Homily at the Mass of Christian Burial for Monsignor John Frawley PE

“Tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind see again, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Lk.7:22)

In these words from today’s gospel, Jesus points John the Baptist to the signs that accompany the coming of the Kingdom of God. These signs in the ministry of Jesus, who brings the Kingdom, are signs that he is present in his Church. John Frawley served the Kingdom through the Church all his long adult life, first as a Christian Brother, then as a priest of the Diocese of Bathurst.

Jesus was not what John the Baptist had expected. If he really was the Messiah, why was John still in prison? Why did he seem so welcoming to the sinners that the Baptist had told to run away? The way the Kingdom comes is not always as swift or obvious as many expect.

John Frawley’s own ministry may not have been marked by spectacular signs, as the world would see them, but when the Kingdom is revealed, so will all the good he has done.

My first memory of John is on a cricket pitch in Kensington thirty-five years ago. St Paul’s National Seminary had reassembled for the year and we were playing the traditional match between the Rector’s XI and the Bursar’s XI. As John came to the crease, I remember wondering how this quiet old bloke would manage. Well, he treated us to an elegant and assured display of batting. I don’t recall him running between the wickets at all. He would simply wait for the right delivery; and then, with a minimum of movement, deftly dispatch it to the boundary.

That was John Frawley. With a minimum of showmanship and display, he did whatever task he had to do with all his heart and all his skill. “Send Wisdom from your holy heavens, to help me and toil with me…” (Ws. 9:10). The Hebrew concept of wisdom, “hokmah”, embraces not only thought, but all the human skills and arts God gives us to be co-fashioners of his Kingdom.

John was a conscientious and effective preacher of God’s Word. His first vocation as a teacher shaped his approach. He prepared thoroughly, not to show off his erudition, which was substantial, but to communicate the truth of God’s love and ways to his hearers.

I recently read, in a biography of Pope Francis, how the young Father Bergoglio dealt with a brilliant but undisciplined student in his care. The fellow’s work  deserved a 10, but Bergoglio gave him a 9. “Not to reprimand him, but so that he remembers always that what matters is the duty carried out day by day, the work that is done systematically yet which should never become routine, the patient building, brick by brick …”

We priests can sometimes be disheartened by the lack of swift and obvious results for our labours. We can forget that the Lord alone measures and guarantees success according to the standards of the Kingdom. In that Kingdom, the patient and devoted attention to our daily tasks is our contribution to something greater than any of us as individuals may achieve. At his best, John Frawley showed us that path.

John was something of a perfectionist, bothered by his own imperfections and those of the people and circumstances he lived with. As Christ now welcomes our brother with mercy, and carries him to the Resurrection where all will be made new and perfect, we rejoice that John, free from disappointments forever, will see his good works shine brightly. And may we hear most deeply in this moment the words of St Paul: “The glory of the mystery is Christ among you, your hope of glory.”

+ Michael McKenna
   Bishop of Bathurst
   30th December 2014


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