Homily – October 2020

4 OCTOBER 2020

 Readings  Is 5: 1-7  Phil 4: 6-9  Gospel Matthew 21: 33-43

 We are back in the vineyard in today’s Gospel as we have been for the last few Sundays. Today it is the parable of the murderous tenants.

Perhaps a short note about the understanding of Scripture with regard to parables would be helpful here before we reflect on the Gospel.

We live in a very scientific, legal world. Apparently, everything has to be evidence based. People talk about the data not “stacking up.” There is a scientific imperative that if it is not provable then it is not believable.

All of this is ok and we are very much aware of the great contribution the scientific world has made to the world we live in. However, when we come to the Sacred Texts, if we look at them and reflect on them purely from a scientific legal worldview then we miss the broader panorama of the Scriptures. What is required here is the worldview of “lovers of the Lord.” Here all is grace and our human response is touched by God’s merciful forgiveness.

Having made such brief comments we now look at today’s Gospel. It is full of murder and assaults that have taken place in God’s vineyard. It is not the ownership of God’s vineyard that is at play here but the ownership of the harvest of the vineyard.

Again, if we look at it from a scientific, legal approach we do run the risk of looking at all the details on this Gospel. It becomes not a parable so much as an allegory where every particular personality and circumstance has a specific meaning. We end up a bit like the G.K. Chesterton personality, Fr Brown. The very popular television show that bears his name shows how the pastoral and scientific world can come together trying to solve crimes.

When lovers of the Lord look at the Gospel, we are looking at the primal relationships at hand. A parable has one basic meaning rather than many meanings as an allegory does. I think that the one basic meaning of today’s Gospel is like a coin with two sides.

The first side showing that the tenants and all of us tempted to be “possessed” by our possessions. We no longer become servants of the mysteries of God but we seem to think that we are the owners of the mysteries!

The second side of this parable shows that this deeply saddens, shocks and disappoints God. We can see that in the Gospel when it says full of pathos, “They will respect my Son.” Obviously, this is reference to Jesus. The tragedy of the matter is that their criminality and treachery does not respect the Son, in fact, they kill Him. The patience of God is there in the midst of His enormous disappointment. It also resonates in the First Reading when the prophet says, “I expected it to yield grapes. Why did it yield sour grapes instead?… He expected justice, but found bloodshed, integrity, but only a cry of distress.”

But this not the end of the story, God relents and we know that he raised up Jesus from the dead in the Resurrection and through Pentecost comes down to us through the power of the Holy Spirit offering us His redeeming merciful hope.

It is not as if God has wiped His hands of unrepentant humans and moved on to other creatures for instance the Whales, Dolphins or Koalas! No, as described by one Australian author in a book he wrote many years ago, “God is our tremendous lover.”

As we move on with the Mass let us be very careful not to become “possessed” by our possessions because it can easily happen.

Over the past week, I have been visiting our parishes in the coastal regions. Two points come to mind.

Firstly, there is the “D” for detachment. Whether they liked it or not, with the fire on their property, people had to flee from their possessions and forcibly become detached from them. Regardless of this, so many have said to me, many of whom had their houses saved, they carry around so much “stuff.” We are “possessed” by what is not essential in our lifestyle and our possessions. We do need to become detached. Detachment is a form of love of God that we put aside the things that are not essential for our salvation. Secondly, there is the “A” for attachment. Through this detachment we can come to a greater understanding of what we must always be attached to, Jesus our Lord and Saviour alive in His Church.

Ultimately, there is only Jesus and always Jesus.

Let us be consoled by the words of great wisdom found in the prophet Job who had all his possessions taken away from him unexpectedly. In a moment of faith, trust and hope he says, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

11 OCTOBER 2020

 Readings  Is 25: 6-10  Phil 4: 12-14. 19-20  Gospel Matthew 22: 1-14

 We return to the Kingdom of God preaching of Jesus and its expressions in various parables. Over the last few weeks, we had the setting of a vineyard. Today the setting for the parable is a wedding banquet and invitations.

Recall that parables are not allegories. The parable has a prime meaning. At the end of today’s parable is the following teaching lesson: “Many are called, but few are chosen.” As we will see in our reflection on today’s Gospel, the parable could be rephrased as, “Many are called but most are frozen!”

The Gospel parable is of a King who is going to give a wonderful banquet celebrating the wedding of his son. In biblical themes, banquets are very common. It highlights the generous, kindly and extravagant love of God to all of us.

As we mentioned last week, God is our “tremendous lover.” It is all about grace. It is all about a word St Mary MacKillop loved using and that word is “providence.” We think particularly about St Mary of the Cross MacKillop because next Saturday is the 10th Anniversary of her canonisation. There is also a beautiful word in the Second Reading, which shows forth this great gifted love of God, which gives us all so much hope. The word used is “Lavish.”

Also in the Gospels and the New Testament, the image of a Heavenly banquet is often a symbol of our ultimate destiny in Christ. We are called to be with Christ in Heaven and to share with him a perpetual Heavenly banquet. It is always a symbol of great hope for us and the assurance of God’s graceful merciful forgiveness as we repent. Also in our theology on the Eucharist, this banquet image is often used. We often here of the Eucharist as our Eucharistic banquet. Again, it gives a fore-taste in hope that in celebrating the Eucharist, as we are doing right now, we have a fore-taste of the Kingdom of God still to come.

With these introductory comments on the word “banquet”, let us consider now the parable of “The invitations to the wedding.”

In Matthew Chapter 22, we hear of the joy of the father preparing for his son’s wedding.

We can relate to the details being prepared. Although weddings during antiquity in the Middle East might involve the whole village and continue for a week, we can easily identify with some elements. We talk about sending out a date claimer, then there is a formal invitation to the wedding with an R.S.V.P. date and this may be followed by a telephone call to ensure all that had been invited may be able to come.

Yet, for some they give a “frozen” response to the King. They are clearly not interested or are too busy. Not only that, reprehensible behaviour ensued by assaulting the messengers and even killing some. The King states that those who have been invited, at this stage of the parable, “proved to be unworthy.”

So, the King issues an open invitation to all – “bad and good alike.” In this sense, it is a very Catholic invitation.

The word “Catholic” means universal – we are open to everyone who wishes to come and participate in our Christ life.

However, there is a strange addition to the parable towards the end. When the wedding hall is full, the King arrives. He notices that a guest is “not wearing a wedding garment.” He then has him removed. All this seems rather harsh. However, let us think about it. If we were hosting a formal wedding and at the reception, we noticed that someone arrived with a towelling hat, t-shirt, shorts and thongs with zinc cream on his or her nose, we too might ask the person to leave.

In the parable, it is interesting to note that the King asks the man to explain why he is not wearing a wedding garment. He addresses him as “friend” but the man gives no answer. This is seen as a lack of respect. Let us not forget that respect goes two ways. We must offer respect to others, but others must also reciprocate that respect to us. In this case, the man shows no respect by having a sense of entitlement in coming to the wedding.

In our response to God’s universal invitation to salvation, we must offer the Lord the respect of repentance and conversion. Heaven’s door is opened by repentance and conversion. We must show humility and respect to God by asking His merciful forgiveness from our heart.

So let us reflect on this entire parable. I suppose we could say the following, “God is so kind and generous to us, then let us be generous and kind to each other.”

All of us are called to respond to this by little miracles of generosity and kindness. We do not want to be classed as those who are “frozen” in response to God’s invitation to the Heavenly banquet.

One good example of showing little miracles of generosity and kindness is by truly listening attentively to each other. It is a kind of little miracle when we do feel listened to by another. It does free us up and brings us great peace. How do you feel when another kindly listens to you?

Mother Hilda Scott OSB, the Abbess of the Benedictine Abbey at Jamberoo near Wollongong, had this to say after being listened to by a very kindly priest. “I came to someone laden with my very real concerns. I was young, at a crossroads and my journey could have gone any direction at all. I remember the priest concerned listened.   He left spaces for silence which gave me room to think, he spoke sparingly as thou he was treading on sacred ground, he asked the odd question which enabled me to speak further into my pain and finally he made a life-changing remark: “You don’t want to carry that for the rest of your life liked extra baggage, do you?””

What a wonderful testimony of being listened to! It is interesting to note that the priest was possibly a good listener because he was very comfortable in the interpersonal silence between the two of them. That is something for us to work on too.

So as we go on with the Mass, in our own foretaste of the Heavenly banquet. Let us remind ourselves that we are called and chosen. Let us not be called but frozen.


 Readings  Is 45: 1. 4-6  1 Thes 1:1-5  Gospel Matthew 22:15-21

 In today’s Gospel, we move away from the parables centred on vineyards and wedding banquets and now, over the next few weeks, move to Gospels that focus on the struggle of living out our Christian life in society.

Today the “conflict situation” that Jesus finds Himself in is a discussion on the payment of taxes. It is still an issue today, isn’t it?!

The question raised to Jesus by those who wish to trap Him and show him all kinds of malice is the following, “Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Jesus responds to their flattery and double standards by saying “You hypocrites! Why do you set this trap for me?”

Jesus then asked for a coin. His detractors hand him a denarius and Jesus asks them the following “Whose head is this? Whose name? ‘Caesar’s’ they replied.” Jesus then says to them “Very well, give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.”

This is a very shrewd answer by the Lord.

If he was to say, “Yes, you are to pay taxes”, then he would be seen as an agent of the hated Roman Empire Tax imposed upon the Jews. If he were to say “No” then he would be seen as a revolutionary and a threat to the existing order.

Could I make two quick comments upon this episode.

First, it is interesting that Jesus asked for a coin from His detractors. They have no trouble finding a coin to give to him. It appears that Jesus is not carrying any coins. Therefore, by implication, they are the ones seen with the money and not the Lord. They are the ones that are focussed on Taxes and the extraction of money from marginalised people. In doing this, Jesus makes a subtle but important point.

Secondly, I notice that Jesus rejects their binary argument.

They want a “yes or no” answer from Jesus. He does not give them such a response. On the other hand, He gives a “both-and” answer.

He says that they are to respond “both” to Caesar “and” to the Religious dimensions of life. By doing so, he broadens the argument and creates a greater panorama in which to discuss the point. Again, this is a shrewd move on the part of the Lord. It is one we could do well to imitate when presented with binary arguments that seek a bland “yes or no” to complex moral issues.

Today is Mission Sunday and I wish to offer two brief reflections.

First, as we go out into the world to perfume it with the fragrance of the Death and Resurrection of Christ let us also take a missionary posture of the “both-and” approach. We find this perfect balance in Jesus. For we are both in the world and yet we are not of the world.

Let us recall what is written on the tomb of St Mary MacKillop. There we find one of her often-quoted phrases “Remember we are but travellers here.” Whilst we are in the world, we do want to contribute to society and to place before the world, through our evangelisation, the fullness of humanity in Jesus Christ. At the same time, we realise that this is not our permanent home. Our true home is with God in Heaven, so indeed we are travellers here. Always on the move.

The second brief reflection would be that when “God and Caesar” situations occur they often seem to be in conflict with each other. We must remember even in conflict, in the end God wins. The eternal wins over the temporal. For instance, when we have complex issues regarding life issues we Catholics always base our responses on the truth that Jesus is the fullness of our humanity. The dignity of our humanity from conception to natural death must always take precedence over other arguments however strong they present themselves. I am thinking particularly of issues regarding abortion and, more so now in Australia, Euthanasia.

There are also conflict issues in Australia regarding gender and sexuality. Again, the Christian understanding of the truth of our humanity is very important to have at our fingertips. Pope Francis often talks about “ideological colonisation” in today’s world. There is so much confusion, that even arguments that are persuasive and might have majority allegiance are often based on very nebulous ideas indeed. We are reminded from the end of the First Reading that, “from the rising to the setting of the sun that, apart from me, all is nothing.”

As always the Saints, and especially Martyrs, are the best witnesses to resolving all issues pertaining to the Christ life in today’s complex world. Ultimately, they do not make their finest contribution in the written word or in their spoken arguments. Rather, they make it with blood. Martyrdom is the highest form of witnessing to the Faith in imitation of Christ’s Death on the Cross.

St Thomas More (1478-1535) is a very good example of what I have just said here.

You will recall that he was the Chancellor during the time of Henry VIII in England. This is not the time to look at the history of his conflict with Henry VIII, suffice to say, that ultimately he would not acquiesce to the King’s requirement and he was executed.

However, just before he was executed in 1535, his reported words were quite remarkable.

Having been asked by his executioner for forgiveness, St Thomas More forgave the man who was about to behead him. He then prayed piously the Memorare and then as he placed his head upon the chopping block his finally reported words were “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”

Here we find the ultimate resolution of conflict between Caesar and God.

St Paul in the Second Reading, also decapitated by the authorities of his time, says it beautifully at the end of today’s Second Reading. He says, “When we brought the Good News to you, it came to you not only as words, but as power and as the Holy Spirit and as utter conviction.”

As we now are fed by the Eucharist on this Mission Sunday, let us go out into the world with the “utter conviction” that God is with us until the end of time.

25 OCTOBER 2020

 Readings  Ex 22: 20-26  1 Thes 1: 5-10  Gospel Matthew 22: 34-40

 The Gospel today continues Matthew’s reflections on Jesus in “conflict situations.”

Last Sunday Jesus made comments on Social Justice regarding taxation. Today He is making some academic comments of profound theological importance to those who are trying to “disconcert Him.”

On the one hand, Jesus’s answer in the Gospel is not new at all. When asked by the religious academics of His time “Which is the greatest commandment of the law?”, Jesus replies, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.”

This would be perfectly acceptable to His Jewish leaders. Jesus is quoting the Shema, from the book of Deuteronomy, which forms the basis of Jewish-Christian religious response. Then Jesus says “The second resembles it: you must love your neighbour as yourself.”

Of the over six hundred laws of the Jewish Torah, Jesus now chooses a very significant one concerning our relationships with each other. We are to love then “as yourself.” This is found in the Book of Leviticus.

On another level, however, what Jesus proposes is totally new. It forms the essence of the Christian Gospel. In a sense Jesus “Christofies” them. He makes these two pivotal Commandments into one by placing himself at the centre. They are like the two dimensions of the Calvary Cross. One is the vertical dimension pertaining to our relationship with God; the second is the horizontal dimension pertaining to our relationship with each other. By His Blood at the Calvary Cross He makes one Commandment with two aspects.

We enjoy using this expression in Australia, “He nailed it.” In a literal sense by the Cross of Christ, “He nails” this “New Commandment.”

The negative expressions of these Commandments are now placed in a very positive light.

In the First Reading, many of these Commandments are expressed as “You shall not…” this is mentioned four times in the First Reading. Now Jesus expressed them very positively in His Death and Resurrection. It is only “nailed love” to God and to others that is the entry into life eternal. It is the essence of Eternal Life and gives us so much hope, especially in these Covid-19 times.

When we pray with all the Saints, we notice that it is perhaps Mary, the mother of Jesus, who fully participates in this “nailed” sacrificial love.

On the first Calvary she is one of only very few fully participating in the Death of her Son. Our ancient Tradition says that before she conceived in her body she conceived in her heart. To a certain degree, we could say that Mary too “nailed it” in her silent listening humility. She will forever be the Mother of the Church and first amongst the faithful for all of us.

This Marian silence and listening humility is seen very much in this Multicultural Mass of today and the days prior.

Our Migrant and Refugee people have shown great leadership here. in the days preceding this particular Mass we have been praying the Rosary in different migrant languages and now we are gathered with many representatives of our multicultural Archdiocese.

Regrettably, we were unable today to go to our Galong Monastery for our annual Marian Procession. Nonetheless, through representative groups here and our online presence in this Mass in the days before we have been able to try our best, under the Covid-19 restrictions, to bring out the importance of Mary in this month of October, Our Lady of the Rosary.

I particularly welcome representatives of our migrant people here. It is true to say that our Refugees and Migrants are the emerging giant in Australia. It is also true to say that, we are one of the most successful Multicultural societies on Earth.

This does not mean that Migrants and Refugees do not have their difficulties. They do in ways that are often unknown by others. So many times our migrant people are, just like Mary, silent. It could well be because for many of them English is their second language or, in some cases, due to a certain timidity. However, as we journey towards the Plenary Council let us listen more carefully to this great emerging giant of Australia, our beloved Migrant people.

As we move on to the Mass let us pray with Mary in all our needs. Our needs are great in these Covid-19 times. One prayer that has been prayed to Mary over the centuries is called the “Remember” prayer, or as we would know it the Memorare. I am going to pray this slowly now and you may wish to place in your heart the cares that you carry to this Mass today.

“Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.”