Homilies – August 2016

Wisdom 18:6-9 Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19  Luke 12:32-48

  Today’s readings all speak about the importance of faith and defining faith.

We can certainly begin an understanding of the readings by putting into a question the first line of the First Reading.

That question would be as follows: What kind of oaths-promises have we put our trust in?

When your mind starts to relax, where does your mind tend towards? Often people say that the answer to this question indicates where our real “god” is! When we are relaxed, does our mind go towards things of this earth, or the things of the world to come? The important statement of the Gospel Reading today from Luke is so important here: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

In today’s distracted world, we can so easily focus on the things of this earth to the real neglect of things that are to come. But the reading suggests that we must always be ready for the world to come. We must always “Be ready to open the door as soon as he comes and knocks.” We Christians believe that we are between the First and the Second Coming of Jesus. When Jesus comes again in His glory, we do not know. But we must be ready for this to happen. The Second Reading today from Hebrews is very helpful here. Those with faith are praised for “recognising that we are only strangers and nomads on earth.”

In regard to defining faith, the Scriptures give us, in the Second Reading today, the great examples of faith of Abraham and Sarah. I have always felt close to the description of Abraham who, “obeyed the call to set out for a country that was the inheritance given to him and his descendants and that he set out without knowing where he was going.” To set out, not knowing where you are going, but only trusting in the Lord, is the sign of a real person of faith. Let us pray for faith in this Mass.  Sarah, too, is described as, “in spite of being past the age, was made able to conceive, because she believed that he who had made the promise would be faithful to it.”

When God makes a promise, He never breaks His promise and we are to be faithful to it. He may not answer that in the way that we want, but faith trusts that God knows better than ourselves.

I have just returned from World Youth Day in Poland. This time last week, I was concelebrating with a thousand other bishops, with the Holy Father, Pope Francis and one and a half million youth pilgrims, at the final Mass of the World Youth day in Krakow!

In his homilies over the World Youth Day, the Pope also spoke of the importance of faith and really challenged the youth in this area. He insisted that the young people be ready to take faith-risks in their life and not to move into a comfortable existence.

Pope Francis called the youth, and indeed all of us, to move away from our “couch

potato” existence. He observed that too many young people today are taking “early retirement” from life and spend far too much time in front of the television or their computer screen! I’m sure that can be said of all of us!

Being in Poland for the two weeks, our youth delegation from this Archdiocese and the many thousands of youth delegations from around the world were given the great example of faith of St John Paul II, St Maximilian Kolbe and St Faustina Kowalska. The history of Poland has been a very troubled one. The Catholic faith has been challenged over the centuries. In the more recent century, it has had to face the challenge of the three “isms”. There has been “ism” of Nazism coming from Western Europe, followed quickly afterwards by the “ism” of communism from Eastern Europe and Russia particularly, and now they are in the midst of responding to the “ism” of secularism, like most of us in the developed world. But the more and more that the Polish people have been challenged, the stronger and stronger the Catholic faith has been nurtured.

So let us pray for faith in this Mass, for a deeper faith.

I leave you with an interesting fact of the life of St Maximilian Kolbe that I never knew before. Before he was arrested in his friary, because of his Catholic activism he was tortured by the Nazi soldiers. In his friary, before they took him away to the concentration camp, they punched him. In reflecting on this later, St Maximilian said that the more they punched him, the stronger his Catholic faith evolved. They were trying to punch the faith out of him; in fact it was having the opposite effect. Even when one of his colleagues started shouting at the soldiers doing this, he cautioned him not to become angry or verbally violent towards them. St Maximilian knew that hate can only be conquered by love and mercy. Ultimately, the faith is triumphant over the passing assaults of hollow ideologies.

So let us not become entrapped with ideologies in today’s Australian world that promise everything, but actually deliver nothing to the inner person. Indeed, they can often assault our dignity, and their promises often become banal and futile.

Let us pray, in the faith of St Faustina, as she said back to the loving presence of God coming deep in her heart with the simple response of us all, “Jesus, I trust in You.”


Jeremiah 38:4-6. 8-10 Hebrews 12:1-4 Luke 12:49-53

If you feel Christianity will offer you a life of fame and success, look for another religion!

It is quite clear from the readings today that faithfulness and conversion are more important than success and fame.

We can see this particularly in the First Reading from Jeremiah. The Prophet Jeremiah is in big trouble! The king of the time, King Zedekiah, seems such a weak leader. Jeremiah is calling people back to God. He is saying that the armies will be defeated because the people have not repented. Their hearts have gone astray. They have forgotten God. They have put themselves as ‘god’. This is a recipe for disaster.

The military leaders think this is a woeful message. They go to the king and say to him that “This fellow does not have the welfare of this people at heart so much as its ruin!” The weak king gives in. He says, “The king is powerless against you.”

So, Jeremiah is disposed of and is thrown into a pit. There is almost a sense of humour when we read that “There was no water in the well, only mud, and into the mud Jeremiah sank.” But then somebody outside the inner circle, Ebed-melech the Cushite comes to the rescue of Jeremiah. He intercedes with the king and tells the king that this is no way of treating a prophet of God. The king, clearly thinking about the next election, rather than the next generation, comes to his senses. He orders that Ebed-melech is to “take three men with you from here and pull the prophet Jeremiah out of the well before he dies.”

So Jeremiah’s life is in peril. But his message is timeless and very relevant to us today. God is God! There is no other! To put somebody else in place of God is sin. In the Second Reading it tells us, “Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection.” Once we lose sight of Jesus, we move into the biblical definition of sin. It is especially, “The sin that clings so easily!” All this places a decision before humanity to either choose God, or to choose ourselves; to choose grace, or to choose sin!

About three weeks ago I was with the World Youth Day delegation at a place just outside Warsaw in Poland. It was the monastery where St Maximilian Kolbe exercised his ministry as a Franciscan Conventual Priest. He was like a Jeremiah figure. He was furiously against the sinful ideology of Nazism. He was fearless. He managed a small printing component of his ministry in the monastery. There was also an underground radio system to beam out to his neighbours the truth, rather than the falsity of Nazism.

We all know what happened to Maximilian Kolbe eventually. He was taken to the Auschwitz concentration camp. When we visited the concentration camp, we were pointed to the place where he died. Maximilian Kolbe, like Jeremiah, was also placed into a pit with 10 others in punishment for the escape of three of the prisoners. He took the place of a man who was selected at random to be punished, along with nine others in punishment for those who escaped. The man selected yelled out, “My wife, my family. Who will look after them?” On hearing this, Maximilian Kolbe volunteered to take his place. And so he and the others were thrown into an underground bunker and left to starve. There was no food or hydration given to them. After two weeks, when the Nazi soldiers re-entered the bunker, they found only Maximilian Kolbe alive. They poisoned him and cremated him along with the others. Maximilian Kolbe was canonised by St John Paul II in Rome in 1981. He was declared a Martyr of Charity. At his canonisation was present the man whose place he took, along with his family and grandchildren.

But there is a story about Maximilian Kolbe that I did not know of when we visited his monastery just outside Warsaw. When he was trying his best to speak the truth in the midst of Nazi propaganda, the SS soldiers came into his office. I visited this office three week ago. It has become like a little shrine. The SS soldiers started to assault him; they punched him and slapped him. Every time they did that his faith grew stronger. Isn’t that most interesting? Eye-witnesses have indicated that the more he was assaulted, the stronger his faith became. Not only that, one of his Franciscan colleagues started to shout at soldiers and swear at them. I have learnt that Maximilian Kolbe asked his colleague to stop swearing and said that violence can only be responded to by mercy and forgiveness.

This inspiring story indicates once again, in accordance with today’s reading, that following Jesus will not lead to a life to and success!

One particular “battleground” is the area of marriage and family life here in Australia and indeed the developed world. There are so many ideological arguments against what you and I would describe as a stable and traditional marriage and family life. We must resist this with all our might! Resistance of this is by trying to correct falsehood with truth. It can never be a violent response, but must be based on mercy and forgiveness.

As I welcome all married couples and families at this special Mass today, I ask God’s blessing upon you. May you be given the strength to witness to the great institution that God has given us in marriage and family life, and protect it will all your might.

Isaiah 66:18-21, Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13, Luke 13:22-30

Over the centuries, Christians have found today’s Gospel troubling.

The question asked in the Gospel is a question many have asked, “Sir, will there only be a few saved?” The Lord doesn’t answer the question directly, but indirectly. He says, “Try your best to enter by the narrow door, because I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed.” There is then the story of people knocking at the door of the master’s house. The door is locked and the master replies, “I do not know where you come from. Away from me, all you wicked men!”

When this passage is looked at in isolation from the great themes of the Scripture, and indeed the great themes of Christian theology, it becomes troubling.

It appears that the image of God behind these statements is of a vengeful God, who lacks compassion and mercy. As we know, nothing could be further from the truth.

It brings out an important issue that when we read the Scripture, we should read it with the great themes of the Scripture and the great themes of our 2000 years of theology along side of us.

There could be nothing more certain than the Scriptures screaming out to us, in almost every line, that God is merciful and compassionate. Despite all this, many do have an image of God that is more like a boundary umpire or a boundary referee. He is the one who blows the whistle. He is the one who tells us that we are in or we are out!

That’s why we need the First Reading of today. The First Reading shows us the desire of God to gather people and to bring them into unity in His mercy. The first line from today’s reading says as much. ”The Lord says this: I am coming to gather the nations of every language.” And it goes on to talk about remote nations and distant islands that have, ”never heard of me or seen my glory”, are the ones to be proclaimed the glory of God.

The important point to note in all this is that God, who is mercy and love, gives us in His mercy and love one of the most fragile of all gifts – human freedom.

Australians are very confused about the notion of freedom today. The way it is often portrayed is that you can do anything you want; this is irresponsible. But the freedom that Jesus talks about is responsible freedom. Jesus takes the way we live out our freedom very seriously. Freedom is like a two-sided coin. On one side is the word ‘freedom’, but on the other side is the word ‘responsibility’. We have the “ability to respond”, which means responsibility.

Because He loves us, God gives us this freedom. If he didn’t do this, His love for us would be somehow or other manipulative and predestined. That is not love. Although God wants all of us to join with Him in heaven in eternal glory, He gives us the possibility of saying ‘No’ or saying ‘Yes’ to this. The ‘Yes’ is heavenly and the ‘No’ is hellish!

I think it was St Catherine of Sienna who said, “It is heaven all the way to heaven and hell all the way to hell.”  By this, she means that the little decisions we make every day,  form like dot points in our life, which can be linked up to form a line that is either moving our life towards heaven, or moving our life towards hell. We don’t need to wait for God to send us to heaven or hell; by the little and big decisions of our responsible freedom we are sending ourselves towards God or away from God by the way we dispose ourselves in our thinking and our everyday actions.

I like to think of one of the stories that Saint-to- be, Mother Teresa of Calcutta told us. With her canonisation just a few week’s away, we are recalling the great gift that she has been to us and the way she responsibly used her freedom to help others.

One day she went with her sisters to a very poor family. They brought a big bowl of rice as they understood that the mother and her children were near starving.

The next day, they returned to see how she was going with her children. They were very surprised to hear that she had given most of the rice away to her neighbours and only kept a bare amount for her and her children. The lady said to Mother Teresa that the others were in just as great a need as she was!

See how this woman responsibly used her freedom? She could have taken all the rice for herself, but she was very mindful too of the hunger of the people in her street. In the midst of her great need, she shows us how to go to heaven; how to responsibly use our freedom.

Let us think about this as the week starts to open up to us today. Let us think about the big issues of Australia, for example, refugees, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues, life issues and marriage and family concerns. But also, let us think about things nearer at home; things that we can do something about immediately, such as our own neighbours and their needs. Do you know your own neighbours, and your own families and their needs? Are you talking to all your family? Are you building bridges between each member of your family and trying to break down the walls of division and insensitivity?

In making our small, but important, attempts on a daily basis, we start to move towards heaven, or we start to move towards hell. With our eyes fixed on Jesus, let us always move heavenward with His grace, mercy and help.