Homily – September 2021
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL
5 SEPTEMBER 2021
TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B)
AND MASS ONLINE
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.”
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL
12 SEPTEMBER 2021
TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B)
AND MASS ONLINE
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.”