Homily – October 2021

3 OCTOBER 2021

 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.”

17 OCTOBER 2021

 Readings  Is 53:10-1   Heb 4:14-16  Gospel Mark 10:35-45

 The Gospel today immediately follows from the Lord’s third prediction of His Passion. It is also the third time He has been misunderstood by His Disciples.

Indeed, immediately after His Passion prediction the Gospel today opens up with the sons of Zebedee, James and John, coming rather boldly to Jesus without listening deeply to what He has just said to them, and with a sense of entitlement they say to the Lord, “We want you to do us favour.”

In another one of the Gospels it is the mother of the sons of Zebedee that comes to Jesus with this request regarding her sons, for one to sit at the Lord’s right hand and the other at the left hand in His Kingdom. Here, the Apostles, James and John are working towards a situation that would benefit themselves. It is full of unspoken ambition and power. Seems like almost a grubby political deal.

Very patiently, Jesus repeats that real authority is born of service and suffering.

In doing this He fulfils the prophecy of Isaiah in the First Reading today. Here God is to “crush His servant with suffering…By his suffering shall my servant justify many, taking their faults on himself.” Jesus is the fulfilment of this.

All of this, in the first place, shows what Christian leadership is not.

The second point is Jesus’ teaching on what in fact Christian leadership truly is…it is imitating the Lord as the “Suffering Servant of God.”

Here there are some particular words that need further clarification. Jesus so often uses the word “Servant.” The Greek word for servant is “Diakonos.” We receive the word “Deacon” from this word. It means, “The one who waits on table.”

Another word Jesus uses is the word “Slave”. Here a slave is always to take the lowest place. The slave is available for any kind of service to anyone.

Jesus, as He takes on the role of the “Suffering Servant of God, voluntarily surrenders to Martyrdom. This is what Jesus expects of His Disciples. It is exactly what Jesus expects of us today, especially those seeking leadership in the Church.

I have often thought, in this year of St Joseph, that St Joseph himself is a good example of this type of “Suffering Servant of God” leadership. In his beautiful reflections on the year of St Joseph, Pope Francis refers to St Joseph as “a father in the shadows.” Joseph shadowed his son, Jesus, throughout his life. It was real leadership. There are no direct recorded words of St Joseph. However, he was always there with Mary forming the Holy Family. The impulse of being a servant and a slave of God was not something only coming from Jesus’ father but also from the imitation of His own earthly parents.

A third point could be made about living out Christian leadership today in the light of the Plenary Council of Australia and, most importantly today, the launch in this Archdiocese of the Synod of Synodality.

You may recall that Pope Francis has announced that in 2023 there will be an international Synod of Bishops on the topic of Synodality. He has placed this Synod on Synodality back a year. This is because he wants to receive the feedback on this whole important matter from Dioceses and regional areas of the Catholic world.

Last weekend Pope Francis gave a marvellous address to delegates who were with him in Rome for the launch of this Synod on Synodality from an international perspective. The Pope, once again, made it quite clear that Synodality has nothing to do with hidden agendas. It is not some sort of parliament where special interest groups try to garner support and rely on opinion polls and data that promote their own particular interests.

Interestingly, Pope Francis quoted the great commentator of the Second Vatican II Council, Yves Congar, when he said, “There is no need to create another Church, but to create a different Church.” For the Church to be the continuation of the “Suffering Servant of God” and to be a slave to the world is certainly a different Church. It is not another Church. It is a Synodal Church.

Pope Francis asks us to reflect of three significant words, “Communion, Participation, Mission.” Rest assured, this Archdiocese will provide us all with some points to consider on this matter in our discussions in the months ahead. But the three major words the Pope uses are for our discernment of the place of the Holy Spirit is a result of our deep listening as we walk together in a Synodal journey.

Synodality is not a creation of Pope Francis. It is mentioned in a very prominent way in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Over the last almost 60 years, attempts to live this out have been partially successful. Clearly Pope Francis wants us, using Australian terms, to “mainstream” Synodality into our everyday living as we live the Gospel.

Indeed, Synodality finds its roots in the New Testament. Particularly in the Acts of the Apostles, we see how their own issues of their time were able to be discussed in a Synodal way. Only after much participation and communion were they able to be sent on a Missionary journey through the guidance and discernment of the Holy Spirit. May we do the same.

May I leave you with a little expression to think about from the Scriptures today that may be helpful for you living out the Christian life in a practical way.

It is the expression in today’s Gospel defining the leadership Jesus wants as “to serve, and not to be served.”

I do recall a little story on this matter. Some years ago a Bishop in Regional New South Wales chose this expression as his Episcopal Motto. As he began his leadership in his Diocese a special cake was made for him with the motto written on the top. After his ordination and appointment as the Bishop of the region, all retired to the parish hall for celebrations. The cake was to be cut and distributed to everybody with the celebratory drinks.

The Bishop had cut the cake and sent it out to the kitchen for distribution but only part of the cake returned to the hall. When he went to find out where the rest of the cake was they said they couldn’t cut it. Why was this the case? They responded, “We cut up the cake as much as we could until we came across the piece that said ‘not to be served’!”

This true little story is something to help you memorise this important quotation from the Bible. May we all come to live out the Christian life over this week in a manner that we are here “To serve and not to be served.”

24 OCTOBER 2021

 Readings  Jer 31:7-9  Heb 5:1-6  Gospel Mark 10:46-52

Today’s Gospel begins in Jericho. It is the delightful encounter between the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, and the Lord as Jesus begins His ascent into Jerusalem at a pivotal moment in Mark’s Gospel.

First of all, a word about Jericho. Jericho is one of the oldest cities in the world going back 10,000 years. It is also one of the lowest and founded on a natural spring, which is still productive, near the Dead Sea, 250 metres below sea level. It was very important for many reasons over millennia.

In the case of Jesus, however, it is the gathering of people before they begin their pilgrimage ascent into Jerusalem which is 600 metres above sea level. I have been to Jericho and Jerusalem. The van carrying us took about 45 minutes to travel this distance. You can therefore understand how steep the ascent is. Over the centuries when pilgrims made this ascent they would often sing the “Psalms of Ascent” (Psalms 120-134).

Now a word about Bartimaeus. In Mark’s Gospel, Bartimaeus takes on a particular profile. First of all, he is given his full name that is, “Bartimaeus, Son of Timaeus.” He is a blind beggar who is “siting at the side of the road.” In other words, he is in the gutter. He is clearly taking advantage of the pilgrims as they move out of Jericho on the way to Jerusalem. He would have his begging bowl prominent.

He then hears that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. He begins shouting out to Jesus. He is desperate in his need. This is foreshadowed in the First Reading today where shouting is a form of prayer. We hear the Lord say in the First Reading from Jeremiah, “Shout with joy for Jacob; hail the chief of nations! Proclaim, praise, shout…the blind and the lame…I will comfort them as I lead them back…for I am a father to Israel.”

As a form of prayer, the “shouting” Bartimaeus begins. The titles he uses for Jesus are quite remarkable. In Mark’s Gospel, the expression “Son of David” was very often dismissed by Jesus quickly. The Lord did not want people to think that He was some sort of political or military leader. However, as He begins his final ascent to Jerusalem and moves towards His Passion and Death, He allows the shouting of this title, (“The Coming Messiah”), to pour forth from Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus also uses Jesus’ personal name and calls out, “Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me.”

Later Bartimaeus also calls Jesus, “Rabboni.” The only other time in Mark’s Gospel that this is used is by Mary Magdalen the morning of the Resurrection. It is almost as if Bartimaeus is anticipating the victory of Christ on the Cross. He certainly is a man of intense interior sight although not having physical sight.

The word “Call” is used three times. “Jesus stopped and said, call him here…they called the blind man…he is calling you.” The faith of Bartimaeus has now encountered the grace that comes from the call of the Master. When he receives this call from the Lord, Bartimaeus immediately jumps up and goes to Jesus by “throwing off his cloak.” It is almost as if Bartimaeus is throwing off the last vestiges of personal possessions and ego. He goes to the Lord just as he is, with his raw and strongly growing faith.

Jesus then asks him a question that we should be familiar with. It is the same question that Jesus asks the sons of Zebedee in last Sunday’s Gospel…”What do you want me to do for you?” Whereas the sons of Zebedee, James and John, responded with a very selfish request, in total contrast, Bartimaeuss simply asks the following, “Master, let me see again.” The contrast here is stark. The sons of Zebedee have physical sight but internally their faith is immature and blind and will not be perfected until Pentecost. In contrast, Bartimaeus has the light of internal faith however he is physically blind.

In all of this Jesus says to Bartimaeus, “Go your faith has saved you.” We then hear a wonderful expression of what Bartimaeus does once he receives his sight…”He followed him along the road.”

This is very much a link with our references over the last few weeks to “Synod” and “Synodality.” “Synod” means to walk together with the Lord. Now from the blind beggar who sits in the gutter in a stationary position begging, he is fully given a new lease of life by the Lord and then sets about to follow Jesus along the road. It is a real “miracle of Synodality.

I have often wondered what happened to Bartimaeus. We never hear of him again in the Gospels. Who knows maybe he was there at the time of the Lord’s Death and Resurrection. Maybe he was there at Pentecost…although Pentecost came a little while earlier for him after today’s miracle. Perhaps later he became a missionary disciple of Jesus. Once you have touched and encountered the Lord you are full of hope and you cannot keep it to yourself. I could imagine him giving the testimony of his story to so many others and bringing people to Christ as a real missionary.

Today is Mission Sunday. There have been so many wonderful “Bartimaeus’” over the centuries that have gone into frontier areas of the Church to proclaim that “Jesus is Lord and Saviour.” Even the theme for today’s global Mission Sunday, “We cannot but speak about what we have seen and heard.” Bartimaeus would add the expression, “Not only seen and heard but also what the Lord has done for me.”

Despite the very negative press that the Catholic Church receives in Australia, you would be pleased to know that over the last 12 months Catholic numbers have globally grown by 15.4 million. Catholics now constitute 17.7% of the world population. Certainly, we are in a weak state with numbers here in this part of the world for reasons that have been mentioned in the plenary council of Australia. We are looking for missionary strategies to be able to bring forth the Holy Spirit in new and fresh ways in our culture.

However, the Catholic Church is growing very strongly in Africa and Asia.

Let us pray for all missionaries in frontier areas of the Church in the world and also you may wish to financially contribute to these important works of building new Churches, Health Clinics and training Catechists for the work of mission.

I would like to leave you with a little prayer today coming from the 4th Century and very similar to Bartimaeus’ prayer to Jesus.

It is called the “Jesus Prayer.” It comes from our 4th Century Desert mothers and fathers. I simply says the following, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of David, have mercy on us sinners.”

Let us pray for Missionaries around the world and realise that we too are, through our Baptism, Missionaries. Like Bartimaeus, let us ask God’s Mercy but also shout out to the world that “Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

31 OCTOBER 2021

 Readings  Deut 6:2-6  Heb 7:23-28  Gospel Mark 12:28-34

We heard over night that the great Australian television entertainer, Bert Newton, has died. My generation was brought up being entertained by Bert Newton. He became a master in the art of entertainment on television. I read with interest this morning one of his quotes, “Great television is made up of moments.” This devout Catholic has spoken with great wisdom here.

There are also three great moments of our Christian faith presented in today’s Readings.

The first great moment of our belief is that we worship “one” God, not many.

In contrast to many other religions, our faith is based on the worship of one God. We are monotheistic. The first commandment of the Ten Commandments says is all, “I am the Lord your God, thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

As the People of God moved into the Holy land, they were surrounded by a culture of people who worshiped many gods. They were polytheistic. It is almost as if you could choose your own God according to your own particular wants or needs. You could have one or many. It was a type of “designer” God culture. I wonder if we all are far from this reality today. All the shops are opening up now and people are flooding back to the retail sector. Let us rejoice that we can do this and give support to our local shops. Let’s not, however, “shop till we drop.” Let’s be aware of the god of retail and commercialism and not let this take over!

The second great moment of our faith is that we believe that God chose us in love, before we chose God.

This is a distinguishing mark of our faith. That in love, God chose us in Jesus Christ before we even made our first response. Why this has taken place is the source of many questions, particularly in the psalms. The question is, why did God choose us, the least amongst the People of God – people on the periphery, with so much love?

We see this particularly in the Annunciation and Birth of our Lord. Our belief is that the only way to respond to the God of extravagant love is to return such total love with love and extravagance. We see this in the First Reading today where the great Jewish prayer that was prayed two or three times every day by devout Jews is mentioned. It is called the “Shema” (“Listen” prayer of Israel).   “Listen Israel: Lord our God is the one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Please note that it is the “one” God that we are to love completely. A God of all love deserves all our love.

The third great moment of our faith is that we live out the love of God by loving our neighbour.

This is the main message of today’s Gospel.

Here in this Gospel a scribe comes up to Jesus and engages in a very friendly and academic conversation.

At the time of Jesus, the theologians or schools of theology loved multiplying the laws in regard to how we respond to God. Conversely, they also loved summarising these laws and prioritising them as to which were more important than others. It is in this theological setting that the scribe enters into a conversation with Jesus. As an academic question he asks Jesus, without any hidden agenda, “Which is the first of all the commandments?”

Jesus replies with the Shema Prayer of the First Reading today. He then adds a second.

It is this, “You must love your neighbour as yourself.” So Jesus chooses love of neighbour and places it at the same priority as the Shema Prayer. This is quite unique. He also places it as if they are both the horizontal and the vertical dimension of the one great command – love of God and love neighbour. The parable of the Good Samaritan shows us that to Jesus, “neighbour” is not just family or kin, neighbour is anybody in need.

The scribe is very impressed with this response. He says back to Jesus, “Well-spoken Master.” Then there is an interesting finality to the conversation when Jesus, after hearing how wisely the scribe had spoken, says to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” Could this be some sort of subtle invitation from the first evangeliser, our Lord Jesus, to invite this scribe to become one of the Disciples? The subtlety of proposing a fresh evangelisation for this academic is wonderful to imply in the text. May we do the same. Christian evangelisation is always “proposed” and never “imposed” but let us imitate Jesus, the first evangeliser, and not miss an opportunity of bringing people home close to Christ.

So just as Bert Newton spoke of great moments in television, we can speak of great moments in our own faith. We are called to say “Yes” three times to the great moments of our faith. We are to say, “Yes” to worshiping one God and not many. We are to say “Yes” to receiving the love initiative of Jesus our Lord and Saviour who is the God of love. Finally, we are to say “Yes” to loving God in our neighbour.

Therefore the “Gospil” for today could be the repeating part of a chorus of a well-known song which says, “I’ll say yes, yes, yes, Oh Lord.”