Jun 23, 2008

Homily for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A - Given at Cronulla on June 22, 2008

Readings:  JER 20: 10-13; ROM 5:12-15; MATTHEW 10: 26-33

“Do not be afraid to go out on the streets and into public places, like the first Apostles who preached Christ and the Good News of salvation in the squares of cities, towns and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel (cf. Rom 1:16). It is the time to preach it from the rooftops (cf. Mt 10:27). Do not be afraid to break out of comfortable and routine modes of living, in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known in the modern “metropolis”. It is you who must “go out into the byroads'” (Mt 22:9) and invite everyone you meet to the banquet which God has prepared for his people. The Gospel must not be kept hidden because of fear or indifference. It was never meant to be hidden away in private. It has to be put on a stand so that people may see its light and give praise to our heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:15-16).”  My friends, these are some of the great words preached by our revered and much loved Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. He said these powerful words during a very memorable homily on the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, on the occasion of World Youth Day when it was held in Denver in 1993. But the theme of “Be Not afraid” did not begin in John Paul II’s writings in 1993.

When John Paul II was elected in 1978, he said to the world ‘Do not be afraid to be witnesses to Christ, to his life and ways and to his Church.’

Our scripture for this Sunday is a call to live without fear, a call to courage, a call to not be afraid. The readings speak of the opposition we will encounter as we carry on the work of Jesus in the world and they encourage us to persevere in doing the work of Jesus. Today’s readings assure us that we will be successful despite the opposition we will definitely encounter.


The first reading from Jeremiah and today’s Gospel reflect on the suffering that is received for being faithful to the Lord. Being a follower of God has never been easy, and it is not easy today either. The world tells us that we should worry about ourselves before we look after or help someone else. I always find it odd when I am on a plane and the aircraft crew explain the safety procedures, and they always advice us to look after ourselves before helping children with seatbelts or oxygen masks.


The ways of God and People of God are under attack. Many unfortunately believe the Church to be out of touch, and some believe the Church to be simply another presence for evil. The concept of helping another before ourselves has all but disappeared, and with it, the concept of self-sacrifice.


 It wasn’t easy for the Jewish people, and it hasn’t been easy throughout the Church’s history, but the faith has continued to spread, grow and flourish.


Jeremiah experienced the dangers of his friends, and even his own family because he spoke the words given to him by God. He lived almost 2,500 years ago.

He worked most of his life in Jerusalem, the same Jerusalem that exists today. Jeremiah tried to keep the people and several kings faithful to God amidst an atmosphere of political intrigue, corruption and backstabbing. His situation doesn’t sound that unfamiliar to what we have in politics today, although Jeremiah legitimately feared for his life, perhaps in the same way that the leader of the opposition in Zimbabwe today fears for his life when he speaks for peace for his country.

 Nevertheless, Jeremiah was confident that God would not let his enemies overcome him.  Jeremiah said, "But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.”


Today’s Psalm is a response to the situation of Jeremiah, and is a response to the situation of all people who are shamed and persecuted because they serve the Lord. Our confident prayer today is that God will guide us and protect us as we seek to know and do his will in a world full of conflicting strategies and goals.


Many people are ashamed of being a Catholic and a follower of Christ after they have left the church on a Sunday morning. We look around our church and we don’t see too many young people, especially those in high school and those who have recently left school. I talk to kids in high school and I hear that it is “uncool” to be a part of the Church, and to come to Church on Sundays is just “lame” and “boring”.

Goodness, peace and a strong united community seem to no longer be important to many people today.


In the second reading Paul tell us that we need to not be afraid of opposition because we share not only in the death of Jesus but also in his resurrection. Paul explains that in spite of opposition, our work will succeed. The Gospel and the ways of the Church are controversial. Self-sacrifice seems to be in contradiction to most structures and organizations today.


Today’s Gospel continues this theme of “Do not be afraid” and Jesus gives us three reasons why we should not fear. The first reason is that the opponents will not be able to prevent Jesus' followers from succeeding in our mission because God will expose their evil plans: God will not permit evil to win. “nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered” – the truth will win in the end. At times we may lose hope, but Jesus reminds us that evil will never have the final word.


The second reason to not fear is that God is more powerful than evil. The power of our opponents should not cause us to be afraid to be apostles. Our property can be damaged (as it often is here at Cronulla), our reputation can be reduced, our influence can be diminished. People may ridicule us and laugh at us, but evil has no lasting power over us. God has ultimate power and God’s power overcomes evil. 


The third reason we should not be afraid to live our faith is because we have a loving and compassionate God. We are more important to God than the sparrows. Our God looks after the trivial birds, but he also cares about our trivia -- even the number of hairs on our head. God knows everything that we go through, and nothing that happens to us escapes him. When we feel lonely and totally abandoned, when it seems that our prayers are unanswered, God knows and God cares.

Its hard to be an apostle of Jesus Christ. Everyday we have reasons to be afraid. In fact, in the Scriptures the phrase: “Do not be afraid” appears 365 times, once for every day of the year. Every day we need to be strengthened to become Christ.


On Friday evening 73 young men and women committed their lives to God, to Jesus Christ and his Church. They were confirmed and strengthened in the Holy Spirit by Cardinal Pell here in this church on the Solemnity of St Aloysius.

My hope is that these young men and women will live up to their commitment to Christ and will be examples to each of us of what it means to have the courage of Jesus Christ. My hope and prayer is that our parish will be revitalised through the assistance of these young men and women.


In the past few weeks I have assisted in their preparation and interviewed each of them individually. I noticed that many have not got to the stage that they can say as St Paul says in his letter to the Galatians: “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”


My friends, We need to have courage. We need to not be afraid to be Christ and to live the life and mission of Christ in all that we do and say.

I’ll conclude with the words of Pope John Paul II from World Youth Day in 1993. They are directed towards the young people, but I think they have lasting meaning for each and every one of us.

“At this stage of history, the liberating message of the Gospel…has been put into your hands. And the mission of proclaiming it to the ends of the earth is now passing to your generation. Like the great Apostle Paul, you too must feel the full urgency of the task: “Woe to me if I do not evangelize'' (1 Cor 9:16). Woe to you if you do not succeed in defending life. The Church needs your energies, your enthusiasm, your youthful ideals, in order to make the Gospel… penetrate the fabric of society, transforming people's hearts and the structures of society in order to create a civilization of true justice and love. Now more than ever, in a world that is often without light and without the courage of noble ideals, people need the fresh, vital spirituality of the Gospel.”


Let us pray:

Loving Lord and Father, help us to not be afraid to become you and to truly live as Christ in our world. Give us the strength and courage of your spirit to bring your message of love, peace and justice to our world, our friends and our families. Lord, we love you and give you thanks and praise for all that you have done for us.

We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN


Jun 9, 2008

Homily for the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A - Given at Bundeena and Cronulla on 8 June, 2008

In most countries of the world, the end of June marks the end of the financial year. Each of us begins thinking about taxes, tax returns and some of us may begin to consider investments, mortgages, and pensions. With the current interest rate rises, and extremely high petrol prices, every family and individual is starting to feel the pinch. Financial concerns are important and each of us gives due consideration to our financial management.


In today’s Gospel, the writer introduces a new character to the reader. We are introduced to a Jewish man named. Matthew was hated by all the Jewish people because he worked for the Roman Empire, the occupying presence in Israel. Matthew would visit people, often members of the Jewish community, and he would assess how much tax was owing to the Roman Empire. Matthew made his income by over-assessing and over-charging his brothers and sisters, the Jewish people.


 In most cultures, even today, the tax man is an unpopular job. For many Jewish people at the time of Christ, they believed that paying taxes was in essence the work of the devil.

Taxes were a sign that a community was unable to live in harmony, and that the community was dominated and controlled by someone more powerful. Tax was something that the pagan emperors used to force everyone in society to contribute.


In a perfect world, taxes shouldn’t be necessary. Governments shouldn’t exist. Families should look after each other. Neighbours should help neighbours when one is in trouble. And when there is a threat of war, families should unite in defending their land and property.

For the devout Jew, tax, professional armies and large government were a sign of disorder, disharmony, and unfaithfulness to God.


It is into this context that Jesus calls the Jewish taxman “Matthew” to follow him.

Matthew was a tax collector and was most likely a very good accountant. When Matthew came to follow Christ, his skills with accounting were not lost. In fact, the skill of accounting is an important part of what it means to be a follower of Christ.


Financially, we as a society are becoming more and more stretched, but also more aware. We plan ahead, not just as a country, but also as individuals. And towards the end of the financial year, we account for expenses and make our returns.


But why aren’t we so careful and premeditated in the way we use and account for the other resources we have.

Each of us has received many wonderful gifts from God. Each day we are alive is a gift from God. Financial wealth is a gift from God. One may claim that an individual is responsible for personal growth in wealth, however without the gifts of life, health and wellbeing, growth in wealth is impossible.


As we account for the ways we spend our money, we should also account for our time, for our relationships, and for the ways we use our talents. We shouldn’t need to account for relationships based on love, but even in loving relationships, we give gifts of flowers, we have celebrations and so on.


Matthew, the tax collector, would have accounted for his gifts. He would have calculated how much time he was spending on coming to know Christ. But he would have also accounted for the time he spent with his friends, his family, relaxation and personal time.

In the business world, everything a company does is designed to increase profit. Everything a follower of Christ does should help to build the Kingdom of God. As followers, we should account for the ways that we are building the Kingdom of God.


Recently I returned from the USA where I visited a parish community and a diocese where I worked last year for about 10 weeks. In the diocese of Wichita, Kansas, in the very centre of the US, the Catholic faith is stronger than any other religious denomination in that area, even among young people. The people are ordinary Americans: predominantly of Irish and German backgrounds. Most are middle class workers and professionals involved with the nearby Boeing Aircraft Manufacturing Plant. On average 85% of Catholics attend Mass every weekend, compared to our parish where about 10% attend weekly Mass.


In Kansas, the parishioners feel that they own the church. Each parishioner takes personal responsibility for the mission of the Church. They look after each other and encourage each other. While I was there last year, a young 16 year old girl with two children was kicked out of home by her parents. The parish took her in, looked after her and her children, nourished them and helped to finish school.

In Wichita, Kansas, the church is a place of prayer every hour of every day, not just on Sundays. For all 168 hours of the week, there is someone praying in the church for needs of the community and the world.

There are more examples I could give of the amazing work of the church in Kansas, but I will stop for now.


Our parish here in Cronulla also does some wonderful things. We are helping children who have recently lost their parents. We pray for them and support them in whatever ways we can. Cronulla would not be the same with the active presence of our Catholic community. But I think we can be doing more.


If each of us understood that we owned the Church and that you and I have a responsibility to give a return to God for the gifts he has given to us, and that you and I have a share in the mission of Jesus Christ, then I think the church in Bundeena/Cronulla would begin to flourish.


This week, begin an accounting of your life. What sort of quality time do you give to the Church, your family, our community, our God? Begin to look at the church and begin to get more involved. This week, think of one or two things you can do to more fully assist with bringing people to faith in our parish.

Matthew the tax-collector left his evil job, followed Jesus and very shortly after, he brought his friends and work colleagues to friendship with Jesus. Let us do the same.  


Let us pray:

Loving Lord and Father, we praise and thank you for giving us life, freedom and order. Help us during this week to consciously work to build your kingdom and to let your will done in our hearts and lives. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.