14th Sunday Year A

See Commentary on Matthew 11:25-30

Homily 1 - 2005 

What’s been going on the world this week?  Well, what’s been on the TV news, and in our newspapers?  Tens of thousands of workers took to the streets to protest at projected industrial relations legislation – fearful of unemployment, reduced wages, and reduced working conditions.  Bob Geldof is gearing up with musical celebrities around the world to direct the attention of the world to the G8 Summit meeting to take place near Edinburgh on Wednesday.  He hopes to shame the wealthy nations into reducing the obscene burden of debt of the world’s poverty stricken peoples particularly of Africa.  Aboriginal people around Australia are beginning a week celebrating their survival and the good things of their culture, (despite their recent history and their general marginalisation), and they are continuing to call us more recent arrivals to genuine interracial and intercultural reconciliation.  Mind you, some of these issues only make page 2 of the national dailies.  Page 1 is focussed on Shane Warne and his marital problems, the aussie cricketers or Leyton Hewitt’s lost tennis match at Wimbledon.

What’s going on?  Well, I suppose it’s saying that there is too much pain and suffering going on in our world; there is fear; there is a lot of anger, some of it apparently very close to the surface, some of it simmering in the deeper levels of our communal and individual psyches.  Perhaps it saying, too, that we don’t want really to face the truth, and so need frantically to distract ourselves.

Two thousand years ago, one of the friends of Jesus, a man named John, understood that God was appalled by the distress of the world at that time; God was so moved by love that he intervened in the hope of bringing about change – respecting always, of course, the freedom of the creatures he loved.  He wouldn’t impose happiness – he couldn’t impose happiness – but he did invite, and clarified the issues.  He sent his Son so that all who believed in him, all who trusted him, all who adopted his vision and lifestyle, might find life, life to the full.  Learn from me, his Son said.  Well, he lived about 34 years, and then they killed him.

So, God sort of adjusted, continued to be distressed, and continued to love his world.  Still does.  In fact, God so loves our world today that he sends the followers of Jesus, us, so that all who believe us, who trust us, who adopt our vision and approach, might have life, life to the full.  Like Jesus, we say: Learn from us [who, like Jesus] are gentle and humble of heart.

And what does our world say?  Get real! That might be OK from behind your own front fence to as far as your back fence, but not in business, industrial relations, international trade, not even in professional sport.  Competition is the name of the game! Get strong or get out! Make as big a profit as you can, or go under! Cut up the cake, and take as big a slice as you can get away with! And God help you if you don’t! 

And that is precisely what God is trying to do.  Is the world’s way working? Mounting anger, not yet violence, on the streets of our capital cities.  On the international stage, on the one hand, we see frightening poverty and suffering: 11 million children under the age of five die every year from preventable causes (that means 30,000 every day).  Just under another 30,000 adults die each day from hunger and preventable diseases.  The combined wealth of the world’s three richest people is greater than the gross domestic product of the poorest 48 nations of the world.  On the other hand, our world lives with the fear of terrorism, fear of the spread of nuclear capability to destroy the world, and simply of escalating war.

Even in regard to our own Aboriginal people, forty years ago in Alice Springs, Pope John Paul II said to them: ... the Church in Australia will not be the Church that Jesus wants her to be until you have made your contribution to her life and until that contribution has been joyfully received by others.  Did he come from another planet?  Or did he know something we’ve missed?  And are we still missing out?  This coming NAIDOC week might give us the opportunity to reflect on what he meant.

What if Jesus is right?  Take up my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.  It’s a bit confronting, isn’t it.

Homily 2 - 2008

There was a book doing the rounds forty years ago called Prayers of Life by Michael Quoist.  There is one point that the author made that has stuck with me over the forty years since then.  He said that God didn’t make a mistake when making each day of only 24 hours duration and each week of only 7 days.  Quoist was addressing then, back in the 60s, a malaise that has worsened over the intervening years – the feeling that there is never enough time – never enough time to do what we feel we should or what we would like to do.  The time we have is already too full, and life is too busy.

Quoist made the point that, since God is perfectly aware, not only of our human limitations, but also of how many hours there are in each day and how many days in each week, God would never ask us to do what there isn’t enough time for.  If there isn’t time, God is not asking it.  So, if not God, who?

Somehow or other, our culture has canonised busyness.  We feel burdened by what we have to do, and burdened by the thought of all that we haven’t done – what we haven’t had time or energy to do.  We all moan that life is too busy, too hectic.  The illusion is that being busy seems to be virtuous, and not to be busy seems to be a bit lax.  We feel important when we can say we’re busy.  Lots of things we do aren’t really necessary – they only feel necessary.  They are only necessary if we choose to be as mad as most other people – if we fall for the advertisers’ spiel that, to be anyone, we have to possess this, to travel there, to dress this way, etc. Is it time to be counter-cultural?

Some things, certainly, need to be done, and some of those things can seem real burdens.  But what makes something seem a burden?  I think it is when we would prefer to be doing something else.  The remedy for that is to learn to be totally present to whatever it is we’re doing.  I remember the story of a woman who made beautiful tapestries.  When asked the secret of her skill, she replied: “When I weave, I weave”.  When the mind is totally focussed on the now, tasks are not burdens.  When I weave, I weave.  When I listen, I listen.  When I walk, I walk.  When I work (whatever it is I’m doing), I’m doing it.  I give it my whole attention.  If we slowed down enough to be present to what we are already doing at any single moment, our minds wouldn’t be constantly drawn away from that present moment by the desires of what we’re told, or what we tell ourselves, we should be doing.  And tasks would not be burdens.

All that calls for discipline, certainly, but a discipline that need not be stressful.  There is all the time in the world for what matters, for what God wants.  But we need to take time out to discover it and to convince ourselves.  The catch is that, to wake up to our busyness, we need time to step back from it – and we feel that there isn’t time to do that.  It’s not true.  We have all the time we need to take time out to get life in perspective, to reflect, to pray.  If we think we haven’t, who is calling the tune?

As Jesus says in today’s Gospel: Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest….  He didn’t say: Come to me and I will make you busy! On the contrary: Learn from me… My burden is light.

Homily 3 – 2011 

What makes burdens burdensome?  Some of you will remember the song from the 70s: He’s not heavy; he my brother.  My googling tells me that it was the motto of the famous American BoysTown, run by the charismatic Fr Flanagan and featured in a film from the 40s.  He’s not heavy; he’s my brother. I think we can all relate to what it’s saying.

What is it saying?  Whatever our answer, I think it’s getting at what Jesus meant in today’s Gospel, when he said: My yoke is easy and my burden is light.  That remark of Jesus followed the earlier one: I will give you rest.  Well, there’s rest – and there’s rest!  The rest Jesus was talking about is not simply “flaking out”; it’s not putting your feet up and pouring yourself a drink at the end of a long day.  His rest doesn’t rule out – in fact it clearly makes room for it.  But more importantly, it involves shouldering his yoke and learning from him – learning from what the Gospel inadequately calls his gentleness and humility.

We’ll leave that hanging in the air for a moment.  Later in the Gospel, not long before they killed him, Jesus had criticised the common human attitude [exemplified by the Jewish legal experts – scribes and Pharisees] to bind up burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders and do nothing to alleviate them.  The burdens imposed by the experts in Jewish law were simply the laws, many of them spelt out there in their Scriptures.

Can God’s laws be burdens? burdens that Jesus wants to set us free from??  I think that anything imposed on us from outside, from others, can feel a burden.  Even God’s law, imposed from outside, can feel a burden – a burden that we might accept because it’s unsafe not to do so, because we’re scared, but consequently often accepted reluctantly, begrudgingly, casuistically, and perhaps with a degree of hostility (which most of us will immediately deny!)

He’s not heavy – he’s my brother!  But, if he’s not my brother, and if I’m made to carry him, he’s heavy alright.  What makes the difference between heavy and not heavy?  One answer may be where the motivation comes from – from inside me; from he’s my brother; or from outside, because you make me; because you’re bigger; because you’ve got the sanctions?  The yoke of Jesus … He doesn’t impose it from outside.  He invites us to shoulder it with him – freely.

But why on earth would we?  Well, he suggests that we first learn from him.  That means that we hang around, that we get to know him, that we see what makes him tick.  We let ourselves be impressed by him, be drawn even to love him, and we learn to tease out the practicalities of choosing to love – we begin to see how things connect up.  What we learn is not a series of rules and regulations, of laws and commands, even of expectations.  We find ourselves wanting to love, to love consistently, and to accept vulnerability.  We do not choose passivity, (as gentleness and humility can, wrongly, seem to suggest.  What Jesus had in mind was non-violence and absence of all one-up-man-ship).  In freely shouldering his yoke, we deliberately choose the way of non-violent love, which is anything but passive.

As we do that, we slowly turn the world around.  That is what redemption means.  But we don’t do it alone, by ourselves.  It is his project.  It is his yoke.  He invites us to help him with it, to share it with him.  And, most importantly, he invites us to keep learning – to keep learning.  When you think of it, that is why we are here today at Mass.

Homily 4 - 2014

The rising star of our latest young tennis sensation swept across our sky for a day. It may well shine again. Rolf Harris, whose star remained high in the sky for a couple of generations, has become a man everyone now loves to hate. What is celebrity? What is fame? What is greatness?

I find it fascinating how in today’s First Reading the prophet Zechariah envisaged the Messiah-to-come. Your king comes to you. He is victorious, he is triumphant. No doubt, as everyone hoped and expected. But then he added, humble and riding on a donkey. That would be like the queen arriving for some state occasion riding her bicycle. A real send-up of the pretensions to grandeur of any de facto or would-be super-powers! He went on, He will banish chariots from Ephraim, and horses from Jerusalem. Chariots were the equivalents of today’s armoured tanks; horses of fighter jets. He will banish them … What hope then for victory, for triumph? If that is God’s coming Messiah, the hope for the nation, what is God about? What is God like? What is God?

Jesus seemed to think that Zechariah got it right. On PalmSunday he acted out the scene in a marvellous example of street-theatre. Zachariah's words certainly raise a question. What do we ultimately want? celebrity? reputation? good name? to be the envy of others? It sounds attractive, certainly, to many. Market research seems to indicate it is what people want. Jesus talks, instead, about rest, rest for our souls – perhaps, better, deep inner peace. You do not find that much hinted at in advertisements. Jesus was of the opinion that many, perhaps most, people felt overburdened, tired, exhausted, powerless, running around but getting nowhere, dissatisfied, restless, frightened to stop and to be still. 

He spoke of himself as gentle and humble of heart. What did he mean? Can we get behind the words? Gentle – respectful of people, sensitive to where they are at, no obsessions, no compulsions, not invading their space, no hint of aggression or bullying, so totally non-violent. Humble – peacefully in touch with himself, content to be simply who he was, shying clear of celebrity, not needing to impress or be impressed. He invited others to give it a try. Learn from me, he said.

But more than that. It was relationships that interested Jesus. He talked about his burden, the yoke across his shoulders. He did not identify it here; but essentially he saw it as his task, his inner responsibility, his burden, to engage with people and to love them without prior judgment; to show the world that such love is possible; and to encourage everyone to have a go at doing the same. Perhaps, part of the burden dimension of that responsibility was his sadness at encountering the reluctance of most people to seriously have a go and, as a result, to allow the rest they unconsciously seek to elude them.

He seemed to think that sophistication was the problem. Too many people need to see themselves as learned and clever. For them, consistent love as the solution to the world’s problems is naïve – childish, in fact. Not listening to Jesus, they never get to know the Father.

Anyhow, in his deep concern for us, Jesus invites us to shoulder his yoke with him, to learn from him by walking side by side with him. Loving is hard work and can have its cost; but in comparison with the all-too-common alternative, it is easy, it is light. His way is the way, the only way, to true inner peace and life-giving rest for our souls.

 Homily 5 - 2017

We Catholics have had a tough time over the past few years; and now Cardinal Pell has been summonsed to appear in Court in a couple of weeks to answer allegations of sexual abuse of minors. There is going to be more suffering; and it would not surprise me if, whatever the judgment reached, there will be people unhappy with the verdict.

I wonder what the sex abuse revelations of the last few years have done to the Church? Census figures show that there has been a steadily growing number of people who now claim to have no religion. And we ourselves are only too aware of our gradually diminishing congregations.

Whatever about others, though, what is happening to you? It would not surprise me that many of you, to different degrees, feel hurt, bewildered, betrayed. And yet, you are here! What does that say? I hope it does not reflect the effort to blot it all out and simply to carry on with “business as usual”. I say, “I hope not”, because, difficult and all as it is, I believe that the present crisis can present a wonderful opportunity for growth.

Perhaps what began today’s Gospel segment may be relevant to our need, “I bless you, Father, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children.” Matthew gives us no hint as to what “these things” might be. But they could well be the practical responses we adopt to deal with the ups and downs of life that might lead to the “rest for our souls” that Jesus would love to bring us. Whatever they are, for us to discover them, it seems that our usual reasoning is apparently no help. Being “learned and clever” will not get us there. To see them, we need to be like "children". But in what way “like children”?

A clue may lie in the capacity of young children to look at reality and to see, be absorbed by, what adults no longer see. Children can be transfixed by a snail, a spider, a flower, the moon, a tree, whatever. What do they see? They see the snail, the spider, the flower, the moon, the tree – and they can be captivated by wonder. Was Jesus saying that sophisticated adults need to recover the child’s capacity really to see what is real? I think so.

Remember Jesus’ invitation when he embarked on his mission – “Repent!” And he added, “The Kingdom of God is close at hand!” The trouble is that “Repent” is a deceptive translation. We hear it as a call to moral change. What Jesus was inviting us to do was to change – Yes! but to change first our way of seeing, of understanding, of making sense. Effectively, like the little child transfixed by the simple reality of the flower, Jesus was inviting us to look deeper, to look past our automatic, comfortable definitions, categories, critiques, fears and expectations, and to see what is there before our noses. There, in the ordinariness of our lives, we might see the signs of the presence and action of God, whom Jesus “chooses to reveal” as the God who simply loves – everyone. After all, “the Kingdom of God is close at hand” apparently. There we might see the God who, as St Paul wrote about in his Epistle to the Romans, “makes all things work together for the good of those who love him”. All things – even sin!

Might God be at work in the reality of this pedophilia crisis, making our sad history somehow work also to our good? Already, if we could recover the child’s eye, we might observe the beginnings of a purified Church, a humbler Church, a safer Church. We might notice in ourselves possibilities of a stronger, humbler and more hopeful faith, that enables us, from deep in the mire of this truly shameful chapter, to be both insightful child and responsible adult, saint and sinner, truly sorrowful yet irrepressibly hope-filled.


Homily 6 - 2020

Jesus was talking to “all you who labour and are over-burdened”. I don’t know who will be viewing this. Some of you may even have been put out of work — and that can be particularly distressing. Yet, despite that, I guess that most people yearn for more spare time, the “rest” Jesus guaranteed. 

Jesus suggested a way to avoid the constant pressure. “Come to me”, he said. Then he added, “Learn from me”. But who has time to fit that in? I don’t think it helped when he self-identified as “gentle and humble of heart”. That seems like inviting people to walk all over you. Fortunately, it need not mean that. For a start,“gentle” can be simply “non-aggressive” or “non-violent”; and non-aggressive involve no more than keeping free of the expectations of others — respecting them but not getting trapped in their obsessions. “Humble of heart” can be better understood as not needing to “be better than” or to “look better than” — “at home in your own skin”, secure enough to not get sucked into the rat-race. However, in today’s world, that can seem quite counter-cultural.

Jesus’ solution, “Come to me”, invites relationship, personal engagement — and, when real, it opens out to the possibility of realising you are truly loved, amazingly. Then you don’t need to perform. You don’t need to do what everyone else, in their insecurity, get enslaved by. That is the sort of thing you can “learn from” him if you let yourself get close. He teaches you to see the real.

How do you “come to him”? You would not be the first to have wondered. Ask someone whom you think might know. Or ask me! A hint: getting to know him well takes time —but don’t despair. There is always time to do what God in genuine love wants for you. That in itself is worth learning!