29TH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME YEAR C HOMILY 2022
PERSEVERANCE and PERSISTENCE
Lk 18.1-18 Ex 17.8-13 2Tim 3.14-4.2
On Friday, finally, we celebrated a whole school Mass for the delayed Feast of St Therese of Lisieux, also known as ‘The Little Flower’, which seems to come from her simple appreciation of the world around her, in particular nature. Roses might be the primary flower associated with her, but she spoke of the need for natural diversity, seeing herself as a ‘little flower’, reflecting her own humility and lack of self-importance, and yet having an inner determination and confidence in herself to quietly and effectively, live her faith.
And since we’re in springtime, I quote her thus:
“The splendour of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.”
She also offers some common sense practical advice about brightening up oneself and others we encounter long the way during the day:
“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”
“Without love, deeds, even the most brilliant, count as nothing.”
Once again, I noticed our primary school students added bright colour and words all around the playground, as they chalked in apt quotes from Therese, and provided lovely art work, especially reflecting her love of nature and simplicity.
So, in her own simple way, we see a faithful and insightful young person getting to the heart of the Gospel of Jesus, and offering wise advice, at the beginning of the 20th century. And even though she died at only 24, had a powerful influence on spirituality and Church leaders. So one can only admire her persistence, and realization that small things done well can make a big difference.
On the other hand, this Saturday, 15th October, we had the Feast of Teresa of Avila, who, got to 67, in the 16th century. She was game enough to get out there, and take on reform of religious life of the Carmelite Orders of both women and men, at a time when things had become rather slack, and religious life being a comfortable option, rather than a commitment to faith lived out in prayer, self-sacrifice and action. She is also known for her spiritual writings, and founded many new convents in Spain, so she certainly got around, somewhat akin to Mary MacKillop!
She’s also known as patron saint of headaches and the sick in general, apart from being named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI! She was our first stand-in patron saint in 1922, since Therese had not yet been canonized a saint. So her name has sort of lingered on here, particularly with the a at the end (Australians not being too good with French acutes and graves as accents)!
What can be said about both women is that they demonstrated great persistence and insistence, against the odds, and faced strong resistance to their commitment, Therese, to actually entering the convent at 15, and Teresa to promoting, and achieving, reform, at a time when it was considered women should not be teachers, according to St Paul! It has to be said that, like the poor widow in today’s Gospel, they won out in the end, and their positive influence long-lasting to today.
Jesus, once again, takes the example of the person left on the fringe, and in this case, it was the widow who, in a patriarchal society, had no rights at all, and so was at the mercy of others. One might hope she had a family to support her, but no guarantees there, once she had lost her husband. The guess here might be that she had been deprived of property or financial assets, perhaps left to her, but with no-one to argue her case. So it’s a lesson in persistence, and Jesus translates that into the importance and effectiveness of prayer, but not in selfish terms.
I like Claude Mostowik’s insight: “In real life, the widow is defenceless and the judge powerful, but from a powerless position, she publicly proclaims her human dignity by demanding rights that belong to her and the lowly. She finds her voice and speaks up for herself…”.
Prayer is not a magic panacea to solve all of our problems and answer our wishes, but a means of expressing hope and gratitude, and finding inner strength, with faith in a God who hears every word and who loves each person unconditionally. Therein is the stark contrast with the amoral unjust judge, not at all a nice person, who gives in in the end, anyway, despite his apathy and disinterest in the plight of the poor widow.
Like the story of Job, who ultimately climbs out of his black hole, no matter how hopeless one’s situation might seem, the call to faith in a benevolent and loving God is ever-present for the one who looks beyond the present to a better future through perseverance. Difficult circumstances can bring people together, and unite them more closely, in mutual support.
We’ve just passed the 20th anniversary of the terrible Bali bombings, where there is still deep pain, hurt and loss enduring. At the same time, there is a willingness to work for peace and good will, with a determination not to let the human spirit be squashed, despite the evil and suffering perpetrated by irrational hatred. It is up to us to respond by doing our bit to make things better, by our response to the Gospel. God does not operate on automatic pilot, but with you and me playing our part as followers of Jesus. And, of course, we can’t always determine the way things go.
Then we have Paul, in the Second Reading today, near the end of his life, encouraging Timothy in practical terms. But he starts with emphasizing the need for well-founded knowledge, based on scripture, presumable largely Old Testament at that time, as the New Testament was still evolving, with Paul’s letters among the earliest part, then the 4 Gospels being written at different times, for diverse communities. Then again, he is obviously concerned about continuity, with the message and memory of the person of Jesus, who even more clearly reveals a God of love and life, being passed on and lived out in the local communities, near and far, so here we are now, trying to do just that!
He also appreciates the difficulties and foibles of human nature, with the call for patience in teaching the message and leading the way by living it through prayer and practice. And so it is for us.
john hannon 16th October 2022