Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity at St Finbar’s Parish, Glenbrook, 27 May 2018
Dear brothers and sisters,
It has been a particularly trying week for the Catholic Church in Australia. Once again, it has found itself under the spotlight – for all the wrong reasons. The highest-ranking Catholic official in the world found guilty of child sex abuse cover up, ran the headlines. The reaction has been swift and damning: that the church is steeped in a culture of self-interest and self-preservation; that children and the vulnerable are not safe in it; that the custodians of this culture are not to be trusted. As I walked the aisles at the local supermarket with my Roman collar and cross, I wondered what people thought of me. I wondered if I was tarred with the same brush. It was hard to put on a brave face. Many of you might have felt deflated and even disillusioned as you processed the negative publicity.
The church has been humbled and humiliated. It has been thrown off its high horse because it has been exposed as having failed its mission and betrayed its own ethos. But it is not necessarily a bad thing that we now have to start from a position of weakness and vulnerability in order to regain our trust and indeed our Gospel compass. We are reminded of the story of the Apostle Paul on his way to Damascus. Things did not turn out the way he had expected. He experienced a profound turn of events. He had an unwelcome reality check and a temporary blindness. But this complete vulnerability was the catalyst for a whole new way of seeing, acting and being. Paul was never the same afterwards. His strength no longer came from his status, entitlement, privilege and power. It came from the utter powerlessness of the Servant Christ.
The Catholic Church has had its Damascus moment in the sexual abuse crisis. It has fallen from the privileged position in society and the power and influence that came with that status. Now, like Paul, it is undergoing a time of uncertainty and darkness. We should not fear this time. For it is the Kairos to repent of our institutional failures and to restore confidence in the church. It is the favourable moment to undertake deep reform that will align its culture and structure to the vision of the Nazarene. It is the opportunity to replace clerical impunity, elitism and self-interest with accountability, humility and equal discipleship.
Today, we celebrate the core of our Christian faith: the God of love who reveals himself not as one who is siloed, removed and aloof from humanity. Rather, God reveals himself as relational and closely bonded with humanity. This is the message of Moses in the first reading: God is closely bonded with his people throughout the ebbs and flows of history. He delivered them from oppression and slavery in Egypt. Therefore, they are to form a post-Exodus society, which would reflect the God of communion and love. This new society would be marked by concern for the God-given dignity of all and special attention to the most vulnerable, in biblical terms, the widows, the orphans and the strangers. For Moses and the Israelites, worship of God is expressed in love of neighbour and human flourishing
The Gospel tells us the story of Jesus sending his disciples to preach the Good News after his ascension. “Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you”. This missionary mandate has to be understood in the broader context of Jesus’ own ministry. For clearly, the God that we meet in Jesus is not a tribal God who excludes other people on the basis of their background, gender, race or even religion. Rather, the God revealed in Jesus transcends all human barriers. It is the God who is radically inclusive; who identifies himself with the least, the last and the lost; who is frequently at the margins rather than centres of power.
Thus, we cannot make disciples of all the nations when we fail to live out the radical inclusivity and solidarity that Jesus embodied. When privilege, power and dominance are more evident than love, humility and servanthood in the church, then our preaching rings hollow. When the full citizenship of the baptised is undermined by the elitism of the ordained, then we betray the lesson of foot-washing leadership.
It is a sobering reality that we are confronted with. The church that we love is at a critical juncture. What is being asked of us is nothing less than a wholehearted commitment to follow the long hard road to conversion. May we have the courage to die to old ways of being church that no longer convey the message of the Gospel to the culture in which we live. May the leaders in particular, like Paul, embrace the downward mobility, inclusivity and solidarity of the Servant Lord. Let us go forward in our mission to make a difference in the world, confident of the victory of Christ and his promise to be with us till the end of time. May our lives and relationships reflect the God of communion and love.
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