Homily – July – 2024

7TH JULY 2024

 Readings: Ezk 2:2-5  2 Corinthians 12:7-10  Gospel Mark 6:1-6

 Perhaps you are familiar with the proverb, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”

This means that closeness can lead to a loss of respect.  In other words, too much knowledge can lead to taking others for granted.  We see this particularly, don’t we, in our family relationships.  We are with each other all the time and sometimes this familiarity can bread all sorts of disrespectful arguments.

A similar thing could be said in the Scriptures.  Particularly in today’s Scriptures.  We could say that not only does familiarity breed contempt but it also breeds a loss of faith.

The Old Testament Reading today describes the beginning of the Ministry of the Prophet Ezekiel.

Prophets always bring people home to their true reality and identity.  In a sense they are radical traditionalists.  They basically say to God’s people, in uncompromising terms, “You lack respect and faith in God!”  They call people to conversion and repentance.  They normally get a very negative reaction from people which results in so many of the prophets killed in the service of their Prophetic Ministry.  In this case Ezekiel is saying that the people have taken God for granted which leads to them taking themselves too seriously.  When you take your eyes of God you tend to put your eyes on yourself, we make ourselves into some sort of God.  This is the essence of rebellion which is the quintessential understanding of Biblical sin.  Today’s First Reading uses the words “Revolt…defiant…obstinate…”

A similar taking for granted can be seen in today’s Gospel from Mark.

Recall over the last few weeks in Mark’s Gospel we have witnessed the great triumphs of Jesus in preaching and healing.  But, now He goes back to His home town of Nazareth.  Recall that in the Lord’s 33 years of life here on earth it was only the last three years that He was in Public Ministry, He spent 30 years in the little village of Nazareth.  Everybody knew everybody as is the same in our own country towns! When Jesus arrives and begins preaching the people were “astonished when they heard him.”

Rather than leading to faith, it leads to a lack of faith and disrespectful comments.  There is more than just a slur in their comments that question His origins and the humility and littleness of His background.  They say, “This is the carpenter.”  It is like saying, “He is just simply a handyman.  How could he have such wisdom.”  Another slur is when they say, “Surely, the son of Mary.”  The Scripture Scholars observe that Joseph is not mentioned.  This leads us to believe that Joseph had already died but it does bring out the point that they are gossiping about somewhat “suspicious” origins of Jesus regarding Mary’s conception.

As for Jesus, we hear that “he was amazed at their lack of faith.”  He was unable to work any miracles because where there is no faith there can be no healing.

May this never be said of us in our Christian communities.  May we never be so familiar with the presence of Christ in our midst that we become contemptuous and disrespectful of the centrality of Christ in our lives.  Through conversion and repentance may we always see “Only Jesus.”

With these reflections, let us turn our thoughts to the observance of today which is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday.  Our dear Aboriginal friends have offered the title for today’s observance around Australia, “Keep the fire burning; strong in faith.”  Like the Biblical themes of today, our familiarity with our Aboriginal friends can produce a lack of respect and even a lack of faith.

It is about one year now since the Constitutional Referendum lapsed so spectacularly.  At the same time, the socio economic indicators of our Aboriginal First Australians are still deplorable, especially regarding incarceration in our prisons.

We in Australia too easily politicise our friendship with our First Australians.  Everything in their regard seems to end up in dead end streets because it moves into an excessively political focus which tends to scatter rather than unite us.

One example comes to mind.  In recent months I attended a function organised by the Government.  There were quite a lot of short speeches from political figures.  Every one of them stood up and made an Acknowledgment of Country.

I myself am very keen on Acknowledgment of Country but not in an overly politicised way!  For over six speakers in the course an hour and a half to stand up and make an Acknowledgment of Country moves towards tokenism and a patronising of our First Australians.  I note that once this “box” was ticked none of the substance of the input made any reference to Aboriginal matters.

Let us certainly acknowledge our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people whenever appropriate, but in this move towards respect let us not be disrespectful and tokenistic in our relations.  This only sets us back as we have seen in other initiatives over the decades.

One way I like to acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, for example, is not to use the politically correct formula but to make other comments that acknowledge how we take our first Australians seriously.

For instance, sometimes I mentioned that in recent years the number of Aboriginal children in our Catholic Education system has increased exponentially.  Clearly, Aboriginal families are choosing our educational system to have a truly broad and deep education of their children, which includes an ennobling of their Aboriginal background.  This truly is an Acknowledgment of Country!  Let us not allow familiarity to breed contempt in relation to our First Australians.  A change of attitude that is genuine and a real conversion to our relations with them will hopefully change social and political structures in the long term.

A beautiful way that each one of us can make an Acknowledgment of Country is to seek out Aboriginal people in our own community, befriend them and get to know them.  That truly would be a wonderful acknowledgment because it starts in the heart and then moves to the head, hands and feet.  So let us keep the fires burning and let us be strong in faith with our first Australians by encouraging healthy attitudes and discourse to flourish.

In regard to our “Gospill” for today, since everything must begin in the heart, let us use this little expression frequently this coming week, “Set my heart right in your sight, O ’Lord.”

14TH JULY 2024

 Readings:  Amos 7:12-15  Eph 1:3-14  Gospel Mark 6:7-13

We are well and truly into our Year of the Holy Spirit where the focus is on the pre-eminence of evangelisation in all that we do and say as an Archdiocese.  The word “Evangelisation” should not overwhelm us.  The three words that we have as our subtitle for the year are Encounter, Discipleship and Mission.

It is the second Sunday now where, in the Gospel, the Lord is focused on Mission.  What could we learn from our Sacred Text?

Following on from the unsuccessful mission of last Sunday when He went back to His hometown of Nazareth, Jesus now sends out His twelve Apostles (to be sent out) and gives them instructions on how to be Missionaries.

All of us are called into this dimension of Missionary life.  It is not optional.  Due to our Baptism we are called to present Christ in all different ways to the world in which we live.  This is not just a duty or profession of Religious Orders.  It comes to us as a responsibility of our Baptism.

Living this out will not give us a ticket to popularity.  All the great Biblical Prophets and Missionaries have run into lots of trouble.

In the First Reading today Amos responds to those who criticise him by simply telling them that he never saw himself as a Prophet.  He said, “I was a shepherd, and looked after sycamores.”  He basically says, “Don’t blame me blame the management!”

We too also expect trouble in living out the Missionary life.

I was in trouble just a few weeks ago by being a Missionary!

I had just celebrated a wonderful school Mass for one of our Primary schools here in Canberra.  The Mass concluded a bit earlier that anticipated.  In the 20 minutes remaining I suggested to the Principal of the school that we might have a Q and A with the children.  This was to be done in a spontaneous way.

What I didn’t expect were the wonderful questions the children asked me.  How could Primary school children ask such profound questions about the Catholic faith and God!  Their questions made me, on one level, regret that I even asked for the Q and A session!  Two questions have remained with me over these days.  One young child asked me, “Does God have a wife?”  Another child asked me, “What was the last miracle of Jesus?”

I will tease you and not give you the answers I gave just yet.  Let us consider the rules for Missionary life Jesus gave His Apostles.

He seemed to have given three Missionary rules to the Apostles.  Let’s learn from them.

The first is to travel lightly.  He says, “Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no haversack, no coppers for their purses.”  On reflection of my experience at the school and today’s Gospel it makes me think that when I give answers, particularly to children on rather complicated Religious questions, I should “travel lightly.”  This means that I should not use language of a complicated theological nature completely incomprehensible to the people I am talking to.  Traveling lightly, we must be Missionaries in a persuasive manner, being very much aware of the vocabulary and the culture to which we are speaking.

The second Missionary rule of Jesus is to rely on the hospitality of others.  In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “If you enter a house anywhere, stay there until you leave the district.”  Emphasising in this statement to rely on the goodness of others.  In regard to my own reflections with the children, I should take seriously their questions.  I should rely on their good will.  I must not be dismissive or patronising in my response to their questions.  I must remind myself that they are not out to trick me or promote embarrassment.

The third Missionary rule is to preach repentance.  Mark’s Gospel shows the Apostles as they move off to evangelise in a Missionary way.  It says, “So they set off to preach repentance.”  No matter who we talk to and what age they are, the response we give to the Good News of Jesus should be to help others make room for Jesus in their lives.  This is something very deep within.  Repentance means that we make room for Jesus and this is called conversion.  You can’t fill a glass that is already filled.  Listening to whatever we say we hope people will take their eyes off their own agendas and put their eyes on Gospel agendas.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit change their attitudes and actions in the light of the Good News of Salvation.

Now let me return to my humble answers to the children’s wonderful questions.  If anyone feels they have a better answer than the ones I gave, please see me after Mass!

To the question “Does God have a wife?”   I said “Yes and it is us.”  We are the Bride of Christ.  St Paul talks about how Jesus is the spouse and we are the Bride of Christ.  All the Baptised and the Church are linked with Jesus in a spousal relationship.  When we talk about the Church we use the feminine gender.  We say, “Holy Mother Church.”

To the other question “What is the last miracle of Jesus?”  I said “The Last Supper.”  I mentioned to them that at The Last Supper Jesus foreshadowed, in a special way, His forthcoming Death and Resurrection.  This is the greatest miracle of all because the Last Supper not only embraced what was to happen historically in the next few days, but it is also a continuous miracle.  In fact we are in the midst of this miracle right now.  The Mass that we celebrate was begun by Jesus and continues until Jesus comes again.  It is something we must never take for granted or get used to.  It is Jesus himself who leads the Mass.  The Priest or the Bishop or Deacon stands in the place of Jesus but it is Jesus himself who continues the Last Supper miracle which we now call the Mass.  We thank the Lord with all our heart that we are able to, not only look at His miracles in the past as they were something of 2,000 years ago, but in the Mass, we participate in this ongoing miracle which continues to change bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Himself.

So dear friends, let us all over the week ahead think more seriously about being Intentional Missionaries.

Just very recently I was talking to a very elderly Josephite nunn when I was in North Sydney for a Bishop’s meeting.  I have met her many times.  Although 94 years of age she is a great Missionary.  I often see her coming back from or going to shopping.  In more recent times, when we met each other in the street she excused herself and said she was going shopping.  She use this expression, “I am going fishing.”  She mentioned that there were so many lonely people in Shopping centres and she tries to bring forth Christ in them in their emptiness.  That is what she means when she says she is “going fishing” for Christ in Shopping centres.

If a 94 year old Josephite nunn and questions from 12 year olds can teach us much about being Missionaries, there is no excuse for us not to lead our life in our families, neighbourhoods and workplaces in a Missionary way.  Let’s do that with greater intentionality in this coming week.

Our “Gospill” for this week is, “Lord Jesus help me to make you present in our world today.”