Homily – June 2021

6 JUNE 2021

 Readings  Exo 24: 3-8  Heb 9: 11-15  Gospel Mark 14: 12-16, 22-26

 Today we celebrate the great Solemnity of Corpus Christi. The fact that it is given liturgically the title of “Solemnity” means that it is of the highest level of importance. How could the Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi, The Eucharist and The Mass not be central to our faith?

Of the many things that could be said about our devotion to the Eucharist, for me personally, there seems two signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit regarding the Eucharist that really amaze me these days.

The first amazement about the Eucharist is regarding adults who have become Catholics in more recent years through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). Not infrequently when I ask them the key question “Why have you become a Catholic?” Their answer very often is something like: ”I am convinced of the truth of the Catholic Church’s claims regarding the Eucharist.” These claims are explicated in so many documents of the Catholic Church over the centuries. More recently a succinct summary of that is found in the Catholic Catechism, available to everybody on the internet.

But this teaching is in rudimentary form found even in today’s Scriptures.

Two points come to mind when we reflect carefully on the Eucharist in regard to the Scriptures of today.

The first is that Jesus is the High Priest.

In the Old Testament Reading from Exodus we hear that Moses and other priestly leaders are leaders in the ritual celebration of the Pass Over. Clearly, over the years priests and leaders would have been designated to take the place of Moses in these rituals.

However, beautifully expressed in today’s important Second Reading from Hebrews, we find that in the new covenant something remarkable has happened.

“Now Christ has come, as the high priest…and he has entered the sanctuary once and for all….” So Christ has become the one High Priest celebrating our Reconciliation with God once and for all. This definitively took place at the First Mass, The Last Supper. This First Mass was offered by Jesus in ritual, knowing on the next day, Good Friday, this would take historically on the Calvary Cross. In every Mass ever since this is re-presented (not represented) sacramentally.

Please be aware that the priest in a sense is not his own, when he celebrates Mass. He is literally standing in for Jesus until Jesus comes again on the last day. It is Jesus who “once and for all” is celebrating this one perfect sacrifice as High Priest to the Father. The priest simply takes the place of Jesus but uses the words of Jesus from the Last Supper and sacramentally it is Jesus Himself who is the leader of every Mass.

Secondly, the Scriptures point to the fact that Jesus is the Victim.

In the Old Testament we see that Moses directed them to offer “holocausts and to immolate bullocks…” and in the letter to the Hebrews it is noted that in this Holy Sacrifice that Jesus is “taking with him not the blood of goats and bull calves, but his own blood, having won an eternal redemption for us….the blood of Christ, who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice to God through the eternal Spirit…He brings a new covenant.”

So now we are not talking about the blood of various animals but it is His own Blood, the Blood of Christ, who reconciles us to the Father.

We recall the words of St John the Baptist at the start of Jesus’s Ministry where he points a finger indicating Jesus and describes Him as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” This is the new covenant that is celebrated in every Mass. Jesus is not only the High Priest but at the same time He is the Victim.

All this might sound rather theological and philosophical but it forms the very basis of our understanding of this great Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ.

But my second amazement about the Eucharist, in more recent days, is the increased hunger for the Eucharist that I see in so many Catholics.

Especially during these Covid-19 times, we are very much aware that many still cannot physically come to Mass because of sickness and all sorts of genuine vulnerabilities. We think particularly of parts of Australia that are right now still under lockdown, so this is impossible. They are always welcome to join us via live streaming and receive the blessing of the Lord through spiritual Holy Communion.

Having said all this, I am very happy to see that those that can come to the Mass, are certainly coming. Look at the Cathedral today. We have reached our capacity once again for our Covid-19 numbers. I have often heard from people saying that they have come back to Mass because of their great hunger for the Mass and particularly for Holy Communion.

It reminds me of a story told in a book of pastoral reflections by the present Cardinal Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan. In the book referring to some of his pastoral encounters as a younger priest, he talks of visiting periodically a married couple. The husband was dying of a terminal disease.

One of the last times he visited the husband, the man had reached a stage of his illness that he no longer could take any food or liquids. But, when the priest came into his room guided by his wife, he said that “What you have brought with you is the only food that I now need!” He was clearly referring to Holy Communion. It is amazing the hunger this man had at the point of his death for nothing other than his last Holy Communion. This is called, in the Catholic Church, “Viaticum.” It literally means in Latin, “Food for the journey.”

It is the last spiritual food that the Church offers someone prior to their death to enable them to make the spiritual journey from this life to the loving arms of our Merciful Father in Heaven. The point of the matter is his great hunger for the Eucharist when all else in this life was fading fast. It is a great hunger for the Eucharist I see now as the Covid-19 clouds start to clear in the world. This is of the Holy Spirit. It is amazing! This raw hunger for the Eucharist and for people’s participation in the Mass is surely a sign that this Solemnity of Corpus Christi is not only central liturgically in our Catholic life but central in every other aspect of our response to God.

As we now continue with the Mass let us join in the wonderful 14th century hymn of praising the Body and Blood of Christ. This hymn is called the Anima Christi.

“Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Water from the side of Christ, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me.
With Thy wounds hide me
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee
From the malignant enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That with Thy Saints I may praise Thee
Forever and ever.

13 JUNE 2021

 Readings  Ez 17: 22-24  2 Cor 5: 6-10  Gospel Mark 4: 26-34

 The Church’s liturgical calendar has now returned to Ordinary Time.

Although the time goes quickly we have been spending quite a few months now liturgically celebrating the Easter Mysteries of our faith and then, more recently, the great Solemnities of the Trinity and Corpus Christi. We look back to the genesis of the Church in these primal liturgical months that have passed. We give praise and glory to God for His great mercy.

In today’s Readings we also receive a few images of the future. In today’s Gospel from Mark there is the image of the harvest. This is foreshadowed in the First Reading with the image of the majestic cedar.

These are images of our final destiny in Christ. This is in the fullness of time when Christ will come again in all His Glory. It is the time of God’s providence in full.

The cedar, even in today’s Lebanese homes, indicates a tremendous impulse of hope. Let us pray for the beleaguered country of Lebanon during these tragic days of their history. We pray that the hope and great joy that comes from the symbol of the cedar, the symbol of God with His people despite many adversities, will be with them and with us all.

So here we are in the in-between time between Christ’s First Coming and His Second Coming.

We return to a systematic presentation from St Mark’s Gospel. Let us recall that St Mark wrote to an early Church under great persecution. Maybe they were thinking that if God is with us then why does he seem to have abandoned us and why are we being persecuted in imitating Him in His Crucifixion. Let us recall the ancient Christian maxim “the blood of the Martyrs is the seed of the Church.”(Tertullian 160-220)

In this passage from Mark 4 we have two of the several growth parables offered to us.

The first image is of a sower planting seed. Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is like this. There is imperceptible growth night and day even if the sower is not attentive to what is happening. Growth is happening. “Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know.” This is an important message for us to always remember that the Kingdom of God continues to sprout amongst us. Even if by our sight nothing seems to be happening. This wonderful mysterious growth of grace is an unstoppable force drawing us to the fullness of Christ’s Second Coming.

Then we have the parable of the mustard seed. The Lord stresses that it is “the smallest of all the seeds on earth.” The mustard seed is about as big as a pepper seed. It is tiny. We might even mistake it for a bit of dirt but “once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade.” It is clear, according to the old adage that “the seed is in the tree and the tree is in the seed.” Again we return to hope and patience in God’s great providence that He is at work amongst us even in the smallest of events.

Let us once again consider the “smallness” of Mary, the teenage Virgin who said “Yes” to the current of God’s grace and gave birth to the Son of God, Jesus our Lord and Saviour. It all began with her tiny mustard seed “Yes.”

In regard to saying “Yes” to life, during these cold wintery days here in Canberra our minds turn to the homeless and those that struggle for food and shelter. We think particularly of the contribution of a 19th century young university student in Paris, France. He renewed his faith in the Catholic Church but he came under criticism from his peer group. They said that it was all theory and there was nothing of practical charity to his words. Upon reflection, he acknowledged that this was true. Therefore he gathered together a small group of his mates. We now call this the St Vincent de Paul Society. It flourishes throughout the entire world and particularly in this city of Canberra right at the present is trying to, with all of us, stand alongside the cold and poor and offer practical support.

We know this man as blessed Frederick Ozanam. Almost 25 years ago Pope St John Paul II beatified him in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Again it was his small mustard seed “Yes” to the Lord that has produced a wonderful harvest.

Let us truly believe too that our humble and imperceptible “Yes” to the current of God’s initiative can produce a wonderful effect of love of God and love of neighbour in our world of today.

In recent times I was in a debate with a person on the vexed topic of euthanasia.

The person, a non-believer, criticised the Church for always saying “No” to initiatives, one of the initiatives he quoted positively was Euthanasia.

That is why we were in disagreement! Palliative care is the answer to such issues and not Euthanasia. Sometimes people say that the Church is a generation behind itself. Since we are talking about Paris, I recall the words of the former Cardinal Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Lustiger who when confronted with such an accusation, said “the Church was very often not a generation behind but in fact a generation in front of society.” I am sure that is the case with the Euthanasia debate.

Let us continue our Mass now and be continually illuminated and nourished by the Word of God and the Lord in the Eucharist.

I would like to summarise my thoughts with a little expression derived from St Augustine (354-430) that you might care to memorise. It is, “Trust the past to God’s mercy; leave the future to God’s providence; and respond to the present with faith and love.” Amen!

20 JUNE 2021

 Readings  Jb 38: 1. 8-11  2 Cor 5: 14-17  Gospel Mark 4: 35-41

 For millennia we have been asking an age-old question to God: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

A response to this perennial question and the problem of evil in general is seen in the Book of Job in the Old Testament. A very brief reading from this rather long book is the First Reading today which is God’s response to all the calamities that have taken place in Job’s life.

Job is sometimes seen as the patron of those who suffer depression, mental illness and despair.

There was certainly many extraordinary and depressing events in Job’s life.

He was a man tested by God. Calamities arose with his own health, his property and his children.

Job’s approach was basically – All is God’s will even if I do not know why.

In Job 19:25 he says “I know that my Redeemer lives.” So even in the midst of all his travails he has hope. Christians, in looking at this particular passage, see it as a foreshadowing of the Coming of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of humankind.

But, in regard to God’s response to his calamities, a very opaque and mysterious response is made. In almost prophetic fashion the Book of Job has God saying at the end of today’s First Reading, “Come thus far, I said, and no father: here your proud waves shall break.” It appears that God’s answer is that – God is God!

A response to this age-old question regarding bad things happening to good people can be seen with greater clarity in today’s Gospel.

We continue from Chapter 4 of Mark’s Gospel last week. You will recall it was about the mustard seed and the farmer who threw seeds on the ground.After this long pastoral day, the Lord instructs His Disciples in the following way, “Let us cross over to the other side.” The Scriptures mention that it is already evening. The darkness is coming, the light is fading. These are ominous signs that something of significance is about to happen. When Jesus said to go “to the other side”, in the minds of the people of His time this could indicate that unbelievers and hostile people may await them.

Jesus gets into the boat. It reminds us that Jesus often preached from the barque of St Peter. This is symbolising how the Lord teaches us from St Peter’s boat – The Church. “Other boats” are also there. Maybe St Mark is trying to suggest that the persecuted Christians, to whom he is writing, are also seen in this particular episode that is unfolding. Maybe we too are in one of these boats.

Sure enough, bad things started to happen. “It began to blow a gale and the waves were breaking into the boat so that it was almost swamped.” This is not unusual in the Sea of Galilee. Throughout history it has been a most unpredictable sea because of its geography.

Extraordinarily, Jesus, tired after a full day of pastoral work, “was in the stern, his head on the cushion, asleep.” We notice how Jesus is so fully human here. He is tired and sleepy. Indeed, it is the only time in the Scriptures that it is directly stated that Jesus is sleeping.

On the other hand, there was no such tranquillity in the Apostles. They were in panic mode. They then woke up Jesus and put to Him a very poisonous and barbed question – “Master, do you not care?” Jesus then “rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Quiet now! Be calm!…and all was calm again.” Jesus then offers them a gentle rebuke by saying “Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith?” The Apostles are bewildered by what has just happened. They see Jesus now not only as fully human but as fully divine, that “even the wind and the sea obey him.” They then ask the crucial question that is answered later on in Mark’s Gospel, “Who can this be?” The ultimate answer is that Jesus is the Son of God.

We too ask this question in our lives so often when bad things happen to us – “Master do you not care?”

For instance we hear this question when people say, “Why do I have cancer…Why did my child die…Why was there the Jewish Holocaust…Why did my marriage break up…Why are there so many addictions, especially social media addictions in the world…Why is there unemployment, homelessness and refugees…Why is there the Covid-19 pandemic?”

The Scriptures today want us to ask a deeper question. The question is, who is sleeping? Is Jesus sleeping or are we sleeping? What are we doing practically to relieve those that are suffering from the calamities of our day? We can always argue with God but we must never walk away from God! This is because God never walks away from us!

As we continue on with the Mass let us ask God to increase our faith so that we, with all Chrisianity, can acknowledge Jesus as fully human and fully God, as our creedal statements articulates.

Let us allow Job the last say…….

In Job 1:21 he says in the midst of his rolling tragedies, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Let us truly say in faith and trust, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

27 JUNE 2021

 Readings  Wis 1:13-15; 2:23-24  2 Cor 8: 7. 9. 13-15  Gospel Mark 5:21-43

 Today’s Readings give us, yet again, a beautiful teaching on faith. You will recall that last week we had the Lord calming the seas in the storm on the Sea of Galilee with His Disciples. He rebuked them for their lack of faith. Next Sunday we will continue the teaching on faith but in a more communitarian aspect.

But, today we have a teaching on faith which showcases two unlikely personalities.

In these healing miracles, Mark frames one within the other. This is a literary technique used to bring out similarities between the two. It is a little bit like the framing of a picture. There is the picture and then the frame that surrounds the picture.

In regard to a definition of faith, we find in the large treatment on this topic in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that faith always has two components in our Tradition. There is, first of all, the realisation that faith is a gift from God. We call it a Theological gift, along with Hope and Charity.

Then there is also the human response to this gift from God. But, even this response is gifted to us by God.

So in regard to the two miracles, let us consider the one in the central part of the Gospel today.

It is the beautiful miracle of a woman who has a medical problem involving blood haemorrhaging. This has occurred over a twelve year period. When we look at antiquity, this is an illness of the gravest nature. Thanks be to God, this issue may be not so in today’s world.

The first thing the Scriptures tell us is that Jesus is walking around in a great crowd. Everybody is aware that the healing power is coming out of Him. People have been healed and cured of their infirmities. All of this is a gift from God. It is a beautiful image of God walking amongst His people with healing. This is not something in the Scriptures alone. In this Sacrament of the Eucharist right now we must fully realise that Jesus is walking amongst us in this Cathedral Mass with the power of healing as He did in today’s Gospel.

In regard to the woman’s response, her desperation with her serious illness makes her take some significant risks. Anything to do with blood in antiquity marginalises people. If she was known in the crowd to have this problem, she would be roundly condemned for being so close to people for she has contracted ritual uncleanness. But she is prepared to take this risk. Knowing that she must not make herself a public spectacle, she comments to herself, “If I can touch even his clothes… I will be well again.” This is what she does. Immediately Jesus felt “power had gone out from him.” At the same time the women herself felt that “she was cured of her complaint.”

Jesus wants to know who touched him. The Disciples make the obvious comment that everybody is touching Him and no one in particular. But, Jesus is insistent on having an encounter with this person who touched the hem of His cloak with such faith.

She reluctantly makes herself known. Her reluctance is due to not only of risking marginalisation but because she has touched Jesus. Hence, He himself becomes ritually unclean. Jesus is not at all perturbed by such cultural condemnations. He has this wonderful encounter with her where she “told him the whole truth.” Jesus responds by saying, “Your faith has restored you to health; go in peace and be free from your complaint.” He also calls her, “My daughter.” This is a beautiful title to give her. No longer is she marginalised or seen as a problem to society. Indeed she has now become a daughter in God. A member of His royal household! She is not only healed of her infirmity, but also given the eternal healing of companionship with God who is Love and Healing.

Let us now contemplate the second miracle which is the one that has framed the miracle we have just considered.

The introduction of this miracle happens even before Jesus’ encounter with the women. It is about a synagogue official by the name of Jairus. He comes to Jesus and says, “My little daughter is desperately sick. Do come and lay your hands on her to make her better and save her life.” Jesus has no hesitation in changing His agenda and follows Jairus at his request. The little girl, ironically, is twelve years of age.

Again we find Jesus walking amongst His people with great healing. He is a gift to those who gather.

Jairus, in intercession for his desperately ill daughter, is responding to Jesus’ presence at great risk to his reputation.

His professional life might be compromised by coming close to Jesus here. Some of his colleagues may find it undignified that a synagogue official would be conversing with an itinerant charismatic preacher. Jairus also shows great patience in the risk that Jesus’ delay on the road to his house. Jesus is attending to the woman in the first miracle. There is no comment of Jairus feeling anxious about the wait, given the fact that his daughter is so desperately ill and there is no time to waste.

Indeed once they are on the road again to the home, his staff come and tell Jairus that his daughter has in fact died. Again there is no comment from Jairus. But there is a comment from the Lord. He says tenderly to Jairus “Do not be afraid; only have faith.” When they arrive at the house the professional mourners are in full flight. They laugh at Jesus when he says, “the child is not dead, but asleep.” Jesus once again is not at all fussed by the majority opinion of the mob. He is there to bring out the truth of God’s healing and loving presence to the people of God.

We then have a beautiful encounter with some of the family with Jesus’ select followers, Peter, James and John. Jesus tells the girl to “get up.” Jesus also gives her a beautiful name…”beloved little girl.”

Let us now reflect on these two wonderful miracles in regard to our own great need for God’s healing mercy today.

Let us be aware that the great need for faith is first and foremost a gift from God and that God is walking amongst His people and there is nothing to be afraid of.

If we can take the two miracles together, amongst many other things that could be said, there seems to be three commonalities in regard to the human response.

First, it seems, in the midst of our repentance and humility towards our merciful God, we need to start where we are most desperately in need either for ourselves or for others.

This is exactly what happened with the woman and her desperate 12 year illness and with Jairus with his desperate need for the life of his young daughter (12 years of age.)

Secondly, in both miracles there is a lot of risk involved in trusting Jesus. For Jairus it means a possible compromise of his career and for the woman the risk of being marginalised and condemned for mixing so closely with others while she is ritually unclean.

Thirdly, there is always an encounter with Jesus in love and communion. It is the opportunity for the Lord to bring people not only physical healing but also the healing of being one in the Kingdom of God as Sons and Daughters of God.

Let us keep these elements of faith in mind as our week progresses.

May I summarise all that I have said above in a little expression that you might want to memorise.

It is this, “The Lord Jesus is never known to be in a hurry, but then again, Jesus is never known to be late.”