Homilies – February 2015
FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT (YEAR B)
11am MASS, ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL, 22 FEBRUARY 2015
GENESIS 9:8-15; 1 PETER 3:18-22, MARK 1:12-15
We welcome particularly to our Mass today, many people from the Canberra area who wish to become Catholics or moving into full Communion with the Catholic Church over the Easter period. As you know we call this the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
It was an absolute delight before this Mass to meet each of these Catechumens and Candidates in the Crypt. I asked each one of them what attracted them to the Catholic Church.
In this season of Lent where the Gospel today shows Jesus being driven into the wilderness by the Spirit and remaining there for 40 days, I heard the word “wilderness” coming from their lips many times.
These wonderful Catechumens and Candidates feel that life without Christ is a perpetual wilderness. They continually told me they “feel at home” as they approach the Catholic Church for entry. They are on the road to conversion, and through penance and faith, and our prayers hope to be received soon into the Catholic faith.
These members of the RCIA are very good examples to us. They help us to understand what Lent is. Lent is a time of penitential purification and conversion as we approach the Easter mysteries. We hear afresh the words of Jesus “The time has come and the Kingdom of God is closed at hand. Repent and believe in the Good News.”
In the wilderness of Lent the Lord prods us to move out of our comfort zones. Through prayer, penance and almsgiving the Lord calls us to be even more fully converted to Him. This means that we make the 180 degrees turn away from sin and the darkness of a life without Christ. We respond to the grace of God’s loving mercy and in faith place our whole being into the light of His presence amongst us.
We see that this call of God is something that has happened continually over salvation history.
In the first reading from the Book of Genesis we hear of one of the great Covenants that God has made with his people. It is the Covenant with Noah and his family and descendants. There’s a cosmic dimension to this Covenant. There’s the flood and the washing of earth with the purification of water.
This Covenant which involves “Every living creature with you and for all generations” and a “Bow in the clouds shall be a sign of the Covenant” reminds us all of our Baptism.
In the waters of Baptism we move into the living waters of Christ presence amongst us.
We know well in Australia the lack of water and the deserts that surround us. We know what water can do in the desert. It produces such a variety of flora and fauna that we thought never possible or imagine.
In this Mass now let us, learning from the example of the RCIA members who are now called the “Elect,” move to the mysteries of Easter in conversion of Penance. No matter what we have done or failed to do in our lives, God who is merciful and compassionate will always draw us back into His embrace. Let us have full confidence that no matter what situation we find ourselves in, God is with us calling us home. In Jesus who is alive in the Catholic Church may we always find a real “Home, “not only for this life but the life eternal.
SIXTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B)
11am MASS, ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL, 15 FEBRUARY 2015
LEVITICUS 13:1-2, 44; 1 CORINTHIANS 10:31, 11:1; MARK 1:40-45
The Liturgical Year is soon to take on a different level. In a few days’ time, the Ordinary Time of our Liturgy will be replaced with the Lenten and Easter season. Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday – a day of fast and abstinence.
The readings today, in fact, do help us to prepare for this Penitential Season of the Church as we move towards Easter. In the first reading from Leviticus we hear of the Lords’ instructions to Moses and Aaron regarding those with leprosy. There is an expulsion strategy at play here. The leper is to cry out unclean, unclean and the leper is to “live apart; he must live outside the camp.”
This expulsion strategy is supplanted in the Gospel. Here Jesus does the exact opposite, rather than expelling the leper He draws the leper to himself.
When Jesus encounters the leper, Mark’s Gospel makes it quite clear He was “Moved with pity.” This is the Bible’s way of saying that Jesus was moved to the very core of His being with compassion. The mercy deep within Him comes forward and there is a real outreach to the leper in this fragile and marginalised state He now finds himself in. In response to the leper’s request for the Lord to cure him if he wants to, Jesus replies “Of course I want to cure you!” The Lords compassion goes out to make the unclean clean, there is also the important detail that “Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him.” This might be overlooked by us, but this is an extraordinary gesture of compassion and healing. In doing this Jesus breaks through the cultural expectations and codification of behaviour of His time. In doing this He himself becomes unclean. This does not seem to phase Jesus at all.
The healing strategy that Jesus employs here is not an expulsion strategy. There is an enormous difference here between the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament.
We should think too, how we can also touch those who are on the margins of life. Our mind immediately goes to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia. I recall in recent years when I went to the centre of Australia, Alice Springs, I needed to go outside the city to visit them in their camps along the dried river beds. They are still, according to the latest socio-economic barometers, one of the most highly marginalised groups in Australia. This is a scandal to us all. We in some way or other must go out like Jesus and touch them and bring healing in His name. We also think of the potential hangings of those Australian men caught up in the jail in Indonesia. We pray for them and their families in this most delicate time.
Our response to those on the margins can be given great motivation by the recommendation of St Paul in the second reading where he says “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ.” We as members of the Church are to imitate Jesus. As the body of Christ, especially now in the Eucharist, we are a Christ presence in the world, although we find ourselves in earthenware jars.
Let us not be afraid but courageous in standing alongside those who are in need of God’s healing. Let us think of practical ways of doing this as Lent approaches. Let us start with our families but move beyond our families.”
I leave you with a beautiful phrase that Pope Francis has often used in regard to the Church in the modern world. He describes the Church as a field hospital on the battle ground of life. The idea is not to be asking those that are sick of their incidental issues like their cholesterol levels or their blood sugar levels. The immediate task is to heal them. Other incidentals can come later.
Let us all see ourselves continuing the healing ministry of Jesus in our everyday life.
ECUMENICAL SERVICE FOR THE OPENING OF THE ACT LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL
10.00AM MONDAY 9 FEBRUARY 2015
Readings: Isaiah 32:15-18; Matthew 5:1-12
“The difficult yet noble art of politics”
We welcome representatives of the political community from the ACT Legislative Assembly. We are gathered with many Christian Religious leaders here in Canberra and other religious communities. We want to encourage our political leaders. We want to pray for you “In the difficult yet noble art of politics.”
The ACT, as we already know, is such a wonderful, liveable place to live. There are, however, deep concerns underneath the beauty that we all enjoy. In the ACT at present we are particularly aware of homelessness and suicide as issues of great concern. They are symptomatic of real problems, I believe, in regard to marriage and family life. People are looking for hope, a future free from fear and despair. We are trying to learn as best we can to relate to each other in a compassionate way that really is a hallmark of a mature community.
The political community in the ACT has as always a real role in humanising the culture that we live in. By that I mean that the political community’s role is to do all it can to advance the dignity of the human person and fundamental human rights. We are all to gather around the wounded and offer not just practical help but a real hope and a future that is based on transcendent values.
Christianity offers these transcendent values which should underpin legislation. We shouldn’t be too apologetic about this. Faith is a light that scrutinises reason and frees it from falsehood and draws out perennial truths to the forefront. Clearly we are gathered here today to encourage each other in this. The Churches are not philanthropic organisations. They unashamedly proclaim Christ Jesus as the way the truth and the life. As always, in following Christ we follow his example of mercy and tenderness especially to those on the periphery. In the Catholic Church here in ACT, for instance, we have CatholicCare, Marymead, St Vincent de Paul. These groups and so many others in all our Christian communities are more than happy to work in with the political community to ensure that those who feel hopeless and feel a real fragility in their life are supported by us all.
Universal characteristic of modern humanity is surely echoed in the first reading and Gospel.
Our yearning is for peace, justice, mercy, integrity, yet, they are expressed in a context of the absence of these profoundly human virtues. This is indicated by the use of the word “wilderness” in the first reading. This paradox is expressed throughout the first reading. “The wilderness to be fertile land.” “In the wilderness justice will come to live.” “Integrity will bring peace.” “In safe houses, in quiet dwellings.” And then we have for the Gospel the Beatitudes. These are attitudes of being followers of Jesus. We find here amongst the Beatitudes the mercy imperative. “ Blessed are the merciful, for they will have mercy shown them.” All Christian action is animated by mercy. Indeed, mercy is God’s way for exercising justice.
I’d like to give just for a few moments a deeper reflection on the political community’s role by highlighting a monumental document from the Second Vatican Council.
Fifty years ago this year, 2015, the Catholic Church meditated on the role of the political community in modern society. It did this in a document called “Gaudium Et Spes” (no 73-76). Christianity believes that the political world can contribute to moving humanity from wilderness to the fertile ground of peace, justice and integrity. The Vatican Two Document gives a positive assessment to the political vocation and praises and esteems (no. 75) this calling which is not simply a career but something that can really make a difference to humanity.
The political community can truly help with humanising the culture. It is “a difficult yet noble art” (no 75). It can serve humanity’s dignity. It can assist that dignity to grow when it focusses on fundamental human rights and duties. A truly humanising of the culture can assist when the political world have a special concern for the poor and oppressed and when the policies are based on the common good – which means that we are all responsible for all. There is to be a solidarity in legislation that reaches out to the margins. Christians too can acknowledge that there are various responses that can be made for a particular issue, whilst still upholding the fundamental human rights and duties that we all embrace.
This “Gaudium Et Spes” Document (in English), The Constitution of the Catholic Church in the Modern World (7th December 1965) encourages Christians to be involved in the political world. Indeed, they have a special and exalted vocation “to foster and elevate all that is true, all that is good, all that is beautiful in the human community” (no. 76).
This is best done if those involved in the political world avoid a purely secularist approach to the formation of legislation. By this I mean an artificial barrier is placed between politics and personal faith. It tries to avoid an exaggerated separation where the Christian says “I’m a politician who happens to be a Christian.” This is not good enough.
Yet, on the other hand, none of us would expect our Christian politicians to lapse into a fundamentalism of any kind, whereby it becomes some sort of fusion between politics and faith – whether this be Christian, Muslim or otherwise.
I happened to be visiting oppressed Christian communities in the Middle East just before Christmas 2014 and such fundamentalism is evident in parts there. It leads to tyrannies of violence which really have nothing to do with religions of peace.
What needs to be encouraged, however, and the Vatican Document encourages this, is an integralist approach to Christians serving in the political world.
Here the light of faith sheds illumination on political reason and decision making.
Indeed, true faith is not an enemy to good political policy, but scrutinises the arguments and purifies them from all error and deceit and illuminates human truth.
Without this light we run the risk of becoming opportunists, careerists, selfish and fearful. This is not a legacy to leave our people.
In the very volatile situation that the political world in Australia now finds itself, do feel from all of us, dear people who are involved in the political world, encouragement, intercession of our prayers and joy that you are taking on a heavy burden. You have taken on a role that has very significant implications for the health and wellbeing of the Australia that we all love and want to see deepen in maturity and hope in the years ahead.
FIFTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B)
11am MASS, ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL, 8 FEBRUARY 2015
JOB 7:1-4, 6-7; 1 CORINTHIANS 9:16-19, 22-23; MARK 1:29-39
Today throughout the world Pope Francis has asked us to join with him on the World Day of Prayer against Human Trafficking. We pray in intercession on this Feast too of St Josephine Bakhita who died in 1947. In her life she was kidnapped and placed into slavery. She became a convert to Catholicism and was recently canonised.
We also welcome our Italian migrant friends from the north-eastern section of a region of Italy called Venezia Guilia. It’s their eleventh day of remembrance to commemorate post Second World War atrocities in this part of Italy. We pray dear friends for your deceased beloved ones.
Also, in a particular way, we gather for the second annual gathering of the legal profession in the Australian Capital Territory. We pray for God’s blessing upon all those involved in the legal profession and their staffs at the beginning of the 2015 legal year. It is 800 years since the signing of the Magna Carta. May all of you, dear friends, place the dignity of human life foremost in your legislation and adjudications. May fundamental human rights and responsibilities flow from this basic principle of human dignity from conception to natural death.
Dear friends, we do gain as always, inspiration from the readings of today. We find the foundations for all that we do whether it be in the legal profession or migrant groups or praying for world situations. All our inspiration and motivation comes from our life and encounter in Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.
The Gospel of Mark is the Gospel of this year. We always see Jesus on the move. Indeed, even in this Gospel passage He is moving from one event to the other rapidly. On the way to some place, under the invitation of Simon and Andrew, the brothers, Jesus goes straight to Simon’s house and heals his mother-in-law.
It is interesting how “He went to her, took her by the hand and helped her up.” Jesus stretching out his hands to heal the infirmed. He does that to all of us, especially those who are fragile. Particularly those here today, the Lord comes to stretch out His hands to send the Holy Spirit upon each one of you – the legal profession, migrant groups, all of us who carry responsibilities and burdens. The healing hands of Jesus are a moment of grace. It is very important to notice that as soon as Simon’s mother-in-law was healed, the Scripture says, “She began to wait on them.” There is always a link between being healed and serving. Indeed, I believe the litmus test of whether God is at work in healing is whether those who say they’ve been healed by Him are strengthened in their attitude of service to the Church and to the wider community, especially the fragile ones. Let us see this link between healing and service as something for us to meditate on in the week ahead.
Another inspiration we gain from today’s Gospel is the interplay in the life of Jesus between His vigorous pastoral activity and His strong desire to leave the crowd and to pray in solitude to the Father of all Fathers. In today’s Gospel we hear, “He got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.”
We too must learn to have a real balance in our life between activity and solitude and silence. Permanent silence and solitude without any service to God’s people is clearly, as seen above, not satisfactory. The other end of the extreme too, is also not of the Lord. To be involved in the busyness of life and never have time to pray is also an extreme. This reflection brings to mind the little expression that you might like to memorise as a help to your everyday life. It is, “Seven days without prayer, makes one week/weak!”
Let us continue our Mass now as missionary disciples. Let us see the vertical and horizontal dimensions of our life in their most wonderful expression in the life of Jesus Christ. As we come closer to Him now in Word and Sacrament let us imitate Him in all that we do and say.
Let us continue to pray for each other at the beginning of this year knowing that in the Lord, all healing is found and all motivation for true service that changes the hearts of people towards God is found, in Jesus our Lord and Saviour.
FOURTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B)
11am MASS, ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL, 1 FEBRUARY 2015
DEUTERONOMY 18:15-20; 1 CORINTHIANS 7:32-35; MARK 1:21-28
We welcome particularly today the Filipino community as we recall the National Feast of the Philippines regarding devotion to the Infant Jesus. You are very welcome. We also welcome youth leaders from throughout the Archdiocese who are here this weekend to participate in the leader’s formation weekend, organised by CatholicLife. Also there is a group walking from Brisbane to Melbourne. They are here with us today. They are highlighting the importance of pro-life issues in the Australian community. We welcome them as well.
To understand today’s readings, an insight from Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger) would be helpful.
In his writings, Benedict XVI indicates that to understand Jesus we need to understand Moses and the promise Moses gives. In the first reading from Deuteronomy, we find a crucial key to this understanding.
Let us recall that Moses is the Prophet that saw God “face to face.” In this first reading he says that “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like myself, from among yourselves……. to Him you must listen.” The promise given, is that a new Moses will rise up. One that will also be a Prophet like Moses, in the sense that he will see God face to face.
We must listen to Him and as mentioned in the second reading from 1 Corinthians, St Paul’s says, this encounter with God will “free us from all our worries.”
This promise is fulfilled in the encounter of Jesus Christ with us all. Not only do we see Him as the New Moses – who sees God face to face: He is God himself. He is the face of God himself. In today’s Gospel from Mark we read that even the unclean spirits who possess a man are aware of this when they encounter Jesus. Even the forces of darkness shout out “What do you want with us Jesus of Nazareth?…….. I know who you are: the Holy One of God.”
The religious leaders know that there’s something quite different when they encounter Jesus. “He taught them with authority.” The people in general when they encounter Jesus, also experience this authority from God emanating like a fragrance from Jesus. They say to each other “Here is a teaching that is new and with authority behind it.” They see not only in His words but in His deeds authority that comes from God alone. It makes a “deep impression on them.”
In a sense we can say that the Church today is the community of the new Moses, the community of the new Jerusalem, the community of the Holy Spirit. We are the community who encounter Jesus. We are the community that reflect the face of God to the world in which we live. This is our mission. In this Eucharist we encounter His Word and we eat and drink of His Body and Blood. We become Christ in the world today. Despite all our failures, weaknesses, sins and deviations from God’s plan still God is with us. We dare to call ourselves a holy people. We dare to say that we speak with the authority of God. Because we live in Christ and Christ lives in us.
Our mission, as St Teresa of Lisieux beautifully phrases it, is to “Love Jesus and make Him loved.”
In welcoming the Filipino community today, I recall meeting many years ago a wonderfully holy Filipino lady here in Australia. She also emanated the fragrance of God and His authority in the way she went about serving people. Any money she could possibly gather together, she passed onto her family back in the Philippines. We would see her at Mass most days, she was clearly a woman of profound prayer and holiness. She never drew attention to herself, yet, the radiance of God drew people to her. I’ve always thought wherever there are Filipinos in our parishes throughout Australia, that parish is blessed. We pray with them today. With the Infant Jesus, may we not only encounter Jesus as the face of God, but also serve Him as the face of God into a world seeking to meet Him and to be given hope and joy in Jesus.