Homily – March 2021

7 MARCH 2021

 Readings  Ex 20:1-17  1 Cor 1:22-25  Gospel John 2:13-25

 Today’s First Reading recounts the covenant that God made with Moses. It is symbolised most clearly in the Ten Commandments. Recall, that the Ten Commandments have two parts to them. Commandments one to four represent our relationship with God. Commandments six to ten represent our relationship with each other. Jesus takes the Ten Commandments and summarises them into one, with two dimensions – Love of God and Love of Neighbour.

Last Sunday we were introduced to the covenant God made with Abraham.

Abraham is the father of our Faith. In being prepared to sacrifice his son, his only son, not only does he show his great faith but also prefigures God sending His “only Son” into the world in Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.

God makes a great covenant with our father of Faith, Abraham, and declares that his descendants will be as many as the starts in the firmament and the sands on the sea shore.

We had and extraordinary reaffirmation of this covenant with Abraham overnight.

You may be aware that Pope Francis is at present on his 33rd apostolic pilgrimage, this time to Iraq.

He is the first Pope ever in the history of Christianity to do this. St Pope John Paul II fervently desired to do this during his long pontificate but was prevented due to the political instability of the region.

Overnight Pope Francis travelled to Abraham’s birthplace, the city of Ur. It is between the Tigres and the Euphrates rivers in Iraq or as it was called in antiquity Mesopotamia.

On this desert wasteland he was gathered with Jewish and Muslin leaders. The religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam all see in Abraham the great prophet of faith. Leading these Abrahamic religions last night, Pope Francis gave a monumental speech. In this speech he called upon them to look to the Heavens and recall this passage of God’s promise to Abraham, that God will be faithful to his descendants as many as the stars in the sky.

Here was a beautiful affirmation and a monumental gathering of the worlds Abrahamic faiths in a symbolic way.

Let us pray for the Pope in this most dangerous apostolic journey. We all know that Iraq has been smitten with horrendous terrorist attack and fanatical religious movements and ideologies over the last 20 years. We pray for the Pope’s safety and for the good people of Iraq, especially our dwindling number of Chaldean Catholics who remain in this part of the world. There is a real call for Christians to return to their homelands in Iraq.

We now move to the Gospel. Here we have Jesus preparing for a new and everlasting covenant made in the Blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

The cleansing of the temple in today’s Gospel shows that there must be a real remembrance that, of the Ten Commandments and of all the commandments and covenants that God has made, the requirement is that we love God alone. In fact, the Ten Commandments can be summarised in the first, “You shall have no gods except me.”

Jesus makes it quite clear that once we take our eyes away from Heavenward and worship of the one God, our eyes drift down to everyday life and we invent all sorts of little gods that cannot save. Here He is exorcising the commercial gods that have “turned my Father’s house into a market.” Jesus upends the money changers’ tables and with a cord drives out the cattle, sheep and pigeon-sellers.

This infuriates those nearby. They demand a sign from Him. They say, “What sign can you show us to justify what you have done?” Jesus then talks in a prophetic manner by saying, “Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up.”

He was “speaking of the sanctuary that was his body.” His disciples remembered this after, “Jesus rose from the dead…and they believed.”

This Good News is also for today, in Australia.

When we look at the census of a few years ago we find that Christian numbers are the majority in Australia but their numbers are not increasing as much as another group. This other group have described themselves as having “no religion” and are increasing from 30% of the population in Australia.

One wonders if people take their eyes of God and classify themselves as having “no religion” what other gods are they inventing. Little gods are taking the place of one God?

It makes me remember the famous observation of G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), the English writer and Catholic convert, when he said “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing. They believe in anything.”

I thought of this in recent weeks when some of the state Legislators of Australia and even here in ACT were agitating for legislation to approve Euthanasia in their constituencies.

Clearly, when you take your eyes of God you do not realise that we are all made in the image and likeness of God, there is an innate dignity in everybody, you tend to look at human beings in a very functional manner. Hence with Euthanasia, and the issues of ageing and suffering in people’s twilight, there is a temptation to rush forward Euthanasia as some sort of “freedom.”

We Catholics say the opposite. Euthanasia of any sort is not a “freedom”, it is really a “slavery.” Venomous anti-life legislation regarding Euthanasia is based on the utilitarian philosophy that is simply not worthy of humanity. It is better for us to place our energies regarding such important end of life issues into providing greater resources for palliative care and “true” care for people in the twilight of their life.

All these issues can be summarised by the importance of placing Jesus as our one God in our life. Lent is a time were through Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving we quicken our heart and mind to live this truth out in our actions with greater clarity and vigour.

Reflecting on the importance of Jesus as our one God and that Jesus is enough I conclude by praying the prayer of St Teresa of Avila, the great Carmelite mystic Nun of the 16th Century, when she had this to say.

“Let nothing disturb you, nothing frighten you, all things are passing, God is unchanging. Patience gains all, nothing is lacking to those who have God. God alone is sufficient.”

In all our troubles and all our anxieties let us have this uppermost in our mind and heart – that God is sufficient for us. God alone is our “enough.”

14 MARCH 2021

 Readings  2 Chr 36: 14-16. 19-23  Eph 2:4-10  Gospel John 3:14-21

 As we were together praying the Scriptures proclaimed this morning there was a short phrase that occurred several times. In the Gospel today from St John we have a section of his dialogue between the Lord and Nicodemus.

In response to Nicodemus’ enquiries, Jesus says “God loved the world SO MUCH that he gave his only Son.” This phrase “so much” is often overlooked but it struck me today as particularly significant.

The significance was increased because the same expression was used in the Second Reading from St Paul to the Ephesians. St Paul says, “God loved us with SO MUCH love that he was generous with his mercy.” Even in the Gospel Acclamation today we just said “God loved the world SO MUCH he gave us his only son.”

The extravagant generosity of God is marked by Him having SO MUCH love for us.

We see SO MUCH love of God for His people in the First Reading today which records the release of the exiled people of God from Babylon.

There is the entry in the Biblical text of a political figure who is renowned in both secular history and religious history – “Cyrus, King of Persia.” He is well-known for being both a conqueror of nations and a man of extraordinary diplomatic and statesmanlike qualities.

Babylon is only about 100 kilometres south of the present day capital of Iraq, Bagdad. Recall this time last week Pope Francis was in Bagdad on a remarkable apostolic visit – the first ever in the history of the Papacy.

When Cyrus entered Babylon about 500 BC he released the exiled Jewish people and sent them back to Jerusalem. Not only that, it is recorded that he also sent people with them who could help rebuild the Temple that had been destroyed and he also returned much of the war booty that belonged to the Jews in Jerusalem.

The exiled Jews were finally “liberated” by Cyrus’ actions. Their lament and repentance in exile is seen in today’s Responsorial Psalm, “By the waters of Babylon there we sat and wept, remembering Zion (Jerusalem). On the poplars that grew there we hung our harps… O how could we sing the song of the lord on alien soil? If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!”

One can only imagine their joy of being forgiven by God and how the people repented of forgetting God when they were returned to Jerusalem. They saw in Cyrus, the King of Persia, an instrument of God. They were shown SO MUCH love by God through him.

In the Gospel today we are introduced to another figure of somewhat secondary but significant importance in the Scriptures, a little like Cyrus, this time it is Nicodemus.

Nicodemus is a leader of the Jewish people and, intrigued by Jesus’ teaching, comes to see Him by night for further instruction. It was a dangerous thing for him to do but something about Jesus stirred his soul.

Having said that, he found Jesus’ talk of being “reborn in the Spirit”, and the son of man being “lifted up”, as perplexing.

We all can learn from Nicodemus’ slow conversion to the Lord. In our Lenten period we recall once again the Lord’s words to “Repent and Believe in the Good News.” These two word – “Repent” and “Believe” – are intertwined. It not only means that we repent of the sinful things that block us from the Lord, but we also move from a lukewarm faith to a fervent faith.

We also understand that Christian conversion, according to the teaching of Jesus, is becoming like little children in regard to our relationship with God who loves us SO MUCH. This is not “childishness” but a “childlike” faith. Jesus often brings little children into the presence of the Apostles as an example of faith.

Perhaps Nicodemus with all his Theological and Scriptural training may have seen himself as too sophisticated to appreciate this “childlike” faith that Jesus was calling for. We are all a little like Nicodemus. We place ourselves on such a level of achievement that can often block us from meeting the Lord as a little child might, in perfect trust and generosity of spirit.

However, we do know that this slow conversion of Nicodemus matured in making him a Missionary Disciple of Jesus. There are two little hints of this.

The first hint is that we know from John’s Gospel that both he and St Joseph of Arimathea literally took Jesus down from the Calvary Cross following His death. One cannot imagine Nicodemus taking Jesus from the Cross without his hands and clothes becoming bloodied with the Blood of the Lamb! No one who touches the Blood of the Lamb can remain indifferent.

Secondly, it is also mentioned in John’s Gospel that Nicodemus brought very large quantities of Myrrh and oil to embalm the body of Jesus. The amount mentioned was extraordinarily large and only used for the embalming of a King. This is yet another hint that Nicodemus did acknowledge Jesus as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

So let’s be patient with each other and patient with ourselves. Our conversion to the Lord comes in different ways and for most of us it is a slow life time conversion. Let us allow God’s love that is SO MUCH to work on us in God’s own time and way.

The great thing about Christianity is that we can always start again. Sometimes though we get so disappointed with our efforts we feel that not even God Himself could love us. This is to be resisted. It is simply not Biblical truth. So, as the famous song goes, “Pick yourself up, Dust yourself off, Start all over again.” Let us also come to the Lord in much repentance and belief in His love that is SO MUCH.

21 MARCH 2021

 Readings  Jer 31:31-34  Heb 5:7-9  Gospel John 12:20-33

Quite often when people come to the Cathedral for special occasions, they are keen for photographs outside following the ceremony.

Invariably I am involved. I notice that they like to take, first of all, a panoramic shot of everybody. Secondly there seems to be a more close-up shot with the central personalities involved.

As we approach Holy Week beginning next Sunday, today’s Readings seem to give a panoramic “shot” of central Christianity.

You will recall, that over the last number of weeks of Lent the First Readings have generally spoken about various covenants that God has made with His people. There is the covenant with Noah, Abraham and more recently with Moses.

In the First Reading today there is the promise of a new covenant that God will establish.

The arising question is: What is new about this “new covenant”?

The former covenants were, using political or diplomatic language, “bilateral” covenants. This means that if one of the parties reneged on their commitment the covenant would lapse.

However, what is new about the “new covenant” that God is establishing in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Jeremiah prophesises, is that this will be a “unilateral” covenant. Even if humanity fails in making a commitment to God’s gracious merciful love coming towards us time and time again, the covenant will be retained.

In the First Reading today from Jeramiah it is the Lord who says, “Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts.” It is a deep covenant, it is a new covenant. The depth of God’s love for us is calling on the depth of humanity. As the psalmist says, “Deep calls to deep.” Then Jeramiah says that God will “forgive their iniquity and never call their sin to mind.” That word “never” is a very important word of the new covenant.

To this eternal new covenant, prophesised in the First Reading, comes the Gospel of today.

It is a very important Gospel foreshadowing that the new covenant is about to take place in the Lord’s Death and Resurrection – that which we celebrate in a “close-up” in Holy Week.

A group of people want to speak to Jesus and they go through the Apostles as intermediaries. It is to Philip they put this request and then it is Andrew and Philip together, who come to Jesus at the festival in Jerusalem, and state there “were some Greeks” who wanted to see Jesus. The Apostles passed on the message to Jesus that they said, “Sir, we should like to see Jesus.” What a wonderful expression! May we always have this expression deep in our hearts especially as we approach Holy Week…that we too should like to see Jesus!

From this moment in the Gospel the mood seems to change. Jesus becomes pensive and then he declares, “Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” He knows this because it is not simply a new covenant for the Jews. It is a “universal” new covenant that is for everybody represented in the expression “Greeks.”

This is also foreshadowed in the Second Reading today when the author of the letter to Hebrews speaks about the covenant “for all.”

Not only is this new covenant “universal” but it is also “sacrificial.” Jesus uses the expression, “Unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies it remains a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.” This grain of wheat is used by Jesus as a symbol of what is about to happen in His own life. It is a covenant that is based on sacrifice. We see in the Calvary Cross the understanding of the expression used last week with Nicodemus, which again reasserts itself in today’s Gospel when Jesus says, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself.”

Again, in the Second Reading the author of Hebrews speaks of the suffering attached to the new covenant. “Although he was Son, he learnt to obey through suffering.”

So the newness of the new covenant is that this unilateral covenant is eternal, universal, and sacrificial.

This therefore brings us to understand the Eucharist far better. It is this new covenant that is anchored in history but transcends history. Every time we celebrate the Mass we re-present this new covenant. Just as Jesus did at the Last Supper, then on the Calvary Cross and now in every Mass. His Body is broken and His Blood is shed for our salvation.

Recall what the priest says during the crucial words of the Eucharistic prayer, “This is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the New and Eternal Covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sin.”

So let us now continue with the Mass knowing that this great panoramic understanding of our faith brings Jesus so close to us and us so close to Jesus in the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is never to be seen as something extrinsic to our faith. It is absolutely at the centre of it all. As the Vatican II Council calls it, “The source and summit of the Christian life.”

28 MARCH 2021

 Readings  Isaiah 50: 4-7  Philippians 2: 6-11  Gospel Mark 15: 1-39

 Today we enter into Holy Week. It is Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord. The Reading of the Passion which we have just concluded is taken from Mark’s Gospel. Recall that St Mark is the Gospel that we are using in a special way this year – The Year of Mark.

In today’s Gospel we use the shorter version. The longer version, however, begins not on the day of the Lord’s Death but a few days beforehand.

Jesus is at Bethany which is an outer suburb of Jerusalem. He has been invited by some people for a meal. During this meal, something unexpected happens.

An uninvited women gate-crashed the dinner and made directly for Jesus.

She carried with her an alabaster jar of very expensive ointment. Such ointments were used at the time of Jesus as part of the welcome to guests. Recall, this is the time before widespread perfumes and deodorants and we are talking about a Middle Eastern desert setting. So it was a sign of graciousness for guests to have a few drops of perfume placed on them as a sign of particular respect.

However, the woman comes in with the jar. She breaks the top of it. Then she pours the entire contents of ointment on the head of the Lord.

Understandably, this provoked two immediate reactions.

Firstly, from those who were guests at the gathering there was great indignation and protest.

Their main trouble seemed to be the cost factor.

They made an argument saying that all the ointment that she poured on the head of the Lord would have cost about 300 Denarii. This apparently is about a full years wage for the average worker at this time. An incredible amount!

They began to say that the money wasted on this reckless extravagant gesture could have been given to the poor. It is not as if they were particularly attentive to the poor, but they wanted to make their point.

Secondly, on the other hand Jesus took another approach to the unexpected guest.

He could see that she was doing this as a gesture of great appreciation and thanks. It was certainly extravagant. Nonetheless, it was a gesture of gratitude. Jesus tells the guests that, “the poor will always be there but you will not always have me.” He then added the prophetic words, “She had anointed my body beforehand for its burial.” He then added a final comment, which is linked 2000 years later here in Canberra in this Homily, “What she has done will be told also, in remembrance of her.”

Who is this woman anyway?

There has been much debate over the centuries about this point and various possibilities have been put forward for consideration. But that is not really the point. Whoever this woman was she must have felt that Jesus had healed her, forgiven her and loved her in a way that completely transformed her deep within.

Clearly she is not the woman that she used to be. Just as extravagant love is given so extravagant love is returned. So this was her moment to return, in an extravagant and almost reckless way, the Lord’s great kindness to her.

This is the last act of kindness that Jesus received before He began His Passion and Death.

We also are placed in a certain moment of responding.

We can either respond this next week in a superficial manner, like the guests at the dinner, or do otherwise.

If we respond in a superficial way, then the next week will simply wash over our heads and not really touch us deeply. Ultimately, because of our busyness and lack of focus, Easter will become simply a matter of Easter bunnies, Easter eggs, and Hot Cross buns! Let that not happen to us.

In this moment, which solemnly begins our Holy Week, let us respond like the encounter of Jesus with this woman who showed extraordinary love. We have been forgiven, loved and showered with so many blessings by the Lord throughout our whole life. Now is our turn, like this woman, to “Anoint” not only the Lord but ourselves so that we can truly allow God to be extravagant love in us as His Death and Resurrection is re-presented.

For this to happen, we will need to perhaps make some decisions even now. How are we going to play out the next few days in our practical life? Will we set aside some extra time for meditation and perhaps some sacred reading? Will we find out exactly when the Masses and Services over the next week will be held in our Parish and make it a real priority to attend? How will we try, in a proactive way, to clear away our everyday routines to make this week a very special week?

As we now continue with the Mass let us think seriously about our responses.

Let us be like the woman with the alabaster jar full of perfumed oil. Let us be ready to give absolutely everything back to the Lord who has given us everything in our lives.

5.00pm, 29TH MARCH 2021
“All eyes in the Synagogue were fixed on Jesus”

READINGS: ISAIAH 61/1-3,6,8-9; APOC.1/5-8; LUKE 4/16-21

In a recent book by Pope Francis titled, “LET US DREAM”, the Holy Father meditates on the pastoral significance of the Covid-19 Pandemic and how we can all exit from this terrible time as better people.

In this book, Pope Francis introduces a term: “Covid Stoppages” in our personal lives. He explains – “In every personal ‘Covid’, so to speak, in every “Stoppage” what is revealed is what needs to change. Our lack of internal freedom. The idols we have been serving. The ideologies we have tried to live by. The relationships we have neglected.” (P. 36)

The Pope illustrates some examples of “Covid Stoppages” in the Bible: Saul’s’ conversion to Paul on the Damascus road; David after his adultery; and the lives of Solomon and Samson.

The Pope also exemplifies such “Covid Stoppages in his own personal life – His illness in his earlier life; studies in Germany; his leadership experience in Cordoba.

What did he personally learn from all this? He writes: “What I learnt was that you suffer a lot, but if you allow it to change you, you come out the better. But if you dig in, you come out worse.” (P. 44)

In today’s Gospel there seems to be a type of theological or biblical “Covid Stoppage” using the definition of Pope Francis. We can see it suggested in this penetrating phrase from Luke’s Gospel, “All eyes in the synagogue were fixed on Him (Jesus)”, after he unrolled the scroll and read from the prophet Isaiah.

If we were in that scene, there would surely be a very intense silence. Looking at this passage 2000 years later, we could say it was a type of “Covid Stoppage” because it becomes a Biblical hinge between the Old Testament and the New Testament – The Lord appropriating all the prophesies about the coming Messiah and now applying them to Himself and His public ministry.

What enormous implications this had in the lives of the people in the synagogue and ever since. Jesus, with the power of the Holy Spirit, has become “the great disruptor!”

Also we can see in the ceremony tonight, the Chrism Mass, another type of “Covid Stoppage.” We have before us, the Oils to be blessed. When you come to think of it, all the Oils will be placed on people in a particular type of “Covid Stoppage” in their lives and in the life of the Church. There is the pivotal moment of Baptism, then again the great significance of Confirmation. Then in the ordination of Deacons, Priests and Bishops. Then of course in times of great and grave sickness. All the oils of the Chrism, Infirm and Catechumen Oils, will be used for people in all these types of “Covid Stoppages.”

In the light of today’s Gospel it is the particular role of the Deacon, Priest and Bishop, as these Sacraments are celebrated, to ensure that everyone’s “eyes are fixed on Jesus.”

I suppose the ultimate “Covid Stoppage” is death itself.

In the days ahead we will focus on the Lord’s resolute passage towards the Calvary Cross and His Resurrection. The silence of the Cross in the Lord’s Death and Resurrection are the ultimate “Covid Stoppage” of all Salvation History.

We hope our people will in this Holy Week approach the Death of Christ by “fixing our eyes” on His Calvary Death and our wait for Him to Easter within us.

Having this approach to death, not only in Holy Week but throughout our lives, is something that the Saints have always said leads to Sanctification. Realising that we are not on this earth forever but that death will one day come, helps us to understand our true role as Missionary Disciples in the Church. As the Pope said, such matters entail suffering but if we allow it to change us, we come out all the better.

This was seen recently in the death of a beloved priest of this Archdiocese, Monsignor Kevin Barry-Cotter. After his death, as I was going through his papers in my office, I came across some correspondence he wrote to me in September of last year. He was drawing my attention to a survey he had completed some years ago regarding retired priests in the Archdiocese. The question asked in this survey was – “If you had your life over, what would you change?”

His response was as follows. “The short answer to this is nothing. I’ve always believed that I have had a graced life. Ups and downs certainly, worries and joys, sorrow and happiness, is the human condition. Handling it tests our faith in Jesus. Would I make and changes to my retirement plans? Again no, because looking back (and we learn most things through hindsight), things have worked out better than I could have planned, given the circumstances.”

Well here is a man who was ready for death! May all of us try to live the present life by looking with faith on our approaching death and our ultimate union in the Risen Lord Jesus.

Surely an infallible sign for all of us that we are in fact doing this, is that our discipleship especially now in our Covid-19 world, will be filled with tangible hope. This is the spiritual vaccine for Covid-19 – Hope.

As each Easter approaches, I think of the Risen Lord with the two men on the road to Emmaus.

The Risen Jesus’ criticises the two men on the road who said, “We had hoped!” He called them “Foolish men…so slow to believe.”

Clearly, in the eyes of Jesus, the real problem was that their hope was far too small. Their hope was so small it wasn’t able to give any illumination to tragedy, pain, suffering and evil.

Let us learn from this. Let our hopes be as big as the Heart of Jesus. There is nothing that can happen to us where the Lord cannot shine the light of hope into the darkness of the night.

Indeed, if we do not radiate hope we are, in the light of the Emmaus disciples, Foolish – we are living contradictions of the Gospel.

In this Chrism Mass let us now recommit ourselves by asking Jesus: “What are your hopes for us?

The Lord’s answers will be made clear to us in the daily living out of our Baptismal Missionary Discipleship.

In conclusion, I recall Cardinal Carlo Martini, the former Archbishop of Milan. In a visit to Australia many years ago he gave a wonderful talk to clergy. He meditated on John 21/18-19 where Jesus says to his Easter disciples, that to follow him means allowing God to “use someone else to fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”

Cardinal Martini, in the light of this biblical text, speaking to Bishops, Priests, Deacons and Seminarians then said, “Our vocation is to be taken where we would rather not be.”

This is only possible, in reality, if our “eyes are fixed on Jesus” – knowing and truly believing that Jesus, the High Priest and Victim of us all (especially in the Eucharist) knows what is truly best for us.

Let us now stand to renew our trust in His Divine Providence and recommit ourselves to Him in our Priestly Ministry.