Homily – August – 2022

14 AUGUST 2022

 Readings  Jer 38: 4-6. 8-10  Heb 12: 1-4  Gospel Luke 12: 49-53

 The word “Synodality” seems quite complex but In fact, it is defined by relatively simple concepts. It comes from the word “Synod” which means, “Walking together.” The prime Biblical symbol of this is the Emmaus scene in Luke’s Gospel. Here we have Jesus after the Resurrection walking with the two Disciples who are confused and disheartened. After explaining the Scriptures to them and in celebrating the Eucharist, their hearts and souls are awakened to the Risen Lord. Full of faith and hope, they return to the very place they were running away from, Jerusalem. Here they become Apostles who proclaim “He is Risen!”

You will see before you an Icon of the Emmaus scene on the Sanctuary today, painted by Fr Joseph Tran, the Parish Priest at Narooma. It is the symbol of our “Year of walking together”. In between the Plenary Council of Australia and the implementation of its resolutions, we all need to get to know each other and walk together with Christ in the centre. Hence the Icon to inspire us.

This walking together with God is foreshadowed in the Old Testament today from the Book of Jeremiah. Here we find a people walking together without God. They are facing external threats to their very existence, yet they are determined to use their own resources to win the battle. For a people of faith, this is completely a dead-end street.

Jeremiah is sent by God to bring them back to their senses. Like all prophets, he shows great reluctance in accepting this vocation. Prophets do not have a long, carefree life! In proclaiming the truth, they are often in personal peril. This is exactly what happened to Jeremiah. His prophetic utterance that it is three and not just two and not to exclude God in the equation of life, is dismissed as irrelevant. He finds himself at the muddy end of a well and is persecuted and tortured.

In the Gospel today, the “New Jeremiah”, Jesus the Risen Lord, has a similar message to the people of His time. Like Jeremiah, he preaches repentance and conversion. Jesus in His Life, Death and Resurrection shows that following the prophetic line, He too is tortured and put to death.

Today’s Gospel is Luke’s way of encouraging the early Christians to endure. Preferring Jesus above all else, means to prefer Jesus above their family ties and responsibilities. Jesus encourages them to get ready for divisions and persecutions. They are to follow the “narrow door”, an image that will be taken up in next Sunday’s Gospel.

In the midst of all this, however, Jesus tells them that he never promised them a painless life, but great peace in the midst of their pain and preference for Christ above all else.

Such Biblical reflections of today’s Readings have direct relevance to us in Australia.

I am encouraging this “Year of Walking Together” because I fear that many of us are not walking TOGETHER! There are many wonderful things happening in the Archdiocese but I continually find that different parishes, agencies or groups in the Archdiocese have no idea what is happening with each other. Therefore, the Emmaus scene is reduced to one Disciple walking with Jesus but it is two Disciples walking with Jesus! We are all walking together.

This is only exacerbated in a very “My choice” culture of Australia. It is almost becoming a “My choice” dictatorship! Here it is a lonely road. You simply walk the road of life on your own dismissing Jesus to the periphery and other people and groups are used according to your own personal advantage.

I noticed it particularly over the last few weeks when I was in Samoa leading a Retreat for the priests of this beautiful island.

The people in Samoa are animated by the extended family. Even in the architecture of their houses, most of them have a very large area at the front to gather their extended family and neighbourhoods. Even on a Sunday, everything is closed until the evening so that people have maximum opportunity to go to Church and reflect on their life in all its complicity and place Jesus at the centre. There is much generosity in this island and therefore much laughter hope and joy in this singing culture.

During my time there, I was listening to what was happening in Australia, and particularly in Canberra. It was opposite to the culture I was experiencing in Samoa! Here I heard of the government paying bills for abortion in its early stages and there was the news of a certain inevitability that Euthanasia would come to our fair city. There was also news that small quantities of hard drugs are likely to be legalised in the times ahead. Such political policy is absolute poison to family life and the creation of a community of hope and joy with deep meaning in life.

The challenge is for us to be able to walk together, as the Icon suggests from the Emmaus scene, with Jesus in the centre and all of us gathered in different groups interconnected with each other. Let us use the whole year to see how that can be practically worked out, at least in the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn.

I conclude the Homily with my little “Gospill” coming from the Second Reading today from Hebrews. Here we are encouraged to “keep running…” and not to “lose sight of Jesus who leads us.”

May that be our prayer in the year ahead.

21 AUGUST 2022

 Readings  Is 66: 18-21  Heb 12: 5-7, 11-13  Gospel Luke 13: 22-30

 Today’s Gospel from St Luke has a sombre tone and ends with a very stern warning.

The sombre tone is presented in the Lord’s answer to a very important question. This question is asked even today. It is this: “Sir, will there be only a few saved?” Jesus then answered, “Try your best to enter by the narrow door, because, I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed.” What is this narrow door? A possible clue to this is in the line beforehand when Jesus is “making his way to Jerusalem.” Jerusalem is the place of His final Suffering, Death and Resurrection. Jesus is entering the narrow door and calls for us to follow Him.

The “narrow door” has certainly something to do with suffering in life.  This is quite the opposite of a “broad door” where people feel that life should be painless and carefree. Jesus is saying something quite different. This is hinted at in the Second Reading from Hebrews were it is stated, “Suffering is part of your training.”

There is a stern warning at the end of today’s Gospel. Jesus says, “There are those now last who will be first, and those now first who will be last.”

Jesus is turning upside down the expectations of the people of His time and our time. Hence, it is a very “narrow door” that we enter when we become Disciples of Jesus.

All this sounds rather grim. I would like to offer a little story that says the same thing but in a different tone…a tone of some joy.

A very pious Catholic man died and approached the doors of paradise. He joined a line of others and he could see St Peter ahead talking to people.

All of a sudden, trumpets started blasting and celestial choruses began. There was a heightened sense of jubilation. This devout Catholic man looked around and he saw an Archbishop entering near where he was. Rather than waiting in a line, the Archbishop went straight to the front of the line and entered immediately into heaven greeted by the Saints and Angels.

When this gentleman finally reached the door to paradise he couldn’t help himself and made the following comment to St Peter. Whereas he was delighted that he would be going into Heaven, he was annoyed that a Bishop upstaged everybody else. Was this some sign of celestial clericalism? He felt there was clericalism on earth and it seemed to be also present in Heaven!

St Peter reassured him immediately. He said, “You my dear friend, you are beloved of the Lord. You have led a most incredible Holy life on earth as the others that are with you here at present. As for the Archbishop, this is not a case of clericalism, it is something else altogether. Whereas wonderful people like yourself come in every day to Heaven, this is the first time for a long time that an Archbishop has gained entry!”

The whole topic does bring up the issue of Salvation and those who are to be saved.

It is a topic Catholic teaching has consistently emphasised but in a special way since the Second Vatican II Council and subsequent documents. The Death and Resurrection of Jesus enables salvation to be offered to all. This is the invitation. Grace is not in short supply. Grace is plentiful.

The issue here is that Grace also needs to be received. Jesus does ask us in a personal way, “Do you love me?” We have to make a response in conversion and repentance in the midst of God’s mercy. Just because one’s parents and grandparents are Catholic and they have been raised in a Catholic environment, is not sufficient. An important point to make is that one can never presume salvation. There is a difference between a Religious faith and a Christian faith. Many have a Religious faith but have they received that personal encounter with Jesus Christ which constitutes Christian faith?

This brings up the topic of the Catholic approach to death and funerals. It is important that we pray for those who have died.

We Catholics, at the time of death, believe in a mysterious future and not simply a glorious past.

It seems that in today’s Australian settings the glorious past aspect of funerals has been highlighted and regrettably under stresses the equally important aspect of the mysterious future, which calls upon us to pray down God’s mercy upon those who have died before us.

Our intercessory prayers are so important. Whereas we might be doubtful that our prayers for the living actually have been heard by God, no one should doubt that the Lord hears our prayers for the dead.

In secular Australia, at least, these understandings on deaths and funerals are certainly a “narrow door.” With celebrity funerals, we see the glorious past of secular saints and types of canonisation ceremonies happening in a secular nature. Let that not happen to our own wonderful and mature Liturgical Christian Tradition of Christian burials.

I do recall once someone was irritated with me about this matter and felt that the Church was not keeping up with the rest of the world. The person said to me that, “The Churches are heading for the graveyard with such attitudes!” I just listened and laughed to myself. I was hoping that we always head to the graveyard because that is where Christianity began…in the graveyard of the empty tomb three days after Calvary! We are at the graveyard looking forward to the Resurrection and life eternal and not simply looking backwards to a life well lived. This is part of our evangelisation message, which must be presented persuasively and attractively to a very irritated society.

May I leave you with a little “Gospill” which is the essence of today’s Gospel. Let us try to see how we can live this out in the week ahead. Let us memorise the Lord’s wisdom to us all when he says, “Try your best to enter by the narrow door.”

28 AUGUST 2022

 Readings  Sir 3: 17-20, 28-29  Heb 12: 18-19, 22-24  Gospel Luke 14: 1. 7-14

 Today is Social Justice Sunday. This is the annual statement composed by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference which this year has the title “Respect.” It reflects on Social and Domestic violence in Australia.

A somewhat similar word to “Respect” is the word that dominates today’s Readings: “Humility.”

In the First Reading today the catechism of the Old Testament, the Book of Ecclesiasticus counsels us, “be gentle in carrying out your business…you should behave humbly…accept the homage of the humble.”

The Gospel today places humility in the light of the Lord’s observations to the social etiquette of His time – table hospitality and the placement of persons at the table.

Here Jesus notices that people “pick the places of honour.” He counsels them when they provide a meal to “make your way to the lowest place and sit there, so that, when your host comes, he may say, ‘My friend, move up higher.’” The main point of the parable is in the expression, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the man who humbles himself will be exalted.”

So let us make three brief reflections on this important virtue of “Humility.”

My first reflection refers to its definition. The Latin word is “Humilis or Humilitatis.” It literally means…“of the earth.”

Already Australians, whether they realise it or not, do treasure the humility as an Australian virtue. We often use the expression; the person is well grounded” or “down to earth.” These are words of great praise. The person is …“of the earth.”

Having said this, Australians have a way of handling egos in the public place by way of “cutting down tall poppies.” This can be quite brutal to say the least! Nonetheless, even the Second Reading dismisses the “blazing fires…trumpeting thunder…great voice…” of personalities who strive to gain everyone’s attention.

My second brief reflection pertains to “Christian Humility.”

Humility in the Christian understanding always passes by Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

If you were to visit the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, you enter into this enormous Basilica through a low door that forces you to bend down and bow low to get in. It is called “The door of humility.” The idea is that you will not understand what has taken place here unless you approach the mystery of the Lord’s Incarnation and Birth with great humility.

You may recall that last week the Scriptures talked about a “Narrow door.” This was a reference to the Lord’s Suffering in Jerusalem and quite distinct from some “Big open door” where the majority of people enter. The “Sacrificial door” is a door of humility, which many people fail to use.

It is best to look at St Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (chapter 2) to understand Christian Humility in synthesis. The way that Jesus came down to the earth and returned after His Death and Resurrection is the great story of Christian Humility. I like to think, sometimes, the Lord was most humble in the Garden of Gethsemane on the day before His Death. In Matthew’s Gospel, we hear that Jesus threw Himself onto the ground in Gethsemane and prayed intensely. Here we find Jesus, “Of the earth.” It is the quintessential understanding of what Humility is.

Of course, Jesus learnt His humility from His parents, Mary and Joseph. Recall that Mary in her Magnificat talks about how the Lord “lifts up the lowly.” St Joseph’s humility is demonstrated by not making any direct speech at all. He only obeys totally four dreams given to him by the Lord.

The third and final brief reflection on Humility is trying to live on earth life today, as it will be in Heaven.

The Second Reading today from Hebrews talks about how in the Heavenly Jerusalem “everyone is a ‘first-born’ son and a citizen of heaven.” In Heaven, there is a radical equality of the redeemed. The path of humility is shared in Heaven as on earth. No tall poppies here!

God has no favourites. He only has sons and daughters. He does not have grandchildren, relatives or favourites. We are all first-born!

The idea of living this out today is something that too many Australians find, with regret, only at the end of their life.

Some years ago, I came across a wonderful book by an Australian Palliative carer, Bronnie Ware, called “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.”

Here, over many years of attending to those in the twilight of their life, and overhearing their reflections on their life that was about to end, she articulated in order of importance their five greatest regrets.

She indicated that the greatest regret of the dying is the following: “I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself and not the life others expected of me.” Living a life true to myself is part of living a humble life. It is a well-grounded life. It is a life “of the earth.”

However, this is difficult as indicated in this major regret. So often we try to live a life that others impose on us for all sorts of reasons, many of them very good, but it is not our own life. This can often lead to a distracted life and can breed emptiness and a sense of gloom as we reflect later in life.

So let us try to live our life on earth with the humility that we will live it with in Heaven. This is our daily challenge.

To help us on our way this week let our “Gospill” be the following from the Gospel today: “Make your way to the lowest place.”

As this week opens up let us use the many opportunities that will come our way to always choose the humble path, the lowest place. This is the way of the Lord. Let it be our way also.