Homily – July – 2023

2nd JULY 2023

 Readings 2 Kings 4: 8-11. 14-16  Rom 6:3-4. 8-11  Gospel Matthew 10:37-42

Today’s Readings continue, and will continue in the weeks ahead, concerning Jesus’ teaching on discipleship.

In today’s Gospel from Matthew 10, I like to think this Gospel could be called the “Anyone Gospel.”

This is because the word “Anyone” is peppered throughout this rather short Gospel.  Indeed, the word “Anyone” is mentioned nine times!

If we were to summarise what Jesus’ basic teaching is we could say: To be a disciple in the heart of Jesus is ANYONE who totally surrenders their life to Jesus and serves Jesus in ANYONE in need.

So let us reflect a little bit on this “Anyone Gospel.”

Clearly, as always with our Christian mandate, there are two dimensions.  The vertical dimension pertains to the total surrender of our lives to Jesus.  ANYONE who wants to serve the Lord is to totally surrender day by day to the Lord’s Kingship.  Then there is the horizontal level.  Deriving from this Gospel energy of our surrender to Jesus, we are to express this by serving ANYONE in need.

Over the centuries we have battled to keep this vertical and horizontal dimension in total harmony.  They are never two separate mandates but only one.  It forms the Cross.  Indeed, it is in the Cross that there is such a great synthesis of our entire Christian life.

We think of the synthesis of the Cross of Jesus in a particular way on this Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday and the beginning of NATSICC week.

I do recall years ago speaking to a very wise Aboriginal women who, like so many, see God in creation.

She made reference to the Southern Cross in the sky and also on our Australian flag.  In reflecting on the Southern Cross she said that for millennia her people looked at the skies and could see this star formation and wondered what it could mean.  It was almost like the Southern Cross was a kind of celestial St John the Baptist preparing people for the announcement of Jesus Crucified and Risen from the dead.

She then said that they would await the announcement of the Gospel of Christ Crucified when first the Missionaries came.  Despite all their ambiguities, they brought with them the Gospel of Jesus.  Like St John Paul II said in his monumental Alice Springs speech in 1986, nothing can outweigh the Missionaries’ joy in making their first announcement of Christ Crucified and Risen to the Aboriginal peoples of this land.

The Second reflection on the importance of the Cross could be gained from our continued attention to what is happening at Calvary Public Hospital Bruce.  The formal takeover by the ACT Government begins tomorrow.

The taking down of Crosses, which is happening over these days, is one of the first things that happen when Church facilities are taken over by secular governments.

Yesterday I attended a Family Picnic at Calvary Public Hospital Bruce to thank the Lord for all that has taken place over the last 44 years on that site.  I was able to listen carefully too many of the tremendously heroic and faithful workers of the hospital, so many of whom are inspired by the Cross which is found throughout the hospital precinct.  I remember talking yesterday to a nurse who had worked for years at the hospital and felt a certain “wrenching in the heart” when she could see that the Crosses in the hospital had progressively been taken down.  She mentioned to me that in almost an unfocused manner, she had exercised her occupation under the inspiration of the Calvary Crosses.  She didn’t realise how strong that was until they were removed.

We have also heard during the week, comments from another nurse who mentioned similar things.  Indeed, when the Cross was taken down from his area of work he was able to have a moment of deep prayer before the Cross was removed.  He wrote that he reverenced the Cross before it was taken away and on reflection felt as he had when his father had died and he kissed him for the last time before the lid was place on the coffin and his father’s body was taken for burial.

These beautiful stories show us the pivotal importance, whether we reflect on it or not, of being disciples of Jesus in the shadow of the Calvary Cross.

Even if physical Crosses in hospitals are taken down, nothing can take away the Cross that is deep in the hearts of us all.  May this long continue.

There is an interior Christian instinct deep down about the centrality of following Jesus.  We see this in a prophetic way in the First Reading from 2 Kings.  The prophet Elisha finds unusual hospitality in his travels from a married couple.  This was initiated particularly by “a woman of rank who lived there.”

A child was promised to the couple despite their advanced years, much to their delight.  Elisha prophesised that, “you will hold a son in your arms…this time next year.”

When I reflect on that beautiful promise and the image, I think of the woman of faith, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who held the body of her dead son at the bottom of the Calvary Cross.  It is the brilliant sculpture by Michelangelo who has memorialised this scene forever in marble with the famous La Pieta.

There is always hope and there is always the possibility of new birth when we place all our travails and difficulties in the shadow of the Cross.  This is a central point of Christian discipleship.

To conclude, this point is raised in the Second Reading today from St Paul to the Romans.  He summarises it beautifully by saying, “As Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.”

As we continue now with the challenges of the week to come, let us always hold the hope of the new life that God promises us in Jesus Christ, dead but Risen from the dead and is with us now until the end of time.

9th JULY 2023

 Readings Zec 9: 9-10  Rom 8:9. 11-13  Gospel Matthew 11:25-30

 Surprise! Surprise!

Today’s First Reading from the prophet Zechariah will be of great interest to animal lovers of the Archdiocese.

As I walk around the streets of Canberra, getting some exercise, I notice how attentive people are with the love and care they give to their dog or cat.  I also notice, particularly from affluent countries, peoples growing sensitivity to endangered animal species, especially the Whale, Dolphin, Koala and even Kangaroos!  Certainly when I talk to children and as soon as I say the word “Dinosaur” I can see their eyes light up!  Well in today’s First Reading there are two contenders for the “Animal of choice” from the Bible point of view!  There is the Horse, and believe it or not, the Donkey.  The winner is the Donkey!   Why not the Horse?  In the Bible horses are associated with military victories whereas donkeys have always been associated with peace makers.

We see in the First Reading today, the prophet say, “See now, your king comes to you…he is triumphant, humble and riding on a donkey.”  Like all the prophets the humility of the donkey resembles the humility of their own role in salvation history.  Whereas the horse is to be dismissed.  The prophet says, “He will banish chariots from Ephraim and horses from Jerusalem; the bow of war will be banished.” It does seem a strange choice…the donkey.  Our impression over the years is that donkeys are ugly because of their big ears, they make a terrible sound, they can be very stubborn and they have bad feet!  Yet, in the Bible donkeys are mentioned at least 155 times.  Not only do prophets ride on them, but also we know that Jesus himself rode a donkey as the new prophet of peace of the Gospels on the first Palm Sunday.

I remember, years ago, there was a sharing circle that I was involved in with a number of priests.  The question being asked was what are the symbols of their priesthood?  An elderly, very humble and much loved priest nominated the donkey as the symbol of his entire priesthood!  There was laughter amongst the group!  He went on and made the good point that donkeys always carry the burdens of people just as Jesus is described as the great burden bearer.  He wanted to do the same in his life.

In today’s Gospel a further truth about Jesus, the great burden bearer is offered.  As always, Jesus mentions that these things are understood more so by children than the learned and the proud.  Indeed, Jesus praises God for “hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children.”  What is this special extra truth?

I think a hint is given in the well-known story that comes from the Vietnam War.  I am sure you have heard the story, because it has been immortalised in so many songs over the years dating back to the late 1960’s, when a soldier sees a boy carrying a child on his back.  The soldier makes the comment to the boy that “He must be heavy?”  The boy immediately responds with the monumental answer, “He is not heavy he is my brother.”

Here is the truth.  If there is a loving link or bond of compassion between the burden and the burden bearer, the load is always easy to carry even if it is weighty.

I see this so often when I speak to parents of children who are full of life and very taxing on the patience of their parents.  Clearly the parents are exhausted but there seems to be fire within them.  Their love for their children makes the burden very easy indeed!  One also sees this when loved ones attend to their sickly or elderly family members or friends.  This is where my repugnance of all euthanasia options emanates from.  When there is a true link, although an elderly persons infirmities are a burden, children generally are delighted to assist their parents in their frailties.

All of this comes to be animated and inspired by the words of Jesus himself.  Jesus, the great burden bearer, assures us all when he says these most memorable words of the New Testament, “Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest…for I am gentle and humble in heart…you will find rest for your souls…Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.”  With the Lord’s love, compassion and merciful kindness for us the burdens that we give him are indeed light because of the intrinsic bonds he has with us.  We should never doubt this.

I notice quite often in my spiritual talks with people that they are ready to give over their burden to the Lord but they also seem to be very ready to take back that burden as soon as the prayer time finishes!  But the idea is, and this is where faith and trust come in, we give the burden to the Lord and leave the burden with him.  The issue is still present but in our hearts the weightiness of it is given over to the Lord for Him to carry.

Let’s try to do that especially in the week to come.  Let’s try to give our burden to the Lord and then let go of the burden for the Lord to carry and for us to then work out, in a responsible way, how best we can respond.  It is always the Lord who carries the weight for us!  So that is our “Gospill” for today, let’s repeat this often in the week to come, “Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.”

16th JULY 2023

 Readings  Is 55: 10-11  Rom 8:18-23  Gospel Matthew 13:25-30

Over the next three weeks the section in St Matthew’s Gospel pertaining to parables and allegories will be presented to us.

Scripture scholars note that Matthew’s Gospels clearly come from a very “tidy Matthew.”  Let’s remember that he was a Tax Collector.  Perhaps like any Accountant or person involved in Financial Services of today who we would also find very “tidy”…the ease in which they use spread sheets, tabulations, in and out columns…also indicates the “tidy mind.”

This is interesting because the Gospel although being very tidy is being spoken to a very untidy and even hostile world of the first decades of Christianity.

Matthew who was also in the midst of this tidy and untidy world, is very conscious that God is a God of great surprises.  His Holy Spirit always surprises us.  There is great extravagance, generosity and bountifulness in God’s providence and mercy.  This continually surprises Matthew in the way he writes his Gospel.

Today’s Gospel is the parable of the “Sower and the Seed.”

The setting is mentioned in the Gospel.  Jesus leaves His house, sits by the lakeside, such huge crowds gathered “that he got into a boat and sat there.”  In that setting perhaps He could look over to the nearby hills and see farming activities and perhaps use this well-known analogy for this very significant parable.

It all centres on a Sower who “went out to sow.” My farming friends up at Harden, Young and Temora, might first of all notice that this particular Sower sows seeds before ploughing the ground!  Is this the first mistake of the sower?

Putting that aside for the moment, what is noticed immediately is that this Sower throws the seed in a most reckless and extravagant manner.   He seems unperturbed about where it is thrown but it is to be thrown generously.

Here we see the “tidy Matthew” coming into play.  He likes talking about groups of three.

Three questionable places where the seed falls are mentioned, “the edge of the path…patches of rock…among thorns….”  Next we hear that some of the seeds fall on rich soil.  Here is another group of three.  They produce an abundant harvest of a “hundredfold…sixty…thirty.”

We wouldn’t be aware of this, but to talk about a harvest of a hundredfold is an absolutely incredible harvest.  Almost unimaginable.

It seems that the parable, which always has one principal meaning, is the following: That the harvest is certain.  Regardless of whether the seed has fallen on hospitable or inhospitable surfaces, the Kingdom of God cannot be withdrawn.  The Kingdom of God will succeed in what it is sent to do.  This is certain.

We see this foreshadowed in the first Readings today from the prophet Isaiah.  He talks about the rain and the snow coming down from Heaven and then says, “Making it yield and giving growth…it does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.”

Regardless of the untidy and hostile world in which the Kingdom of God’s seeds are sown, the Kingdom of God will not only arise but also arise abundantly.  This gives us all great confidence and hope in the midst of our uncertainties and lack of faith.

There is always the distinction between a parable (one main meaning) and an allegory (several meanings).  Let’s look at the main point of this parable and put aside the allegorical interpretations this time.

It seems to me that the “certain harvest” is best received in the rich soil…here is the call for us all to become “rich soil” for the Lord as he pours His Kingdom values upon us.

Firstly, therefore let us be confident in hope and joy that God’s seed is bountiful and provident.  This main point should never be doubted – God’s abundance.

St Mary of the Cross MacKillop always had a great sense of this.  So often she used the word, in setting up her different establishments, “Providence.”  Perhaps this is not a word we use too often these days.  It means that it is God’s work.  It is all the fruit of His grace.

Secondly, the response to this grace seems to be an inner surrender that produces the rich soil in our hearts.

I note that the word “Yield”, a very important Biblical word, is mentioned in the First Reading.  It is also mentioned many times in the Responsorial Psalm of today…psalm 64, which also talks about abundance flowing from the pastures of the Lord.

I note with interest also that in the Second Reading from St Paul’s Letter to the Romans, a similar word to “Yield” is mentioned…”Groaning.”  St Paul says, “From the beginning till now the entire creation, as we know, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth.”  A more matter of fact expression is used in the Gospel but means the same…the word “Produced.”  So whether it is yielding or groaning or producing, it is all to do with our inner surrender to the Lord as we aim at becoming rich soil for the seeds of the Kingdom.

Could I offer you a little practical way of yielding in our everyday life.

Somebody brought it to my attention recently.  I think this little prayer exercise may come from the writings of St Francis de Sales, the 17th century French Bishop who wrote the very significant book “Introduction to the devout life.”  The prayer exercise here is that when we enter into a room, perhaps home, work place, visiting people, medical centre, schools or whatever, that we yield to the Holy Spirits grace in whatever is going to happen in this room.  As we go through the door into the room we make brief and heartfelt prayer of asking the Lord to, “Make us a channel of your peace.”

Then on leaving the room we quickly make a final prayer to ourselves which asks God’s blessing and protection upon those we have me in this room and that His loving protection and mercy comes upon them.

I think this little exercise so simple in its expression, is a lovely way of yielding to the Holy Spirit and becoming “rich soil” in our day to day life as we go in and out doors in our everyday activities.

Let this be our “Gospill” for this day, the expression, “Yield.”  It is mentioned so many times in today’s Readings and underpins the surrender attitude that we must all have as we allow the Kingdom of God’s seeds to have a rich effect not only our hearts but in those that we meet.

23rd JULY 2023

 Readings  Wis 12: 13. 16-19  Rom 8:26-27  Gospel Matthew 13:24-43

 We continue St Matthew’s section of his Gospel regarding the parables.

Let us recall from last week that a parable means there is one principal meaning.  Quite often in Matthew he then explains, in more detail, certain aspects of the parable.  This moves towards what we call allegory.  We have “allegory” in literature and we have it in Biblical literature also.

You will recall that the principal point of last week’s parable of the “Sower and the Seed”, was that the sower was extravagantly provident.  In other words, he didn’t really care where he scattered the seed.  Whether they be on hospitable or inhospitable soil.  It is a symbol of God.  God is provident.  He is super generous in scattering the seeds of the Kingdom of God throughout the world.  Whether the response is strong or weak, to a certain degree, is secondary.  The primary point is that God is the lavish lover of human kind.

In today’s Gospel we have a continuation of the “Sower and the Seed.”  Now we find that the seed that was planted in the rich soil has an added difficulty.  Late at night, the Gospel of today says, an “enemy came, sowed darnel all among the wheat, and made off.”

This presents and immediate problem for the farmers.

In ancient times, the seed of the wheat looked very similar to the seed of the darnel – the weeds.  It wasn’t until they began to spring up that one could recognise what was wheat and what was darnel.

Hence the servants of the owner offer the question, “Do you want us to go and weed it out?”

Prudently and with great leniency, the answer from the owner is immediate.  He says, “No, because when you weed out the darnel you might pull up the wheat with it.  Let them both grow till the harvest; and at harvest…then gather the wheat into my barn…collect the darnel and tie it in bundles to be burnt.”

The main point of this particular parable is that we never evangelise in a neutral environment.

When we, in imitation of the Lord, scatter the wheat seeds of the Kingdom of God, it is never done in a neutral context.  There are always elements that will either assist or hinder the harvest.

The Lord makes it abundantly clear that we are to leave the judgement to His merciful love.  All this will take place in the fullness of time.  The Kingdom’s enemies will not have the last word.  At the Second Coming of the Lord there will be a separation of the sheep and the goats, the light and the dark and of the weeds and the wheat.

This wisdom and prudence of God is foreshadowed in the First Reading from the Book of Wisdom.  The author speaks of God and says, “You govern us with great lenience…by acting thus you have taught a lesson to your people how the virtuous must be kindly to his fellow men, and you have given your sons the good hope that after sin you will grant repentance.”

Let us reflect for a moment on this parable for everyday life.

It seems to me that the parable calls us, in imitation of the Lord, to be discerning Catholics.

We too, in our time and place, never evangelise in a neutral environment.  There is always competing ethical forces.

For example, the Euthanasia debate which is upcoming here in the Australian Capital Territory, will challenge us to be discerning Catholics with great leniency.

This leniency does not mean that we are “pushovers.”

Clearly we leave the judgement to God and proclaim His mercy.  However, at the same time, we declare that Euthanasia is a weed amongst the wheat.  Literally it is poisonous to the terminally ill.  There is no need for it.  Advance palliative care in Australia is already available here in this land of plenty.  It needs to be elevated even higher and distributed more equitably in the rural areas of Australia.  Nevertheless, given this fact, Euthanasia is totally unnecessary and literally a threat to Australian’s health and safety.

Proponents of Euthanasia use expressions such as, “It’s my body.”  This does appear to so many Australians as a persuasive argument.  Discerning Catholics need to examine this under the light of the Gospels and see how totally narrow and insufficient this is to base a political argument in favour of Euthanasia.

Even when we think of another example, the Calvary Public Hospital fiasco, we have to ask ourselves about being discerning Catholics also.  It is interesting that my Muslim and Jewish friends say that if there was an Islamic Public Hospital or Jewish Public Hospital there would be no possibility of such a hostile takeover.  Why are Catholics so lenient and forgiving?  I suppose it comes back to the Scriptures of today.  Again it doesn’t mean that although we are forgiving, we remain passive when our freedom is being threatened.

Some make the claim that the Calvary Public Hospital takeover happened because we are Christians.  This could be the case.  But, in fact maybe it wasn’t that we were Christians but that we were not Christian enough!  Let’s be discerning Catholics and think about this as we reflect on these momentous past months.

So, let us continue our Mass knowing that the wheat thrown by the Master Himself, the Kingdom of God amongst us, has become “wheat” in His own Life, Death and Resurrection and now becomes for us bread for the journey of life.  Jesus is the living bread ground in death from the wheat who has now become our Eucharistic Lord.

Let us imitate the Lord with all haste and with all energies so that in dying with Him we might rise with Him in glory!  For our “Gospill” for today let us take the Responsorial Psalm response, “Lord, you are good and forgiving.”