Justice Reflections From Fr. Claude

Eleventh Sunday of the Year

The proclamation of ‘Emmanuel — God-with-us’ and the words, ‘I am with you always to the end of the age’ (Mt 28:30) bookend Matthew’s Gospel of mercy and compassion. In June, we celebrate the feast of the Sacred Heart – the love and compassion in the heart of God, and Pride in some places. We see in the Sacred Heart that God in Jesus loves and in events such as Pride we see who God loves.

What does Jesus see and feel today when he looks upon our world today? He was moved to compassion as he walked through towns and cities seeing a harassed, lost, neglected, in need of healing, vilified and leaderless people? What does he feel as our country hesitates to give First Nations people a voice? What does he feel when we say all are made in God’s image and then fail to treat them as this?  The gospel story is our story. 


The crowd Jesus encounters sought healing where his work of compassionate healing occurred. Healing from what? Was it physical illness? If Jesus looks at the ills of today, could we include the healing of racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, ableism, warmongering, and so many stereotypes and prejudices? Was it the sickness of poverty, economic injustice, unfair labour practices, violence, famine, and warfare? Were they marginalised and held captive by others’ judgments of them? Did they see that the systems they lived under constrained the oppressed and oppressor alike; that no one is free when people are othered?  This is the context of Jesus’ to the Twelve and continues today. We cannot be silent or indifferent.  We are the disciples today - Christ’s Body. Our work needs to spring from a compassionate heart and respond with a human touch. For the Israelites, God was a God of raḥamim (womb-compassion) and of ḥesed (steadfast love), a ‘God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love’ (Ps 145:8). These qualities summed up in mercy always lead to action. Now, the call goes out to those who were disciples, listeners, apprentices, to share in Jesus’ work as apostles. They are to bring out the best in people where they flourish in generosity, in bravery, in being alert to God’s presence in people and creation and striving for a new world. Other so called shepherds pander to our narcissism, to our fears, to our angers and hatreds, and our contempt. Everyone is searching for good news that we are precious in God’s eyes and that God cares for us.

The need to be reminded of God’s steadfast love is greater than ever in a world of pretence and lies that is becoming colder and less personal. Jesus proclaims God’s reign, not as a far-off dream in the distant future but a reality to be experienced every day, even in bits and pieces. All our ordinary moments are ways of entering into a more significant relationship with God who has invited us to open our eyes, to reach for the skies, to develop a sense of reverence and dignity because we are all daughters and sons of God and precious in God’s sight.


When Jesus looked upon the gather crowd ‘he had compassion for them’ (Mt 9:36). The Greek word for compassion (splagnizomai) is a deeply felt response. It means ‘having a heart moved with compassion’. This leads to a call to the disciples to participate with him and responding with a ‘heart moved with compassion.’ The call to be people of mercy and compassion has gone out repeatedly by Pope Francis. It is the call of the gospel. Kathleen Rushton rsm, quoting moral theologian, James Keenan, writes, ‘Our entire theological tradition is expressed in terms of mercy, which I define as the willingness to enter into the chaos of others.’ She goes on to quote Veronica Lawson rsm, who explains that ‘Mercy is a way of being in the world, a way of seeing and of hearing and a way of responding.’ Playing with the word mercy, Pope Francis uses the verbal noun ‘mercy-ing,’ when he says: ‘The Church is commissioned to announce the mercy of God, the beating heart of the Gospel, which in its own way must penetrate the heart and mind of every person … wherever the Church is present, the mercy of God must be evident. In our parishes, communities, associations, and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy.’ (Misericordiae Vultus #12).


And God’s presence and action can appear in small, unexpected ways. We can miss the way God chooses the least likely people in our midst when we see our calling as being over and above others.  By embracing the call of God as a chance to work with God in serving the most vulnerable and marginalised in our community, we can experience God’s presence and power in very ordinary, but extraordinary, ways.


Jesus felt the suffering of others in his body. God’s action on behalf of a marginalised and powerless people in the Exodus reading is described as God’s ‘guts have been split’(Ex.2:23-25). It began with seeing and being stirred in the belly with compassion. Henri Nouwen wrote of Vincent van Gogh and others being moved in their being by people they encountered.


Brazilian bishop, Pedro Casaldaliga, had some challenging words when he said, ‘we priests wash our hands. I think that more than once we have washed our hands like Pilate’. He also says that we can easily consecrate the bread and lift the chalice of wine, but, ’... to gather the flesh and blood of the people, their cries, their suffering, their impotence, their shouts, their hunger, their unconnectedness, and even their disorganization and unfaithfulness ... isn’t all that the crushed body and blood of the people?  Of Christ?  That’s much more difficult to do.’


Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote: ‘I am part of all I have met’. For Francis, the concept of ‘integral ecology’ weaves all of life together where. ‘The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, His boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains – everything is, as it were, a caress of God.’ (Laudato Si’ (35). John Muir reminds us that ‘When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe,’  Our deep need is to find a way to connect where broken relationships are healed. Broken covenants exist everywhere – in church and society: the failure to pay stolen wages to Indigenous people, people living without basic health care, education, housing, the continuing inability to close the gap between Indigenous health and that of other Australians, the looking away at the plight of the people of Papua, Guam, Western Sahara and Rohingya. Our denial of harsh realities ultimately denies our connection to our neighbour and any sense of a fully human life. In Australia and overseas, huge segments of humanity are forgotten. We have so many neighbours, so close to us geographically, yet far from our hearts or just unknown to us.


Can we imagine what our world would look like if we offered hospitality to one another, rather than othering strangers as potential enemies or threats [to our property, employment, safety, and happiness]; if we saw them as God’s messengers whose difference and strangeness might open us to new insights, learnings, and wisdom that can be shared. Jesus and his true followers fearlessly touched the untouchable, loved the unlovable and embraced the outcast thus proclaiming God’s extravagant love.


Compassion is common to all religions. We find our ‘deepest self’ [God within] in the ordinary ways we serve family, spouse, children, neighbour, and stranger [whom we make a neighbour]. The Spirit rarely appears as a tongue of fire but appears in subtle and quiet ways when we become vulnerable and ‘look outward with a radically compassionate eye.’  Today’s gospel shows how a community can be devoted to the liberation of all people, or Pope Francis says, ’an oasis of mercy.’


We have ‘lost and found’ departments at the railways, in churches, and in stores. What about ‘lost and found’ places for people – and other living things? War, genocide, the stolen generations, civil unrest, hunger, and poverty create entire ‘lost’ generations.  Like a ‘lost and found,’ department, the church can be a body that collects things that might be important to the lost: dignity, respect, honor, integrity, wholeness, and a sense of self-worth. We are to empower the powerless. Among the things in our ‘lost and found’ sections, there are many human qualities waiting to be reunited with their owners where they hear God say, ’You belong.’



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