33rd Sunday of the Year
Around the world people are reckoning with the revelations of the Pandora Papers where shadowy offshore accounts held by wealthy elites have hidden their money in tax havens. Politicians, oligarchs and celebrities have been named and shamed as they find themselves facing outrage and possible prosecution. In a powerful address recently to the World Meeting of Popular Movements, Pope Francis said that the economy “is escaping all human control.” But, the Pandora Papers remind us that allowing billionaires to steal from the rest of us and get away with it has been a choice aided by decades of poor legislation.
Today’s reading seem to be gloom and doom but are about action that leads to hope which begins with us. The references to war, famines earthquake, families torn apart, persecution, conflict and other fearful phenomena seem very contemporary. Apocalyptic visions aren't all about terror. There are consoling and life-giving words where “shall arise a guardian of your people; many …shall awake; live forever; shine brightly; splendour of the firmament; lead many to justice, shall be like the stars forever, my soul rejoices; path to life; fullness of joy; forgiveness; tender; made perfect.” As Pope Francis says in Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home, "How wonderful is the certainty that each human life is not adrift … in a world ruled by pure chance." We are invited to see God’s transforming power ready to move into action where there is the greatest need. Pope Francis tell us that the poor, always and everywhere, evangelise us, because they enable us to discover in new ways the face of God. “They have much to teach us….. they know the suffering Christ through their own sufferings. It is necessary that we all let ourselves be evangelised by them……We are called to discover Christ in them, to lend them our voice in their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to understand them and to welcome the mysterious wisdom that God wants to communicate to us through them. Our commitment does not consist exclusively of activities or programmes of promotion and assistance; what the Holy Spirit mobilises is not an unruly activism, but above all an attentiveness that considers the other in a certain sense as one with ourselves.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 198-199).
Francis tell us that humanity is at a crossroads, but we are able to respond in a "bold cultural revolution" that would be based on appreciating that everything in our world is interconnected. In fact we are always at a crossroads especially the asylum seeker, the homeless, the person living with mental illness. The call from Francis is to seek ways to create a better world which includes a care for creation that cherishes the dignity of Earth and all her creatures. We need, as he says, to redefine our notion of progress and seek solutions that incorporate the riches of different peoples, particularly Indigenous peoples, their art and poetry, their interior life and spirituality.
Today, the Son of Man (‘the truly Human One’) cries out to us through the agony of creation and the cries of the poor to collaborate in the work of healing and liberation. The coming of the ‘Son of Man’) is to offer hope and indicates that we have the creative energy to making all things new. COVID-19, the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, the situation of refugees around the world and in Australia, takes us to the words: “unsurpassed in distress,” “everlasting horror and disgrace,” “tribulation; sun will be darkened; moon will not give light; stars will be falling from the sky; powers in heavens will be shaken.” Yet beyond all this, and it was highlighted with the disappearance of 3 year old Cleo Smith, so many people are in solidarity and are participating in the creation of a world more just and human. Daniel says it beautifully: ‘But the wise shall shine brightly like the splendour of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.’ Anne Frank says, ‘How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.’
We are challenged to look at life with new eyes ... not with self-centred concern but compassion and care. To serve each other does not just involve thinking differently but also taking the necessary steps to move outside ourselves: to lend a hand to those in need, a listening ear to those who are lonely and a compassionate, and offer and understanding heart to those who find themselves living on the fringes of society. It is only in giving ourselves to each other that we gain a proper perspective on life and let Jesus Christ lead us so that we might, in the words of Daniel, ‘be wise and shine brightly...like the stars forever.’
In a message to participants in the 49th Social Week of Italian Catholics, Pope Francis called for a society and a planet where people are always attending to the cries of others, changing course if needed and adapting to situations for a better world and the common good. In the context of Covid 19’s health and social crisis he said. “We cannot resign ourselves and stand at the window and watch, we cannot remain indifferent or apathetic without assuming responsibility for others and for society. We are called to be the yeast that leavens the dough”. Any illusions that we are omnipoetnet and can trample down the territories or environment we inhabit have been broken but the current pandemic. Pope Francis called for the courage of ecological conversion, especially community conversion, by being open to the Holy Spirit and listen to the sufferings of the poor, the last ones, the desperate, the families who are tired of living in polluted, exploited, burnt-out places, devastated by corruption and degradation. These are always living in apocalyptic times.
So, we are called to pay attention to those among us who show us a different way of responding to distress, pain, and violence. We might ask where is God? We might also ask where are our sisters and brothers in the faith. Where are we for those today on this World Day of the Poor. We are reminded that God hears their cry. Do we hear the suffering by terror, harassment, arrests and worst, extrajudicial killings of human rights defenders, peace and environmental advocates and political dissenters continue and repression among the poor in the Philippines and Latin America? Do we give the more than 20,000 lives stolen from loved ones under a presidential program against illegal drugs, whilst the 1% richest Filipinos continue to acquire more millions at the expense of workers?
Earlier, when the disciples stood in awe of the temple, Jesus dismissed it by saying ‘all will be thrown down’ (Mark 13:2), but God does not abandon the people. God’s favourite dwelling place is in people, in all creation, not in buildings or institutions built on the exploitation of the weak and poor. True religion puts God’s treasure—the least of these—first. These are the very image of God. The readings offer hope and encouragement for people who struggle for justice and oppose oppression. The readings question any tendency to exclude; to put some people beyond the bounds of God’s love and our love and humanitarian concern. We can act differently to transform our political, economic and ecological reality.
We are live in an age of great distress where the very existence of life on this planet is at risk through human destruction of the natural world. Fr. Thomas Berry spent much of his life warning that commercial values were a threat to life on our planet. Today, Mark might be challenging us to consider the future of our planet – especially as we have witnessed positive and negative reports from the recent UN Conference on Climate Change (COP 26) in Glasgow. Pope Francis and many scientists warn us of what can happen if the earth is treated like a rubbish dump or as an endless source of resources. Rather than be alarmed, passive, apathetic or sceptical about the future, Mark is calling us to be engaged. He affirms that we can trust in God’s ongoing presence with us today.
Hope comes by facing the darkness, the fear, the loss and tragedy however they are manifested. Vaclav Havel, poet and dissident and former Czech President, who knew persecution like many around us, said: ‘Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good’ but Thomas Merton added: ‘Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.’
Jesus preached a coming reign characterized by gentleness, mercy, forgiving love not avenging justice. Jesus coming has not brought catastrophe upon the world except for himself: ‘……the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again’ (8:31).
So let us not look to the skies for signs of the ‘end of the world’ but concern ourselves with the present moment by engaging with the God of mercy and inclusion and and building a community that embraces, rather than rejects, the stranger. Let us share the vision of Jesus: that whatever is happening does not have to be that way and is not okay: war will not have the last word; poverty will not raise a triumphant fist; racism and sexism will not do victory jigs together; oppression will not have a foothold over the vulnerable. Let us not miss the world that lies at our doorstep, in our neighbourhood, community or family. Let us look to the teachers of the past and in our midst and engage with one another where just and peaceful living is possible.