12TH SUNDAY YEAR A 2023 ESSENDON
LOOKING FORWARD AS WE LOOK BACK ON OUR CENTENARY YEAR
Mt 9.36-10.8 Ex 19.2-6 Rom 5.6-11
(Jn 15.9-17 Gal 3.26-29. Rom 12.9-16)
Back in late January 1986, I said to Chris Sheehy how tragic it was that the space shuttle had exploded soon after launch, and 7 NASA astronauts had been killed, including the first teacher heading for space. Chris was my late priest friend from Sydney, with whom I was living in Ottawa, both of us doing Canon Law and working in local parishes, to keep our feet on the ground. He made the comment that whilst that was indeed sad, even more tragic was the fact that many thousands had died or been displaced in floods in Bangladesh, the same week, and that this hadn’t received much publicity at all. It was a reminder of the fact that the news tends to focus more on spectacular events involving a small number of individuals, rather than ongoing natural or human-made disasters, where millions can be adversely affected.
Chris had always been a social justice campaigner. As a seminarian in the early 1970’s, I’d imagine, to the chagrin of at least some of the seminary staff, he campaigned against the Springboks playing in Australia, because of racist apartheid in South Africa, and he was a great supporter of indigenous rights, involver with ‘Mum Shirl’, and her grass roots work in Redfern, so he was nothing but consistent all the way throughout his life and ministry. He ended up as Judicial Vicar of NSW/ACT Tribunal, concerned with justice for divorced and remarried Catholics wishing to get on with their lives in the church. He reflected a great balance between establishing truth and justice, but helping people get on with their lives in the Church. It was not just about black letter legalism, but also applying the law with compassion, understanding, encouragement and empathy, which is the way I saw my role in that field as well, as a pastor as well as a judge.
There was yet another example of tragedies this past week, with the loss of the submersible Titan, and the deaths of the 5 very wealthy passengers, descending to view the wreck of the Titanic, certainly a tragedy but also a very high risk and obscenely costly enterprise. At the same time, some 700 asylum seekers died in the Mediterranean, desperately trying to seek a better life, subject to people smugglers, but briefly a mention gets made on the front pages. It’s a sobering reminder of the inequalities and injustices in our world today.
Jesus constantly combines the law of love with God and neighbour, on the vertical and horizontal levels. And so, in today’s Gospel he is providing an extreme contrast between God’s love for each individual person, with the care he has for the least costly item on the market, the simple brown or grey sparrow, the cheapest of offerings at the Temple. At the same time, I am not sure why he refers to the sensitive topic of the number of hairs on our heads, when some of us have no choice about that, the least of our concerns, really, at least if you’re male!!
There is also the reminder that the life of a disciple is challenging with no guarantee of success, in human terms. There is a need for perseverance and being prepared for opposition and resistance to proclaiming the message of Jesus. It’s no easy task, especially when the going gets tough, and we’re out of our comfort zones! Jesus challenges his disciples, and so you and me, to face up to our fears, and believe he is with us on the journey of life. It is not a call to put ourselves in physical danger, but to be prepared for difficulties and the crosses of life which come our way.
Poor old miserable Jeremiah, in the first reading (now up to Chapter 20!), is angsted about his fate, wondering about his prophetic role to call the Israelites to order, fearful of retribution from those who resent his message of truth and goodness, and faith in the one God. Yet, on reflection, he gains hope and strength that his God is with him on his mission.
As usual, Brendan Byrne SJ has a helpful insight: “This is a Gospel which is comforting but not comfortable… Matthew presents Jesus as insisting that the Gospel is not something to talked about and lived behind closed doors. It – and the values it enshrines – demands public witness and proclamation.”
As for fears, well, for me, this week was only half as daunting as last week, with a whole school Mass (a week late) here for the Feast of the Sacred Heart with our 550 or so primary students and 50+ staff, after St Columba’s College Mass!
The pious pictures and statues of Jesus as Sacred Heart have never been too appealing to me, as the depictions present Jesus as sort of above it all, the heart on fire, in the centre of the picture, sometimes surrounded by a crown of thorns, with Jesus looking out sadly, almost patronisingly, down on to us sinners. (When I Googled Sacred Heart, there was an offer to browse 8,618 stock photos on 87 pages, which, needless to say, I failed to follow up!)
At the same time, it is appropriate that the symbol of the human heart is reflective of the love of which Jesus speaks and shows when he lays down his law of love. And I was able to connect to the practical side of it all, when we have just had our Winter Appeal for St Vincent de Paul Society, and our school families made a generous contribution to the good work done by the members. As with Project Compassion, we are reminded of the responsibility, even obligation, to share the love and concern for those in need, by material support, which clearly links directly to the Gospel of care and compassion for all. Thanks to all who have contributed, and to those who are actively involved in Vinnies’ service.
And we have our concluding centenary Mass at St Therese’s this Sunday, after a year of reflection and community celebrations, acknowledging the achievements of the past, and growth from 1922, to continuing the mission of service in our parish communities, facing the challenges of today and tomorrow.
The Gospel chosen for the centenary Mass in November 2022 is to be used again this weekend, as it is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. The focus is on love of God, translated into love of each other, meaning all, and love of self in terms of knowing and developing our attributes so that we can be people who produce the good fruits of the Spirit, admittedly a recurrent theme of mine, as I find them helpful to reflect upon and try to put into practice: “love, peace, patience, joy, goodness, gentleness, self-control and faithfulness.” So let’s all keep trying!
And to me, it’s good we’ve passed the winter solstice and the shortest day of the year, so now the days get longer once again as the cycles of nature and life go on.
john hannon 25th June 2023