Homily – September 2020
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
SUNDAY 13 SEPTEMBER 2020
TWENTY FOURTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (YEAR A)
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL, FORREST
Readings: Sirach 27:30 – 28:7, Romans 14:7-9, Matthew 18:21-35
There was an interview on the local radio of a Religious Sister who had completed 60 years of consecrated life. She was now an elderly nun. She gave a brilliant response to the initial question of the interviewer.
The radio interviewer asked her, “When did you decide to become a nun?” Her brilliant answer was as follows, “This morning!”
Why is this a brilliant answer? Because it reminds us all that the essentials of Christian living are renewed every day.
The essential teaching of Christian forgiveness, so difficult for all of us, is showcased in today’s Gospel. Our Christian response for forgiveness is to be renewed every day.
The Gospel today is from Matthew 18. It continues from last week’s Gospel where Jesus is instructing the embryonic Church how to live the Christian life.
The Gospel today is the Gospel on forgiveness.
Two questions are asked.
The first question is “How often ought I forgive?”
St Peter asked this question. He suggested quite a generous answer according to his mindset. He suggests seven, being the perfect biblical number. Generally up until this time the thought was that even seven was quite generous. But is forgiveness limited?
When Jesus responds to Peter’s question he says, “Not seven, I tell you, but 77 times.” This means every time. Always! Forgiveness is unlimited.
The second question is how deep ought this forgiveness go?
The answer again is given at the end of today’s Gospel. The answer is, “From your heart.” Many would say that this is impossible. But let us look at this more deeply.
The fullness of forgiveness is mercy. We hear quite a lot about the word forgiveness, we don’t hear a great deal about the word mercy. Yet the fullness of forgiveness in fact is mercy. Jesus’ death on the cross is the exemplar extraordinaire of mercy.
The Responsorial Psalm reminds us of this. The refrain is “The Lord is kind and merciful; close to anger and rich in compassion.” The response Jesus wants us to make seems to follow two steps.
The first one is to receive God’s mercy. You will recall in the Our Father we say, “Forgive us our trespasses.” I think most of us are ready to ask God to forgive us and to show us his mercy.
The second step, however, needs deeper thought. It is to give to others the forgiveness we have first received from the Lord. Going back to the Our Father, we say “… as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Both received and giving go together.
The Gospel parable today brings out this interconnection.
It’s the familiar Gospel of the king who settles his accounts with his servants. One of his servants owes him an extraordinary amount of money. The amount mentioned is 10,000 talents. This doesn’t mean a great deal to us. However, in biblical times, it means millions of dollars. The servant pleads for mercy and mercy is given by the master. We hear in the Gospel that, “The servant’s master felt so sorry for him that he let him go and cancelled the debt.” This is forgiveness from the heart. This is mercy. It is not partial limited. It is complete and total. It is unlimited and extraordinary.
Equally extraordinarily, as the servant who has just been shown mercy leaves the master’s house he comes across a colleague who owes him 100 denarii. This is equivalent to about a dollar. It’s small change. And yet, inexplicably, the servant acts in a totally unacceptable way. The scripture says, “He seized him by the throat and began to throttle him. ‘Pay me what you owe me’ he said.” So the forgiven servant assaults his colleague who owes him a pittance and refuses to show mercy to him.
So this servant has received mercy but refuses to give mercy. Not only that, he doesn’t seem to see in his colleague himself only a few minutes beforehand. He was obviously unfocused and resentful. His humanity was not deep. We are reminded from the first reading that carrying around unforgiveness in one’s heart could be described in the following way. From the first reading, “The resentment and anger, these are foul things and are both found in a sinner.” That’s exactly what we find now in the behaviour of the servant who refuses to show mercy on his colleague. It brings him right up to the gates of hell. When the master hears about this, he challenges him in the most explicit way for not forgiving his colleague as he had been forgiven. Punishment was given to him.
At the end of the story the message of the parable comes out when Jesus says, “And this is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
We think today on this Child Protection Sunday of all these essential dimensions of our faith.
They need to be renewed daily. The need for us creating all sorts of practical expressions so that our young people can feel safe under our care as we repent of our past.
We welcome today our two young readers, Thomas and Chiara. They and many others are helping us to understand from a young person’s point of view how we can best make our Archdiocese an exemplar of child safety and protection.
Let us renew that afresh today.
Returning now to the elderly nun who was interviewed on the 60th anniversary of her consecrated life we can perhaps paraphrase the question and answer in the following way.
We could be asked, “When did you forgive others from your heart with God’s mercy?” Our answer could be, “This morning, in this Eucharist!”
Lord Jesus, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Amen
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL
20 SEPTEMBER 2020
TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR A)
AND MASS ONLINE
Readings Is 55: 6-9 Phil 1: 20-24. 27 Gospel Matthew 20: 1-16
In last week’s Gospel, there was a teaching on forgiveness. In today’s Gospel, Jesus continues to explicitate the attitudes of the Kingdom of God, the Reign of God and He emphasises the importance of generosity; however, there is a twist.
The Gospel speaks of a vineyard owner who is very keen to bring in the harvest. He hires workers at the standard and rather generous wage. He goes out into the market place and brings into his vineyard the available workers. In times of antiquity, you hired workers on a day-by-day bases, unlike what we do here in Australia today.
The trouble with the situation here is as follows. Four times during the course of the day, he goes back to the market place and hires further workers who are idle. This is nothing remarkable. However, what is remarkable is that each group receives the same salary as those who started earlier – one denarius. So even those who began only one hour before the conclusion of the working day received this same wage.
At the end of the day, the landowner gathers all the workers of that day together. He begins by giving the standard wage to those who just began one hour earlier and progressively gives each group the same wage. To those who began at the beginning of the day he calls them up lastly and gives them the one denarius.
Well, most of us would be sympathetic to what is about to happen! A protest immediately ensues from those who spent the whole day in the vineyard.
The word used in the Gospel today is that they “grumbled at the landowner.” This grumbling is akin to gossiping or chitchat with each other. They say all sorts of things that you and I would say in a similar situation. They would call it illogical, unfair and lacking in justice. I suppose if there were any Aussies working in the vineyard that day they might also say that they were about to bring in the lawyers, it’s to go to arbitration and or that they have already gone to the media!!
However, the landowner makes a forceful rebuttal. He tells them to take in a deep breath and look at the arrangements that began their employment that day. He says to them “My friend, I am not being unjust to you; did we not agree on one denarius? Take your earnings and go. I choose to pay the last comer as much as I pay you. Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?” Then comes the moral of the parable…”Thus the last will be first, and the first, last.”
Clearly, this parable about the Kingdom of God and God’s generosity has a timeless quality about it. Certainly, God is just. But God is more than just; God is also very generous in His exercise of justice.
The moral of this story brings us face to face with one of the great Christian paradoxes, seen in the First Reading. In the First Reading from the prophet Isaiah, we hear that God is very near to us. “Seek the Lord while he is still to be found, call to him while he is still near.” In the Responsorial Psalm, the response was “The Lord is near to all who call Him.” The nearness of God and God’s closeness to us is a given. Yet, at the very same time God is, what so many of the theologians over the centuries have said, “the utterly other.”
We try to hold this tension of the nearness of God yet His distance from us at the same time.
We see an example of this with Moses in front of the Burning Bush. He is drawn closer to the Burning Bush, attracted to it. At the same time, he knows instinctively that he needs to separate himself from the Burning Bush and be distant in front of “the utterly other.”
In another example, we see this at Calvary. We see Jesus becoming near to one of the thieves crucified alongside Him. It is almost like our first canonisation ceremony! Upon repentance of the good thief, the crucified Jesus promises that He will be with Him that day in paradise. Jesus unexpectedly chooses the absolute last in society, the crucified criminal, to be the first in the Kingdom of God. We certainly can understand now what Isaiah says in the First Reading “My thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways not your ways – it is the Lord who speaks.”
Two examples in our everyday life come to mind in trying to come to terms with this great Christian paradox of God’s nearness yet His distance from us and how God, in the midst of all this, chooses the last before the first. The first example concerns the quest for the Covid-19 vaccine.
Rich countries, including Australia, have been lining up giving financial encouragement to places in the world where laboratories are moving towards finding a keenly sort vaccine.
The implication in this financing, however, is that when a vaccine becomes available those who have given financially might be the first to receive a local distribution. It seems that the poor and the oppressed, the vast majority of humankind, will have to wait in line further down the track.
Pope Francis is already making comment about this. He is calling for a universal distribution of the vaccine. He insists that all humanity should benefit from this distribution simultaneously. As we can see, it is not so much a matter of justice here, but also a matter of generosity, especially towards those always last on the list!
A second example comes from the present Cardinal Archbishop of New York in the United States, Cardinal Timothy Dolan. He reminisces about when he was a young priest visiting a married couple in their home. The husband was dying from cancer and was in the last days of his life.
In the final days, he visited the couple and found the man could not eat. He made this observation to the dying man who quickly said, there was only one “food” he now wanted and that the priest was carrying it. He was clearly referring to Holy Communion that the priest carried with him. The only food that he could take now, according to his awakening and profound Catholic faith, was “the food for the journey” between this life and the life to come – Viaticum, the last Holy Communion.
He came back a day or two later and found that the man, not only could not eat but now he could not speak. As he was talking to the man alongside his bed, his wife left the room for a short time. Soon after she left, the dying man became very agitated. The priest called his wife back in. She placed her ear close to her husband’s mouth. At this stage, she was the only one who could understand his gibberish. She turned to the priest and said, “Oh father don’t worry its nothing, but could you please step two steps to the left or the right. In your current position, he cannot see the Crucifix on the wall. At his stage of his life he spends his whole day gazing on the Crucifix.” Once the priest did this the man settled down completely.
In his last suffering, this man became unexpectedly first amongst the people who can evangelise to us the critical importance of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.
Those who are dying and diseased do draw us near but at the same time, we feel a certain distance from them. Yet in the midst of all this great Christian paradox, we find the Lord coming forward so strongly. Indeed, He is teaching us so much about those who are towards the end of their life.
Let us now move towards the Eucharist so loved by the dying. I suppose the ultimate response the great Christion paradox is to trust. I am reminded of the beloved 18th century Protestant hymn, “Rock of Ages”, were two lines of the lyrics are as follows “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross, oh Lord, I cling.”
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL
27 SEPTEMBER 2020
TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR A)
AND MASS ONLINE
Readings Ez 18: 25-28 Phil 2: 1-11 Gospel Matthew 21: 28-32
A businesswoman was running late for her very important meeting. Not only that, when she arrived at the place of the meeting she simply could not find a car park. In her desperation, she called out to God for help. She said “God please get me a car park straight away. I am desperately late. I will do anything for you. I will recommit myself to the faith. Please just get me a car park!”
Immediately after this prayer a car park appeared! She thought for a moment and then said back to God “Don’t worry God! I’ve got this one! I just found myself a car park! We will be in touch!”
She was going fine with her faith until the last moment. She had still to learn the lesson that all of us must learn – when we try to play games with God we will always lose.
This saying “Yes” and then “No” to God is also evident in today’s Gospel.
We are back in the vineyard. This time, unlike last week, it is not a big enterprise. It is a small family vineyard of a father with two sons. Regrettably, the two sons were both fickle with their response to their father’s request.
When the father sent one of his sons into the vineyard the son said abruptly, “I will not go, but afterwards thought better of it and went.”
The owner of the vineyard said the same thing to his second son. The Scripture says he answered “Certainly sir, but did not go.” The question Jesus asks is, “Which of the two did the father’s will?” All those listening to Jesus said “The first.”
Jesus then made the seminal observation that the leaders of the time were very much like the second son. They had always answered “Yes” to God, but when the important moment came (The call of repentance from John the Baptist) they said “No.”
On the other hand, those least likely to show any faith were the ones who showed the greatest faith. Jesus was referring to the ready response of those on the margins of His time. They became like the response of the first son. Therefore, they did the Father’s will. Jesus made the comment “I tell you solemnly, tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way into the kingdom of God before you.”
This is one of the great ironies of the Gospels, which Jesus often references. The ones least likely to make a faith response make a full-hearted faith response. Those most expected to make a faith response, are so often the ones that do not.
An observation from the First Reading today strengthens our understanding of what happens when we say “No” to God.
The prophet Ezekiel states, “When the sinner renounces sin to become law-abiding and honest, he deserves to live. He has chosen to renounce all his previous sins; he shall certainly live; he shall not die.”
This is not just referring to physical life. It is also referring to living out the fullness of humanity by saying “Yes” to God. When we say “No” to God we not only diminish our relationship with God but we also diminish therefore our humanity. We become less than what God made us to be.
Another observation is that it is not simply enough for humans to say “Yes” to God. They must say “Yes” to God in the “Yes” of Jesus to the Father.
This is the clear teaching from the Second Reading from the wonderful second chapter of St Paul to the Philippians.
This section of St Paul’s letters are some of the most ancient. This Second Reading was almost certainly written before the Gospels and even before St Paul’s letters. It is a wonderful summary of Christianity. It appears to have been a liturgical hymn in the early years after the Resurrection.
The essential teaching is that as Jesus was sent by the Father into our humanity and shared our humanity in all things but sin, it is through His Death and Resurrection that God then raises Him on high and sends Him back to Heaven with us.
In other words, this essential and Christian teaching, says that when we go to the Father we go through with and in Jesus and His “Yes” to the Father. This is something we too often neglect. We often think our faith is something that we ourselves must do. We are weak. Jesus understands this. He invites us to respond in all the fragility of our life with a big “Yes” of trusting Him and uniting with Him as we go together to the Father’s house.
Today is Migrant and Refugee Sunday. I came across a beautiful testimony of a man who said a big “Yes” to God in the “Yes” of Jesus during an enormous challenge in his early life.
He is Vietnamese. Many decades ago, like so many others, he escaped from Southern Vietnam when the Communists took over. So he found himself like so many other refugees. He was on a flimsy little boat full of similar colleagues. It was a perilous journey. Their lives were in jeopardy. Over the days that he was adrift on the sea with all the others, he looked up one night to the sky and saw all the beautiful stars. It reminded him of Mary as Star of the Sea. His Catholic faith automatically made the big “Yes” response. He began singing to himself, over and over again, the popular Catholic hymn that we all know…Hail, Queen of Heaven, the ocean Star, guide of the wanderer here below. Thrown on life’s surge, we claim thy care, save us from peril and from woe.”
He and the others eventually made it to shore. In the fullness of time, he became a priest and spent many years as a Catholic Missionary, the Redemptorist Fathers in mainland China. He speaks Mandarin and Cantonese fluently.
He has now begun a new chapter of his life as a Redemptorist Priest and has begun pastoral work in this Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn. We are blessed! I met him only last weekend. When he shared his story, I could see the grace of God in it immediately. I hope you can too. It all started with his “Yes” to Jesus through the intercession of Mary.
So as we now continue the Mass, again within the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, in all our fragilities we too invoke the presence of Mary.
Adapting the words slightly, we too sing in our hearts “Hail Queen of Heaven the ocean Star guide of the wonderer here below. Thrown on Covid-19 scourge we claim thy care. Save us from peril and from woe. Mother of Christ star of the sea. Pray for the wonderer, pray for us.”