Homily – October 2018

Isa 53:10-11, Heb 4:14-16, Mark 10: 35-45

There is a key term in today’s readings that is strangely not mentioned directly, but is pivotal to our understanding regarding Christian Leadership: Power.

The Gospel today from St Mark begins immediately after Jesus, for the third time, predicts his forthcoming Passion, Suffering and Death.  Jesus and his Disciples are on the way to Jerusalem.  The Disciples realise that something important is happening.  It seems, however, that they have no comprehension of the finality of Jesus’s mission on the earth.

Indeed, we see this in the Gospel today when Jesus’ close Disciples, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come up and say,”…we want you to do us a favour.”

The courtesy of Jesus is forever present in the scriptures and is seen particularly in His response to this “hooked” question.  Jesus says, “What is it you want me to do for you?”  The real agenda emerges from James and John when they say to Jesus “allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.”

In other words, they believe that Jesus is going to use his power to win some military or political victory once they arrive in Jerusalem.  In fact, Jesus is trying to suggest the complete opposite.

This is suggested in the First Reading today from the Prophet Isaiah.  The prophecy is that the future Messiah will not come as a political or military victor but as a suffering Messiah.  The real leadership that the suffering Messiah will give is through His sufferings, “By his sufferings shall my servant justify many, taking their faults on himself.”  The Apostles presume that the power Jesus is talking about is one of conquest, control and manipulation of the situation.  This is the opposing view of power to that of Jesus.

As always, Jesus so lovingly reprimands them.  He asks them a question, “Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I must be baptised?”  He is basically saying to them, can you follow me, suffer with me and take on the sins of the world and redeem them.  Naively, the Apostles respond with the words, “We can.”  Jesus gradually and lovingly dismisses their collusion for a power that controls by saying, “…as for seats at my right hand or my left, these are not mine to grant.”

The other Apostles have overheard this and in the scriptures it is said “…they began to feel indignant with James and John.”  It seems that this is because they too share James and John’s understanding of a power that would give adulation and recognition. 

Jesus calls all his Disciples together and tells them quite explicitly, “…so-called rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt.  This is not to happen among you.”  Jesus then goes on to talk about how spiritual power and true leadership pertains to service “…anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all.”  Like Jesus, who “did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

We too struggle with understanding what power is, especially spiritual power.

A very good example is the painful conversation about the sexual abuse of minors by Christian leaders.  Tomorrow here in Canberra, hundreds of sex abuse victims and survivors will come to receive the National Apology from the Australian Government.  We pray especially in this Mass that God’s healing peace will be with all these courageous victims and their friends, and that the day itself will be a time of healing and hope. 

So much of the sex abuse within Church institutions was due to a fundamental misunderstanding of this issue of power and its exercise.

We too need to learn afresh from Jesus’ rebuke of the Apostles.  The power we have as followers of Jesus is to serve and not to be served.  It is certainly never to manipulate and become involved in totally abominable and criminal acts.  This is a total abuse of power, yet this has happened over the decades and has now come to light for all of us to see and hear.  It is a totally shameful past where young people have been sexually abused by Church leaders.

We all need to listen very carefully to the Gospel today and take it to heart, not in some sentimental way but in a way that helps us to examine the way we treat each other, especially through the spiritual authority all of us have over our family and friends and those who are placed in our care.

Let it always be emblazoned in our heart and mind that the true meaning of spiritual power is always to serve and not to be served.  For this we pray to the Lord.


Gen 2:18-24, Heb 2: 9-11, Mark 10: 2-16

Today’s scripture readings help us to reflect on one of the most fundamental social institutions in society, yet, in Australia today, one of its most fragile: Marriage and Family Life.

In its fragile and embattled current status, it is good to return to the biblical and theological foundations of marriage and family life.  We look for its enduring values and contributions to not only Christianity but to society in general.

In the First Reading today from the Book of Genesis a wonderful vision for marriage is offered.

God notices in his creation that the man (Adam=first man) is lonely.  God says “It is not good that the man should be alone.  I will make him a helpmate.”  This word “helpmate” requires closer inspection.  This is the foundation reference to a radical complementarity between Male and Female.  They are to become one.  “…they become one body.”

(Eve=first woman) is not to be looked upon as part of man’s property or possessions.  This is where there is a real revolutionary idea expressed, albeit poetically.

Looking at this text through the eyes of the modern world, we may find the text lacking, although at the time of its writing it is a revolutionary thought that a woman is not a possession but of “one body” with the man.  Let us reflect on this carefully.

In the Gospel today from St Mark the same expression “one body” reoccurs several times.

The “one body” of man and woman has immense consequences both personally and in society.  The Lord makes comment on this in relation to the vexed issue of divorce.

We now begin to see the beginning of what we would call the “sacramentality” of man and woman in marriage.  In other words, in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, the way that God loves us is to be reflected in the way that man and woman, in marriage, express this radical love of “one body.”

This is the vision of married life from the Christian perspective.  They are to mirror the inseparable unity of God with his Church.  God loves us in so many ways but they could be summarised in three words: Faithfulness, Permanence and Fruitfulness.  God loves us in these ways.  He never gives up on us.  God’s love in us gives life to others and frees us.  In the same way, the Sacrament of Marriage places the man and woman in a love sharing and life giving permanent bond.  In Theology, we say that this bond is both unitive and procreative.

This very brief overview of our vision for marriage, coming both from our Scripture and Tradition, is totally trivialised in the developed world of today.

Today, there is an exaggerated sentimentalisation and trivialisation of marital intimacy.  Couples seemingly may not introduce themselves as husband and wife but may use this ambiguous word “partners” – whatever that word might mean.  Also marriage and family life have become political “fair game”, which we’ve noticed of course in the last twelve months in Australia, in regard to the redefining of the definition of marriage.  There is great confusion and even a banality to the point that marriage as a social institution has been “dumbed down”.  Beneath all these current issues, there seems to be an undergirding crisis of intimacy and radical friendship that gives birth to marriage today in society.  This makes for a very lonely society.  It’s almost as if we are back to the time of Genesis before the creation of Eve.

As marriage and family life have been central to society’s stability over millennia, it becomes an even greater urgent need to return calmly to its original meaning and value.

I think help always comes from a number of “wisdoms” that arise from those who truly live out, maturely and happily, married life today.

For example, I do recall a year or so ago celebrating Mass on a Sunday in a rural parish of the Archdiocese.  After the special Mass there was a large morning tea in the nearby hall.  Morning teas in country areas are not to be missed!  Whilst mingling with the parishioners in the hall, my eye was drawn to an elderly couple sitting down at one end of the hall.  They were holding hands and happily taking everything in.  Their walking frames were nearby.  Clearly due to their advanced age they couldn’t walk around like others.  I went over to them and introduced myself.  They had been married for over sixty years!  What a great achievement in today’s world!  They seemed so happy and still so much in love.  I asked them what their secret was.  Immediately the answer was given.  It was a beautiful answer.  One of them said “marriage is not the Mine, but the Ours, not the I, but the Us.”  Clearly, they have lived this out over sixty years of marital life.  What a winning value they were living!  What a great example they were of God’s permanent, faithful and life giving love to his Church as mirrored in this married couple.

I am aware that while speaking to you today in the Cathedral, there are many who struggle with marriage.  Of course you would want me to outline the value of marriage in the Catholic faith, but I do want you to know I am thinking of those who are divorced, separated and who find even the topic of marriage very painful.  Please be aware that the Church loves you in your struggles.  Indeed, those that struggle in marriage will find practical help in our Catholic Centacare and also the Archdiocesan Marriage Tribunal.  Here useful and consoling assistance can be attained by those who feel very much alone in the pain and tragedy of marital breakdown.

At the same time, I can’t forget to mention a group that often come up to me and say, “Archbishop don’t forget about us!”

These wonderful people are those who have been married but their spouse has died.  They are now Widows or Widowers and there are many in the community.  I acknowledge your presence today and let you know that, as you still grieve for the loss of your spouse, we pray for them in the gentleness and tenderness of this Mass.

Let us pray for marriage and family life in Australia today.  It is one of our greatest social treasures.