Homily – July 2020

5 JULY 2020

 Readings  Zechariah 9: 9-10  Romans 8: 9, 11-13  Gospel Matthew 11: 25-30

Great leadership in the Scriptures can be summarised in three words…Closeness, Humility and Burden-bearer.

“Closeness” means that Christian leaders are always close to God, to others and the world in which we live, all coming together in Jesus Christ. “Humility” is to do with gentleness and inner strength rather than a “look at me” approach. “Burden-Bearers” are ready to carry the burdens of others in imitation of Christ.

In the First Reading today from the book of Zechariah this is hinted at in a most extraordinary biblical character.

It is not a personality but it is an animal! Surprise Surprise! No, it is not a Kangaroo or Koala, Dolphin or Whale but surprisingly it is a Donkey.

Donkeys have had an unjustified bad reputation in the secular world. It really is a public relations problem for them! People talk about the ugliness (ears and feet), their hideous voice and their stubborn nature.

However, in the Scriptures there is a different profile.

There is over 155 references to donkeys in the Bible. Donkeys are seen as symbols of peace, gentleness, humility and great memory. They are prepared to take on the responsibilities of others by carrying them on their back.

This is distinct from the Horse. In the Bible the Horse is a symbol of soldiers and war, the opposite of Donkeys.

The Donkeys carried the Kings (especially King David), all the prophets and often were the carriers of bread, so essential to the people.

Also the Donkeys carried a secret.

It is hinted at in the famous poem by G.K. Chesterton (d. 1936) the great English writer. In his short poem called “The Donkey” he ends it by saying the following, “There was a shout about my ears, and palms before my feet.”

This is clearly the boast of the Donkey whose greatest joy was to carry Jesus on Palm Sunday. He is referring to the shout of Hosanna in his ears and the palms that were laid down under his feet as he carried the Messiah into Holy Week.

Now having said all this, the First Reading does come with deeper meaning. Here we have Zechariah’s prophecy of King Jesus, the “new David.” The prophet proclaims, “See now, your King comes to you; he is victorious, he is triumphant, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

There is something fresh and new, a hint of the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ soon to be Crucified and Risen, as Jesus rides on a young donkey never ridden before.

We now turn to the Gospel were Jesus’ self-description is found in this lovely passage from Matthew 11.

Jesus described Himself as “gentle and humble in heart…you will find rest for your souls.”

This beautiful expression “rest” is so rich in biblical meaning. God Himself rested on the seventh day in his great act of creation. Jesus often rested by going into the mountains to be alone with His father in prayer. Even today, Sunday, we rest in the Resurrection and make this day different from other days. Ultimately, please God, we will rest in peace in the eternal rest of God.

This all sounds rather complicated, it’s not really. Perhaps children are first to come to this Truth. Jesus said in this Gospel Reading, “I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children.”

Jesus is often seen in our Tradition as the great “Burden-Bearer.” He invites us to take on the burden of life by He Himself carrying it for us.

All the great characteristics of biblical leadership of closeness, humility and burden-bearing are found in an exalted way in the person of Jesus Christ.

Today is also NATSIC (National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic) Sunday.

One of the greatest treasures in Australia has been overlooked for more than 200 hundred years…our First Australians.

Australian history is now sometimes talked about as Tripartite – the Aboriginal, European and now Multicultural/Multi-faith chapters in our history.

The Aboriginal component is too often overlooked. Even now, it is an area that can easily become full of tokenism and stereotypical responses.

Ultimately it comes down to becoming friends with our First Australians. Have any of you actually become friends with our First Australians?

I have been so fortunate over the years to do exactly this, in many different ways. Particularly for six years when I was a member of the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Conference for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Several times a year I had a great honour to gather with other Bishops and with great Catholic Aboriginal leaders from throughout Australia.

Then, perhaps once every three years, we would gather somewhere in Australia and spend some extended time together.

It was on one of these occasions that I met a great Aboriginal elder who recently died (Aunty) Joan Hendricks from Stradbroke Island, Qld. She was a great Biblical Leader in every respect.

She was close to God, to others, especially to her Aboriginal peoples and to creation.

You probably have never heard of her before but she was an extraordinarily humble and compassionate women who never drew attention to herself but to the plight of her people. Over the years she was so ready to carry the burdens of others and to represent them at the highest levels.

It was wonderful on that particular occasion to be shown around Stradbroke Island by her. It wasn’t as if she was showing me her house she was showing me her Ancestral Home going back Millennia. It was a joy to behold and I felt so much an Australian after those few days.

So let us all keep these characteristics of biblical leadership in mind. All of us are called to be Biblical leaders in one way or another.

Today’s Readings give us great insight by particularly remembering three characteristics…Closeness, Humility and Burden-Bearing. Let us try and express these qualities in the week that awaits us in this terrible COVID-19 pandemic time.

12 JULY 2020

 Readings  Isaiah 55: 10-11  Romans 8: 18-23  Gospel Matthew 13: 1-23

 Here is my Homily in summary form! Are you suffering from Covid-19 fatigue and tiredness? Then wait in hope and trust. (End of Homily!)

Allow me to fill in the Homily somewhat!

In recent times I have been carefully listening to many of our Pastoral leaders. They speak of the great heroic work that so many men and women in the Archdiocese are doing in this terrible pandemic time. They do, however, state that so many of our hard working people are exhausted and fatigued. “So say all of us!”

Do the Readings today assist us to respond to our Covid-19 tiredness? Certainly they do!

As always, the world only gives half the truth. Christianity gives the full truth.

The half-truth that the world gives us is that there must be some human effort to help us recover from fatigue and tiredness.

On this level we can look to the Gospel and see this wonderful parable of, “A sower and the Seed.” The type of soil in which the seed is planted is paramount. There are different types of soil in the Gospel. There is soil that is near “the edge of a path”, some attached to “patches of rock” and some in the “midst of roots.” However, there is “rich soil” that is perfect for regeneration and giving life. The idea is to move from rocky ground to rich soil.

The world offers us many practical techniques to help us move from the rocky tiredness, which so many of us feel, to the refreshment of rich soil in our hearts. Many of these techniques have, in fact, a derivative from our own Christian experience over many hundreds of years, going back to the early Monastic history of the Church.

But, techniques are techniques! Some people are making businesses out of offering people techniques to reduce their tiredness. However helpful, it is not the full story.

The full truth about such matters must include not only human initiatives but divine initiatives within our human efforts.

The Gospel and the parable of “A sower and the Seed” from chapter13, begins today. The way the Lord addresses his people is through parables. This week and the next two Sundays we will have parables from Chapter 13’s discourse of the Lord.

In regard to the parable of the Sower and the Seed today, from the Divine initiative, we need to see two points.

The first point is the extravagant throwing of the seed by the farmer.

He is indiscriminate as to where the seed is thrown. Perhaps others might tell him only to put the seed directly onto the rich soil and forget about throwing it anywhere else as it will not yield a good crop. But, the sower in today’s parable is not at all concerned about such matters. Let us remember this. The Lord is never a stingy giver. The Lord is the extravagant lover of us all and is there to help us more that we have ever thought or imagined.

The second point is that wherever the seed is thrown there will always be abundant fruit. That is the intention of the Lord: to give abundance to His people. St Mary of the Cross MacKillop often used the word “Providence.” Even if our human efforts are rocky and full of thorns, the intention of God is that there will be an abundant/provident harvest.

Apart from the seed, the other important aspect about this parable on growth is the need for water.

How does one get water for the seeds to grow?

St Teresa of Ávila, the 16th century Carmelite Spanish mystic, described her own prayer life as a delicate flower needing plenty of water.

Coming from her Monastic background, she suggested four ways of getting water.

The first way is by using a bucket. Going to the Monastic well and going through the motions of drawing out water from the well and taking the bucket over to the plant seems to require a lot of human effort but does get the water to the soil.

The second way is by doing the same thing but now using a pump. It is a little easier but human effort is still involved.

The third way is by using irrigation. Once again human effort is decreased but this still requires supervision and maintenance.

The fourth way of getting water, and for St Teresa the most beautiful way, is to wait for water to come. We wait in hope for the rain that will inevitably arrive. It requires complete trust in Divine providence and the human effort of simply being there waiting.

St Teresa obviously saw this as the way of going deeper into our prayer life. There is a movement here from an accent on human effort to a dependence on trust and hope in Divine initiative. This is suggested in the First Reading today from the prophet Isaiah when the prophet says, “As the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth and making it yield and giving growth…so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will.”

So, in this painful and difficult time of the Corona virus that draws the strength out of us and makes us so fatigued, may we take the lead from our mystical Tradition and wait in hope and trust for the extravagant and abundant Grace of God.

Doing this is not easy and we struggle with trusting and hoping.

It is almost like a groan within us that gives birth to a perpetual Genesis.

We often think of the seven days of creation in the Book of Genesis. I prefer to see creation as a verb and not simply a noun. With groaning, we await the ongoing “giving birth” of God’s creation within us.

This is suggested in the Second Reading when St Paul says, “From the beginning till now the entire creation, as we know, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth…we too groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free.”

Waiting by groaning!

I would like to conclude by sharing a short story which comes to mind with this wonderful message of St Paul.

One of the highlights of my life was once celebrating Mass with Pope John Paul II when I was in Rome many years ago. There was only about 30 of us in his private chapel. We arrived about 10 minutes before Mass. The Pope was already in the chapel praying. Remarkably, I was seated right behind him. For ten minutes I could see the master at work! He was in deep prayer and holding cards with different things written on them. I am sure I heard him groaning at this time and I was wondering what he was reading.

Afterwards, I asked some of his assistants. They told me that he receives requests for prayer intentions from all around the world. These are placed in summary form on cards and he uses the last section of his meditation to pray in intercession for the needs of those who have asked for his prayers. He was “groaning in one great act of giving birth”, through the prayer intercession from the Saintly Pope.

Let us now continue on with the Mass refreshed by the Eucharist. Let us understand that our fatigue will ultimately be quenched and our strength restored by waiting in hope and trust for the abundance of God’s blessing. For this we pray. Amen!

19 JULY 2020

 Readings  Wisdom 12: 13, 16-19  Romans 8: 26-27  Gospel Matthew 13: 24-43

 The Readings today open up God’s subtle and patient plan for us all.

This is hinted in the First Reading from the Book of Wisdom.

Here it is proclaimed, “There is no God, other than you, who cares for everything…but, disposing of such strength, you are mild in judgement, and you govern us with great lenience.”

God who cares for everything is expanded on in the Gospel today from Matthew chapter 13.

It continues the parables discourse of last week and will conclude with the Readings of next week.

If you recall there was the parable of “The Sower and the Seed.” Today is the parable of “The Wheat and the Weeds.”

Let us recall that a parable contains one basic message. There may be other ways of us drawing strength from the parable but the parable has a singular message. In this case, it is of God’s patient plan for us.

Once again, Jesus uses a farming image that would be very familiar to so many of his listeners. The issue here is as follows.

A man sowed good seed in his field. In the dead of night somebody came and planted weeds.

When the owner’s servants go to the farmer and report the matter to him they suggest that they could weed out the weeds immediately. This short term solution is not accepted by the farmer. He fears that, “When you weed out the darnel you might pull up the wheat with it.” The farmer instructs them to wait for the harvest. Then at harvest time, the reapers will collect the darnel and burn it and then gather the good wheat into the barn.

So with the problem of weeds amongst the wheat, the farmer opts for a long term rather than a short term solution. It shows his patience, a certain subtlety in his strategy, and also hints at a final separation of the good and the bad. This is the parables major theme.

In today’s world this agrarian issue might be lessened by modern methods of farming. Speaking more generally, there is the expectation that all our harvests are to be as close to perfect as possible.

We even see this in our common day language, especially with young people. A very popular expression when speaking of a project is that it was “perfect.” Today’s perfect world finds it hard to tolerate that which is not deemed perfect. But there is a certain unreality about this. In all situations, as we indeed are very much aware with today’s problems that we share globally, there is good and bad.

Perhaps if we take the agricultural image and change the words around a little, maybe the principal message of the parable will become even more acute to us today.

So perhaps we could replace the word “Wheat” with “Faith” and the word “Weeds” with “Fear.”

So let’s have some examples.

The Bushfires of earlier this year produced a great faith response. We saw this particularly in the Emergency Workers and everyday people.

Yet there was much fear about as well and still is. I recall reading reports about the increase in Shop Lifting and people rorting Emergency funding for their own selfish needs. All this is surely an expression of fear in their hearts.

Even now with the Covid-19 issue we can see both Faith and Fear interplay together.

Faith is expressed dramatically in the Medical Staff. The Nurses and Doctors are the new heroes and heroines of our situation. Also amongst them are everyday people who do what some now call “random acts of kindness” in their neighbourhood and for those they see are struggling.

Yet fear is certainly there. One example of this is the online evils of pornography and social networks that breed hate and division in the community.

Could I give a recent example I came across recently, that touched me very much, of a wonderful faith filled nurse in Northern Italy showing great faith in the midst of the fear that Covid-19 generates.

She gives a testimony of great faith amongst her colleagues. She says, “The work seems to have been taking place on a battlefield where one leaves covered from head to toe, indistinguishable from each other like Martians. A white, green and blue army as seen in our uniforms.”

“I can testify that my view of my colleagues at this time has changed and has become more profound. The compassion I feel for all those faces marked by the masks and dripping with sweat is indescribable.”

Here is great faith show.

There is also the evil of Covid-19 which engenders great fear, especially in those who have contracted the virus.

Her testimony continues as she talks of this. She says, “The sadness and sense of loneliness that I feel when I walk into patients’ rooms is impossible to fill…They who with a look full of hope extend their hand towards me. They yearn for a caress, a hug, a little comfort, a smile. They ring the bell ten times with any excuse only to see a face, even if it is hidden behind a mask.”

What a dramatic world we are now living in.

So as we move now towards the celebration of the Eucharist, the source of all our strength and nourishment, let us activate God’s subtle and patient plan in us.

Let us try to patiently develop habits and actions of belief that sow the wheat of an increase of faith in people.

Let us also reject habits and actions that sow the weeds of fear and hopelessness in people.

Could I offer you two little take away quotations which seem to summarise what I have just said and are very helpful in the “Weeds and the Wheat”, the “Fear and the Faith” of our focus today.

I quote from St John of Avila, a 16th century Spanish Priest. He says, “Nothing can terrify us as much as Jesus can reassure us.”

Then we have the well know English proverb, that I notice was used by Martin Luther King Jr. in some of his famous speeches. It says, “Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered…No one was there.”

26 JULY 2020

 Readings  1ST Book of the Kings 3: 5, 7-12  Romans 8: 28-30  Gospel Matthew 13: 44-52

The Readings today present us with four great “Wonderfuls.”

The first great “Wonderful” is found in the First Reading today from the Book of Kings. It is about the encounter of God with King Solomon in a dream. Recall that King Solomon is the son of King David.

God asked King Solomon a wonderful question – our first “Wonderful!”

“Ask what you would like me to give you?” What a wonderful question! Jesus sometimes asked this same question in the New Testament when he asked, “What would you like me to do for you?”

Jesus asks that question right now in this Mass. What will be your answer? Ponder carefully on your answer. Why?

Here is a good example. A grandfather was supervising his grandchildren one evening. He oversaw the prayers that his young granddaughter was praying to God before she went to bed. He overheard her ask God, “Please give me a hundred dollars cash as soon as possible!”

Next week the grandfather returned to the house and repeated the supervision of his granddaughter’s prayers again. Before she started, he asked her, “Did God answer your prayer of last week about the hundred dollars?” “Yes”, was her answer. “Really!” said the grandfather “Did you get the hundred dollars in cash!?” “No” was her answer. “But you said God answered your prayer!” The little girl said, “Yes God did. God said No!”

Her answer probably didn’t move her grandfather’s rather cynical attitude towards religion. But you can see that the young girl was growing in her faith. She was moving away from an idea of God as simply being a “Father Christmas” who blindly answers all our egocentric requests.

Let us recall. God will always answer our prayers. But he may answer it with a “Yes” or “No.” God might answer our prayers by delaying it or giving an answer in a way we never thought or imagined.

So be very careful when you answer this wonderful question that God asked of Solomon and asks us too.

In the First Reading God said “Yes” to Solomon’s prayer. Why? Solomon asked for “a heart to understand how to discern between good and evil.”

This request for wisdom pleased the Lord. God said “Yes” to Solomon. God said, “Since you have asked for this, and not asked for a long life for yourself or riches or the lives of your enemies, but have asked for a discerning judgment…I give you a heart wise and shrewd as none before you has had and none will have after you.” Hence we have the common expression, “The Wisdom of Solomon.”

Solomon asked for a gift from God so that he could serve God’s people better. It had nothing to do with fulfilling his egocentric desires. Solomon’s answer was based on his great love relationship with God which proceeded him back to his father’s days. It is from this great faith and love for God and from God that the question and answer first arose. Let us keep that in mind. Recall, in the Gospels Jesus didn’t work miracles unless some form of faith was shown beforehand.

The second great “Wonderful” of today’s Readings is to be found in the Gospel of today.

Again we return to Matthew Chapter 13 – the parable discourse. Two more parables are offered. The first is of a poor man who finds hidden treasure and the second is of a merchant who finds the finest pearls.

First of all, I find the word “Find” penetrating. It is not as if the two in the parables “Earned” these great gifts. They were given freely.

Jesus refers to finding a hidden treasure or finding a pearl as a little like finding the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Kingdom of God, probably the primary theme of all Jesus’ teaching, refers to our relationship with Jesus himself. It is given as a gift. It is a “Wonderful” gift of faith offered to us all. It is so great that it demands a total response from all of us. Nothing else will take priority, everything else will follow. In the two parables the poor man collects as much money as he can to buy the land. The merchant sells all that he ever had to buy the finest pearl.

Finding the Kingdom of God in our hearts “costs nothing less than everything.”

This is not just something for individuals. We as “Church” collectively and in communion say “Yes” to the Lord in our prayers, especially in this Eucharist we all say “Yes” to the Kingdom of God!

A good example that is not just simply of a personal individual experience but an experience of a whole society makes me recall a famous Homily of a former Pope.

On the 2nd of June 1979 St John Paul II celebrated a Mass in Victory Square, Warsaw, Poland.

It became an extraordinarily significant Mass for many reasons.

It was soon after his election to the Pontificate. His first overseas pilgrimage was to his homeland of Poland. Recall that Poland had for decades been under the oppressive regime of two poisonous “isms” of the 20th century – Nazism and Communism – Stalinism.

However, Poland has been a Catholic Christian country for centuries yet these poisonous “isms” tried to stamp out the religious instincts of people. However, the Communist leaders didn’t factor in the extraordinary prophetic Homily of Pope John Paul II at that Warsaw Mass.

In his Homily he said “Christ cannot be kept out of human history…to exclude Christ is against humanity.” At this point and many points from then on the 250,000 people in Victory Square, Warsaw interrupted his Homily and starting singing an ancient Christian chant. They started singing in Latin “Christus Vincit, Christus Regnat, Christus Imperat.” In English, Christ Wins, Christ Reigns, Christ Commands. Using more of an Australian English and abbreviating it, they basically were shouting out persistently “We want God.”

Here we see a third “Wonderful”: the gift of Religious Instinct given to the Polish people which can never be suffocated by Political “isms.”

This Homily was the beginning of the end of Communism in Poland. Soon afterwards the Solidarity movement was formed and in the years following Polish Communism collapsed and the Catholic Religious instinct of the Polish people re-established itself.

Finally, a last “Wonderful” has the possibility of being given birth in our Covid-19 world of today. We are living a kind of Monastic lifestyle in our homes more than ever before. Some find this a great opportunity for re-engaging with their faith, others struggle with this new setting. But, wherever we gather in God in this more focused moment of Covid-19, there is the great “Wonderful” gift of hope that is waiting to be reborn in our midst.

So often on the television and on the radio we hear the word “Hope.” A light at the end of the tunnel is something that all of us feast on. Let us not forget that “Hope” ultimately is a Theological and Religious word. Hope comes from God. God give us hope. The closer we come to God the more hope is given. Let us give this our top priority, particularly beginning in our homes. Indeed perhaps that is what the word “Hope” could mean. H.O.P.E. = Homes Of Prayer Encounter.

As we continue on with the Mass which gives all of us so much Hope, let us make sure our homes are always Homes Of Prayer Encounter.