Homily – June 2020

7 JUNE 2020

 Readings  Book of Exodus 34: 4-6, 8-9  2 St Paul to the Corinthians 13: 11-13  Gospel John 3: 16-18

 One of my great joys in recent years has been my involvement with Inter-religious dialogue. Here the Great World Religions come together and discuss important matters.

Over the years I have found that the Great World Religions have much in common in regard to practical charity. At the same time, there seems to be little in common in regard to beliefs. Nowhere is this clearer than in our understanding of the Trinity.

I do recall one religious leader, a good friend of mine, saying, “Do you Christians believe in one God or three Gods?” In other words, “Are you monotheists or polytheists?”

It is true, that the Christian belief in the Trinity is uniquely and specifically one of the great foundations of Christianity.

We believe, first of all, in God the creator of us all, the loving Father. We see this in the First Reading today in the dialogue between God and Moses. God is described explicitly here as “a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness.”

In the Gospel of today from St John, we hear clearly from Jesus in his dialogue with Nicodemus about God the Son. Jesus, identifying Himself as God’s Son, says, “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son…so that through Him the world might be saved.” God the Son is the Saviour, the Redeemer of the world.

In a special way, from last Sunday’s Solemnity of Pentecost, we know of God as the Holy Spirit, as articulated in our Creed which we will soon proclaim together, the Holy Spirit is “The Lord and giver of life” the Sanctifier.

Our belief in the Trinity is that there is one God but God exists in three persons.

St Paul makes a happy summary of this in the blessing that he gives at the conclusion of today’s Second Reading from the first letter of St Paul to the Corinthians, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

It is significant to note that even in the first decades of the Church an articulation of the Trinity had already been expressed. That being said, it takes several centuries for the Church to articulate the Doctrine of the Trinity as we now know it.

Lest what I have said so far is rather on the speculative and abstract level, I wish to conclude my Homily by expressing how, not only do we believe in the Trinity “One God in three persons” but, we also are a Trinitarian Community of God.

I would like to express this by sharing a beautiful little story with you of the Trinity in action.

In 2007 I was kindly invited by Jesus Youth International to a gathering of 8,000 youth at an international conference in Southern India, Kerala. Jesus Youth is a great gift to the Church, is found throughout the world and is present as a Catholic association of Christ’s faithful in Catholic communities here in the major cities of Australia.

However, during this great conference they asked us all to form into small groups! How do 8,000 people form small groups?? Anyway, in groups of about 200 we did meet and the question asked was as follows, “How has God touched you?”

In the small group that I was participating in, almost immediately a young man of about 18 years of age stood up and offered to tell his response to this question.

Most of the Jesus Youth Community on the local level form themselves into small cell groups of about 4 or 5 young people. They meet regularly for prayers and apostolic works very similar to what we read in the Acts of the Apostles.

Anyway, this young man and his cell group heard that in their locality a severely handicapped baby had been abandoned by the child’s parents. Immediately this cell group felt a moral obligation to respond positively. This moral imperative clearly is a sign of the Holy Spirit working within them which often stirs us up to respond when we see a need and a hunger for Christ in the world.

The medical authorities refused the cell groups volunteer request to care for the child. However, the cell group persisted. Finally, the medical authorities relented and gave this small severely handicapped baby to them.

This is where something beautiful happened. First of all the small group clothed and fed the little child and gave her a name. The name they gave her was Elizabeth. They loved this little child immediately. They ensured, through the parish priest and the local parish, that the child was baptised.

In this way they acted very much like God the Father. Lovingly caring for the child and baptising the child, Elizabeth became a daughter of God as happens because of baptism she became a new creation in God.

Then, only two days later, little Elizabeth died.

When the young man was telling us all about this he was full of joy. He said that their group was so happy and touched by God that they had the opportunity, even over such a short period of time, to love this little girl. I always recall his words. He said, “She died being loved.” When I heard this expression I thought immediately of God the Son, Jesus Christ. On the Cross he died “being love.” So this wonderful little community of young people imitated Jesus so beautifully in doing this.

So to conclude we believe “in” the Trinity but we are also to “be” the Trinity as the community gathered together in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen!

14 JUNE 2020

 Readings  Book of Deuteronomy 8: 2-3, 14-16  1 St Paul to the Corinthians 10: 16-17  Gospel John 6: 51-58

 On this great Solemnity of Corpus Christi, of the many words I could choose from these ancient and beautiful Scripture texts, I will choose only two – “Bread” and “Hunger.”

Let us consider the “Bread” motif in the Scriptures today.

In the First Reading we join the people of God on their 40 year pilgrimage in the wilderness. They are hungry and they cry out to God for help. He sends them, what they call, “Manna.” Manna is a biblical word that means “What is this?” They wake up one morning and see on the ground something that looks like bread from the earth. They say “What is this? (Manna)”

In this they see God’s providential hand at work giving response to their fervent petitions for bread from the earth.

In the Gospel today we hear, not so much about bread from the earth but of bread from the Angels “Panis Angelicus.” This is a kind of “new Manna.” This time it is from God himself. It is Jesus. In the Gospel today Jesus makes this claim explicit. He says, “I am the living bread which has come down from heaven…He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him…anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.”

In the Second Reading from St Paul to the Corinthians we hear how the early Church celebrated Christ as the “Living Bread” come down from Heaven. St Paul makes direct links between what we now call the Eucharist when he says, “The blessing-cup that we bless is a communion with the blood of Christ, and the bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ…we form a single body because we all have a share in this one loaf.”

To the fractious community of Corinth, St Paul makes it quite clear that when they come to celebrate the Eucharist, in obedience to the Lord’s wishes, it must be the Sacrament of unity. To celebrate the Eucharist and not work towards unity is a grave offence to God, according to St Paul.

I would now like to make a few comments on the second word – “Hunger.”

When we Catholics think of “Eucharistic hunger” we use the word “Fasting.” It is a type of fasting or hunger that turns into the “Eucharistic Feasting” when we celebrate the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

Returning back to the First Reading we hear Moses say to the people “God made you feel hunger. God does this to humble you, to test you and to know your inmost heart.”

In Australia we have over the 200 years of living in this ancient but new land, we have known at least three great “Fasting’s” for the Eucharist. Let me explain.

This year the Bishops of Australia have issued a document recalling the fact that 200 years ago this year the first Priest Chaplains arrived in Australia.

Prior to this other priests came to Australia but they only stayed a short time. They did celebrate Mass and left the Consecrated Host with two families, the Dempsey family and the Davis family. In the two generations prior to the formal appointment of Priest Chaplains, the Catholics would gather in these two families, pray the Rosary and pray in silence in Eucharistic devotion before the Consecrated Host.

When the priests arrived the great “Fasting for” the Eucharist turned to the “celebrating of” the Eucharist starting from the Rocks area of Sydney and going throughout Australia in great missionary energy.

Let us recall that they fasted for many years before this took place.

Secondly, a great piety was seen in the fasting of earlier generations of Catholics in this land.

People will recall their grandparents talking about the far more rigorous fasting regulations than we have today prior to the reception of Holy Communion.

In those days, people would need to fast from the evening before and could not eat anything on the Sunday until they had received Holy Communion.

This was made more difficult when we think of rural Australia. On the Sunday morning many people in rural areas had to travel long distances to reach the Church where the Mass was celebrated.

Their “bodily hunger” and it’s groaning for food only helped them to awaken their “spiritual hunger” for the reception of Holy Communion. That is the meaning of fasting for us Catholics.

Thirdly, perhaps generations ahead of us now, will look back at this Covid-19 period and say that we went through many months of fasting from Holy Communion in these times.

Through the genius of modern communications we are able to celebrate the Mass by electronic means. However, we are only able to receive “Spiritual” Holy Communion rather than “Sacramental” Holy Communion.

I remember speaking to somebody just recently who said, “Although they are very grateful for the live streaming of Masses, Archbishop we are not “e Catholics” (electronic Catholics) but we are “E Catholics” (Eucharistic Catholics).

People are longing to return to Mass and fully participate by being physically present when Mass is celebrated.

Thanks be to God, we now hear of our governments starting to allow congregations albeit in small numbers to come to our Masses. May this continue until there are no restrictions on Mass Congregations. This is our prayer!

So now as we continue the Mass let us, with great hope and closeness to God, pray for the day when we can all join together physically in our Churches and celebrate once again that Jesus is the “Living Bread come down from Heaven.” For this we pray. Amen!

21 JUNE 2020

 Readings  Jeremiah 20: 10-13  St Paul to the Romans 5: 12-15  Gospel Matthew 10: 26-33

 If we were to visit the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican at Rome we would find magnificent paintings and frescos from famous renaissance artists throughout.

One of these paintings by Michelangelo is of an elderly man sitting down in a very pensive mood. He has his chin resting on his arm. He doesn’t seem to be the happiest man in town. It is not as if he has just won the lotto! On the other hand, he doesn’t look depressed. He just simply looks deep in thought.

I am referring to the painting of the prophet Jeremiah. He was born about 600 years before the birth of Christ. He is described as “the weeping prophet”, “the gentle prophet”, “the reluctant prophet.”

In his great humanity he kind of says the following, “I cannot but preach God’s Word, but every time I do I get persecuted.”

Hence we see “the pensive prophet” of Michelangelo with his head resting on his arm in deep thought.

In the First Reading from today’s Mass we hear him reflecting about his dilemma.

He says, “I hear so many disparaging me.” “Disparaging” is not a word we hear often these days, it means belittling, degrading and insulting. Returning to the text Jeremiah says, “All those who used to be my friends watched for my downfall.”

In the midst of this story of woe, the deep faith and trust in God who looks after him, shines through from this great prophet.

He says, “But the Lord is at my side, a mighty hero; my opponents will stumble, mastered, confounded by their failure.”

At the end of today’s Reading we hear the true prophet’s voice come through. A trust in God and a spirit of praise and thanksgiving wells up in his heart. This is an unmistakable characteristic of the “true” prophet. Jeremiah says, “I have committed my cause to you, sing to the Lord, praise the Lord.”

The great biblical prophets in general share this paradox of Jeremiah. It is almost like the ocean. On the surface of the ocean it can be calm but it can also become chaotic, confusing, dangerous and full of turmoil in a storm. Many could lose their lives. Indeed, most of the prophets of the Old Testament were executed.

Below the surface of the ocean deep down there is great calm and great serenity. The prophets have seen the pattern of redemption of God. They have a “seeing eye.” They know God’s ways. They are lovers of the Lord even before they become prophets of the Lord.

These courageous men and women sometimes are called “radical traditionalists”. This is not a political slogan but it means that in God’s pattern over many years they have a “radical faith” to trust God no matter what. They are prepared to be God’s truth speakers at great expense to their own integrity. The Spirit urges them on to declare God’s Truth.

Via our Baptism, all of us in one way or another, have taken on the prophetic mission of Jesus.

When we are baptised we take on the mission of Christ as summarised in our ancient Tradition, as Priest (sanctifying), Prophet (preaching and teaching), King (governing).

Today the Readings focus on the “Prophet” dimension of our shared ministry with Christ through our Baptism.

In a sense, at the moment, I am exercising the prophetic dimension of my Baptism by preaching to you. All of us have to find some way of expressing this dimension in our lives. It is easier said than done!

Let me give you an example. Not so long ago I was taking my 30 minute walk of exercise and sunshine as we are asked to do in this Covid-19 time. I was walking up towards a couple of young adults. I noticed on the t-shirt of a lady I was approaching the following slogan “It’s all about me.”

When I read this t-shirt slogan I immediately felt negative towards it. I felt the slogan is a ticket to unhappiness in human life. Despite the fact that it is very popular and we receive this message “It’s all about me” day and night on the media, we all know that taken too seriously it is a ticket to loneliness and a depressing form of narcissism.

It is because “it’s not all about me”, “It’s all about US.” We know this more than ever in the Covid-19 regime that we are now trying to respond to as best we can together. It is not only that we are social beings but as Christians we also are part of the Community of the Holy Spirit. In recent weeks we have celebrated the Solemnities of Pentecost, The Trinity and last week the Body and Blood of Christ, the Eucharist. All of these in one way or another celebrate that we are part of God’s family.

Anyway, getting back to the lady wearing the t-shirt: what was I to do? So difficult! The lady and her friends went off on a different road to me and I walked away from them. How do we respond to such experiences in our life when we feel that something should be said? I suppose we can take a short term or a long term view.

This is why I think marriage and family life is so important, in regard to this living out “all about me” heresy.

In a nonverbal way, a happily married couple with their family give out a prophetic lifestyle nonverbal statement to everybody that, “It’s all about US.”

Regarding trying to work out how to exercise our prophetic image, a comment made by Pope Francis a few days ago at the General Audience in Rome comes to mind.

He was meditating on another great prophet of the Old Testament, Moses. Pope Francis correctly observed that throughout the Scriptures Moses chose not to condemn the people but to be an intercessor between God and them. Moses’ great gift was to bring God down to the people and people up to God. He was a great bridge builder. He was not a condemner.

Let us all meditate on this very carefully. Being a prophetic person doesn’t necessarily mean one who does nothing other than condemn, but like Moses, it is an opportunity for us to be intercessors for people in all their confusions.

To conclude my homily, could I mention the following advice from a wise priest.

A married couple went to their priest, known for his wisdom but very few words. They were very worried about their adult son who had adopted some lifestyle choices that were diametrically opposed to the families’ values and Christianity. After explaining this quickly to the priest, he simply said the word “Push!”

He gave no commentary to this word. The couple looked at each other and then said they couldn’t push him any further, they had already had vigorous talks with him and if they pushed him any further their son might be alienated altogether from their lives. That they didn’t want.

The priest responded “No I don’t mean that. When I say “push” I mean P.U.S.H. – Pray Until Something Happens!

There is a great deal of wisdom in that word “PUSH”, wouldn’t you agree?

So as the week unfolds with all its challenges let us remember this wise priest’s wisdom summarised in one word…P.U.S.H.

28 JUNE 2020

 Readings  2 Kings 4: 8-111, 14-16  Romans 6: 3-4, 8-11  Gospel Matthew 10: 37-42

 One of the foundational issues in the Scriptures is the attempt to answer a seminal question: Who is my neighbour?

Jesus gave the fundamental Christian answer to this in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke10): The answer simply is – my neighbour is anyone in need.

Today’s Scriptures explore this issue further.

In the First Reading from 2nd Kings we hear about the encounter of the prophet Elisha with a married couple.

The Old Testament answer to the question “Who is my neighbour?” often appears to be: “Someone in need from my own faith family.”

In this Reading we have a good example of this. The prophet Elisha, in his humble way, not drawing attention to himself, often passed by this couple’s home.

The woman took the initiative. She was described as “a woman of rank”. Employing typical Middle Eastern hospitality, she offered him a meal as he passed by.

She said to her husband after a period of time, that she felt this man was a Holy man. Perhaps they should offer him even greater hospitality. So they did. They built a small room on the roof of their house which enabled him to stay overnight as he passed by.

Such extraordinary generosity prompted a generous response from the prophet Elisha.

He asked his companion, “What can be done for her?”

The companion explained that the couple were infertile. He called them to him and declared that in a year’s time they would have a child. So this came to pass.

In the Gospel today from Matthew chapter 10, Jesus accepts this understanding of “neighbour” as being part of our family but goes well and truly beyond.

We can see that He seems to be aware of the First Reading today. One of his expressions, in this rather complex passage, comes at the end of chapter 10’s discourse of Jesus with his Disciples preparing them to be evangelisers.

He says, “Anyone who welcomes a holy man because he is a holy man will have a holy man’s reward.”

But, quite clearly, the Lord goes beyond just caring for the faith of those in our own family.

Indeed the word “ANYONE” is repeated an extraordinary nine times in this rather short Gospel today. Clearly Jesus is trumpeting the fact that offering the Good News of the Lord’s forgiveness and love is not something just for the family but it is for anyone.

He assesses that if our faith remains just within our own family then it is “not worthy of me.” This would obviously be seen as a hard saying by his listeners but he makes it quite clear that giving preference only to father or mother, son or daughter is too limited.

He also explains that when we offer the Good News of Jesus to anyone we need to prepare ourselves for suffering. He says, “Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.”

In this regard I thought of a famous story of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

She came across a destitute young boy in her travels in the streets. He was starving. She took him to a nearby bakery and begged the baker to give the starving child something to eat. Extraordinarily, the baker spat into the face of Mother Teresa.

This is where the saint is able to teach us all a lesson. She said to the man, “Thank you for your gift to me. Do you have anything for the child?” The baker, shamed by her response, gave her the bread she wanted.

I should like to conclude by mentioning a story that I think summarises the Readings today.

A devout Catholic man was working for the government. He worked in a small team of people headed by a lady. The environment amongst his small team became quite toxic.

The team found their team leader most difficult to work with.

She ultimately left the team to their great relief.

However, a few years later she come back to visit them. Some were still working in the same setting. She called them together and asked them to forgive her. She said that when she worked with them she was literally falling apart as a human being and she asked for their forgiveness. She then told them that when she left work she met up soon after with some Catholics in the nearby parish. They invited her along to their meeting. To cut a long story short, she became a Catholic through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. She told everybody that she was now greatly at peace and regretted her past behaviour.

When they dispersed this devout Catholic man went up to her and welcomed her into the faith and disclosed that he himself had been a strong Catholic all his life.

She stopped and looked at him in silent amazement and said, “If you have been a devout Catholic all your life then why did you never tell me of the strength that the Catholic faith gave you? You could see that I was in great difficulty and yet I had no idea, until now, that you were a Catholic.”

She addressed him politely by firmly. He thought about this for a long time afterwards. He admitted to himself that she was completely correct and that he had been expressing his faith in a very limited way, only to his parish and family.

In a sense I suppose, he is like the First Reading today, he still had an Old Testament Christianity. The New Testament Christianity is extrovert and finds appropriate ways in which to let people know, in any circumstance, the love and peace that only Jesus can give. He forgot to ask himself the Elisha’s question, “What can be done for her?”

The woman in the First Reading had Physical infertility. The lady at his work place had Spiritual infertility.

Therefore, as we conclude, we need to ask ourselves today the hard question…do we have an “Inward Faith” or, do we have and “Outward Faith.” Sometimes when I think of the Plenary Council I go away somewhat perplexed by what I have heard. Some people seem to have a very pious understanding of their faith, a little bit like the situation in the First Reading today. Others seem to speak of the Church and her missionary activity as if she were some sort of Spiritual NGO (non-government organisation) both of these extremes are unworthy.

Let us never shy away from asking Elisha’s question, sightly adapted to our needs, “What can be done for ANYONE in need?”