Homily for the Mass for Pastoral Associates
Statement Released: Monday, February 13, 2006
Reading the bible is a most difficult challenge because it means taking revelation shaped in another time and context, understanding it within that time and context and then applying it as the word of God for our own day and age. I live at Wynberg, purchased by Archbishop Duhig from a strict Presbyterian family in 1925. I sleep in the same small downstairs bedroom that was added to Wynberg when Archbishop Duhig was no longer able to manage the steps. The Archbishop died in that small bedroom, reasonably adequate until one tries to do exercises for sciatica on the floor between bed and wardrobe. Each year the Archbishop would go to Nudgee College to present the prefects’ badges. After that he would shuffle into the chapel on the arm of Father Douglas to address the student body. His constant refrain year after year was “Esto Vir” – “be a man”, a phrase whose origin I discovered only last year when reading the Book of Kings. The words jumped off the page at me. They were spoken by King David to his son Solomon whom he appointed king shortly before his death. The words have more meaning than they possess at face value. “Being a man” meant more than gender. It meant total loyalty to God and the covenant that every person should pursue. As the scripture indicates today the advice was not followed well by Solomon who flirted not so much with other people as with false gods. Like most of us he eventually repented. When we think of Solomon we normally tend to think of the wisdom he possessed and the great temple he built to honour Jahweh. Even though the huge temple was a typical male gesture (In my early years priests seemed to be ranked according to their buildings) Solomon was probably trying to indicate by the temple’s huge size, the power of God and the importance of God. It was only with the arrival of Christ that the temple was put in perspective as Christ showed us a fragile God who would die on a cross, a God who was powerful but powerful with love, a love that would overcome the world. Although Solomon’s attempt to please God was in some sense misguided, nevertheless there was orthodoxy in his attempt to honour God according to the wisdom of his day. This male bias towards grandeur needed to be balanced, as it most certainly was, by the weakness of Christ’s death on a cross at Calvary, and also by the triumph and wisdom of Mary and Mary Magdalene as the first witnesses of the resurrection, and its interpreters for the early Church. I like to think that before all others the two Mary’s understood the weakness yet power of the resurrection and educated the early, frightened community accordingly so that the frightened followers of Christ might become the Church, the sign of the Kingdom, through the power of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost.
The Gospel too is a lesson in power but it is the healing power of Christ, a power that is available to us if we have the faith to ask for it. It is easy enough to say we live in the time of the Kingdom but what do we mean by the phrase? The time of the Kingdom of course is the time of God’s power, a power released, but a power we too often overlook. Three years ago I was called to Greenslopes Hospital to anoint an old Stanthorpe identity, about 90 years old. Enormously sick he came down from Stanthorpe with the expectation of doctors and nurses that he would die. They summoned the family and friends to the bedside in the intensive care unit at Greenslopes. Still conscious, he asked if I might come and bless him. I did so and he recovered, one might say miraculously, and lives on in Stanthorpe where he goes to Mass daily and walks kilometres to get there, much to the wonder of Stanthorpe-ites. He said to me only two weeks ago when I went to see him “You know Archbishop I can’t remember a thing about Greenslopes except the fact that you came and blessed me and I felt power coming out of your hands.” That power of course is not the power of John Bathersby, it is the power of the Holy Spirit available to all of us if we have the faith to ask for it and if the people to whom we minister have the faith to receive it.
All of us live in the time of the Kingdom and that time of the Kingdom is now, but do we appreciate that quite marvellous fact? Yesterday I read once again the sermon that was preached by Afro-English Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu at his inauguration in York Cathedral last year. Among other things he said “We had our reports, our commissions, conferences, seminars, missions, synodical reviews, liturgical reforms, - the lot. But little attention has been given to the question “Who is Jesus and what does he mean for those who put their trust in him?” He goes on: “The scandal of the Church is that the Christ event is no longer life changing, it has become life enhancing. We have lost the power and joy that makes real disciples.” So that’s the key to the whole problem, knowledge of Jesus Christ and the vision of Jesus Christ. If we can understand that and if we can form a relationship with Jesus Christ then our whole world will change. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.
So thank you all very much for all you do in the life of the Archdiocese and for being here today as we celebrate the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Let us make this year truly a year of mission as the Archdiocese intends, both for ourselves and for all those with whom we come in contact. May God bless you always.