Homily – October 2021

HOMILY
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL
3 OCTOBER 2021
TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B)
AND MASS ONLINE

 Readings  Gen 2:18-24   Heb 2:9-11  Gospel Mark 10:2-16

 Over the last few Sundays in Mark’s Gospel we have heard of the kind of elite training school the Lord has immersed the Apostles in. During the next few Sundays the accent is more on living out the values of the Kingdom of God in everyday life. Next Sunday will be focused on our attitude to possessions. Today’s focus is on Marriage and Divorce.

In speaking of Marriage and Divorce it is perhaps best to use the counselling approach which talks about how, “The presenting issue is rarely the actual issue.”

It is clear from today’s Gospel Mark 10 that people were trying to trap Jesus on the thorny issue of divorce in His time. They are aware of the insolubility of Marriage but they are also aware that Moses offered some flexibility in this issue. They wanted to see if Jesus would do the same and they set a theological trap for Him.

Let us also be aware that in the time of Jesus the identity of a woman was very different to what it is today. At the time of Jesus the culture saw women as a man’s possession. The wife was counted amongst a husband’s property and chattels.

So this is the presenting issue. The Lord gets to the “actual issue” in the Gospel today. In answer to the question, “Is it against the law for a man to divorce his wife?” Jesus tells them, they “were so unteachable that Moses wrote this commandment for you.” Then Jesus gets to the “actual issue” itself and quotes from the Gospel of Mark. Here is the original vision of a husband and wife. Jesus quotes…”But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female…and the two become one body. They are no longer two, therefore, but one body.”

This is seen directly in the First Reading today when in Genesis 2 it states clearly what Jesus has just referred to, “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife, and they become one body.”

It is important to see the radical almost revolutionary attitude to women in both Genesis and in Jesus’ reprisal of it. No longer are men to regard their wife as a possession or a “thing” but they are one body. There is an equality of dignity here. Females and wives are of the same inherent dignity as men and husbands. Here are the Kingdom of God values that are really counter cultural to the times.

It is almost as if Jesus is saying: don’t complicate perennial fundamental truths otherwise we move more into the great superficiality of just “presenting issues” and never quite get down to the “actual issues.” It is interesting how Jesus, once again at the end of today’s Gospel as in Gospels of previous Sundays, draws attention to little children. Once again he says in today’s Gospel, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs.”

With such a brief reflection on today’s Readings perhaps it would be a good idea to apply it now to the Plenary Council of Australia which meets in its 1st Assembly this afternoon. Perhaps two reflections could be made in the light of today’s Scriptures.

In the first instance it is important for us to realise the Australian culture in which the Catholic Church is planted.

One could talk about a description of the culture as a “presenting issue.” I heard some years ago an Australian commentator mention that Australia has become an “irritable” culture. The obsession with all matters subjective tends to raise up a superficial culture. We can see this even today with the Covid pandemic. We see people protesting on the streets against protocols and in Australia we tend to forget that we are part of the wider world which in so many cases are in a far worse situation than us.

So if it could be said that Australia as a “presenting issue” is an irritable culture then what is the “actual issue.”

It could well be that the “actual issue” is that we are forgetting about God and the values of truth. Without a real anchorage of objective beliefs, we do become overly concerned with subjective issues and we lack depth in our society. We end up becoming quite lonely. The big questions of life in regard to where have we come from and where are we going and what is our identity, which are all theological questions, are not really posed at any depth.

I am rather persuaded by the famous quote of G.K. Chesterton of the 19th and 20th centuries. He was an English writer and a convert to Catholicism. He made this famous statement, “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything.” How true this is.

I notice even with our current Euthanasia debate in Australia how many superficial arguments are placed forward to support this poisonous legislation. We tend to swim in an ocean of ideologies and half-truths and deflect away from the full truths. These deeper issues about the dignity of every human person, rather than their usefulness in a society, is often eclipsed. The absurdity is that once presenting issues are seen as the truth then we end up with the medical profession legally, under certain circumstances, are able to kill human beings directly. What an abhorrence!

A second reflection about the Plenary Council is that it is a “Camino” and not a “Plane trip” as mentioned by a keen observer of Church life over the last week.It is a journey of walking together at a deep level. Inner conversion is not something intrinsic only. The Church has often been described over history as the “Bride of Christ.” Therefore, with the sixteen topics that will be reflected upon that have derived from our discussions over the last two years, we are here to renew the heart of the “Bride of Christ” and not to update her wedding clothes!

Our own geography can help us also to find out what, is a “presenting issue” and what, is an “actual issue.” It has been quoted in a working document of the Plenary Council, with a wonderful comparison to Uluru, “Christ is the Rock in the Centre of the Plenary Council.” How true this is. We can also recall that Australia is usually referred to as part of Oceania. We are surrounded by oceans. The Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the Southern Ocean. All of these create connection to the water of Baptism. Baptism is the gateway Sacrament to missionary discipleship and evangelisation. So our own geography can help us to understand what the “actual issues” of the Plenary Council are. We live in a desert continent and tend to congregate around coastal areas. This leaves the centre quite empty. Are we at home in our own country?

In this important week coming up with the 1st Assembly of the Plenary Council of Australia, we pray also for the intercession of the Saints. Let us recall that the Southern Cross has watched over Australia for millennia. Let us also recall that Mary, the Star of evangelisation, is the one that we ask to lead us to Jesus.

We also think of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop who certainly understood in her time and age what evangelisation meant.

I leave you with a little “Gospil” that may be very helpful to you in this “irritable” culture and in the days ahead when we might find that we need the Lords assistance immediately. It is a favourite little Arrow Prayer from St (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta. She says, “Mary, mother of Jesus, be a mother to me now.”

With the 1st Assembly of the Plenary Council of Australia now upon us we could adjust this slightly and say together “Mary, mother of Jesus, be a mother to us now.”