HOMILY 5TH SUNDAY AFTER EASTER YEAR A 2023 ESSENDON
JESUS AS THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE FOR ALL
Jn 14.1-12 AA 6.1-7 1Pt 2.4-9
Here we are for the forecast coldest weekend in 3 years, so at least we’ve got the heaters on, as well as being a warm and welcoming community of believers here at St Therese’s!
This week I had a quick trip back to Manly, to farewell Rory Lynsky, an old South African friend, who had been a journalist in difficult times, during the apartheid era, but who had more freedom in writing when in Swaziland (now Eswatini), New York and then London, eventually coming to Australia with Brenda, his wife of nearly 50 years, to join his daughters and their families here in 2011. He had seen the darker side of racism and segregation growing up, and had become a friend of the Zulu people, in particular, subtly challenging the injustices of apartheid and working towards its end where he could.
Yet, to me, the most impressive aspect of Rory’s character was the way in which he faced adversity with the diagnosis of MND in 2007, and with which he lived for the last 16 years of his life, with the love, care and support of Brenda and family. When I was parish priest in Manly, he was a regular operator of the laptop for the overhead screens, determined to live life as fully and actively as he could, despite the debilitating illness which was gradually incapacitating him. I had to go up, as it was his will that I do his funeral.
Certainly, his Catholic faith gave him an inner strength and determination to make the most of his life, whatever his situation, as well as forming his firm principles of justice and living his faith in word and deed. He also had a great capacity for forming and maintaining new friendships throughout his life, wherever he was, never losing faith, despite the darker moments!
In a different and unconventional way, Father Bob Maguire, about whom I spoke a few weeks ago, after his death at 88, could not be contained by the structures and strictures of the institutional Church. Yet he remained within it, an active priest for 63 years, pushing the boundaries, but firmly committed to effectively spreading the message of Jesus.
As Mark Coleridge, now almost retired Archbishop of Brisbane, said of his positive influence on him, in his homily at Bob’s state funeral: “Bob made the Catholic Church and the priesthood seem exciting, even fun. He called us all on an adventure; and that call has deeply shaped not only my life, but the life of so many others… There was always a rebel in him, but he was a rebel within the Church: he never walked away. He was always the outsider who was, and needed to be, an insider… He was an Aussie original who presented a face of religion that Australians recognize and respond to. He wasn’t a wowser; he was always on the side of the battler; he was about action, not just words; he rolled up his sleeves and got stuff done; he was down to earth, had mud on his boots; he didn’t judge or condemn; he wasn’t tribal, but opened his door to all; and, not least, he had an unrivalled and uncontrived sense of humour. Put that profile together and you have the kind of religion that has a chance in this country. Put the opposite profile together and you have the kind of religion that has no chance. Bob favoured a religion where faith and good works go hand in hand, the kind of religion described by Pope Francis: ‘I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty, because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security’ (Evangelii Gaudium – The Joy of the Gospel). Bob could’ve written that… He didn’t just visit the world: he made a home in the world.” And there’s no doubt he left a rather large non-Carbon, but metaphorical footprint!
The words of today’s Gospel ring true for those of us who follow the Way of Jesus, and see him as offering us the Truth through his words and actions, as well as the promise of fullness of Life in him. The words of Jesus here, proclaiming himself as the Way, the Truth and the Life, echo throughout his public ministry, as he leads his followers by example. Then there is the encouragement to follow his example by continuing his good work, encouraging others to find faith in his person and message, and then to live as faithful disciples, engaging with the wider world, but focussed on prayer, breaking of the bread together, and so building Christian communities at the heart of it all, as we try to do.
Jesus encourages his followers, in his long farewell discourse, to persevere, and at the time of the writing of John’s Gospel, there was division, opposition, adversity, misunderstanding, and persecution in many of the growing Christian communities, as they broke free from the constraints of the detailed prescriptions and practices of Jewish law and worship. It wasn’t an easy time, and there was no plain sailing, but life was to be lived in the real world, with which believers needed to be engaged, this also being the main way by which others were to come to faith too, faith which cannot be imposed, but chosen, and then lived.
This farewell discourse reflects how Jesus is concerned with the evolution and growth of the Church as the apostles and other disciples take up his commission to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, as we continue that mission, living our faith in our own lives. Today’s reassuring Gospel is often used at funerals, but it’s not really in reference to heaven as a ‘vast motel’ with many rooms (as Brendan Byrne SJ puts it!), but more that “John’s Gospel presents the entire work of Jesus Christ as nothing less than fulfilment of a divine project to bring about mutual ‘at-homeness’ between God and human beings”, with Jesus as the Word made flesh dwelling among us, and revealing a God of love and life in the image of a loving and forgiving Father.
And finally, as Claude Mostowik MSC sees it: “Today’s Gospel is double-edged. It is both comforting and challenging. It points to the space God makes for us as well as the space we are to make for others. It points to God’s passion for humanity as well as out passion in which we find our humanity. There is room for everyone! Yes, ‘There are many rooms in God’s house.’”
john hannon 7th May 2023