive, because we’ve met him.
And though our Christian pilgrimage in this passing world will always see us live in a kind of exile—strangers in a strange land—we know that the ultimate victory is already won. And so, as Saint John Paul II often said, we are an Easter people, and “Alleluia” is our song.
In the face of a bruised and hurting world, our task therefore becomes the same as all believers throughout the ages – to allow the living God to live in us, so that—through us—those we meet may also have the privilege of encountering the crucified and risen Lord. As his disciples, this is our responsibility, and it is our immense privilege.
Christ is risen! A new world has dawned! Our Saviour has come to lead us from darkness to eternal light.
A few notices and links:
– If you would like to watch Archbishop Costelloe’s Easter Message, you can do so here (I’ve also attached a print copy):
(also attach print copy)
– A reminder of the details of Archbishop Costelloe’s live-streamed Easter Masses:
– Easter Vigil – 6pm tonight
– Easter Sunday – 11am tomorrow
These can be viewed on the following platforms:
– A reminder too that Channel 7 will be televising live the Easter Sunday Mass from St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney at 8:30am Perth time tomorrow.
– The parish office is open this week from 9am-12:30pm Tuesday to Friday (closed on Easter Monday), and on Tuesday and Friday either Fr Matteo or myself will be in the office throughout opening hours and available for reconciliation or a chat without an appointment (we remain available at many other times by appointment). We still have plenty of holy water bottles which are available to be picked up from the office if you would like one.
– Lastly, here’s a powerful reflection about one my favourite works of art:
A blessed Easter to you all!