Edmund Rice Retreat and Conference Centre, Mulgoa - 8 April 2018
Most Sunday mornings I listen to Ockham’s Razor on ABC Radio National. The razor here has to do with shaving – not beards but the superfluous from logic and design. William of Ockham, the 14th century Franciscan, held that to explain things was to ‘Keep it simple.’ Though religion can be obsessed with obfuscation rather than simplification, Jesus condenses religious observance down to one commandment: ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you’.
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ It sounds simple but in every generation, the challenge to love unconditionally will run against the grain of our culture, our context and our conditioning. Compassion, Presence, Liberation.
Recently we received a bulletin from our Generalate in Rome with a reflection on Easter by our new General on Easter. He said it may sound contradictory but we to look for the Risen Jesus ‘we must go to the tomb’ and be aware of the different situations of ‘graves’ that exist in our world today. He said our call is to accompany God’s people to continue to give ‘steps’ to life. This is a dynamic process of awareness and prophetic presence. It means finding ways from the empty sepulchre to the existential peripheries. People like Edmund Rice, Catherine McCauley, Jules Chevalier and Dorothy Day were motivated by something they saw that called for a response of compassion and presence.
Edmund saw and dedicated himself to the poor and children who were considered unreachable, unteachable and not worth anything but condemnation. As with Dorothy and Jules and Catherine, there was a deep sense of compassion and justice that connected them to others – the same deep sense of compassion and justice that connects us with others, with God, people and the planet earth. All looked at the world through the eyes of the marginalised (the poor child, the working poor, the single mother, the homeless, the migrant worker, the addict, the prisoner, the pusher and the prostitute) who were in graves and needed to have the stones removed.
People who speak to the heart and see beyond the peripheral, beyond superficial appearances, can see the one who is hurting. Connection with the One who revealed the heart of a God urges in compassion for broken human beings. In a world of so much anger, war and destruction, it means believing that love is never a waste of time and that only things done in love are worthwhile. Jesus’ disciples did not always cotton on to this and maybe we do not either, but his invitation is not diminished or devalued.
There is a poem by Father Daniel Berrigan called ‘Some’. I think it sums up much of what could be said about all of you present.
Some stood up once
and sat down
Some walked a mile
and walked away
Some stood up twice
then sat down
I’ve had it, they said.
Some walked two miles
then walked away
It’s too much, they cried.
Some stood and stood and stood
They were taken for fools
They were taken for being taken in
Some walked and walked and walked
They walked the earth
They walked the waters
They walked the air
Why do you stand, they were asked, and
Why do you walk?
Because of the children, they said, and
Because of the heart, and
Because of the bread
Is the heart’s beat
And the children born
And the risen bread.
What we celebrate today is that this heart expanding invitation was offered decades ago and continues to be offered and takes flesh. It comes about by trying to see through the eyes of people on the peripheries of church and society, whether in the class room, at Emerton or Africa, in China or Goodooga and other Aboriginal communities, the Charismatic Renewal in Rome, the Philippines or Papua New Guinea, prison and youth ministry or in Aged care and be transformed by them. As Edmund found, Dorothy found, Julies Chevalier found, any serious engagement - or presence - with people in need touches the heart. It is from there, from that presence, that liberating and compassionate fruit is born.
As many here are celebrating various jubilees, each has been impacted in some way by the people you encountered; people whose wounds you touched as Thomas did in the gospel, and closed the gaps to communicate God’s mercy and compassion that would have otherwise not occurred by the failure to touch. It is a time for gratitude and an opportunity to rekindle the passion and fire that was set ablaze some decades ago. It is only this fire that can light other fires in the hearts and lives of people and the wider church.
One cannot do justice to the years of commitment we honour today but jubilee celebrations allow us to reflect on where we have been and also to take a long view of where we are and where we are going. Oscar Romero said ‘We are prophets of a future not our own’. Most of us are in ministries we would not have dreamed of, or considered unthinkable, when we entered. What matters is not so much the job done but the heart in it. How was it prophetic? How did it offer hope? ‘I encourage you also to be prophets of hope, with eyes turned to the future, where the Spirit pushes you, to continue to do great things with you. Awaken the world, illuminate the future! Always with a smile, with joy, with hope. (Pope Francis)
Today’s readings speak strongly of the kind of God who walks with us and is enfleshed in the person of Jesus, and ourselves. In the gospel, there is great focus on Thomas the so-called Doubter. The appellation ‘doubting Thomas’ has stuck but may not be accurate. John does not use the Greek word for ‘doubt’ but ‘faithless’. ‘I will not believe’—unless I see. I wonder if the many who are hostile or indifferent to religion and Christianity could also be saying that unless they see, they will not believe? What do they want to see? Surely not some impossible perfection, or purity, or people drawing lines in the sand that excludes those that do not fit in. To be a follower we need to listen.
Fr Brian Stoney: ‘Do you want to be good or be a follower of Jesus?’ That is only possible when we remain connected to the realities of human life and experience. It is here that we hear the ‘whispers’ of God – the ‘whispers’ that come in the events of life and the stories of people – especially people on the edges, the poor, marginalised, oppressed. God’s call is for us to be engaged. Could it be that they are looking to see if we have wounds and share our humanity? Jesus held his wounded hands out to Thomas as proof of his love and suffering. Could it be that the world is asking to see what we are willing to risk for the sake of love?
For Thomas faith seems to be about walking, touching, responding, learning and connecting. Is that not what we mean by compassion, love, mercy, presence and liberation? For Thomas, the only God that matters is one with scars and wounds. He knew that it was important to touch those wounds. Today’s gospel is superimposed on a world in need of deep healing and love. Since the crucifixion has left its indelible marks upon the resurrected one, he is only recognised through them.
Our calling to care for the poor and hungry is rooted in Jesus final words before his death. If we remain in Jesus, we make him our point of reference where our decisions and actions come out of a different place to that of fear, greed, self-centredness, revenge, prejudice, legalism and moralism.
Jesus’ call to love can be painful. It involves hard work. But the gospel also suggests that doing the right thing by our neighbour also brings with it a satisfaction called ‘joy’ even when our kindnesses, our efforts, our care is rejected or ignored or when our loving comes up short. We may not even know where our love may take us. Christ often stretches us – if we allow him – and we need to be open to the places in our lives that we might need stretching in our attempts to love those who are poor and hungry; those who are abandoned or forgotten; those vilified or prejudiced against.
Christ forever passes by and invites us to discover where he lives. His life is ‘open for inspection under many guises’- homeless and hungry sleeping in parks and in doorways; in hospital, prison, the street corner, the nursing home, refugee camp, housing commission flats, the boat person, young person trying to make sense of his or her life and or sexuality, the person living with HIV/AIDS, the Aboriginal Australian trying to negotiate our world without losing his/her own culture. God's call mostly comes to us through the plight of the other. God’s call to each of us is never in a vacuum. It always comes in concrete places, experiences, and people.
If we would examine our lives will we see the God’s larger footprints in many smaller footprints of people and incidents where our lives are shaped in ways often without being fully aware of it.
Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, observed that ‘Christianity is not a doctrine to be taught, but a life to be lived.’ To practice resurrection means also stretching or expanding our capacity to love. Love and mercy are not concepts or ideas but concrete: a different relationship, a way of being present, a way of touching, a way of healing. Pope Francis says ‘mercy is a key word that indicates God’s action towards us,’ but suggests that it is also about our action towards one another and lived out concretely in communities and people.
Dan Hartnett, American Jesuit who lived in the slums of Lima, Peru, says a commitment to justice begins with attention to concrete experiences of suffering.….it involves intentionally shifting our attention to focus on the daily experiences of those who suffer injustice…….. putting ourselves in the shoes of the other, especially those in extreme poverty or enduring painful forms of social exclusion. A true concern for justice does not begin with definitions but with real faces of injustice….’
Pope Francis says:
‘Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, and let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help!’
I have already mentioned how much mercy has come before us in the public realm as call to action. We are all called because God has heard the cry of the people and God moved our hearts... and the call begins with listening in order to, in Micah’s words, act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with God. Why keep looking for the dead among those who are alive?
We have to be like the women in the gospel who ran to different tombs, to remove the stones that covered them (Mk 16, 1-8), by starting with the tombs that we live in in community life. For us we need to look, to see, to be aware and be present. We cannot be spectators where people suffer the horrors of war, the uprooting that many in Oceania experience due to climate change; to the devastation by corrupt institutions that inflict misery, disease, and lack of opportunity on who countries as occurs in Africa, America and some Asian countries.
When I spoke of being transformed by the people we engage with, peoples and cultures teach us the path of resurrection by finding Jesus not in comfort, entrenchment, mediocrity and security. And so today, as we listen in our hearts the call for further journeys grows within us.
As we go from this place I would like to offer a final challenge from Pope Francis: ‘What pertains is not to pass on the ashes, but the glowing embers hidden underneath’. (Walter Kasper, Pope Francis’ Revolution of Tenderness and Love)