Homily for Pontifical Mass for Various Needs at the Beginning of the Civil Year on the occasion of the Beginning of the Academic Year for St Dominic’s College, Kingswood, 10 February 2017
You might have heard or seen the speech that Stan Grant, the indigenous journalist gave at a racism debate not long ago. It’s gone viral and I don’t usually recommend stuff that goes viral on the internet. But this is an exception. As I listened to it, I felt challenged in my assumptions about Australia and the divide between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. I thought we were the best country in the world. Well, not necessarily, because if you are an indigenous person, you may not experience it as such. The reality is there are injustices that have been part of our history as a modern nation and we cannot look away, so long as they continue to impact on the lives of the people concerned. It takes people who are the victims of injustices to open our eyes and see reality through a different vantage point.
The Gospel teaches us that God has an eye for the outsiders and those who are in any way marginalised by the society. In Jesus, God champions the cause of the down and out, the socially insignificant, despised and excluded: be they the tax collectors, the blind beggars, the lepers, the foreigners, the widows, the poor etc… Their rights become the object of God’s concern and action in the world. As we observe Jesus’ encounters and interactions with them, we are challenged to think outside the square, to question the social standards, to examine our own assumptions and ultimately to measure ourselves according to the expansive vision of God.
Take today’s Gospel story for example. Already in the opening words, the evangelist gives us an indication that the God of Jesus favours the lowly people, the outsiders or in India, they call them the untouchables. Jesus is found journeying through the Decapolis region. It is way out of his familiar and comfort zone. The Decapolis, meaning ten towns, is a mixed race region with a bit of a rough reputation. Yet, surprisingly, Jesus discovers more openness to his ministry of preaching and healing in these non-Jewish people than he does among his own kin.
Yesterday’s Gospel tells us how a foreign woman shows tremendous faith in Jesus. She is praised by Jesus for the depth of her faith even though she is an outsider. In today’s Gospel, the dumb and deaf man is healed on the strength of the faith of those who brought him to Jesus. In doing so, he shows himself a man for others and a boundary-breaking rabbi. The healing story is indicative of his radical, inclusive, “sans frontier” kind of love, acceptance, embrace, affirmation, compassion, forgiveness and solidarity, especially towards the most vulnerable and marginalised.
We begin this new school year with the awareness of our need to be challenged: challenged to learn and enrich ourselves, challenged to achieve set goals, challenged to expand our vision and to be all that we can be. Our quest for truth, justice and integrity means that we don’t settle for less; we don’t rest on our laurels; we don’t remain in our comfort zones and we don’t merely go with flow. The example of Jesus teaches us that it takes courage to advocate for the rights of the minority against the tyranny of the majority.
In him, we meet the God who refuses to accept old discriminatory attitudes, who pushes the boundaries of acceptability and who redefines human dignity, respect and equality. In Jesus, we meet one who is full of divine pathos, that deep empathy and compassion for others. Our discipleship has to do with meeting this God and serving him in the weak and the vulnerable. It has to do with enacting the divine pathos in our lives and our relationships. It has to do with freeing people from injustice and enabling them to experience the fullness of life and love.
Pope Francis challenges us to not cling to our status quo and our security. We need to go out of our secure shells and be all that we can be for one another, especially for those denied of justice and dignity. Let the example of Mary MacKillop who valued the importance of people and relationships help us to enhance our ability to relate to others in an authentic and meaningful way. Let her commitment to care for and to empower the weak and the vulnerable also guide us in our daily accompaniment of one another.
As Jesus changed people for the better through his encounters and interactions with them, let ours also affirm one another. Let his stance towards the weak, the struggling and the excluded be our inspiration in addressing injustices wherever we see them happening. We pray that we may be people of passion for justice and compassion for others. May the values of the Gospel find a welcoming home in our lives and relationships. May we grow and become known for our capacity to care and to make a difference to one another.
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