Homily – March – 2022

6 MARCH 2022

 Readings:  Dt 26:4-10  Rom 10:8-13  Gospel Luke 4:1-13

 We have had a week of floods and wars. We are still moving out of the dark tunnel of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In regard to the war in Ukraine, Pope Francis reminds us that there are several other wars also happening in the world today. He mentions wars in Yemen, Syria and Ethiopia.

So we will continue in this Mass to pray for peace in the world.

A very good example of peace making, in a very quiet but beautiful way, took place last Sunday night. Our neighbourhood Anglican Parish, St Pauls, in haste arranged an ecumenical service to pray for Ukraine. I attended. One of the highlights of the gathering was that the local Ukrainian Priest and the local Russian Orthodox Priest sat together during the ceremony quietly praying for peace. There togetherness said so much non-verbally.

Surely, modern humanity needs to find other ways of resolving international difficulties rather than sending missiles and tanks down the roads of countries being invaded. I recall years ago the people power movement in Manila which showed new weapons of peace did not have to be violent or made of metal.

It is also today the First Sunday of Lent. We can get distracted with national and international events to the point that we neglect our own attitudes and behaviours. That is why we need Lent in a special way this year. I have always been attracted to the little expression, “Change the world, Lord, and start with me!”

So we now have the forty days of Lent which echo the forty days of Jesus in the desert in today’s Gospel. There is a penitential tone to this Lenten Season, as we approach the great joy and hope of the Easter Mysteries of our Faith. It is a time both of “Renunciation” and “Annunciation.”

It is a time of “Renunciation” in the sense that we put aside the old self. It is just not only internationally, but also in our homes and in our relationships, in our neighbourhoods and in our workplaces, that we tend to bring in the tanks and the missiles of various sorts. This time of “Renunciation” is to put that aside and to listen carefully to the “Annunciation” of a new way of living out our humanity in Christ. Here is the bringing in of the “new self” that announces new attitudes of peace making and forgiveness.

We see in today’s Gospel; Jesus being tempted to short cut his entry into our humanity. All of this takes place in desert places. Let us not forget the reminder in the First Reading when Moses, telling our faith story, describes our Spiritual Father in this way…”My father was a wandering Aramaean.” In other words, we come from a Spiritual ancestry that is pilgrim and synodal, and lives in the desert were God chooses to speak to His people.

It is of interest therefore, that in today’s Gospel, at its very beginning Luke states, “Jesus left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit through the wilderness.”

I do hope in this Lenten period that we try to find times of solitude and austerity as we enter into a wilderness type of experience. Austerity sometimes is mentioned in regard to economics, but spiritually, desert pilgrims need to also be very austere and disciplined in their travels in wastelands.

The closer we enter into our humanity the closer we will come to Jesus and the fullness of His Divinity.

Jesus is tempted in three ways by the Devil to shortcut His entry into our humanity.

In the First Temptation, He is temped with excessive material comfort. Clearly, after forty days in the desert, Jesus is very hungry. When we are hungry and we pass by a Bakers store and smell fresh bread it is hard not to enter that shop and buy pastries. Jesus resists this temptation of excessive material comfort and states that we “do not live by bread alone.”

In the Second Temptation, Jesus is taken by the Devil to a mountain top where He sees all the Nations of the earth. The Devil tempts Him with a type of power that is “over others” rather than to “serve others”. Again, Jesus rejects this short cut to humanity and quotes the Scripture in saying that we are to “serve God alone.”

In the Third Temptation, Jesus is taken to the top of a building and tempted to jump of the top so that God and His Angels could rescue Him. This is putting God to the test, testing how deep God’s love is for us, in a very manipulative way.

Jesus again dismisses the Devil and quotes that we are never to “put the Lord, God to the test.”

The Devils’ temptations fail. Jesus enters into our humanity fully without compromise. Interesting, however, that at the end of the Gospel Luke notes, “the devil left him, to return at the appointed time.” There is an allusion to the Passion of the Lord, especially at Gethsemane.

Perhaps it is not spoken about enough, but given the Gospel of today, perhaps we should mention a word about the Devil.

Let us always remember that the Devil is a defeated foe because of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Yet he is still the tempter. The Devil’s approach, as we have seen in the Gospel today, is always subtle and there is an almost seductive temptation to give into our needs and wants in the First Temptation by turning limestone stones into bread.

The Devil is also the prince of lies. In the Second Temptation, taking Jesus to the mountain top saying, “I will give you all this power and the glory of these kingdoms, for it has been committed to me.”

This is nonsense. It is a lie. The Devil has not been given the lands of the Nations. It is a temptation based on total deception and deceit.

In the Third Temptation the Devil encourages Jesus to put himself at the centre. The temptation to massage the ego of humanity continues today. When we put the unholy trinity of the “me, myself and I” at the centre of our lives, we are always on a journey to unhappiness and hopelessness.   As mentioned, true happiness comes from both “Renunciation” and an “Annunciation.”

Perhaps a final comment.

If we were to select one or two common themes throughout the whole of the Bible perhaps one of those themes would be as follows: When we try to play God we will always fail. We see this from the beginning of Genesis to the end of the New Testament. We must learn, in this Lenten time, to put aside “self” and to take up the “new self” given to us by Christ in His Resurrection.

So let us recall, as we continue our Mass, a statement of faith that may have been placed on people’s heads on Ash Wednesday a few days ago. One of the antiphons encourages the Minister to say, “Remember you are but dust and to dust you shall return” or another expression, “Repent and believe in the Good News.” Maybe these expressions could be part of our “Gospill” for this weekend, as we say it over and over again to bring us closer in repentance to our Merciful God.

So we say to God in Jesus, “Jesus, my Lord, my God, my all.”

13 MARCH 2022

 Readings  Gen 15:5-12. 17-18  Phil 3:20-4:1  Gospel Luke 9:28-36

 A man arrived home late one night after various social activities. Others might say that he was full of all sorts of spirits, but not the Holy Spirit. Be that as it may, when he went up his driveway he saw on his front lawn a very big snake. He quietly crept up to the side garden shed and got a sharp axe. He went towards the snake and with three falls of the axe he disposed of the snake. He then went back into the house and collapsed on the bed.

When he awoke the next morning he went out to inspect the snake’s demise. As he arrived at the front lawn he saw in front of him in four pieces, the garden hose!

This is a story of a man who confuses a snake with a garden hose. It is a story of a man with blurred vision which later becomes the clear vision of reality.

This is a good introduction to the Gospel of today – The Transfiguration. Here there is a contrast between blurred vision and the clear vision of God.

The “blurred vision” sees Peter, James and John going up a mountain to pray with Jesus. During the prayer, Jesus is transfigured in luminous light in their presence. Joining Him are Moses and Elijah. Moses being the keeper of the law of God and Elijah as the main prophet of the Old Testament.

Peter’s blurred vision of the event is expressed in his desire when he says, “let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Quite rightly, the author of Luke says, “He did not know what he was saying.” His focus was totally on the present. He wanted to remain in this wonderful luminous light of God despite its awesome fearfulness.

A “clear vision” though is seen when we reconsider the incident from the eyes of God.

Here, as Jesus is with Moses and Elijah, we hear a conversation focused not on the present but on the future. Luke says, “they were speaking of his passing which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem.” This “passing” and all that is represented in the word “Jerusalem” points to the foreshadowing of His suffering and Death. This will take centre stage in Luke’s Gospel from chapter 10 onward.

This is the clear vision of Jesus’ true identity and mission in our world – That of the Suffering Servant of God.

In our Lenten pilgrimage towards the Easter Mysteries, we too are faced with the choice of a “blurred vision” of a “clear vision” of what the Lenten Season is about.

A blurred vision of Lent focuses very much on the present. It is a turning in on ourselves. It can take the form of an oversensitivity to our “performance” before God and an obsession with the self and neglect of those on the periphery of life.

A clear and hopeful vision of this Lenten Season, on this second Sunday of Lent, is a turning outwards towards future realities in Christ. This turning around is the essence of what the word “repentance” means. It means a repentance and belief in God’s vision for us all.

Our ultimate vocation in Christ is inextricably linked with the Lord’s Crucifixion and the Easter Mysteries. We need every day of the 40 days of Lent to focus on this. Let us not forget that Lent is a preparation for Easter. Perhaps there are, amongst many, at least three compass points that will assist us in moving from a blurred vision to a clear vision of our vocation in Christ.

Firstly, listening to Jesus. In the Gospel today we have all the signs that God is with them. There are the Biblical words, “mountain…cloud…alone…white.” All these words indicate the presence of God and from this presence of God, God speaks. He says, “This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to Him.” God’s one desire of us is to listen to the Son of God, Jesus. Listening is not simply hearing. Our listening skills can be sharpened if we take seriously the tripartite word indicating “good” Lent…prayer, fasting and alms giving.

Secondly, by listening to God we respond in faith.

In the First Reading today we have an example of the Father of Faith, Abraham. That wonderful expression about Abraham is a great definition of faith and something that all of us should think long and hard about in these Lenten days. The Book of Genesis says, “Abraham put his faith in the Lord, who counted this as making him justified.” Abraham put his complete trust and faith in the Lord.

I am sure Luke’s audience, so weighed down by the martyrdom of persecution, would find the example of Abraham to be very important in their lives. Our thoughts too move towards the people of Ukraine and Russia, and also the flood victims in Australia, as we pray God’s healing peace and faith is with them in these perilous times.

Let us pray for a deepening of faith in this Mass.

Thirdly and finally, let us consider our ultimate realities in Christ and also focus on the future. Many people ask the Church, “What will happen when we die?” What is our ultimate destiny in Christ after our death? The only one to go to heaven and come back and tell us about it is Jesus Himself. He tells us, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” He has come among us to prepare a place for us.

In the Second Reading today, St Paul expresses this belief in a beautiful way. He says, “We are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of His glorious body.” There we have in one sentence the faith of the Church about our ultimate realities. In the merciful and forgiving arms of God, we will be transfigured and share in His resurrected body. There will be a transfiguring of our own earthly bodies into, this beautiful expression, “copies of His glorious body.”

As we continue now with the Mass and place our complete trust and faith in God who is with us and nourishes us with the Eucharist, let us take as our “Gospill” for the week the lovely little expression from the Second Reading from St Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He says, “Our homeland is in heaven.”

So let us not be obsessed with our own self sanctification during Lent, however let us look towards the future and realise that we are on a synodal and pilgrimage journey with the Risen Lord to our homeland in Heaven.

Our homeland is in Heaven. Amen!

20 MARCH 2022

 Readings  Ex 3:1-8. 13-15  1 Cor 10: 1-6, 10-12  Gospel Luke 13: 1-9

 Unsurprisingly, today’s Readings on this third Sunday of Lent speak to us of Sin and Conversion.

With regard to sin: the Readings emphasise the enormous human capacity for self-deception. With regard to conversion: how our Christian Mysteries emphasise how God wants to purify us in the fire of His merciful kindness.

The Gospel today, emphasising the essentials of our Catholic life, meditate on the parable of the fig tree. Some commentators’ call it “The parable of the second or final chance.”

It appears that the fig tree under question here took but never gave. Although being cared for many years, it produced no fruit.

The owner of the orchard calls the Gardener to cut it down. The Gardner, however, pleads with the owner to give it one more year whereby he will fertilise it and care for it in a special way, to see if it does bear fruit. If it does not bear fruit, it will be cut down. Therefore, this fig tree has a second chance, but it is a final chance. There is a tone of urgency and a call for it to produce fruit and not to be simply a taker but also a giver. Here is a good image that we should adopt personally with regard to our own life with Christ. Sinfulness means that we only give to ourselves, we do not give back to the Lord or others. It is inward looking and egotistical.

This parable opens up the entire topic of sinfulness and what this is.

We can see earlier in today’s Gospel that there is in the first instance a common popular belief of an externalisation of sin or evil. It is a type of “blaming others.” Two historic events are mentioned.

There is the terrible experience of Galileans who perished under the macabre actions of Pilate. Then there is the situation of 18 people killed when the tower atSiloam fell on them.

This externalisation of sin and evil, suggests that these people who have died have done something wrong in their life and, in a sense, God is paying them back through tragic deaths.

This was a popular cultural understanding of how to come to terms with evil, totally rejected by Jesus and Christianity in our history. However, it is still present in different ways even today.

For example, with regard to the present war between Russia and Ukraine, sometimes “President Putin” is seen alone as the exemplar of evil. However, deeper questions must be asked. Why would a Christian country invade another Christian country and feel that this is acceptable? Deeper questions arise – For example, the attitudes of the heart with regard to war and peace.

Jesus moves towards sin originating in people’s hearts.

He says it quite bluntly that, with regard to these historic events, “Unless you repent you will all perish as they did.” He repeats this again. It is not as if we can externalise the sin but it should be a microscope to see the sinful attitudes lurking in our hearts.

This is a wonderful meditation for us to make in the middle of Lent.

Much of our response to this question about sin arises from our particular image of God.

If we see God, in all honesty, as some vindictive Divine policeman then our responses will be completely different than seeing God as a loving parent calling us to a better life. This image of God is examined in next week’s Gospel in the “Prodigal Son.”

There is a beautiful descriptive image of God in the First Reading today. It is the encounter of Moses with God. The image used here is of a bush on fire but not consumed. Moses sees this image as being God. The “bush blazing but not consumed” suggests an image of God as purifying love. It both draws us and purifies us.

This fire, as the Responsorial Psalm emphasises, shows us that “The Lord is kind and merciful” as he purifies the heart of humanity.

Kindness and mercy with regard to an image of God is not some sort of soft sentimental option. As we know so well in Australia, fire is an extraordinarily powerful image. Even metals under purifying fire can eventually turn into “precious” metals once the dross and impurities have been burned away. Kindness and mercy is also a tough and urgent response when we come to the Lord.

During the week, we celebrated the Feast of St Patrick. Here this enslaved man who then returned to Ireland as a priest, purified the Irish people and brought them to the freedom of the sons and daughters of God through Baptism. Even Moses in his exile from Egypt, returned to Egypt to liberate God’s People into the Promised Land. The evil war in Ukraine, please God, will be halted by the vigorous pursuit of peace. In our own selfishness, as stated in the Frank Sinatra song…”I did it my way”…can be turned around to be like Joseph, whose Feast Day we celebrated yesterday, and Mary as not my way but “God’s way.” This complete reversal of the purifying kindness and love of God is not something just for the human heart. It starts in the human heart but never ends there, it goes out to all of humanity.

In this third week of Lent, let us ask Jesus to purify us so that we can in fact bare the fruits of the Gospel and not just be a taker but also become a giver of God’s merciful kindness to the world. Helped of course over our history by the three fold ways of Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving.

They help us to focus and strengthen our desire to come before the Lord in His purifying love.

I leave you with a little expression which might be helpful for you to remember…”The Lord is kind and merciful…am I kind and merciful?”

27 MARCH 2022

 Readings  Jos 5: 9-12  2 Cor 5: 17-21  Gospel Luke 15: 1-3. 11-32

 Today’s Gospel is from Luke chapter 15. Commentators describe this Chapter as, “A Gospel within the Gospel.” So many of the great themes of Luke’s Gospel are found in three famous parables of sin and conversion in this chapter. Firstly, there is the parable of “The Lost Sheep” which portrays sin as foolishness. There is the parable of “The Lost Coin.” Here sin is a collusion with others that leads us astray. Thirdly, and the Gospel of today, is probably the most famous of all the parables: “The prodigal Son.” Here the teaching on sin and conversion is unambiguous. It is sin in the purest form because it involves the youngest son making a deliberate and conscious decision on a very serious matter. There is a real “inner rebellion” within him against the father’s love. This is the quintessential definition of what sin is.

Here the youngest son does something that, even by today’s standards, would be totally unsatisfactory. Before his father dies, he demands that he receive his inheritance. There is a beautiful expression here when Jesus says, “Then he came to is senses.” This is when conscience kicked in! The reason is because when we act in selfishness we reap a very thin harvest indeed. Having spent all the money from his inheritance he comes to a shallow repentance. By coming to his senses, he understands that he is now in a worse situation than before. Apart from anything else, he is “dying of hunger.” So with mixed motives he returns to his loving father.

Well might we say that this younger son is prodigal (reckless or wasteful) but we may also call the father prodigal too. His mercy and loving kindness, some would also describe as, “reckless and naïve.” The expression here that caught my eye was, “While his son was still a long way of his father saw him and was moved with pity…He ran to the boy.” The father had been waiting and watching for any sign of the son’s return. That is how God loves us in Jesus Christ!

There was an immediate re-instatement of the son. A ring was placed on his finger, beautiful clothes were placed over his shoulders, and perhaps more importantly, he was given shoes. Having shoes was a sign that he was part of the family. Ironically, it also perhaps gave him the means by which he could walk out again in the future! Jesus’ parable here is showing that sin and forgiveness is even more about what God does in the midst of our sinfulness. The Lord rejoices on our return even if our return is not full hearted.

Hence, this Sunday is called, “Laetare Sunday” or Rejoice Sunday! It is the great parable of “The lost and found.” It bubbles over with joy.

However, not all were happy. The self-righteous elder brother sees all of this from afar. He is performance orientated in his approach to the father. He is telling his father that he has performed extremely well in his duties, unlike his younger brother. Clearly, he is jealous.

This is something that all of us must really learn from during our Lenten time. We are all, to a certain degree, the “elder son.” We see our response to God as some sort of performance. We offer to the Lord our trophies. The Lord is looking for our tragedies not our trophies. Lent really starts when we offer Jesus, in true repentance, the tragedies of our life and receive His joy in reinstating us to His embrace.

When the elder brother does speak to his father, he uses a very sad expression. He describes his younger brother as, “This son of yours.” Even this expression is full of bitterness and deep sadness.

Furthermore, he puts the dagger in further when he introduces a topic, up until this time not mentioned. He refers to his younger brother by saying, “He and his women.” This again is something that probably says a lot more about the elder brother than the younger brother.

Let us always recall, Jesus Himself told us this parable. It is not somebody else. It is first-hand knowledge of the way that God responds to us with so much merciful kindness in our sinfulness.

So therefore, to me the key arising questions are twofold. Firstly, Where do we stand with sinners? The next question would certainly be, God is merciful to us. Are we merciful towards others?

Lent is a time when we think on this. We repent and believe that God has a joyous future for us as we confess our past sinfulness with all our heart. We go to confession and receive this merciful forgiveness of Jesus afresh. Recall that at the beginning of every Mass we have the Penitential Rite, which again acknowledges our sinfulness and God’s merciful forgiveness.

I suppose an important lesson to learn from this wonderful parable is perhaps the following: If we ever have to decide between the forgiveness of God and the forgiveness of humans, always choose God. Jesus, will never be outdone in forgiveness and mercy. This is clearly the message of the Calvary Cross when Jesus says to us all, and this is our take home message surely, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”