Fr John's Homily - Lent Reconciliation

11 April 2019 | General Interest


Who’s the biggest sinner here?  Project Compassion Support

Lk 6.36-38 Zeph 3.14-19

The Gospels for the last 2 Sundays of Lent present powerful images of forgiveness, as presented by Jesus, the first in the parable of the naughty boy, the silly forgiving father and the not so forgiving self-righteous big brother, with whom I reckon most of us could identify most easily, as we are the ones generally trying to do the right thing, without kicking over the traces too much, and not too often. The sins we need to think about and confront in ourselves may be the sense of things not being fair, being hard-hearted and judgemental of others by pointing the finger, not working on getting over past hurts.

Around 2000, when PP at Asquith, I received an invitation to the presentation of the Sydney Peace Prize, addressed to Rev and Mrs Hannon! I don’t know who sent it, but I rang Mum in Melbourne and she was up like a shot! The recipient was Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who had been leading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. It was seen as a watershed moment in SA history, as perpetrators of all sorts of evil and hurt were brought face to face with their victims, and challenged to acknowledge their wrongs, apologize and seek forgiveness. Tutu’s facilitation of the processes was fascinating and effective, in offering compassion and understanding on both sides. One who could not confess to her guilt was Winnie Mandela, despite his pleadings, and the obvious fact of the offences committed.

In talking about his experience, Tutu more or less lightly danced across the stage (so tonights’s First Reading reminds me of him!), as he talked, in light and even humorous tones, about the reality of the darkness that was Apartheid in South Africa, and the hope that he had for the rainbow country emerging from those times. Certainly, it didn’t solve all the problems, but no doubt it made a difference in attitudes, overcoming past prejudice, still lingering, and a great leap forward from the past. Incredibly, Christianity was at times used as a means of defending the status quo and the separation of whites (considered superior), coloureds and black Africans.

Right now, it is the 25th Anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda and Burundi, where 800,000+ people were killed, neighbours against neighbours, short Hutus and tall Tutsis, and most of them Catholics, with priests and nuns implicated in the massacres, to an unbelievable degree. (The film “Hotel Rwanda” of 2004 portrays it graphically). It makes one wonder what difference Baptism might make when it comes to the crunch, Gospel values no more than skin deep!  They too are working on some form of reconciliation process now, but all too late in some ways.

We can also look back to the bloody 20th century with 2 World Wars, conducted between mainly supposedly Christian countries, the first meant to end all wars, and titled but hardly was ‘Great War’, apart from a great disastrous and avoidable tragedy.

Doesn’t this remind us of the reasons mature adult Catholics, including those practising like you and me, have largely moved away from the juvenile obsession with minor details of trivial so-called sins, forgetting prayers, distraction at Mass (if you come!), bad thoughts (did you entertain them, or did they entertain you?), frustrations and anger, but sometimes understandable in human terms. We realize now the need to look at the bigger picture, related to our approach to living the Christian life not just in external observance, but at heart, in our attitudes.

As I get older (2/3 of the way to a 'ton’), the message gets simpler in some ways, that the heart of Jesus’ message, the law of love of God and neighbour, is based on the positive attitudes expressed in the Beatitudes, calling for a spirit of living the Gospel as Good News. And we all know we could do better, and this is a lifelong process, where we never quite get there. It can get harder as we get older, in some ways!

To me, the Lenten call is to make an effort in practical terms to be generous of spirit in supporting Project Compassion, as we reflect on the great work done by Caritas Australia. This is more effective, practical and demanding than observing a long list of external prescriptions about fasting and abstinence, with no meat on Fridays. As I recall in a grade 5 project in 1962, it only applied to those between 15 and 59, so I am well past it anyway, as are most of you!!

The Gospel reading tonight is coincidentally a repeat of the Gospel for the 7th Sunday of the Year we had a few months ago. It follows on from the Beatitudes (and curses or woes), where Jesus moves to love of even enemies, a rather tall call, and then to the need for compassion and generosity which reaps its own rewards, not that the rewards are the motivation, but the satisfaction and happiness which comes from demonstrating compassion, mercy and love, and reciprocally receiving it as we acknowledge our own need for forgiveness and reconciliation with one another and with a loving and forgiving God of hope and joy!!

Zephaniah doesn’t get much press, from way back there in 630BC or thereabouts, and he only occupies 6½ pages of the OT in the JB, as a minor prophet, but he presents a remarkable and atypical image of a God of love and life who is close to his people, after starting off in threatening terms: “I mean to sweep away everything off the face of the earth… men and beasts, the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. I mean to send the wicked away staggering, and wipe man off the face of the earth!” Rough stuff!! But as the prophet gives his call for conversion, Yahweh calms down, and, as the people respond and reform their ways, we hear of their God exulting with hope and joy, renewing them by his love and even doing a little dance for joy for his people – a far cry from the judgmental, vengeful, punishing fearsome God sometimes portrayed in the Old Testament!!

And so we celebrate that together now in all humility and commitment to service, in living this Gospel and being reconciled in receiving his forgiveness.


john hannon    11th April 2019


To read more of John's homilies click here