Social Justice Sunday

As you enter the chapel/church for Mass this weekend you will be handed a copy of the 2017-18 Social Justice Statement. I urge you to take a copy and to read it. It considers matters that affect all of us.

Pope Francis has called for an economic system that places the human person at the very centre – one that meets the needs of all people and is just and sustainable. He denounces economic structures that take a purely utilitarian view of human beings, treating them as mere elements of production, to be thrown away if they are not seen as useful or productive.

The Australian Catholic Bishops’ Social Justice Statement for 2017–18 is titled Everyone’s Business: Developing an inclusive and sustainable economy. In this document they call for an economy that is founded on justice and offers dignity and inclusion to every person. The Bishops’ Statement is built around the Gospel for this Social Justice Sunday. Jesus tells the parable of the workers in the vineyard, where all are active contributors and are recognised for their human dignity.

Australia has experienced a quarter of a century of continuous economic growth, but the benefits of this good fortune have not been distributed equally. In our workplaces, conditions and security of employment have been eroded, while those who are unemployed subsist on incomes well below poverty levels. Australia is experiencing a housing crisis. And our Indigenous brothers and sisters struggle with economic and social burdens that most Australians cannot imagine.

In the light of these challenges, the Statement calls us to build an economy founded on true solidarity with those who are most vulnerable. Such a society will reject an ‘ideology of the market’ that forgets the principles of justice and equity. Justice must be built into the very foundations of our community, and business can work for everybody’s benefit, not just for shareholders. The excluded and vulnerable must have a voice in decision-making. God is calling us to use his bounty wisely, for the good of all and of our planet.

There is a temptation for all of us to think these matters are too big, too complex and best left to others. A close reading of the Statement will alert us to how relevant the matters considered are and how they influence all aspects of our life as Australians. I suggest the question we might ask ourselves is: what can I do and what ought I to do?

Fr. Laurie

Gospel Living – The Vincentian Way

As this 400th year of the Vincentian charism unfolds this year it will help to focus on the way St. Vincent viewed being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

The face of Christ
St. Vincent taught us to see Christ in the poor and suffering. He went so far as to describe the poor “as our Lords and Masters and we their servants”. This is a key to Vincentian spirituality. Jesus said “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (see Matthew 25: 34-40). So we honour the Lord by serving him both materially and spiritually in the person of the poor. Vincentians believe that true religion is found among the poor and that as we attend to their needs they inspire us and evangelize us.

At its core the spirituality St Vincent lived is a relational one. Personally meeting and serving the poor and marginalised is a two way encounter. We seek to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to those we meet. Equally important is the fact that the ones we meet and serve also transform (evangelise) us. A person living the Vincentian charism will only be effective if their activity is also contemplative. St Vincent frequently taught: “Give me persons of prayer and they will be capable of anything.” This message is more important than ever in modern era of intense activity.

Incarnational, Ecclesial and Sacramental
Jesus’ humanity is central to Vincent’s life and works. The Word of God Incarnate shaped every aspect of his service to others. Our service today as disciples of Christ must also be “enfleshed” as we seek to meet the needs of the poor and marginalised. We do this within the community of believers. The lives of our brothers and sisters encourage us to “go the extra mile”. It was through celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the parish church of Folleville in 1617 that Vincent was propelled into his work of service and renewal in a church that was in a deplorable state especially in the neglected country areas of France. The physicality of Jesus’ life among us in history is now experienced through the gift of the Holy Spirit which shapes the life of the church community especially in the sacraments which are central to the life of the church. Vincent was very “mainstream” at a time when religious controversies and divisions prevailed throughout Europe.

I suggest this reflection on the priorities in St. Vincent’s spirituality is worth pondering today in St Joseph’s Parish in the twenty-first century.

Fr. Laurie

A Value Above All Else

The two short parables in today’s gospel, that of the discovered treasure and the pearl, provide the focus for our reflection.

“Both depict a situation where a person finds something that they would dearly love to possess. In the case of the man – probably a poor day labourer – who comes across a long-forgotten treasure in a field, here is a windfall beyond anything he ever imagined would come his way. The merchant, on the other hand, has perhaps been looking all his professional life for ‘the perfect pearl’; now he recognises at once that this is the one! The point is, however, that neither the labourer nor the merchant can immediately gain possession of what he so eagerly desires. There is a ‘gap’ between finding/seeing and possessing. But the mere sight of what each so dearly longs to possess gives both the freedom to ‘sell all’. With the wealth that results from the sale they have the wherewithal to finally gain possession of the one thing they really desire. So, in each case, we have the pattern: finds (joy) – sells all – buys (gains possession). The sight of the treasure or the pearl has relativised the value of all else; other attachments simply fall away.

The parables address a central feature concerning the Kingdom of Heaven (‘Rule of God’). The Kingdom is essentially future; it is not yet something one can ‘possess’. What Jesus’ preaching does, however, is communicate a sense of the nature and imminence of the Kingdom. People who really catch a glimpse of it from him, know they have come upon a treasure which will fulfil all their lifelong desires and aspirations. He cannot yet ‘deliver’ it to them or place them within it but the glimpse he holds out should fill them with such joy that they have the freedom to ‘sell all’ in order, one day, to gain it.

The parables are, then, essentially descriptive. They are not about what one ‘ought’ to do; they simply describe what happens in the life of people who have caught a glimpse of the Kingdom. Though it is not yet within their grasp, the prospect of one day attaining it already brings joy, freedom and hope to human lives …In this sense the two brief parables contain the essence of Christian spirituality. Christian life is a life of detachment – from being completely absorbed and immersed in the attractions, pleasures and concerns of this world – not because these are bad in themselves but because we have been ‘captured’ by a vision of God’s love and God’s future for us that simply relativises all these things and puts them in their place. We do not yet possess the treasure but the hope and prospect of it, unseen but grasped in faith, is already working transformation. The First Reading, 1 Kings 3:5, 7-12, comes in here in the sense that what Solomon prayed for – and received with divine approval – was a discerning heart, a heart that, amid all the wealth and opportunity with which he was surrounded, could tell what was of true and lasting value.” (B. Byrne, Lifting the Burden. Reading Matthew’s Gospel in the Church Today, 114-115)

Vincent at 400

This year Vincentians celebrate 400 years during which the church has been enriched by men and women who have lived and served in the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul. Since the 1890s Vincentians have provided staff for St Joseph’s Parish, Malvern.

Because of this during the second half of this year our bulletin reflections will explore different aspects of Vincent’s long and varied life and outline the characteristics of his spirit. I hope through these reflections to open up the history, spirituality, and mission of the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians).

This will enrich our understanding of who we are as a Vincentian and parish community and provide a framework for the life and service of the parish community.

See the first instalment here.

Fr Laurie

Hospitality – Welcoming Others and Life

This weekend I am inviting parishioners to sign a petition to be taken to our local politicians. It deals with the move to legalise assisted suicide. This, I believe, is the first step towards legislating for euthanasia in Victoria.

The first reading this Sunday from the Second Book of Kings describes the hospitality shown to Elisha, an itinerant prophet. God reciprocates this kindness by giving the host couple a son. Jesus, emphasises the value of hospitality to others when he declares in the gospel: “If anyone gives so much as a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward” (Mt. 10:42). An openness that welcomes others is central to living a gospel focused life.

In light of the effort to defeat moves to legalise assisted suicide it might help to view our response in terms of a fundamental openness to the value of human life and to the hospitality we should show to the vulnerable, aged, marginal people in our society. There are substantial arguments against assisted suicide. Let’s just note some key statements:

  • Euthanasia and assisted suicide represent the abandonment of the sick and suffering.
  • The provision of pain relief is not euthanasia.
  • The refusal of overly burdensome or futile treatment is not euthanasia.
  • Euthanasia and physician assisted suicide would damage doctor-patient relationships.
  • Promoting suicide is not good public policy.
  • The “right to die” can too easily become the duty to die.
  • Euthanasia and physician assisted suicide would make vulnerable people feel like a burden.
  • Euthanasia “safeguards” can never be made foolproof.
  • Our dignity is not dependent on our usefulness, health or age.
  • We all have the right to receive good palliative care at the end of life.

Each of these statements merit serious consideration and can be developed with further detail. Last weekend copies of Dr. Caroline Ong’s pamphlet, When Life is Ending, were made available at all Masses. This provides a good resource to assist you to understand what is at stake as we confront the current move to legislate. If you did not get a copy last week there are still some copies available this weekend.

This matter is important for our society and challenges us to contribute to the public debate as faith-filled people and as citizens.

Fr. Laurie

Fearless Witnesses

This Sunday we return to the continuous reading of the Gospel of St. Matthew and are immersed in the middle of Jesus’ sermon about the mission he has given to his disciples. It is a tough road to travel!

“Christ has not promised his followers that they have only to make an appearance to gain a hearing: on the contrary, they will know insecurity and persecution. If the gospel is really a force which opposes every kind of evil, the Church cannot turn aside from the narrow gateway which is the Easter mystery, the cross which leads to glory. Secret understandings with political powers and moneyed interests pay off with the blunting, pure and simple, of the Christian witness.
But although his followers must share the sufferings of the Messiah here on earth, they are reassured at the same time by the words: ‘Do not be afraid, be fearless’! The apostolate is the work of God and as such carries the guarantee of success. All that needs to be done is to proclaim Christ’s divine nature in the full light of day.” (Glenstal Bible Missal, 428)

Our turbulent world is awash with explicit and organised opposition to Christian believers. One only has to think of the persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt. Pope Francis has highlighted their plight recently when he visited Egypt. Different strands of Islam vehemently oppose Christianity and seek to obliterate it! Also rampant in the first world nations of the west is what one might call “soft” persecution. Civil structures are put in place to deny the value of human life (e.g. legislation enshrining the right to assisted suicide or euthanasia), denial of the right of conscience in public matters, ridicule of believers and their priorities.

There have been martyrs in every era. There are many in our time. Martyrs are people like you or me who witness to their faith at great cost to themselves, even to losing their life because of their faith in Jesus Christ. They remind us of the ultimate meaning of being a disciple of Christ. This weekend we should pray especially for the martyrs of our day and be aware of what their heroism points to – fidelity to Christ and his teachings.

Fr. Laurie

Eucharist – Gift and Communion

“Some years ago, Pope John Paul II went to Lima, Peru. There he was met by a massive crowd of two million people. Instead of the usual greetings from the President and the Cardinal, two people from a shantytown stepped forward to the microphone. Their names were Irene and Viktor Charo. As the huge crowd went quiet, they begin to speak to the Pope.

‘Holy Father, we are hungry, we are sick, we lack work, our children die before their time. Yet we believe, Holy Father, we believe in the God of life. And we hunger for bread.’ Before a hushed crowd, the Pope replied in his best Spanish. ‘You tell me you hunger for bread.’ ‘Yes, yes’, the millions yelled in reply. ‘You tell me you hunger for God’, said the Pope and again the crowd swelled with an emphatic ‘Yes! Yes!’ ‘I want this hunger for God to remain; I want your hunger for bread to be satisfied.’
The Pope then turned to the generals and the wealthy politicians gathered there – many of them devout Catholics – and said very starkly, ‘I won’t simply say share what you have. I will say give it back. Give it back – it belongs to the poor.’

As extraordinary as the Pope’s words were that day, Jesus’ words about the Eucharist in today’s Gospel are even more so. In the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel many people were so horrified by the claims Jesus makes for the reality of his presence in the Eucharist, they stopped following him. John clearly links Jesus giving himself for the sake of God’s kingdom and our redemption, with the communion we share with Him in every Mass.

When we receive the Risen Christ in communion it’s not a symbol of his presence or a sign of his life to which we say ‘Amen’. It is Christ who hosts us, who gives us himself so that we might be transformed into His image and likeness. In modern language Christ says to us at every Mass, ‘Here I am, broken and poured out in love for you. Take me. I’m here for you.’ …

Yet it’s an emptiness that invites us in. The God who comes to us at every Eucharist as real food is the same God that asks, ‘When I was hungry, did you feed me?’ This question says that just as God feeds us, so we too should and can feed each other.

May this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ give us the strength of our convictions. May the real food and drink we provide away from this sacred table prove to the world the power of the Eucharist to change us into a people that are good, unifying and loving. And may we not just share with the poor from our excesses, but give them back the food that is rightly theirs.” (Richard Leonard SJ.)

In the Name of the Father

“I have friends, some men but especially women, who have found it difficult to pray to God as father. The reasons range from the psychological burden of a tyrannical parent to the theological reservation that fatherhood excludes the feminine-maternal in God and suggests the possibility that God is some one-sided initiator, a non-needer who started it all and then exited, indifferent to the drama.

To be sure, there is maternity in God. John Paul I, in his short papacy reminded us that God is not only a father to us, but a mother as well. No doubt he was inspired by passages from the prophets and psalms or feminine references to the Spirit and Wisdom.

But what can be learned, no matter what our culture or history, from the fact that Jesus called God “Father” and that Christians have for centuries praised God in hymn and creed as Father, Son, and Spirit in Trinity?

Despite what the word “God” has meant to various times and cultures—remote creator, unfeeling authority, arbitrary ruler, or a clan of super-beings — in Christianity God is a community of persons.

Mutuality is the source of life. Relationship grounds being. There is otherness from the start.

The doctrine of the Trinity affirms God as loving and knowing, giving and receiving. We profess that God could not be God without the “other” (the Son) and the eternal bond of their relationship (the Spirit).

While some may think that the doctrine of the Trinity is negotiable, it is actually central to our faith. If we lose it, we lose all we are …

I wonder if the “Father” of the Trinity is more strategic for humanity than it is for the Trinity? Our problem may not lie so much in what we assign to God as in what many people associate with failed fatherhood.

In our own time we hear of uncaring and abusing fathers, “dead-beat, absent dads,” and “fatherless kids.” The lost father is lost relationship, broken promise, torn covenant, lost Trinity. The disappearance of fatherhood is the disappearance of intimacy.

But Jesus’ Father, nurturing and abiding, comforting and faithful, is radically different, and it would be most unfortunate if we were to ignore his revelation. We desperately need this father, strangely so like a mother.

When parenthood is true, its grace is as deep as it is divine. We are held in being with the other—spouse, father, and mother. How like the Trinity our covenants can be.” (John Kavanaugh, SJ)

Pentecost – Birthday of the Church

We are now almost at the half-way point of this calendar year. Last Christmas began the cycle of events that have shaped the history of our salvation. Lent and Holy Week took us on the journey with Jesus to Calvary and Resurrection. The last six weeks have focused on the appearances of the risen Lord to his disciples. It is with Pentecost that the tentative and confused faith of Jesus’ followers was to be transformed into the dynamic mission of making him known to all the world.

“Pentecost celebrates the fullness of the Spirit and the great gathering of nations. It brings the Easter season to its conclusion. The Risen Lord has been exalted to his rightful place next to God and he has sent his Spirit to fill the earth with God’s power. The world is charged with divine energy; it needs but a spark to ignite it with life and with excitement. This vitality explodes into the extraordinary. Tongues are loosed and speech overflows its linguistic constraints; charismatic gifts flood the valleys of human habitation; barred doors are burst open and frightened hearts are calmed. The Spirit of the Lord fills the whole world.

Once again we gather together for one reason, only to discover that God has gathered us for another. Through the Spirit of God, we are reconciled to each other and then together we spend ourselves for the common good. Through the Spirit of God the world is renewed, the community is revitalised, and we come to know the mysterious yet all pervasive peace of Christ.

The Spirit has been poured forth and works wonders wherever human hearts are open to its promptings. The earth is renewed each time rivalries are resolved, distinctions are recognised as merely expressions of diversity, peace is restored, comfort and solace are offered, and forgiveness is granted. We are immersed in the vigour of the Spirit of God. All we have to do is open ourselves to it and the reign of God will be born in our midst.” (Dianne Bergant CSA)

This birthday of the church is a great opportunity to praise and thank God’s Spirit for enlivening the church, for gifting us with faith and for enabling the spread of the Gospel and The kingdom. In a challenging time for the church we should pray for courage to continue faithfully as the Lord’s disciples.

Fr. Laurie

Leaving and Letting Go

Fr. Ron Rolheiser in the following reflection explores the meaning of Jesus’ ascension into heaven and its connection with our lived experiences through life. It offers rich thoughts for us in the time leading up to the feast of Pentecost.

“Among the deeper mysteries in life perhaps the one we struggle with the most is the mystery of the Ascension. It’s not so much that we misunderstand it, we simply don’t understand it.

What is the Ascension?

Historically it was an event within the life of Jesus and the early church and is now a feast-day for Christians, one that links Easter to Pentecost. But it is more than an historical event, it is at the same time a theology, a spirituality, and an insight into life that we need to understand to better sort out the paradoxical interplay between life and death, presence and absence, love and loss.

The Ascension names and highlights a paradox that lies deep at the center of life, namely, that we all reach a point in life where we can only give our presence more deeply by going away, so that others can receive the full blessing of our spirits.
What does that mean?

When Jesus was preparing to leave this earth he kept repeating the words: “It is better for you that I go away! You will be sad now, but your sadness will turn to joy. If I don’t go away you will be unable to receive my spirit. Don’t cling to me, I must ascend.”
Why is it better sometimes that we go away?

Any parent with grown children has heard similar words from their children, unspoken perhaps but there nonetheless. When young people leave home to go to college or to begin life on their own, what they are really saying to their parents is: “Mum and dad, it is better that I go away. You will be sad now, but your sadness will turn to joy. If I don’t go, I will always be your little boy or little girl but I will be unable to give you my life as an adult. So please don’t cling to the child you once had or you will never be able to receive my adulthood. I need to go away now so that our love can come to full bloom.”

The pain in this kind of letting go is often excruciating, as parents know, but to refuse to do that is to truncate life.

To remain present to someone we love we have to sometimes be absent, in ways big and small.

The same is true for the mystery of death. For example: I was 22 years old when in the space of four months both of my parents, still young, died. For my siblings and me the pain was searing. Initially we were nearly overwhelmed with a sense of being orphaned, abandoned, of losing a vital life-connection (that, ironically, we had mostly taken for granted until then). And our feelings were mainly cold, there’s little that’s warm in death.

But time is a great healer. After a while, and for me this took several years, the coldness disappeared and my parents’ deaths were no longer a painful thing. I felt again their presence, and now as a warm, nurturing spirit that was with me all time. The coldness of death turned into a warmth. They had gone away but now they could give me their love and blessing in a way that they never could fully while they were alive. Their going away eventually created a deeper and purer presence.

The mystery of love and intimacy contains that paradox: to remain present to someone we love we have to sometimes be absent, in ways big and small. In the paradox of love, we can only fully bless each other when we go away. That is why most of us only “get” the blessing our loved ones were for us after they die. Mystically, “blood and water” (cleansing and the deep permission to live without guilt) flow from their dead bodies, just as these flowed from Jesus’ dead body.

And this is even true, perhaps particularly so, in cases where our loved ones were difficult characters who struggled for peace or to bless anyone in this life. Death washes clean and releases the spirit and, even in the case of people who struggled to love, we can after their deaths receive their blessing in way we never could while they were alive. Like Jesus, they could only give us their real presence by going away.

   “It is better for you that I go away!” These are painful words most of the time, from a young child leaving her mother for a day to go to school, to the man leaving his family for a week to go on a business trip, to the young man moving out of his family’s house to begin life on his own, to a loved one saying goodbye in death. Separation hurts, goodbyes bring painful tears, and death of every kind wrenches the heart.

But that is part of the mystery of love. Eventually we all reach a point where what is best for everyone is that we go away so that we can give our spirit. The gift that our lives are can only be fully received after we ascend.” Ron Rolheiser