Homily – September 2017

Sir 27:30-28:7, Romans 14:7-9, Matthew 18:21-35

Today’s readings present us with an important teaching on forgiveness.

It was the famous English poet of the 17th century Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744) who had this to say on forgiveness “to err is human, to forgive divine.” Alexander Pope acknowledges that humans sin and commit so many mistakes, it is only God who truly forgives. So therefore people who forgive act like God when they forgive. We can certainly resonate with this feeling regarding the difficulty of forgiving and knowing that only God can forgive through us.

From a biblical perspective, we find that a lack of forgiveness is described as a “foul thing”.

From first reading we hear “resentment and anger, these are foul things and both are found with the sinner”. We are to “forgive your neighbour the hurt he does you, and when you pray, your sins will be forgiven.”

In the Gospel of today from Matthew Jesus gives the whole matter of forgiveness even greater urgency and it really does become a biblical imperative.

When Peter asks the question about forgiveness and how many times one must forgive, Jesus used the expression “seventy-seven times.” In other words, all the time!

The parable is given of the man who owed ten thousand talents. I suppose we could think that this is two or three million dollars! An incredible amount. At once the servant asks for debt relief and pleads with the master to “Give me time.” To the servants amazement the master feels so sorry for him that he cancels the debt completely! This is an extravagant gesture of forgiveness.

Regrettably, however, when the servant goes out of the master’s house he meets up with somebody who owed him only one hundred denarii…maybe twenty dollars! He throttles the man and tells him to pay up. When he too is asked for some debt relief the servant refuses outright. This scandalises those who witness the event and they go back to the master. The master calls the servant back and refuses to cancel the debt because of his lack of forgiveness to others. “Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?”

The lesson to be drawn from this parable is that as God has forgiven us in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, so must we forgive each other. It is upon this that we will be judged ultimately. As Jesus says, “And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart.”

The human challenge of forgiveness is still with us, even though we have heard the biblical imperative to forgive.

I came across a good example of forgiveness just last week.

Pope Tawadross, the Coptic Orthodox Pope from Cairo, was visiting Canberra.

You may recall that over the last year several of his churches have been attacked and many people have been executed by terrorist minorities in the besieged city of Cairo.   It’s very dangerous to be a Christion there!

I was talking to some of the people who know the Pope personally and they told me about one of the more recent executions of Christians and the ransacking of their Church.

It was early this year in Cairo when 27 Christian people were killed because they refused to convert to a radical extremist movement.

They were told that they had to convert immediately or be executed. These brave people simply gathered together and began to pray the Our Father. They were executed immediately.

But what caught my ear was when one of the people from that area was telling me some of the follow up in that Church since then.

Apparently, some of the Christians who were not in the Church at the time of these executions lamented the fact that they too wanted to be martyrs and where disappointed that they were not in the Church! They were also now seeking out those who killed there friends, in an effort to offer them forgiveness for their crimes!

Isn’t that incredible! Looking for the murderers to forgive them! The persecuted Church certainly understands the Lord’s imperative to forgive those who do harm to us!

We too must try and move on the road to forgiveness and conversion like these wonderful Christians from Cairo, in response to the Lords biblical demands for forgiveness.

I do recall once trying to help a lady who had a deep seeded anger and hatred towards a person who had hurt her terribly in her life.

I indicated to her that perhaps she could begin by imagining the way that Jesus, full of mercy and forgiveness, looks at that person rather than the way she looks at that person.

I think this is the first step on the long road to forgiveness. Praying for those that hurt us and asking Jesus to help us to see them the way that he sees them. Jesus certainly sees their sinfulness and possible criminal behaviour, but at the same time, the Lord who is merciful forgiveness, moves us beyond the dead-end street of perpetual hatred and vengence.

Let’s pause for a moment now in silence and pray for people who we find hard to love and ask Jesus to help us to see them as he sees them…(silence) 

Archbishop Christopher Prowse
Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn



Jer 20:7-9, Romans 12:1-2, Matthew 16:21-27

In last Sunday’s Gospel St Peter was described as the Rock of the Church. In today’s Gospel he has become a stone in the shoe of the Master!

It is Father’s Day. We pray for all Fathers, particularly those present in the Church today. In a sense, St Peter is a real Father of the Church. You may recall last Sunday’s Gospel from Matthew 16. We need to place that together with today’s Gospel which immediately follows. I suppose if St Peter was to look back on that encounter with the Lord he might say “I only got it half right!” The Lord has taught St Peter a real lesson in what it truly means to be a Christian disciple.

Last week’s Gospel from Matthew 16 was a real graced moment for St Peter. In response to the Lord’s question “Who do you say that I am?” St Peter gave an answer that only could come from the Grace of God, “You are the Son of the Living God.”

From such a graced moment the Lord gave St Peter, a man full of faith, the responsibility of being the “Rock” of the Church. Let us remember that Jesus described this responsibility as being a rock in “My Church.” May we never forget that it is the Lord’s Church and it is he who has inaugurated our Church.

However, in this week’s Gospel, the moment of joy and tremendous consolation has changed to something far more serious.

Jesus begins to explain to his disciples that he is “destined to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, to be put to death and to be raised up on the third day.”

St Peter was appalled at such a thought. The word he used in his response to Jesus was that he “started to remonstrate with him.” This word “remonstrate” is a strong word. Even in today’s modern English it is a strong word. It is a firm protest by Peter of what Jesus has just said to the disciples. Peter says “Heaven preserve you, Lord, this must not happen to you.”

Immediately there is a swift and somewhat brutal response from Jesus when he says to Peter “Get behind me, Satan! You are and obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.”

An obstacle in my path seems to suggest almost like a stone in the shoe of the Master. Peter is trying to prevent Jesus from being the suffering servant of God.

All of us are on a pilgrimage to the Father’s House, but it must be via Mount Calvary. We can’t have Christ without Calvary. This is something that all of us struggle with. It’s something that, at the start, St Peter particularly struggled with. However, we know at the end of his life he in fact offered his own life via crucifixion by being a disciple of Jesus. He certainly learnt the cost of discipleship ultimately!

And so must we.

All of us must learn the double dimension of Christianity – both the joy and the suffering.

In the First Reading today, Jeremiah gives us an indication of this. He describes God in this way “You have seduced me, Lord, and I have let myself be seduced…I am a daily laughing-stock, everybody’s butt.”

The word “seduced” is a strong word! In Australian English it normally has a sexual meaning. But in the Biblical meaning of it, it’s more that God has totally captivated and, as it were, swept the prophet Jeremiah off his feet. But this hasn’t all been lightness and happiness! There’s the anticipation of the Calvary road there and Jeremiah becoming a “daily laughing-stock.”

We too are captivated by the Lord but also struggle with the Calvary Cross that he leads us to. This is particularly the case right now in Australian society.

All of us feel that we have moved into a new type of change of era in our developed world, as Pope Francis phrases it.

Some commentator’s call it a “Liquid Society.” It seems as if the principles and sign posts and compass points are all on the move or have been dismantled. We see this in the public issues now so strongly and clearly before our minds and hearts in these days. Issues like Same Sex Marriage, Euthanasia, Abortion, Education funding, all of these and so many more make us feel afraid and withdrawn. We find the cost of discipleship very, very hard indeed! We wonder what to do next!

St Paul in the Second Reading gives us a wonderful word of advice. It’s almost as if this ancient text has been written just last week for us Australians.

St Paul says in the Second Reading “Do not model yourselves on the behaviour of the world around you, but let your behaviour change, modelled by your new mind.”

It is this “new mind” that we pray for. It is to be the mind of Christ. We pray that God will give us this mind and courage in our hearts in these days of great ethical flux.

Let us be courageous and close to the Lord in these troubled times! Even if it means that we become a “daily laughing-stock.” So be it!

We must always be respectful in our discussions and never resort to intolerance or a lack of dialogue. However, we must not surrender the great values and Gospel ways that we treasure and know to be part of the essential nature of Christianity.

We pray to God in this Mass for an increase of Faith.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse
Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn