Homily delivered by His Excellency Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay on the occasion of the Feast of the Assumption, 2017 OLOL Harris Park

Dearly beloved in Christ, 

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.”

1. These famous words were spoken by the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, and they have resounded throughout the history, to reach us today, as fresh and as powerful as ever.

2. The example of Our Lady stands as a shining beacon, guiding us as we travel the road to her Son. For this reason, she was given a name of great honour in the early Church: Mary the “Theotokos”, meaning Mary “the God bearer.” At two councils held more than fifteen hundred years ago, the bishops of the Church agreed to glorify her with this name, and to declare that He who was born of her was not merely a man, but both God and man.

3. And we are here today, celebrating the feast of her Assumption, we are meditating the amazing event in which Mary was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven, and with God and in God she is Queen of Heaven and Earth. Our celebration tonight is to venerate her and to proclaim once again our devotion to her, as the patron saint of this cathedral and parish, keeping this holy tradition, alive in our Maronite community here and everywhere.

4. I recently came back from Lebanon where I participated in the annual Maronite Synod of Bishops meetings headed by our Patriarch, His Eminence and Beatitude Mar Beshara Boutros Cardinal Rai, during  which we discussed many matters related to our Maronite Church and the presence and the future of the Christians in the Middle East. When we travel to Lebanon and the Middle East, we are reminded, too, that Mary is the Queen of Martyrs, for the people of God are suffering from terrible persecution in that unfortunate part of the world. As a sign of solidarity with the Church there and the families of victims from the different terrorist attacks, I also joined a delegation of bishops from Australia as we visited Egypt at the end of May to support the Church and pray for the unity of the Egyptian people.

5. It is because of the worrying increase of violence and hostility to Christians, that our Maronite Church has declared this to be the Year of Martyrs and their witness. In this year we especially remember all those who have accepted death rather than abandon their faith in our Church: the 350 disciples of St Maroun, St Shmuni and her seven sons, the Patriarch Gabriel the Second (of Hajjoula, martyred in 1367), and all the martyrs, from the earliest times with St Aquilina of Byblos in the year 293 to the Blessed Massabki Brothers in Damascus, Syria in 1860. We also remember the many martyrs of modern times. 

6. We are grateful that we here in Australia are not suffering persecution like our brethren of the Middle East, but we are experiencing something, which we have not been through before: we are undergoing a serious and sustained attack on our values, which is spread, and even promoted through many outlets of the mainstream media.

7. There is a new hostility openly displayed towards our Gospel values, our Christian ideals and our very right to live by our beliefs. The assault especially targets our teachings on marriage, sexuality, education and bioethics. It also targets in an evil way our stands against abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage. The current anti-Christian tide even denies us the right to speak, or to object when our children are subjected to a misleading propaganda dressed up as an anti-bullying campaign, and falsely named Safe Schools Program. 

8. Over the coming weeks, we expect a postal vote on same-sex marriage to be conducted all over the country. How should we deal with it? We firstly need to make sure that our details are correct with the electoral commission in order to receive the documents. Secondly, it is our Christian duty and pride to stand for the traditional and biblical definition of marriage, as a union between one man and one woman. I ask you, your families and your friends to respond to the postal vote by opposing same-sex marriage. Do not think that this matter does not affect you. This redefinition of marriage threatens our religious freedoms, in particular our ability to teach the true faith in schools, and  the way we offer social services. This attack is an attack on the family, as the building block of society. I urge you all to venerate Our Lady and the Holy Family by voting NO to same-sex marriage and to the redefinition of marriage. 

9. I address those issues of persecution and anti-Christian sentiment, because it is necessary. But it is also necessary to share the good news, and thanks to your prayers and other support, there is an abundance of it. 

10. First, after a long wait, we have received approval from the relevant authorities to begin the construction of Our Lady Aged Care Centre and to reopen the hostel here at Our Lady of Lebanon, Harris Park. We are soon to begin demolition of the present buildings, and then, to begin construction of a new centre after we have been awarded in May of this year 90 bed licences for our nursing home. It is a wonderful landmark in the development of this super-Maronite community in this area. This achievement would not have been possible without the support of the Australian Federal Government, the Department of Health, Parramatta City Council, the Our Lady Aged Care Centre Committee, and many people of good will. I am very grateful to all of them and I am sure that our elderly who will benefit from these facilities share my sentiment. 

11. Further, our second good news lead me to proudly announce that the relics of St Maroun will be arriving to our diocese in February 2018. How wonderful to celebrate the feast of St Maroun, the spiritual father of the Maronite Church, having for the first time his relics in our Church. They are coming from Lebanon, from the Monastery of St John Maroun in Kfarhay. These relics will visit all our churches in Australia so that the faithful may pray in the presence of these sacred memorials of our heavenly patron. And the other good news is that we are going to keep the relics in Australia, at St Maroun’s Cathedral in Redfern. 

12. Then, the third good news is our first Maronite Diocesan Assembly to be held in November this year at this parish here. I promised when I became your bishop to hold this Assembly, and I am pleased to be able to preside at this important opportunity to gather in faith representatives from all the Maronite community over our country, so that they may speak to each other and to us, and not only to speak, but more importantly, to be listened to! I want the laity, the good people who flock to the churches, to express their fears, their hopes and their aspirations. 

13. Our Diocesan Assembly will be marked by three moments: to listen, to understand and to act. We have to listen to our people who are facing new challenges in transmitting the faith from generation to generation, and they strive to keep alive the Gospel spirit of the wider Church in Australia. We wish to meet these challenges with understanding, seeking the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and with charity: including all of the faithful, not least our young people who are so important to us. And so we shall act by envisaging strategies and directions in our gathering in November, here in Sydney, with the motto “Strong in Faith – Growing in Love”. 

14. Dear Brothers, Sisters and friends, 

Before I conclude my homily for tonight I would like to say few words in Lebanese:

15. As Pope Benedict XVI says: 
Being in God and with God, Mary is close to each one of us, knows our hearts, can hear our prayers, can help us with her motherly kindness and has been given to us, as the Lord said, precisely as a “mother” to whom we can turn at every moment. She always listens to us, she is always close to us, and being Mother of the Son, participates in the power of the Son and in his goodness. We can always entrust the whole of our lives to this Mother, who is not far from any one of us.
16. And tonight, I entrust all of you beloved sons and daughters of the faith to Mary, the Theotokos, the bearer of God. I also entrust to Mary’s Holy Heart all our priests especially Monsignor Shora Maree who celebrates 30 years to the priesthood. Let us pray to all those who have served this wonderful community, past and present, asking Our Lady of Lebanon, Patron of this parish to lead us all closer to her son Jesus Christ. Amen



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