Tag Archive: ordinary time


Call of Peter and Andrew LVenezianoHomily for Mass – Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Mary Immaculate Church, Annerley: Sunday 7:30am & 5:00pm

26 January 2014

[Readings: Is 8:23-9:3;  Ps 26;  1 Cor 1:10-13, 17;  Mt 4:12-23]

In today’s Gospel we see Jesus in the early days of his public ministry, calling the first members of his “team,” making the rounds of Galilee, teaching, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom, and curing those with sickness and disease.  We see Jesus embodying the fact that he is the light to the peoples of the world … He is the one who will bring light where there is darkness.

After his resurrection and ascension, his chosen band would take up the mantle, and would literally take his light to the ends of the known world.  His chosen ones might have had a few troubles to begin with, but once they became witnesses to his resurrection, there was no stopping them.  In the Gospels throughout the year, we’ll hear of some of the hesitating steps that the apostles would first make – even false steps – but we recall what we see in today’s Gospel: as Jesus calls Peter and Andrew, and then James and John, they follow him without hesitation.  The Lord is able to build on that initial generosity and enthusiasm that allowed them to respond to the call of the Lord so eagerly.

As Jesus went about proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom, he was acting in and with the power of God.  God was truly breaking into the darkness of people’s lives through the words and actions of Christ … in and through Him, the true light of the world was breaking forth.

Now, Jesus’ followers were meant to be acting with the same power.  The same light was meant to shine through the Church as it continued the ministry of Christ following his ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit.  In the second reading today Saint Paul addresses the situation of divisions in the Christian community … factions arising where people are claiming to belong to different parties.  Such divisions dim the light that should be shining in and through the Church, and they hinder the power of God working as effectively as it might.

In many parts of the world this past week was observed as the week of prayer for Christian Unity … and so our second reading today is most apt:  is Christ truly the centre of our spiritual life?  Are we sure we’re following Christ, and not someone or something else?

In the past few days Pope Francis spoke about some of the divisions that can creep into the community.  He spoke very strongly about how Christians must close the doors to jealousies, envy and gossip that divide and destroy our communities.  He commented that a person who is jealous or envious has a bitterness in their heart, and they’ve forgotten how to sing, how to praise and what joy is.  He warns us against being sowers of bitterness.  The Holy Father also says that jealousy and envy lead to rumors and gossip which he says divides the community and destroy it.  He went so far as to say that “rumours are the weapons of the devil.” (1)  He concluded his remarks by praying for “our Christian communities so that this seed of jealousy will not be sown between us, so that envy will not take root in our heart, in the heart of our communities, and so we can move forward with praise to the Lord, praising the Lord with joy.  It is a great grace [he said] the grace of not falling into sadness, being resentful, jealous and envious.”

It’s good to reflect on these warnings that St Paul presents to us, and also the Holy Father, because the Lord has called all of us and made us members of His Church.  Like the first disciples and apostles, we are meant to be the bearers of the Good News of salvation in the midst of our world today.  But we won’t do that very well if we’re turned in on ourselves, or if there is a fundamental disunity that prevents us working together for the mission of Christ.  Yesterday we celebrated the feast of the conversion of Saint Paul … and it was a reminder that we should always pray for our own ongoing conversion to Christ, so that we will truly follow him above all things, and not fall into divisions, rivalries, factions.

On this Australia Day, as we pray for our nation, we are reminded that this is the place where we are called to be bearers of Christ’s light in the world.  So we might ask ourselves: what are the challenging areas of darkness in our national scene that are calling out for the light of Christ to be brought to?  What response and action is the Lord calling us to?  Through the intercession of our national patroness, Mary Help of Christians, may God bless Australia, and may He help all of us to work together to continue the work of Christ in our land: to lead people to repent and come home to the Lord, to proclaim the Good News of the kingdom, and to share the Lord’s healing love with those weighed down by any form of oppression.

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  1. http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-francis-jealousy-envy-and-gossip-divide-and-d

3aaA little late, but here it is …

Homily for Mass – Third Sunday of Advent (Year A)

(Saint Benedict’s Church, East Brisbane: 6:00pm Saturday;  Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Park Ridge: 8:00am Sunday, and Saint Catherine’s Church, Jimboomba: 5:30pm Sunday)

15 December 2013

[Readings: Is 35:1-6, 10;  Ps 145;  Jas 5:7-10;  Mt 11:2-11]

Rejoice in the Lord always;  again I say, rejoice.

Indeed the Lord is near!

So says the Entrance Antiphon of today’s Mass, the third Sunday of Advent.  We rejoice because Christmas is near.  We rejoice because the day of salvation is near!

In the Gospel we hear of John the Baptist.  We recall that his father Zechariah had sung of his son that he would go ahead of the Lord to prepare his ways, to make known to the Lord’s people their salvation through the forgiveness of all their sins.  We rejoice because we have come to know the loving-kindness of the heart of our God who visits us like the dawn from on high.

The prophet Isaiah had foretold the day of salvation for the people of Israel … the day they would be led to their homeland, freed from oppression and slavery.  It would be such a wonderful day that it would be as if the desert came to life.  The people’s sorrow and lament would be ended, the eyes of the blind would be opened, the deaf would hear, the lame leap like a deer and the tongues of the mute sing for joy!

When John the Baptist is nearing the end of his life, he is imprisoned for his fidelity to the Truth whom he had served.  And in the darkness of his imprisonment, he wonders if Jesus is the One whom they had been waiting for.  Jesus replies by pointing out that the Prophet’s words are being fulfilled:  Jesus’ ministry has literally seen the blind being given sight again, the lame walking, lepers being cleansed, the deaf hearing, the dead being raised to life, and the Good News being proclaimed to the poor.

We rejoice because this same salvation has come to us.  We have received it in holy Baptism.  But what does it mean to have received salvation?  How are we saved?

In the first place, salvation is being healed from our sins.  Jesus “frees us from our guilt and makes it possible for us no longer to be dominated by our faults and failings, [no longer to be dominated by] the distorted drives and flawed bits of ourselves that trip us up and make life awful for us and for others” (1)  In Jesus we meet the “tender-kindness of the Lord;” a Lord who is always willing and ready to forgive us and heal us – to give us a new start;  a Lord whose love is much greater than our faults and failings.  The Lord’s mercy is new each day: the rising of the sun each new day can be a reminder to us of the Lord’s mercy, ever new.  We remember too that the effects of personal sin accumulate “in the shape of social forces that confirm the tendency to evil” that human nature experiences after the Fall (1)  This too is a proper object of God’s healing and transforming love: that is, the transformation of social structures that do not align with God’s law.

Not only are we freed from sin – both personally and communally – but God in Jesus also saves us from the fear of mortal death.  Eternal life is “stronger than biological death” and it is “a life [that] we can, through faith, begin to experience here and now.  In Christ, biological death is not a dying out of life but a dying into a more intense life” (1).

But salvation is not only about “being delivered from sin and mortality” (1).  Salvation also means being freed from being alone.  The rise of social media in our times is just one expression of our real fear of being unrelated to others, isolated, faceless and anonymous (1).  It’s suggested that we probably fear loneliness more than we fear sin and death (1).  Here, again, Jesus offers us salvation.  In him we see the face of God: a God who knows us by name and who calls us by name;  a God who loves us intimately.  In Jesus we see God’s “indescribable goodness, mercy and love.”  Jesus calls us to be part of his body, the Church … and in the Church we are reminded constantly that we are never alone.  In the give and take of community life we realize our need for others, and our need to be there for others.  Not just as individuals are we saved, but we are saved together.

With the Psalmist today we cry out: Lord, come and save us!  We realize that we are sinners, and that we still need the Lord to free us from sin;  we need him to pick us up after we have fallen;  to lead us out of the misery of shame and guilt.  We realize that we do need the Lord to free us from the fear of earthly death.  And we certainly need him to free us from the fear of loneliness.

As we call out for God’s salvation to be known and felt in our lives, we rejoice that salvation has come in Jesus Christ.  This is why his coming down from heaven to earth, and the beginnings of his earthly life as he is born in Bethlehem, [this is why it] fills us with so much joy.  Here is the coming of the One who saves us from sin, who saves us from mortality and death, and who saves us from loneliness and isolation.

Indeed the Lord is near.  We have every reason to rejoice always in the Lord!

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(1) Aidan Nichols, OP, Year of the Lord’s Favour: A Homiliary for the Roman Liturgy, Volume 2, The Temporal Cycle: Advent and Christmastide, Lent and Eastertide, Balwyn, Victoria, Freedom Publishing, 2012.

2aaHomily for Mass – Second Sunday of Advent (Year A)

(Saint Bernardine’s Church, Regents Park: Saturday 6:00pm, Sunday 7:30am & 9:00am)

7/8 December 2013

(Readings: Isaiah 11:1-10;  Ps 71;  Rom 15:4-9;  Mt 3:1-12)

Not so long ago you will recall the incident at the zoo in which the tiger attacked its keeper.  We could say that part of the excitement of watching shows in zoos is because we know deep down that – in the natural order – tigers and humans aren’t meant to be in each other’s company – even less humans and crocodiles.

The image painted in the second part of the first reading plays on this idea.  Can you imagine a wolf living with a lamb? – probably not!  We know what would happen!  Would it normally be a happy ending if an infant played near a snake?  Or a young child putting its hand into the viper’s lair?

These vivid images painted by the prophet startle us to realize that these strange things are not only possible in the kingdom of God … but are to be expected.

In life we sometimes come across situations where it really seems quite hopeless.  You can’t imagine how a person is going to get out of the trouble they’re in.  We might say to ourselves, “only a miracle could fix this.”  What is a miracle other than a direct action of God in human life?  Do we not believe that God acts in our lives?  Why wouldn’t we think a miracle is possible?  Why shouldn’t we expect God to act?

In our advent season leading up to Christmas, we have the chance to ponder the fact that God truly did act in human life in the most extraordinary way … God took flesh in the person of Jesus Christ … God truly became human.  The power of God was seen in the actions of Jesus … the voice of God was heard in him.  We shouldn’t think that this action of God ended with the ascension of Jesus to heaven, and then the sending of the Holy Spirit.

The same Word that spoke in Jesus speaks to us, and as scripture tells us, the Word of God is alive and active.  That Word disturbs our souls … it makes our hearts restless so that they will seek God who alone can make our restlessness cease.  That Word converts people: it makes people turn away from wrongdoing and strive for right-living.  That Word sends people as missionaries both near and far;  it makes people set up leper colonies or clinics for those with addictions;  it causes people to challenge unjust rulers, or to write magnificent and inspiring poetry, or to create images and icons that draw us into the mystery of God (1).

In this time of prayer as we gather for the offering of Mass, let’s each of us reflect on the ways the Word is speaking to us.  Is the Word disturbing us, making us realize things in our lives that need to change?  In what ways are we hearing the call of John the Baptist to repent?  We can ask ourselves: what holds us back from being the best version of ourselves?  What situations, beliefs, or past actions need the healing mercy of God to wash over them to cleanse us?  In what ways is the Word of God calling you to something new?  Some new possibility, some new way of living His will?  Is there some way in which the Lord is calling you to be courageous in following him, to truly step out in faith?

When we hear all those questions, we might well say “Bah!” – only a miracle could make that happen.  But we need to believe that God works in human hearts.  He wants to break through into our lives in His power.  He wants to work miracles in your life, in mine!  What’s stopping him?

We prepare for the celebration of the coming of God among us by opening our hearts to His power being born in us in our daily lives.  May He open our hearts, increase our faith, and make us long for the miracles He wants to work in our lives.

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(1) Aidan Nichols, OP, Year of the Lord’s Favour: A Homiliary for the Roman Liturgy, Volume 2, The Temporal Cycle: Advent and Christmastide, Lent and Eastertide, Balwyn, Victoria, Freedom Publishing, 2012.

Homily for Mass – Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (Year C)

(Saint Bernardine’s Church, Regents Park: Saturday 6:00pm, Sunday 7:30am & 9:00am)

23/24 November 2013

[Readings: 2 Sam 5:1-3;  Ps 121;  Col 1:12-20;  Lk 23:35-43)

Apologies if you were at Mass at Park Ridge or Jimboomba last weekend, because I need to repeat part of what I said in my homily!

You will have seen in the news over the last few months many reports of various State-level Inquiries into sexual abuse in the Church.  There has been an Inquiry in Victoria, and another in New South Wales.  There is also the Royal Commission taking place nationally.  The Royal Commission is not just looking at the Catholic Church, but Institutions generally.  The fourth case study it will look at starting on December 9th will be the Catholic Church’s handling of allegations of sexual abuse, and particularly the Towards Healing process.  At this time, the Bishops want us all to be aware of the commitment they are making to the Royal Commission and to this problem in particular.  They have asked that the following statement be read at Masses.  And so, they say:

The Catholic Church in Australia, in its submissions to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and in its communications with both the Catholic and broader communities has made the following commitment:

The leaders of the Catholic Church in Australia recognise and acknowledge the devastating harm caused to people by the crime of child sexual abuse.  We take this opportunity to state:

1               Sexual abuse of a child by a priest or religious is a crime under Australian law and under canon law.

2               Sexual abuse of a child by any Church personnel, whenever it occurred, was then and is now indefensible.

3               That such abuse has occurred at all, and the extent to which it has occurred, are facts of which the whole Church in Australia is deeply ashamed.

4               The Church fully and unreservedly acknowledges the devastating, deep and ongoing impact of sexual abuse on the lives of the victims and their families.

5               The Church acknowledges that many victims were not believed when they should have been.

6               The Church is also ashamed to acknowledge that, in some cases, those in positions of authority concealed or covered up what they knew of the facts, moved perpetrators to another place, thereby enabling them to offend again, or failed to report matters to the police when they should have.  That behaviour too is indefensible.

7               Too often in the past it is clear some Church leaders gave too high a priority to protecting the reputation of the Church, its priests, religious and other personnel, over the protection of children and their families, and over compassion and concern for those who suffered at the hands of Church personnel.  That too was and is inexcusable.

8               In such ways, Church leaders betrayed the trust of their own people and the expectations of the wider community.

9               For all these things the Church is deeply sorry.  It apologises to all those who have been harmed and betrayed.  It humbly asks for forgiveness.

The leaders of the Catholic Church in Australia commit ourselves to endeavour to repair the wrongs of the past, to listen to and hear victims, to put their needs first, and to do everything we can to ensure a safer future for children.  (For more information on the Church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council go to www.tjhcouncil.org.au).

+++

We hear in the Gospel today part of the Passion narrative.  This reminds us quite powerfully that the Christ who reigns as King of the universe, judge of all;  the One who is the Lord of history, and who is guiding everything to its fulfillment in the glory of God the Father – this King is the One who became flesh for us … who reached out to touch us with God’s blessing and healing;  who spoke God’s words of love to us;  who suffered with and for us, emptying himself completely, even to the shedding of his blood on the Cross.  He would stop at nothing to take us from the clutches of evil and to restore us to the Kingdom of His Father.

Our sins continue the suffering of Christ, and our grave sins continue his passion on the Cross.  The fact that we are baptized into his very body make our sins all the more shameful, because they are betrayals of him, and we wound Him in ourselves.

But as we ponder the image of Jesus on the Cross, we see not so much our judgment, but rather the love and mercy with which Christ has borne all things.  The sight of his death moves our hearts to pray for the grace of repentance – so that we will not crucify him with our sins any longer, but rather exalt him by our conversion; to lift him up by our rising to new life.  The sight of Jesus’ hanging on the Cross, wounded and bloodied by the blows of men, and the sight of his pierced side from which flowed blood and water, a fountain of love and mercy, moves us to share this love and mercy with others.

When “Pope Pius XI initiated [this] feast of Christ the King [in 1925] … he wanted every person to know that Jesus is superior to all the other would-be kings of his day: Mussolini’s Fascism, Hitler’s Nazism, Stalin’s Communism, Freud’s psychological determinism, and American materialism.  The Holy Father wanted to tell the Church then, and us today, that only Jesus can fill our deepest desires for love, peace, … happiness” and freedom (The Word Among Us, November 2013).

As we honour today Christ, the universal king, may God help us to advance the reign of Christ among all people.  May our lives as Christians point to that time when God will be all in all.  May we live today as true citizens of his kingdom, so that we can be part of that kingdom for all eternity.

Homily for Mass – Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

(Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Park Ridge: 8:00am, and Saint Catherine’s Church, Jimboomba: 5:30pm)

17 November 2013

[Readings: Mal 3:19-20;  Ps 97;  2 Thess 3:7-12;  Lk 21:5-19]

You will have seen in the news that the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has already begun its private and public hearings.  Two case studies have already been looked at, and another case study will begin tomorrow.  On the 9th of December a fourth case study will be commenced, and that will be when the Royal Commission turns its attention to the Catholic Church’s response to child sexual abuse, and specifically it will look at the Towards Healing protocol that has become the Australian Church’s way of responding to those who bring forward allegations of abuse.  (see http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/)

The bishops have stated that it’s important for all of us to know how Church leaders are approaching the issue of sexual abuse and the disposition they are taking to the Commission.  In order to make this clear, they have provided a “commitment statement” which they have asked priests to make known as widely as possible.  I’d like to share the contents of that statement with you this morning.

The Catholic Church in Australia, in its submissions to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and in its communications with both the Catholic and broader communities has made the following commitment:

The leaders of the Catholic Church in Australia recognise and acknowledge the devastating harm caused to people by the crime of child sexual abuse.  We take this opportunity to state:

1               Sexual abuse of a child by a priest or religious is a crime under Australian law and under canon law.

2               Sexual abuse of a child by any Church personnel, whenever it occurred, was then and is now indefensible.

3               That such abuse has occurred at all, and the extent to which it has occurred, are facts of which the whole Church in Australia is deeply ashamed.

4               The Church fully and unreservedly acknowledges the devastating, deep and ongoing impact of sexual abuse on the lives of the victims and their families. 

5               The Church acknowledges that many victims were not believed when they should have been.

6               The Church is also ashamed to acknowledge that, in some cases, those in positions of authority concealed or covered up what they knew of the facts, moved perpetrators to another place, thereby enabling them to offend again, or failed to report matters to the police when they should have.  That behaviour too is indefensible.

7               Too often in the past it is clear some Church leaders gave too high a priority to protecting the reputation of the Church, its priests, religious and other personnel, over the protection of children and their families, and over compassion and concern for those who suffered at the hands of Church personnel.  That too was and is inexcusable.

8               In such ways, Church leaders betrayed the trust of their own people and the expectations of the wider community.

9               For all these things the Church is deeply sorry.  It apologises to all those who have been harmed and betrayed.  It humbly asks for forgiveness.

The leaders of the Catholic Church in Australia commit ourselves to endeavour to repair the wrongs of the past, to listen to and hear victims, to put their needs first, and to do everything we can to ensure a safer future for children.  (For more information on the Church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council go to www.tjhcouncil.org.au).

+ + +

On this second last Sunday of the Church year, the readings lead us to focus on the end of human history.  We are invited to reflect on the fact that human history is a story: with a beginning, a middle, a climax and an end.  As a story it also has a purpose, it is going somewhere. (1)

When you’re in the midst of reading a novel, you usually don’t know how it will end.  As you’re reading the book, the point of every little twist and turn is not immediately apparent: it will only make sense at the end.  Likewise, the story of human history is still being written.  Because we have free will God is still at work, redeeming and saving us.

When we consider an issue such as child sexual abuse we naturally ask “why does this happen?”  Why did it happen in the Church?  Why have we witnessed such a betrayal, both in the original crimes, but then also in the treatment of victims?

We can be invited to see the work of the Royal Commission as helping to shine the light of God into the darkness of human sin and corruption.  The light of God is one which shines with truth, justice, and healing its rays.  But as the first reading today says, the day of the Lord in which the sun of righteousness shines, is also a day “burning like a furnace” on which evil-doers and wickedness is burnt up like stubble.

In this time of collective purification for the Church, we should also look into our own hearts.  The darkness of sin ultimately resides in our individual hearts.  The extent to which the Church follows Jesus more closely is the extent to which each of us does that.

Let’s – each of us – bring ourselves to stand in the light of God, and to allow His light to reveal any darkness in our hearts.  May we help each other to be better Christians, and courageously allow Jesus to win the battle over sin and death in each of us … so that all may come to know the healing mercy of God.

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(1)               Aidan Nichols OP, Year of the Lord’s Favour: A Homiliary for the Roman Liturgy, Volume 3: The Temporal Cycle, Sundays through the Year, Balwyn, VIC., Freedom, 2012

32ocHomily for Mass – Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

(Saint Bernardine’s Church, Regents Park: Saturday 6pm;  Sunday 7.30am & 9am)

9/10 November 2013

[Readings: 2 Macc 7:1-2, 9-13;  Ps 16;  2 Thess 2:16-3:5;  Lk 20:27-38]

Belief in the resurrection of the dead was not something that was part of Jewish belief from the beginning.  Basing their belief on what’s found in the first five books of the Old Testament, the dead went to live “a kind of shadowy existence in the underworld called Sheol” (or Hades).  [1]  People “lived on” in their descendents, which was the reason for the law referred to in the Gospel: if a man died leaving a widow with no children, his brothers were required to marry her, and to have children, so that property would be handed on within the immediate family.

Belief in the resurrection of the dead was an understanding that developed.  It came about at a time when the Jews were under intense persecution.  Many Jewish practices were done away with;  temple worship was abolished, and a pagan altar set up in the Temple.  But most important was the rise of martyrs for the faith.  Some were prepared to die for their beliefs, rather than give way, and the reason why they were prepared to do this was because they believed that this life was not the end.  We see this emerging belief in the resurrection of the dead most clearly in the Books of Maccabees, from which our First Reading today is taken.

What the seven brothers profess before they are martyred is a far cry from the belief in a shadowy existence in the underworld after death.  Their belief turns everything on its head.  Their death will not be the end of their life;  in fact you get the strong impression that their death will release them for something better.  The life they will have after death is one that will last forever.  It is one in which things that were lost in this life will be restored.  Ultimately, their faith is in an all-powerful God who is Lord even of death, and who has given them a promise that they will be raised up again after earthly death, and that the Lord is utterly trustworthy.  Trustworthy enough that they will endure whatever comes their way during this life, trusting in God’s promises.

While some scoffed at this emerging belief in the resurrection – namely the Sadducees – we see that it is something that is taken up by Jesus and affirmed.  The belief in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come is one of the central tenets of the Christian faith.  And of course, Jesus’ own life is the pattern after which we hope to follow, namely his life, death and resurrection.

During November we traditionally pray for the Holy Souls in purgatory.  This practice affirms our connection – in the communion of saints – with those who have gone before us.  The souls in purgatory are on their way to heaven, but are experiencing their final purification.  The love of God is something that burns away iniquity and anything that is not of God.  The Holy Souls need to be set free from any lingering attachment to sin, and they are made pure so that they can enter into the presence of God and see Him face to face.

In praying for the Holy Souls we are celebrating the life of heaven to which God calls us.  A life that is without end.  It is a life that will surprise us, and perhaps one that we truly don’t comprehend here on earth.  So much of what we do, especially in our faith, is a symbol of the life of heaven.  But because they are symbols and not the reality, they always fall short, and ultimately will pass away, as symbols will not be necessary in heaven, because there we will know the fullness of God, and not need any images or symbols.  We won’t need reminders of his love, because we will be totally filled with His love.

Every eucharist we celebrate points us to heaven, because in it we celebrate the saving death and resurrection of Christ.  Every holy communion we make has within it the promise of eternity, because we receive the living body of Jesus, who will raise our mortal bodies after death and make them like his own.  It’s like a “seed” of eternal life, planted in our hearts, that will one day burst forth into life, after it is has died in the sleep of death, just as grain of wheat must fall to the ground and die before it springs forth in new life.

Let’s assist the Holy Souls in purgatory with our prayers, sacrifices and fasting, especially by having Mass offered for them.  And let us do all that with our hearts joyfully looking forward to the eternity God promises us with Him, an eternal life whose beauty, peace and joy surpasses whatever we can experience or even imagine here below.

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[1] Terrence Prendergast, SJ, Living God’s Word: Reflections on the Sunday Readings for Year C, Toronto, Novalis, 2012.

31ocHomily for Mass – Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

(Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Park Ridge: 8am;  Saint Catherine’s Church, Jimboomba: 5:30pm)

3 November 2013

[Readings: Wisdom 11:22-12:2;  Ps 144;  2 Thess 1:11-2:2;  Lk 19:1-10]

The readings at Mass on Sundays this year have led me to reflect a lot on the mercy of God, and our readings today continue that theme.  The first reading today, written in the form of a prayer spoken to God, says, “[You] overlook men’s sins so that they can repent.”  God’s mercy recognizes that it takes us time to reform our lives, to repent of sin and to turn fully to the Lord.  God doesn’t smite us the minute we offend him … but, in great forebearance, God “overlooks them” to give us time to repent – even, sometimes, permitting multiple falls – until we come to our senses.  We are warned, in other parts of the scriptures, not to use God’s patience as an opportunity for licence and to do the wrong thing.  God’s patience with us is not to be interpreted as God saying, “It doesn’t matter what you do – go ahead and do as you fancy.”  We are deceived if we think that.  No – God overlooks our sins so that we have time to repent.  The reading says further: Little by little, therefore, you correct those who offend, you admonish and remind them of how they have sinned, so that they may abstain from evil and trust in you, Lord.  We can hear this as Good News for ourselves, and hear the ways that the Lord corrects us and admonishes us;  leading us to abstain from evil and to trust in Him.  It also says something about how we share the truth of God’s ways with others.  Little is achieved by banging people over the head with the truth – as convinced of it as we might feel.  We can be encouraged to adopt more the approach suggested by the book of wisdom … little by little to correct and admonish our brothers and sisters to abstain from evil and to turn to the Lord.

In the Second Reading Saint Paul tells the Thessalonians not to get exited or alarmed by predictions about the Day of the Lord arriving.  The truth reaffirmed in many places in the Scriptures is that we don’t know the day or the hour, either for our own death, or for when the end of the world will come with the return of Jesus.  We’re not meant to know, and we’re not meant to be distracted by such predictions.  Saint Athanasius taught, “Not to know when the end is or when the day of the end will occur is actually a good thing.  If people knew the time of the end, they might begin to ignore the present time as they waited for the end days.  They might well begin to argue that they should only focus on themselves.  Therefore, God has also remained silent concerning the time of our death… The Word has concealed both the end of all things and the time of our own death from us, for in the end of all is the end of each, and in the end of each the end of all is comprehended.  That is so that, when things remain uncertain and always in prospect, we advance day by day as if summoned.” (1)  It doesn’t matter when the “end” will come if we live each day as God calls us to live.  Today is the day that God gives each of us to embrace his will;  to repent of sin;  and to make living in his love the most important thing we do.  We should live every day as if it’s our last day on earth.

In the Gospel we meet again the familiar character of Zacchaeus: the little man up the tree trying to see Jesus.  Because this story is so popular – it seems – with children, we perhaps miss out on some of its original punch.  In describing this scene, in which Our Lord goes to the home of Zacchaeus to have a meal, one preacher says: “[h]ere is Israel’s Messiah, the human embodiment of the transcendent goodness of the Lord, entering the home of this morally squalid, almost grotesque little individual, there to eat and drink with him.  It is a vignette of the will of God to enter into the flaws of creation and transform them from within” (2).  And so, if we’re really going to “get” the message of this Gospel, then each of us needs to imagine Jesus going into the home of someone we personally despise;  someone whom we wouldn’t want anything to do with.  And as we contemplate Jesus going into that person’s home, to eat and drink with them, then we might see something of God’s mercy, and God’s will to call all people to repentance, and ultimately, to Himself.

Zacchaeus’ sin concerned money, and his greedy swindling of money as he collected taxes for the foreign occupiers.  As I thought of that, my mind turned to a much more recent figure who has become notorious because of his dealing with money.  I presume most of you have seen stories about “Bishop Bling” – the German bishop who allegedly was using Church money more for his own comfort and advantage than for the salvation of souls.  In the almost universal reaction of disgust, reported by media everywhere, perhaps we have some similarity with the figure of Zacchaeus, who also was a reviled figure for his greediness with other people’s money.  The contrast between Pope Francis, much vaunted for his simple and humble approach, on the one hand, and “Bishop Bling” on the other hand, is really a parable in itself.  And as we put the two images side by side, I want to hit the pause button and consider, “What did Jesus do?”

Jesus called Zacchaeus down from the tree, and went to stay at the sinner’s house, to eat and drink with him … and to bring salvation to that house that day.

Sometimes, I feel, we dodge the implications of this Gospel because we think of those whom other people despise – whom we might happen to like – and we have no difficulty imagining Jesus going to eat and drink with them.  But we need to back up, and ask, “who do I despise? who do I think has got it wrong? who do I think needs a kick up the backside?”  And that’s to whom Jesus wants to bring salvation this day.

The Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost.  For ourselves who so often lose our way, and foul up God’s designs, this is immeasurably good news.  Jesus has come to seek us out, and save us.  As we experience that salvation, let’s ask God to help us to share in the love of His heart, and similarly to be the vehicles through which He seeks out and saves those who are lost.

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(1)   http://opeast.org/2013/10/29/preachers-sketchbook-31st-sunday-in-ordinary-time/

(2)   Aidan Nichols OP, Year of the Lord’s Favour: A Homiliary for the Roman Liturgy, Volume 3: The Temporal Cycle, Sundays through the Year, Balwyn, VIC., Freedom, 2012

30ocHomily for Mass – Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

(Saint Bernardine’s Church, Regents Park: Sunday 7.30am & 9am;  Saint Catherine’s Church, Jimboomba: 5:30pm)

27 October 2013

(Readings: Ecclesiastes 13:12-14, 16-19;  Ps 32;  2 Tim 4:6-8, 16-18;  Lk 18:9-14)

Today’s Gospel is one, I suggest, that appeals to Australian sensibility.  We pride ourselves in being champions of the underdog;  and we admit that the “tall poppy syndrome” marks the way we look at things … we often seem to take a perverse pleasure in seeing those once exalted fall from their great height, and be publicly shown up as being – not just like us – but indeed worse than us.  “At least I’m not that bad,” we’re likely to think as we flip through the newspaper.

And so its through that lens that we hear today’s Gospel: we delight to hear that the moralistic, self-righteous, do-gooder Pharisee slips on the banana-peel (conveniently provided by God);  and we also quietly cheer to see the underdog publican/tax collector come out on top, finally vindicated as being the one who was really righteous all along, going down to his house as the moral victor (1).

But is this really the response intended by the parable Jesus tells?  Has it truly communicated the good news to us – the message of Jesus – if it makes us crow over the downfall of the Pharisee, “the upright man who did his duty and knew it?”  Is not our delight in his downfall really just the very same attitude of the Pharisee, who looked down in smug superiority on the publican?

We must beware, because pride can take many deceptive forms.  The Pharisee won’t even consider himself to be proud.  “Pride insinuates itself in many ‘innocent’ forms.”  We could joke about the brilliant author who wrote an excellent book on humility, and who proudly advertised it as ‘the best book on humility ever written!’” (2).

So, how might we hear this Gospel, and not fall into the trap of hidden pride?

Part of the answer lies in the fact that the “Pharisee does not really look at God at all, but only at himself;  he does not really need God, because he does everything right by himself.  He has no real relation to God, who is ultimately superfluous – what he does himself is enough.  Man makes himself righteous.  The tax collector, by contrast, sees himself in the light of God.  He has looked toward God, and in the process his eyes have been opened to see himself.  So he knows that he needs God and that he lives by God’s goodness, which he cannot force God to give him, and which he cannot procure for himself.  He knows he needs mercy and so he will learn from God’s mercy to become merciful himself, and thereby to become like God.  He draws life from being-in-relation, from receiving all as gift;  he will always need the gift of goodness, of forgiveness, but in receiving it he will always learn to pass the gift on to others.  The grace for which he prays does not dispense him from ethics.  It is [rather] what makes him truly good in the first place.  He needs God, and because he recognizes that, he begins through God’s goodness to become good himself” (3).

The Church provides us help in this.  One of the reasons why Sunday Mass is obligatory is because it continually points us to God;  it constantly re-orients our life in the direction of the Lord, and brings all the circumstances of our lives to him.

We have the sacrament of confession, which helps us not to be puffed up by pride, as we accept the fact that we’re not perfect, and that we always stand in need of God’s mercy.  In fact, we pray that His mercy will prevail over his justice: for I’m sure we’d prefer to receive what God in his mercy will give us, in contrast to what his justice would demand.

We also have the beautiful and simple prayer of sitting before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.  We physically sit and look at the Lord, and He looks at us.  And as we do that, we can gradually come to look at ourselves as God looks at us.  With less fear, we can reveal our true selves to the Lord;  we can reveal our needs, our weaknesses, our need of the Lord in order to do even the simplest good thing;  we realize that whatever good is in us is only there because of God’s goodness and gift, and we only achieve anything good to the extent that God allows and permits it.

We need to keep our eyes fixed on the Lord.  That is the antidote to pride.  To look constantly to God, and in that looking and being seen by God, to see ourselves in God’s light.  This is one of the services that the Church renders the world: to orient people’s lives to God;  to lift their gaze from the quagmire and mess we are so good at creating, and to see the vision of God and to let his light lift us out of, and beyond, what is immediately before our eyes, to a vision of a world as God wants it.

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(1)      Aidan Nichols OP, Year of the Lord’s Favour: A Homiliary for the Roman Liturgy, Volume 3: The Temporal Cycle, Sundays through the Year, Balwyn, VIC., Freedom, 2012

(2)      365 Days with the Lord: Liturgical Biblical Diary 2013, St Pauls Philippines, 2012.

(3)      Blessed John Paul II, Jesus of Nazareth.

29ocHomily for Mass – Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

(Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Park Ridge: Sunday 8am;  Saint Catherine’s Church, Jimboomba: Sunday 5:30pm)

20 October 2013

(Readings: Ex 17:8-13;  Ps 120;  2 Tim 3:14-4:2;  Lk 18:1-8)

Our readings today speak to us about our prayers of petition.  In the first reading, Moses asks God to give victory to his people over the enemy, Amalek;  in the Gospel, the widow asks the judge for justice.  Asking God for things is probably a form of prayer we are most used to.  It sits alongside other forms of praying: namely, thanksgiving, adoration and praise, contemplation.  What’s going on when we make petitionary prayer?

One aspect of asking God for things is that it manifests to God our desires.  We pray for what we want;  what we think we need;  what we desire.  From this point of view, the prayer of petition, then, is a form of honesty before God.  We are manifesting to God what is in our heart, what our desires are.

We all have all sorts of desires: some noble, some less so.  In manifesting them to God we allow them come under God’s gaze.  And in that light, they can be purified.  As we bring to God our desires and wishes in our prayers of petition, we can allow God to help us see which of those are unimportant, and even which of them are distorted.  With God’s help, those that are truly important can come to the fore.

Some people might “object that petitionary prayer makes God into a behind-the-scenes wonder-worker, always at hand … to pull us out of the mess we make of things.  In point of fact, according to the Gospels, God is always at hand to pull us out of such messes.  He is our Saviour.  As the Psalmist says, ‘He brings us up out of the pit, from the miry clay;  he sets our feet upon a rock and makes our footsteps firm.’” (1)  If we didn’t ask God for his help in these situations, we would be suggesting that we don’t need a Saviour – in fact, we might be suggesting that we save ourselves.  Prayer of petition reminds us that it is God who is our saviour, and that God (not us) is the Lord of human life.

Many times over the years, I have seen that an answer to prayer comes after we’ve been praying for something for a long time, but eventually we reach a point of surrender.  We might have been clinging to something, or attached to something in an unhelpful way … but eventually we truly let go and place whatever it is in God’s hands.  When we are truly humble (or humbled) to do that, then the answer to the prayer is obviously God’s doing, because we have let go, and God is able to be God.

Petitionary prayer also teaches us patience and perseverance.  We might petition God for something for years.  This teaches us that God’s plan is perfect: that in God there is a time for everything.  Again, it teaches us that we are not our own Master.

Another thing that petitionary prayer does is that it conforms us more closely with Christ himself.  When Moses arms are raised in prayer, they foreshadow other arms that will be raised between heaven and earth:  those of Christ on the cross.  It was with outstretched arms on the Cross that Jesus won the battle against the ancient enemy.  It was on the Cross, with arms stretched wide, that Jesus petitioned God to forgive those who had done this to him. “His fight, his arms raised to the Father and wide open for the world, ask for other arms, other hearts that continue to offer themselves with his same love until the end of the world.” (Benedict XVI)

As we petition God, especially as we pray for others and take their needs and intentions to God, we assume the position of Christ whose arms were raised to the Father and were wide open for the world, and our hearts beat with his love for his people.

So let us persevere in prayer, and pray unceasingly for ourselves and for others.  As we do this, may our hearts be enlarged with the love of Christ, so that this love will flow in us more easily, and through us may touch the world for whom he lived and died.

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(1)   Aidan Nichols OP, Year of the Lord’s Favour: A Homiliary for the Roman Liturgy, Volume 3: The Temporal Cycle, Sundays through the Year, Balwyn, VIC., Freedom, 2012

28ocHomily for Mass – Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

(Saint Bernardine’s Church, Regents Park: Sunday 7:30am & 9:00am;  Saint Catherine’s Church, Jimboomba: 5:30pm)

13 October 2013

(Readings: 2 Kings 5:14-17;  Ps 98;  2 Tim 2:8-13;  Lk 17:11-19)

A week or so ago we celebrated the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi.  Just as Jesus meets lepers as he goes his way (as we hear in today’s Gospel) it was Saint Francis’ meeting with a leper that was a turning point in his conversion.  Before his conversion, Francis was like most other people: lepers were people to be shunned.  Their disease meant that they had a stench about them – the smell of rotting flesh – and St Francis was disgusted by lepers.  But as his heart was turning to the Lord, one day when Francis saw a leper, he went up and embraced the man.  He later wrote, “What had previously nauseated me was turned into sweetness of soul and body.”  Interpreting this, Pope Benedict XVI wrote that on that day, Jesus healed Francis of his leprosy, that is, his pride.

The disease of leprosy is not something we’re likely to encounter, but there are any number of things that can leave people “like lepers” – isolated – illnesses, lifestyles, habits, addictions.  Really, anyone we judge has become “a leper” to us.  Like the unconverted St Francis, our pride can keep us at a safe distance.  Perhaps we fear that if we get too close we’ll catch their “disease,” or be seen as “one of them.”  If, in some form of superiority I think to myself that “I’m not that kind of person,” perhaps that betrays just what kind of person I am.

Saint Francis, after his conversion and in imitation of Jesus, reached out to all people, treating them with dignity and kindness.  We can each ask ourselves: Who are lepers to me?  Who is the Lord asking me to reach out to, to share God’s love, mercy and kindness with?

The other aspect of the Word of God today is that of giving thanks.  We have the famous line: “I think, therefore I am.”  In reflecting on today’s readings, we could say, “I thank, therefore I am a Christian.”  It’s a profoundly Christian attitude to give thanks to God who is the source of everything we have, the origin of every good gift.  Even those things that come to us from others, ultimately come to us through the providence of God’s grace.  And so, to be truly godly, is to live in an attitude of constant thankfulness to God.

The Holy Eucharist that we celebrate week by week – day by day even – is literally the Holy Thanksgiving.  In the Mass we enter into the actions of Jesus – we become one with him – in his mediation between God and man.  We give thanks for what God has done for us through Jesus.

This is what the leper did when he returned to give thanks to Jesus.  He wasn’t just thankful for his cure.  But he was thankful to God who had worked this miracle of healing mercy;  and he recognized this presence of God in Jesus;  Jesus who is the face of God to us, revealing the Father’s love and mercy in a way that we can see and touch.

And so when we encounter Christ in the Mass: through his presence in the gathered community, in His Word, in the priest-celebrant acting in his person, and above all in his Eucharistic presence under the form and appearance of bread and wine – when we encounter Jesus in the Mass we too give thanks to God the Father for all that He has done and is doing for us.

This can be a reminder to us to be people of thanksgiving.  To more consciously be grateful to the people in our lives, realizing that in thanking them we are actually thanking God.  And as much as we petition God for things (which we should), we must also in a like manner give thanks to God: realizing that every good thing comes to us as a gift.

As we continue this Holy Thanksgiving, let’s call to mind some of the things that we want to give thanks to God for.  And as we end every Mass with the words THANKS BE TO GOD, let’s take that attitude of thanksgiving to God with us in everything we do in the coming week.

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The Word Among Us, 2013.