Homily – November – 2022


 Readings  2 Mc 7:1-2, 9-14  2 Thes 2:16-3:5  Gospel Luke 20: 27-38

 We have now reached the month of November. Let us always recall, that this month is dedicated, in a particular way for praying for those who have died. It also draws us towards the end of the Liturgical year and, therefore, we start to move towards the end of our yearlong meditation on the Gospel of Luke.

The belief of life after death, or some sort of resurrection after death, had a slow Biblical development.

In the First Reading today we see a very strong example of some sort of belief in the resurrection of the dead in early Jewish days. It is a remarkable story of the raw courage of the Maccabees brothers who will gladly suffer death rather than compromise their faith. Under the influence of a King who threatens them with execution unless they obey the many Gods of his Kingdom, they refuse outright. They say “Ours is the better choice, to meet death at men’s hand, yet relying on God’s promise that we shall be raise up by him, whereas for you there can be no resurrection, no new life.” What a wonderful expression…”relying on God’s promise that we will be raised up by him.” There is raw faith in the midst of impending death.

By the time of Jesus in today’s Gospel, some sort of understanding of resurrection from the dead is the majority opinion. One influential group that did not believe this were the Sadducees. Perhaps they were more like the scientific world of today. Unless “the science stacks up” there is to be no belief.

They therefore present to Jesus a ludicrous story trying to trap Him. They present a very physical understanding of resurrection from the dead.

Jesus answers simply by referring them back to the “Burning Bush” and Moses where Jesus describes Himself as the “I Am.” Jesus is the “Eternal Now”, as theologians have described God.

Perhaps a brief understanding of our Christian understanding of life after death would be helpful.

Christians believe that at our death we are “transformed” into the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Our life is not simply some sort of resuscitation of the corpse, where it is still captured in the time and place parameters of our life here on earth. Jesus describes Himself “The Resurrection and the Life.” In our death, relying on the mercy of God in the midst of our sinfulness, we hope in God’s Promise that we too will be raised up into His Resurrection. Our understanding of life after death, therefore, is more of transformation than simply continuation.

There is a dimension here of this transformation that needs to be stressed. There is a social dimension to it.

Over these last few days, we have celebrated the Great Solemnity of All Saints Day. The following day we celebrated the commemoration of all the faithful departed – All Souls Day.

We are all part of the community of the Redeemed in the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. Christ’s victory over death has put a Death to death! We live in His presence in the Church. The Church bridges our life with the life to come as we share so intimately in the Body of the Risen Christ.

Perhaps this is becoming a little overly theological. Could I offer you a beautiful example.

I came across just last week a lovely story of a priest that many of you might know. Fr Bernard Maxwell, a Dominican priest, who spent many of his final years here in Canberra in the parish of Watson, died.

He was a Military Chaplain of the highest distinction. He served especially during the Vietnam War.

At his funeral it was recalled, that on the battlefield he came across a young Australian soldier who was dying and in agony. The soldier was calling out for his mother. Fr Maxwell went over to him and simply embraced him in his dying moments. He soon after died.

Apparently, In Fr Maxwell’s recent last days he recalled this incident. He mentioned to those around his bed that he “felt the life force of that young man drain away. It is like my own life now.”

In a beautiful reflection at his funeral, a Dominican Religious Sister thought it might be appropriate for us to imagine that this young man came down to Fr Berny on his death bed and embraced him as he died and then took him home to Heaven to meet the Lord.

It is a beautiful story, I think, of how no one dies on their own in our Christian faith. There is a social dimension to it. We are the community of the Redeemed and in our death, we join the community of the Triumphant with Christ in Heaven. Let us pray for this call upon God’s mercy and repent in a converted life as we await this moment in our own life.

For our little “Gospill” for today, I take it from the psalm that we sang just a moment ago. There is a lovely expression, “Hide me in the shadow of your wings.” Let this be our special prayer in the days ahead.

13 NOVEMBER 2022

 Readings  Mal 3:19-20  2 Thes 3:7-12  Gospel Luke 21: 15-19

 We are well and truly towards the end of the Liturgical Year, the year of Luke. We can tell this by the apocalyptic tone in the Readings. This means that the End Times are described in rather sombre dark tones. At the same time, there is the light of hope for those who are persecuted. We see this particularly in the First Reading. The text states darkly that, “The day is coming now, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and the evil-doers will be like stubble.” That is not the end of the story. Then the text offers the light of hope when it states, “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will shine out with healing in its rays.”

That same tone is expressed in the Gospel today. My eyes are immediately drawn to the last sentence. It states, “You will be hated by all men on account of my name, but not a hair of your head will be lost. Your endurance will win you your lives.” This word “Endurance” is worthy of further reflection. What does enduring mean?

From a theological point of view, when we are talking about God’s enduring love for us we start to move towards a central axis of our faith – the enduring presence of the Holy Spirit. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit endures forever. There is a lovely expression intimating this from Jesus at the Last Super in John’s Gospel he says, “You in me and I in you.”

In this month of November, we reflect on the enduring love of Christ particularly made manifest in the Saints and Holy Souls. In their particular apocalyptic times, they shone like sons and daughters of hope with the enduring trust in God.

On this World Day of the Poor, let me choose just two Australian saintly women who indicate this Godly light.

Firstly, there is St Mary of the Cross MacKillop. She died when she was only 67 years of age in 1909. She encourages us to endure even with the writings on her tomb, which I reflected upon in the past week when I was in Sydney for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. These words are – “Trust in God, in St Joseph’s care I leave you, remember we are only travellers here.”

There is another great holy woman of Australia who is on the way towards canonisation, please God.

Her name is Caroline Chisolm. She died when she was 68 years of age in 1877.

She was an English immigrant and convert to Catholicism. With her husband, she raised eight children. She remained in Sydney for seven years in its colonial times. She became like a social worker. Over her time she saw that the women coming to Sydney cove were largely homeless and without employment. They were prone to exploitation by the men of the colony. In a remarkable way to stand alongside these poor women, she placed over 11,000 women in homes and found them employment.

You may not know her great Catholic story yet she is well known in Australian history. A Canberra suburb is named in her honour. There is a big government school here in Canberra named after her. In times past, her face was on a five-dollar note.

So here, we find the enduring love of God of two wonderful women who reached out to the poor, either in education or in social assistance in their time and place.

In our own apocalyptic time, let us try to do the same. Let us witness to the enduring light and hope of God in the midst of so much darkness.

Perhaps our Gospel could be that which I mentioned above which speaks of the enduring presence of the Trinity deep within us. “You in me, I in you.” (John 14/20).

20 NOVEMBER 2022

 Readings  2 Sm 5:1-3  Col 1:12-20  Gospel Luke 22:35-43

 Today we celebrate the conclusion of a Liturgical Year and we bid farewell to our companion on the journey over this 12 months, St Luke’s Gospel. Today is the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year and it is a “Solemnity” – Which means this is liturgically at the highest level. It is the Solemnity of Christ the King, the King of the Universe.

However, what type of King is King Jesus? There is a stark contrast in the First Reading and the Gospel today about two types of Kings.

In the First Reading, King David is given great prominence. He is undoubtedly the great charismatic, magnetic and “trophy” King of the Old Testament. We hear that he has “led Israel in all their exploits”, that he is their leader, the people have formed a united pact around him, and he is seen as “the anointed David King of Israel.”

In stark contrast here to the “trophy” King, is the wounded King of the Gospel, King Jesus.

We cannot underestimate the Early Churches shocked response to know that Jesus is King yet this is symbolised not on the throne of adulation but on the throne of the Cross. He is mocked, jeered at, people stayed “before the cross watching Jesus.”

To get a sense of this stark contrast, could I offer a humble suggestion.

The clergy of the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn have just completed their yearly Retreat. We had wonderful leadership from our Retreat Director, Fr Brenden Byrne SJ, a biblical scholar of the highest order.

In making this contrast, he brought up an example of an experience he had when a priest, possibly a Chaplain to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), came into the clergy room and stated how much he envied the participants of the AA group.

How could there be envy of such a group of people who are desperately addicted to alcohol and searching for sobriety?

That is just the point. This “holy envy” derived from the fact that the priest chaplain felt that each one of the participants were totally dependent on God. Two things were happening in their lives. Firstly, they completely surrendered to the fact that they were powerless in their addiction. There was total honesty that they could do nothing on their own. Secondly, they came to believe that only God could heal them. They totally relied on God in hope.

The chaplain priest reflected that they responded to God in honesty, trust and hope. With every ounce of their being, they placed their trust in God at a level that others could only imagine.

Surely this is the type of love that Jesus wants, acknowledging him as the King Crucified and Risen from the Dead.

This is played out in a beautiful final encounter that Jesus has on the Cross with whom we now call, “the good thief” sometimes called in Tradition “Demas.”

Let us recall that Jesus is Crucified and bookended between two local thieves. One of these thieves starts arguing with Jesus and mocks him. The other thief rebukes his mate and humbly with great honesty and a growing faith in his last moments, calls on Jesus, “Remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

Jesus’ response is immediate, He says, “Indeed, I promise today you will be with me in paradise.” In the original biblical languages, “paradise” could well do with more attention in understanding what is happening here.

The word “paradise” literally means “walled garden.” The image here is of a very wealthy King who has his own personal garden, which is walled so that only those he wants are invited into the garden with him. That is exactly the type of paradise Jesus is offering “the good thief.”

As soon as we hear of this image, we start thinking of the Book of Genesis. Here with Adam, Jesus walked in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the evening with the First Man as His profound companion.

Therefore, when we come to understand Jesus the King of the Universe, we see him not just simply as a “New David”, but in fact, the “New Adam.” What was lost in Adam, now is restored in Jesus Christ through His death and Resurrection.

For our “Gospill” these following days let us join “the good thief” in praying his prayer that won so much love from Jesus on the Cross when he said, “Jesus remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

Let us repeat this little expression many times and come closer to Jesus in these last days of the Liturgical Year.