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Reflection Of The Week
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Homily: Sunday 25 in Ordinary Time

This How slow to learn they are!

How slow to learn we are!

The disciples had been accompanying Jesus for some time now. He had been teaching them, guiding them, revealing to them the mysteries of the kingdom.

And what are the disciples doing as they journey together along the road to Capernaum? They are arguing about which of them was the greatest. Which of them is going to be first. Who is going to get preferential treatment. While Jesus, the humble servant, the virtuous one, is talking about his betrayal, suffering and death, these disciples, who ought to have known better, have fallen into the sin of exceptionalism.

Because of their relationship to Jesus, they believe themselves to be different to the norm. Exceptional, unique, what applies to others no longer applies to them. They are set apart and demanding the best seats in the kingdom.

St. James reminds us in the second reading that all of us, despite our Christian faith, can succumb to the same temptation of exceptionalism, struggling at times to keep things in perspective, and so sometimes allowing our own desires and self interest to rule us. Thinking we are better than others are, the same rules don’t apply to us, we are greater in the kingdom, we come first, we have priority and ought to be accorded privileges denied to others. We are the disciples on the road to Capernaum.

This past week we have seen a glowing example of this temptation to Christian exceptionalism in the debate over mandatory vaccination and vaccine passports.

In its roadmap to reopen the State, the New South Wales Government is standing firm behind plans to require churchgoers to show proof of vaccination before they can attend gatherings in church.

What has been the first reaction of religious leaders? They immediately demand an exemption for religious groups on the grounds no one should be turned away from church. I have no doubt that, if other State Governments follow the NSW example, Bishops and Church leaders from across the country will also be seeking an exemption.  

Whatever we might think of mandatory vaccination and vaccine passports there is another issue at stake here.

The companions of Jesus lose their credibility on the road to Capernaum because of their conceited self-interest. If our Churches want some perception of credibility and integrity in the eyes of the wider community, our first reaction ought not to be to behave like the disciples on the road, thinking of ourselves and our privileged position, seeking an exemption from the rules that apply to the rest of the community. Surely, the more Christ like response would be to place the most vulnerable person (child or adult) in our midst, embrace them, and demand they be protected before all else.

There may be very good reasons to oppose ‘proof of vaccination’ for those attending church. None of us wants to be placing restrictions on those who come to Mass and I would by very uneasy about policing vaccination passports at the church door.

However, instead of our first reaction being vying for yet another exemption for religious groups (that may come later), our first step ought to be addressing anti-vaccination and vaccine hesitancy within our own church community, especially among some of our priests and bishops who refuse to listen to Pope Francis. We need a consistent and strong message proclaiming the need to vaccinate to save lives and serve the common good rather than seeking to be treated differently to other groups in the community. Once we set that priority and get our own house and message in order then we might think about debating government restrictions on our gathering together.

For me to be able to continue to minister to residents in our local aged care facilities I have to produce my Covid vaccination certificate, just as I have had to produce my flu shot certificate in the past. My only reaction to that mandatory imposition is to be thankful these institutions are prioritising the well-being of their residents and staff over my perceived individual rights or freedoms – my conceited self-interest, which fails to put the vulnerable and the common good first and foremost.  

The teaching of Christ and the lesson of the cross is not to put ourselves first. To follow Christ requires denying oneself and taking up his cross. The only exemption we need is to be allowed to make ourselves last - so that the last may be first – and we can be servants of all.

Social Services Sunday

– a time to reflect and give thanks

On 19 September, we mark Social Services Sunday within the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne. On this day we invite all to give thanks and pray for all who stand with and provide support to those who are marginalised and vulnerable within our communities. We recognise with deep gratitude, those working within Catholic Social Services Victoria’s 43 member organisations, the 7,000 staff and 17,000 volunteers, who together, serve more than 200,000 people in need each year. We also give thanks for all in our parishes, who are so often at the forefront of providing practical support and care to those in need within their local communities, and beyond.

We call to mind the recent 2021/22 Social Justice Statement – Cry of the Earth Cry of the Poor – released by the Australian Catholic bishops, which reminds us of the social mission of the Church and which urges us to reflect on ‘the bigger picture’ and to act together on social, economic and ecological issues. Together, we all have a role to play in building a just and equitable society, where all have equal opportunities to flourish and prosper.

Some practical examples of Catholic social services ‘hearing the cry of the earth and cry of the poor’

During the Victorian lockdown periods, where homeless people have been housed in hotels, representatives from member organisations delivered meals, made calls, visited and supported these people, particularly St Mary’s House of Welcome, Sacred Heart Mission, St Vincent’s Health Australia, VincentCare, Jesuit Social Services and St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria. As the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown began, staff at Jesuit Social Services' Ecological Justice Hub in Brunswick realised that many vulnerable people in the local community would find it difficult to access fresh, nutritious food. In response, the staff and volunteers at the Hub implemented a meal delivery program, providing support and connection to people living in isolation.

St Mary’s House of Welcome provided direct assistance to those homeless people who’d been placed in accommodation, with food and support. In October last year, St Mary’s reported serving more than 75,000 meals to people sleeping rough, experiencing chronic homelessness and severe social isolation.


- Fr Bill