16th Sunday Year A - Homily 2

Homily 2 – 2008 

Of all the images of the World Youth Day celebrations on television so far, one that stays with me is of a group of young people dancing in the streets in Sydney – dancing joyfully.  Why it stays with me, I think, is because it expresses how I would like to be as a disciple of Jesus.  I don’t dance enough for joy.  The ones I watched were young, and, I presume, were innocent … and, perhaps, to dance for joy was not difficult for them.  I hope it wasn’t; and I hope they’ll keep it up.

The media coverage over the past few days has, unfortunately, been ambivalent.  Many have felt hurt by its parading before the gaze of the world the Church’s inadequate response to the paedophilia crisis.  And yet, unfortunately, the Church’s sin is part of its reality.  We deny it at our peril.

Confronted with paedophilia, the Church, too often, has gone into damage control, not to defend the victim, but to defend its own good name.  Over the years, we have even tended to see victims of paedophile priests who have sought justice as threats.  We have resented them, and the publicity they caused.  Slowly we’re learning - learning to listen to the pain of the victims, learning to believe them, to feel their confusion, their indignation and their anger.

Some people have left the Church because of it, shocked and scandalised.  But why leave?  Where can you go?  Go and join the Pharisees, who would not be seen dead, eating with sinners?  unlike Jesus!  We belong to a Church of sinners.  It is where we can be real, and be at home, at the same time.  Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed!  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could really recognise and admit our sin? not being blasé about it, or casual, but deeply and genuinely broken-hearted.

The young people at World Youth Day could dance without inhibition because they still are young and innocent.  Their faith will need to mature across life, and that process of maturing will lead them to recognise the self-absorption that is endemic to everyone, the instinctive self-interest lurking in our depths, that so easily ignores or compromises the human dignity of others.  For my own part, older, certainly, and wiser, I hope, than the youth dancing in Sydney, I want, still, to dance – to dance, even with a broken heart – especially with a broken heart – because I hope, because I know God loves, because I know that God’s love, if only I would believe it, can slowly free us from our sin, layer by ever-deeper layer.

Somehow, today’s Gospel shaped these reflections.  I think that one thing the parable is saying is that sin, along with grace, are together our present experience – and we aren’t always good at telling the difference between the two – but we have the assurance that grace will prevail and evil be uprooted at harvest time.  In the meantime, with eyes wide open and with breaking hearts, we hear God’s invitation to the dance.  And thank you to the young people for their innocent enthusiasm and their contagious joyfulness.