Homily - Mission and Return and NAIDOC Week

7 July 2019 | General Interest


Mission and Return and NAIDOC Week

Lk 10.1-12,17-20 Is 66.10-14  Gal 6.14-18

Soon after I was ordained a deacon in late 1977, I had to preach in the seminary chapel to my peers on this Gospel, a somewhat daunting experience! I recall qualifying Jesus’ instruction not to take any coins, as I had a 1961 Mark II Zephyr, which cost me $50 (on purchase), and I always made sure I took 10 cents, in case I needed the RACV, which was more than on one occasion, when out on ‘mission’ or other activities!! And, really, not to take things too literally, a spare pair of sandals on the unsealed tracks back there might have been a good idea as well. But it’s all about focussing on mission and moving beyond comfort zones as Jesus’ disciples, whatever we’re up to, wherever we go.

When I was seconded to Broken Bay Diocese as a canon lawyer and parish priest in early 1998, retired Archbishop Frank Little wrote, wishing me well, and saying he’d never heard of a ‘Canon Law’ missionary before, recommending I try Freshwater Beach as a great spot to spend my day off, as he had in the 1950’s, as a young priest working in the Nunciature (Vatican Embassy), then in Sydney. When Freshwater (then Harbord) Parish was added to my responsibilities as PP at Manly in 2009, I invited him up to help me out. “Get behind me, Satan”, was his response to the temptation!! When I think of serious missionaries, I look with admiration to the committed and faithful Columbans and Augustinians, along with many other missionary Orders, and whom I’ve come to know in ministry over the years, as well as quite a number of Melbourne priests, nuns and laity, with organizations such as PALMS, who’ve headed for distant and challenging places, in PNG, Peru, Chile, Japan, Taiwan and China, among others. And, it could be said, we have something of the reverse these days, with overseas priests coming out here to try to help address our local increasing clergy shortage.

Films such as “The Mission” and “Black Robe” portray well the challenges and complications faced by European missionaries (Jesuits here, but along with others) coming into the New World, trying to understand different languages, customs, beliefs and cultures, but with the positive intention of bringing the universal Christian message of the Gospel of Jesus to such peoples. Often, however, there was not sufficient awareness or willingness to get to know the local scene, without imposing external requirements, which created confusion and resentment, along with the problems of bringing in contagious diseases, for which there was no resistance. Good intentions are just not enough, as we well know now.

In a different way, we could almost see Pope Francis (who has the benefit of never having studied or worked in Rome), as a missionary to Rome, in reverse! His mission is likewise proclaiming the Gospel, focussed on moving forward, against much insider resistance, in reforming the Catholic Church’s structures, particularly the central offices in the bureaucracy of the Curia (largely deriving from the 16th Century and the Counter-Reformation of the Council of Trent), which has acted more and more as a law unto itself in many ways, issuing edicts and directives from the ivory tower, to the local churches, with little or no understanding of the existential realities concerning the real practical issues, not to forget the natural diversity at the grass roots ground level.

One of Francis’s mantras is that “Time is greater than space”, meaning that change, while an essential and obvious reality, takes time, especially when entrenched structures and attitudes need to be shaken up, and moved forward. A papal document of reform titled “Praedicate Evangelium” (“Preach the Gospel”) is being prepared, with a view to making the Curia, or Vatican Ministry, in secular parlance, an institution at the service of the pope and the world’s bishops and local national and diocesan churches. It takes time and patience, but persistence and steely determination, of which Francis has bucketloads, it might be said!

He states thus: “This principle enables us to work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results. It helps us patiently to endure difficult and adverse situations, or inevitable changes in our plans… to accept the tension between fullness and limitation, and to give a priority to time… Concern about initiating processes rather than possessing spaces… with no possibility of return.”  His priority is in “looking for new ways to proclaim the Gospel in new milieus and cultures.” So speaks Vatican observer Robert Mickens.

In the context of today’s Gospel, we hear Luke describing how the 70 or 72 (symbolic perhaps of the supposed number of nations of the world from the time of Genesis), went out with enthusiasm, filled with the Spirit, and returning joyfully to report on their success in missionary preaching, healing, casting out of evil. Yet, Jesus warns them, there is not going to be simple, universal success, but hostility and rejection along the way, as he had found in his own public ministry of preaching a Kingdom of justice, love and peace, and engagement with the afflicted with healing (spiritual and physical) and forgiveness. It is reminiscent of the final addition to Mark’s Gospel, where Jesus commissions the apostles in similar terms, as his final commission to them. There’s no place for complacency or seeking refuge and permanence in comfort zones. So it is for us, in our own way, quietly, but effectively living this Gospel as Good News in our lives, in the situations in which we find ourselves.

And now, it is NAIDOC (acronym for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) week, celebrating the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Origins go back to 1937, when indigenous leaders, on behalf of the Australian Aborigines Progressive Association, were preparing for a National Day of Mourning. The theme for this year, which is also UN International Year of indigenous languages, is “Voice, Treaty, Truth”.  Seeking, understanding, justice and a fair go in general, don’t we know there’s still a long way to go. The relatively brief “Uluru Statement from the Heart” of 2017 (regrettably, somewhat summarily dismissed by then PM Malcolm Turnbull, for fear of opposition to change!), 50 years from when indigenous citizens were counted in the Commonwealth census (despite having been resident here for 65,000 or so years!), common wealth being something of a misnomer for aboriginal peoples, then, and, as it remains, now!

Indigenous leaders gathered to express the need for constitutional recognition as a First Nations Voice, seeking power over their destiny, requesting a Makarrata (a complex Yolngu word describing a process of conflict resolution, peace-making and justice, meaning coming together after a struggle, facing the facts of wrongs and living again in peace) Commission, akin to a Truth and Reconciliation gathering, seeking a process to find common ground for agreement-making and truth-seeking. At the same time, it noted that “proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet”, a shameful blight on our history. Our mission here is to work for further understanding and acknowledgement of their rights and human dignity, in accord with the Gospel of Jesus we proclaim and try to live. So, to conclude our reflections today, we have a short reflection on the issues and the current situation of Aboriginals and Islanders of their and our nation, Australia.


john hannon                                              6th July 2019


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