Homily – August 2020

2 AUGUST 2020

 Readings Isaiah 55: 1-3  Romans 8: 35. 37-39  Gospel Matthew 14: 13-21

 The Scriptures give us, as it were, “headlines” but not a full commentary from an historical point of view. By “headlines” I mean that they are faith texts written with a great deal of brevity and they require a faith response from all of us who hear “The Word of the Lord.”

It is in this light, that today’s Gospel attracts me, not so much by what is said but by what is not said.

We have moved to the 14th Chapter of Matthew and leave the 13th Chapter which we have been pondering upon over the last three Sundays.

We hear, “When Jesus received the news of John the Baptist’s death he withdrew by boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves.” Let us now recall the manner of the death of John the Baptist. We would say today that he was the victim of a terrorist act. He was beheaded in one of the most macabre and diabolical episodes in the Gospels.

As He often did, Jesus “withdrew.” We could imagine that He was suffering shock, grief and trauma at the death of His cousin. He first made contact with him, in a most extraordinary way, through the womb of His mother Mary and through the womb of the mother of John the Baptist, Elizabeth, in the Visitation. He wants now to share his grief with his Disciples.

As it often is with the Scriptures there is a “But” or “However.” This is what happens now, “But the people heard of this and, leaving the towns, went after him on foot…he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them and healed their sick.”

So it is quite clear, reading the “headlines”, that Jesus put aside His own personal needs for isolation in coming to terms with His trauma at the death of His cousin, and felt a great pity for those that asked for His healing.

The word “Pity” is not one that Australians readily use in the context of today’s Scripture. I am not sure about you, but I wouldn’t want anyone taking pity on me. In the Scriptures, however, it means that he had compassion for the people in their sickness. “Compassion” is a word which means, “To suffer with.” Jesus realises that He is not the only person suffering. He shares His compassion for His people and wants to do something for them…to heal them!

However as the evening progresses the Scriptures bring up yet another problem. There are more than 5,000 people gathered and the day is drawing to a close. The Disciples advise Jesus to send the people away to nearby villages to buy food for themselves. In a somewhat extraordinary intervention Jesus says to the Disciples, “There is no need for them to go: give them something to eat yourselves!”

The Disciples make the discovery that amongst the people there is little food available. They find only “five loaves and two fish.” It seems there kind of sociological and scientific survey of the crowd, produces no faith in them. The people are to leave. But, in response the Lord takes the loaves and two fish and then we find the key Eucharist words…”He took…blessed…broke and handed them to the disciples who gave them to the crowds.”

Perhaps some might see this as a rebuke by Jesus to the Disciples for their lack of faith. Maybe? However I think it is more of an invitation to them, as we might say in today’s theological language, to be “co-responsible” with Jesus for the greatest remembered miracle of Jesus’ Ministry.

When he says that the Disciples are to hand the food to the crowds, this indicates that they are directly participating in the miracle of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fish.

It is almost as if Jesus is saying to them that they are to give the little that they have (five loaves and two fish) and He will multiply them and satisfy the hunger of the world.

In this the Disciples find a particular insight into their vocation in life.

Turning to the present moment, this week is called “Vocations Week.” We pray for an increase of Priests, Religious, both to the Sisters and Brothers, Marriage and Single life. A vocation is to choose to live in the “Feeding” of the world in Christ.

We are to take the little that we have, our own “five loaves and two fish”, and seek from the Lord our vocation in life.

Clearly, this invitation is given out particularly to young people. There is no lack of generosity in young people. I do call upon young men seriously to think about joining the Priesthood and becoming Seminarians for the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn.

Sometimes young people, although interested in a Religious Vocation, want to “keep their options open.” This is understandable given the many options that young people have today, including their Vocation. However, If it is not under the scrutiny of the gaze of Christ it can actually prevent young people from making full commitment of their life to any Vocation.  So we pray for Religious Vocations to blossom up in the Archdiocese particularly in this week. We ask them to respond to the Lord’s strong words when He says, “Give them something to eat yourselves.” In other words do something!

In regard to doing something for Christ I am reminded of the three very important questions of Ignatius of Loyola, the 16th Century founder of the Jesuit Order. In one of his writings he states the pivotal questions that people would ask, especially young people: What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What will I do for Christ?

This coming Saturday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Australian Saint, St Mary of the Cross MacKillop. One of her most memorable quotes is along similar lines. She said we must “Never see a need without doing something about it.”

On another level, moving to a non-canonised legendary figure, in recent weeks the Catholic Australian footballer and coach, Mr John Kennedy Sr., has died.

He was renowned for his motivational speeches to his football teams. He could lift a disillusioned team from a sense of hopelessness to winning the Grand final in one speech.

I recall particularly the 1975 Grand final between Hawthorn and North Melbourne football clubs. Although in fact they did not win the Grand final his motivational words to his players are immortalised in the football world. He said “at least do something! Do! Don’t think, don’t hope, do! At least you can come off and say I did this!”

As we now move on with the Eucharist and continue on with what Jesus foreshadowed in the great miracle of today’s Gospel, let us in our Covid-19 world with its myriad of complexities, think clearly about the words that shout out in today’s Readings, “Do Something!”


 Readings  1 Kings 17: 8-16  Collossians 3: 12-17  Gospel Matthew 6: 25-34

 We welcome today people from our Parish at Eden. We normally meet down there for our annual Pilgrimage of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic that has not been possible but we are able to meet today at multiple locations with our online streaming.

In Eden at present I understand that Sr. Bernadetta and Sr. Marie are present with the community of the Southern Deanery. We welcome you all to this Mass. Here in the Cathedral at Canberra I would like to welcome particularly Sr. Colleen Howe and Sr. Noeline Quinane, all the Josephite Associates and also students from MacKillop College here in Canberra led by their Principal Mr Michael Lee.

Bernadette and her liturgical team down at Eden have chosen a special quote from St Mary MacKillop that we keep in mind today – “Entreat God to make us all that we should be.”

In today’s Readings we hear of Jesus telling the Disciples and therefore telling us too: “Set your hearts on his Kingdom first and on God’s saving justice, and all these other things will be given to you.”

If there was anybody from Australia that set her heart firmly on the Kingdom of God it was our Aussie Saint, Mary of the Cross MacKillop. She not only believed this in her heart but it affected her actions throughout her whole life. We honour today also her mother Flora who drowned off the coast of Eden. More about that later.

I suppose in appreciating the life of St Mary Mackillop it is always good to defer to the ones who knew her best.

Surely no one would know a Religious Sister more than her Confessor.

At the end of her life Fr. Francis Clune said of Mary MacKillop, “She was wrapped up in God.” What a great expression! Young people today use an expression that they are “wrapped!” Whatever meaning you give to this word it is a word that we can certainly use describing St. Mary MacKillop being “wrapped” in the things of God. She set her heart on God’s Kingdom first and allowed everything else to follow.

In one of her letters to Monsignor Kirby she described God’s presence in her whole life as, “His presence is before me in almost everything. I love to come to him in prayer as to my dearest and only friend.”

In regard to Flora MacKillop (1816-1886), Mary MacKillop’s mother, we now know a lot more about her life. This is so because of the somewhat recent publication of Sr. Bernadette O’Sullivan, well known to us here in the Archdiocese, who published a biography of Flora MacKillop in 2012. She said the following, “Flora MacKillop (McDonald) arrived in Melbourne from Scotland in 1840 and in July of that year she married Alexander McKillop. St Mary of the Cross was the eldest of their eight children. From promising beginnings, family and fortunes declined demanding of Flora courage, patience and forbearance. Her deep faith and trust in God sustained her through the poverty, hardship and times of homelessness when she and her family depended on relatives for a home. While St. Mary acknowledged her mother’s example and influence, Flora was able to call herself ‘a truly blessed mother’, as she said herself, she had ‘raised all her children for the glory of God’.”

Now moving to the end of Flora Mackillop’s life we return to the tragedy that took her life away.

Sr. Bernadette writes as follows, “Flora made her way to Queen’s Wharf, Melbourne on Saturday, 29 May 1886, and boarded the ship Ly-ee-Moon en route to Sydney…Flora was among those who lost their lives on that day, 30 May 1886. The news reached Sydney where Mary was helping to organise the bazaar…shocked as she was, she bore it bravely and spent a long time praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Her first thoughts were for others: for Annie in Melbourne, Donald in England and all her relatives and friends in Victoria…Her practical nature came to the fore as she prayed that her mother’s remains would be found. If her body was found her cousin, John McDonald, at home with his parents, would go down to Eden to bring the remains back to Sydney…Flora’s body was picked up by the pilot steamer Captain Cook and brought to Eden. A report from the Sydney Freeman’s Journal told that eye witnesses spoke ‘with touching pathos of the smile of peacefulness which rested upon the poor cold face, and the complete absence of the indication of any death agony’…A Catholic woman, Mrs Power, seeing the scapulars on the body asked to be given care of it and she and her friends performed all the delicate and tender offices which their true womanly instincts dictated, and the beautiful old Catholic custom – of reverently laying out the dead and surrounding the remains with flowers and lights…the body rested in Mrs Power’s house and she and the ladies watched by the body, surrounding it with the choicest flowers that were to be found in Eden. They did this until John McDonald arrived to identify the body…Mary wrote that Flora ‘was the only body found anywhere without being injured by either the rocks or sharks. The scapular she had so loved was on her neck. How it remained on seems miraculous and is, I believe. John says she looked as if she were asleep…The preservation of the body with the scapular still intact was indeed miraculous when one views the wild and treacherous seas and rocks of Green Cape.”

So now we continue our Mass praying through the intercession of both St Mary MacKillop and, if we could be so bold, of her dear mother Flora.

Let us always remember that St Mary MacKillop is not simply an historic figure, albeit great as she was. First and foremost the Universal Church has now declared her as Saint of the whole world and an Intercessor. She joins all the Saints in interceding for us and bringing our thoughts and prayers to God on high. Let us unite our intercessions now with St Mary MacKillop and ask her, in her Australian accent, to place our deepest desires and petitions before God who hears the cries of the poor.

9 AUGUST 2020

 Readings  1 Kings 19: 9. 11-13  Romans 9: 1-5  Gospel Matthew 14: 22-33

 Did you notice the great contrast in today’s Gospel? On the one hand we see Jesus withdrawing to the mountains to be “by himself to pray…in the hills.” On the other hand the Disciples are battling a ferocious storm on the Sea of Galilee.

Let us look first of all at Jesus in the mountains. After the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish of last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus now can return to His original intent of withdrawing to be by Himself and pray.

In doing so He imitates the great prophets, particularly Elijah. In the First Reading today we see Elijah withdrawing to Mount Horeb, “the mountain of God”, and he goes to a cave to encounter God. He does not encounter God in a mighty wind nor in an earthquake or even a fire. He encounters God when he experiences “the sound of a gentle breeze.” In another translation of this passage the description is even more evocative. It says, “A voice of thin silence.” God can always be heard in the silence, stillness and simplicity of our outer world and also our inner world. It is almost as if God’s language of silence can be turned up in volume in this quiet environment.

On the other hand, however, we notice that the Disciples at the same time are battling a stormy sea. They are far out on the lake in deep water on a boat and are fighting a head wind. First of all we notice that they are in a boat with Peter. Over the centuries the Church has been seen as a boat going through the different chapters of time being led by the successor of St Peter, the Pope. St. Matthew, too, would be aware that the people he was writing to weren’t experiencing so much a storm on a sea but they were experiencing a terrible persecution because of their Christian beliefs in confrontation with the Roman Empire.

There, in the midst of this tumultuous scene, is an encounter between Jesus and the Apostles.

The Disciples begin to panic. They see Jesus like a ghost walking on the water. They are terrified. Mind you they are also exhausted. The Gospel gives the detail that it was the fourth watch of the night. It is not the shift that we would want! It is between 3.00am and 6.00am. Presumably they have been battling the storm all night and are extremely tired.

In the midst of their little faith Jesus reassures them. In the midst of our need for reassurance during this Covid-19 pandemic, Jesus says the same words to us. He says, “Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.”

It is then that impetuous Peter makes the decision to walk on the water towards Jesus. Once he takes his eyes off Jesus he sinks into the water. Even then Jesus goes up to him and reassures him and takes him by the hand. Miraculously they then reach the shore and the wind drops. All is returned to normal.

I think there are at least four take home lessons from the Readings today.

Firstly, the lesson comes from the letter “H” for Home. We can always find a home with Jesus in both the mountain tops and the desert storms of our life.

St Ignatius of Loyola of the 16th Century talks about finding God in both consolation and desolation. We make a decision to find God no matter what situation we find ourselves in. Despair is never an option. There is no hope in despair. Its origins are from the evil one.

Secondly, the lesson comes from the letter “O” for Open. We are open to mercy. Jesus always eventually comes to us to reassure us even if we have little or partial faith. He comes to us with Mercy and Hope. He says to us “Courage!” In our Covid-19 times he offers us hope.

When I thought of this my mind recalled the famous tomb stone of an Englishman of several hundred years ago. Not noted in life for his virtuous living he was thrown from his horse and died. The inscription on his tomb stone is the following “Judge not thou me as I not judge thee. Betwixt the stirrup and the ground mercy I sought and mercy I found.”

The meaning is that, even in the few seconds from when this man fell from his horse, from the saddle to the ground, he offered his life in repentance to God. God’s mercy came to him immediately. There is a good lesson for all of us in this little story.

Thirdly, the lesson comes from the letter “P” for Perseverance. We must persevere in keeping our eyes upon Jesus. Let us learn from Peter’s mistakes, as we always do. Did you notice that the moment Peter took his eyes of Jesus and started looking at his feet he began to sink. Jesus is always our Saviour and our Redeemer. We will sink into the seas of hopelessness if we do not keep our eyes always on the Lord.

Fourthly, the lesson comes from the letter “E” for Encouragement. I always remember a Carmelite Priest who, in reflecting with a few of us on this Gospel passage years ago, said that he felt that Peter would have been able to make it to Jesus walking on the water if he received a little bit of encouragement from the Apostles in the boat. Sure enough, there is nothing in the Scriptures that says that the Apostle were shouting out encouraging Peter to keep his eyes on Jesus. We shout out at football matches and rugby matches and at the Olympics. But we can be so quiet and fail to encourage each other in the great battle of life and faith that we face on a daily basis.

When you put these four letters together you have H.O.P.E., Hope. So please listen carefully and let it sink deep into your hearts that the message that gives hope is to hear deeply within ourselves what Jesus shouts out to all of us in this moment, “Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.”

16 AUGUST 2020

 Readings  Is 56: 1.6-7  Romans 11: 13-15, 29-32  Gospel Matthew 15: 21-28

 One can immediately see in today’s Gospel Bridge Building between two seemingly clashing “Worlds”.

Jesus now is moving out of the largely believing world and crossing borders (like what is happening in Australia at the moment but with fewer challenges!) between the “Believing” world and the world of the Land of Tyre and Sidon which are seen to be places of unbelief. There were feelings of animosity between the two groups. The “Believing” world felt that those in the pagan world (often called Canaanites) were heretics or unfaithful people. They were often looked down upon and put down by others.

In the midst of all this, a Canaanite woman interrupts the progress of Jesus with the Disciples through this territory. She is extremely persistent, humble and witty in her incessant cry “My daughter is tormented by a devil.” She wanted Jesus to heal her daughter. This was her one and only priority and she was prepared to do anything to get the Lord’s attention.

She comes up to Jesus and three times beseeches Him to assist and, somewhat extraordinarily, Jesus three times adamantly says, “No”.

Despite the woman’s respect in calling Jesus, “Sir, Son of David”, he tells his Disciples, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” Clearly, Jesus also is persistent and humble in expressing His limitations of His Ministry.

The Disciples encourage Jesus to heal the daughter. This is for pragmatic reasons they say, “Give her what she wants because she is shouting after us.” Then, finally, the woman does something that is most unusual in the Gospels. She stands in front of Jesus impeding His progress, kneels down and begs “Lord help me.” Then begins a strange dialogue between Jesus and the woman. There is a certain humour in the comments when they start to use a common put down expression of society in regard to Canaanites: “house-dogs.” She says back to Jesus, “Ah yes, sir; but even house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall form their master’s table.” Although not said, it is almost as if the two of them looked at each other and smiled.

It is as if the Lord’s saltier replies to her has made her thirstier. It is as if Jesus is drawing out the seed of faith in her life and making it grow stronger. Her reference to Jesus as “Master” indicates this. In the end Jesus says to her, “Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.” He healed the daughter.

The fact that the Messiah would be present not simply just for the “Believers” but also the “Unbelievers” is foreshadowed in the First Reading where the prophet Isaiah states, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” Note the word “all.”

Of course, in the Second Reading we have the great Evangelist of the unbelievers, “Gentiles”, St Paul. He makes it quite clear in the years after the Resurrection that the boundaries between the worlds of the “Believers” and the “Unbelievers” has been well and truly bridged by the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. He says, “God has imprisoned all men in their own disobedience only to show mercy to all mankind.” Note the word again, “all”.

Jesus is seen here as a Bridge Builder between the worlds of the “Believers” and the “Unbelievers.”

The question arising for us today is: “Are we Bridge Builders when we experience worlds clashing?” Perhaps I could call on my own experience of this in recent times.

You may recall that just over a year ago the Bishops of Australia gathered in Rome for our periodic meeting with the Holy Father, Pope Francis. I had one week spare before I returned to Australia. I decided to visit Italian friends of mine in Northern Italy.

On the way to visit them I made a stopover in the city of Bologna.

So there I was. I was having my “yuppie” cappuccino outside an Italian coffee shop one beautiful sunny morning. I was reading in the Newspaper how, at that time and in the years beforehand, thousands of people from North Africa were making the very dangerous trip on flimsy boats across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy. They were then coming up to the Italian officials saying, “We are refugees. Help us!”

As I was reading this I felt somebody near me. I turned around and saw this very tall African man just standing beside me saying nothing with his hand out for money.

He looked quite ferocious in his expression. I suppose my bewilderment showed a certain ferociousness in my own expression.

I found myself saying, “Have you had breakfast yet?” He replied shaking his head, “No”.

So I invited him to come with me and we went into the coffee shop and ordered breakfast. That was a challenge in itself! Then we returned outside and sat down at the table and we talked for some time.

He told me about his Nigerian background and his family situation. We were able to speak in English and he informed me since arriving he has been presented with only three choices. Sell Drugs, Steal or Beg. He chose the latter – Beg. Hence the hand out gesture.

I think I will leave this story there but there is more to be told. It does show that we too often meet up in our everyday life with different worlds. In this case “the haves” and “the have-nots.” It wasn’t the world of the “Believers” and the “Unbelievers”.

I often think of that lovely expression of years ago: “Think globally, Act locally.” As I left this African refugee I felt that we both had tried to Build Bridges in these circumstances. People are on the move today! Refugee numbers are enormous. I suppose the Covid-19 pandemic clouds other issues that are still occurring globally. The two of us did try to “act locally.” Even if our contribution was a bit like a drop in the ocean, I recall Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s statement, “But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

So, whether it be a Canaanite woman or a Nigerian refugee, we are all faced with the clash of different “Worlds.”

I suppose we are “clashing” at the moment in regard to the situation we find ourselves in with the pandemic. Quite often it is the world of the “Individualistic Australian” and the “Communitarian Australian.”

These two worlds are quite evident at the moment. Those that feel that it’s all about them and their inconvenience. Then to look at the broader implications where we all must cooperate together to rid the world of this common evil.

I recall Pope Francis’s words recently when he said, “We can only get out of this situation together as a whole humanity.”

So let’s be Bridge Builders as best we can on the local level that presents itself. In our family, our neighbourhood and with those that we meet over the next few days.

23 AUGUST 2020

 Readings  Is 22: 19-23  Romans 11: 33-36  Gospel Matthew 16: 13-20

 Now, we are moving into Chapter 16 of the Gospel of Matthew, our Gospel for Year A.

So, for a time, we are leaving behind the Religious disputes and the great miracles of earlier chapters. Today’s Gospel forms a hinge between that which has gone and the chapters ahead.

It is a time when Jesus is forming His Disciples into what the future will describe as the Church.

It is almost as if it is a Master Class of Christian leadership. We are all invited to participate through the living waters of the Gospels.

There appears to be two major principals that Jesus is enunciating in this Master Class on the Church.

I will call the first principle, “The Jesus Principle.”

Jesus asks two questions of the Disciples.

The first is a generic question. “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Jesus receives what could be described as a typical Australian answer. He is given a statistical-sociological response. It is almost as if the Apostles have conducted some sort of scoping tour and survey when they say, “Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

Sociological surveys and statistics are all well and good. We certainly need them. But they are not an end in themselves. They are a means towards a greater end. We can’t just stop there!

If we do stop at assessing the Church in purely sociological-statistical terms, then the Church ends up simply becoming a Sociological, rather than a Theological, reality.

The Church ends up becoming some sort of ecclesiastical NGO (Non-Government Organisation). We just become another philanthropic multinational group albeit with a Religious dimension.

Then Jesus asks a deeper question. He asks “But you, who do you say I am?” Here is “Deep calling on Deep.”

It is almost as if you could imagine the silence as the Disciples think about this profound question before answering.

In the end, through the grace and gift of God, it is St Peter who speaks out on behalf of all the Apostles and indeed the entire Church throughout the ages. He gives a magnificent answer which is, in its self, a type of small Creedal statement.

He says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This answer is very pleasing to the Lord.

It is interesting therefore to note that before we can talk about the Church we must come to terms with answering, as a People of God in the most profound way possible, the question “Who is Jesus?” Using theological language, it is almost as if before we tackle the issues of ecclesiology, we need to have made a profound personal response to the great Christological question of the identity of Jesus in our midst.

I remember, by way of example, many years ago an experience that brought this home to me.

I was an Assistant Priest and with the Parish Priest we went to a morning seminar on The Church. It was absolutely full of statistics and sociological surveys. Although interesting, it didn’t seem to lead anywhere apart from delivering us plenty of information.

On the way home in the car, I felt my head was very full but my heart very empty. The Parish Priest, himself, was quite silent. He then made the following observation regarding the morning, he said “the Church has so few lovers.”

How true that comment is! All of us have to become a “Theophilus” as we look with great hope at the Church of today and the future. The word “Theophilus”, comes from St Luke as he begins his great Acts of the Apostles. He writes to Theophilus. It literally means “lover of the Lord.”

With regard to the Church being a “Theophilus” means that we collectively love the Lord with our whole heart, our whole mind and our whole soul and from that Christological affirmation we then look with great Missionary zeal towards the Church and its challenges in our world.

This brings us to the second principle, “The Peter Principle.”

In response to Peter’s great Christological affirmation, Jesus confers upon him authoritative leadership. He says to him, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church.” I think that word “My” is so important. The Church is the Lord’s Church. The Church is the Bride of Christ. We are the Body of Christ. The Church needs a sense of order and authority so that it can, with confidence, retain the unity of the Sons and Daughters of God until the Lord comes again.

We see in Jesus’ response that He gives authoritative leadership to Peter to become “the rock, the keeper of the keys” and to discern right from wrong.

We see shadows of this in the First Reading were it talks of the House of David being the place where the keys of God will be given. Jesus is of the House of David.

Our Catholic faith believes that this authoritative mission of unity and service is given not only to Peter but also to his successors, the Popes. The Bishops are seen as successors of the Apostles.

For myself, as an Archbishop, one of my chief missions is to work for the unity of Christ’s Church in my given area. It is a mission of service.

Despite our tepid response over the centuries and our weaknesses, the great strength of God is to be found in so many great leaders who have insisted that the Church be completely open to the workings of the Holy Spirit. Despite whatever might be said about our performance, we are still here after 2,000 years! A great sign of the Holy Spirit being with us.

Next week, a third principle will emerge from the Gospel. I will call it “The Jerusalem Principle.”

In the meantime, let us take great hope and courage in these Covid-19 times from the summation of “The Jesus Principle” and “The Peter Principle” which I see could be well expressed in the final sentence of today’s Second Reading from St Paul’s Letter to the Romans. I will replace the word “Him” with the word “Jesus” in this great Pauline affirmation: “All that exists comes from Jesus; all is by Jesus and for Jesus. To Jesus be glory for ever! Amen.”

30 AUGUST 2020

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

 Last week in the Gospel Jesus articulated two principles for Christian Leadership – “The Jesus Principle” and “The Peter Principle.”

Following on directly from Matthew Chapter 16 of last week this week’s Gospel takes up the next section of this Chapter. Jesus articulates a third Principle which I have called, “The Jerusalem (Calvary) Principle.”

This Jerusalem Principle is showcased in the Gospel which includes a very strong clash between Jesus and St Peter. This is surprising given St Peter’s wonderful response in last week’s Gospel. But, now it seems as if the rock has become a stone in the shoe of the early Church.

Jesus declares a very important aspect of His Mission when he says to His Apostles that He “was 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.”

Jesus reveals that the Messiah is to be a “Suffering Messiah.” This is a major turning point in Matthew’s Gospels.

Immediately He receives a negative response from St Peter. The word used in the Gospel today is that “Peter started to remonstrate with him.” The word “Remonstrate” is a strong word. It means to forcefully protest. St Peter tries to stage manage Jesus, I suppose we could say, and he declares to Jesus immediately “This must not happen to you.”

St Peter receives and equally forceful rebuttal immediately from Jesus. He says to St Peter in one of the strongest statements in the Gospels “Get behind me, Satan!” St Peter is looking for a “Cross-less” Christ. But Jesus is declaring that suffering is part of Discipleship. We know this so well even today. Throughout the last year or so it has been officially declared by objective data that Christianity is the most persecuted religion on earth. The Cross of Christ continues 2,000 years after the Resurrection!

The comment of Jesus “Get behind me” deserves some further comment.

At the time of Jesus, the Rabbi was always distinguished by his disciples who would follow him. Follow that is, not just in their heart but also with their feet! If one could see a Rabbi in the distance you would know due to his disciples always following behind him. Never in front or beside him.

So when Jesus says to St Peter “Get behind me” he is telling him that He is leading the Disciples and they are always to follow.

As somewhat of a side comment, there is a certain poetry in the way we pray, isn’t there? We so often say, and rightly so, “Jesus please help me!” But given the Rabbi Disciple motif in today’s Gospel, it’s more proper for us to say in our prayers “Lead me, oh Lord.”

I am reminded of the beautiful prayer of St John Henry Newman – “Lead kindly light.” Newman was thirty-three years of age and quite sick. He was making a return by boat to England from Sicily. He felt lonely and depressed. This uniting of his suffering with the suffering of Christ gave birth to one of his most beautiful prayers. It begins, “Lead kindly light, amid the encircling gloom, lead though me on. The night is dark, and I am far from home, lead though me on.”

In this Gospel episode we see Jesus enunciating quite explicitly “The Jerusalem (Calvary) Principle.” In other words, the victory is to be found in surrendering our lives completely to the Crucified Christ. It seems almost like a Christian contradiction. But it is true. That when we are defeated we are victorious in the Risen Christ.

This is foreshadowed in the First Reading from the prophet Jeramiah when he says to God in his persecution “you have overpowered me: you were the stronger.” Jesus always wins, we always follow His lead. Even if it is to Calvary.

In the Second Reading St Paul makes it crystal clear in His letter to the Romans. He shows that this apparent Christian contradiction can only happen if there is a change in our mindset.

He says “let your behaviour change, modelled by your new mind.” This new mind, I suppose in today’s reflection, means living out “The Jerusalem (Calvary) Principle.”

As I reflected on these thoughts a pastoral experience of a wonderful Catholic woman came to mind. She certainly lived out “The Jerusalem (Calvary) Principle.”

Aileen was a member of her local Parish. She would participate once a week in the afternoon in a Bible discussion group. That is where I met her. I am thinking of her today because it is Social Justice Sunday. The topic for this year’s consideration is “Mental Health in Australia today.” Aileen had considerable Mental Health issues. She kept this matter to herself and only a few of us knew of her daily suffering. She managed it as best she could and she united her suffering in the suffering of the Calvary Jesus.

In a very Biblical way, her suffering gave her a certain serenity and empathy that others noticed. She was so kindly, especially to those suffering.

One afternoon when she was returning home from her Bible Studies she went into a coffee shop. The waitress engaged with her in conversation. The waitress said that she seemed a very happy person. She acknowledged back to the waitress that she received a lot of joy and happiness from participating in the local Catholic Parish Bible Study from where she had just come.

The waitress immediately said that she once was a Catholic. For some reason she stopped the usual little rant that we often hear from people in this situation. She in fact, said that perhaps she should think seriously about returning to her Catholic foundations. Aileen nonverbally encouraged her to do as much. At the end of her coffee Aileen was exiting the shop and went to pay the bill. Just before she did so she rummaged in her handbag and brought out a little gift. In paying the bill she also gave the waitress this little gift and thanked her so much for her kindness. The waitress looked at Aileen in a startled manner. Incredibly, the waitress began to weep. Regaining herself she said that it had been a very difficult day for her and Aileen was her only customer that had shown her kindness and gentleness. Then the waitress said “Not only that you gave me a little gift. Believe it or not today is my birthday!”

It is a humble little story. But it is a beautiful story of vulnerability meeting vulnerability and from this grows the promise of the Lord’s Resurrection through weakness.

We really don’t know what is going on in the personal lives of other people. Our focus on Mental Health this week should help us to be extra sensitive to the trouble that people are going through especially during this terrible Covid-19 pandemic.

I conclude by paraphrasing somewhat the beautiful final part of St Francis of Assisi’s famous prayer. Although written over eight hundred years ago it might as well have been written for today’s pandemic world where people in isolation are challenged, like Aileen, to show kindness to others in their difficulties.

Paraphrasing St Francis’s prayer, we could say…

May I console rather than be consoled.

May I understand rather than be understood.

May I love rather than be loved.

May I give rather than receive.

May I pardon rather than be pardoned.

It is in St Francis’s final sentence that we seem to find everything summarised so beautifully for us today.

He says, “it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”