Homily – February – 2022


 Readings Is 6:1-8  1 Cor 15:1-11  Gospel Luke 5: 1-11

 Today throughout Australia is Word of God Sunday.

There is a beautiful description of listening to the Word of God in the very first sentence of today’s Gospel. We hear from Luke’s Gospel that Jesus was standing by the lake at Gennesaret “with the crowd pressing round him listening to the Word of God.” That is exactly what we are doing right now.

It is Jesus proclaiming His Word to us through the ministry of His Church and now, in this case, this Bishop is trying to articulate what the Church has been saying about these Scriptures over the centuries for our illumination in Christ.

Our Jewish Biblical scholars over the centuries have sometimes used a lovely expression, perhaps not well known in the English speaking world, in regard to loving the Scriptures. They talk about “Black fire on White fire.”

They talk about the Word of God as “searing.” It sears the heart of humanity. Listening carefully to the Word of God can never be a fruitless exercise. It is God talking to us in our deepest humanity with the words that give life.

There is “Black Fire.” That means the ink in which the Scriptures are written. The Scriptures are composed in rather a poetic way. It is not like a television interview and all the words are recorded. The Scriptures give us little cameos of the Lord’s ways and we need “White Fire” to appreciate what the “Black Fire” means. “White Fire” literally means the white page upon which the black ink is written. It also means the way we reflect attentively on that which we are hearing…”listening to the word of God.”

With “Black Fire on White Fire” let us draw some observations on today’s Gospel. Of the many things I could say let me make three points.

The first point is that the Word of God is always ecclesial. It is always a work of the Church. The Bible, in fact, is the Church’s book. It is our book. It is not just my book. It is the Church reflecting on what God has said to us in Jesus Christ over the centuries. The way we have loved and interpreted God’s Word going back to the time of St Peter and the Apostles means that it is part of our Apostolic dimension as a Church. In the Creed we describe ourselves as, “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.”

We are not a parliamentary democracy: we are an Apostolic Church. The “Black Fire” here is when we read that Jesus “got into one of the boats – it was Simon’s…then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.” The “White Fire” here is that even within the first hundred years, as is written in Luke’s Gospel, already there is the awareness that Peter’s boat is a symbol of the Church.

Jesus preaches from Peter’s boat. This is not just a practical comment. It is a profoundly theological statement. When we go to St Peter’s Basilica in Rome you can often see huge mosaics and paintings of Jesus preaching in His Church, in the boat of Peter. We are indeed Apostolic. It is the Pope, Bishops, Priests and Deacons that interpret this Word of God for our time and place in the Mass.

Secondly, the Word of God is always missionary. The “Back Fire” here is when it is noted that Peter and friends were on the shore “washing their nets.” Jesus gives them an alternative and an incredibly important choice, not only for them but for the Church. They were to obey his words when he says, “Put out into the deep water and pay out your nets for a catch (in Latin, Duc in altum).” This is the “Black Fire.”

The “White Fire” is possibly Peter musing on the fact that a man whose Word he is only just starting to appreciate is telling him, a professional fisherman, how to fish. Peter could have been very indignant and dismissed Jesus. Although he comments that they fished all-night and caught nothing he says the incredibly important expression, “if you say so”, which is the act of surrender that we all make to the initiatives of the Lord.

Well we know what happened, don’t we! In the deep dangerous waters, they unexpectedly in obedience to the Lord’s command, netted so may fish that two boats needed to be called to take the haul back to the shore.

So we are Missionary. It is the Lord who is in charge of the Missionary and Evangelisation work of the Church. It is not simply a project of human endeavour. We have with us today so many Filipino people celebrating one of their cultural festivals. The festival of Sto Nino. We recall that 500 hundred years ago, when the European Church began to preach the Word of God to them, they listened to the searing Word of God not only as individuals but as a culture.

Today, the Philippines, which numbers over 103 Million people, is 85 percent Catholic! And what a vibrant Church they are! Any parish here in this Archdiocese that has Filipino people is truly a blessed parish indeed! Filipino people, I thank you for your humility and your missionary work which so often involves very basic things like sweeping the Church or arranging the flowers. You have such an eloquence, in a non-verbal way, of preaching the Word of God in such a domestic way that people do find your witness of faith irresistible.

The third point is that the Word of God is always the fruit of conversion and repentance. The “Black Fire” here is from the Scriptures when Peter returns from the huge haul of fish he feels completely “undone.” He realises that the project of life is not based on his egoism or his own initiatives. It is a response to that which God called him to. He feels very unworthy that God would want to use him in such a manner. He comes to the Lord and says to Him, “Leave me Lord; I am a sinful man.” Jesus responds to him by saying “Simon, Do not be afraid; from now on it is men you will catch.”

Jesus uses our weakness and vulnerability for His greater glory. Indeed, without our weaknesses, vulnerabilities and conversion the Word of God cannot prove to be fruitful.

I am thinking not so much of the second reading today from 1 Corinthians but the Pauline Scriptures in 2 Corinthians 7/4. Paul talks about how we hold the treasure of God in earthenware vessels. So many people in the Church today seem to be obsessed with the earthenware vessels nature of the Church. They talk so much about our brittleness and our sinfulness and the way we have failed God. All of this is completely correct. But it is not the end of the story. We also must realise that incredibly, in the midst of all this brokenness and earthenware vessels the treasure is contained. The treasure is Jesus proclaiming the Kingdom of God to us all. This is the “White Fire.” God comes to us in the midst of our weakness and is always our strength.

In summary therefore could I ask the following two questions: “Is today in the Scriptures the calling of St Peter?” The answer is, “yes it is.” The second question is: “Is today in the Scriptures the calling of the Church?” The answer to this is also “yes.” “Black Fire” and “White Fire” come together here. We are Petrine in our profile of being Church. We are Apostolic. So let us, like the early Church, forever “press round Jesus listening to the Word of God.”

Could I suggest that all of us should have a Bible at home. It shouldn’t be one that rests in some dusty shelf or on a mantel piece full of recipes! We all should have a pocket size edition of the Scripture and carry it around with us as often as we can so that when we read the Word of God we can attend to the searing of God in our midst.

I leave you with the final little expression that might be helpful to you in our encounter with the Lord that always leads to discipleship. It is at the end of today’s Gospel when it say, “They left everything and followed Jesus.” The Church leaves everything and follows Jesus. May that be our deepest desire as 2022 opens up.

13 FEBRUARY 2022

 Readings  Jer 17:5-8  1 Cor 15:12, 16-20  Gospel Luke 6: 17, 20-26

 Last week’s Gospel focused on the call of Simon, who became St Peter and first Pope.

Today’s Gospel, in a real sense, refers to all the Baptised call to Discipleship.

We have Luke’s Beatitudes in today’s Gospel. Beatitudes are “attitudes” of “being” Disciples of Jesus…Be-attitudes. In the Gospels there are two versions. In Matthew’s version Jesus goes up the mountain and sits down in magisterial style and delivers the Sermon on the Mount to a largely Jewish audience. In today’s Gospel there is a shorter account from Luke’s Gospel. Here he goes down to the coastal areas and delivers the Sermon on the plain. We can see from today’s Gospel that there were many Jews present but also people “from the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon.” Clearly these people would be gentiles or people of different faiths or no faith. This is in accord with Luke’s audience of “everyone.”

Luke’s Beatitudes are 4 (Matthew has 9). They are grouped into three categories and indicate Gods blessedness upon particularly the poor, the hungry and those who weep. Why is this the case? It is because they trust in God in their vulnerabilities and do not rely on their own resources.

This is foreshadowed in the First Reading today from the prophet Jeremiah. Here he sets up a contrast between two groups of people. In the first group he states, “A curse on the man who puts his trust in man.” Later he describes them with different images. One would be very relevant to Australian audiences. He says, those that trust in themselves only without any reference to God are like “a salt land, uninhabited.”

The second category is, “A blessing on the man who puts his trust in the Lord.” Here the Lord becomes his only hope and he is at peace with God throughout his life. Jeremiah says, he “never ceased to bear fruit.”

Over the years Scripture scholars have given quite a deal of attention to the use of the term “happy” in some of the translations in regard to the Beatitudes. Indeed, in the Jerusalem Bible that we read from today, the word “happy” precedes the various Beatitudes. The scholars says that the better term and more accurate term is the word “Blessed.” It seems to make sense with Australian English. For instance if we say we are “happy” it often is in reference to something we ourselves have done. However, if we say we are “blessed”, it immediately infers that someone or something has offered us a peace and love that is exceptional. This now starts to move towards the meaning of the Beatitudes where God has blessed us in so many ways.

I would like to give two practical examples of this that have happened to me recently to help us all understand the blessings of God in our lives. It will help us to be better “People of Beatitudes” and have indeed an attitude of feeling blessed by God.

Firstly, some weeks ago I was on holidays. I spent a few days in a central Victorian town. There is a Catholic Church there. I know the Parish Priest well. On the first morning I was there, I arrived half an hour before Mass and was praying in the Church. The Parish Priest was in the Sacristy. Soon after an elderly lady arrived and began preparing the Altar for Mass. Clearly she was the Sacristan. There were not many people in the Church at that time. As I was on holidays, I was wearing casual clothes and would not have been identified visually as a Priest or Bishop. She came up to me and asked me pleasantly, “Will you do the Readings, love?” I thought for a while. I hadn’t been asked to be the Lector at Mass for many years. Anyway, I said “Yes, thank you, I would be very happy to be the Lector at the Mass.”

She went about her business and went into the Sacristy and about five minutes later came back to me. She was now rather flustered and very apologetic. She said, “Oh I am terribly sorry for asking you to be the Lector. I didn’t know you were an Archbishop. Please forgive me. I will find somebody else.” I said “No, you don’t need to find somebody else. I would be more than happy to be the Lector. Thank you very much.”

I felt very blessed by the innocent and humble way she went about her service of the Church and inclined to imitate her, even if it was an unusual request.

Secondly, I feel not only myself but the whole Archdiocese would feel blessed by what happened recently in the Cathedral. Over the past week I have been hosting seven Bishops, all newly ordained for Australia, here in Canberra. They were here for an in-service on their new responsibilities. We celebrated Mass here in the Cathedral every day.

One of the new Bishops is the new Ukrainian Bishop of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. His name is Bishop Mykola Bychok. During one of the Masses he sang, in the Ukrainian language, the Magnificat as part of our prayers. His voice filled the whole Cathedral with the beautiful language of Ukraine. The tone of his voice was like a lament and very moving. It was almost as if he was praying for his embattled country of Ukraine in this critical moment of its history. We gladly joined in his prayers, praying for peace. I said to him afterwards that I felt that the whole Archdiocese would be blessed by having the voice of Ukraine echo in our Cathedral. I took it as a time to pray for Ukraine. I offer that prayer petition for all of us now. I felt very much blessed by his presence with us.

So here are two local examples of Beatitudes amongst us. Could I leave you now with the thought that each one of us could, over the next few days name two or three people or situations recently in which, through them, we have felt richly blessed by God. We thank the Lord for the hope that this gives us.

Could I leave you with the thought that, “If we want to feel blessed, we need to be a blessing to others.” Let this be our little quote to remember for the following week.

20 FEBRUARY 2022

Readings  1 Sam 26: 2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23  1 Cor 15: 45-49  Gospel Luke 6: 27-38

During the Mass today we give great thanks to God for His presence amongst us and in a special way through the Disciples of Jesus Catholic Charismatic Covenant Community who in these times celebrate 40 years since their beginnings.

Three phrases come to my mind when I think of this important anniversary in the life, not only of this Archdiocese but the now international influence for the good of the Gospel, of the Disciples of Jesus.

These three phrases are Thanksgiving, Humble Repentance and Recommitment to Evangelisation.

Let us begin with “Thanksgiving.”

Clearly the Disciples of Jesus have been part of the great current of grace that the Holy Spirit continually gives us, but in a special way, since the second Vatican II Council.

So to those here present who were involved in the foundation and early years of the Community, I give you thanks, most sincerely, for the pioneering work you have done.

I very often meet people who have been or are or would like to be involved in the Disciples of Jesus Community. I meet many of those touched by this continual grace in different places, especially in Hospital work, Professional life and Education.

It seems to me that when we listen carefully to the Genesis story of the last 40 years, there has been a continual epiphany of the Holy Spirit touching those who have been brought into the grace of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and expressed it in the Disciples of Jesus Covenant Community.

The word “epiphany” means manifestation of the Holy Spirit. There have been so many manifestations of the power of the Holy Spirit and the raising up of witnesses to the Death and Resurrection of the Lord as Catholic Evangelisers that is understood in our Catholic Tradition.

So for all those past and present who are involved in encouraging this impulse of grace, I thank you sincerely as the Archbishop, but also in my other role as Chair of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Commission on Evangelisation, Laity and Ministry. Thank you with all my heart. May the Lord continue to do great work through you!

The second phrase is, “Humble Repentance.”

We see in the First Reading today a real humility in the leadership of David.

Seemingly coming out of jealousy, Saul set out with his army to, quite literally, destroy David and his followers.

Late one night, David and his chief of Army, Abishai, come across the sleeping Saul and his army. It could have been a great opportunity for David to end Saul’s life. But that was not to be the case.

David did not take Abishai’s advice with the strategy of “Just one stroke!” so that his enemy would be killed. David recognised that Saul, despite his frailties, was “the Lord’s anointed.” David then took Saul’s sword and went to the other side of the valley. He then shouted and woke up Saul and his army and showed symbolically that he had won a victory without inflicting any damage. He called out to Saul and said, “Today the Lord put you in my power, but I would not raise my hand against the Lord’s anointed.”

So there is a real humility in David’s approach. No doubt based on his great repentance and his own frailties in his personal life.

This contrast between arrogance and humble repentance in leadership is also reflected in the Second Reading today from 1 Corinthians 15. Here there is a contrast between the “first Adam” and “the last Adam has become the life-giving spirit.”

The “earthly man will be modelled on the heavenly man.” Again our life is subsumed in Christ and therefore becomes the fullness of our humanity in Christ.

Although not mentioned in today’s Readings, we can also learn much about “Humble repentance” both as individuals and as a community from 2 Corinthians 4/7. Here we have St Paul mention that, “we are earthenware vessels that hold a treasure.” Paul is possibly speaking on the 40th Anniversary of the Church in Philippi, the earliest Christian Covenant Community. We find a beautiful teaching in this lovely image.

In the Advent Reflections of Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa to the Papal household in the weeks before Christmas in 2021, the Cardinal mentioned this treasure in earthenware vessels image directly. He made the comment that in today’s world the Church’s clay pots and earthenware vessels dimension can become so overly emphasised that it becomes the only thing people see about the Church. In other words, our frailties and our sinfulness. Without, in any shape or form, trying to diminish human frailty, we know that the Church is built on the Holiness of God within us despite our own lack of Holiness.

In other words, Cardinal Cantalamessa is emphasising that we should also be most attentive to the treasure within the earthenware vessels…the treasure is Christ amongst us, the Holiness of God.

The opposite could also be mentioned too. That is, we could become so concentrated on the treasure of Christ within us that we, naively or directly or indirectly, pay insufficient attention to the clay pot fragility of the Church’s members.

This is a particular tendency that could be found in some wonderful Catholics, and could also include Catholic Charismatics.

Let us never be naive to our weaknesses and the difficulties we have had. Tim Kirk at the beginning of the Mass talked about the blessings but also the pain that has been witnessed over the last 40 years with the Disciples of Jesus. That is a very mature comment. Yes, let us rejoice in the great blessings but also be very much aware of the pain also…it is always treasure in earthenware vessels.

This is seen very much in the teachings of the Vatican II Council which teaces about the universal call to Holiness. It is a very important summary of so much of the teachings of the Vatican II Council that must be understood in the context of the Pauline image of earthenware vessels that hold the treasure.

Thirdly and finally let us, in this 40th Anniversary, recommit ourselves to the great work of Evangelisation as the Disciples of Jesus Covenant Community.

Today’s Gospel mentions the Golden Rule of the Scriptures. It is the Golden Rule shared by all the great world Religions. Luke phrases it as follows, “Treat others as you would like them to treat you.” This is all based on the principal Christian insight of our God…that is, God is Love. Hence Jesus says, “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate”, in today’s Gospel. God is Love. Therefore, let us love one another as God has loved us. This is essential Church teaching. Let us use this moment as a “Recommitment to Evangelise” this message of the Gospel of love.

I have been so impressed with the Catholic instinct coming up in the Disciples of Jesus over the years. From what I can observe, you understand that we are Catholic Evangelisers. We are not Pentecostal Evangelisers. You understand how we are not Proselytisers but we always “propose” Christ to the world and never “impose.”

Today is not a day for sentimental looking back but a day of Thanksgiving and recommitting ourselves to the essential work of Evangelisation in the future.

Please do feel the encouragement of, not only myself, but all the Bishops of Australia in the great work you have been doing amongst us. Let us walk together in the next 40-year journey that lies ahead.

In that long journey let us always advance with Thanksgiving, Humble Repentance and Recommit to Evangelise as Catholic Evangelisers and members of the Disciples of Jesus Covenant Community.

27 FEBRUARY 2022

 Readings  Sir 27: 4-7  1 Cor 15: 54-58  Gospel Luke 6: 39-45-15

 This is now the third week whereas the Gospel has been taken from Luke Chapter 6. This Chapter concerns the Beatitudes of Jesus. The “attitudes-of-being” a follower and disciple of Jesus. In Luke’s Gospel it is, “The Sermon on the Plain.” In Matthew’s Gospel it is called, “The Sermon on the Mount.”

Next Sunday is the first week of Lent. This means that this coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, a day of Fast and Abstinence. It is the main Penitential Season of the Church as we approach the joy and mysteries of Easter. It is a day of Fast and Abstinence. It is also the day Pope Francis has call the Universal Church to pray for peace in Ukraine.

So now let us consider today’s Readings in the light of this orientation. The Gospel today indicates Jesus giving perhaps a more practical dimension to the Sermon on the Plain.

Perhaps a summary statement that we could make about today’s Gospel is Jesus calling on us to discern humbly and lovingly the talk of others to us and our own talk to others.

The First Reading from the Book Sirach foreshadows this teaching. A symbol is used that would still be relevant in today’s world. It is the symbol of a sieve. We use a sieve even today in an agricultural setting. We place the dirt on the sieve so that the good soil and grains can pass through and the rubbish is left behind. The teaching from the First Reading is as follows, “In a shaken sieve the rubbish is left behind, so too the defects of a man appear in his talk.” Slightly later the Reading goes, “A man’s words betray what he feels.”

As always, Jesus highlights this teaching and brings it to a new intensity in the Gospel.

Jesus uses the images of a plank and a splinter. He makes the important observation when he questions, “Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own?” Jesus calls people who do this, “Hypocrites!” …a very strong rebuke indeed! It requires us to speak with great humility. It is a theme that Pope Francis often returns to when he speaks about the evil of gossiping.

Other images are found in the Gospel today also. There is the distinction between peoples’ talk as being of “sound or rotten fruit.”

When we judge others we are like thorns and brambles. When we show others mercy in our talk then we are “sound fruit” like figs and grapes.

Sometimes we need a Saint to explain such teachings in a very simple way. St (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta can often be relied upon to do exactly that. Indeed, she is quoted as saying, “If you judge, you have no time to love.”

Based on this solid Gospel teaching, but slightly removed from it, comes an important teaching from our Catholic Tradition. It is often contained in what we call “Catholic Social Teaching” – Practical application to the Gospel message which has been articulated over the last 120 years within the Catholic Church.

In this teaching, we are taught that we need to distinguish but not separate Justice and Mercy.

On the one hand, Justice without Mercy is Tyranny. As an Archbishop, I often cringe when I hear, both outside and within the Church, the word “Justice” being used without any real reference to mercy. I heard this recently in world events in regard to Ukraine. I was, like us all, so disappointed to see television footage during the week of Military tanks moving into an innocent country by way of the beginnings of a takeover. This Military barbarism often uses words which speak of justice which are completely devoid of any mercy. Such justifications are only the talk of tyrants and is a recipe for tyranny in our world. There is certainly no mercy shown to the refugees and those killed in hostilities in this new war and threat to world peace.

The Catholic Church, in its Social Teaching, has always described war as a defeat for humanity. In an age when we are so supportive of environmental ecology there must also be an ecology in world events and particularly in international relationships. This is precisely what Pope Francis talks about. He talks about an integral ecology. It is not just the established order in our ecological world but an established order of living in peace and harmony in international affairs. Let the same energies for the environment spill over to the way we conduct ourselves on the international stage. A world order of peace is always so tenuous and needs to be strengthened in these days.

On the other hand, Mercy without Justice is weakness. Again we see this when people insist that we should be totally accepting of other peoples’ personal choices no matter what the consequences. Here “Mercy” is portrayed in such a way that it is quite devoid of any justice. It is all well and good for us to respect the individual rights of people’s personal choices. However, every human right, in our Catholic teaching, has corresponding responsibilities and duties. The Justice arrangements of fundamental human rights pertaining to marriage and family are often threatened these days by people’s personal choices which seem to be more important than the wisdom of the ages.

So our teaching on freedom is based on the fact that our freedom is always very positive for humanity but it may be limited only when we are trying to protect the freedom of those on the periphery and endangered by the decisions of others. A good example of this is what is happening at the moment with the vaccination issue. Although, in theory, people are free to be vaccinated or not, on the other hand, this freedom can be limited when it means a substantial percentage of the population are endangered by people not being vaccinated. It is an area that we need to think more fully about.

In case the following teaching above is a little bit complex for a Sunday morning Homily, I wish now to re-express the above in three simple phrases.

It is my “Gospill” for today.

The expression goes as follows; Justice without Mercy is Tyranny, Mercy without Justice is Weakness and Mercy without Love is nonsense.