Homily – October – 2022

2 OCTOBER 2022

 Readings  Hab 1: 2-3; 2:2-4  2 Tim 1: 6-8; 13-14  Gospel Luke 17: 5-10

Unusually today, all the Readings focus on one vital aspect of our Christian life: Faith.

Just before we reflect on the Readings of today, could you allow me to mention an important theological point about faith? It will help us to understand the Readings even more.

In the Catholic Tradition, Faith is understood in relationship with Grace. They are like two lungs on the one human body. Grace is the total gift of love from God to us in sending Jesus Christ. Faith, a grace response to Jesus Christ, must breathe together with grace. Grace leads to Faith, and Faith leads back to Grace.

If we talk about faith without also breathing in grace, then we tend to focus on faith as something that is humanly produced and requires simply human effort with little reference to God’s initiative of love towards us. This left us into big theological trouble 500 years ago with the Protestant Reformation. This exaggerated human centred attitude and effort is still present today.

With this undergirding foundational orientation, let us now reflect on the Scriptures of today.

The First Reading is from the prophet Habakkuk. It is a grumpy prayer of an impatient and perhaps arrogant person who is struggling with their faith. The person protests to God by saying, “How long, Lord, am I to cry for help while you will not listen…all is contention, and discord flourishes.”

Then the tone of the Scripture text changed to something far more considered and meek. The Lord answers his question in relation to the answering of prayer, “if it comes slowly, wait, for come it will, without fail.” The important point of this Reading is when God says to a person struggling with unanswered prayer, “the upright will live by faithfulness.”

Here is the first important point about faith. Faith enters by the door of humility.

I recall in 2008 at World Youth Day in Sydney an event. I was involved as a support person for the Ecumenical gathering of Pope Benedict XVI in the Crypt of St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney. Here about 100 Ecumenical leaders from around Australia greeted the Pope. After some prayer and words of encouragement from his Holiness, each person was introduced to the Pope. I was assisting in this. I was somewhat horrified when one of the Protestant leaders became quite grumpy in his quick dialogue with the Pope. He said, “Why is God so slow in bringing all the different Christian Churches together in unity?” He mentioned prayers had been prayed and theological dialogues had been given over to Christian unity for decades, but there seemed to be only small progress towards the ultimate Christian unity.

I was alarmed by his upfront comment to the Pope! However, I was immediately impressed by the meekness and the reassurance the Pope gave him in just a few sentences. The Pope made it quite clear that Christian unity will come in God’s own time and there was always cause, therefore, to continue to pray and work for unity and wait on the Lord in hope and trust. The Pope mentioned that if Christian unity does not come in this world, it will come in the fullness of time in the world to come.

I thought this was a very faith filled answer to us all through the humility of the Pope’s response. It is a good example for all of us!

In the Second Reading today from St Paul to Timothy, we hear once again of St Paul imprisoned and yet still writing to the Christian Churches. His own death was soon to occur and yet there is a wonderful aspect to faith that he brings to our reflections today. The second point therefore, is that faith is always sacrificial. Here St Paul in chains says that we must “bear the hardships for the sake of the Good News, relying on the power of God…You have been trusted to look after something precious; guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”

Here faith is sacrificial. It suffers all and bears all in invitation of the Lord’s Calvary Cross.

Sometimes we hear of good Christians, even Catholics, who become quite distracted in their Catholic life and move over to other Religions or other types of understanding Christianity that seem to be so trouble free! Even in our society, we cannot cope with much sacrifice and pain. Everything must be medicalised, that is all well and good, but the idea that sacrifice is part of human life is often fudged.

Our Christianity says that we cannot just go straight to the Resurrection – the Resurrection goes by the path of the Calvary Cross. We cannot have an Easter Sunday without Good Friday! All our sufferings and sacrifices that we make, when united with Christ on His Cross, give us a faith that is so strong and always relies on God’s power.

In the Gospel today we hear of Jesus’s final journey to Jerusalem in His Sacrificial Ministry.

The third point about faith, in the light of today’s Gospel Reading, is that faith risks all by totally trusting and hoping in God’s power to save.

The Apostles, like us all, ask God to “Increase our faith.” Jesus replies rather bluntly, “Were your faith the size of a mustard seed…all things could happen.” Perhaps even the Apostles were relying too much on their own efforts rather than relying totally on the grace of God made present in front of them in Jesus Christ. The point here is that we must always recall that “We are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty.” In other words, get on with life, trust and hope in God’s presence in all our problems. Let God win in us!…Let go!

I recall a lovely prayer I found in a practical book on helping people through Divorce. It could also help anyone with problems in their life especially relationships and problems of the heart.

The prayer says, “As children bring their broken toys with tears for us to mend, I brought my broken dreams to God because he was my friend. Then instead of leaving him in peace to work alone, I hung around and tried to help in ways that were my own. At last, I snatched them back and cried ‘How can you be so slow?’ God said, ‘My child what could I do? You never did let go.”

So let us in today’s Mass pray for a faith that totally trusts in God.

In conclusion, let us return to where we started in regard to the two lungs of Grace and Faith.

Perhaps, it is in the words of St Ignatius of Loyola the 16th century Spanish Master of Discernment and cofounder of the Jesuits that places all this in a beautiful exaltation to us all. He says, “Pray as is everything depended on God. Work as if everything depended on you” and that is our “Gospill” for today.

9 OCTOBER 2022

 Readings  2 Kings 5: 14-17  2 Tim 2: 8-13  Gospel Luke 17: 11-19

 Last Sunday we considered from the Liturgy of the Word three characteristics of Faith. Today this teaching on Faith continues in the Scriptures. We discover what surely must be one of the principal fruits of Faith.

The tone in the Readings today is of movement. People are “walking together.” As the Archdiocese continues to focus on this Synodal theme of “Walking together,” let us continue to see this as it reflects itself in today’s Readings.

The First Old Testament Reading is the encounter of Naaman, the Military leader from a foreign land, with the prophet of Israel, Elisha.

Naaman has become a leper. Leprosy today, thanks be to the Lord, is not such a death sentence as it would have been at the time of Christ. Naaman has gone “out of his comfort zone” to go to a foreign land to seek healing from the prophet of God, Elisha. Not only does he have physical healing but the beginning of a life of faith.

Naaman must become quite humble to do what Elisha requires. This is an important point. As mentioned last week, Faith comes through the doorway of Humility. So, he is prepared to wash seven times in the river Jordan. He then discovers his leprosy has disappeared. There is a faith response as well. He pledges to “no longer offer holocaust or sacrifice to any god except the Lord.” He tries to repay his healing with money to the prophet. This is rebuffed. The only proper response is to become a man of faith.

The illness of leprosy is also discussed in today’s Gospel. First from Luke, we find that Jesus is “on the way to Jerusalem.” So often in Luke’s Gospel, we find “Jesus on the way” – another example of walking together. The leper’s presented are of mixed backgrounds. It is interesting as we find out now with the floods and recovering from the Covid pandemic, tragedy seems to unite people no matter their backgrounds.

These ten lepers “stood some way off.” It was not just a physical distance but also distance in their faith. They cry out to Jesus and say, “Master! Take pity on us.” Jesus finds such a call for Mercy, Healing and Pity irresistible. Immediately He simply says to them, “Show yourselves to the priests.” On the way to get their clearance to be able to re-join the community, they find themselves completely healed of the leprosy. Yet of the ten only one returns to the Lord. He is a Samaritan. Somebody outside the people of faith. We often find this in the New Testament. He turned back and started “praising God at the top of his voice and threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked Him.”

Here is surely the principal fruit of Faith – Praise of God. Praise and thanks for God is the highest form of prayer. That is why in the Eucharistic prayer we talk about the “Thanksgiving prayer” as Eucharist. In this encounter with Jesus, he is able to have a face-to-face encounter. This encounter with Jesus brings him from “partial faith” now to “complete faith.” Christianity is always an encounter Religion. Jesus asks the penetrating question after he had healed the ten, “Where are they?” regarding the other nine. This is such an important question to ask today when there seems to be often a lack of faith in so many of us.

I continue by mentioning two arising pastoral issues. The first is the question, “How do you respond to people of “partial faith”?”

The nine have “partial faith.” Naaman at the beginning has “partial faith.” We meet many people who have “partial faith.” It is almost like a Religious faith rather than a true Christian faith. We must do all that we can pastorally to draw people from a Religious faith to a Christian faith. This is the work of the Kerygma. Inviting people, proposing to people that an encounter with Jesus will bring out the “total faith” that we all seek.

By proposing Jesus, we do this in a special way in our own Archdiocese through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). This is invitational. Surely, this must be the hallmark of every evangelising parish. Let us be aware of not imposing Jesus upon people when we too ask the question, “Where are they?” People may not respond as well as we want them too after Sacramentalising their loved ones in Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist and Reconciliation. However, a judgemental attitude does very little in welcoming them home. So often, a welcoming parish describes itself as such in a Bulletin or in its statements but they are in fact less than that in pastoral practice.

Secondly, how do we know when “total faith” has been achieved? When Jesus says to this Samaritan, “Your faith has saved you,” how do we know that we have reached that stage also? Let us leave that up to the Holy Spirit. We cannot make our judgements on others but only invite them to the love and mercy of Jesus. Invite them to the prayer of praise, which leads us into full faith and encourage them to become Missionary evangelisers like Naaman and the Samaritan healed of Leprosy.

Just to colluded, I have just completed a visitation of a number of parishes over the last few weeks.

The parish priest introduced me to a man who is very ill. We visited his family. He introduced himself by saying that he was terminally ill with Leukaemia but I could see that although his body was failing his faith was alive and vigorous. His children and his children’s children where gathered around. He was not in bed; he was walking but clearly in a weakened state. As I anointed him, renewed his Marriage Vows to his wife of 54 years, and gave him Holy Communion, I asked him to offer some wisdom to his family. He simply said that they must always forgive and love and that they should always stay close to the Catholic Church. What a man of faith! As I left his home and went back with the parish priest to the presbytery, I felt that I might have given this man the Viaticum, but in fact, he has become Viaticum. In other words, he has become food for the journey not only for himself as he approaches eternal life but also food for the journey of his own loved ones in time ahead.

I conclude with the final prayer in the Second Reading today from St Paul. He quotes an ancient Liturgical hymn. This hymn predates his letters and therefore, it must be one of the most ancient Liturgical prayers in Christendom. Here is a wonderful expression that we can all memorise and use to ask for faith in the week ahead.

St Paul says, “We may be unfaithful, but Jesus is always faithful.” Let us pray for deeper faith. Amen!

16 OCTOBER 2022

 Readings  Ex 17:8-13  2 Tim 3:14-4:2  Gospel Luke 18:1-8

 Today’s Readings give us a beautiful teaching on prayer. Two vital aspects of prayer are highlighted: perseverance and faith.

Let us first consider the prayer of Perseverance. Recall last week, we noted that the prayer of Praise is the highest form of all prayer. Yet, behind any type of prayer, there must be perseverance.

We see this foreshadowed in the First Reading today from the Book of Exodus. Moses perseveres in the battle of his day in a physical way. This is symbolised by the sight of his raised hands whenever the battle was won. When his hands were down the battle went the other way. His lieutenants assisted him to persevere by raising his hands by supporting his arms. Whenever his “arms grew heavy” he was assisted. Here is a very important point of prayer. We never pray alone, we always pray together. Even if our prayer seem intentionally personal and intimate, it is always an act of the Church. Hence, we are all here today together praying for each other in the great prayer of praise and thanksgiving of the Eucharist. We have our hands up like Moses.

This raising of hands is something that has been with us throughout our Christian Tradition. We even see this in the Catacombs; the underground Churches in Rome were Mass was celebrated during the early times of persecution. Even today, especially during the Our Father, it is not only the priestly celebrants that put their hands up but, I have noticed, many of you put your hands up also. Maybe we could concentrate on that in this Mass if you so desire.

In the Gospel today we have a parable about perseverance and “the need to pray continually and never loose heart.” It is the parable of a Judge and a Widow.

Sometimes people have said, unreflectingly, that the Judge is a symbol of God and the Widow is a symbol of pestering God to answer our prayers. This is not correct. Jesus makes it quite clear that the Judge is in fact an “unjust judge…who had neither fear of God nor respect for man.”

The Widow is a very feisty woman indeed! Recall that being a widow in Biblical times means that this person is in the category of the poorest of the poor, especially if she does not have any children.

She perseveres in pestering the unjust Judge to give her what she wants. Ultimately, because her pestering disturbs his sleep and he has fears that she will “worry me to death,” he responds to her requests. In fact, in the Scriptures it literally means that she might give him a black eye!

The Scriptural point of this matter is that there is a contrast here, very typical of the Gospel writers. The tone of the parable is that if an unjust person will give somebody preserving what they want, how much more then will our loving and merciful Father give us what we want if we persevere in our prayers. That is the essence of the parable.

Secondly, let us consider the prayer of Faith. Over the last three weeks, we had teachings on Faith. Now the focus is on the prayer of Faith.

Let us realise that our prayers of petition are always in God’s time. God always hears our prayers but it is in God’s timing not our timing.

My Aboriginal friends often say, “You can’t rush the river!” Another popular expression, which is so true says, “God is never known to be in a hurry, but then again God is never known to be late.”

It is not so much a matter of pestering God, but it is a matter of pestering ourselves to be trustful that God has heard our prayer and leave the answer to that petition in God’s own way and time.

We see this practically with regard to our Marian candles and our Sleeping Joseph devotions here in the Cathedral.

When I come into the Cathedral and see candles lit in petition, I often pray for the petitions of those who have lit them in perseverance. Recall, prayer is never an isolated act. The Sleeping Joseph is a favourite of Pope Francis. He often comments, and I have followed his good example, that when he goes to bed concerned about certain things he writes a little note and places it under his statue of the Sleeping Joseph. God spoke to Joseph four times in his dreams. We pray for the intercession of St Joseph, that when God speaks to St Joseph he will also include our own petitions.

This is where the prayer of faith and trust merge. When we make a petition, we leave the petition with God and walk away. That does not mean that we are still not very much concerned about these issues, far from it. It does however mean that we leave our worries and cares and the answers to those prayers in God’s own way and own time. There is a big difference between these two. You may want to think about it.

Let us conclude now with our “Gospill.” Let us use that popular expression for our “Gospill” that is, “God is never known to be in a hurry, but then God is never known to be late.

23 OCTOBER 2022

 Readings  Sir 35:12-14, 16-18  2 Tim 4:6-8, 16-18  Gospel Luke 18:9-4

The Scriptures today indicate that there are at least two types of contrasting prayer petitioners to God.

Similar to last week, we recall how the Gospel writers often use opposites or contrasting examples to bring out the main point of the Gospel message.

Here we have a contrast between two people, with regard to their prayer petitions.

The first one is a Pharisee. Jesus describes this contrast to show that there are, “some people who pride themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else.”

The Pharisee is assessed as being like this. We can see from listening to him, in an almost eavesdropping fashion, the way he prays. He says, “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here.”

It is almost as if he is updating God on how good he is.   He certainly “exalted himself.” The parable indicates at the end that such people “will be humbled.”

It is not as if he has done something wrong. He has not. The only thing he does wrong is judge the tax collector. His prayer, in fact, is not about God, it is about himself. It is almost as if he is competing with God. One wonders who his God is when everything is about himself.

In summation, it is rather difficult to go to Heaven when you have condemned others to hell!

On the other hand, there is the contrasting prayer of the tax collector. The Scripture says that he “stood some distance away.” His prayer as we listen to it is very humble. He says “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Jesus commends this prayer of humility. Jesus say, “He went home again at rights with God…a man who humbles himself will be exalted.” He is the reverse in prayer of the Pharisee. This type of prayer, as mentioned in the First Reading today is a prayer prayed “with his whole heart.” The tax collector asks for God’s mercy. He knows his sins. It is a very deep prayer. He has a missionary heart because he is striving to go forward walking in God’s forgiving mercy.

The arising question in the parable of these two contrasting petitioners is as follows: Which one are you?! It is easy for us to see this contrast in an academic way. But, with the parables, Jesus always directs them towards us and our attitudes towards God.

It is a type of examination of conscience of our own prayer. Whatever one might think about prayer, the following two things are evident from today’s parable. Firstly, the proud cannot pray properly. Secondly, those who despise others cannot pray either.

To summarise it all in my own words: when we pray we are to bring our wounds not our trophies to God.

We start our prayer in the areas that we are most shameful. The areas we most need God’s merciful forgiveness. In this regard, all of us are beggars before God. This is the quintessential prayer posture; this is where we start with prayer. Bringing the great things we have done and our achievements like trophies before God harbours a certain arrogance in prayer. If one wonders why prayer can be boring it is possibly because we are not praying correctly. I am offering God my trophies not my wounds.

On this Marian festival today, we realise that so many Christians over the centuries, in their woundedness, have turned to Mary instinctively as a prayer intercessor. We know how much Mary shared the wounds of Jesus. Even Michelangelo’s Pieta graphically portrays this in one of the most beautiful sculptures ever made. In the Pieta, Mary holds the wounded Christ in her loving arms. She herself is “wounded” by the wounds of Jesus. We can go to her also and she will show us the way to bring our wounds towards God.

In the popular favourite prayer of Catholics, the Hail Mary, we pray to Mary and say, “Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, Amen!”

Another beautiful prayer from our devotional heritage going back 500 years is a prayer asking Mary to remember us before the Lord, The Memorare reads as follows:

“Remember, O most loving Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen!”

On this World Mission Sunday, let us go before the world proclaiming Christ not in arrogance but in humility.

Perhaps for our “Gospill” we could repeat over and over part of the beautiful prayer of the Memorare – “Remember, O most loving Virgin Mary.”

30 OCTOBER 2022

 Readings  Wis 11:22-12:2  2 Thes 1:11-22  Gospel Luke 19:1-10

 Last week we discovered in the Scriptures that Christian prayer truly starts with our wounds and not our trophies in life.   This week Prayer and Conversion are also featured, now in a particular situation. It is the cherished Conversion story of Zacchaeus, the Tax Collector from Jericho.

Jericho for millennium has been an ancient trading city. Its Dates, Balsam and other perfumes are world famous. This has made one of the city’s Tax Collectors, Zacchaeus a very wealthy man. He was despised as he was presumed to be a corrupt spy for the Roman Empire.

However, Zacchaeus already starts to show partial faith when he hears that Jesus is passing by. We hear in the Gospel that Zacchaeus “anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was.” So intense is his anxiety or eagerness to engage with Jesus, at least from a distance, he climbs a sycamore tree, which is like and English oak tree “to catch a glimpse of Jesus.” Apart from being despised as a Tax Collector, Zacchaeus had an added difficulty: He was a very short man. Hence, the rather childlike tactic of climbing a tree.

Immediately, Zacchaeus attracts Jesus’ attention. Why? Let us always remember that Jesus’ self-described mission is to “seek out and save what was lost.” Certainly, Zacchaeus was lost. This does not mean that Zacchaeus was doomed. It simply means that he found himself “In the wrong place.” Clearly, at least in an unreflected way, he is trying to find his rightful place in life.

In an extraordinary way, Jesus directly engaged with Zacchaeus and tells him, “Come down. Hurry, because I must stay at your house today.” Zacchaeus responded positively and joyfully to this most unexpected of initiatives of the grace of God coming through Jesus.

We also hear that the surrounding crowd were not happy with this. It is mentioned that, “they all complained…He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house.” This murmuring of the crowd always follows Jesus where people are seeking him for reasons other than each other’s conversion. Of course, in pointing the finger in an accusing manner at Zacchaeus, they say a lot more about themselves.

To give him great credit, this Scripture says, “Zacchaeus stood his ground.” Under pressure, Zacchaeus’ faith grows stronger and rapidly. As another sign of his conversion to the grace of God, he indicates that if he has wronged any one “I will pay him back four times the amount.” In the presence of Jesus who is delighted at his conversion we find the Saviour says that salvation has come to both he and his household because “the Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost.”

I find that the invitation from Jesus to go to Zacchaeus’ home for a meal is almost Eucharistic in undertone.

The Eucharist is always our “Source and Summit” of the Christian life. In our own conversion to Jesus, we always come via the road of the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. The beautiful conversion story of Zacchaeus gives hope to us all. Especially those who feel that they are lost. There is always Hope and Joy in those who are strongly wounded in their hearts in the presence of Jesus. Jesus is always attracted to us in our woundedness. Indeed, He nails our wounds on to His own wounds on the Calvary Cross.

Let us proceed with the Mass knowing that the Eucharist itself is the Death and Resurrection of Jesus re-presented once again. Let us not bring our trophies but our wounds to the Lord, so that we may also receive the great conversion that awaits us in the presence of Jesus, the Merciful one.

Perhaps our “Gospill” for today could be “Jesus make me worthy of your call.”