Homily – February – 2024

HOMILY
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL
4th FEBRUARY 2024
FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B)
AND MASS ONLINE

 Readings: Job 7:1-4. 6-7  1 Corinthians 9:16-19. 22-23  Gospel Mark 1:29-39

 Today throughout Australia we celebrate Word of God Sunday.  The Word of God is the Scriptures and in a particular way the Gospels.  Every Sunday at our Mass God speaks to us in four ways: With all of us gathered together as one body Christ is present.  Christ is present particularly in the proclamation of the Liturgy of the Word in the first half of the Mass.  In the second half of the Mass we have the Liturgy of the Eucharist were we do what Jesus did at the Last Supper, the changing of the bread and the wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.  Fourthly Christ is present in the Celebrant of the Mass, the Priest.  He speaks the words of Jesus and Jesus speaks through his Sacramental actions to His people.

So in today’s focus we stress on the Liturgy of the Word and the proclamation of the Word of God.  Could I make the following observations?  The first being that I heard many years ago something that I have always thought very helpful to me in understanding the Word of God.

The Scripture scholar said that when the Word of God is proclaimed it is almost like Jesus showing us photographs of His life – his photograph album.

It is a good analogy.  When people show us photographs (although these days it is normally on personal computers & mobiles) they are happy to explain to us what each of the photographs mean.  Indeed we can barely understand it unless we get this commentary.  The photograph is like a snap shot of something important.  It is a concise summary of an event with relationships and challenges and joys and sorrows involved.

This is exactly what happens, for example, during the Mass.  For instance, we proclaim the Gospel and it is explained to us briefly by the Bishop, Priest or Deacon of the Mass.  He certainly should be giving us some sort of context about the Gospel.  It is not a biblical academic talk we are looking for.  We want to know why this is an important snap shot in Jesus’ photo album!

Let’s take today’s Gospel for instance.

I believe there are three photographs of Jesus’ life in this Gospel.  This first is the photograph of Jesus leaving the Synagogue and going to the house of Simon and Andrew.  Simon’s mother In-law is very ill and Jesus goes up to her “took her by the hand and helped her up.”

We could reflect on this in the following way.  It is interesting that Mark talks about this movement from the Synagogue to the house of Simon and Andrew.  This is the movement of the Church in these early days after the Resurrection.  The devotion of the Church is moving from its focus being in the Synagogue and progressively moves out of the Synagogue into the private homes of Christians (Domus ecclesiae).

Then we hear that Simon’s mother in-law is sick with fever.  It is not as if Jesus would tell her to go and take two Panadol every three hours and rest up for 24 hours.  An elderly women who has a fever could be in a life threatening situation.  Naturally the family are very concerned.  Who knows it could be terminal illness.  Then we have a wonderful example of Jesus’ pastoral presence, “He went to her…took her by the hand …and helped her up.”

Over the last few days I have been quite heavily involved with the ACT Government and their enquiry regarding the proposed Euthanasia laws.  These laws are so totally unethical.  Palliative care makes Euthanasia and Voluntary Assisted Dying completely unnecessary.   With palliative care the whole family is involved and the treatment can be provided in the family home.  The family themselves, also like Jesus, gathers, touches and has closeness to the person who is dying.  Jesus seems to have this palliative care posture already in today’s Gospel.

Let’s now have a short meditation on the second photograph of Jesus in today’s Gospel.

The scene has changed and it is now evening.  The disciples bring to Jesus, everyone who is sick or possessed by Devils.  It involves the whole town.  Jesus “cures many who were suffering from diseases of one kind or another.”

In this snap shot of the Word of God we see how Christianity is a Communitarian Religion.  So many are interceding for those who are in need.  There is intercessory prayer.  Jesus walks amongst them.  Here is a great example of what it means to be Church.  We never come to our Mass as individuals to say a few little prayers in an isolated way.  It is a communitarian experience.  It is the whole Body of Christ praying.  We can’t have the hand or the fingers involved in our body without the rest of the body knowing.  It is a corporeal encounter!

Let’s keep this in mind also in regard to what is proposed with the Euthanasia laws.  There is a suggestion that perhaps a Euthanasia kit could be posted out to people who live in the rural areas.  What an extraordinary state of affairs we have gotten ourselves into!  People with a terminal illness, very frail and vulnerable, might be able to receive by post a death kit.  What a lonely experience that would be!  Have we really come to this?

It is interesting that one comment I heard during the week was of a man whom I would have expected would see things a little more ethically.  He mentioned to me that we euthanase our beloved pets satisfactorily.  Why couldn’t we extend this to people also?!!

The answer to that is simply that we are not animals.  We are humans.  We must be able to delineate very carefully that there is a world of difference between animal life and human life.  This is despite the fact that we do love our animals and pets.  It is a sign that people are getting confused in differentiating between animal life and human life.

Commentaries of civilisations over the millennia state the demise of a civilisation begins when human life is assaulted and animal and plant life is exalted.  Therefore people cannot see the difference between the two!  But, however much love I might have for my pet dog, my pet dog can’t quote Shakespeare, can’t play Rachmaninoff on the piano, and also can’t paint a Caravaggio masterpiece.  Because of our reason and free will we are completely different from animal life not withstanding any commonalities.

The third and final snap shot from today’s Gospel is “in the morning, long before dawn, Jesus got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.”

So we have an insight into the way Jesus went about His prayer life.  He found a time and a place to pray.  He didn’t want to be distracted while listening to His Father, God Almighty.  As Lent soon approaches, we too must refresh our devotional habits to make sure our life is not becoming a prayer-less endeavour.

It is a big struggle in today’s busy world, but we do need to find different places and times in which we place our hearts and minds in the presence of the Lord and listen to God so carefully.  A wonderful way of doing this, for all of us, is a more frequent use of the Bible, the Word of God!  Many of you I know use the Scriptures appropriately for your prayer.  But I am sure many of you have a Bible at home and it is not used much.  As Lent approaches, perhaps rid your Bibles of dust and start learning to reuse it again.

I would suggest that you start with the Psalms.  The Psalms, and there are over 100 of them, contain every human emotion.  The idea is to find a word or a phrase from the Psalms that resonates with you and let that word or phrase go deeper into your heart.  This does require a time and a place, just like Jesus.  Jesus would have prayed the Psalms.  He would have known them off by heart.  Mary and Joseph would have taught Him.  Let us do what Jesus did and as Lent approaches start to think about how we can renew our prayer life.

So as we go on with the Mass now let us use, as our “Gospill”, the famous expression from the Old Testament in approaching the Word of God and listening to it, “Speak Lord your servant is listening.”

HOMILY
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL
11th FEBRUARY 2024
SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B)
AND MASS ONLINE

Readings: Leviticus 13:1-2. 44-46 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1 Gospel Mark 1:40-45

You may recall that last Sunday, Word of God Sunday, I mentioned to you that praying the Scriptures is like allowing Jesus to take you through the photograph album of His life.

I would now like to make a little addition to that helpful image.

The Scripture scenes, especially in the Gospels, also are like a portrait rather than a photograph.  A photograph gives precise historic detail of an image.  In a portrait the Artist is given some liberties to place his own observations into what he is painting.

This is just like the Gospels.  The Gospel evangelists, in relating the scene, also are very much aware of the community they are writing the Gospel for and their particular situations.  They therefore, quite often, place some distinct or somewhat hidden elements in the scene to offer particular guidance to the communities they write for.

So we come to the Gospel of today.

It is the portrait of Jesus ’encounter with the Leper.

Leprosy, although still present in certain parts of the world, is largely a containable illness.  However, at the time of Jesus it created a great deal of concern.  Perhaps a little like our own experience of Covid at its worst moments.  So in Leviticus we have the, as it were, regulations on how the community is to deal with the person who has this highly contagious and largely deadly disease.

The Leviticus Reading says, “The priest must declare him unclean…the person infected with leprosy must wear his clothing torn and his hair disordered…he must cry, ‘Unclean, unclean’…he must live apart, he must live outside the camp.”

So, not only does the person with leprosy have a medical condition to deal with, but they are also socially ostracised from the community in a very harsh way.

It is this second element, the automatic dismissing of a person of great fragility to the peripheries, that Jesus responds to.

When the Leper comes to Him and says, “If you want to you can cure me”, Jesus immediately says, “Of course I want to!”  The portrait of Jesus here is that He is referring not simply to the way to respond to leprosy but to any person who feels ostracised from the community.  Jesus does all that He can with great energy to bring the person back into the fold.  It is symbolic of Jesus bringing all into the “centre.”

When Jesus heals this Leper he breaks many of the social taboos of His time.  First of all he touches him.  For a person to touch a Leper means that they themselves become unclean.  His closeness to the Leper and His kindness to him is in stark contrast to others who run away as quick as they can.

Then Jesus says to him, once he is healed, “Go and show yourself to the priest.”  The idea here is that the priest would then authorise the person to come back into the community.  Without this certification, the Leper would continue to be ostracised.

Jesus sternly ordered him, “Mind you say nothing to anyone.”

Jesus did not want His healing of people to be interpreted as some kind of Circus act or produce a stampede of sickly people without any reference to what is going on in their inner life.  In the Gospels Jesus doesn’t really heal anybody unless some sort of sign of faith is shown.  In this scene the sign of the beginnings of faith is when the Leper comes to Jesus.

However, we could almost experience the Lord’s regret that this took place.  The immature disciple who is now healed from leprosy does exactly what Jesus ordered him not to do.  He “started talking about it freely and telling the story everywhere.”  The result of this was that “Jesus could no longer go openly into any town…he had to stay outside…in places where nobody lived.”

There is the great irony of the situation.  At the start of the healing the Leper was on the periphery and Jesus was at the centre.  Now the healed man is at the centre and Jesus is out on the periphery!

Let us now reflect on this wonderful scene in regard to the upcoming Liturgical Season of Lent which starts this coming Wednesday with Ash Wednesday.

Taking the Gospel in mind, I suppose we could say this time of repentance is a movement from our own immaturities to a more mature discipleship.  It is a movement from superficiality to depth in our Discipleship, Encounter and Missionary endeavours, using the terms of the Year of the Holy Spirit, in regard to evangelisation.

To assist us to do that may I recommend the following.

It is a beautiful short expression that comes from St Ignatius of Loyola in the 15th Century.  He is one of the co-founders of the Jesuits.  Pope Francis is the first Jesuit ever to become a Pope.  St Ignatius is seen as one of the great Retreat Masters and has the Charism of helping people discern the Will of God in a most extraordinary way.

During his Retreats he often mentioned to the Retreatants the following expression.  This is our “Gospill” for today!  See if you can memorise it and reflect on it between now and Wednesday.

St Ignatius of Loyola suggested those who want to move into a deeper walk with the Lord try to answer the following three questions.  “What have I done for Christ?  What am I doing for Christ?  What aught I do for Christ?”

So here we have the past, present and future.  It is a great way of reviewing our life at the beginning of Lent.  I offer it to you with hearty recommendation.

ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL
18th FEBRUARY 2024
FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT
MEDITATION/HOMILY NOTES
LENTEN LIGHTHOUSES

  • Recall last week: St Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556)
    What have I done for Christ?”
    What am I doing for Christ?”
    What ought I do for Christ?”

FIRST LENTEN LIGHTHOUSE – THE PRESENT MOMENT

  • Today’s Gospel (Mark 1/12-15): “Repent and believe in the Good News.”
    = Present tense: (Not: Have you repented and believed. (Past)

    •               (Not: Will you repent and believe. (Future)
  • We live out the Gospel as Disciples in the PRESENT MOMENT
    =”Kairos”= favourable time
  • Alcohol Anonymous helpfully says (Quoting others):
    “Leave the PAST to HISTORY
    Leave the FUTURE to MYSTERY
    The PRESENT is GIFT.”
  • Christianity calls the PRESENT a kind of “SACRAMENT” (…of the Present Moment)

In other words, we surrender totally to the Holy Spirit in the present moment and wait in hope for GRACE.

So many Christians struggle with this…living in the terrors/mistakes of the past…the fears of the future.

The God of the “I AM” (Popular Reflection)
“I was regretting the past and fearing the future, suddenly my Lord was speaking: “My name is I AM.”
God paused.  I waited.  God continued.
When you live in the past, with its mistakes and regrets, it is hard – I am not there.  My name is not “I WAS.”
When you live in the future with its problems and fears.
It is hard – I am not there.  My name is not “I WILL BE.”
When you live in this present moment, it is not hard.
I am here.  My name is “I AM”

The first Lenten lighthouse is therefore: THE PRESENT MOMENT – START BY LIVING IN CHRIST THE PRESENT MOMENT DEEPLY.

SECOND LENTEN LIGHTHOUSE  – THE WILDERNESS 

  • This 2nd lighthouse is more difficult for us in our success driven competitive world. 
  • But Christianity began and continues to bloom at the foot of CALVARY – In all its mess, tragedy and forsakenness. 
  • There are 2 eternally blooming Christian truths at the foot of Calvary. Live deeply in these truths: I/we are sinner(s) and God is merciful Love/Kindness.
  • Live these out in the WILDERNESS of Lent by PRAYER – FASTING – ALMSGIVING 

A WORD ABOUT SIN

  • K. CHESTERTON (English Writer, Philosopher, Convert – 1874-1936)
    London Times Competition.  Chesterton won!
    Newspaper Question: What is wrong with the world?
    Chesterton’s Answer: “I AM.” 
  • Fundamental Biblical Definition of Sin: ACTING AS IF GOD DOES NOT EXIST.
    Going to Confession? – Answer this statement in your own life.  Areas? Confess these areas with sincere contriteness.

A WORD ABOUT THE MERCIFUL FORGIVENESS OF JESUS 

  • His loving mercy surrounds us ALWAYS.
    Two fish swimming in the ocean.
    One was particularly busy going around to rocks and underwater grasses…
    The other asked: “What are you looking for?”
    The mate answered: “Water! Someone said there is water down here!”
    PRAYER = “Floating in the ocean of God’s love.”  (God’s love surrounds us like an ocean) 
  • Too many Christians – are aware of their sins but doubt God’s forgiving mercy.
    AND
    Too many Christians – are aware of God’s merciful love but seem to have no real ‘sense of sin.’
  • The Second Lenten lighthouse for our evangelising outreach (especially in this “Year of the Holy Spirit”) is not only regarding Baptising the unconverted (R.C.I.A.) but also converting the Baptised…us!!
    First Reading (Water Covenant – NOAH)
    Second Reading (NOAH-BAPTISM)

GOSPILL” “Repent and Believe…in the “Wilderness.”