Fr John's Homily - 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B - The Great Commandment

5 November 2018 | General Interest


Mk 12.28-34 (Dt 6.2-6, Hb 7.23-28) 

“The Great Commandment”

There’s nothing new under the sun here, as they say. Jesus just takes two OT teachings and puts them together from Deuteronomy 6.5 and Leviticus 19.18, in order to make a common sense point for the person of faith that Love of God per se (in itself) is not enough, and is necessarily connected to our neighbour, not just family and friends with whom we are generally, but not always, comfortable. The words sound lovely and nice, but in practice, don’t we know things can be rather different, as our journey of life rolls out in different directions, with plenty of hurdles and surprises along the way!

This week we celebrated the Feast of All Saints and All Souls, as well as Halloween, and note I keep it singular, as I personally don’t like the distinction between the two categories, as I say we all have ‘saints’ in our lives, among those we remember who have died, the people who have shown us the ways of faith and life, made sacrifices for us by giving of themselves, their time, energy and resources, not without cost, but certainly with love and a sense of responsibility of care. I reckon, that when we are growing up, we tend to take much for granted, in our own environments, in family life in particular, as that’s where we arrive, without choice, and where we hopefully thrive (if we’re lucky, and most of us are!), as a result of the love and goodness of those entrusted with our care, as we learn to make our own choices, using free will and conscience well, in developing our values and independence. Of course, our growth in faith is very much a part of this, where and when we learn and come to understand the message of Jesus, as more than nice historical stories, but as applicable to our lives now, as it was back there, when he was walking the earth with his band of disciples, including the faithful women, and when the Gospels were evolving in early Christian communities.

It is significant that the fundamentals of Jewish law and tradition continued in different ways, with less emphasis on ritual and regulations, as communities diversified and grew. The essentials remained, however, and perhaps gained an increase in focus, as awareness of what was seen as something to be expressed in practice, and not just as a theoretical ideal.  And so we see the link between faith and life lived in action.

This week we had 3 funerals here, with 2 more next week, including dear 96 year old Cassie Brignell, (one of our friendly, smiling 10.30 regulars!), celebrating life in its diversity, as we can see if we just take a look at the tableau in front of the altar (a memento of those among us, who have died in the last 12 months, set up by Joan Butterworth, our pastoral co-ordinator). It reflects lives lived, of those we have known and loved, and, as I said at the All Souls Mass on Friday with our school students, reminds us of where we are, in the space between the dates of birth and death – ‘the dash’, or horizontal line, where the story of our lives rolls out, reminding us of our responsibility to live life well, to make the most of our opportunities, and to do our best in terms of living the Christian life and Jesus’ call to love. And not only do we remember with gratitude those who have gone before us, but we learn from them too, as we treasure the memories.

Taking two examples, I think of Mick, the truckie, who was said to have been the type of bloke who would do a favour for anyone, particularly at the Essendon Rowing Club, where he was an iconic figure, beer in hand, and friend to all, towing the rowing boats all over the countryside, whenever asked. At 82, he pulled a good crowd, it might be said, not over-religiously zealous, but appreciative of a ‘good bloke’, such that the recessional hymn, no song, was John Williamson’s “True Blue”!!

Even more poignant was the Eucharistic celebration for the life of Margie Maloney at 63, whose 3 older sisters (Patricia, Maureen and Bernadette) each provided powerful, articulate and inspiring words in their memories or eulogies of a very, very good and faithful woman, sadly afflicted with the ravages of cancer over the last few years, something she faced with determination and deep faith, despite her natural fears, along with the setbacks and frustrations of her illness and the ordeal of ongoing treatment, with dashed hopes of recovery. Each time I saw her in Peter McCallum and Melbourne Hospital, she appreciated receiving the Eucharist and Anointing, and just my being there, holding her hand, at her request, as with the other many friends who spent time with her in her last weeks.

Her life reflected love lived, as Jesus calls us to demonstrate in word and action. It could be seen as so unfair, given that she lost her only daughter Katherine, some years ago, at the age of 31, and then was diagnosed with her own terminal illness. And still here, among us, is her dear Mum, Merna, at 93, as a loving and faithful parishioner here at St Therese’s, to whom we especially offer our ongoing sympathy, prayers and support.

Margie faced many difficult challenges in her adult life, which could also be described as crosses, raising her daughter as a single mother, and dealing with her disabilities with stoic determination and engagement with services and ways of making her life more independent and fulfilling. From what I could gather, she worked tirelessly with Indigenous groups and TAFE or tertiary technical college staff and students, in order to create opportunities for disadvantaged and disabled individuals as young adults, to find their way and develop their independence and capacity for life skills and work in the wider world. She was a member of the parish prayer group here, who thoughtfully and lovingly supported her during her illness, even going to her hospital bed to be with her and pray together.

It was clear too that she had spirit, enthusiasm, a great sense of joie de vivre (joy in life), and lived it to the full, where and when she could, as a dancer, film director, sportswoman and most importantly, loving daughter, sister, mother, aunt and friend, who knew how to take this Gospel to heart and apply it in action, in all sorts of directions and ways. We give thanks for her life and commend her to the light, happiness and peace promised, with her God, and the Jesus she followed so faithfully throughout her life.

It is worth noting today, with the focus on love of God and neighbour, that we have jumped into Jerusalem with Jesus, now skipping a 1½ chapters of Mark’s Gospel, where post-Bartimaeus gaining vision from his faith, we have skipped a number of hostile encounters with powerful opponents of Jesus, as he first curses the fig tree, which then withers, for some strange reason, turns over the tables in the Temple (which, perhaps understandably, if not justifiably, fired up the nasties!), his authority challenged by the Temple police, as we might call them, tells the parable of the wicked tenants in the vineyard, says to do your civic duty in paying taxes, in this case, to Caesar, (to help with the roads, aqueducts and clean water, sanitation, Roman law and order, peace (Pax Romana - generally speaking!) and, of course the wine!). He gets stuck into, or criticizes the ‘sad sack’ Sadducees, as I call them, about lack of faith beyond this life, in resurrection to new life with God, (with their casuistic query about the poor multiple widower putting up with his long departed wives in heaven!), and then gives us today’s fundamental dual commandment on love of God and neighbour, whoever and wherever that person may be. In conclusion, is that not what a life of faith well-lived is all about, to which we are all called, whatever age or stage we are at?

john hannon          03/11/2018

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