On Sunday 4 December—the Second Sunday of Advent—Archbishop Peter A Comensoli preached the following homily at St Benedict’s Parish, Burwood, at a special 70th Anniversary Mass.
I was listening to a podcast last week, which was all about time. For scientists, there are two ways in which we commonly think about time. There is the ‘past, present, future’ way, where we locate the things of the world and ourselves in the progression of time. ‘The dog jumped over the fence last week.’ ‘We’ll go to the beach in January when it warms up.’
Then there is the ‘this, then this, then this’ way, where the progression of time is seen in a sequential order that transcends any notion of past, present or future. ‘When the dog jumps over the fence, it then runs around crazy, and then comes back for food.’
These two ways of understanding time—call them the locational and sequential ways—shape our lives every day of our lives. We do not exist outside of time. Both of them, however, are of a particular kind of time, called ‘kronos’ time, from which we get our words chronological and chronology. This is time seen in a linear progression.
There is another way of understanding time, however, which is, in faith, the most important kind. It is sometimes called ‘kairos time’. This is time as it is experienced in the moment—the ‘right’ time or ‘wrong’ time; the ‘good’ time or the ‘chosen’ time. It is time as we experience it in decisive moments. The Socceroo’s are experiencing a kairos moment right now: has their time to shine come?
The story of our faith is a kairos one, even as it has unfolded in chronological order. We can, for example, identify when John the Baptist started wandering in the wilderness of Judaea, preaching a message of repentance and God’s closeness. We know that John and Jesus were born around six months apart, that they were born during the reign of Caesar Augustus, and that Jesus began his public ministry at the age of 30, with John baptising him in the River Jordan. That gives us a pretty accurate timeframe for when John lived and preached.
However, and as we heard at the beginning of today’s Gospel, ‘In due course John the Baptist appeared.’ That’s a different kind of time than a set date in time. ‘In due course’—at the right time, at that decisive moment—John took up his mission to announce the coming of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. This is the time that God had planned for from the beginning, but it didn’t depend on whether it occurred on a Thursday or Friday.
John’s appearance was, rather, at that time when the planets had aligned, as we metaphorically say; that is, at God’s appointed time. While it happened at a precise time and location, it necessarily happened at the time when God’s plan for our salvation could properly unfold.
Faith teaches us to seek to live our lives in a kairos way, even as our lives unfold in a kronos order. God has a plan for each of us. It involved the incarnation—the becoming flesh—of his Son, announced by the Baptist. We each have a place in this story of salvation; Jesus took each of us with him onto the cross. We are a part of God’s kairos plan and the nearness of his kingdom. And this is very good. Your moment—our moment—in Christ is ours to take.
St Benedict’s Parish, over its 70 years of history, has very many moments in time worth remembering. But each of those moments, set in their chronological order, come alive and present when we see them in their kairos meaning: a baptism in 1953, or First Communion in the 1980s, or the fundraising for World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008, or the introduction of the Alpha course in recent years, or the outreach to a family in need during COVID.
These are all kairos moments when the closeness of God’s kingdom has been revealed in your time and place. From these moments, God has been, and is, raising up children for his Son among you. So may you rise up with Jesus in this moment of your 70th birthday, seeing this as your advent time, your coming to share in the life of Christ. Happy Anniversary!
Main image: Evan Luly, ‘St Benedicts Church Burwood, September 1959', Melbourne History Resources, accessed 4 December 2022, omeka.cloud.unimelb.edu.au/melbourne-history/items/show/340.
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli03 February 2023
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli31 January 2023