Saturday, January 1, 2011

Bishop Joe Grech (1948 - 2010) - an anointed servant of the Lord

I have only just heard from Australia that the Most Reverend Joe Grech, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sandhurst, died in Melbourne on Tuesday (28th December) after the recurrence of a blood disorder. He was aged 62. Bishop Joe was an amazing man with whom I was privileged to share a number of times many years ago in the context of charismatic renewal. His ministry was one which brought countless young people to the Lord, and the means by which people of all ages experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Joseph Angelo Grech was born in Malta on December 10 1948. He began his studies for the priesthood in Malta, and then arrived in Australia in 1971. At the completion of his theological studies in Melbourne he was ordained a priest and served a number of parishes. The Archbishop of Melbourne sent him to study Spirituality at the Gregorian University, Rome, and on his return to Australia he became full time chaplain to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and then spiritual director to Corpus Christi College (the Victorian provincial seminary).

Father Joe was appointed Auxiliary Bishop in Melbourne by Pope John Paul II. He was consecrated in Patrick's Cathedral on 10 February 1999 by Archbishop George Pell, and served in the western suburbs of the Archdiocese. In 2001 he became Bishop of Sandhurst - based in Bendigo.

"Passionate" is an adjective that occurs often in the various obituaries published so far. And he was. Whether he was preaching to a large charismatic rally, celebrating Mass, conducting retreats for priests and religious, evangelizing and nurturing the faith of young people, or advocating justice and proper care for refugees and migrants, his personal warmth and enthusiasm was a means of drawing many closer to the Lord.

As a tribute to Bishop Joe, here is the last Pentecost homily he preached, taken from the diocesan website.


The Greek word "pente" means fifty. This helps us to understand what the word "Pentecost" means. It is an important event which happened fifty days after the Resurrection of Jesus. This feast has important significance for the Jewish people. They saw Pentecost as the feast of the giving of the law to Moses on Mount Sinai. For us as Christians, this feast marks the fulfillment of the promise of Jesus when he promised to send his Holy Spirit on his disciples so that they would continue their mission.

Something very dramatic happened on this day. We are very well aware that the twelve with others which also included Mary, our Blessed Mother were enclosed in this room. There were one hundred and twenty present. They were very much in a confused state of mind. Jesus was gone. They invested so much time and hope in him and now it seemed that everything was evaporating in the air. It is true that he made many promises to them. Yet they could not fathom how these promises were going to become a reality. Moreover they were very scared. They were afraid that what happened to Jesus on the cross could easily happen to them. In the midst of this state of uncertainty and deep anxiety, they experienced the power of the Holy Spirit and they were literally transformed. It is enough to have a look at what happened to Peter. Peter was so scared during the passion of Jesus that he denied Jesus three times. However as a result of what happened on this day, he became courageous enough to speak boldly about Jesus and this resulted in many becoming believers. This is how the missionary activity of the church started. Moreover the other disciples continued the mission of Jesus with a certain confidence reaching far distant lands and many of them died as martyrs.

This is all wonderful. However what does all of this have to do with us today? All of us as baptized and confirmed, have the Holy Spirit of God dwelling within us. We are totally immersed in the life giving Spirit of the Resurrected Jesus. What does this entail? St. Paul gives us a comprehensive explanation. In his first letter to the Christian community in Corinth a city which still exists today in Greece, he speaks about the variety of the gifts of the Spirit. In chapter twelve, he says that the Holy Spirit gives to us wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy and tongues. Wow . . . we are indeed powerful people. However St Paul also insists that all these gifts are for the benefit of helping others, for building the community of the church.

I would like to speak briefly about two of these gifts, wisdom and healing. The gift of wisdom does not mean that we would be able to know everything and have a solution for everything. It rather means to evaluate the situations which we are facing with the mind and heart of God. My grandma had ten children. During the Second World War, Malta was one of the most bombed places in the world. Some protection was made available to the population by building shelters under the main streets and each family was allotted a bit of space. One can only imagine the fear and anxiety of the people in these dire situations. One day I asked my grandma, "How did you survive all of this day after day with all those children crammed into this little space?" She said to me, "I did my best and God did the rest". What wisdom. I always remember these words especially when I have to face tough decisions. I am sure that many of us can relate to similar situations when we found courage to face difficult situations or when we were able to find the right words for the benefit of others.

The same thing can be said regarding the gift of healing. All of us need healing. Some of us need physical healing while others need emotional or spiritual healing. We are all called and gifted to bring healing to one another. This can be done in various ways. We can pray for the person concerned with the conviction that God desires to do the best for all of us. However there are also other ways. This week I came across these wonderful experiences.

In the Diocese we have the beautiful custom of having prayer partners to the children who will be receiving the Sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Communion. Members of the parish community are assigned to pray for a young person as they prepare themselves to receive these sacraments. The wife of one of the parish people involved died recently and as you would imagine he was feeling terrible down. He was finding it very hard to cope with life in general. There was always this great void in his heart after losing a great companion, friend and wife. One day he received a little note from the young boy who he was praying for. In this note the young boy wrote this "Thanks for your prayers, I pray for you too especially I pray for peace". That little note brought great joy and hope to the person concerned. Moreover he also felt the tangible presence of our God in this moment of great need.

Not so long ago, I heard someone telling this story. I was on a weekend of prayer and reflection and I met this person who shared with me her difficult life having gone through the experience of a broken marriage and the death of a son. Moreover, she spoke about forgiveness. She said that when we forgive, sometimes things get better while at other times they do not. However, the main thing is to forgive. While I was thinking and reflecting on this I realised that I have been paralysed by a very damaging situation for forty years. I found the necessary courage after all these years to be able to face squarely that situation and also to forgive. That woman by sharing her brokenness was able to help someone else to find life, to find peace. Indeed we can do a lot of good because of the presence of the Holy Spirit within us. Let us today thank God for these gifts and take every opportunity to do good knowing that even the smallest gesture of kindness can be the moment of grace to others.


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