Homily at Solemn Pontifical Mass for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year A 2017 on the occasion of the beginning of the Seminary Academic Year at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 26 February 2017
Sisters and brothers,
Last Tuesday, I had to front the Royal Commission along with five other bishops. It was a rather unnerving and stressful experience as I had never been in the courtroom before and certainly never had to face such intense public scrutiny. I was asked many questions regarding the cultural and structural nature of sexual abuse in the Church. There was one question that I struggled to answer, which was how the Church put the interests of children genuinely ahead of other competing interests. The truth is the Church – or to be precise – the leaders of the Church have been shown to place its reputation, security and assets ahead of the wellbeing of victims.
And so in honesty, I said “if the Church is a good global citizen, then it has to show that the safety and protection of the innocent children must be of paramount interest, of absolute priority”. I also acknowledged that the Church needs a holistic and comprehensive approach in addressing the problem of clericalism, which I see as one of the root causes of the abuse of power and the sexual abuse.
The Word of God this Sunday does not give us the detail as to how to deal with contemporary issues. 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 his disciple and indeed 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 evolutionary 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 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? 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 in 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 stranger, the marginalised, the downtrodden and the vulnerable.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today, we especially pray for our seminarians as they begin their academic year. We are truly blessed with these 18 young men who have committed themselves to a journey of discernment. We are also blessed with the formation team led by Fr John Hogan, the Rector of our brand new Holy Spirit Seminary. In a very real way, the whole Parramatta Diocese is also the extended formation community. Seminarians are formed with the people and for the people, not for themselves. The seminary training has come under intense scrutiny by the Royal Commission. What is clear through this intense scrutiny is that there needs to be a cultural change in the church, starting in the seminary, in order to facilitate the authentic and holistic growth of the seminarians who will be able to live and minister in the manner consistent with the servant leader model of Christ.
“People must think of us as Christ’s servants, stewards entrusted with the mysteries of God”. May these words of St Paul serve to remind us, especially our seminarians of the ultimate call to be servants after the example of Christ. May we renew our commitment to set our hearts on God’s Kingdom and his justice as we move beyond the dark valley of our sins into a future of hope.
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