31st Sunday Year A, 2017. A realhomilie from Fr Kevin Walsh, Sydney Australia. MEAN WHAT YOU SAY & SAY WHAT YOU MEAN!
First Reading: Malachi 1:14 – 2:2. 8-10. Psalm: Ps 130 Gospel: Matthew 23:1-12
Make yourself at home, and you might like a strong Coffee or Tea for this one. Well, that is the effect the Readings had on me…..so let’s go deep sea diving into God’s Word; shall we? One more thing, sorry. Please note, that in the writing of the realhomilie, I am not looking at presenting perfect prose; I write the realhomilie so that you can hear me speaking with you……thank you. I apologise for any typos etc…It’s the fault of my Computer.
Have you ever had the opportunity of being present at a Meeting of people, and you haven’t been really well prepared? Have you also had the experience of having to ‘wing it’ as we say, in order to ask some intelligent questions at that Meeting? Supposing the Meeting started with a prayer, were you actually looking over the previous minutes from the last meeting, so that you at least knew what it was about? With tail between my legs, I have to own up, and say YES to all of these questions. I know that I have done that too many times as well. My overall feelings at the meeting has been, “I hope that I don’t get an awkward question pointed at me’ or ‘I’ll be glad when this is all over, because I feel bad inside.’ Again, I have to own up to these responses in myself. Well, God’s Word really hits hard at all of this activity, especially in the Liturgy.
Well, the message is pretty serious, isn’t it? I get the impression that if the whole Community is truly listening to the Word of God from Malachi today, they would be shuddering! This is straight talk from the Lord God, to those in particular who are responsible for the guiding of the Old Testament Liturgical Worship, and it is also aimed at those who enter into Worship. It’s probably a good idea for us to look at the purpose of worship, and where does it stem from?
Old Testament Worship has at its centre, the very Covenant initiated by the Lord God with His people. Within that Worship were times for Sacrifice, times for Atonement, and then the yearly celebration of the Deliverance from Egypt, and the initiation of the Covenant on Sinai. The very act of worship deems by its very nature a ‘oneness’ in mind and heart, in this prayerful community activity. Like so many human/liturgical activities, our leadership can sometimes become tardy, our inner dispositions can be far from the mark; a kind of going through the motions, thinking that God does not see our hearts. As I suggested earlier on, this is not only for the Leaders, this also goes for the gathered community. In short, the first reading is a shoot in the arm for all of us; are our hearts and minds ‘on leave’ when we sometimes worship?
I’d like to share with you a true story that happened to me while I was a Passionist Novice at Mary’s Mount Novitiate in Goulburn, way back in 1968. The Monastery was supported by a Farm, and of course the Religious, that is, the Priests, Brothers and Novices used to work on the Farm. Some of the Priests and Brothers were very good farmers. We also had a couple of Kelpie sheep dogs, because we had hundreds of sheep. One of the Dogs was named Nellie. Now, she was a great sheep dog, but she had no front teeth, and when she showed how happy she was to see us, especially with a nice bone in our hands, she would smile like all dogs do. But her smile would not have won her a place in the Miss Universe competition. Now, every evening after Vespers (Chanted Evening Prayer) we would do a half hour meditation in the Chapel. The only Religious absent from this community observance were the Brothers preparing Tea. Can you imagine Meditating while some beautiful aromas were wafting into the Chapel from the nearby Kitchen……many a stomach was heard to rumble during the silence…much to the amusement of the 17-18 year old Novices….Brother Kevin Walsh being one of the main culprits…..I won’t say anymore; I was kicked out of the chapel a number of times, one of which nearly landed me on the Goulburn –Sydney train ( A one way ticket)……..Now, back to the story, this is supposed to be a Homily…..During the Meditation in the Chapel, the lights were turned off, so we were in darkness…the temptation to sleep was always there. On one occasion during the silence, one of the Priests, who was a great Farmer and a terrific Mission Father, with a grand timbered voice suddenly burst forth in great gusto saying….”Get behind them Nellie”. The poor old priest had fallen asleep during the Meditation, and was dreaming that he was out in the paddock with a mob of sheep, and Nellie was working with them. As you can imagine, all of us were undone for the rest of the meditation….I’m pretty sure that we all got kicked out of the Chapel that evening. I don’t think that the Lord God was having a go at that kind of thing…………in the Scriptures today.
Now let’s go to the Gospel…..the link is easy to see between the first Reading and the Gospel, this week. Here we see another aspect of Leadership/Ministry which can be so ‘off the mark’ according to the New Testament. So, in a nutshell what is it? Living, acting and being the very opposite to being a ‘foot washer’ according to the servant hood of Christ and the example which he has invited us to copy. This Gospel passage makes me cringe, when I see Leaders within the Christian Community seeking a worldly focus of ‘climbing up the ladder’ and wanting to sport the external gear to match their so called height! This is a temptation to greatness which is so easy to succumb to. I say on this matter, ‘Let them without sin cast the first stone…..’ This Gospel invitation is deeply serious to all Christians, not only its leaders’. This is a terrible and wretched state of affairs when someone succumbs to the implications of this Gospel admonition. When this is acted out, it has absolutely nothing to do with ministerial service in the name of Christ! When living this out, people in question have as much sensitivity to other people in their needs as a dish cloth! When this goes on, the mission of the Church slows down, becomes irrelevant, Liturgy can become total cold Ritual, and most certainly not Liturgy, and a sense of superiority over others can sometimes cripple, and strangle the Prophets in their midst.
There is something else which has been creeping in to our Church over the last twenty years or so, well here in Australia, I’m not too sure about countries overseas, and it is as though our leadership, relationship with Priests, Religious and Faithful are turning into a massive Corporation! It seems to me that with the advent of Technology, the personal, sensitive, pastoral relationships between Head Office Staff and us is being eroded! Instead of the opportunity for good solid Discussion in Seminars about basic and pastoral issues, we are called to fill our Monkey ‘on line’ questions and answers! Then the returns to us reads like something from the Stock exchange! As an older Priest and Religious I and many others detest this kind of squeaky clean, clipped and impersonal approaches to people and pastoral issues these days. This kind of atmosphere, created by our leadership people does not bring closeness, care and the loving concern of Jesus to each other……it breeds distance, arrogance and a feeling of being a cog in a wheel and not part of a ‘real’ and sensitive community. Certainly many obnoxious honorific titles of superiority remain, but it seems that they are beung i multiplied as though we were all stake holders in Barclay’s Bank! This is an awful challenge that I see at the moment, and we must re discover and implement the personal approach in leadership and thrououtgh all the echelons of governance.
Finally, these things are not just the goings on in the Christian Community, it can happen, and does happen in the workforce, politics, families and nations. Yes, and we have all seen it, probably been in it from time to time and find it all inhuman. Question; just before we have another Coffee, Tea or……Coke! What human elements provoke this kind of Superiority that Jesus speaks about? It would seem that it could well be, Jealousy, Vanity, Hatred, Selfishness, Greed, Envy……on the other hand, what are the Gifts which bring about the attitude and mind of a ‘Foot washer’ following the example of Jesus? They are outlined for us by St.Paul in his letter to the Galatians Chapter 5, Verses 22-23.
‘What the Spirit brings is very different: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ It would seem that the one who tries to embody these gifts, according to what Jesus is saying in the Gospel of today, would not be interested in wearing broader phylacteries and longer tassels, like wanting to take the place of honour at banquets and the front seats in the synagogues, being greeted obsequiously in the market squares, and having people call them Rabbi…. (Rabbi in the Gospel of today means, my master!) To conclude, it is all very nice to have a personal Motto of ‘Speaking the truth in love’ but it is totally window dressing unless it is preceded by the Motto, ‘Listening to the truth in humility.’ Wow! Food for thought!
1. The priests in this reading neglected their duty and are responsible for the erosion of faith among the people. In general what do you think are some contemporary issues that erode people’s faith? In particular what erodes your faith? What increases your faith?
2. Malachi points out in this reading that the priests were showing partiality and not preaching the Torah with fidelity and good example. What serious responsibilities do privileged positions within a community bring with them?
1. In Matthew 23:1-12, Jesus says of the Pharisees, ‘Everything they do is to attract attention, like wearing broader phylacteries, and longer tassels etc’ Jesus instituted an office of service. Being a Foot washer! What is it within you that calls you to serve others?
2. Could remembering “You have but one Father in heaven,” help you remain humble? How? In this Gospel what is Jesus’ message for religious leaders that is relevant for all times? What is Jesus’ message for you?
Leader: With confidence in God’s boundless love and mercy, we offer these petitions:
That our actions will always correspond to what we profess, we pray to the Lord: Lord, graciously hear us.
That our elected representatives will seek justice for all, not privileges for the few, we pray to the Lord: Lord, graciously hear us.
That priests, religious and bishops will remember that, like Jesus, they are servants, not Masters, we pray to the Lord: Lord, graciously hear us.
That we will serve the poor rather than seek approval from the rich and the powerful, we pray to the Lord: Lord, graciously hear us.
That we will remember the dead for their lives of labour and suffering that they endured for our sakes, we pray to the Lord: Lord, graciously hear us.
That Religious Leaders of Faith will exert their one voice in favour of the many displaced asylum seekers in detention centres around the world and close to our shore here in Australia, especially in Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. we pray to the Lord: Lord, graciously hear us.
Leader: Father of all, God of power and Lord of mercy, help us to use your gifts to bring your love to all members of this human family and bring us all to enjoy eternal life with you for ever and ever. Amen.
Fr Kevin Walsh Sydney Australia
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