I received a hand-written letter during the week. I do not know the author personally; I do not think I’ve even met her. From the letter, and the style of handwriting, I think she is an older women, from a migrant background. It is a lovely and kindly letter. The principal part of it tells of a friendship the author once had with another migrant woman, now gone to God. She was writing simply to ask me to remember her deceased friend in prayer.
Without giving away either woman’s identity, the author wrote this:
The first time in my life in Australia, in Melbourne on Spencer St Station, on a platform of that station, in winter in August, I met [the woman]. I cannot forget that moment. After that, I got the chance to know her better.
That act of kindness, given to a newly arriving migrant by someone who had already made the journey, and the deep gratitude arising from their meeting, speaks volumes about these two women of faith. Neither will have stood out as remarkable, and I suspect each woman lived a simple and humble life, by-and-large unnoticed by most others. Yet, the quiet greeting of welcome from one migrant woman to another will have been noticed by God, and the equally quiet request for prayer in remembrance is now known to him. As Jesus said in the Gospel just now, ‘There is no need to be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom … For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’
To find our place within the kingdom of God does not require of us to make grand gestures of prominence, or be known far and wide for our actions. Membership of God’s kingdom is not determined by achievement of pious celebrity or religious fame. Unobtrusive goodness, richness in kindness, quiet mercy, humble service—these are the signs of a friend of the Lord who is dressed for action and has their lamp lit, who is a wise and faithful steward. These are the heavenly treasures that will not fail or fade away.
Can I invite you—quietly, gently, humbly—to look around you? See who is with you. Notice your fellow parishioners. For here among you are friends and stewards of God, hidden in plain view. I don’t mean to say we are all saints; quite clearly, that is not the case. But we all are members in God’s kingdom, and stewards of God’s grace. A parish—a community of Christ’s faithful—is always full of grace in a myriad of small and quiet ways. St Joseph’s parish is no exception, and I say this without knowing you. In fact, your patron was an expert in such ways of grace, unnoticed by others.
And the Vincentians who have served here for the past 130 years have also been dispensers of that grace, in the flawed and unworthy ways of any and every priest. Today is a fine day to remember this gift—present for you through the ministry of many individuals. The moment of mercy in a confessional; the word of encouragement in a homily; the ministration of healing in the hospital; the service to those in need; the reception of Communion; the ‘hatching, matching and dispatching’; the friendship in the Lord.
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews had this to say: ‘Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen.’ As you look back to yesterday, and look ahead to tomorrow, remember this. For God notices us with love, even in the smallest moment of grace.
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli preached this homily at St Joseph’s Parish in Malvern on Sunday 7 August, as the community farewelled the Vincentians, who have served at St Joseph’s for 130 years.
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli17 November 2023