Lk 24.13-35                       AA 2.14, 22-33             1Pt 1.17-21

About 10 days ago, I called in to Justin Villa to visit a few retired priest friends. Barry Moran was one, along with Des Magennis (an Essendon native), almost totally blind and not too good at all.  And there, in the sitting room, was a man wearing a Collingwood beanie, whom I took a while to recognize (a bit like today’s Gospel!), and yes it was none other than himself, Father Bob Maguire, now of happy memory.  Sadly, unless you’ve had your head in the sand, he died last Wednesday.  Yet, in fact, he was able to engage in a good chat about our past connections, which livened him up for a while.

Back in February 1970, at 17, and just out of CBC St Kilda Bob was one of the speakers at a camp for first year Melbourne Uni students, at Mt Evelyn, being the most memorable and entertaining, the way he came in with a pile of books under his arm, which he dropped on the floor, and warned us not to get too bogged down in just studies, but to have a good time as well!!  Some might have taken that wise advice too literally, however, particularly good young Catholics,  just moving into the freedom of the wider world of university life.

Then came my pre-ordination retreat in August 1978, when Bob was the presenter, at the time, PP at South Melbourne, bringing along a TV, when we were meant to be meditating and saying our prayers! But we did have to watch Pope Paul VI’s funeral, didn’t we? (Perhaps among other things! And I had to go to physio for my knee, injured in a skiing accident at Mt Buller on the Family Run, the week before!)   Naturally, I can’t remember the details, but he was engaging, amusing, practical, and most importantly, pastoral. He began by reflecting back on moving into South Melbourne in 1973, seeing the declining population and church numbers, with so many out there in material need and in trouble.

Later on, in my life as a priest and canon lawyer, he’d ring me up when I was in Broken Bay, asking for canonical advice, when I’d have to say “Bob, you can’t do that, unless you want to give them a reason to sack you!”  He soon gave up on seeking my opinion!  At the same time, he has had a very positive influence on me and my approach to priestly ministry.

Bob had a natural gift for the clever one-liner, summing up a situation or getting across an important point in a memorable way. So he was a great teacher, but not just that, of course.

As we’ve seen in the broader public arena, Bob’s way of getting a message across was most effective in the wider world, with his highly effective use of news and social media. The words used to describe him have been many:  Renegade, Maverick, Lovable larrikin and champion of the disadvantaged, A loud and passionate advocate for the voiceless and forgotten, Irreverent philosopher and working class hero”.  A recent Guardian headline was Melbourne priest loved by the poor but not by the Catholic hierarchy!!

Among other services, he founded  “Bob’s Kitchen” to feed the hungry, and finally “The Fr Bob Maguire Foundation” in 2003, which continues the good work he encouraged, realizing the need to engage the assistance and expertise of others along the way. “In Bob We Trust” is an entertaining 2013 documentary about his life and work too (produced by Madman Films!).

In September 2020, he appeared on Anh Do’s TV program “Anh’s Brush with Fame”, and whilst having his portrait painted, he cites the word ‘Ubuntu’ from an African tribe a quality that includes the essential human virtues, compassion and humanity, then simply puts it thus: “I gotta look after you first. As Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Hello, put the other first.’”    

It’s probably trite to say ‘life’s a journey’, but that is the reality for each of us, wherever we are on the path of our own lives.  Well, Bob’s life journey is done, but he has done a hell of a lot of good in that 88 years he was with us, whatever his flaws as well, as we all have!  He would be most upset if we ever dared suggesting he be canonised!  May ‘St’ Bob rest in peace, as we acknowledge his lived faith and massive contribution to improving the lives of so many, and enlightening many as to how the Gospel of Jesus should be lived in practice, as they are starting to realize in today’s Emmaus story.

Luke, as evangelist and great narrator, focusses on journeying as a main theme throughout his Gospel, with Jesus’ missionary journey to Jerusalem to meet his fate, and then in Acts of the Apostles, there are many missionary journeys in all directions, with Peter’s ultimate journey to Rome, and Paul’s many adventures along the way to the same destination and fate of martyrdom, but only after a broad ranging proclamation of the Gospel of the Risen Jesus to all and sundry, without distinction or discrimination, and establishing Christian communities.  Isn’t it sad that we’ve yet to take this to heart in our divided world today?

So it’s no surprise that Luke tells today’s story of coming to faith as two disillusioned and disappointed former disciples of Jesus journeying away from the centre of recent events in Jerusalem, almost in despair at what they had believed in and hoped for – the deliverance of the Jewish people from Roman rule. Yet, nothing had changed, except that Jesus was gone, his mission an apparent disastrous failure.  Like ‘Honest’ Thomas last week, it takes time for the reality to sink in, that Jesus was risen, and that his Gospel was not about political interference or seeking revolution, but of changing the status quo by bringing peace to others, and responding to those in need.  The whole of his public ministry reflected this in his words and actions.

Finally, they come to realize his presence and recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread, but only after they have reached out in hospitality, inviting him in to share a meal and perhaps accommodation.  And once the bread is broken and shared, Jesus is no longer with them. Yet, they are transformed, and do the U-turn back to tell the others of their experience, which is reinforced by the disciples in Jerusalem.

And so the journey of discipleship went on from there, as it does for us, from here, continuing to live the Gospel of Jesus as Good News for our lives, as we recognize him in the Breaking of the Bread, in his Word, and in each other. Father Bob did it so well, in his own way!!

john hannon                                                                            23rd April  2023

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