Fr John's Homily - Transfiguration of Jesus as Suffering Servant

29 March 2019 | General Interest


Transfiguration of Jesus as Suffering Servant

Project Compassion for Caritas Australia Indonesia

Lk 9.28-36, Gen 15.5-18, Phil 3.17-41

After the horrific events in Christchurch yesterday, we are stunned and in disbelief with shock at the loss of at least 49 lives and many more injured and traumatized in body and mind. We are yet again confronted with the reality of how evil and hatred, prejudice and ignorance in the human heart and mind, can lead to catastrophic events and tragedy. What is more, this has occurred in a peaceful, picturesque place, ironically named Christchurch, in New Zealand. Our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to those who have suffered such terrible losses and will continue to endure ongoing pain and trauma. And this, on top of the natural disaster, with that terrible earthquake in 2011, where 185 died and many more were injured.

Now, I wish to acknowledge our faithful parishioner of the last 20 years or so, John Synan, who has died at 83 (just short of 4 x 21’s), and whose funeral Mass was here on Friday. John, or Big John, Big Jack, Pa (to his grandchildren) was a larger than life personality, who used to sit over at the side (usually at Saturday evening Mass) with his wife Pat of over 60 years, and hand out parish newssheets as a welcome to those coming in that way. His Andy Warhol moment of fame (although I am sure there were others!) came in the 1990 AFL Grand Final, near the end of the first quarter, when the famous brawl broke out between Essendon and Collingwood (I was watching the game at Parkville, with Peter Matheson, who’d come over from here). Somehow, John as Essendon doorman came out to ‘rescue’ a player, and ended up on top of a Collingwood trainer, such that Kevin Sheedy later called him the ‘Scapegoat’, for getting too much of the blame. (I can only guess)!! He headed a dynasty of 8 children, 17 grandchildren, and 6 greats, no doubt more to come. A down to earth faithful Catholic man, who demonstrated well how to integrate faith, family, fun and life, a great sense of joie de vivre in living the Gospel message! We’re the better for having him as part of our faith community, as we give thanks and commend him to God and offer our sympathy to Pat and family.

And today we have a real mixture of Lent, the high point of Transfiguration of Jesus, with his inner-circle trio of Peter, James and John, up the mountain (symbolic of God’s transcendent presence), and St Patrick’s Day, which we celebrated with our primary school students here on Friday at Mass. (And so I combine the colours today, to remind us of it all, green chasuble, purple stole, including shamrock sox!)

In a book titled “How the Irish Saved Civilization” (by an American with Irish roots!), Thomas Cahill provides an interesting insight into how, in the 5th century, English-born Patrick learned from his trials and tribulations as a slave for 6 years from when he was captured by pirates at 16, and carried off to work as a shepherd in Ireland, then escaping to France, converting to Christianity in the process, and returning to share his Good News with the Irish, on whom he obviously had a massive impact, in his preaching of the Christian message. He was the first person in history known to have spoken out unequivocally against slavery (presumably based on his own dark experiences in servitude). More than St Augustine (around the same time in Europe), he accepted the dark side of human nature, but also emphasised hope, in that the bright side should win out, seeing that “even slave traders can turn into liberators, even the violent and aggressive can become peacemakers, even barbarians can turn around their ways. “In becoming an Irishman, Patrick wedded his world to theirs, his faith to their life.”

He came to understand their culture and their way of life, seeing the good in each individual, in nature and in the whole wonderful world of God’s creation around us. His Christianity was: “The first de-Romanized Christianity in human history, a history without the socio-political baggage of the Greco-Roman world” (no bad thing?!), enculturated into the Irish scene, to create a Christian culture, where slavery was unthinkable and conflict was reduced (even though the Irish always loved a good fight!). Cahill contends that Gospel norms were incorporated into Irish society’s laws and practices, although they did continue some of their pagan festivals (no harm in a bit of fun along the way, without taking it too far!!). It can’t be verified he used a shamrock or 3 leafed clover to explain Trinity, and he certainly didn’t drive the snakes out of Ireland, because, in a post-glacial age, it was too cold for them in the first place and so there were none to drive out!

And now after temptations of all sorts – materialism, power and glory, facing his own humanity, Jesus takes us up the mountain, beyond the mundane realities of day to day life. Here he is revealed as God’s Son, in continuity with the symbolic presence of Moses with the Law (not the be all and end all!), balanced or complemented by Elijah, the left field voice representing the Old Testament prophets, who had experienced rejection and suffering before him. A high point of recognition of Jesus is followed by the reality of his ongoing mission down below the mountain, walking this earth with all the complications of life that entails, the highs and the lows, the joys and the sorrows, the successes and failures, but with the ultimate injustice of the Cross to be inflicted on and accepted by Jesus as the Suffering Servant who shows us the way to persevere in life’s journey as his faithful followers.

So isn’t this a message for us to make the most of the high points of our lives, to treasure, enjoy and remember those moments, but also facing our own crosses, the reality of our darker moments, aware of our own frailties and sinfulness, but with a living faith in the assurance of forgiveness of a loving God, and the affirmation and support of those around us, our families and friends.

Hope is at the heart of the Gospel message, and it is the theme taken up by Caritas Australia in its Project Compassion Appeal for 2019, as we look at areas of need in our troubled and needy world, to be informed as to the good work done by our generosity and support with ongoing contributions.

So here is this week’s story in the heart of Indonesian rainforest, where deforestation has caused much devastation to the environment and thus lifestyle of the indigenous people, the surrounding natural habitats and eco-systems!

john hannon  16th March 2019

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