Fr John's Homily - 32nd Sunday, 11th November - Remembrance Day

14 November 2018 | General Interest


Mk 12.38-44 (1Kings 17.10-16, Hb 9.24-28) 

“Who think they are important, and who and what really is? Lest we forget.”

Well, we might think the poor widow could have at least kept one coin to look after herself, but Jesus likes to wake us up with the comparison, where here he takes a final big swipe at the self-important, showy and hypocritical scribes, some of whom think they know it all, and even more so to tell others that they do (know it all) and what they should do. The contrast is striking, as the poor widow has virtually no rights in Jewish society at that time, and is at the mercy of others, hopefully with family to give her some support, but without obligation. Meanwhile, the religious leaders love telling such people what they should be giving to support the Temple and uphold the religious traditions of the day. As Jose Pagola says: “Many rich people are putting in large amounts of money (likely announcing their generosity to all and sundry)! Almost ashamed, she (the poor widow) drops in two copper coins, the smallest in circulation in Jerusalem. No-one has seen it, but Jesus has. Moved by her gesture, he calls his disciples. He wants to show them what only the poor can teach: to give more than leftovers… For Jesus, the quiet and complete devotion of this woman is the clearest example of generosity and renunciation of worldly goods.” Meanwhile, the religious leaders are generally impervious to, and resentful of, his valid criticisms, to the end, such that many were quite happy to see Jesus taken away and eliminated, as they saw it. But, of course, as we know it, this was not the end, if, nearly 2,000 years on, we continue to strive to live his message of Good News and proclaim his Kingdom of justice, love and peace, coming now but not yet, as we face up to Remembrance Day.

Frank Molony identifies the arrogance of the scribes and their obsession with their positions of power and appearances, as well as seeking flattery, as a means of covering up their exploitation of the poor and underprivileged.  In the face of unrelenting opposition from the upper levels of his society, Jesus calls for empathy, compassion and self-giving love to the needy, giving of oneself. Jesus has ended the traditional worship of Israel and silenced the religious leaders, who are the ones at fault in obstructing the way to God because of their own pre-occupations with ritual, rubrics and rules over the needs and the general good of the people. Every little one counts, in his eyes, with no distinctions!

Can’t we see parallels in leadership today, both in the Church and in society, where leadership can easily get more enmeshed in its own self-importance and self-interest, than in the rights and the good of the ordinary people, whom they are meant to serve, rather than command, control and oppress? Leadership by example, in service and humility, sounds nice, but it is not so simple to practise in reality, is it?

The National Catholic Reporter has a current powerful editorial which is scathing of the lack of proper leadership by the American bishops, (the same could well apply to the Australian bishops too!) calling for them to act in humility and openness to acknowledge their radical failure to address the issues of sexual abuse over many decades, with victims not heard and appearances kept up to ‘protect’ the Church, but missing the point that the Church is the whole People of God, you and me, not just the hierarchical structure in the pyramidal model, but rather in concentric circles, focussed on the rights and responsibilities evolving from the common ground of Baptism. We started to reflect on this at our parish gathering to discuss issues of concern and interest with regard to the coming Plenary Council, called by the ACBC in 2020. And we will be following this up with further parish meetings in 2019, with a view to forming a parish pastoral council as part of the process.

Isn’t it interesting how patterns repeat themselves, with human nature coming into the picture every time, and the fundamental message getting lost or at least obscured in the process? (Where did the obsession with dress ups and funny hats come from? Monarchical/aristocratic Europe, and delusions of grandeur?) In any structured organization, we can see parallels, of abuse of power, emphasis on details and ritual, and a natural tendency to self-aggrandize.

Today we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armistice of Remembrance Day, when World War I ended, abhorrently also known as the Great War, ironically between so-called Christian countries, and three emperors (King George V, Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Alexander), who were cousins (all descended from Queen Victoria). It was also called the “war to end all wars” (perhaps better called the “Dirty Trade War”, with us in it to help keep Australia “White” , and keep the collapsing/dissolving Empire going). It only officially ended, after 4 years and 4 months, although initially was expected to be over by the first Christmas, when instead during the ceasefire German, English and French soldiers, all ultimately machine gun fodder, played soccer and exchanged Christmas cake and sausage in no man’s land, thinking of their families back home and wishing the horror was over. (Realistically portrayed in the 2005 film, “Joyeux Noel” based on fact. And, of course, the generals weren’t happy! Michael Morpurgo’s little book of 2004 – “The best Christmas present in the world” likewise tells the story). As the mindless carnage resumed, by the end 9 million combatants, (including a mind-boggling over 60,000 Australian young men!), and 7 million civilians were dead, not to underestimate the more than twice as many wounded and even more psychologically damaged for life by shell shock, war neurosis now known as PTSD, and the resulting suicides and enduring social and family problems.

And, as in the black satirical humour of “Blackadder Goes Forth”, the generals were back in their chateaus, wondering how far the drinks cabinets might have moved, until they ordered their boys to go over the top, into the machine guns, if they hadn’t already been poison-gassed in the mud, in the stench of the trenches! The poor soldiers were just helpless, suffering pawns in a military and economic power game. No glory here, not to deny heroism and bravery, and mateship, however!!

Then along came the inevitability of World War II, only 21 years later, largely precipitated by the injustices of the Versailles Treaty of 1919, but at least there was justification for the evil forces of Nazism, Fascism and anti-Semitism, to be confronted and stopped. The ordinary people had no chance, with over another 60 million killed, not to think of the even greater numbers of soldiers and civilians wounded physically or psychologically. Just this week was the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, in 1938, in Germany, when Jewish businesses were sacked by rampaging Nazis, and Goering quoted as saying: “They should have killed more Jews and broken less glass” – ominous and evil words portending a dark future.

Then, for us, came the Vietnam War, or, as the Vietnamese call it, “The American War”, with over 500 Australian soldiers dying, and over 3,000 wounded, not to imagine the psychological long term toll on so many and their families. The Vietnam memorial in Washington DC is a haunting, disturbing and moving reminder of the human cost of war, with the names of every one of the nearly 60,000 American soldier killed, engraved all along its black marble walls. And let’s not forget the 2 million Vietnamese civilians estimated to have died, along with 1.3 million North and South Vietnamese fighters.

Again, I reiterate Mahatma Gandhi’s response when asked what he thought of European civilization before his assassination in 1948: “It would be a very good idea, wouldn’t it?”!! When will we learn from the futility and evil of war? It was Benedict XV, during World War I, who constantly called for peace, but to no avail, and John Paul II’s refrain was “No more war! No more war!”, and Francis continues the refrain, so at least our leaders have advocated for world peace all the way, if in vain. “War is hell!”, (and for all) is an appropriate anthem with which to conclude.

Let us remember the words of Jesus, at the heart of his teaching: “Happy/blessed are the peacemakers.” Talking with our Grade 1’s yesterday, who had been thinking about Remembrance Day, I could only say that peace starts at home, with you and me, and our willingness to engage with others in an attitude of acceptance and forgiveness, as we live in his love and reflect it in our lives, to contribute to peace in a troubled and conflicted world. And also we remember and pay tribute to those who gave their lives for their country and what was seen as a just cause at the time, with all the moral complexities and madness, in retrospect. “Lest we forget.”

(And for further reflection, for the very young, I recommend “Anzac Day Parade” by Glenda Kane and for the not so very young “I was Only Nineteen” by John Schumann. And then there’s Siegfried Sassoon’s Poem “Memorial Tablet” - “I died in hell – They called it Passchendale”).


At end of Mass – Reflection “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”, by Eric Bogle and sung by John McDermott.


john hannon      10/11/2018


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