On Sunday 9 October, St Peter Apostle parish in Hoppers Crossing celebrated their golden jubilee, marking 50 years since the consecration of their church. Archbishop Peter A Comensoli delivered the following homily at the jubilee Mass.

I first went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1992. The land that Jesus walked on, and the places he visited and lived out his earthly life, are sometimes called the ‘fifth gospel’ because they form the essential locations for the proclamation of the Good News. Nazareth, the Jordan River, the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, Bethany, Jerusalem, Calvary—each of these locations evokes for us images of the life, death and resurrection of the Lord we believe in. To visit them is to immerse yourself bodily in the bodily life of Jesus.

On that first pilgrimage to the Holy Land, it was Lake Galilee that most significantly stood out for me. Because it has not been built up over the centuries, it is easy to see the place in much the same way as Jesus did. There was, however, something quite unexpected about it: unlike the movies and pictures that depict Lake Galilee with golden sandy shores, in fact the beaches are composed of pebbles of dark volcanic stone. There’s nothing ‘golden and sandy’ about Lake Galilee; it’s all black and rocky. I ‘confiscated’ one of those pebbles and sneaked it back into Australia in a shoe, and I still have it on my mantel piece at home.

Unlike the Ethiopian from today’s first reading, who took back with him two bags of soil because he thought this was the only way of remaining connected to the God of Israel, who had healed him, we Christians hold and believe that God is present with us everywhere and anywhere. We do not believe that we must go somewhere to find the Lord who will heal us. The God of Jesus Christ is present not in some place where we must go to him; he is present in our lives where he comes to us.

Yet I find a special connection with a small black pebble from a beach that Jesus probably walked on. Why is that? May I suggest it points to an important feature of what it is to be a Christian: we believe in an incarnate God, a God who took on our human flesh, who lived among us, who died for us. Our God is the one true God who became one of us, so that we might fully and bodily share in his divine life. This reality—the reality that we can live our lives in Christ, even today, precisely by participating in his ongoing life among us.

We especially do this sacramentally: water washes away our sins and brings us into God’s heritage; the laying on of hands offers healing and forgiveness; oil confirms us in the Spirit or consecrates some as priests; the bodily intimacy of sexual union brings a married couple into the very heart of the sacrificial love of Christ. And, of course, we can touch and taste and see the very crucifixion of Jesus as we are nourished by his Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Ours is a bodily, incarnate, tangible faith; we have a God who comes to us in ways that bring us to him.

This sacred land, encompassing the Parish of St Peter’s, has this ‘house’ of the Church in Hoppers Crossing. It has been for 50 years the location of the local Church in Hoppers Crossing. The building itself, you know only too well, is not the Church as such. It is God’s pilgrim people, yourselves, journeying with God towards your heavenly homeland, that are the true Church here; you are Christ’s Body here. Yet this building, this house for the Church, holds tangibly the presence of God among you.

Like the Samaritan leper, who recognised in the healing presence of Jesus that God was with him, so have you known and treasured the Lord’s presence among you in this preciously held place. God has indeed been among you; here he has found you. Happy golden jubilee!