Homilies: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

My homily for the 30thSunday in Ordinary Time, Year A as preached during the 5 pm Mass from Sacred Heart Cathedral, Hamilton.

The readings proclaimed were Exodus 22:20-26; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Matthew 22:34-40.

“Having being loved by God – profoundly and completely – we are called to love our neighbour not for our sake but for theirs. To love another is to be prepared to sacrifice something of ourselves for the sake of the other – just as God loved us enough to send his Son to live as one like us, and to suffer and die for our sake, and to rise that we might have life eternal.”

Review: The Outsider: Pope Francis and His Battle to Reform the Catholic Church

The Outsider: Pope Francis and His Battle to Reform the Catholic ChurchThe Outsider: Pope Francis and His Battle to Reform the Catholic Church by Christopher Lamb
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In reading The Outsider by Christopher Lamb, I was constantly reminded of a well-known phrase from any number of police procedural television shows: “Follow the money!” And at the risk of being declared ‘woke’, it becomes clear that when you follow the money – and follow the influence it attempts to purchase – the difficulties being experienced by Pope Francis during his pontificate have less to do with a true understanding of Christianity and more to do with a fear of having one’s ideological position challenged.

One of the most engaging parts of this volume, in which Lamb exposes some of the hostility and opposition directed to Francis, is the very clear timeline towards the end of the book in which the aspects of the hostility and opposition are set out. Lamb goes so far as to name names and speculates on the rationale for those so named taking the position that they are reported to. As I’ve already mentioned, some of that rationale is more about a perceived loss of influence, or a challenge to long-held theological or ideological positions, or even just a perceived ‘opposition’ on the part of Francis to the aims and desires of the one being challenged.

It is was disturbing, though not surprising, to see certain names appear among those Lamb places in the opposition column. That some come from the highest circles of the Catholic Church, where it might be hoped that individuals are more concerned with the service of God and of God’s people rather than their own prestige, only adds to the disturbing nature of the volume. One can understand if not forgive such an approach in the spheres of the media or business – even though it is never right for someone who claims to be a disciple of Christ – but within the hierarchical structures of the Church it becomes a source of great scandal that impedes the proclamation of the Gospel.

Lamb brings his journalistic rigour to this book. It is well documented with facts and insights gained from his role as the Rome correspondent for The Tablet over many years, and strengthened by the reality that Lamb had been right there, in the centre, witnessing the phenomenon on which he writes. It is a compelling read, readily engaging the attention of the reader, as you might expect from a journalist of Lamb’s calibre and reputation.

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Homily for the Perpetual Day of Remembrance

“The life and death of each of us has its influence on others”, Paul tells the Church of Rome in our Second Reading today.

It is a reality, a truth, that the Church of Maitland-Newcastle – that we – have learnt over the last twenty-five years or more, and a reality and a truth that we need to hold in our present each and every day.

On this Perpetual Day of Remembrance, we, as Church, are called to remember those of our brothers and sisters who have been harmed – abused – by some members of our Church, and who were further harmed by the callous disregard of others who placed the reputation of the Church above the lives and safety of innocents.

We have had the light of truth, the light of Christ, shone into some very dark corners through the offices of commissions of inquiry, criminal trials, and the brave testimony of survivors. We have been confronted with irrefutable evidence of actions perpetrated by members of the Church – some of whom we may have previously admired – and we have heard of the enduring cost to survivors who live with the impact of their abuse on a daily basis.

We have heard the stories of those who support their loved ones living with the aftermath of abuse, and who suffer alongside them each and every day.

We have also heard the stories of those who could not endure and who have chosen their own time of encounter with a merciful God.

The stories of those who have been abused and harmed, the stories of those who walk that journey with survivors, the stories of those who have had their innocence stolen, had a direct influence on us.

Their pain, their anger, their loss should and must spur us on to change, to a conversion of heart and mind.

This task, of course, is not something Christians should be afraid of; conversion is at the very heart of what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus. The difference now, however, is that the conversion we are called to is not just a personal one, but a conversion of the whole Church.

And the conversion we are called to is about recognising that crimes have been committed, that harm was compounded by a callous disregard for the victims and survivors of abuse, that victims and survivors were not believed when they were brave enough to come forward.

The conversion we are called to is about ensuring that those who have been harmed are supported and assisted, that we face the truth of our past with honesty, that we commit ourselves to ensuring that we do all that we can to make our Church, our communities, places where children and the vulnerable are safe.

We cannot change the past, nor can we ignore it. We cannot pretend that some members of our Church did not abuse children, nor can we abrogate our responsibility to provide redress in ways that are meaningful.

We can, and we must, do all in our power to ensure that the story of our Church’s past is not repeated in our present or our future, that we listen to victims and survivors of the past, and that we listen to the children of today in ways that we failed to do in the past.

The conversion required of the Church – of us – is to realign ourselves with the teachings of Jesus, to acknowledge our failures and seek forgiveness, and to demonstrate our commitment to survivors and victims. Only when we can do that, only we can likewise say that the safety of our children and our vulnerable are priorities, can we say that we walk in the light of Christ.

This Perpetual Day of Remembrance is part of how we can go about that task of conversion. But it is not just about this day. The real change will be seen in how we value our children and our vulnerable, how we address the shameful parts of our history, how we support those who have been harmed and abused, and how we ensure that our future life focuses not on the reputation of the Church but on the safety of its members – on the safety of all its members and not just a privileged elite.

Our task of conversion, however, is not a once-off activity. It is not as simple as just putting safeguarding measures in place and complying with externally set standards, of having robust policies and procedures. At the very heart of the task of conversion is the perpetual commitment to remember what was so that we never again slip back, that we change our hearts and minds not just our external practices.

The New Pelagians

Still, some Christians insist on taking another path, that of justification by their own efforts, the worship of the human will and their own abilities. The result is a self-centred and elitist complacency, bereft of true love. This finds expression in a variety of apparently unconnected ways of thinking and acting: an obsession with the law, an absorption with social and political advantages, a punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige, a vanity about the ability to manage practical matters, and an excessive concern with programmes of self-help and personal fulfilment. Some Christians spend their time and energy on these things, rather than letting themselves be led by the Spirit in the way of love, rather than being passionate about communicating the beauty and the joy of the Gospel and seeking out the last among the immense crowds that thirst for Christ.

Not infrequently, contrary to the promptings of the Spirit, the life of the Church can become a museum piece or the possession of a select few. This can occur when some groups of Christians give excessive importance to certain rule, customs or ways of acting. The Gospel then tends to be reduced and constricted, deprived of its simplicity, allure and savour. This may well be a subtle form of pelagianism, for it appears to subject the life of grace to certain human structures. It can affect groups, movements and communities, and it explains why often they begin with an intense life in the Spirit, only to end up fossilised… or corrupt.

Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate (Apostolic Exhortation on the Call to Holiness in Today’s World), nn. 57-58

Surrendering Control

When somebody has an answer for every question, it is a sign that they are not on the right road. They may well be false prophets, who use religion for their own purposes, to promote their own psychological or intellectual theories. God infinitely transcends us; he is full of surprises. We are not the ones to determine when and how we will encounter him; the exact times and places of that encounter are not up to us. Someone who wants everything to be clear and sure presumes to control God’s transcendence.

Pope Francis Gaudete et Exsultate (Apostolic Exhortation on the Call to Holiness in Today’s World), n. 41

Each In His Or Her Own Way

We should not grow discouraged before examples of holiness that appear unattainable. There are some testimonies that may prove helpful and inspiring, but that we are not meant to copy, for that could even lead us astray from the one specific path that the Lord has in mind for us. The important thing is that each believer discern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts (cf. 1 Cor 12:7), rather than hopelessly trying to imitate something not meant for them. We are all called to be witnesses, but there are many actual ways of bearing witness.

Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate (Apostolic Exhortation on the Call to Holiness in Today’s World), n. 11.

In Search of the Champion Bishop

This best describes a “champion” model of pastoral leadership. Many Catholics today, including myself, prefer to sit on the sidelines of social media and put our collective support, “likes,” and retweets behind those bishops who are outspoken in opposing our political and cultural enemies. We rally behind bishops who speak truth to power and put their reputations and careers on the line in order to give the laity the sense that they have a dog in the fight. We’re not really looking to bishops to help or teach us; in fact, it increasingly appears we don’t want to actually learn anything from the bishops. Instead, we want the bishops to be on the vanguard so we can play the part of the barrier guard, shooting down anyone who dares to abandon their post. We want bishops who seem larger than life and serve as avatars of divine wrath battling the forces of Satan on Earth. Their humanity looks pathetically frail in contrast.

The champion bishop model, of course, is an understanding that gets Church teaching completely backward. The bishops are not politicians or policymakers. They do not have more than one vote nor are they talking with our friends and neighbors about the Good News. They are not confronting the casual racism we see in our workplaces nor feeding the homeless we come across in our daily lives. They aren’t teaching our children or reforming parish ministries. They can’t make that difficult call to our estranged family member for us nor are they pressuring companies in our investment portfolios to be more supportive of working families. We expect our bishops to do the heavy lifting, but when it comes to “doing” what Jesus asks, we often find ourselves passing the buck. The laity is responsible for this failure.