Homily - Persistence Pays Off in the End

20 October 2019 | General Interest

29th SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME YEAR C HOMILY  2019                 ESSENDON

PERSISTENCE PAYS OFF IN THE END – never lose heart

Lk 18.1-8     Ex 17.8-13     2Tim 3.14-4.2

What to say here?  Were there many unjust judges around back then?  Jesus speaks as if it wasn’t uncommon to find an amoral judge who was more concerned with suiting himself than in search of the truth or justice, with which such a type should have been concerned, given his significant role in society.  Good and bad in every category, I guess, and don’t we know it?  One might hope that the world is different today, with judges who are compassionate, impartial, objective and fair, but nothing in life is guaranteed, given the foibles of human nature.

This weekend we had a celebration with the wonderful Sisters of Charity, whose motto is “Caritas Christi urget nos” – “The love of Christ urges us on” (you see it outside St Vincent’s Hospitals in Melbourne and Sydney, Caritas Christi Palliative Care in Kew, and elsewhere),  something they have done remarkably well, in taking the Gospel to heart and applying it in action, in so many different ways.  They are a great example of perseverance in adversity and sticking with the fundamental principles of Jesus’ teaching in action, with tentacles into almost every aspect of service in Church life you could think of.

As we well know, the bad news predominates in the headlines, and when it comes to the Catholic Church, there’s no exception.  So, let’s focus on the positives and look at the good news surrounding the good works in so many facets of Church life and also broader society, homing in on the Sisters of Charity, appropriately named, I might say!  When I did a little research with Dr Google, I found an extraordinary range of diverse ministries, into which these Sisters had plunged into and immersed themselves in long-term service. 

From the time they arrived in Australia in Sydney in 1838, they were more in tune with what was going on around them than most in the Church and in society, reading the signs of the times, as they say! Worth noting is that the first three Sisters brought a crucifix with a black figurine of Jesus on it, as foundress in Cork, Ireland, Mary Aikenhead, realized they were coming into a new scene with indigenous people as well as convicts and settlers, and there would be a need to try to understand their culture and needs from their perspective, rather than just imposing western culture and values on them with no reference to their own background.  This surely was an enlightened view, compared with most attitudes at the time. It could also be said that women get it better than men, but have tended to be in the background, in history in general.

Then there is the way they got into health care and education, addressing needs in these areas, usually working for a pittance, in a hierarchical and clerical Church, where nuns, and brothers, for that matter,  could be seen as second class citizens in the Church, to be used for cheap labour, acting under ‘holy’ (sometimes ‘unholy’!)  obedience.  Despite adversity, we see how they persevered in their mission and ministries, moving into diversity, particularly after Vatican II, with radical changes for the better occurring in the late 1960’s, reverting to their own names if they wished, as most did, as well as moving into more suitable attire from the 19th century peasant dress imposed upon them.  Sister Luigi, present this morning at 101, was happy to resume as Bernadette, and change her gear, particularly headgear (if you remember it)! (“The Flying Nun” from the 1960’s TV show, represented an extreme example of aerodynamic headgear!)

Reinventing themselves over their years in different ministries, with renewed enthusiasm in middle to later age.  Examples abound.  There was active ministry with ‘Mum Shirl’ and Father Ted Kennedy in Redfern in indigenous communities there, action in parish pastoral life.  Parish ministry unfortunately was rolled back there, following Father Ted’s (not the Irish one!) death some years ago now.  Then there is the confronting aspect of prison ministry, the Sisters into it from the start of 1839, in Parramatta at the ‘Women’s factory’, and continuing now in various places.

When I returned from studies in Ottawa, my sentence was to full-time Tribunal work in annulments and lecturing in Canon Law, not the most exciting field, but I was determined to involve women in the area of  interviewing for marriage annulments, as it was dominated by clerics.  Like Bishop Geoff Robinson of Sydney, I knew that it was important to have a female perspective and insights into the trauma of marriage breakdown and divorce.  Religious sisters and competent laywomen soon came to the fore and provided sensitivity and compassion, along with the necessary interviewing skills.

Another sensitive area more recently, was in the field of drug addiction.  At one point, injecting rooms were proposed by the Sisters of Charity to help drug addicts live longer and face their demons, with a chance of reform rather than lose their lives.  This was stymied by the nasties who had denounced the plan to Rome (whoever Rome might be!), and it didn’t go ahead at the time.

To my mind, these religious women have made such a difference to Church life throughout their lives, in their perseverance and determination to apply the Gospel of love in real terms. And great things have happened as a result, even in a time where their numbers are dwindling and their members are ageing.  The spirit of their charism and the great work of their Institute continues. By their fruits we know them.  I reckon we are so fortunate to have a number of them actively involved in parish life here at Essendon, for which we give thanks (and I acknowledge the Mercy Sisters present here too, likewise appreciated for their presence and active engagement).

As for today’s account of persistence, it is significant that again Jesus speaks of a widow, whose influence and power is non-existent in a patriarchal society, where women depended on husbands or sons to support and protect them.  The two lessons to draw from the story are that persistent pleading of the helpless will triumph over the unjust with power and influence, with encouragement to constant prayer, and then if the judge yields to the poor widow, how much more will a gracious and good God respond to supplication.  It’s not as if prayer is magic, but here is encouragement to beleaguered Christian communities in Luke’s time, having a hard go of life and persisting in faith where there is adversity, rejection and defection or apathy.  Luke’s reminder is to hang in there and believe in the message and to live it well.  It’s not easy to remain faithful for the long haul of life.  Maybe it’s more difficult for us, as longevity was not a fact of life back there, relative to our life expectancy now!

As Raymond Brown says of this story: “The uniquely Lucan parable of the unjust judge is designed to encourage the disciples by an a fortiori principle. If continued petitioning persuades a totally amoral judge, how much more will their persistent, confident prayer be heard by God who vindicates the chosen ones?”  Of course, it sounds easier than the reality.

Likewise,  Brendan Byrne SJ once again has helpful insights too, suggesting the translation is too tame, about the angry widow worrying the judge to death with her nagging, as he fears getting a black eye from her, implying physical violence might emerge if he doesn’t give in sooner than later, even if out of self-interest.  It is a loving God who responds with no self-interest whatsoever, to the needs of his people, through our agency.

So, how to conclude?  On we go, persevering with a positive attitude, in faith, prayer and action at the grass roots, living this Gospel as ‘Good News’, despite all the bad news around at present!

 

john hannon                                                                               20th   October  2019

 

From 19th century England JH Newman not a bad role model for perseverance in adversity and hostile opposition, as he raised issues of the rights of conscience, questioned the definition of infallibility and argued for a university to educate Catholic Irish youth. He was seen as suspect because he thought for himself, but with respect to Christian teaching and practices eventually converting to the Catholic Tradition from Anglican, from earlier Evangelical Christianity from early teenaged agnosticism, as, in the end, he believed in the continuity of the message, rituals and structures.  Finally canonized only last week, but always recognized for his commitment to faith, knowledge and understanding.

 

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