Justice Reflections From Fr. Claude

Feast of the Ascension

The scriptures begin with Theophilus being addressed whose name means the ‘lover of God’ of ‘beloved of God’.  It is addressed to all of us. Today’s feast, despite some views, is not about focusing on ‘heaven up there’ but on God’s presence everywhere and in everyone. By implication is not only about his presence but our presence. Jesus’ presence and our presence as witness cannot be separated. The disciples were assured ‘You will receive power’ – the power to love as Jesus loved; to be present with and be for the hungry, the naked, the powerless and homeless; the power to resist those who dominate, exploit and treat others unjustly; to give oneself for others; to persevere in the face of difficulty and opposition; and do things they never thought possible. This includes recognising a different agenda to the powers in the world.

In the gospel, we hear Jesus say, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation’ (Mark 16:15). We need to take Jesus’ presence among us seriously. That he is present in every poor person, every sick person, every prisoner, even our enemies? Do we seriously believe that there is no place, no person and no creature from which Jesus is excluded? Many with power want to silence those who preach concern for the environment and that creation reveals God’s presence. Many with power want to silence courageous students who stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine and question those who are complicit in genocide. There are many in religious institutions and politics who see a concern for politics, economics or medicine as meddling and try to keep God at arm’s length. But today we are reminded again that Jesus is to be found everywhere and that respect for creation and our sisters and brothers is both religious and political matters.


The witness that any disciple of Jesus is called is to be ‘Theophilus’ – to be ‘the lover of God’ by being the heart of God in the world. The disciples had failed to grasp Jesus’ mission. They still had not shifted their expectations from a nationalistic messiah and a reign based on empire, strength, security and dominance. The call to wait for the Spirit was necessary because of the tendency to get Jesus’ message wrong. When we fail to rely on the guidance of the Spirit we find the dignity and cultures of people trampled on; we find a silence and failure to resist an injustice that is at the root of the conflict in Palestine or the greed that is at the root of famine in Sudan; we fail to recognise our complicity and failures to protect children and women; we delude ourselves on issues relating to the treatment of minorities; we allow ourselves to be captive of our fears, racism, prejudices, and attitudes of superiority.


To ‘stay in the city’ means to stay engaged in everything that affects peoples’ lives. Gazing to the heavens prevents us from seeing our suffering earth and its people. This is where witness is needed. Jesus has left his footprints on the earth. We are called to walk in them. This is where God is with people. This is where courage and strength are required. In a few weeks we will celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi (Body and Blood of Christ). In Sydney, and no doubt in many dioceses around the world, there will be Walk with Christ processions throughout the streets where the faithful will honour the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. The Sydney procession will be at the same time and pass by where we have for the past seven months had massive gatherings of people in support of Palestine and opposing the oppression there. Is there not a danger that such processions are a form of ‘looking to the heavens’ rather than looking around them? Is this ‘looking to the heavens’ happening when many religious and church leaders fail to step up to condemn injustices and violence which put the credibility of the gospel at stake?  These leaders, like the disciples, are glued to their spots!! Dietrich Bonhoeffer who witnessed to Christ’s presence in his opposition to Nazi oppression, said, ‘The body of Christ takes up space on the earth.’  Christ is present in those who make him incarnate in their presence, by their love and their justice making.  This is also the place where making the gospel real can evoke opposition especially when we might remind people that oppression, which is not a major theme in our First World thinking, occurs some 3000 times in the Bible.


From positions of privilege, we can read the scriptures with our own lenses and fail to see injustice and oppression. We do not hear the pleading voice of God in our sisters and brothers who are broken and wounded. The voices of children from Gaza rarely heard before are very compelling. They are God’s voice to us calling us today to be in solidarity with all people who suffer violence, hunger, and neglect.  The power that Jesus points to is different. As with several regimes, the disciples were rooted in a return to a cultural, political, economic and religious system based on the restoration of an idealised history that had more to do with violence and domination. They failed to understand that the reign of God is a call to sharing, inclusion, nonviolence, service, reconciliation, compassion and self-giving for the good of others and all of creation. It is not about prescribing our faith onto another or put another in a box not of their own making.


What witness do we choose to make? Will we stand up boldly knowing that we are connected to and need each other. The world of the poor, the hurting, and the wounded depends on us to do more than argue with one another. The diminishment of one diminishes all. The raising up of one in dignity, raises all. The Gospel message of love needs to be embodied in our lives. It is a love that knows no limits, a love that drenches the fire of hate within our Church communities and in society when it comes to certain groups of people. There is a lesson here. What would it look like, if we approached spreading the Gospel, not with words and doctrines and the goal of conversion, but with radical presence, radical attention, and a demonstration of what it means to live authentically and with purpose every single day?


We continue to be challenged with the question, ‘Why do you stand looking up into heaven?’ With Jesus’ departure the responsibility has shifted to us to proclaim and make God’s reign present. Will we take that on board? Jesus’ basic message is to go to Galilee, to the malls, to the parks and town squares, to the pubs, cafes and restaurants ……. and ‘you will see me there’. It is not about increasing numbers but awakening in people their dignity, their connectedness with God, their power, their capacity to change the world as well as accepting their responsibility to bring healing and reconciliation; peace with justice; compassion in partnership with others. Jesus has left his footprints for us to follow in. Let us walk as people who are named ‘Theophilus’. Can we live as a lover of God <Theophilus> in love with all creation and people? Let us not to tell others how they are to live but live boldly with integrity, with confidence, and with purpose. This is how we evangelize – we do it by demonstrating what it means to be embodied, fully alive, and rooted in purpose.  Teilhard de Chardin wrote in 1957: we Christians have been charged with keeping the flame of desire ever alive in the world …. The flame must be revived at all costs.


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