Homilies – February 2014
ECUMENICAL PRAYER GATHERING
ACT LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY
24 FEBRUARY 2014
MERCY – A TRANSCENDENT VALUE TO BE CHERISHED BY ALL
The great Sermon on the Mount is central to Christianity. Today we have the version found in Matthew’s Gospel. The portion just proclaimed in the Gospel today is commonly called the Beatitudes. I think the name suggests what they are: they are “be-attitudes” or “attitudes of be-ing” not just fully Christian but, simultaneously, truly human. Whether one is Christian or not, religious or not, they do resonant with the deepest hopes and dreams we all share for our common life together.
I would like to focus on just one of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the merciful: they shall have mercy shown them.” (5/7) Let us reflect on MERCY.
Mercy is a wonderful attitude that ought animate all our relationships – both personally and communally. It ought animate our civic life together. If only it could be the transcendent value that gives an inner heart to all legislation passed in parliaments throughout the world.
Perhaps the best known and loved parable of Jesus is the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). Most now like to rename it: the Loving Father who had two sons.
The focus is not really on the younger son who selfishly took his inheritance prematurely from his elderly father and went off and spent it all. He returned to the father and put on a little pantomime suggesting he was repentant. He was really hungry and had nowhere else to go. The elder brother was self righteous. He complained to his father that he had not being acknowledged for all his hard work. The joy that the father was now showing to his negligent brother further insulted his feelings.
The response of the loving father to his eldest son is the heart of the parable. It is the best descriptive definition of mercy that you could find in the Gospels. He said:” My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right that we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.” (Lk 15/31,32)
The father’s response is full of mercy. There is compassion here. He “suffers with” the deeper human pain of his two sons – a type of pain so deep that they can neither articulate nor appreciate. The father shows loving kindness and tenderness. It is the opposite of weakness or facile sentimentality. It is strong and courageous. It alone can ultimately heal and bind together broken relationships.
Mercy is a transcendent human value that all of us ought cherish and develop. Believers say: God is merciful. All mercy comes from him. If we expect God to be merciful to us then we ought to be merciful to each other. When we are merciful to others then God’s mercy shines in us. That is what the Beatitude says: “Happy the merciful: they shall have mercy shown them.” Matt5/7)
But such reflections are not meant purely for our individual personal relationships. They are surely for this but not only for this. Mercy ought to guide our communal relationships together. Would not our societies change overnight if suspicion, jealousies, and angers cease and mercy became the predominant engine room of our community relationships. We would cease being the elder or younger brothers but become the elderly and merciful father. Then a true humanity would develop. This type of mercy in political life, for example, would ensure that wise legislation develop that really helps “the least” in our communities – the younger brother, the younger sister.
Our work for them would not be so much a part of our “career” response but a part of our response as human beings. Christians use the word “vocation” in this context. In this context, such work would therefore be our communal response to the merciful gifts God has given us. Just dream for a moment and think how politics animated on mercy would develop into a different kind of legislation that reaches out to refugees, fragile families, Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, those vulnerable ones at life’s beginnings and end.
Many might stop me here. They might say I am imposing religion on everyone and not everyone believes in God anymore. “We are secularized. We can be atheists and still be merciful”, they might say.
So let us consider this word “secularization” for a moment. I believe that one significant threat to building a society built on mercy is the misunderstanding of the word “secularization”.
I think secularization is a little like cholesterol. There is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. There is good secularization and there is bad secularization.
Here is an example. Many people I know have been visiting the National Library here in Canberra recently to visit the latest exhibition – “Mapping Our World”. I visited it recently and found it wonderful.
I discovered with interest that one of the first maps ever produced was called the Psalter World Map (c.1265). In the middle of a small book of psalms from around 1265 is a world map of the times. The center of the map is Jerusalem. It illustrates a theological view of the world that is totally under God’s sovereignty. It seems to be imposing a theological worldview on scientific and cultural realities. It is a work of tremendous artistry but it is not a work of accurate science. It is bad secularization. It fuses together as one both religion and science/culture. Both suffer as a consequence. There needs to be a separation here. In regard to mapping, that separation happened centuries ago. How grateful we are! Doing this has been an example of good secularization.
Here is another example.
For example, some say: “Please don’t use religious words and ideas in Australia anymore. We are secularized and multicultural. Religion only causes wars. Australia has grown out of religion. Religion is a thing of the past.”
I believe this is bad secularization too. It is the opposite extreme to fusing religion and science/culture. Here religion and science/culture are so torn apart that they are seen to have no relation to each other. Here religion is seen as anachronistic and to be discouraged at every level. ….. bad secularization! This is moving towards a definition of what is called SECULARISM. It is a real threat to true human flourishing.
Christianity, in fact, says that religion and science/culture are distinct but not separated. Their respective autonomy is to be appreciated. True human happiness attempts to decipher transcendent realities from created realities. But the appreciation and reflection of created realities (eg the galaxies as seen by astronomy) surely has led people over millennia to wonder about a God who must have created such wonders. There is a link between the Creator and the creature. There is a link between transcendence and earthly realities. This is good secularization.
So let us start this political year in the ACT Legislative Assembly with mutual respect and a commitment to true service of all in our care. Let us jettison all extremist attitudes and seek the platform that best serves the interests of the common good. Let us allow the transcendent value of mercy be a predominate feature of our human attitudes towards others.
May you all feel the encouragement and true solidarity in prayer we feel towards you in this ecumenical prayer gathering.
6TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR A)
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL
SUNDAY, 16 FEBRUARY 2014
ECC.15:15-20, 1COR2:6-10, MATT. 5:17-27
We welcome in a particular way to our Mass this morning a delegation of lawyers, politicians, and judges. They have accepted an invitation from the St Thomas More Forum, a pastoral activity of the St Thomas More Parish, Campbell. We welcome their Parish Priest, Fr Julian Wellspring and thank parishioners, Mr Bill Mason and Gerald Santucci, for this pastoral initiative. It has my full support. I hope it grows in the years ahead as a contribution of bringing the living Gospel afresh into the legal profession here in the Archdiocese.
May I say to everyone, but particularly to those from the legal profession, just three simply points.
First, please feel my encouragement and prayer. As 2014 opens up, let us all open ourselves to the values and attitudes of the Kingdom of God. These transcendent values give us a broad panorama from which we may examine the challenges we encounter every day. With Jesus truly alive in our hearts, we can call on his mercy and love to be men and women of true wisdom and prudence.
Secondly, may I ask you humbly to real give extra time and compassionate consideration to the poor and marginalized that you meet in your professions and neighborhoods. We can so easily dismiss those who cannot express themselves well, or cannot financially afford seeking professional help. Let us not be too dismissive of them. Following Jesus’ example, let us be patient and show solidarity to the favorites of Jesus – the poor. They present themselves to us in all types of different disguises every day.
Lastly, I beg you, do all you can to protect human life from conception to natural death. This is a major ethical/political/legal moral issue of our times. Please avoid extremes. On the one hand, to have little to no legal protection for human life in the womb is a sign of a societal malaise. It can also be a threat to the religious freedoms of others. On the other hand, to give legal rights to the elderly and suffering to deliberately end their life by euthanasia is totally unacceptable ethically. I appreciate these are complex moral issues, but the dignity of the human person must be preserved at all costs.
Providentially, the Gospel today continues for another Sunday our reflections on Matthew 5, the Sermon on the Mount – the links between the Gospel and the law.
Jesus makes it quite clear: “I have come not to abolish (the Law or the prophets) but to complete them” (Matt 5/17).
The law Jesus inherits tends to stress the externals of the faith. That is, it answers the question: “What are we to do or not to do?”We can call this the external teacher. It is clear and directive. Jesus accepts all this.
But, as always, Jesus goes deeper – to the heart. He gives us another teacher as well: the internal teacher. It seems St Paul refers to the essence of this in the Second Reading from 1Corinthians. He says:”the Spirit reaches the depths of everything, even the depths of God.”(2/10)
The internal teacher is the Spirit of the Living God dwelling deep within us all. Through prayer, stillness, the Sacraments, Grace and Faith, we can be in touch with our human depths. This is where we can start to talk about conscience. It is also where we can start to talk about sin and conversion.
So we have two teachers given to us to guide us in life – the internal and external teachers. Having just the external teacher is not enough. We become robotic in the end. Having just the internal teacher is also not enough. We become selfish and self-absorbed. We need both.
This is what Jesus is saying in the Gospel with the expressions: “You have learnt how it was said …… But I say this to you ….”
For example: “You shall not kill” (external teacher). Then “anyone who is angry with his brother” (internal teacher). Again, “You must not commit adultery”(external teacher). Then “if a man looks at a woman lustfully …(internal teacher)
It is Jesus himself, living in us, who brings the two teachers together in perfect harmony. The closer we are to Jesus, the better we are able to respond both individually and collectively to the urgent human demands and challenges we must face every day.
In this Eucharist, let us now ask Jesus to go even deeper within us. Let us never stop praying and keeping our eyes and hearts on Jesus alone. We want to live proper Christian lives and therefore truly human lives. Receiving his living Word and the Eucharist that nourishes us, may we face the challenges of the week ahead with courage and hope.
ESTABLISHMENT OF MISSIONARIES OF GOD’S LOVE (MGL)
AS A RELIGIOUS INSTITUTE OF DIOCESAN RIGHT
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL, CANBERRA
SATURDAY, 8 FEBRUARY 2014
ZEPHANIAH 3:14-18, PSALM 127, 2 CORINTHIANS 4:1-2, 5-7, LUKE 4:14-22
He will exult with joy over you,
He will renew you by his love.
The prophet Zephaniah helpfully locates the biblical word that perhaps best summaries our feelings at this historic moment of the establishment of the Missionaries of God’s Love (MGL) as a Religious Institute of Diocesan Right. That word is JOY.
The God of all mercies exults with joy over us all and renews us in his love in this Mass. He feeds us with his Living Word. He nourishes us with his Body and Blood. “By an act of mercy”, as phrased in the Second Reading, God looks on all that has brought us to this moment. His food for the journey feeds us for the pilgrimage ahead.
The Spirit of the Living God has brought us to this moment. It is indeed historic not just for the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn but for the entire Catholic Church in Australia. It is not often that a new Religious Institute – totally Australian in inspiration and development – is formed in our new but ancient land. It is all a grace of God. This grace has been responded to by faith-filled men and women. We are indeed filled with joy.
The historical genesis of the Missionaries of God’s Love is well articulated. In 1986, Fr Ken Barker along with three young men experienced a call to the priesthood that was to be expressed within the Disciples of Jesus, Catholic Covenant Community. This charismatic community is an expression of an extraordinary impulse of the Holy Spirit in recent decades that we now call the New Ecclesial Movements. In this instance, the Disciples of Jesus are families, singles and priests who are united under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to lead a common life of prayer, sharing and service.
It is this impulse of Grace that formed the womb from which was born the Missionaries of God’s Love.
It is difficult to imagine arriving at his point today without the ongoing docility to the Holy Spirit of Fr Ken Barker, the founder and moderator, the community, and also the paternal guidance of the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, particularly the former Archbishop, Francis Carroll. Whoever these founding personalities are, however, I am sure that they would resonate with the sentiments of St Paul in the Second Reading today:
We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure,
to make it clear that such an overwhelming power
comes from God and not from us.
Shortly, we will witness many priests and brothers of the Missionaries of God’s Love professing public vows of poverty, chastity and obedience before God and his people, hence establishing themselves as a Religious Institute of Diocesan Right. We pray for them and we encourage them. We thank them for their humble witness of God’s love within them.
In a faint shadow of Our Divine Master, Jesus, in today’s Gospel, they too in their charism have found the place in the Prophet Isaiah where it is written:
The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
For he has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring the god news to the poor,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And to the blind new sight,
To set the downtrodden free,
To proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.
In this Mass each Missionary of God’s Love will publically dedicate their lives to preaching the Good News of Jesus, and to opening their lives to the fire of God’s love. They will consecrate their lives to the wounded heart of Jesus broken open for the salvation of the world. They will place their lives under the mantle of Mary, Mother of God.
All this takes place at a time when these Gospel themes are stressed more than ever in our Catholic life. We are surely living in a golden age of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost lives on in the midst of the “terrors of the night” encircling the People of God today. The magisterial teaching of recent Popes have made these fundamental themes paradigmatic for the Church’s way forward. Even in the new pontificate of Pope Francis the expression “missionary discipleship”, so close to the charism of the MGLs, is a favoured expression.
The Australian born Missionaries of God’s love offer the world the hope and joy of the Gospel. They witness to the charismatic dimension of the Church. They find apostolic energy in Eucharistic adoration and deep contemplation.
In essence, they witness to the experience of God’s love for us all. It is their prime kerygmatic gift to the Church. It enriches the Church with deeper holiness.
Their numerical growth has been impressive, especially by Australia’s standards. Despite what pessimists say regarding the religious profile of youth today, they are clearly feeding the deep and raw spiritual hungers in the youth of Australia and now beyond. All of us must look and listen carefully at what is taking place here. It is a work of the Holy Spirit in action.
May the Missionaries of God’s love continue to seek out the presence of Jesus, especially in the poor of our world. The poor are God’s microphones. They shout out clearly to all who care to listen where Jesus can be found most fully. In the discovery of this new manger at Bethlehem we find Jesus, who became poor so that we might become rich. We also find Mary, the Mother of God.
May Mary, the Star of the New Evangelisation, guide and protect the Missionaries of God’s love from all harm as they journey towards Calvary with the suffering Christ. May the eyes and hearts of these contemplatives in action always be fixed on ONLY JESUS, ALWAYS JESUS, FOREVER JESUS.
11am MASS, ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL
SUNDAY 2 FEBRUARY
The PRESENTATION of the LORD (YEAR A)
Malachi 3:1-4; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40
Today we celebrate the beautiful and tender feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the temple. It’s one of the joyful mysteries of the Rosary and is much loved by Christians throughout the world over the centuries.
This feast day celebrates 40 days since Christmas. On this feast day we will remember how Mary and Joseph present the child Jesus to God in the temple. Here the Holy Family follow the Jewish rituals of the purification of the mother of a child after birth. And also to consecrate the first born male to God.
Of course, this is not any child to be presented but is THE child. In this Mass we have gone out to meet the Lord to welcome him into the temple with the blessing of candles. Yet in another sense this child is the one who gives the light and enlightens us all for he is indeed the light of the world. Let us all go out to receive now the light of Christ in the beginning of 2014 as we come back from our holidays and go back to our normal routine.
But I can hear some of you saying “Thanks Archbishop but I’m ok, I don’t need to deepen my relationship with God. Thanks all the same!”
Let us review this attitude. It is so much off the mark.
I remember some years ago a woman spoke to me of her experience having both her eye cataracts removed. It happened over a period of weeks. One cataract was removed before the other.
She mentioned to me that she didn’t want this operation to happen in the first place. She was continuing to say to her children: “I’m fine thanks very much I can see very well”. But her children persisted. They said: “Mum you don’t seem to realise it but you are going blind!”
Reluctantly she acceded to her children’s strong wishes and she had the cataract operations.
A month after the operations I was speaking to her. She said something like the following.
“I didn’t know how bad my sight was until I had the cataracts removed. Now I can see as if for the first time! I was looking at life through the dirty windows of my eyes. But now!! – the light is so strong. It is so strong I need to wear sunglasses. How wonderful life is!”
I wonder if our relationship with Jesus can be very similar to this lovely lady’s testimony. We can be smug and say we have reached the depth of our relationship with God. But without knowing it, we could be moving towards spiritual blindness just as this lovely lady was moving towards physical blindness.
Spiritual blindness is why we need this Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the temple. The Lord comes to us as the light of the world. Simeon and Anna were waiting for many, many years for the light of the world to come. Through their contemplative waiting they see hope in this small child Jesus. They realise the future salvation of the world is coming upon them in the child Jesus. They encounter Jesus with great joy.
One of my favourite prayers in the New Testament, and it is only found in Luke’s Gospel, is what we now call Nunc Dimitis
“Now Master you can let your servant go in peace, just as you promised; because my eyes have seen the salvation which we’ve prepared for all the nations to see, a light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel.”
So let us accept deeply in this Mass the beautiful prayer of Simeon and acclaim Jesus Christ as the light and hope of our lives.
With Christ enlightening our minds and hearts, he will lead us in the joys and sorrows of 2014. Let us place our full confidence in him.