Homily – September 2021


 Readings  Isaiah 35: 4-7   James 2: 1-5  Gospel Mark 7: 31-37

 Today’s Gospel shows Jesus and His Disciples meandering around the Holy Land, in an indirect way, to their destination.

Why would this be the case? Maybe Jesus was using the time to instruct His Disciples at a deeper level. Possibly He was largely walking through pagan territory as distinct from that of people of Jewish faith. We recall last Sunday’s Gospel, there was an enormous argument between Jesus and the believers of His time.

This must be one of the great ironies of the Gospels. It could be phrased as follows – Those who you would expect to believe in Jesus and the Kingdom of God, didn’t: Those who would not expect to believe in Jesus and the Kingdom of God, did.

A good example of that is today’s Gospel with the beautiful miracle of Jesus’ encounter with the man with disabilities.

Let us consider first the fact that this man was brought to Jesus by his friends. The Scripture says, “They brought him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech.” So this deaf mute had great friends! They were intercessors before Jesus. Jesus rarely ever healed anybody unless either the person needing the healing or their friends showed faith. This is certainly the case here.

The difficulty with this man is that he couldn’t communicate properly. Here is a very good example of unredeemed humanity. Those who are yet to receive the Redeeming Salvation of Jesus are living their humanity in a partial manner. They cannot live their humanity fully. It was St John Paul II who often said, “To be truly Christian is to be fully human.” The point here is that Christianity takes nothing away from our humanity. On the contrary, we can live out humanity in total fullness by receiving the Redeeming embrace of Jesus and Salvation.

Let us now consider Jesus’ response to this man. We can understand this better by referring to the First Reading from the prophet Isaiah. Characteristics of the coming Messiah would have many dimensions, four of which are mentioned in the First Reading. “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, then the lame shall leap like a deer and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy.” Of these four characteristics, two are found in today’s healing Gospel. So what happens in this miracle begins to reveal the deepest identity of Jesus.

Jesus uses almost, what we would call today, a Sacramental way of healing the man. This was not only His words but also His actions. “He lay his hand on him… He put His fingers into the man’s ears and touched his tongue with spittle.” In today’s antiseptic age this latter manner of healing would find a difficult reception here in the 20th century, especially during a Covid pandemic when we are so conscious of cleanliness and sanitisation. However, in the ancient world, spittle was always seen as a healing remedy of sorts.

The courtesy and gentleness of Jesus is shown in the way He didn’t embarrass the man in his situation. Indeed, He went out of His way to respect his privacy. “He took him aside in private, away from the crowd.” Then there are two signs that Jesus used which are quite unique to Mark. First of all, “Looking up to heaven he sighed.” What denotes the sighing of Jesus? There are several times in the Scriptures were Jesus sighs. It is perhaps almost like His deepest inner spirit comes out to express healing compassion to those in need. It is a type of “Ruah”, a breathing of the Holy Spirit on somebody. Even at His death on the Cross, His final breath was a Redemptive and a Healing breath that He gave everything for our wounded humanity.

Then there is the Aramaic word which is still used in this Gospel passage, why I am unsure. Jesus said to him, “Ephphatha, that is, ‘Be opened.’” Again, it is almost as if this man is anticipating the Lord’s Resurrection, where the full healing of humanity takes place.

Then the reaction of the crowds to the healing is overwhelmingly positive. Although Jesus asked them not to tell anybody they did the absolute opposite. “Their admiration was unbounded. He had done all things well, they said.” So here we have the healed man with his friends who came to Jesus in hope and they now leave Jesus in praise. Surely Praise and Joy and Hope are infallible signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit at any time.

Even in our Covid world, we too should be noted as people of Joy, Hope and Praise.

On this Father’s Day, here are two little stories to emphasise this.

Some years ago I remember being at an international conference in Rome. At the beginning of the day a Bishop form Nigeria led us in prayer and gave a little reflection. He told us that he had recently visited the Catholic prisoners in a prison in Nigeria. He was surprised to find that when he went into the prison he noted with interest that almost everybody there was wearing Rosary beads.

He was aware that Nigeria is a Muslim country and only some would be Catholic. After enquiring, he discovered that all the prisoners, regardless of their religion, were very impressed with the Catholics and the way they responded to the suffering that all were enduring. Unlike others they continued in prayer, hope and joyful songs. It was quite contagious. Others joined them in their victory prayers and as a sign placed Rosary Beads around their necks!

Not so long ago, on another but related issue, I met up with a lovely married couple. They introduced me to their newly born child. Upon enquiry, the husband told me that his wife had always been a Catholic but he has recently converted from another faith to Catholicism. I always ask the question…why? He said they had a troubled pregnancy and he noted over the months just how differently his wife responded to these stress filled months in comparison to him. Whereas he was worrying and full of stress she was full of prayer, hope and songs of joy – just like the Nigerian prisoners. He was mightily impressed with this and ended up becoming a Catholic.

I leave you today with a little expression that has come from our Irish background that pertains to one of the great young Saints of hope over the centuries. I refer to the 19th century Carmelite nun, St Therese of Lisieux. She showed such indestructible joy and hope in her life, especially when she developed a terminal illness of her time, Tuberculosis. As such a popular symbol of hope many people turn to the “Little Flower” for intercession. Here is the little Irish expression that has come down over the generations. I offer it as something for you to memorise and pray when you are finding these Covid days particularly difficult. “Oh, little flower, in this hour, show your power.”


 Readings  Isaiah 50: 5-9   James 2: 14-18  Gospel Mark 8: 27-35

 Today’s Gospel passage is a very significant one in Mark’s Gospel. Indeed, it is a turning point in the Gospel. Now, from here on, there is the journey towards Jerusalem and the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

This is foreshadowed somewhat in the geography of today’s Reading. A little like last Sunday, we are given the geographic details. Also, like last Sunday, the expression “on the way” is there. This is such an important phrase for the upcoming Plenary Council of Australia and the notion of Synodality which Pope Francis speaks so much about. We are a Pilgrim people. We are “on the way.”

Christians don’t come to important decisions simply at some press conference or in some closed board room. It is done as we travel on the road to Discipleship. This, indeed, is happening where Jesus now takes His Disciples, “villages round Caesarea Philippi.” Caesarea Philippi is an ancient Greek and Roman town. It has very important mythological significance for the birth of some of the Greek Gods. It is not far from here that the river Jordan finds its source.

It is on the foot hills of the highest mountain in the Holy Land, Mount Hermon. Mount Hermon is a little higher than Australia’s highest peak, Mount Kosciuszko. Caesarea and Philippi are on the slopes of this mountain. It is perhaps a little like Jindabyne. So we can link what is happening now with the geography of our own Archdiocese. From this lovely sight, which is panoramic in its views and rich in its symbolism, Jesus makes an important statement to His Apostles.

Jesus places before them the crucial question of their perception of His identity. He asks them, “Who do people say I am?” The first response they give is a science based answer, so typical of an Australian response. It is almost as if they are saying that a sociological survey has been completed. The information has been placed before them and 33% say that he is Elijah, or 33% John the Baptist, or 33% one of the prophets.

Jesus is not so much interested in the information and the data. He always comes to the heart of the matter – the human heart. Perhaps looking at them intently he asks the question again, directed towards their own personal response, “But you, who do you say I am?”

The loveable and impetuous leader, St Peter, the 1st Pope, comes up with a brilliant prophetic answer to this key question. He says to Jesus, “You are the Christ.” The word “Christ” is not a name but a title for Jesus. It means in Greek, “The anointed one,” and in Hebrew “The Messiah.” Jesus then goes on immediately to describe what type of Messiah He is. He then starts to talk immediately about a future where he is “destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected…to be put to death…and to rise again.”

This is foreshadowed in the First Reading today from the prophet Isaiah. Here the indications are that the coming Messiah would be a “Suffering Messiah.” The Reading talks about the coming Messiah who will be “struck down”, who will have His “beard torn” and He will endure “insult and spittle.”

Jesus personalises these characteristics of the “Suffering Messiah.”

Immediately Peter, brilliant one moment and disastrous the next, takes Jesus to task on this prediction of suffering. The words used in the Gospel are, “Peter started to remonstrate with him.”

The word “Remonstrate” is a strong word even in English. It means to debate strongly against something. But just as Peter strongly contested the suffering dimension, Jesus strongly rebuts Peter with an incredibly severe rebuttal. He says “Get behind me, Satan! Because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.”

Jesus says to all the Disciples that if they are to follow Him, as Disciples, they are to walk behind Him and follow His example. Recall that Rabbis always took the lead and their Disciples followed. Peter seems now to be wanting to take charge of Jesus’ destination and walk in front of Him. Jesus would have none of it. Jesus then talks about how those who want to follow Him, “Let him renounce…take up his cross…follow me…anyone who loses his life for may sake…will save it.”

We cannot have a Christ without the Cross and we cannot have a Cross without Christ. We are to follow Jesus, the “Suffering Messiah.”

Let us not forget Mark wrote this Gospel for those being persecuted to death in the Roman circuses and scapegoated as criminals because they refused to worship the emperor. Their one God was Jesus the Christ. Yet they required encouragement and to be given hope in their desperation. It was for this reason that Mark wrote his Gospel. I am sure it would have been consoling for them to hear that they were in fact, in their travail, following the “Suffering Christ” quite literally to the point of death.

Let us not forget that it took several centuries before the Church publically displayed the Cross and then the Crucifix. The scandal of the Cross was such a primary question for the early Church. It is for us today also. Why must the Messiah suffer? Why must we suffer? Not only suffer but suffer such a terrible death like a crucifixion. Recall that crucifixions were only for the worst of the worst criminals. Not even Roman citizens or Jews were killed in such a way. It was the most scandalous of all scandalous deaths.

Even today this passage is a real challenge to all of us. Perhaps it is the Saints that can help us out here. I recall St (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta, so close to the suffering poor where she saw the face of Jesus, was often challenged in what she did as well.

At one stage she was challenged by others who seemingly, quite jealously, challenged her on getting so much attention in the world for similar work that they themselves were doing. Her response is illuminative. She calmly told them that they were helping the poor for something, but her sisters were helping the poor for someone…the “Suffering Jesus.” When they ministered to the poor they saw in the face of the poor the “Suffering Jesus.” Here is where evangelisation reaches its highest level, when it is exercised close to the poor.

Let us conclude our Mass now by finding great consolation that Christ is with us too in our sufferings. This may be the Covid pandemic world that we are in at the moment, or world tragedies that continue to happen throughout the world.

I was talking to a lady during the week. She told me that her elderly mother, just beginning with dementia, found going to sleep at night very fearful. Her daughter gave her a beautiful cross, called “the holding cross” which is made of olive wood and shaped to be able to be placed in the palm of a person’s hand very comfortably. She found that her mother was sleeping a lot better if she held this cross when she went to bed. Clearly this elderly lady was uniting her own cross with The Cross of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.  May we follow her good example.

I leave you with a little Gospil to memorise. It comes from a famous Anglican hymn called Rock of Ages. This was composed by an Anglican priest in 1763. Some of the lyrics of this hymn are very beautiful. The one that I wanted to share with you today was the following, “Nothing in my hand I bring. Simply to thy Cross I cling.”


 Readings  Wisdom 2:12, 17-20   James 3: 16-4:3  Gospel Mark 9: 30-37

In the Readings today we seem to see a big gap between the “Godless” and the “Godly.” Perhaps we could focus on the present lockdown in this part of Australia regarding the Covid pandemic and we could also phrase it as the gap between the “gloom team” and the “hope team.”

In the Gospel today, Jesus continues His kind of elite leadership class as they “made their way through Galilee; and he did not want anyone to know, because he was instructing his disciples.”

In this further instruction, carrying on from last Sunday’s Gospel, we hear of the second prediction of His Passion. He indicates that He will be “delivered up”….and that He will be “put to death; and three days after…he will rise again.” Like last week His pivotal message of a “Suffering Messiah” was not comprehended by His Disciples. Indeed, the Scripture says today that, “they did not understand what he said and were afraid to ask him.”

Jesus then “took a little child, set him in front of them…and said to them “Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me.” Jesus is trying to teach them that they will have to put aside all other understandings of leadership apart from that which is based on the trust, humility and vulnerability, like that of a little child.

In the First Reading today we have a good portrayal of those who the Scripture calls “The Godless.” From the Book of Wisdom, those who are Godless and see virtue want to destroy it. They begin plotting and have evil thoughts against the innocence and vulnerability of the virtuous. The Godless say amongst themselves, “He annoys us and opposes our way of life, reproaches us…Let us condemn Him to a shameful death.”

The Second Reading tries to probe where this evil Godlessness’ comes from. The letter of James suggests that, “Wherever you find jealousy and ambition, you find disharmony, and wicked things of every kind being done.” It then goes on to suggest the origins of this evil. It asks, “Where do these wars and battles between yourselves first start? Isn’t it precisely in the desires fighting inside our own selves?” So, the heart is the problem.

Returning now to the Gospel, there seems to be a kind of inner story undergirding the Gospel passage. Jesus is aware that the Disciples were discussing something amongst themselves. He asked them directly, “What were you arguing about on the road? They said nothing because they had been arguing which of them was the greatest.”

No wonder they said nothing to Jesus. They were ashamed that they had been talking about a career of following Jesus rather than a vocation. By arguing who was the greatest they were trying to see how they could climb over one another to gain the “corporate” advantage. By bringing a child in front of them, Jesus makes it quite clear that true freedom comes from total submission to the Calvary Death, Dying and Rising of Jesus.

When I was reflecting on this passage over the last week an experience came to my mind.

Some years ago a very good man and dedicated Catholic had a conversation with me. He was very successful in the corporate world and had a great sense of integrity about his life. However, he did ask me an extraordinary question. He received an extraordinary answer!

He looked at me and asked, “Bishop where do you want to be in five years’ time?” What a question! It presumes that the Catholic Church is some sort of corporate entity.

The Catholic Church is a theological reality with a corporate dimension. It is not one corporate institution amongst others, which in this case simply has a theological dimension. We must form our understanding of Church correctly. Otherwise such questions might engender clericalism in the Church. Whereas there may be clericalism amongst some of the clergy, we must also make sure there is no clericalism amongst the laity!

My response to his question was as follows. I said that in five years’ time I hope to still have my head in the heavens and my feet firmly planted on Australian soil and spinning around in 360 degrees in service of the Church and the poor of the world.

The biggest issue here amongst the “Godless” and the “Godly” is when we take our eyes off Jesus.

When we take our eyes off Jesus we start moving into this murky world of Godliness and evil intent. This can only generate fruits of great gloominess. But we are in the “hope team”! When we have our eyes on Jesus then our intentions and our actions are quite different. Remember Peter when he was walking on the water towards Jesus. As soon as he took his eyes off Jesus he started to sink into the stormy waters. That will happen to us too if we take our eyes off Jesus. So let us focus our eyes on a Jesus centred life as we move towards the Plenary Council of Australia and know that only the Hope of Jesus will give us the inspiration to allow the Kingdom of God to flourish amongst us.

I leave you with a little expression to memorise, if you so wish, to help you along with these thoughts. It comes from a favourite passage of mine from St Paul to the Colossians 3:11. It states, “There is only Christ: He is everything and He is in everything.”


 Readings  Numbers 11:25-29   James 5:1-6  Gospel Mark 9: 38-43. 45. 47-48

 Over the last few Sundays we have been listening carefully to the Lord’s leadership training with His disciples. Today this continues but it is not leadership within the community that is the focus but leadership outside the community. The main point here is that the Spirit will blow where the Spirit will blow!

This is foreshadowed in the First Reading from the Book of Numbers. We find here that “the Lord came down in the Cloud.” It is a kind of Pentecost in the Old Testament. The cloud coming down is the Spirit of God coming down upon Moses and his seventy elders. They then began to prophesise. Two men, however, “stayed back in the camp.” Yet, the Spirit came down upon them as well. They too began to prophesise.

This caused a scandal amongst the people. Joshua told Moses, “My Lord Moses, stop them!” Moses was not perturbed about this at all. It is all about the Spirit’s work. Moses’ broad mindedness is expressed in the following, “If only the whole people of the Lord were prophets, and the Lord gave his Spirit to them all!”

This broadmindedness is seen more fully in today’s Gospel from Mark Chapter 9.

Here it is not Joshua but the beloved disciple John saying to Jesus, “Master, we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in your name; and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.” John’s angst receives a mild rebuke from Jesus. Jesus states immediately, “You must not stop him…Anyone who is not against us is for us.”

We are not to be an obstacle in the way that the Spirit blows.

Of the many observations that could be made, I would like to make three brief reflections on these Readings.

The first reflection is to remind us all that our God is a God of surprises! The Spirit will blow where it will.

We must reject rigidity of any sort which tends to dictate where the Spirit is or ought not be present.

Yesterday we celebrated the Australian Rules Grand Final. It was a wonderful match. But, just imagine if we had an obsession with only the boundary umpiring. The boundary umpire is very important to the game. He indicates when the ball is in play or out of play. But, we must not be obsessed with his role. It must be set in a far broader panorama.

To a certain degree, Moses and the “New Moses,” Jesus, are like the coach of the football team. They see where there is charisms, where there are talents and surprises of the Holy Spirit and call these unexpected joys a “Great Hope” and not a threat.

Let us keep this in mind with the upcoming Plenary Council of Australia which begins next Sunday afternoon. Let us reject all sorts of rigidity of any sort coming from any direction. Let the Holy Spirit blow amongst us and renew the Church in Australia.

A second lesson today can be applied to the 107th World Day of Migrants and Refugees that we celebrate globally today. In regard to Migrants, let us be surprised by our Migrant neighbours in our streets!

I recall as a young priest doing a lot of home visiting in my first parish. In those days you visited every house in the street, Catholic or non-Catholic. One of the households I visited was a man who was on the Parish Social Justice team. He seemed very keen on promoting Refugees and Migrants in Australia.

So must we all in today’s world. Australia must have a big sign out the front of it, “All are welcome here.” We look forward to the reinstatement and the expansion of Australia’s migration intake as soon as possible once the Covid pandemic settles.

Anyway, getting back to the man in the parish, he was very keen on issues regarding migrants and refugees. I had visited his street and talked to him after the meeting about neighbours who were only two households away from his house. They were migrants and had all sorts of challenges in their new life. To my great surprise, it was quite clear, he hadn’t engaged with them. He knew who they were and they would wave to each other in the street as they passed but it he had never gone to visit them and ask how they were settling in. This disappointed me greatly. I have always been attracted to the saying “Think globally. Act locally.”

So let’s be surprised with joy by the migrants in almost all the streets of Australia. Let’s get to know them and learn from them.

Thirdly, when I think of refugees, I was reminded recently of the wonderful story of our refugee priest in the Archdiocese, Fr Joe Tran, Parish Priest of beautiful Narooma. His story came to my mind when I read Pope Francis’ letter, on this day, to the world where he called for “an ever wider we…we are all in the same boat” in regard to migrants and refugees.

Fr Joe Tran escaped from South Vietnam in 1981. For four nights and three days he was on the same boat of refugees. The boat was very unstable yet there were ninety refugees on board. A big storm was brewing and they were losing all hope. An oil tanker came close to them. Their expectant hopes were dashed when the captain said he would not be taking anybody on board but would be happy to give them water and supplies. With the storm brewing, they were desperate. At a certain moment from the crowded boat, parents raised up two little babies. The captain of the ship could see this happening. He paused for a time. He then reversed his decision and allowed all ninety Vietnamese to come on board. What great leadership those child refugees gave to the people. It is almost like a Christmas story. Those two small children were very much in the light of what Jesus has been talking about in the last few weeks. We are to look to children for real leadership!

So here again the Spirit will blow where the Spirit will blow. Even via vulnerable babies. What great leadership!

Let us conclude our Mass with a little expression in our Covid gloominess that we can all memorise. It was Padre Pio, the Italian mystic from Foggia in Southern Italy who celebrated his Feast Day during the last few days. He died in 1968. Of the many great things he said and taught a tiny little expression still remains very popular amongst the Italians. It could not be simpler. It is amazing how Saints can say the most profound things in the simplest of ways. In our Covid lockdown, let us rejoice in his famous expression when he said, “Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry.” Amen!