Homily – July 2021

HOMILY
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL
4 JULY 2021
FOURTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B)
AND MASS ONLINE

 Readings  Ez: 2-2-5  2 Cor 12: 7-10  Gospel Mark 6: 1-6

 Today we recall with great affection the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia. On this Sunday throughout Australia we remember the great gift that the First Australians are to our country. More of this later.

We continue today in our Gospel with the teaching of the Lord on Faith. You will recall that last week we had the Gospel of two remarkable people who showed great faith. There was the woman with the health issues and Jairus the synagogue official interceding for his dying daughter.

Today we hear about Faith from the point of view of a community.

Generally, in regard to faith and healing in the Gospels, it would be true to say that where there is faith there is healing and conversion. Where there is no faith there in no healing or conversion.

I use the word “generally” because even so, the Lord never stops coming after us as our loving and merciful Father to bring us home to life in the Trinity.

We see an example of God taking this initiative in the midst of no faith in the First Reading today. God sends the prophet Ezekiel to the Israelites who God describes as “the rebels.”

At this time they are in exile in Babylon. It appears that they have not repented of their ways that has led to their exile in the first place. They are described as “defiant and obstinate.” Nonetheless the Lord still sends the prophet to call for conversion and repentance. God says, “Whether they listen or not, this set of rebels shall know there is a prophet among them.”

This is a good lead into the Gospel of today whereby Jesus returns to His own home town. Here He also finds people who are not open to the newness of the Kingdom of God.

Although those that hear Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue are “astonished when they heard him”, It doesn’t seem to have brought them to repentance or conversion.

Indeed, they are mystified as to the remarkable words they have just heard given the fact, according to them, of the ordinariness of Jesus’ background.

As fellow villagers they offer what could only be described as three slurs towards Jesus. First of all He is described as, “The carpenter.” Presumably they are questioning how such a remarkable teacher could come from such a humble background. They seem to be scandalised that He has come up from a workshop rather than a University! They then describe Him as, “Son of Mary.” Behind these comments perhaps there is a questioning of Jesus’ origins. There is no reference to Joseph here and perhaps village gossip is questioning how Jesus came to birth in the first place. The third slur, they list the extended family of Jesus with the implication that they are so ordinary, almost peasants.

Once again, they can’t get beyond the ordinariness of Jesus’ background. They are unable to accept even the suggestion in their hearts and minds that Jesus may also have, out of His ordinariness, extraordinary divine origins.

Quite clearly, these peoples can’t be surprised by God’s “ordinariness.” Their God is too small!

So, on this Sunday of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, with the motto for this year “Heal Country”, we are also aware in our own country of Australia that many people overlook Aboriginal people because of their ordinariness.

I remember some years ago regarding an initial meeting committee organising a National Conference on Australian themes. One of the very first questions that people asked was the following, “Who can we invite from overseas?” It appeared that unless the keynote speaker came on a jet from overseas they wouldn’t have sufficient moral authority! I remember some of us made the suggestion that perhaps one of the Aboriginal Catholic Leaders of Australia would be more than capable of being a keynote speaker. This was investigated for a little while but seemed to lack majority support as the meeting went on. It appeared that the Aboriginal leader could offer “Welcome to Country” but that was about it. We must guard ourselves against tokenism in regard to our Aboriginal people, even with the well-intentioned “Acknowledgment to Country.” If we are just simply, as it were, “ticking the boxes” then it lets us of the hook with regard to taking communal commitment to the Aboriginal contribution more seriously.

Another experience comes to mind. It was last year when I was visiting the parishes following the Bush Fires. I recall being outside the Church at Bega. I was talking to local Aboriginal leaders. In a fascinating way, they described how the Aboriginal tradition of cultural clearing of the Bush floor has been overlooked in Australia since colonisation. They then explained how Aboriginal people were able to control the Bush Fire danger in ingenious ways. I was aware that this was a very helpful suggestion by Aboriginal people throughout Australia. Regrettably, once again, the suggestion was mentioned briefly in the media but then lost traction. The ordinariness of their suggestion, which I found quite extraordinary, seemed to be once again dumbed down amongst Australians who find it very hard to take seriously the Aboriginal contribution. We only have to look at the appalling present day statistics regarding the basic health and sociological data of our First Australians which are too painful for all of us to take seriously. That is why we do need to “heal country!”

Even perhaps in our own everyday life we too struggle with finding God in the ordinariness of everyday life. We seem to want to wait for something extraordinary to happen for us to be challenged in our routines.

I conclude therefore with a lovely quote form St Teresa of Avila, the 16th century Carmelite Spanish mystic, who often talked about the ordinariness of God in what she described as, “The God of the Pots and Pans.” One of her favourite expressions is the following, “Know that even when you are in the kitchen, our Lord moves amidst the pots and pans.”

HOMILY
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL
11 JULY 2021
FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B)
AND MASS ONLINE

 Readings  Am 7: 12-15  Eph 1: 3-14  Gospel Mark 6: 7-13

 With the Gospel coming from Mark 6:7 and following, we reach a new phase in Mark’s Gospel.

Rejected at home in the Gospel of last week, Jesus now starts a new phase of His Ministry and he travels elsewhere.

For the first time He begins to initiate His Disciples into sharing in His ministry of evangelisation. This word “Evangelisation” is used so often in today’s Catholic Church. Also accompanying words such as “co-responsibility” and “synodality” indicate to us that Jesus works alongside us in our humble efforts to make Him known and loved.

We are following the synodality way with the Plenary Council of Australia in the years ahead. We activate the gift of Baptism to enable Jesus to walk alongside us and to teach us the ways of evangelisation in the complex world of today. It is really is a movement from Jesus the evangeliser to the evangelising Church.

From the Readings today many things could be said. From the Gospel I think there are at least three key dimensions of evangelisation which are certainly worthy of our deeper reflection.

The first reflection comes from the words of the Lord in today’s Gopal when it states that he is “giving them authority.”

The Greek word for authority is “Exousia.” It is linked to another Greek word which is similar in meaning: “Dunamis.” The word “Dynamite” comes from this. In other words, when Jesus gives them authority he is giving them the power of the Holy Spirit. It is “Gospel authority.” This has been filled with Jesus alive in the Holy Spirit both as individuals and as the community called Church.

People who have “Gospel” authority have an inner strength and hope that does not depend on outward things, particularly when the storms of life become tumultuous.

When Australians hear the word “power”, we immediately start to think of coercion and manipulation at all different levels for one’s own benefit. “Gospel” power is the absolute opposite of this. It is a power to serve – nothing more and nothing less.

I recall as a Seminarian many years ago that Mother Teresa of Calcutta visited us. I suppose we were very much aware that she was a famous woman, so when she came into the Conference Hall there was a deep quiet that descended upon us all as we hung on every word she said. She certainly had a great “Gospel authority.” I have also seen this over the years with remarkable men and women of Holiness. I recall, particularly, in times of family grief that very often the Grandmother or the elderly lady in the family who will eventually emerge as a woman of great “Gospel authority.” She seems to be a uniting point as the family struggles to come to terms with the tragic death of a loved one.

But, this “Gospel” authority is something that all of us should ask the Lord for. It is simply a matter of faith and breathing in the power to serve God in the world and asking the Holy Spirit to enliven us with all the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Secondly, there is an expression in the Gospel today where Jesus makes it quite clear that they were “to take nothing…” and then he sends them “out in pairs.”

The Gospel today is quite specific about this, the only essentials the Disciples are to take are sandals and a staff. In other words their footwear and a wooden stick to guide them along the road. Evangelisers are always on the move. They are itinerant Missionary Disciples of the Holy Spirit. They take only essentials. They are free from all, what people today call, “stuff.”

I remember last year listening to families after the Bush Fires at the South Coast. Some of them were only given an hour or even less to vacate their houses before the Bush Fire would come in their direction. Later they complained how much unnecessary “stuff” they hoarded in their homes. When only given a short period of time to take what is essential it really reorientates the priorities for one’s life!

Jesus also tells His Disciples not to be fussy about hospitality. They are to accept whatever is given to them and not be choosy. Also they are not to be “Lone Rangers.” They are to go in pairs, not only for the purposes of protecting each other but the Gospel is to be shared by the community for the community. Let us remember this. There is an important expression which says, “A Lone Ranger is a real Danger.” As Jesus puts His twelve Disciples into six groups, let us also approach the evangelisation of the world today, not in a solitary fashion but going out to the world as Church. In other words together.

Thirdly, Jesus makes it quite clear that the Disciples are to “preach repentance.” We find this a struggle for Amos in the First Reading today. He is the unlikely one that has been chosen by God as a prophet to call for conversion. Most regrettably he finds in the organised religion of the time, expressed in the priest of Bethel, Amaziah, no hospitality what so ever. In fact, he is dismissed as an insignificant messenger of God. It is true, says Amos, “I was a shepherd, and looked after Sycamores” but it is the Lord Himself who said to Amos, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” So Jesus not only calls unlikely ones but we are to always see in all sorts of people the call of God to conversion.

Today when we think of the word “Repentance” we often think of simply the confessing of our sins, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is always true. But, it is not the only aspect of repentance. Another aspect is contrition, where we ask the Lord to give us real deep sorrow in our heart for our sins.

The wisdom of the mystical Tradition of the Catholic Church can help us out here. Our mystics often say that in summary the human heart is too small for God’s greatness. Therefore the heart must be stretched and enlarged so that it can increase capacity for God’s filling. They often say that our prayer to God often strengthens our desire for this. The psalmists use the word “Yearning.” This desire and yearning for God deep-down within is painful but enlarges our heart and helps us to understand that without God we are nothing.

Saint Augustine, the great African Theologian Saint of the 5th century has this to say. It is a quote that Pope Benedict the XVI often liked to use, “Suppose God wishes to fill you with honey; but if you are full of vinegar, where will you put the honey?”

So, the heart is to be enlarged, cleansed and freed from the vinegar in our negative and hostile world with so many attitudes in our heart which are contrary to the Gospel. We are also to get rid of the taste of vinegar in our hearts. That is, all that is painful, hard hearted and full of envy and hatred.

Then we are able to be filled with the honey coming from our loving and tender God.

I end the homily with a little expression coming from St Francis de Sales, a 16th century French Master of the Spiritual life.

Perhaps being aware of St Augustine’s expression above he summarises and says the following often used today in the secular world…”A spoon full of honey attracts more flies than a barrel full of vinegar.”

HOMILY
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL
16 JULY 2021
CATHOLIC EDUCATION CELEBRATING NADOC WEEK
(HEAL COUNTRY, HEAL OUR NATION!)
AND MASS ONLINE

Readings  Exodus 11: 10-12:14  Gospel Matthew 12: 1-8

It is lovely to be with you boys and girls. Welcome to the St Christopher’s Cathedral. I greet particularly those that are in the Cathedral at the moment and those joining us via live stream around the Archdiocese.

This is an important Mass. It culminates what we call NADOC week. Sometimes we also call it NATSICC week. These acronyms really mean our standing alongside and listening more carefully to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in our midst, and particularly in our schools here in the Archdiocese.

I am pleased to say that there is an increasing number of Aborigines coming into our schools as students. There are over eight hundred now from over six Aboriginal nations. This is really encouraging. I hope it continues. It is so important to listen to the Aboriginal boys and girls that are in our schools and make room for their opinions and make room for their very special understandings of living in Australia. It is so important, boys and girls, that the Aboriginal students in your school really feel comfortable to share their culture and their Aboriginal life with us all.

By way of an example, I would like to share with you a little story of what happened to me many years ago. I was with quite a big group of Aboriginal people. We went away for a couple of days in a mountainous area. I think there was only one or two people who weren’t Aboriginal. I was one. We celebrated Mass outside very early one morning just before dawn. I wasn’t too keen on this because I felt it would be better inside the Church. The Aboriginal people, however, were very keen to celebrate outside. So we did. I was amazed throughout this experience just how the Aboriginal peoples tend to see in the ordinary things of creation, the extraordinary presence of Jesus. This is something for us all too really experience. Our Aboriginal people can really show us, in what we consider the rather ordinary things of creation, the extraordinary gifts from God.

My particular examples are as follows. Just before we began the Mass many birds came across where we were and made a lot of noise. There were Cockatoos, Galahs and Kookaburras. I must say I found it very distracting. But after the Mass the Aboriginal people said how it was the highlight of the Mass. I wondered why. They said that the birds were God’s Church bells. It was God ringing the bells for creation to prepare them for the celebration of the Mass. I have never thought of birds as Church bells!

When the Mass went on, the dawn broke. A very strong shard of light came over the mountains and bathed us in its glow. Again I found it a bit distracting. You almost needed a pair of sunglasses! Again, after the Mass, the Aboriginal people said how beautiful it was. They said it was God kissing us with the warmth of His dawn light. Again, boys and girls, see how they saw something extraordinary in the ordinary things of creation.

Lastly, I remember that during the Eucharistic prayer some Kangaroos passed nearby. They stopped and looked at us. We stopped and looked back at them. Again I felt it was a big distraction. Again after the Mass the Aboriginal people asked, did I notice the three Kangaroos when they stopped bowed their heads. They were acknowledging the presence of Jesus in His Body and Blood, according to the Aborigines.

So as you can see, boys and girls, this Archbishop in front of you is very slow to learn! It is not just only me! It is also my generation. My generation and generations before me here in Australia have really found it difficult to look at life through Aboriginal eyes and to see that this is something very enriching.

Boys and girls, when we don’t take seriously the Aboriginal contribution we tend to marginalise them. Do you know that here in Canberra at the present there are so many Aboriginal people in prison? Far too many! Also the people in the Archdiocese that help the hungry and the homeless, tell me that far too many Aboriginal people are homeless in this city and are lacking in basic foods.

You see, boys and girls, when we don’t take Aboriginal people seriously we do tend to marginalise them and blame them for their situation. This has been a real problem in Australia over 200 years.

Although it might be difficult for us to do anything globally, we can do things locally. You can do things, boys and girls, in your own school. If there are Aboriginal children there, then give them room to share their way of looking at life and find it a great blessing. Don’t be silly like me and find everything a distraction.

You see if we simply come to a Mass like today and have the Acknowledgment of Country and the Smoking Ceremony and lovely Aboriginal Artefacts around the Church but that is it, then this is not pleasing to Jesus.

In fact, they use a big word for this. The word is “Tokenism.” It is when you only look on the outside at things but it means nothing to you inside yourself. For 200 years we have had far too much tokenism in regard to your friendship with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

This must change in the years ahead. Leadership should be given even more by the Catholic Church. We are experts on changing attitudes, on changing the heart. We call this conversion.

A special word to Teachers, Principals and Religious Education Coordinators, I really encourage you to help the children and yourselves particularly, to stand alongside wonderful Aboriginal people like Kerry and Katrina here today who put so much time into preparing this beautiful Mass for us.

Can you see the lovely Cross they have placed on the Sanctuary here? On the Cross there are special Aboriginal paintings representing every school in the Archdiocese.

So let’s not make what is happening today just empty gestures. We must imagine the face of Jesus with an Aboriginal face. If we do so we are really showing leadership not only for our school and our Archdiocese but in our country, Australia.

It is like a relay race. My generation and the ones before me haven’t done enough to look into this area of friendship with our Aboriginal people. The baton is now quickly passing into your hands. Please don’t repeat our mistakes. Please learn from our mistakes and move into the future now by walking together with our Aboriginal peoples in our Schools, in our Archdiocese and in our land.

Then we can really see what seems to be an ordinary culture of Australia become extraordinary with the Aboriginal people. So let’s walk with and listen to our Aboriginal friends. May they become deep friends with us and together may we walk with Jesus.

Only then can we really make Jesus known in our world. Walking together with our Aboriginal friends is being Jesus in the world of today. Let’s go ahead with great confidence and hope.

HOMILY
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL
18 JULY 2021
SIXTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B)
AND MASS ONLINE

Readings:  Jer 23:1-6  Eph 2:13-18  Gospel Mark 6:30-34

We continue our journey with St Mark’s Gospel. When St Mark refers to the twelve he often refers to them as “apostles”. The word apostle means “to be sent out”. We are the sent out Apostolic Catholic Church. We are not the sent in people of God.

You will recall that in last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus sent out the apostles in six groups of two each. At the beginning of the homily we receive their return home report. I think what is not said is important here. It is almost as if you could see a smile that may come across the Lord’s face when the disciples enthusiastically return “and told him all they had done and taught!” There’s a good start here but it appears as if it’s from their own efforts alone!

It reminds me of the story of grandparents who went late one afternoon to visit their grandson. He spent the day with his parents in the backyard. His parents were painting the fence. When the grandparents came up they saw their grandson with paint all over him … perhaps more on him than on the fence! But he was so pleased to see his grandparents and said to them in referring to the painted fence, “See what I did with mum and dad’s help!”

I’m sure you understand what I mean now about Jesus’ possible response!

One ancient and perennial image of following Jesus as the apostles is to follow Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

The Readings today are full of this significant image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

We see it foreshadowed in the Old Testament reading from Jeremiah today. It’s almost as if we are defining the word “good shepherd” by looking at its opposite – the bad or wicked shepherds.

Jeremiah condemns the shepherds of his time, “who allow the flock of my pastor to be destroyed and scattered … you have let my flock be scattered and go wandering and have not taken care of them.” There is the promise, however, that God, “will raise up shepherds to look after them and pastor them.” The fulfilment of that prophesy is the coming of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.

A wonderful example of this is in today’s Gospel. Jesus tells his apostles that they must “come away to some lonely place to be by yourselves and rest awhile.” Apart from reviving their tired spirits, it would give them an opportunity of “breathing in” rather than just “breathing out” and to see that in breathing in, a greater wisdom and understanding of what it means to be an apostle will become obvious. They are to be, as the definition goes, “with Christ for others”. We mustn’t forget the “with Christ” aspect. This would come by contemplating on all they had done in the presence of God.

But on their way, people have foreseen where they will go and have met them. It was a large crowd. Jesus could have asked them to go away and to come back some other time. But something very significant happens. Whereas the bad shepherd would tell them to go away and scatter them, the good shepherd gathers them together and unites them and takes care of them. This is expressed in the phrase, “He took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Here the good shepherd gathers his people at great inconvenience to his own personal health and convenience.

The word “pity” is somewhat an unfortunate one in the Australian setting. Perhaps the word “compassion” is best understood by us as to what is happening here. The word “compassion” means to “suffer with”. So Jesus, from the depth of his being, suffers with those calling out on him and goes to them to “teach them at some length.”

Another story comes to my mind with this. Although now gone to God, a renowned parish priest in Northern Australia for many years was a very attentive priest to a largely Aboriginal community. They loved him, he loved them in the Lord. He was so dedicated that he rarely took any time off by way of holidays or rest. After a period of time, he was prevailed upon to take a month off. Before he left the presbytery, the priest’s house, to take his well-deserved break, he instructed the priest who was to take his place for this time. He gave the following advice, “If you are praying and there is a knock at the door and, for example, they want you to go and clean and fix up the toilets, for heaven’s sake go and clean the toilets and say your prayers later.” Here is a good shepherd who was happy to be compassionate to his people even in their most mundane of requests.

A deeper insight into the image of the Good Shepherd can be seen in today’s Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 22-23. It is a very popular psalm. We have said or sung it so often at our Catholic funerals. “The Lord is our Shepherd … there is nothing I shall want.” Historically, even before the popularity of crosses and crucifixes in our Churches, there were for several centuries an even greater importance given to the image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. This was seen particularly on the tombs of Christians. Why was this? Well it would mean that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, leads us not only in the journey of life but leads us also in the valley of the shadow of death and leads us to our heavenly home. Jesus is with us every moment as the Good Shepherd through our life and in our death and even beyond death!

There is only one that has gone through this life and has gone to heaven and come back and told us about it, and that is Jesus Christ in his life, death, resurrection and Pentecost. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, knows the way. He knows that even in our last solitude, in our death, he is able to walk with us. He is our great consolation. The word “consolation” means “to be with somebody in their solitude”, to the point that their solitude vanishes in their companionship of the Lord. There is no longer solitude. We no longer have to walk alone. But God is with us in his closeness. This gives us great hope.

Particularly, at this time when almost 40% of the Australian population are in some form of Covid lockdown, the great consolation that Jesus, the Good Shepherd is with us gives us great hope. Let us rely on that hope in these days that can make us so vulnerable.

I leave now with the second stanza of Psalm 22-23, which summarises beautifully the image of the unifying Good Shepherd, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

“If I should walk in the valley of darkness, no evil would I fear, you are there with your crook and your staff, with these you give me comfort.