Homily – September 2018

Num 11:25-29, James 5:1-16, Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48


A generous and good God wants generous and good Disciples.

This is surely the core idea arising from today’s scriptures.

I remember years ago when I was visiting a Primary school, I found myself faced with a group of small children for a period of twenty minutes.  I needed to translate the rather complex understandings of our wonderful Catholic faith into a language that would be understood by six year olds.

I remember using my hands and saying to them, “How big is God…is he this big?”  I then placed my hands out in front of me with a small gap between.  I then asked, “or is God this big?” extending my hands out.  For a third time I placed my hands out in a widening gap and asked, “or is God this big?”

All of a sudden a small child stood up and shouted out to us all “God is this big” and he stretched his hands out as far as he possibly could and added facial expressions to indicate that he couldn’t extend his hands any further.  I congratulated the child.  It’s so easy even for a six year old to understand how great and good and loving our God is…it’s beyond our thought or imagination or even measurement! 

This eternal truth of our faith often gets confused as we get older.  So often we can say to each other, “Your God is too small!”

This is certainly the case in today’s scriptures.

In the First Reading we hear of the spirit of God coming down in a cloud and with the intercession of Moses, it comes down upon seventy elders.

Two people were not at this foreshadowing of Pentecost.  They must have been important because we know their names.  In the First Reading they are called Eldad and Medad.  Although not amongst the seventy and being far away from them, the Spirit also came upon them as well.  A young man ran and told Moses, “Look, he said, Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp…My Lord Moses, stop them!”  Apparently according to this young man God’s spirit was only to act in a certain way, not in an unexpected way. 

He receives a gentle rebuke from Moses who answered him “Are you jealous on my account?  If only the whole people of the Lord were prophets, and the Lord gave his Spirit to them all!”  Clearly Moses’s idea of God was rather like that little child in the Primary school…infinitely big!

A somewhat similar episode occurs in the Gospel today.

This time another young man, John the Apostle, comes to Jesus and says “Master, we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in your name…we tried to stop him.”  Then Jesus says “You must not stop him: no one who works a miracle in my name is likely to speak evil of me.  Anyone who is not against us is for us.”  John’s image of God is too small.

So there is the great challenge of today’s Scripture Readings.  Let us not impose on God our way of thinking.  God is infinitely bigger, more loving and generous, than we’ve ever thought or imagined.

By way of example on local issues, I notice this when I participate in some of the Listening and Dialogue sessions of the Plenary Council of Australia.  The primal question, “What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?” was answered differently by different groups.  Generally, I found that adults found it hard to sustain this question for too long.  Rather quickly, they moved on to answering another question, “What do you think God should be doing in the world today?”

In my Listening and Dialogue sessions with young people, I found that they were able to sustain the primal question of God’s action in our lives with greater depth.  They didn’t seem to carry the “ideological baggage” that we tend to dump on God.  It was a real eye opener for me!

Another way that we can answer the question of “How big and generous and good is our God?” is by focusing on the theme of today’s Social Justice Statement for 2018/2019 – The issue of Homelessness.

Homelessness is a more complex issue than we first thought.   We tend to have a stereotype of Homelessness as some elderly man sleeping under a tree.  It is far more expansive than this.  Indeed, our St Vincent de Paul Society and CatholicCare indicate to us that the human face of Homelessness is more likely a single mother sleeping with her two or three children in a car due to a lack of money to do otherwise.

If God is so good and generous to us we must also be good and generous to others, especially those for which homelessness and poverty is a real issue.

I am reminded of a very recent story that Pope Francis told Irish families on his recent pastoral visit to Ireland.  He had the following to say, “I knew a lady who had three children, about seven, five and three years of age.  The couple had a good marriage, they had great faith and they taught their children to help the poor, because they themselves used to help them.  Once while they were at lunch, the mother and three children (their father was at work), there was a knock on the door and the oldest one went to answer it.  He came back and said: ‘Mum, there is a poor person who is asking for something to eat.’  They were eating beef…and the mother asked the children: ‘What should we do?’  All three replied: ‘Mum, give him something!’  There were a few slices of beef left over, but the mother took a knife and started to take half of everyone’s steak.  The children protested: ‘No, Mum, give him one of those, not ours!’  The mother replied: ‘No, you give the poor from what you have, not from what is left over!’  That is how that faith-filled woman taught her children to give of their own to the poor.”

The mother here had a great understanding of God’s generosity.  The children, although generous, were not generous enough and certainly not as generous as their mother.  Their God was too small!  She was a great role model and taught her children some lessons that they would never forget for the rest of their lives.

So let us think long and hard about how in the coming week we can be generous and good to our loving God who is always generous and good to us.  Let us particularly keep in mind the poor, those on the periphery, and the homeless.


Isa 50:5-9, James 2:14-18, Mark 8:27-35


It is St Peter who in today’s Gospel is the first to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah.  What the early Church struggled with, as indeed we do today, is that Jesus is the suffering Messiah of God. 

Over the last few days the Churches liturgy has been preparing us to meditate on the central Christian truth that Jesus is the suffering Messiah of God.  A few days ago we had the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, yesterday we had the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.  In today’s Gospel Jesus tries to draw this central truth from his disciples. 

It is St Peter who speaks up with the apostolic declaration that “You are the Christ.” 

But what sort of Christ?  What sort of Messiah? 

Jesus immediately then starts to explain to the disciples that the Messiah is to “suffer grievously, to be rejected…to be put to death…and to rise again.” 

This redemptive suffering, this suffering Messiah, is so difficult for the early Church and for us to really embrace in truth. 

It is not as if this truth is completely new.  It was foreshadowed in the Old Testament that the one that God would send would suffer.

We see this in the First Reading from the prophet Isaiah.  The prophet talks of offering “my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who tore at my beard; I did not cover my face against insult and spittle.”  In all this foreshadowing there is the undergirding promise that is our perennial truth and hope, “The Lord is coming to my help.”

In more recent weeks I came to a deeper understanding of our participation in the redemptive suffering of Our Lord in his Death and Resurrection.

I listened carefully to a secondary victim of a sex abuse survivor.  He has found through the torments of his heart that, to use his own words, “sitting in the wound” is the best way for him to come to terms with his life.  Other victims talk about imitating some of the insights from the 10 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous in coming to terms and providing hope and inner peace to the festering wound in their hearts. 

This does not mean that the pain is taken away.  It means that we have to enter into the wound rather than escape from it to find any hope and healing.  Even today the psychologists talk about being aware of the “fight or flight response” as a way of detouring around inner pain.  For Christians, we see a highway to entering into our own wounds by placing our wounds into the wounds of Christ.  As Jesus suffered we suffer with him, and he suffers in our wounds.  Its only in uniting our wounds that the Resurrection will come.

Mary, the mother of God, is a great example of all this.  This “woman of sorrows” entered so totally into the Passion and Death and Resurrection of Jesus.  It caused her immense pain.  We talk in our liturgy of the Seven Sorrows of Mary.  We can so easily sentimentalise the pain of Mary as she accompanied her Son to the Cross.   She never gave up.  She so fully shared in His Death that she completely shared also in His Resurrection.  This is the basis of our understanding of the great Marian Feast of the Assumption and the coronation of Mary in Heaven.

So to all those who are listening today here in the Church and are undergoing sufferings of any sort – physical, spiritual, emotional, mental, could I humbly invite you in this Mass to place your wounds into the wounds of Jesus.  The wound of Jesus on the Calvary Cross, that has been meditated upon so much over the centuries, is the wound that was inflicted on Jesus by the soldier who placed a sword into his side to ensure that he had died.  Out from that wound, the Scripture says, came blood and a drop of water.  Jesus gave absolutely everything to us for our redemption.  It is a Redemptive Suffering.

This has been meditated upon not only in a physical sense over the centuries by Christians but also in a spiritual sense.

We say that the blood that came from Jesus’s side represents the Eucharist.  We also say that the drop of water coming from the side of Jesus represents Baptism.  In a sense, we can say that the Church was born from the side of Christ crucified on Good Friday.  It is in this Mass that this saving mystery is re-presented.

Indeed, from the wound of Christ comes the fountain of saving grace given to all coming to the Lord in repentance and conversion.

Let us truly have faith in this Mass and may it give us all great hope, especially those suffering in a particular way.  Let the wounds of not only ourselves but the wounds of the world, indeed, become a fountain of salvation by our acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour.


Deut 4:1-2, 6-8, James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23


We return to Mark’s Gospel on this Father’s Day.  There is an important teaching on freedom here, the “pendulum of freedom” unites both law and love in Jesus. 

Freedom is a very confused but absolutely vital concept in our world today.

The understanding of law is beautifully expressed in the First Reading.

Moses makes it quite clear to the people that they are to “take notice of the laws and customs that I teach you today, and observe them, that you may have life…”

Where as in today’s world, laws are often seen as restrictions and obstacles to freedom, in the Old Testament the absolute opposite is the case.

The laws are seen as liberating us.  Here the “external teacher” is that which God gives us, for example, the Ten Commandments.  They are to be lived out in full, because in living them out in full we live the kind of life that God wants for us, and that life is a life of freedom.

In observing them we have life!

In Mark’s Gospel today, it is quite clear that this “external teacher” has become trivialised over time.  Jesus clearly champions the freedom laws of God given to the people of God, but they have been trivialised into incidentals that grossly exaggerate their importance.  Jesus criticises those who insist on particular rituals regarding the “washing of their arms as far as the elbow” and then eating “without first sprinkling themselves.”  Also, there is the “washing of cups and pots and bronze dishes.”

By taking their eyes off God, these incidental laws have become as important as the laws given by God.  Jesus unapologetically calls those who demand such trivialities as “hypocrites.”

Jesus brings out the soul of the law which resides in the heart.  This is not only the “external teacher” but also the “internal teacher,” working together for the freedom of humanity.

Jesus makes it quite clear when he says, “For it is from within, from men’s hearts, that evil intentions emerge…”

So we know that freedom needs both the “external law” and the “internal law” of love in all that we do and say.

As in the Old Testament whereby they trivialise the law, there is more than just a simple tendency but a real ideology now, particularly in Australia, to trivialise love.

As legalism and ritualism are a real slavery to human freedom, so there is a real slavery in a very selfish and egotistical understanding of love.  Perhaps if Jesus was able to speak directly today he might call those who promote this way of being as “hypocrites.”

On this Father’s Day this is a challenge to all fathers and mothers, and anybody in authority including priests and bishops.  How do we get the balance between law and love and not trivialise love today where the ideology is always about “my way”?

The Second Reading suggests to us a synthesis between law and love on our pathway to living out the freedom of the sons and daughters of God.

From the letter of St James we hear the good news that we are to “accept and submit to the word which has been planted in you and can save your souls.”  This is the “internal teacher.” 

The “external teacher” is there as well.  Rather than moving towards a reckless selfishness we are also to be attentive to those on the periphery of life.  St James tells us “But you must do what the word tells you, and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves.”

The Christian commandment is that this love must be expressed in practical ways.  St James suggests that the “help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.”

So let us be aware of the swinging of the “pendulum of freedom.”  Let us avoid the slaveries of ritualism and legalism, and also the slavery of self-love and a narcissistic way of living out our lives.  Both of these are real threats to freedom.

Christianity, finding its unity in Jesus Christ, the author and exemplar of our faith, combines law and freedom together perfectly in the Calvary Cross.

In total obedience in his heart to the Father, Jesus gave his life for us.  This ongoing Crucifixion and Resurrection gives us the way to live out our freedom in practical service of others.

As we ask God’s blessing upon all fathers today.  Let us think seriously about this important message that the scriptures give us.  May we always live in the freedom of Jesus.