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Reflection Of The Week
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

9/10 February 2019
“The Beatitudes and warnings call us all
to become so transparently attentive to
justice, development and peace for all people”

- Richard Leonard SJ.

(also see Fr Bill's homily underneath for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Reflection on Luke 6:17, 20-26
Richard Leonard SJ

When we hear the phrase 'Blessed are you' it can sound rather patronising. It can seem that Jesus glosses over all sorts of tough human realities with, 'Well done, keep it up, be happy and we'll fix it all up in heaven'.

But reading the beatitudes in this light is a direct contradiction of what Jesus says in this text and certainly how he lived it out.

The Hebrew concept of a blessing isn't about Divine pats on bowed human heads; it is about where the presence of God is to be found. In the Hebrew Scriptures, a blessing is the discovery that God is present and active in one's experience, right here and right now.

So the beatitudes are saying that we do not need to go past our own daily struggles to find the presence of God. Jesus tells us that when we see the poor, the compassionate, the mournful, those who campaign for a just society and suffer because of it, the gentle, the innocent, the peacemakers and the martyrs; we are encountering, in a special way, the presence of God.

Jesus teaches us that God is not impervious to our pain and happiness, or a great manipulator desiring terrible things to punish us or teach us something. No. The God of the beatitudes is a companion with us in every experience we go through either personally or as a community.

Luke goes on to give us the 'woes and warnings' and these are as important as the beatitudes. Luke highlights for us that every blessing carries with it a call, every gift contains a duty to share it, and every right houses within it a responsibility.

This is particularly true of our nation where the vast majority of our citizens are housed, educated, have clean drinking water, a long life span, a job and enjoy a stable democracy. This places us in the top fifteen percent of the world's population. We should discover God's presence in the midst of these blessings, but we must face up to the responsibilities they give us.

It is not good enough to be simply appalled at the widening gap between rich and poor in our own country and around the world. Today's Gospel places at our feet the challenge to do something about it, in our prayer, in our careful use of resources, in what we spend our money on and how we vote for governments which might affect international change.

The Beatitudes and warnings call us to become so transparently attentive to justice, development and peace for all people that what others see in the followers of Christ is precisely what they get.

© Richard Leonard SJ.
Homily 17th February 2019 – 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C – Fr. Bill Edebohls

Most of us are more used to St. Matthew’s ‘Sermon on the Mount’ than to St. Luke’s ‘Sermon on the Plain’.

In the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, Matthew pours out nine blessings on the poor, the hungry, those who weep, those who are persecuted and a few others having a rough time.

In Luke, on the other hand, four blessing are followed by four woes - on the rich, those with plenty to eat, the scoffers and the admired.

Here, in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is continuing the theme of reversal, of turning things upside down, in Mary’s hymn the Magnificat - that God would put down the mighty from their thrones, exalt the lowly, send the rich away empty and fill the hungry with good things.

In fact Luke’s Gospel is often called the ‘Gospel for the Poor’. Not because there is anything particularly good about being poor - nor is Luke trying to romanticize poverty.

Rather Luke is more concerned to point out the dangers of wealth.

He warns that worldly cares and riches will try to choke the growth of God’s word; that the rich are too often motivated by greed and lack concern for others.

In the parable of Dives and Lazarus, the rich man dressed in fine clothes and feasting magnificently every day; while Lazarus - poor, sick and dying at his gate - went unnoticed. When they both finally die the roles are reversed. Dives is suffering in the flames of Hades and Lazarus is enjoying the delights of Heaven.

Luke’s ‘Gospel of the Poor’ - gave the early Church its ethic. The early Christian community shared its resources and individuals within the community gladly gave their goods to be distributed among those in need. Almsgiving was stressed, not as an optional good deed, but as an obligation to help the poor. And the Christian community was known, rather disparagingly, as those who loved one another.

It is a message and an ethic which still challenges both Church and society today.

We live in a wealthy nation which is more intent on imprisoning poor families seeking refuge and asylum in desert and off-shore prison camps than sharing the riches of our land with them. Or, for that matter, sharing ourselves with them.

And we tend to judge governments and leaders of all persuasions, not by their compassion, their striving for justice, their fervour for human rights and the dignity of every human being no matter their creed, race or colour, but by their economic performance and how much of a tax cut they will promise us at the next election.

As a Church and on a personal level we need to think and pray about our own attitudes towards riches and possessions, asking ourselves whether it is the Gospel or our materialistic culture that is shaping our values.

Each time I move home, and have to pack up all my possessions I cannot but help asking myself: ‘what on earth am I doing with all this stuff’ - how easily we get swamped with possessions and how easy it is to be captivated by them.

At the end of the day being rich is neither good nor bad - in itself it is morally neutral - it’s what we do with it - how it rules us as a priority - how it effects our attitudes to others - that makes the difference.

It is this reversal of power in Luke’s Gospel, this favouritism to the poor, the lost and the outsider, that makes last week’s Parliamentary vote making it easier for asylum-seekers on Nauru and Manus to get medical treatment, despite opposition from the Federal Government, a Beatitude - a Blessing - a showing of God’s favour – a reversal of fortunes.
As people called to live the Beatitudes we should be appalled by any policy that continues to ‘show no mercy’ being visited upon refugees and asylum-seekers. This change to legislation is but one tiny step towards turning things upside down – reversing power structures – implementing Mary’s Magnificat – and regaining a mature and civil society.

Current policy, that says a criminal act (people smuggling) should be addressed by punishing and denying human rights to innocent people and victims (asylum seekers who have rights under international law to seek asylum at any national border) is absolutely abhorrent and unworthy of a supposedly civilized nation and society. To use them to create fear for political ends is beyond abhorrent.

To hear the repeated slogans that our harsh policy of imprisoning victims indefinitely is the only way to stop boats and deaths at sea does not speak to me of mercy and compassion its speaks to me of greed, racism and the potent force of creating a climate of fear to win elections – it is Tampa revisited. And we swallow the propaganda because it enables us to turn our backs on the poor and persecuted with a clear conscience – we’re not locking them up to punish them we’re locking them up to save others – it’s rubbish.  

Worldwide 1.3 million people a year die in car accidents, 3,287 a day. Over 1,000 each year in Australia. Are we about to ban cars travelling our roads to prevent these deaths? Or lock up people who travel our roads by car on Nauru and Manus Island to send a signal to car drivers to stay at home? Of course not – but it’s the same principle.
When the Pope and the Church proclaim ‘a preferential option for the poor’, we must be prepared to combine critical reflection and prophetic witness in our relationships with others and towards a society and nation where wealth washes over privileged sections of our global village while the poor and outcast struggle to remain afloat.

As Christ identifies himself with the poor so are we called to fill the hungry, console the weeping, aid the persecuted and rejected, shelter the refugee; for we not only live in expectation of God’s kingdom, we are called to be God's instruments in bringing God’s kingdom about.  

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
2/3 February 2019

"The truth will set us free
But first
We must be prepared
to hear it"

- Break Open The Word on Luke 4:21-30


4th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C – 3rd February 2019

Fr Bill Edebohls


When Jesus began to speak in his hometown synagogue he astonished everyone with his gracious words. His ratings were sky high because he taught them with authority and conviction.


But then the word goes round, “This is Joseph’s son, surely?” and admiration starts to give way to a “who does he think he is!” attitude, and Jesus pre-empts the way their thinking is leading them.


He refuses to back down and confronts their unbelief. “I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.” That said, it is hard to imagine anything more calculated to anger the synagogue congregation than the sorts of examples Jesus then recites.


He takes two major prophets - Elijah and Elisha - and says the first was sent to lodge with a non Jewish widow in Zarephath and the latter was instrumental in healing the Syrian military commander, of leprosy.


To the orthodox Jew this was absolute heresy - that God’s prophets should favour foreigners, outsiders, over the chosen race.


But of course the barriers that they perceived to be self evident truths, were being broken down, even as they listened that day in Nazareth.


It would happen over and over again as Jesus proceeded to fulfil Isaiah’s prophecy; bring in the good news and proclaim the Lord’s year of acceptance and favour – break down the barriers that divide.


It resonates throughout the gospel of Luke from beginning to end. There is no apartheid in the kingdom of God, all are invited, Jew and Gentile alike. The first to hear the news of the Saviour’s birth in Luke’s gospel are shepherds – outsiders – ritually unclean. And Luke alone tells us that the last person on earth that Jesus spoke to before he died was another outsider, the ‘thief’ crucified alongside him: “This day you will be with me in paradise.”


But the mood in the synagogue has run the full gamut of emotions, from the hushed awe and wonder of the introduction, to the murmuring and questioning as they tried to weigh Jesus’ credentials for such a claim to fame; and then the blind fury as they are stung by his comments that the favour or preference of God could possibly be given to those outside the people of Israel.


There could hardly have been more dramatic proof of Jesus’ words that “no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.” The howls of rage, combined with the mindlessness of the mob, saw them given over to uproar as they jostled and shoved to eject Jesus, not only from the synagogue, but out of town, clearly with intent to injure him if not to kill him.


And the mob probably did all this wrapped in their national flag – for religious narrow-mindedness and spiritual blindness is usually twinned with zealous nationalism and patriotism.


Those who stretch the boundaries of accepted wisdom will always encounter opposition if not hostility. The long line of prophetic voices in every age, including our own, bears bloody testimony to the blinkered vision of those who concede no truth other than what they know, or accept without question, what they are told to believe.


The call to dismantle barriers of separation is as threatening and challenging today as in first century Palestine. Netanyahu’s wall dividing Israelis from Palestinians; Trump’s wall to keep out the great unwashed from Latin and South America and dividing his own nation in the process; the invisible walls of our own nation that divide our indigenous peoples from we interlopers whose families have arrived by boat or plane over the past 231 years; or more recent boat arrivals hidden from us in offshore prison camps and divided from us by barriers of sea, fear, intolerance and shameless gutter politics.


Even last week’s commemoration of Australia Day (or to be more historically correct – New South Wales Foundation Day) is a barrier within our community because we are more content with fake history, spurious traditions and deceitful politics that plays to the masses, than having the respectful good grace - (as a people who have inherited the extraordinary blessings of this land from a people forcibly dispossessed) - to listen, to understand, to mourn with, our first peoples.


Would it cost us anything as a nation to simply ask our indigenous peoples - those whose bloodline goes back 60,000 years in this land – what date would you like all of us to celebrate a national day of thanksgiving for the blessings we share? What have we got to lose by being gracious, respectful and humble towards the first peoples of this land?      


But sadly leaders and prophets who might lead us to that moment of grace and reconciliation are thin on the ground.


For even within the Church prophets are rarely accepted among their own – as Pope Francis has discovered – with many senior figures within the Church prepared to openly oppose him and criticise his efforts as a prophet to speak the truth plainly and call us to reform the Church and open afresh the good news of the gospel for today’s generation.


Jesus suffered the fate of all prophets – rejection by his own people – and in following Jesus we may also suffer rejection: For speaking the truth plainly, for speaking out and sharing the gospel news of mercy, justice and compassion, for putting Gospel values before the values of this world.


Prophecy is not about pleasing people. It’s not about hiding our faith for fear of ridicule, or preachers avoiding controversy, or leaders only saying whatever will win votes. It’s about speaking the truth that no one wants to hear, the truth that is often covered up.


But where truth or prophecy is stifled or silenced, it can only be for a time, for the Son of God will just slip through the crowd and walk away. He will find those who will listen and live the truth that he is. He lays down his life only when he chooses and does that still in those who live his good news.