Father John's Homily - The Path to Glory Through Love

18 May 2019 | General Interest


The Path to Glory Through Love

Jn 13.31-35  AA 14.213-27  Apoc 21.1-5

The late, great Australian poet, Les Murray, recently departed at 80, dedicated every poetry book he wrote “To the glory of God”, (akin to the old AMDG we used to put at the top of the page in Catholic primary school – who remembers?), somewhat unusual for the secular world in which we find ourselves. Les made no bones about the fact that his Catholic faith was at the heart of his life, and there was no pretence about this, as he, poetically and evocatively, wrote colourfully and powerfully about life and the world around us, as he saw it. One of his many great lines reminds us to think for ourselves: “Nothing a mob does is clean”, as we think back to the events of Jesus’ trial before Good Friday, with “Crucify him!” as the recurring anthem, for example!

And here we have a Gospel, where, in Jesus’ long, long, ongoing farewell discourse, he prefigures his ultimate destiny in returning to the glory of Father, but not without journeying through the excruciating and traumatic experience of rejection, suffering, with the ensuing contradictory Cross of death, leading to victory and return to glory and life eternal with God Meanwhile, the glimpse of glory here is overshadowed by what is imminent, with the move into darkness, as the Gospel begins with the traitor’s departure out into the darkness, as the agent of evil, but he really couldn’t say the devil made him do it. The pieces of silver were just too enticing, and temptation won the day, or rather, the night, as he made his fateful decision, and carried it through to its tragic conclusion. No joy or happiness here, just ultimate regret and despair!

Paradoxically, with Judas disappeared, John has Jesus returning to the core theme of his life and teaching, the new commandment call to his disciples to love one another as he has loved us. He has shown the way, and it is up to them and now us, to continue responding to that message in word and deed, now in the face of betrayal and death.

It helps to have our role models, and in recent times, one immediately springs to mind for me, no not the Silver Bodgie (aka Bob Hawke), dead at 89, whose commitment to social justice, in his life and service to the Australian community, though ending up agnostic himself, was undoubtedly influenced by his Congregational Minister father, who made it clear to him when he a was young man, about the Fatherhood of God being absolutely connected to the Brotherhood of Man, or we might add also the Sisterhood of Women! Whatever about him and his personal life, he made a positive contribution, regardless of one’s politics, as has been acknowledged in the tributes from all quarters, at an interesting time!

Just over a week ago, French Canadian. Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche movement, died at 90, after having his first awakening to the needs of the mentally and physically handicapped. In 1964, as the swinging 60’s took off, at 35, he invited 2 men from an asylum to a humble cottage, he titled ‘The Ark’, in order to share his life with them, and vice versa. As the saying goes: “From little things, big things grow!” Now there are 149 L’Arche communities in 38 countries, where ‘normal’ people share houses with men and women with mental handicaps, as Vanier said: “God has chosen the weak to confound those closed up in their own heads.” He came from a privileged background, his father ending up Governor General of Canada (1959-1967), but there was no looking back, like Francis of Assisi, as his movement grew. 

Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, who spent a brief time with him in the 1990’s, “So as to discover what it was like to do theology in the presence of the people Jean was always reminding us needed to be present when we theologized.” He sums him up well: “I’ll always think of him as someone who by God’s grace, helped so many to know that communion, that truly catholic communion, in which no-one is ignored or belittled, and everyone has a unique service to give. And how exceptional his own service was! How profound his attention, his gentle listening and ready warmth: What a gift to a broken, fractious Christian family.” He amusingly recalls attending a Mass where a young man, after receiving Communion, flung his arms around and kissed the bemused priest! No such luck for me, ever!!

Vanier himself described how he realized that places of suffering, such as prisons, psychiatric wards, slums, leprosy colonies, which can be frightening places, could also be places of beauty, reflective of the human spirit: “Maybe it’s the discovery that, amid all the chaos, these people are human beings. I saw anger and pain in the faces of these men, but also great tenderness.”  He took ‘The Good Samaritan’ as his model, given that he didn’t take time to evaluate all angles, so much as to identify an immediate need and respond swiftly and accordingly.

Typically, of such a person, in genuine humility, he decried honours and accolades. Yet, in 2015, he was awarded the Templeton Prize, in fact worth more than the Nobel Prize, originally described as for ‘progress in religion’, now given to those who have made a significant contribution to “affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery or practical works.” There’s no doubt here that Vanier’s contribution was in the latter, concrete day to day mundane application of today’s Gospel imperative, to love one another as Jesus has done, reaching out to the poor, the handicapped, the dispossessed, the alienated, the different, and making them welcome, with a real sense of inclusion.

Says theologian Ronald Rolheiser: “Jean Vanier, through all the years of his life, stepped through the broken doors of the poor and found community and joy there. For this, we owe him not just admiration but imitation.”

And, here this week, closer to home, we had the funeral celebrations of life of two lovely women, following Mothers’ Day, down to earth and practical, faith and fun-filled, Kathleen Verbyla at 91 (mother of Wendy Considine) and Iris Sapiano at 78 (sister of Carmen Merrigan). The reflections about them, particularly from their grandchildren, demonstrated how their lives were lived lovingly and selflessly, devoted to family through the generations, and to others beyond. They were friends to many, living their faith according to today’s command to reflect his love in love for others, starting at home. And they persisted in all of this, despite the many ups and downs of family life, the unpredictable, the ailments and human foibles and follies, which we have to face up to, and which can so unfairly hit all of us at times.

Finally, we hear, in Acts of the Apostles, how Paul and Barnabas encourage perseverance in adversity and opposition, yet moving on themselves to proclaim the catholic message of universality, breaking down the boundaries and opening the door to the pagans – those who were different. They had a clear understanding that Jesus’ message was not for a small elite group of disciples, but for all who would respond with open minds and hearts. It is also clear that they could see leadership and kudos were not all about themselves, but had to be shared and entrusted to others, as the heart of the message was Jesus. And so we continue that mission today, in our parish community and beyond, into our broader community and our world, which reveals God’s glory in so many ways, inspired by people of faith and action like Jean Vanier, extending God’s love, revealed in Jesus, into this world, as a result.


john hannon    18th May 2019


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