Homily at Pontifical Mass for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year A 2017 with the Tamil Chaplaincy at Sacred Heart Parish, Westmead, 26 February 2017
Brothers and sisters,
I greet you very warmly as we gather to celebrate the Eucharist together. I feel a strong sense of kinship and solidarity with you the Eelam Tamils who like the Vietnamese people have been scattered all over the world. I visited your beloved country many times during the time of the civil war. I heard many accounts of the terrible things you suffered, especially during the final assault which was carried out ruthlessly in Jaffna. May God who suffered with us in Christ, who brings good out of evil, life out of death and joy out of sorrow restore true peace, justice, healing and reconciliation to your country and your people.
The Word of God this Sunday does not give us the detail as to how to deal with contemporary issues such as racial tension and sectarian violence. It does, however, challenge us to give radical priority to the Kingdom. It does call us to adhere with unambiguous and indeed unconditional commitment to the ethical demands of being a disciple of Jesus. We cannot be the Church authentically if the care of the vulnerable, which is the core Christian value is missing in action.
In the last few Sundays, we have been treated with the unique and authoritative teachings of Jesus. He has drawn a sharp distinction between himself and the Pharisees, both in style and substance. For example, holiness for him has to do with integrity, love and service, rather than a mere observance of rituals that draw attention to one’s status and self-importance. He has challenged his disciples to go beyond the letter of the law, beyond the minimum requirements to a life fully lived with authenticity, humility and self-giving love. Commands like “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” are a giant leap from the law of retribution like “eye for eye and tooth for tooth”. Yet disarming violence with nonviolence and indeed with benevolence is the key to the uniqueness and the radicalness of Jesus’ vision. This is where the rubber hits the road in terms of applying the fundamental ethics of the kingdom that Jesus has been at pains to inculcate his disciples.
Today’s Gospel episode continues the theme of the uniqueness and radicalness of the teachings of Jesus. It contains some seemingly unrealistic and naive injunctions like do not worry about what to eat how to clothe one’s body. Yet it does not tell us how to provide for ourselves except by looking at birds and flowers. Sometimes we wished life was that simple and we could just go to the hills and sing our problems away. But we know singing “Don’t worry, be happy” or “The hills are alive with the sound of music” won’t solve our problems. We also know that Jesus was the most grounded man alive. He didn’t live on cloud nine. His poetic exhortations are a way to drive home the central theme: “Set your hearts on God’s Kingdom first and on his righteousness”.
What does it mean by setting our hearts on God’s Kingdom and his righteousness? Well, the example of Jesus shows us the way. It is to love others with unrequited love, like the love of the mother towards her child that Isaiah speaks about the first reading. It is, in the words of another prophet, to act with justice, to love with tenderness and to walk with humility with our God. It is to resist any form of cruelty, evil, prejudice and injustice with prophetic boldness. It is to show empathy and generosity towards the poor, the marginalised, the downtrodden and the vulnerable.
Dear brothers and sisters,
It is easy for us to be preoccupied with our immediate needs such as our well-being, our job, our mortgage, our children’s education etc… What Jesus teaches today is not that we shouldn’t be concerned about these things. Rather we should not be concerned about them in the same way the pagans or the people without faith are. If our faith makes a difference at all to the way we go about our daily preoccupations, it must permeate everything we do; it must give direction and meaning to every decision we make. In essence, Jesus challenges us to let the Gospel be our daily compass, to make his word and example our guide and to orientate all that we do to his purpose.
Many of you, I suspect, did not come to Australia as economic migrants. You probably did not bring a lot of material possessions with you. What you did bring was another kind of wealth, a wealth of faith, faith that had been tested in the crucible of suffering. This is the most important asset and one that you need to safeguard and pass it on to the next generation. As long as we possess this tested faith, we can deal with whatever life throws at us.
You are like God’s people who were taken into exile. Yet in God’s wonderful design, they were formed into missionaries for others. Perhaps God is doing the same with you turning you into his instruments for secular Australia and for your homeland too. Let us not lose sight of our spiritual legacy and our mission. Let us pray that our lives may be firmly grounded in faith, which will enable us to discern God’s purpose for us. May we ever remain vigilant and focused on doing God’s will and building His Kingdom.
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