Homily – November 2017

ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
SUNDAY 12 NOVEMBER 2017
THIRTY SECOND SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (YEAR A)
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL, FORREST
Wisdom 6:12-16, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Matthew 25:1-13

Virtually on every page of the Gospels is written the message “This Life is Not the Only Life”.

We are reminded of our earthy pilgrimage on the way to our heavenly home in the month of November and as we move towards the end of the Liturgical Year – the Year of Matthew.

As we pray particularly for those who have died in the month of November, the scriptures assist us on understanding precisely our teaching on Christian death.

At the beginning of the second reading from the ancient texts of St Paul to the Thessalonians we have a wonderful summary statement of our teaching on Christian death.

St Paul reminds his people of the following comment, “We want you to be quite certain, brothers, about those who have died, to make sure that you do not grieve about them, like the other people who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that it will be the same for those who have died in Christ: God will bring them with Him.

This is our hope everybody… “God will bring our beloved dead with him.”

So let us continue to pray in this Mass for not only those that we mourn in their death but also those who have nobody to pray for them in their death.

On a broader panorama, there is also, in these days towards the end of the Liturgical Year A, the constant theme of Christ’s second-coming.

Our Catholic belief proclaims that, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again”.

In the early Church the feeling was that Christ’s second-coming would come in their own lifetime. 2000 years later, we still await the second-coming of Christ. Nevertheless, the response remains the same: we are to be ready when the Master arrives!

This teaching is showcased in the Gospel of today from Matthew 25.

Wedding ceremonies in antiquity were quite different from what we know of today.

In Jewish antiquity, there is a practice that the bridegroom would go to the home of the bride and, after ceremonies, would return with his new bride to his home.

As he approached his home those from the home would go out and greet him and form a procession as he brings his new wife into the home.

This is the context of today’s Gospel. The trouble was that the bridegroom and the ceremonies that involved the families were not precise and people could be delayed for a considerable period of time because of the festivities.

So the idea for those who were waiting at the bridegroom’s home was that they were to be ready for whenever the groom would return.

So the Gospel today talks about the bridesmaids who were wise and those who were foolish. Those who were foolish felt that the master would return precisely on time and they had their lamps lit to welcome him. Inevitably, he arrived late. When he arrived, and the shout went out to go and greet him, those who weren’t prepared for the late arrival would find they had no oil left in their lampstands.

The wise ones anticipated a late arrival and had plenty of oil ready to greet him in a festival of light. As those without oil went to buy some, the bridegroom arrived with his entourage and entered the house and the door closed. The others, once they had bought the oil, called out “Lord, Lord open the door for us. …. He replied, “I tell you solemnly, I do not know you”.

So the moral of that little parable is to, “Stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour”.

So as we await the second-coming of the Lord Jesus all of us are to be in a state of readiness. As earthly pilgrims waiting for the Lord to take us to our heavenly home we are to be in a state of conversion and repentance and alertness at all times.

In reflecting on this passage I thought of a recent story I heard when I was in India a few weeks ago to help lead a national retreat for bishops and priests.

One of the priests gave testimony of a recent experience in his parish.

He explained that he had a very busy Sunday and by the time the evening came he was very exhausted.

He told the sacristans to lock the Church whilst he remained in the Church a little longer to pray.

Alone in his locked Church he sat down on the Church pew and began to pray. It was only after a few minutes that he felt very heavy with sleep. He lay down on the Church bench for what he hoped would be a very short nap.

It didn’t appear to be too long before he heard somebody trying to unlock the Church. He sat up and realised that in fact it was daylight. Indeed, it was the sacristan returning to the Church to unlock the Church the next morning! He had slept the whole night in the Church in a deep sleep without realising it until then!

As the sacristan came in and saw the priest still sitting in the seat he said to the priest how impressed he was that he had prayed the whole night in intersession for all the people in the village!

The priest was placed in a difficult situation. Should he just say straight out to the sacristan that he in fact had been asleep the whole night in the Church, or should be just say nothing and allow the Holy Spirit to use his sleep for God’s greater glory!

The priest chose the latter option!

Now the sacristan was quite a chatter box in the village. In the days following he went around and was telling everybody what a saintly parish priest they had! He told them that the priest in recent days had spent the whole night in praying before the Blessed Sacrament for the needs of the parishioners! Over the weeks following, the priest noted that people were listening more closely to his homilies and indeed that their numbers at Mass were slowly increasing!

So it just goes to show you that even in our inattentiveness and sleepiness that the Holy Spirit can still use us for His greater glory!

Let us learn from the foolish bridesmaids in today’s Gospel and also “the foolishness” of the sleeping priest.

Even in the midst of all our foolishness and fragility God can bring His people home in His own way and in His own time. After all, one of the ancient definitions of Christianity is that it is a community of the Holy Spirit.

Come Holy Spirit! Let us stay awake to the Lord’s unexpected entrances in our lives!

Archbishop Christopher Prowse
Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn

 


 

ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
SUNDAY 5 NOVEMBER 2017
THIRTY FIRST SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (YEAR A)
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL, FORREST
Malachi 1:14-2:2; 8-10, 1 Thessalonians 2:7-9; 13, Matthew 23:1-12

In today’s Gospel St Matthew speaks to Jewish Christian converts on the newness of Christianity.

Let us recall that the word Christianity came later. In these early years, those who followed the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as disciples were described as “The Way”.

In Matthew 23 he counsels the new disciples to be servants in imitation of the Master, Jesus. They are to avoid “not practicing what they preach”. And they are to avoid “attracting attention”. There is to be no arrogance. There are to be no ego trippers! There is to be no “all about me” mentality.

But all are to be servants of the Lord Jesus.

There are many characteristics of Biblical Servant Discipleship, but from my readings in today’s Liturgy of the Word, two come to mind immediately.

First of all, the characteristic of a Biblical Servant is prayer.

Let us recall that the word “listen” when jumbled up together also makes the word “silent”. Servant disciples of Jesus are to be characterised by a listening prayer life that glorifies God.   

Even in the first reading from Malachi there is the criticism of those that follow God who “do not listen”. And those who “do not find it in your hearts to glorify my name”.

Catholics are very good at asking petition prayers, prayers of the faithful, and also prayers of asking forgiveness – the Penitential Rite. But indeed in the Liturgy, the vast majority of the prayers are glorifying, praising, thanksgiving prayers.

Even in the Eucharistic prayer, the word “Eucharist” means thanksgiving.

Bibical Servants are to be characterised as thanksgiving people who praise God for the many blessings that He bestows upon His people.

A second characteristic of Biblical Servants is that they are, as coming from the Second Reading from St Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, “like a mother feeding and looking after her own children”. Many times the Church is criticised as being too paternal or a product of a patriarchal society, but also the Church has a matriarchal dimension or maternal expression of the community of believers.

This Second Reading is a very ancient text indeed. Indeed, St Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is said to have pre-dated the writing of the Gospels themselves! So we have some of the earliest Christian manuscripts in this reading and the encouragement is to be like “mothers” in the way we care and look after each other.

I remember reading not so long ago that in history, despite what might be said today, that a mother’s main responsibilities have been to wash, feed and correct their children. When I read this I thought that the Church as mother also does this. We wash (Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation), we feed (the Sacrament of the Eucharist), and we correct (Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation).

We are also aware today, in welcoming members of our Catholic Care agency, that they, in a very practical way, watch over and protect God’s people as the “mother”.

Every year Catholic Care in the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn tend to over 100,000 requests on all matters pertaining to homelessness to family support to assisting those challenged by mental illness and in every other way that we can be a mother to those in need. So we welcome them and thank those that are here at this Mass today. However, this is something that all of us do by being servant disciples in the way that we are to be characterised by our practical charity to others.

Let us continue the Mass now knowing that God feeds us plenty with His Word and Sacrament and that as He has become the servant master of us all, so must we become servants of each other.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse
Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn