The first apostle to die for the faith was James some time in the 40’s. The Apostles Peter and Paul were martyred in the 60’s. Eventually, every apostle – bar John – was martyred. Thus, in the last third of the first century, the early Christian communities had to go it alone without the guidance of the apostles who had been with Jesus and had encountered the risen Lord. There was no one left alive who knew, saw with his eyes, and touched with his hands Jesus of Nazareth. When no one alive could say ‘I saw the risen Jesus,’ all that was left was the story of Jesus. How did the early churches survive? Two things helped Christianity to survive: one was the story of Jesus, and the other was the Eucharist. And, of course, in the Eucharist we remember the Jesus’ story.
Because of persecution, Christians in the first century celebrated the Eucharist in catacombs, caves and private homes. Churches were not built until it was safe for Christians to gather in public. What has kept alive the Catholic faith in Sunbury is the Eucharist. In the 1850’s, the first Masses in our parish were celebrated in private homes. Some 25 years later, in 1875, Our Lady of Mt Carmel Church was opened and blessed by Archbishop Gould.
At Mass we gather to tell the story of Jesus. At the Last Supper Jesus got down on his knees to wash the feet of his disciples. He also took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘take and eat: this is my body.’ He then took a cup of wine and offered it to his disciples saying, ‘take and drink: this is my blood.’ Through these prophetic actions Jesus foretold that on the following day he was to break his body and shed his blood in self-sacrifice. Humble service and loving self-sacrifice were the examples he asked his disciples to follow when he said, ‘Do this in memory of me.’
On our parish feast day, besides doing things in memory of Jesus, we also remember the humble service and the loving self-sacrifice of our forebears. We stand on the shoulders of those who built up not only the buildings – the schools and the churches – but the faith and culture of this parish. We owe much to the Catholics who built up our parish. We gather today to tell our story, the story of our parish.
In today’s second reading, St Paul reminds us that we all have been blessed with personal gifts, and he urges us to use those gifts to contribute to the building of our parish. Even ‘a cup of water given in my name,’ said Jesus, ‘will not go without its reward.’ In my short ten years in Sunbury, I have seen much more than a cup of water given in Christ’s name to this parish. One good lady, for nearly twenty-five years, has kindly washed and kept clean the priests’ vestments. Another good lady – for more than I can remember – is the first to arrive at Our Lady of Mt Carmel Church every Sunday evening to open up and set up for Mass. And she is the last to leave. There are hundreds of other examples of selfless acts of service which I could mention, but I don’t want to embarrass any more good people. If Jesus promises a reward for a ‘cup of water given in his name’, I can’t imagine what reward awaits these good people. There are good signs for the future of our parish. One day, others will continue to tell and celebrate our story, the story of our parish. And, even when we pass on – and our name is forgotten – God will never forget.
Fr Bert Fulbrook sdb

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