Homily – May 2020

3 MAY 2020

 Readings  Acts of the Apostles 2: 14, 36-41  1 Peter 2: 20-25  Gospel John 10: 1-10

 During this Covid-19 Pandemic the key words on our lips usually centre on health and work.

However, in our hearts, at the same time, the key sentiment seems to revolve around hope and peace. What gives us hope, comfort, consolation and peace in this “veil of tears”?

Over the centuries when humans have been imminently troubled like we are now, they have found great comfort by turning to the Responsorial Psalm of today’s Mass the well-known and much loved Psalm 22.

“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want. Fresh and green are the pastures where he gives me repose. Near restful waters he leads me, to revive my drooping spirit….In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell for ever and ever.”

Jesus, in today’s Gospel from St John, appropriates the Good Shepard image to Himself. In a sense, He “Christifies” the Good Shepherd image.

Knowing the voice of the Good Shepherd is of immense comfort. It assures protection from evil.

In the Gospel we hear, “The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the flock…the sheep hear his voice, one by one he calls his own sheep and leads them out….the sheep follow because they know his voice.”

At the end of the Second Reading today from the first letter of St Peter the image is beautifully expressed, “…now you have come back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” The Lord as the guardian of our souls is very comforting to us in our Pandemic stress.

Over the centuries the image of the Good Shepherd has been seen in our Christian Iconography even before that of the Cross and the Crucifix.

The Cross and the Crucifix, due to the scandal of the Cross and the shame and humiliation of the way Jesus died, did not become a public feature in our Churches until about the 5th or 6th century. However, the image of the Good Shepherd appeared almost immediately. Indeed, in the catacombs of Rome, the underground cemeteries where the early Church celebrated Mass due to the persecution above, scratched on the walls are faint paintings depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd image also has been reprised over the years as an image for priests and religious, our leaders in the faith. We pray particularly on this international day of prayer for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Let us particularly keep this intention in mind in this Mass.

Going back to the Gospel, when we look more carefully we find there is an aspect of this image that cannot be glossed over. The Lord makes it quite clear when he says “I am the gate of the sheepfold…I am the gate.”

What could this mean: Jesus is the gate?

First of all, let us recall that the shepherd in the time of Christ was not like a shepherd in Australia with thousands of sheep. The shepherd might have five or six sheep who were like pets. They would know him, he would know them, and he would whistle to them even in the midst of a market place and the sheep would recognise his voice. This is what the Lord means and in regard to the gate there is another beauty to behold. Sometimes in the summer when the shepherd took his few sheep to graze up in the hills he needed to provide for their protection at night.

He would, from the rocks in the countryside, where the grazing took place, build a little fence and place brambles and thorns on the top to make a makeshift sheepfold. He would then bring in the sheep. He would become the one to let the sheep in and to let them out. At night, when the wolf and others who planned to steal his sheep might be prowling, he would actually lie down at the small entrance and become literally the gate. Any wolf or thief would have to climb over him and any sheep wanting to escape would have to go over him. He would wake and rectify the situation immediately.

That is what it means, the Lord is the gate. He protects us from evil.

Another interesting aspect of the Gospel is when it says, “Anyone who enters through me will be safe.”

One would think that the word used would be “over” but in fact the word “through” is used.

The Easter Jesus is the way to the Father.

We say at Mass, “through Him, with Him and in Him. In the unity of the Holy Spirit all glory and honour is yours almighty Father forever and ever Amen!”

Jesus is not simply the gate but he also like a passage way. He brings the love of God through Him down to us and he gathers us together and through His Death and Resurrection we are raised up to God almighty through Him. So this word “through” is very significant as well.

Finally the words of great comfort for us, in our own particular Covid-19 Pandemic difficulties, come to clear light when we hear Jesus say, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full.”

Let these words give us great hope and peace in our hearts in these difficult days. Amen!

10 MAY 2020

 Readings  Acts of the Apostles 6:1-7  1 Peter 2: 4-9  Gospel John 14: 1-12

 Liturgically the Church now finds itself between Easter and Pentecost. The Readings over these weeks show the nascent Church beginning to take form. In last week’s Gospel, this week’s Gospel and next week’s Gospel, the Readings are from the discourses of St John’s Gospel.

Clearly, in the momentous and primal events of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, the Apostles begin to appreciate afresh the Lord’s final words to them on the night of His arrest. They are pivotal in giving the early Church the Master’s guidance in this initial time of the Church’s formation.

The Easter event, (often called the Paschal Mystery) is the corner stone and DNA event of Christianity. We will begin to appreciate in the Readings today the implications of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus for the early Church.

I would like to suggest that two dimensions of the Church begin to emerge.

The first dimension is the emergence of our beliefs, our structures and a certain order appearing in the early Christian community. I suppose today’s Western World would use the phrase “Governance Issues”.

Theologically speaking, perhaps the best way to express this is by saying, the “Petrine dimension” of the early Church was beginning to take form.

We see this particularly in the First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

An important gathering of the Church occurred because of a pastoral issue. The early Christians made it their absolute first priority to ensure that all were provided with the necessities of life and this includes food distribution. They noticed that “In the daily distribution their own widows were being overlooked.” Widows at the time of the early Church, especially those who had no children, would surely be classed as the poorest of the poor. Please note that the Church’s love of those on the periphery of life has always been the engine room for so much of our Church Order.

So we find that “the Twelve called a full meeting of the disciples.”

Already the Twelve, under the leadership of St Peter our first Pope, begin to take on leadership. They would have recalled the Last Super discourses where Jesus assigned Peter the role of primacy and their own roles of great significance. Bishops today see themselves as successors of the Apostles.

Their first decision was to call a full meeting of all the Disciples.

From this meeting emerged what we now call the “Diaconate.” Deacons, in this case the first one being elected is St Stephen, are to attend to practical charity so that the Twelve could “continue to devote ourselves to prayer and to the service of the word.”

It is interesting to note how immediately the Twelve saw their principal role as praying with and for the early Church and to ensure that the preaching of the Good News of Jesus Christ was given top priority.

We see in the First Reading, the emergence of the Sacrament of Holy Orders and the different orders of this Sacrament including the Diaconate. We see in the Gospel something quite different.

At the Last Supper Jesus emphasises His relationship with God the Father.

He says, “No one can come to the Father except through me…To have seen me is to have seen the Father…I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”

Next Sunday we will hear of the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the advocate.

So here we find the beginnings of the articulation of, what in the 4th or 5th century we would describe as, the doctrine on the Trinity.

Isn’t it interesting that it took at least four hundred years for the early Church to be able to articulate precisely what is understood by the great mystery of the Holy Trinity. The questions of St Thomas and St Philip, in the Gospel today, help us to understand precisely what Jesus is meaning by the Trinity.

I would like to move on to the second dimension of the Easter event. Not only was there the beginnings of the emergence of the “Petrine dimension” of the Church but there was also the beginnings of what eminent theologians now call the “Marian dimension” of the Church.

We use the expression, the “Paschal Mystery” in a deliberate way. MYSTERY, for us Christians, does not mean a puzzle that needs to be solved. It means something that it so deep that it cannot be articulated completely. It is not as if we can comprehend the Mystery. Indeed, the Mystery comprehends us. This is what we mean when we talk about matters of God. Although we live in the Mystery and see it as the essential aspect of our Christianity, we cannot scientifically work it out as if it was something of a scientific endeavour. This requires the “Marian dimension.”

The Church alone with the “Petrine dimension” is simply not enough. With the “Petrine dimension” alone the Church becomes something robotic and something of a corporate nature to use the business “speak” of today’s world. The Church is never something robotic or something machine like. The Church is the Body of Christ. We use the feminine expression and describe the Church as “She” and as a “Mother.”

Drawing from the inspiration of Mary the mother of God, the “Marian dimension” brings out the centrality of us treasuring and pondering in the Mystery that surrounds us. It is the mystery of God’s love, tenderness, closeness and intimacy with us.

We need to talk about these two dimensions together as one. All of us as members of God’s Church, try to live out the “Petrine” and the “Marian dimensions” simultaneously.

Lest this Homily moves too much in an abstract theological way, I would like to conclude by bringing these thoughts together and express it in a way reflective of today’s celebration of Mother’s Day.

Years ago, in one of my earlier parishes, I remember the tragic and unforeseen death of a young 20 year old man.

I was the local Priest at the time and spent the days with the family from the time of this young person’s death to the funeral and beyond. In these first days the family was in utter chaos. There was shock, there was anger, there was total bewilderment – naturally so! There was a complete lack of structure and order in matters. We couldn’t really move towards planning for the funeral. This continued until a changing event took place. It was the arrival of the grandmother.

She was delayed a few days because she lived interstate. When she arrived at the home I was fortunate enough to be present with the family. I took it all in. It was a marvel to behold. She simply opened the back door and walked into the room where we were all gathered. She did not say a word. She simply put her arms out as far as she could extend them. Members of three generations of this family came towards her and she embraced as many as she possibly could with great affection, love and the ultimate consolation they were looking for. There were many tears at that moment but very few words.

Although the pain continued, we were able to move on to the next stage of preparing for the funeral.

When I reflect on this beautiful event it seemed as is the grandmother didn’t want to understand this primal event, the death of her grandson but wanted to embrace it not on her own but with everybody.

I see in this, in the light of today’s Readings, the unity of both the “Petrine and the Marian dimensions” of the Church in one humble and compassionate grandmother of advanced age.

In these times of the Covid-19 Pandemic we too are in disarray and bewilderment. We are so concerned, naturally so, about the health of the world and its future. Perhaps the Churches ultimate role is to embrace the world, like this wonderful grandmother. Console the world and give the hope and the strength to take the next moves in the best and most prudent way we can. For this we pray. Amen!

17 MAY 2020

 Readings  Acts of the Apostles 8: 5-8, 14-17  1 Peter 3: 15-18  Gospel John 14: 15-21

 I am going to give you the Homily now in one sentence.

In this Covid-19 pandemic world, the Easter Scriptures today give us enormous hope in stressing that Jesus’ greatest gift to us is the Holy Spirit.

Now what I will simply do is elaborate on my Homily above!

Last week and next Sunday the Gospel is taken from The Last Supper discourse of St John’s Gospel. Again we hear of the promise of the Holy Spirit. This promised gift of the Holy Spirit is to be “received.” This word “receive” is mentioned four times in the Scriptures this weekend – twice in the Gospel and twice in the First Reading.

No doubt this word is the word of the day! Jesus did not say “earn the Holy Spirit” but “receive the Holy Spirit.” Clearly, the Holy Spirit is a gift to be received rather than something simply as a human invention or accomplishment.

There are other indications of our teaching of the Holy Spirit in this seminal passage from St John.

Jesus says, “I shall ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you for ever.” ANOTHER Advocate? Who is the first Advocate? The first Advocate is Jesus Himself. Jesus is the Advocate of our Heavenly Father. He brings down to us the love, kindness and forgiving mercy of God the Father. With Jesus, our Advocate, in faith, conversion and repentance we return to the Father in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Jesus indicates that soon He will physically leave them but another Advocate will come. This is a reference to the Holy Spirit.

The Lord describes the Advocate as the “Spirit of Truth whom the world can never receive.” Here the word “truth” is not just used in a philosophical or propositional manner alone. The “truth” described here is the truth of our humanity. Living in the “Spirit of Truth” is living in the truth of our humanity in fullness. All of this is the gift of our encounter with the Lord Jesus. Jesus gives us enormous hope in emphasizing that the Holy Spirit is His greatest gift of our encounter with Him.

Finally, there is another important expression at the beginning of the Gospel Jesus says, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” and later Jesus says, “Anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them will be one who loves me…”

Clearly, keeping the Lord’s commandments is not something extra but absolutely integral to the life of the Spirit within us. The commandments Jesus speaks of are not simply the Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes, although they are certainly essential. The keeping of the commandments in its broader application is keeping in the Life of the Lord. It is part of our missionary impulse. Receiving the Holy Spirit is at the same time keeping the Lord’s commandment, to let the world know of the “Good News” that he has come to bring and to “love one another as I have loved you.”

In the First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles we see this encounter and missionary impulse being lived out in the early Church.

There is a definite dynamic rather than static tone in the whole of this Reading. We hear expressions like, “Philip went…” and later “Peter and John…went down…” There is movement. It is dynamic never static.

We also learn that they went into a “Samaritan town and proclaimed the Christ to them.” Samaritan towns, as we remember from Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan Woman at the Well, are on the periphery of society. So it is interesting to note that in the earliest days the message of Jesus was particularly given to those on the outer of society, the poor and the outcast. They are so welcoming of the “Good News.” The Acts of the Apostles says, “As a result there was great rejoicing in that town.”

The Second Reading also reminds us that this missionary impulse was never imposed but was always proposed to people ready to listen. Indeed, St Peter mentions in the Second Reading, “always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have.” This continues today as a major Catholic principle of evangelisation.

We also learn that the “laying on of hands” was an integral way of the coming down of the Holy Spirit on the early Church.

In the Acts of the Apostles Peter and John go to Samaria and “then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”

This is very much in our Sacramental system. There is always a form of “laying on of hands” in every one of our Sacraments, particularly the Sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Orders.

As we now continue with our Mass let us, wherever we find ourselves in this Covid-19 world, simply pause for a moment in silence and place one of your hands gently over the other. Let the hand that is placed over the other be the Hand of Jesus. Let it be a sign of free commitment to our Baptism to the Lord and let the laying on of hands draw us closer to the God of all Easter joy and hope.

24 MAY 2020

 Readings  Acts of the Apostles 1: 1-11  St Paul to the Ephesians 1: 17-23  Gospel Matthew 28: 16-20

Have you noticed that the major issues we have had with the Covid-19 Pandemic here in Australia, from a time wise point of view, have coincided with the Lenten Easter Season?

Not only has there seemed to be an overlap with the time but there also could well be an overlap of the feelings of the early Easter Church with our own as this traumatic year continues after our bushfires and now the pandemic.

Some feelings shared by us with the early Church are surely the following: Uncertainty, Chaos, Bewilderment, Sadness, Shock and even Trauma.

We get a sense of that from the First Reading which has almost a comical sense about it.

The First Reading today from the Acts of the Apostles relates to the Ascension of the Lord, the Solemnity that we celebrate today.

Two Angels of the Lord appear and they see a crowd seemingly somewhat stunned with heads upward. The Scripture says, “They were still staring into the sky.” The two Angels are rather abrupt in their response. They say, “Why are you men from Galilee standing here looking into the sky?” They basically say to the Apostles “get on with it!” It is as if they are saying, “Do what the Lord told you to do, go baptise and preach to the nations.”

We can understand their bewilderment and uncertainty at this pivotal moment in the Lord’s walk with them. The Ascension is the major feast prior to Pentecost which we celebrate next week. After Pentecost, the Easter Liturgical Season concludes.

When we imaginatively enter into the feelings of the early Church, they seem to have been left with two hopes, a “Promise” and a “Gift.”

First of all the “Promise.” The Promise is the Lord saying, “Know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.”

This promise, “I am with you”, on one level is nothing new. Jesus was born in the humble stable of Bethlehem the Angels pronounced His name as “Emmanuel” – a name which means “God is with us” and now Jesus is reiterating that He is with us until He comes again.

On the other hand there is something completely new. First of all it is Jesus saying directly now and in no hidden manner, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” So Jesus now openly declares that the fullness of God is made manifest in Him.

Another new aspect to His Promise is that he calls them to baptise not just certain groups but everybody. He says “Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations.”This point “all the nations” is important. Through the living waters of Baptism a new people foundered in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus is given birth, the Church. She is open to all.

It not as if everybody immediately responded whole heartedly to this missionary mandate. The Scriptures say that “they fell down before him, though some hesitated.” The challenge is that, like it is today, the receiving of the Good News of Jesus Christ as a free gift and it must be given out initially and repeated in ways to bring those lacking in faith into the full faith. This is the Baptismal commitment we all share.

The second hope is the “Gift” given by Jesus. It is the Gift of Mary. He gave this gift of His mother to the Church through His beloved Apostle St. John at the foot of the Cross and also invited His mother Mary to take John and the entire Church in her maternity.

Mary is forever the mother of the Church and we see this as the gift of the Risen Lord. Although first amongst the faithful she is largely a silent member and her witness to the Resurrection of her Son is profoundly one of “treasuring and pondering.”

I notice that Pope Francis likes to invoke her presence by using the quaint German title of “Mary, the untier of knots.”

It all seems well enough to us 2,000 years later to be given both the “Promise” and the “Gift”. To the early Church it must have seemed almost incomprehensible. They might be saying, “This is not enough.” Perhaps they were looking for a greater mission plan. Perhaps they were looking for greater instructions or some “key performance indicators” over the next period of time. Perhaps those who hesitated in the early Church and those hesitating even today might say that which is given to us, “Doesn’t cut the ice” or “Doesn’t pass the pub test.”

For that reason we need the First Reading. The only ones that will really be able to live on simply a promise and a gift is a Church named “Theophilus.”

In the First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles the author of St. Luke’s Gospel and The Acts of the Apostles dedicates his letter to a disciple called Theophilus. The word “Theophilus” means “Lover of the Lord.”Only lovers of the Lord can truly believe that God who is Love is fully present to us. All that we need is reassurance that He is with us until the end of time and that His mother Mary will always lead us to Jesus.

Ultimately lovers of the Lord say that “Jesus is my enough.”

The question for us on the great Solemnity of the Ascension is, “Are we lovers of the Lord or are we not?” Once again in the days before Pentecost, we prepare ourselves to be filled with the Holy Spirit to draw us along in our difficulties today where “some hesitate.” Let us be a “Theophilus” Church at all times.

On this day and tomorrow which is the Solemnity of Our Lady Help of Christians, the patroness of Australia, the Bishops of Australia have asked us to entrust the whole of Australia during this pandemic to the protection of Mary Help of Christians.

The Bishops have prepared a special entrustment prayer which I will pray immediately after the Creed. I encourage you to pray this prayer in your families, in your hearts and in your communities in the days ahead.

31 MAY 2020

 Readings  Acts of the Apostles 2: 1-11  1 St Paul to the Corinthians 12: 3-7, 12-13  Gospel John 20: 19-23

 Pentecost is one of the major Solemnities of the Church. There is so much to say coming from the readings today! I will limit myself to answering three basic questions on this great Solemnity.

Firstly, what is Pentecost?

Pentecost is 50 days since the Resurrection, hence the word Pente – cost. It is also the conclusion of the Easter Season. From next week we begin wearing the green vestments, a sign of Ordinary Time.

We recall at Pentecost that all the Disciples were gathered in the upper room with Mary the mother of Jesus. The Gospel accounts talk of their fear. Another reason for their gathering is, as good Jews, is was the Jewish Harvest Festival at this time. It is the opposite to us here in Australia welcoming winter tomorrow. However, in the Northern hemisphere it is the harvesting of the first fruits of the land. For Christians it is also the gathering of the first fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit coming down at Pentecost on the early Church.

This sending down of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and Mary gives birth to the Missionary Church. No longer will they simply be Disciples but they will be, using an expression that Pope Francis loves, “Missionary Disciples” of the Lord. We celebrate this sacramentally in our Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. Here, in the first day of Pentecost, we see the early Church becoming a “sent out” People of God as distinct from a “sent in” People of God.

Secondly, who is the Holy Spirt?

Our Catholic teaching summarises our long teaching on the Holy Spirit. It is summarised beautifully in the Creed which we are about to pray. We say this together with Missionary Disciples over the millennia, “I believe in the Holy Spirit the Lord and giver of life.”

The Lord and giver of life is the third person of the Blessed Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Theologically, the Holy Spirit is the love shared between God the Father and God the Son. It is a “sent out” love, a “Missionary love” that is very difficult to describe in neat theological phrases.

To help define this extraordinary love of the Holy Spirit we often use descriptive words and images. We see them particularly in the Readings today.

The sequence before the Gospel contains many wonderful images of the Holy Spirit.

It is almost 1,000 years old and is sometimes called “The Golden Sequence”. In this sequence referring to the Holy Spirit we hear the following descriptions – “Lord of light…pure beaming radiance give…consolers best…the soul’s delightful guest…refreshing peace bestow…comfort sweet…Pleasant coolness in the heat…Solace in the midst of woe…Light immortal, light divine…strength renew…Heal our wounds…dryness pour thy dew…Wash the stains of guilt away…Bend the stubborn heart and will…Melt the frozen, warm the chill…Guide the steps…Give us joys that never ends.”

From the First Reading today we also hear the Holy Spirit described as “a powerful wind from heaven…tongues of fire.” It is interesting to note that in the First Reading one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is unity. Although coming from different nationalities and language groups, everybody heard the Apostles in his own native language. This is in contrast to the disunity of the man-made Pentecost in the Book of Genesis depicted in the scene at the Tower of Babel. This man-made Pentecost creates confusion and no one can understand that which is proclaimed. In total contrast, the God given Pentecost creates unity and everybody can understand clearly that which the Holy Spirit speaks through the mouths of the Apostles.

In the Gospel of John we hear also of the Holy Spirit being “breathed on them” and once again the expression of the “gift” of peace is one of the hallmarks of the Holy Spirit.

Thirdly, how can we be refreshed with the Holy Spirit now?

The answer to this questions seems to be about returning to the source of all life, the Holy Spirit.

If we were present celebrating the Vigil of the Pentecost last night we would have heard from another passage from John’s Gospel, the Lord foreshadowing that the Holy Spirit was living water. The Lord says from John (7:37-39) “come and drink who believes in me…From his breast shall flow fountains of living water.”

This beautiful expression of the Holy Spirit reminds me of my time in Rome.

I lived not far from the Tiber River. On many occasions when I crossed the river I would look down and often said to myself, “If only this river could talk!” For well over 2,000 years there have been urban settlements on the banks of the Tiber around what is now called Rome. So many dead bodies have been thrown into this river!

On one weekend a priest friend of mine from Italy invited me to his home in the Tuscan Hills for a few days.

When we arrived, he took me to the source of the Tiber River. It is in the Tuscan Hills in central Italy. Here I could see, in an amazing fashion the birthplace of the Tiber River. From the rocks there were two little fountains coming out from the earth gushing forward with pure water. There was a nearby sign which said “Here is born the river, sacred to the destiny of Rome.”

In total contrast to the polluted nature of the water in Rome, the source of the river here was a natural spring. One could drink from this water. It was medicinal. The area around was verdant with lush green forest. In a sense it was like the Pentecost of the Tiber River.

It can become a symbol also of Pentecost Sunday. Much could be said about our feeble response to the Holy Spirit over the last 2,000 years and the somewhat polluted water or our responses to the Lord over the centuries. Nonetheless the New Pentecost continues at its source by bringing living water to the Church and gives life to all our activities in the midst of our infidelities.

Let us pray that this source of Pentecost which we celebrate in today’s Feast will continue to regenerate us in the world today. Our need is great, particularly in this Covid-19 time and as we move, in Australia, towards the Plenary Council.

Could I leave you with a little prayer exercise using our breathing?

If we could breathe in the spirit of the Holy Spirit on this wonderful Feast Day deeply into our very beings. We then hold our breath for a moment and then we breathe out slowly all that is not of God.

You might want to consider doing this over the next few days in your home in which we are still very much living in a monastic fashion during this pandemic. The simple gesture of breathing in the life of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost and breathing out all that is not of God can be a wonderful way of prayer in the most simplest of forms.