Homily – November 2018

Dan 12: 1-13, Heb 10: 11-14, 18, Mark 13: 24-32

Over the next few weeks the Liturgy of the Word will focus on the “End Times.”  Despite this expression’s tone, its predominant and underlying message is one of hope and trust in God in all things.

This type of biblical tone or writing is called “Apocalyptic Literature.”  On one level there seems to be a disintegration of all that gives us stability.  The goal posts of society seem to be collapsing and there appears to be no compass points to guide people.  The secure values and principles of the past don’t seem to exist in the present.

If you think this sounds familiar with regard to today’s state of affairs, you’re right!  Many social commentators even use the description “Apocalyptic times of today!” 

Whereas social commentators often leave us in despair and pessimism, apocalyptic literature in the scriptures leave us with great hope and trust in God.

We receive a clear sense of this in the First Reading from the Book of Daniel who talks about “a time of great distress” to be encountered.  The important aspect of the readings today is from the Gospel when Jesus also talks about how “the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”  He then concludes by saying such beautiful soothing and wonderful words…”Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”  Ultimately God wins!  The victory of Jesus on the Cross wins out in the storms of the passing ages.

In these tumultuous times, the scriptures tell us one thing very clearly.  That is, “Stay close to the poor!”

Let us recall that in God’s Kingdom the Last will become the First, the Lost will become the Found, and the Least will become the Greatest.  The little ones are always God’s favourites and they are the first to receive, in trust and hope, the good news of Christ’s victory over all.

So let us all stay close to the poor.  May I offer three dimensions.

Firstly, it is the month of November.  A very important act of charity and mercy is to pray for those who have died, especially in the month of November.  Today particularly we pray for the deceased Archbishops and Priests of the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn.  May I invite you to join me in the Chapel Crypt under the Cathedral immediately after Mass to offer special prayers for our deceased leaders.

Secondly, today is the 2nd World Day for the Poor.  This is to be a yearly celebration initiated last year by Pope Francis.  We welcome particularly today the secular Franciscans who are here at this Mass in considerable numbers.  They help us to focus on the needs of the poor with their Franciscan spirituality.  Secular Franciscans are lay people who strive to live their lives in closeness to the poor.  There is an abundance of explanatory literature around the Cathedral today if you wished to learn more and become involved.

Thirdly, we think particularly about those on the journey towards the Priesthood.  Today two of our Seminarians, Mark Ha and Foliga Etuale, both coming from very humble origins in Vietnam and Samoa, are going to receive publically the Ministry of Lector.  They will promise to love the Word of God and to proclaim it with the grace and power which is at the living heart of the scriptures.

We pray for them.

Finally, could I offer a lovely story that I have come across recently from a poor man.  There is great treasure in the stories of the poor and I find this one especially valuable.

It is about a man who lives by the seashore in southern India and this is his story.  After going for a swim with his friends they were resting on the sand when the following happened.  “Suddenly, a strong wave came upon us and drenched us to our necks.  When the water retreated, I screamed in horror.  Lying horizontally across my body was a large sea snake.  I scrambled up with a loud cry and the snake fell down…I nearly fainted with fear.  When I was able to calm down, I saw clearly what lay in front of me: a dead and decaying snake.  It had no ability to bite or do any other harm to me.  In spite of that, it awakened a paralysing fear within me.  Sometimes, we feel the evil one and his demons are out to harm us.  But that is not true, they do not have the capacity to harm us, rather they awaken a great fear in us.  The Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ have made Satan a dead snake.  The fear abiding in us is the problem.”

This poor man has stumbled across the absolute essence of the scriptures which is, Jesus has won the victory but we have to come to terms with our own fear by trusting in Him. 

A beautiful prayer in our Catholic treasury has always been to call down upon us, in our fears, the Blood of Jesus.  The Blood of Jesus dispels the darkness of fear, whatever its origins, human or demonic.

Let us always recall the great summary of the scriptures…”perfect love casts out all fear.”

In the Eucharist the perfect love of Jesus is given to us in His Body and Blood.  In the Second Reading we hear Christ “has offered one single sacrifice for sins.”  So let us now participate fully in the Eucharist, this great single sacrifice of Jesus as High Priest and Victim.  Let us always recall, in our moments of fear and trembling in this apocalyptic world, that the world will pass but Christ will last forever.  His perfect love will cast out all fears.


1 Kings 17: 10-16, Heb 9: 24-28, Mark 12: 38-44

Generosity is a key message both in today’s readings and in the fact that today is the centenary of Armistice Day.

Let us begin with a reflection on today’s readings.  The focus is on two widows.

The story of the first widow is found in the Old Testament reading from the Book of Kings.  It tells the beautiful story of the generous widow of Zarephath in the district of Sidon. 

To be a widow in biblical times was a passport to poverty and dispossession.  You may recall, that in those days, a woman was seen as part of her husband’s property.  If the husband predeceases her, she finds herself in an invidious position indeed.

The worst case scenario is found involving the woman who encounters the Prophet Elijah in this First Reading.

Elijah instructs her to bring some food for him but she replies “I have no baked bread, but only a handful of meal in a jar and a little oil in a jug; I am just gathering a stick or two to go and prepare this for myself and my son to eat, and then we shall die.” 

At that moment the Prophet Elijah asks this woman to do something quite ridiculous. 

In spite of her dire circumstances, he tells her “do not be afraid, go and do as you have said; but first make a little scone of it for me and bring it to me, and then make some for yourself and for your son.”

The woman was prepared to do the ridiculous thing that Elijah had asked her.  Therefore God was prepared to do the miraculous in her life.  The story concludes, “The woman went and did as Elijah told her and they ate the food, she, himself and her son.  The jar of meal was not spent nor the jug of oil emptied, just as the Lord had foretold through Elijah.”

In other words the woman was never in such dire need ever again in her life.  It is like a little miracle of the Loaves and Fishes in the Gospels.  When we are prepared to do the ridiculous God is prepared to do the miraculous.  In the life of this widow God provided for her in the long term.

In the second story today regarding a widow we move to the Gospel.  Here we find the generosity of a humble woman who gave so much of the little she had to the temple collection.

It is interesting to see in today’s Gospel the keen eye of Jesus.  He is watching.  He “watched the people putting money into the treasury.”

He finds that the rich give a great deal of money but it is done in a very showy and demonstrative way.  Even so, their life style doesn’t back up their ostentatious “generosity.”  Jesus accuses these people of being those “who swallow the property of widows, while making a show of lengthy prayers.”

Then enters the contribution of a poor widow.

“A poor widow came and put in two small coins, the equivalent of a penny.  …this poor widow has put more in than all who have contributed to the treasury; for they have all put in money they had over, but she from the little she had has put in everything she possessed, all she had to live on.”

There is an important lesson to be learnt here. 

I think it is best summarized in the beautiful quote from the fourth century famous theologian St Ambrose of Milan.  Here the famous Archbishop of Milan is quoted as saying “God does not consider what one gives but what one keeps.”

Jesus is making the observation that the religious lawyers and theologians are only giving their wealth whilst engaging in injustice, while the poor widow puts in everything and keeps nothing for herself. 

In so doing this poor widow, foreshadows what Jesus demonstrates on the Calvary Cross.  Jesus also did not keep anything for himself.  Even the last drop of blood and water coming from His side indicated that He gave absolutely everything of His physical body as a symbol of His self-emptying to the Father for our salvation.

Today we also remember the enormous generosity of those who have died for our country.  On this centenary of the end of World War I we recall that over 60,000 Australians gave their lives in total generosity for the freedom that you and I so casually enjoy. 

It is also a day to remember all the war dead and to pledge ourselves to be peace makers.

In this more universal parameter, I warmly welcome the Polish community who are celebrating their 100th Anniversary of Poland regaining its independence today.

I particularly welcome the Polish Ambassador, Ambassador Michal Kolodziejski, his staff and many polish migrants.  I thank them for their generosity in providing for the practical needs of this Mass and also I offer them our prayers of support.  Indeed in recent days, Pope Francis in Rome has commented on the same anniversary and has prayed for the people of Poland by saying “May the care of Mary, Queen of Poland on Jasna Góra, always accompany Your Homeland and all Poles!”

We now continue our Mass knowing that Jesus gives us, so generously, all his very being in the Eucharist.  He also gives us the loving warning that he is not simply looking at what we give but what we keep.

We cannot do a great deal about the past, we leave that to the mercy of God.  Nor, indeed, are we able to do a great deal about the future.  We leave that in the Lord’s hands in hope.  But, we can do a lot about the present.  So today on this centenary of Armistice Day, let us be as generous as we possibly can to those we shall encounter in the hours ahead.


Deut 6: 2-6, Heb 7: 23-28, Mark 12: 28-34

In the readings today there are two words that stand out as great gifts to our spiritual life: Listen and Neighbour.

Let us start with the first word: Listen.

Listening is a very important word in all the scriptures.  Actually, the letters in this word define its meaning.  A Filipino lady years ago showed me that if you jumble up the letters of “listen” you can end up with the word “silent”.  Listening in the biblical sense means silent in the presence of the Lord and as we are silent we are listening to God who speaks in whispers.

For over 136 years the Mercy Sisters have executed great pastoral listening in this parish of Sacred Heart Cootamundra.  You have gathered here in great numbers today.  We welcome you dear Sisters!  You have just recently vacated the convent on this property.  The Mercy Sisters have been here for 92 years.  Two Mercy Sisters remain in the parish but they are accommodated elsewhere.  So there is a certain kind of anniversary today, as a momentous event has taken place.

One beautiful aspect of this parish is the wonderful trees in front of the Church and presbytery.  Indeed, this morning when I woke up I went out to the balcony and there, once again, is this beautiful plane tree.  It looks very silent and very elegant.  I don’t know how old it is but it seems to be a great age. This tree could become a symbol of the silence that we have before the Lord.  Just imagine over 136 years how many of the Mercy Sisters have passed under its shade.  It has witnessed so much in the pastoral care of this parish provided by the Mercy Sisters.   Indeed, after this Mass, we will gather under its shade for our barbecue.  I understand that around 250 nuns have given part of their life to the “Coota Mission.”  We thank them so much.

Let us remind ourselves, with the Mercy Sisters, of our urgent need to pray silently and to listen carefully to God who infuses all our pastoral efforts, no matter how humble, with his presence.  The First Reading from the Book of Deuteronomy reminds us that this listening precedes a fundamental tenet of our faith.  “Listen, Israel:  The Lord our God is the one Lord.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength.  Let these words I urge on you today be written on your heart.”

The second word “Neighbour” follows on from this passage in the Book of Deuteronomy.  It is found in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus answers an articulate and perhaps somewhat pretentious religious theologian of his time.   He asks the Lord “Which is the first of all the commandments?”  Jesus then replies almost verbatim to the First Reading from Deuteronomy…the famous Jewish command to love the Lord with all our heart, soul and strength.  Then Jesus continues on and makes an addition.  This is not a second command as such, but an extension of the first and only commandment. 

Jesus adds “You must love your neighbour as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these.” 

So to the love of God there must also be a love of neighbour.  One aspect is not more important than the other.  One aspect leads to the other and the other aspect leads back to the first.

Once again we are drawn to the genius of the mercy charism.  It gives a real soul to our service to neighbour.  Indeed, the word MERCY in its original biblical language means “Hospitable womb.”  Over the 130 plus years, the Mercy Sisters have given such hospitality to their works of justice here in this parish.  Mercy is always the soul of justice.  You cannot talk about works of justice without, in the very same breath, talking about its animating force…mercy.

Although it is quite clear the Sisters of Mercy are progressively leaving this area due to age and retirement and are unlikely to be replaced, their charism of mercy must continue on in this parish.  This parish must always be a “mercy parish” regardless of whether the Mercy Sisters themselves are here or not.

There are so many aspects of great fragility in farming communities in Australia at the moment needing our mercy.  Cootamundra parish is no exception.  Only this morning I visited a family whose farming father and husband had died tragically over the last few days.  There is so much loneliness and mental illness in rural communities. 

May this parish always be known as a parish of mercy.  May it always seek out the three “L’s” in any society…the Lost, the Last, the Least.  May we accompany them on the road of life and may that accompaniment always be fragranced with the Lord’s gift of mercy.

For this we pray.