Homily – May 2021

2 MAY 2021

 Readings  Acts of the Apostles 9: 26-31  1 John 3: 18-24  Gospel John 15: 1-8

Last Sunday the Scriptures offered us a pastoral image of the Risen Lord. The image was not just of a shepherd but a “good” shepherd. Today’s Gospel offers us now an agricultural image of the Risen Lord. Here again there is a distinction. The distinction is between a vine and the “true” vine.

There also seems to be another type of distinction at the beginning of the First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Saul, who becomes Paul, has now begun his role as a disciple having previously been a persecutor of the Christians. But there was a problem. It is nicely phrased as, “They were all afraid of him: they could not believe he was really a disciple.” Here is another distinction between a disciple and a “true” disciple.

So there seems to be two types of “Easter” people. Let us examine this more fully with a story.

Many years ago, when I was studying in Italy, a lovely family took pity on me during one of our semester breaks at the University. They invited me up to their country villa in central Italy in early spring. As if anyone would reject such an offer!

I arrived late. They graciously received me and led me to a lovely room down stairs. When I woke in the morning, I opened the window. It was a long narrow window. Once I opened up the shutters I could see it was a beautiful sunny morning. The view was really lovey. Indeed, I took my camera to take some photographs. When I went upstairs I immediately spoke to the couple about my delight with the view from the narrow bedroom window. They basically said to me in Italian, “You haven’t seen anything yet!” They were so right. They took me to the balcony. I was gobsmacked with the beautiful almost 360 degree view of the valley and the countryside. The view from the narrow window was good. But, this broader panorama was unbelievable.

So there were two types of views. There was a partial view and a complete view.

Let’s meditate on this a little further in the light of today’s Readings. It could be said that there are at least two views of life – partial and complete – in our everyday challenges.

For example, I recall a married couple mentioning to me that their mid-twenties daughter had come to them to announce some important life style changes that she had made in her life. However, her turn of phrase was rather sharp. She basically demanded their respect for her choices.

They loved their daughter very much. They rejoiced that she was making adult decisions in her life. But, they were perturbed that the respect seemed to be only one way. They were to respect her decisions. But the question was whether she would respect their response.

Here is the view from the balcony or from the narrow window in the bedroom. Respect must always be a two way street!

Another example comes to mind. Years ago some people came to see me. I was delighted to hear that they wanted to become more involved as lay persons in the life of the Church. They had researched comprehensively on the topic of interest and I delighted in their heart felt response. However they did preface their remarks with the comment that “The Bishops of Australia don’t listen!” It certainly enabled me to listen more carefully than ever!

However, when they left I felt that although the Bishops of Australia can do a lot more to listen carefully to people, again it must be a two way street. It must be reciprocal listening not just listening of one group or another but all of us listening together.   Pope Francis is very articulate on this particular point. He calls it “Synodality.” All of us listening to each other as we together are listening to the Holy Spirit alive in our hearts in this change of era.

Also, another example comes to mind. A young woman came and spoke to me about environmental ethics. I am always delighted that young people are leading the world in creating awareness of this vital and indispensable topic that we all must come to terms with responsibly. However, when she left I felt that the conversation must not only be about environmental ecology but also the ecology of human relationships and a certain type of ecology that we have with our relationship to God in the world. Pope Francis calls this “integral ecology.”

It could be said that the narrow window is environmental ethics, but the panoramic view is about integral ecology and being aware of the intricate webs of communication that we have not only with the environment, but also with each other and with the Lord.

These examples hopefully can show that we always seem to be moving to and from a panoramic view and a narrow view of reality. We are perpetually going from the balcony to the narrow bedroom window! Both views are very important. But the panoramic view is the view that Christians, who look out on the world with the eyes of the Risen Lord, ask the Lord to give.

It seems to me that we absolutely exhaust ourselves running up and down “the stairs” going from one view to the other.

We ask the Lord in today’s Gospel to make us the “true” vine, the “true” shepherd, the “true” disciple, to be able to look at life from his perspective of the Resurrection.

In today’s Gospel the Lord uses the word “Remain” six times. Remaining on the balcony! Remaining with the broad panoramic view of the eyes of the Risen Jesus is the faith challenge!

Nonetheless, in the Second Reading today St John draws it down to two simple Commandments. He says “His commandments are these: that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and that we love one another as he told us to. Whoever keeps his commandments lives in God and God lives in him.” Although expressed so simply we all know that remaining in God’s Resurrected life within us is a daily challenge. But there doesn’t seem to be any alternative. Jesus himself says, “For cut off from me you can do nothing….if you remain in me and my words remain in you…then you will be my disciples.”

Finally, I always like to refer to the Saints on such matters. They seem to be able to hold these delicate challenges in perfect harmony.

Over the last few days we have celebrated the feast of St Catherine of Siena.

She lived in the 1300’s. She was an Italian woman who led a profoundly mystical life. She was not a nun but remained a lay woman all her life imbued with the spirituality of the Dominicans.

She only lived for 33 years, like the Lord, but she had an enormous effect in her letter writing, her gifts of persuasion and her preaching in her world. She even was influential in the Pope’s return to Rome after somewhat of an exile in the Southern part of France in those days.

She has certainly remained on the balcony of life! She allowed the Lord to remain in her and her to remain in the Lord. We seek her example and intercession.

I conclude with some of her beautiful writings on divine providence to inspire us all to “remain in the Lord’s love.”

“You are a mystery as deep as the sea; the more I search, the more I find, and the more I find the more I search for you. I have tasted and seen the depth of your mystery and the beauty of your creation with the light of my understanding. I have clothed myself with your likeness and have seen what I shall be. Eternal Trinity, Godhead, mystery deep as the sea, you could give me no greater gift than the gift of yourself.”

16 MAY 2021

 Readings  Acts of the Apostles 1: 1-11  St Paul to the Ephesians 1: 17-23  Gospel Mark 16: 15-20

 If we took a photograph of today’s Gospel moment of the Ascension it may look something like this. There would be a group looking upwards to the Heavens as the Lord ascends, physically, back to His Father’s embrace. There would also be somebody, perhaps Angels, insisting that the group get on with the business of evangelisation and not remain still!

We see this in today’s Readings.

In the First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles it says that Jesus “was lifted up while they looked on, and a cloud took him from their sight. They were still staring into the sky when suddenly two men in white were standing near them and they said, ‘Why are you men from Galilee standing here looking into the sky?’”

The Gospel from Mark says something similar.   It says that after Jesus “had spoken to them, He was taken up into heaven: … while they, going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it.”

So, there is this experience of being taken up, and at the same time, an experience of going out. It is the in-between time, between the Ascension and Pentecost and this struggle or tension or challenge of living out our vocation as Missionary Disciples of the Resurrection is there. In the midst of all this is the great hope that Jesus, though gone physically from their sight, has promised that He will come again in the Holy Spirit. We celebrate this liturgically next Sunday on Pentecost Sunday.

Similar sentiments were expressed a few days ago in the General Audience in Rome by Pope Francis. He talked about the struggle and tension in prayer.

Pope Francis mentioned that prayer is never easy and is so often a struggle with the silences and absences of God. He gave a very illuminating example by referring to St Anthony of Egypt of the 3rd Century, the founder of monasticism.

St Anthony, after a long period of struggling with the absence of God, finally returned to his serenity and the presence of the Lord. He said to God in his prayer, “But Lord where were you? Why did you not come immediately to put an end to my suffering?”

The Lord’s reply was most enlightening. He felt the Lord saying to him “Anthony, I was there, but I was waiting to see you fight.”

Fighting in prayer is at the same time prayer. Prayer can be quite combative in many respects.

The Pope went on with another wonderful example, he talked of a personal experience in his former Archdiocese in Argentina. It was of a married couple. Their young daughter developed a very severe undiagnosed illness. The doctor said that she would die.

The father would not accept this. He went to the Cathedral. He arrived very late. It was about 10pm. The Basilica was closed. Nonetheless, he spent the whole night at the front of the Cathedral begging God, and as it were, fighting with God for his daughter’s healing.

He was still there at 6am the next morning when the Cathedral was opened. He went into the Basilica and prayed further at the shrine of Our Lady.

He then returned home. Extraordinarily his wife came to say that their daughter had been completely healed.

The Pope mentioned that “Fighting prayer goes to the very heart of the tenderness of God. When a grace is not granted another grace is given. The Pope quoted the beautiful passage form Genesis 28:16 which says, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.”

As we consider our own prayer lives we must always realise that our prayer too is so often a type of “fighting” prayer.

May I offer three humble and very brief strategies to respond?

Firstly, let us always be a “Theophilus” in matters when it comes to “fighting” prayer.

This word “Theophilus” is in the First Reading today at the beginning of Luke’s account in the Acts of the Apostles. The name “Theophilus” means “Lover of the Lord.” In other words no matter what situation we find ourselves in, let us always remain lovers of the Lord even if the Lord does seem to be silent or not responding to our prayer request. I think a great example of a lover of the Lord, a “Theophilus” in the Scriptures, is Mary the Mother of God.

Secondly, quite clearly from our Tradition, God is wanting us to be with our needs through prayer. This prayer from us is not to change God’s mind. We don’t pray, as it were, to twist the arm of God or to get Him to change His mind. In fact, it is we who need to change. The prayer is to change us. It is to deepen our trust and persistence and growth as we move towards a mature prayer.

Thirdly and finally, always let us remember the P.U.S.H. prayer, in other words, Pray Until Something Happens. Let us continue our prayers in persistence and wait on the Lord. A special intention between Ascension and Pentecost is surely to pray the P.U.S.H. prayer for unity among Christians.

May I conclude with a very consoling passage from Isaiah 41:10. It helps us in our “fighting” prayers.

“So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

 Do not be afraid – P.U.S.H.!

23 MAY 2021

 Readings  Acts of the Apostles 2: 1-11  Gal 5: 16-25  Gospel John 15: 26-27; 16: 12-15

 In the opening prayer today for Pentecost Sunday we recall the first Pentecost Sunday mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. At the same time we call upon the Lord to renew us with the gifts for Pentecost in our own time and in our own place.

We not only recall today an historic event which of course Pentecost is, but we also recall that the Holy Spirit continues to live in the church. Every moment in the Church’s life comes down upon us with God’s life within us.

Over the centuries and in our Creedal statements the Holy Spirit has been defined as “The Lord and giver of life.”

It is the Holy Spirit. The word “Spirit” is a word of particular meaning. It comes from the Hebrew word “Ruah.” It means “vital breath, wind, air, breath of life.”

We see this in the First Reading of today from the Acts of the Apostles. “Suddenly they heard what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven, the noise of which filled the entire house in which they were sitting…They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”

It is this spirit that comes upon us. It is the Holy Spirit. It is the love relationship between the Father and the Son given to us as the animating force of the entire Church.

Another word that is used in defining the Holy Spirit in our Sacred Tradition is the word “Paraclete”, or “Advocate.” The Gospel today is John’s account of Pentecost. It is John’s account of the promised Holy Spirit from his Gospel. “When the Advocate comes…you too will be my witnesses…the Spirit of truth…will lead you to the complete truth.”

So this “Truth” is not simply a dogmatic definition. The “Truth” is God himself made present in the Holy Spirit alive in us.

You might find this a little strange but moving away from more of a Theological definition, an example of the Holy Spirit alive in our lives, my thoughts turn to a rural Parish I visited years ago.

We celebrated the Mass and then we went, as all good people in the country do, for the mandatory cup of tea and coffee in the hall. A morning tea is never to be missed in the country areas! So much is homemade!

As I was talking to people and munching on my freshly made scones, my attention was somewhat strangely drawn towards an area of the room. I looked over but there was very little activity there. All I could see was an elderly married couple sitting there quietly. But, as the time went on my attention was again drawn to this married couple. They seemed to have a great attracting power. It was like a light or a radiance was coming from them. I went over and visited them. What a wonderful couple! They had been married for over 60 years. They were not able to get around much, so they were happy just to sit down, hold hands and watch what was going on. But, talking to them I could see that they were a couple still very much in love and filled with the Holy Spirit. I asked them what their secret was in married life. They talked about the many problems that they encountered in their life but ultimately they said, “The “I” has become the “We” and the “Mine” has become the “Ours.””

Surely that is a great example of what the Holy Spirit is. The Father and the Son joined together and the love emanating and radiating is the Holy Spirit. That was the experience I was having with this couple.

It was like a real BREATH of the Holy Spirit! I was consoled by them. They were a great witness to the truth of love shared rather than love in an egotistical manner.

Throughout the centuries, the Holy Spirit comes into the hearts of those who have emptied their hearts of all ego and everything that draws us to selfishness. How can the Holy Spirit fill somebody who already is filled with themselves! The first aspect of entering into our life of the Spirit and walking in the Holy Spirit is through repentance. We must empty our lives of anything that is not of God. A real conversion of life is required. A penitential attitude is what is needed.

Once this is happening then the Holy Spirit really does have an opportunity of coming into our lives.

I would suggest that there is almost like a two-step “dance” with the Holy Spirit that we all need to participate in.

The first step is to receive the Holy Spirit. After the Resurrection so many of the appearances of Jesus involve him calling on the early Church to receive the Holy Spirit. People where to BREATH IN the life of Jesus only.

The second step in this dance of the Spirit within us is to GO! To go out and be witness to the world of Christ’s presence. It is a real BREATHING OUT of ourselves into the world.

These two steps are not human effort alone. Not one soul will be drawn closer to Christ if we just see it as our own human efforts alone. This is why we need the breathing out and the breathing in to go together.

If we simply “go” without “receiving” the Church ends up some sort of philanthropic group. This is very common with Australians who are so keen on doing something and have a strong activism in all their activities.

Secondly, breathing in without breathing out is also hardly worthy of the Lord. It can eventuate in a pious religiosity which tends to be dismissive of the cries of the poor and oppressed in the world.

Clearly, we need both breathing in and breathing out. It is one language that we speak as seen in today’s Gospel. The language of giving only Jesus who has already given Himself to us!

I conclude by introducing you afresh to the wonderful 13th century Sequence of Pentecost. It brings together our belief in the Holy Spirit in chant, such a beautiful way. Normally we pray this before the Gospel. However, today I have asked the Choir to sing it to us following this homily.

All of us can really do some remedial work on breathing in the love if God (receive) and not just simply breathing out in an activist way like we normally do (go)! So now let us listen to this beautiful chant and BREATH IN the love of God made present in Jesus Christ.

30 MAY 2021

 Readings  Dt 4:32-34. 39-40  Rom 8:14-17  Gospel Matthew 28:16-20

 Today is the Great Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. You might be surprised to know that the Catholic Church did not have a systematic articulation of the theology of the Trinity until the 14th century. Having said that, it is quite clear in the Scriptures that the Trinity is featured abundantly. We see this in St Paul’s Readings, inferred in today’s Second Reading, and we see it in today’s Gospel.

The Gospel is from Matthew and we hear Jesus offer a Trinitarian instruction to the Disciples after the Resurrection, “Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.”

When I think of the Holy Trinity my mind often goes not to theology but to Catholic iconography. This is the artistic expression of our treasured teachings of our faith. There is a marvellous mosaic in the Apse of St Clements Basilica, Rome, constructed in the 13th century on the centrality of the Trinity. I was reminded of this from the First Reading today.

One of the many artistic images of God the Father in the Scriptures is found in the First Reading when Moses reminds the people that God has protected them and brought them out of slavery “with mighty hand and outstretched arm.”

At the top of this enormous coloured mosaic in St Clements Rome we find the representation of God coming down upon all the cosmos. There is the hand extended which symbolises God as the creator of all.

As we then look down from the hand towards the centre of the Apse we see this magnificent crucifix central to everything. Around the Crucified Christ are many doves imprinted on the cross symbolising peace. There are also peacocks at the base of the cross symbolising everlasting life.

At the base flows from the cross streams of living water.

We see two Deer drinking deeply from the streams gushing forth from the Cross as articulated in the psalms.

From this gushing water at the base of the cross comes most luxurious green growth. These strong vines are spread all over the mosaic forming circles over everything. In the midst of these circles are found families and people in general going about their everyday chores. For example, we see many examples of married couples and children. We see fathers at their work place and mothers teaching their children. These vines seem to encapsulate the entire scene.

All of this shows how the Trinity surrounds life, gives it growth, and animates it with the love of God.

I thought of this beautiful artistic depiction recently when we had an initiative to celebrate Laudato Si’ – the important encyclical of Pope Francis on ecology.

A key term in this is “Integral Ecology.” Although a 13th century mosaic, it blends in perfectly well with what the Pope talks about in Integral Ecology. In other words, it’s not just environmental ecology and our care for the common earth. It is certainly this but Integral Ecology means how the love of God, made present in the Trinity, unites all activity in interdependence and interconnectedness. I think this is an important contribution by the Church in today’s current controversial issues on ecology.

This Apse is also a great statement about the centrality of marriage and family life. As the Trinity is the source of all love, encouragement and growth, we are reminded of another important document of Pope Francis called Amoris Laetitia. Five years ago the Pope made this important statement about the importance of encouraging marriage and family life in today’s world. We launch today many wonderful initiatives and showcase them to you all as we begin, with the entire Church, a year-long appreciation of this vital topic.

If there is one word, in the modern world at least, that comes to my mind when I think of marriage and family life it is “vulnerability.” The supports we have come to rely upon over the millennia in regard to the importance of family seem to be evaporating, at least in the developed world. Government legislation, cultural support, the trivialisation of marriage in the media, and the general moral agreement that we have all shared regarding the links between love sharing and life giving all seem to be losing community focus and thus making marriage and family life very vulnerable.

In regard to vulnerability in primal relationships, I came across a little prayer or perhaps better expressed as a poem in recent times. It came out of a booklet that is written to assist people who have suffered a divorce or separation in their marriage. However it could be helpful to anybody bruised by relationship issues.

“As children bring their broken toys with tears for us to mend.
I brought my broken dreams to God because he was my friend.
But then instead of leaving him in peace to work alone,
I hung around and tried to help in ways that were my own.
At last I snatched them back and cried, ‘How can you be so slow?’
‘My child’ God said, ‘what could I do? You never did let go’.”

As we now continue with our Mass let us be encouraged again in the vulnerability of primal relationships by the final line in today’s Gospel.

As we let go…and let Jesus…pray for hope and healing, we hear Jesus say to us in the depth of our beings, “Know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.”

We respond in praise by saying “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen!”