Homily - Australia Day - A Reflection on Ministry

27 January 2019 | General Interest

Lk 1.1-4, 4.14-21, Neh 8.2-10, 1 Cor12.12-30

I\'m Australian Too - Mem Fox

Finally we come to the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, the longest of all, and the most carefully constructed, as part of a 2 volume journey, first to Jerusalem, following the path of Jesus’ ministry to the path of Peter to Rome in Acts of the Apostles, along with Paul’s missionary journeys, reflecting the outreach of the Gospel first proclaimed by Jesus, but in careful continuity with fulfilment of OT promises, as we hear in his use of the prophet Isaiah today.

The second section of today’s Gospel was recently chosen by his family, as the Gospel for Peter Price, a faithful Catholic, loving husband, father, grandfather and a long-term good friend of mine, who sadly died of cancer at 77. On his coffin rested a chalice and stole, along with other memorabilia representing his life, to acknowledge his earlier priestly ministry and effectively his later ongoing ministry within the Church, as a pastoral leader, facilitator and educator. His 3 children spoke lovingly and with gratitude for a man who had given so much in his life, to them, and to others, with his commitment to living and sharing the Gospel message of Jesus.

Retired Bishop Pat Power from Canberra/Goulburn was present to concelebrate, and Peter had told me earlier that he was so appreciative, as were other ex-priests of that Diocese, when some years ago, after many had previously been forced to disappear into the shadows, for shame of not having stuck to their priestly commitment, when, as auxiliary bishop, Pat had written to each of them personally, to express gratitude for the good work they had done as priests, and continued to do in their lives, families and relationships in general. That affirmation meant so much to him, after many years of non-acknowledgement.

As a long dead (RIP NYE 1993), wise and incredibly well-read (the only place in his house he didn’t have bookshelves in his bathroom or kitchen!) old priest friend of mine, Monsignor (but without the dressups!) John F Kelly, once said: “If I was a bishop and had a diocese of a group of priests who had left the priesthood, I would have a fine diocese.” And that was over 25 years ago, before the present crises, of both lack of vocations and sexual abuse, hit us head-on. Peter was one of those men, and Bill Attard (for whom I cooked dinner last night), would be another (as you well know through his near decade of conscientious and committed priestly ministry here, and 30 years preceding that time). Peter Howard (Associate History Professor at Monash), Peter Price’s later in life PhD thesis director is another, just to name a few, at the tip of the iceberg!

In my priestly ministry in parish life, I have found in just about every parish to which I have been assigned, that ex-priests and ex-Religious men and women, too, have so much to offer in terms of knowledge, commitment and experience, in helping build parish communities, broadened by their experience of their own family lives. And yet, in the dark and not so distant past, they were treated as outcasts, and warned, or even forbidden, not to live in areas where they were known, for fear of scandal!!

My similar appreciation goes, in a different way, in acknowledging the great ongoing contribution made by those enthusiastic, both retired and active, Religious women, many of whom we are so fortunate to have as committed members of our faith community, as we see here!

Jesus launches his public ministry here in Luke’s Gospel, in the Temple, but not with detailed rituals, nor a lengthy soliloquy or sermon, but a rather a relatively brief quote from the prophet Isaiah, concerning the basics of his mission, and so for all of us, who follow him on that journey of discipleship in our lives. Nothing here is too new: he focuses on Good News for the poor. In all sorts of ways, material and spiritual, freedom for prisoners, in literal terms, but perhaps also captive within themselves, or ourselves, to our own limitations, new sight to the blind, literally, but also metaphorically, to those who are blind to the truly important priorities of life, and setting the downtrodden free, also implying setting ourselves free of the things that can weigh us down. These images prefigure the heart of his teaching in the forthcoming Beatitudes (nothing like the long list of rules and regulations as in Ezra today. No wonder the people were in tears, hardly from joy, as from boredom, thinking and praying: ‘When will it end?’! Nor is anything here like the Code of Canon Law of 1917 in Latin, or the current 1983 version, which gave me the free trip to Ottawa to study it (new friends, snow skiing and ice skating included!), with its 1752 Canons, useful in their own place- the key principles coming at the end; law is for the good of the people and a fair go for all!!), a proclamation of the Kingdom to come, to be lived in that spirit by those who respond.

Pope Francis, in Evangelii gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), speaks of The Kingdom and its challenge, reminding us all of our responsibility to engage with the world around us and respond to the needs of others. As he puts it: “Reading the Scriptures .. makes it clear that the Gospel is not merely about our personal relationship with God. Nor should our loving response to God be seen simply as an accumulation of small personal gestures to individuals in need… or a series of acts aimed solely at easing our conscience. The Gospel is about the Kingdom of God. It is about loving God who is in our world. To the extent that he reigns within us, the life of society will be a setting for universal fraternity (sorority too!) justice, peace and dignity.  Both Christian preaching and life, then, are meant to have an impact on society… The mission of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ has a universal destination. Its mandate of charity encompasses all dimensions of existence, all individuals, all areas of community life, and all peoples. Nothing human can be alien to it. True Christian hope, which seeks the eschatological kingdom, always generates history.” (EG 180).  His exhortation is consistent with Pope John XXIII’s call in 1959, 60 years ago this week, for an Ecumenical Vatican Council of renewal and opening the windows of the Catholic Church to the modern world in its midst.

In the second reading today we have Paul writing to the Corinthians, apparently a wild lot at the best of times, reflecting on diversity of personalities and gifts each individual can bring to contribute to the whole picture of Gospel living, just prior to his long monologue on the beauty of Christian love and life. Baptism is just the start of a lifelong process or journey, a responsibility to take to heart and put into action the exhortations of Jesus, using our God-given gifts well.

Now, in what has been called “The Land of the Long Weekend”, we acknowledge Australia Day (whenever it should be?), as we now know it, noting 231 years of European colonising of this continent, but necessarily also mindful of the fact of Aboriginal dispossession from 1788. Within 20 years of Cook’s sighting of Sydney (Botany Bay, not Sydney Harbour, which he sort of missed!!), we can’t deny that “the peaceful way of life of the local Aboriginal people was to turn into a nightmare of war, dispossession, displacement, social upheaval and disease.”  This is no black armband view of history. It’s the reality. And who said this? “These … are the happiest people upon the face of the earth”! Yes, it was Captain James Cook, in Cooktown 1770, 18 years prior to European settlement.

And so, what difference can we all - you and I - make? The Australia Day Honours list is long, but it provides examples of those who have made a difference. I think it is good to acknowledge the contributions individuals and community groups make to our society, in making our world a better place for all. The Australians of the Year (Craig Challen and Richard Harris), as doctors and divers, turning a hobby into heroism, were appropriately chosen for their death-defying courage and expertise in rescuing the Thai football team members from the flooded caves, remembering too that there was one death of a diver early on, with the terrific result of all the young people being saved, pretty much against the odds of all expectations. Their humility and surprise at the honour reflect the way things should be, when we do our best to make our mark in a positive but not egotistical way.

For you and me, that’s as Gospel people, following Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem in Luke’s Gospel, and believing in his enduring presence in our lives and our world, applying the Good News in Word, sacramental celebration and action.

And for Australia Day, a story from Mem Fox, her latest: “I’m Australian too!” It’s a wonderful reflection on inclusion, belonging and diversity.


john hannon            27th January 2019


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