Homilies – October 2014



I suppose most of us have heard the expression “I love God, but its people I have trouble with!” I suppose sometimes we have even heard ourselves say this in one shape or other.

However, today’s Gospel makes it quite clear that the love of God and the love of neighbour are inseparable.

As of last week in regard to the issue of tax, we also see today the religious leaders trying to trap Jesus with their questioning.  To their question, “Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Lord,” Jesus tells them something that they would have known from their earliest moments of religious life.  The commandment of “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind,” is the highest of all the religious commandments.  This prayer would have been prayed many times, every day by every pious Jew.  I suppose it’s a little similar to the frequency in which we pray the Our Father or the Hail Mary.

But to this commandment, Jesus raises up another commandment which was also well known, but perhaps didn’t have the same profile.  This commandment “You must love your neighbour as yourself,” is placed by Jesus not as a second commandment, but in fact as the second part of the first commandment.  It’s almost as if there is one commandment with two aspect to it.  Loving God and loving neighbour cannot be separated.  They are together.  This is the newness of the Christian message.  Jesus elevates the love of God and the love of the needy neighbour on the same level.

The motivating force of this, of course, is love.  At the end of the first reading, from Exodus, we hear God saying “I will listen, for I am full of pity.”  This word “pity” is quite different in the Bible as to the way we use it here in Australian English.

I suppose nobody really wants to be pitied.  However, in the Bible, pity is another word for intense compassion.  Jesus has intense compassion for us, especially for those on the margins and on the peripheries.  Here “The least” is where the Lord stands.  Although listening to all the children of God, He listens most carefully for those who have no voice and no capacity to express themselves clearly.

I suppose here in Australia we sometimes use the expression when something moves us deeply, and we say “I felt sick in the stomach.” This starts to approximate what the Bible is talking about here.  It’s the motivating force of all our outreach.  It is deeper than passing emotions.  It is the love of God entering deep into us while His mercy enables us to be loving and merciful to those in the world.

I remember once reading something about Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  She tells of her, and her sisters visiting a very poor family.  They had no food.  She bought with her a bowl or rice for them.  When she returned the next day she found out that the family had shared half the bowl of rice to the family next door, for they were also very hungry.  She commented that the poor themselves can show us how to respond compassionately.  In giving half of that in which they needed, they show the heart of God’s compassion to us all.

Let us now move towards the Eucharist, our Sunday Mass.  Let us know that the Lord will feed us with His Eucharist and that we are to be His Eucharist in the week that’s still to come.  We share that which we have been given by Jesus.

Let us particularly learn from St Theresa Lisieux.  The Little Flower tells us to do ordinary things, but with extraordinary love.

Ultimately, that is the meaning of today’s readings.



READINGS: ISAIAH 4:5, 1, 4-6, 1 THESSALONIANS 1:1-5, MATTHEW 22:15-21

We welcome particularly to our Mass today those involved in the pilgrimage of Mary this afternoon.  They have made a Corpus Christi procession whilst praying the rosary from Narrabundah to the Cathedral, and we welcome them.

In today’s Gospel we hear the familiar expression of Jesus “Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.”

Jesus speaks very clearly on the matter pertaining to the political and religious dimensions of our lives.  He speaks clearly and boldly.  At the same time, there is a courtesy and respect in His response to those who have asked Him questions to trap Him.

The religious leaders of the time had wanted to trap Jesus into either making a response that is against the Roman Empire, or making a response that will place Him into difficulties with the local leadership.

They have asked Him very blunt and direct questions in trying to trap Him.  There is arrogance in their questions.  They don’t really care what His answer might be, they just want to trap Him.

There is a real lesson for life in this dialogue of today’s Gospel.

There are some similarities between today’s Gospel and Pope Francis’s recent address at the opening of the Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome in recent days.

At the start of the Synod on the 6th of October 2014, Pope Francis spoke to all those gathered in Rome and asked them to respect the basic conditions for a Synod.  The basic conditions are two-fold, according to Pope Francis.

The first condition for “Walking together in the Synod,” is that everybody should have the freedom to speak clearly.  Speaking clearly means that they should not succumb to a temptation of not saying something that they really want to say.  They might be fearful about what other people think about their contribution.  Pope Francis even uses a Greek word to emphasis this.  The Greek word is “Parrhesia”.  It means to speak candidly and to have a freedom to speak out for the common good.  This is something that the Pope encourages.

But the second condition must also attach itself to this bold speaking.

The second condition, according to the Pope, is for us to “Listen with humility and accept with an open heart.”

It could be said that the religious leaders in today’s Gospel spoke boldly, but they did not listen with humility or with an open heart.  In fact there was a great arrogance in what they were saying.  On the other hand, Jesus spoke boldly in His response to them yet.  There was humility and a respect in the way He responded to them.

Here in Australia, I think most Anglo-Saxon Australians have no difficulty in speaking boldly.  We have a reputation internationally of speaking our mind.  So the first condition is met!  But there would be a question mark about the second condition – do we speak humbly and with an open heart.  When we speak out boldly on all sorts of matters here in Australia, do we realise that our contribution might not be the only contribution?  Others might have very important contributions to make, which, in humility, may mean that we need to revise our opinions.  We need to be careful not to become like those in the Gospel that speak boldly but with arrogance.  We are to “Speak the truth in charity” as the scripture calls us to.

When so many are gathered in the Cathedral today to honour Mary, we can well look to Mary as a wonderful example of discipleship in this area.  She both speaks boldly, and at the same time with great humility and an open heart.

Mary speaks boldly when she responds to the angel’s invitation to be the Mother of God.  In her candid response she says “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what God wants be done in me.” Also in the wedding feast in Cana, she speaks boldly to the attendants when she says to them, “Do whatever He tells you.” Continually Mary speaks boldly, but at all times humbly.

We see her humility in the fact that her words are not recorded a great deal in scriptures.  But she is always present.  It is a non-verbal presence.  She does not speak, for example, at the foot of the Calvary Cross.  However, there is a great boldness in her just being there, and immense humility in taking her Son off the Cross, embracing Him in the first Pieta.

Let us learn from Mary, let us follow her way of discipleship and evangelisation.  Particularly here in Australia, let us speak of the wonders of the Lord with courage and prudence.  At the very same time, let us always imitate Mary’s humility and tenderness of heart.  May her loving kindness guide us in the days ahead.



READINGS: ISAIAH 25:6-8, PHILIPPIANS 4:12-14, 19-20, MATTHEW: 22:1-14

I’m delighted to be with you all this morning on the 150th anniversary of St Mary’s, Bombala.

All of us come together crowded with memories of God’s presence over these years.

My eye is immediately drawn to the final verses of the first reading of the Prophet Isaiah.  Here the Prophet says “This is our God in whom we hope for salvation; the Lord is the One in whom we hoped.  We exult and we rejoice that He has saved us: for the hand of the Lord rests on this mountain.”

This beautiful expression “For the hand of the Lord rests on this mountain, “might be a way that we can express our thanks to God for 150 years of His presence in this Catholic parish.  This Church rests on the side of a mountain.  Over these 150 years we can just imagine the Sacraments that have been celebrated here in good times and in bad for the people over many generations.  We can recall too, the long lists of priests who have served in this parish over the 150 years.  As I’ve more recently read thoroughly the history of this place, I’ve observed that the priests appointed here generally have not remained very long!  What have you done with them!?  Regardless of this, the fact of the matter is the Church has planted itself here sacramentally.  A vibrant Christian community over these generations has flourished.

I also acknowledge the presence in our Mass today of many Josephite nuns.  St Mary of the Cross MacKillop herself has visited this parish twice.  She established the convent here way back in 1888.  Over these years there have literally been dozens and dozens of generous Josephite nuns who have offered education to the children of this parish and cared for and looked after the poor and the marginalised.  We think especially of Sr Teresa, here present.  The priests, the nuns, and dedicated lay people over many generations have truly enabled the hand of the Lord to rest on this place.  We thank the Lord for this great blessing.

But we not only need to look to the past.  We can think of the present as well.  Indeed, it’s important for us to look to the present and not merely the past, otherwise today’s anniversary simply becomes a “remember when” celebration.  This would not be complete.  For the Kingdom of God always takes us forward to the future with great hope.

In regard to the present moment, I think of an expression from the Second Reading.  It very beautifully expresses so many of our thoughts.  Here St Paul says, “There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the One who gives me strength.”  Here it is present tense.  “The One who GIVES me strength.  The Lord continually gives us strength.  Even though the demographics of this place have changed and the numbers have diminished; even though the numbers seem to be fewer and people more elderly; nonetheless, God gives us strength in the present moment.  It is always the story of hope in our Christian faith as it is lived out.

I was given a great deal of hope yesterday afternoon when I arrived.  I have never been to Bombala before but when I arrived at the parish I could immediately see that all the lawns and the gardens had been beautifully maintained and prepared for today’s celebrations.  As I went over to the Church to visit the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, I could see that the Church was beautifully cleaned.  There were no cobwebs in the ceiling!  There were beautiful flowers arranged on the sanctuary.  Everything was in preparation for today’s celebrations.  A whole team of people must have prepared the Church and the parish grounds for this day.  I thank you for giving practical expression to your living faith that gives you strength.

Some of you were kind enough to invite me for a lovely meal at a private home last night.  There were a number of members of the parish council present. Hospitality, many laughs and testimonies of faith were shared about the parish in the present time.  Thank you for giving me a witness of the Catholic faith amongst you.  I was particularly pleased to see how you do try to outreach to the poor and those struggling in the area to bring them the consolation and solace of Christ’s practical love.

There is always a future for our parish and our Catholic Church. God is our future.  He is made present in Jesus Christ.

A future reflection is found in the Gospel today.   It’s the story of a wedding feast which Jesus compares with the Kingdom of God.

Those that have been invited become indifferent to the invitation to the wedding feast.  But we must never be indifferent to our faith.  On this 150th anniversary of the parish, it is a bit like the renewal of marriage vows of the parish with the Lord who has animated us with grace and faith over these many years.

In regard to the future, I think a good lesson can be drawn from the naming of this parish.  I always am drawn to the name of a parish.  And the name of this parish is a beautiful one.  It is Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament.  What a wonderful title.  It links Mary and Jesus with the Eucharist.  Both outside and inside the church there are some lovely statues of Mary holding the baby Jesus, who in turn is holding the Blessed Sacrament in the ciborium.  This gives us an important link between Marian devotion, which draws our gaze to Jesus, who forever will be our Blessed Sacrament made present at every Mass that is celebrated.

The Eucharist is the very centre of our Catholic faith.

This image of our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament reminds me of a deep expression used by St John Paul II in one of his Marian statements. He says that the pregnant Mary on her way to visit Elizabeth during the Visitation is a little like Mary becoming a ‘walking tabernacle.’  This image immediately requires our prayerful reflection.  The pregnant Mary is a living tabernacle or a living monstrance.  The statues in this church view Jesus as a little child in the arms of Mary carrying the Eucharist.  But, the pregnant Mary says exactly the same thing in another wonderful way.  In the pregnant Mary we find both Marian devotion, centrality of Jesus and the sacrament of the Eucharist all coming together in her walking out towards her cousin Elizabeth in an act of charity.  In a sense, the entire Christian Catholic apostolate is summarised in this beautiful image. I have seen statues and images of pregnant Mary in Nazareth in the Basilica of the Annunciation and other places in the Holy Land.  I’ve yet to see a holy picture or a statue of the pregnant Mary here in Australia.  I look forward to artists and sculptors being able to enact such a work of religious art.  It is most evocative and leads us to understand our theology in a profound, three dimensional manner.

So as we now move onto the Eucharist that is given to us in the embrace of Mary and the love of Jesus, we recommit this parish of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament to the Lord for the many years ahead.  We proclaim like Mary the majesty of God in our own Magnificat echoing her words that the Lord’s name is always to be proclaimed as HOLY.  Let us never stop proposing the fragrance and the radiance of Jesus to Bombala and beyond.




Today the predominant image in the Scriptures is of a Vineyard.  In Canberra and surrounding areas we are aware of vineyards and good grape growing districts producing great wines.  At the same time, in Rome later this afternoon, Pope Francis will open the Extraordinary General Assembly  Synod on Marriage and Family Life.  Pope Francis has asked the Church Universal to pray with him for this important ecclesial event.  Particularly this coming Friday, we will join all our brothers and sisters throughout the Catholic world in praying for God’s blessing upon the Synod through Prayer and Fasting.

Indeed, there are considerable similarities between the scripture readings today on the image of the Lord’s vineyard and the calling together of this important Synod on Marriage and Family Life.

The first point would be concerning Gift and Responsibility.

A vineyard in its essence is a gift from God.  In the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah, we hear of a vineyard on a fertile hillside.  We also hear of rain coming down upon the vineyard.  These are sheer and utter gifts from God.  You cannot imagine a vineyard without them.

At the same time, it is a responsibility.  Those that grow the vineyard are seen in the first reading to “build the tower, … dug a press…”.

At the same time marriage and family life is a gift from God.  Spousal love of husband and wife is essentially a gift from God.  Any children that might come from this love union are Gifts from God.

At the same time, they are a huge responsibility for the parent.  Ask any parent about this responsibility and they will give you an immediate answer!  It’s more than just feeding and clothing the child for example.  It’s loving the child arising from the love of husband and wife.

The second point is that of protecting God’s gifts.

We find in the Gospel today from Matthew that there are many threats to the vineyard that require constant vigilance and protection from evil. We hear of the story of the owner who sent his servants to the tenants to collect the produce.  We hear a terrible story developing.  “The tenant seized his servants, thrashed one, killed another and stoned a third.  Greater number of servants came and they were “dealt with in the same way.”  Finally, the landowner sent his own son.  But even here “they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.”  Clearly we are seeing the parable here reflecting the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

We all know that there are plenty of threats to married and family life in the world today.  That is why the Pope is calling the Synod, which will be followed up by another Synod next year on the same topic.

Pope Francis even describes the cultural and social issues pressing down upon married and family life today as a “pastoral emergency.”  All of us are aware of these issues and over the next few years the Church wants to articulate what these threats to family life are and to find out from our Scripture and Tradition, ways of being able to respond to this new “emergency”.

The third point is pertaining to the Mission.  The mission of a vineyard is to produce good grapes and therefore good wine.  But it appears in the first reading at least, that the vineyard was expected to yield good grapes but it yielded “sour grapes instead”.

The married and family life is also to produce the “good grapes” of love, stability and human  values that perfume our shared humanity in this world.

We must not forget the teachings of the Popes over many years now that society comes by way of the family.  When we do all we can to protect family in marital life, we protect good societal life.  Challenges to family life are also challenges to societal life.  This connection between family and society is often down played.  This should not happen.  We must see that this fundamental unit in society has been with us for millennia and does have a direct effect on good and harmonious societies.  Failure to do so does present us with a “pastoral emergency.”

As we go on with the Mass, let us be united in our prayers and encouragement and solidarity with all trying to protect family and marital life.  Let us pray for the Synod and for the deliberations of our leaders over these years.  Let us think in our local communities too on how we can support and encourage family life in very challenging times.  May we always care for the vineyard of the Lord. We know at all times that it is a great gift and responsibility in the midst of encircling threats.  But our mission is always to produce good grapes that produce a good society.