12th Sunday Year B

Commentary on Mark 4:35-41

Homily 1 - 2006

I don’t think that Mark was all that concerned about that storm on the Lake that we just read about. He was interested in the storm that he and the members of his own small Christian community were going through as they faced misunderstanding, hostility and even persecution.

As we listen to the story today, I suspect that we’re not too concerned either about that original storm on the lake or the stormy times confronting Mark’s community. What do concern us are the storms that we as Church, and as individual disciples, are facing today.

Of recent years we have been made painfully aware of our own shortcomings.  Many of us older ones belonged to a Church that ‘sort of’ wasn’t built to manage a world and a culture that suddenly changed some time back. But we thought that it wasn’t bad. We were at home with authority, with clear cut answers, with all marching together, in step, to the same familiar tune. A bit of a caricature, but close enough.

And then came the Vietnam War, birth control issues, material prosperity, and with them, a radical questioning of authority, a focus on individualism, and the spread of self-interested consumerism. Priests started leaving the priesthood. Religious vocations dried up. And people stopped coming to Mass or belonging in any significant way. Not the whole story – but certainly one aspect of it. On top of all that change came the revelation that some priests had been paedophiles, and that some in authority, partly through ignorance and partly through shame or pride or a misguided sense of responsibility, had tried to keep it “in house”, to create as little stir as possible, and generally to “cover up”. Trust came under fire.

We have known shock, confusion, hurt, anger, disillusionment; and from others around us misunderstanding and sometimes ridicule. Some have blamed the messenger; some have gone underground, battened down the hatches, and hoped it would all go away. The storm we have encountered has been due partly to our own sin and partly to the sin of the world we have been sent to. Jesus’ calming of the storm seemed to have been a concession to the shortage of faith of the disciples.

Is the storm better for those with strong faith? A good question - but perhaps an academic question. And I sometimes ask myself whether the Church would be better as a Church of the perfect or a Church of sinners.....The ‘perfect’ in bulk are likely to be Pharisees. But then, sin is always bad news, too.  Perhaps we don’t have much say in all that. We are where we are, we are what we are, and we get on with the job from there.

What I find fascinating is that you’re here today - and so am I. We have all had to grow up. We have had to learn to live as adults in an adult Church. We have had to make our own inner journey, and to face the big questions that no one else could answer for us: Where do I stand? What do I really believe? What makes me tick?

Whatever about others – and we can’t read the hearts of others – we have faced the need to grapple with love and forgiveness, with trying to live with integrity in an imperfect world and an imperfect Church where we are all sinners.

We are still a work in progress, stumbling along, but we ‘sort of’ know where we’re heading - and we are learning to trust, not ourselves but God. At times Jesus seems asleep. But, asleep or not, he’s Jesus and he’s there; and we have found that that, really, is all that matters.

Homily 2 - 2009

What is going on in the Church? Many people we know to be Catholics no longer join us to celebrate Eucharist. Your own children, perhaps, no longer view the Church with the same interest and commitment that you have. It hurts.  Younger people show little interest in becoming priests; and those of us still around are growing older, and fewer, and looking after bigger areas and more communities, with less time and energy to give to each.We're confronted with the relentless exposure of past sexual abuse, and the painfully inadequate response to it by Church leaders.What's going on? What sense can we make of it?  Do we simply hope that things will change? that we can go back to how things were fifty years ago?

I think that Mark wrote up today's Gospel incident in the way he did to throw light precisely on the kinds of worries confronting us today. In lots of ways, thing haven't changed all that much - the Church has always done it tough.  The community that Mark wrote his Gospel for, way back then, was threatening to break up – it was overwhelmed by persecution and internal divisions. Across history, the Church has pretty constantly been in the middle of storms. Individual storms blow themselves out in time; though new storms blow up. And, often enough, they can be quite destructive. But life goes on.

Was there ever a golden age in the Church? You only need to know a little bit of history to answer that. To experience storms is of the nature of the Church on mission. We wouldn't be sent on mission to our world if all in our world were wonderful. There is sin abroad in our world, and in our Church, and in us. But that is not the whole story. The Spirit of God is also at work in our world, in our Church, and in us as well.

It is of the nature of storms that they are scary. When you are in the middle of a storm,you're in the middle of a storm. To know that storms are to be expected doesn't make being in the middle of one any less scary.  Does Mark give any clues as to how we might react in stormy weather? He showed the disciples panic-ing and crying out: Master, do you not care? We're going down! - Hardly a surprising reaction, given that the waves were breaking into the boat so that it was almost swamped. But Jesus was annoyed at their reaction: Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith? How did he expect them to react? to let him sleep on regardless? and to let the boat get completely swamped? It seems he wanted them to trust him completely - either to do something (which in fact he did, though he wasn't pleased about it), or to do nothing, and trust that all would somehow be well.

What might today's story tell us? I think that it says simply: Whatever is going on, don't panic; do what you can - and trust.He is with us. It is his Church, not ours. We do what we can - and then we trust. We do what we can - not what we can't! We do what we can: we remain faithful; and we accept that we can't make others do what we would want them to do, so we don't lose sleep over that.  And, in the midst of it all, we feel our pain; we feel our confusion and our uncertainty, but we retain our composure. We even learn to rejoice when things don't go our way -because our joy is not a reaction to what is going on around us, but wells up from deep within, where our loving God is present and at work in us.  After all, who is this, who so often seems to be asleep while our Church struggles onward? 

 Homily 3 - 2015

St Mark did not write history for history’s sake. He wrote a gospel, and his reason for writing it was to stimulate people’s faith. The members of Mark’s little Christian community were facing persecution. They were not popular. They felt isolated and under enormous pressure. So Mark made the most of his story to show a Jesus who, with a small group of disciples, was living with them through a terrifying situation and somehow was asleep – unflapped and unflappable.  In fact, he showed a Jesus who seemed to be annoyed that they woke him up. However, for the sake of the terrified group, Mark had Jesus rebuke the apparently cyclonic wind and calm the turbulent seas. Given the unscientific mindset of the time, people, and probably Jesus himself, believed that events beyond human control were under the control of supernatural spirits, whether demons or angels. “He rebuked the wind!”

What was Mark’s point in including the story in his Gospel and telling it the way he did? His concern was his readers, whose faith was under enormous pressure. They were the ones experiencing the storm. And the object of their faith, Jesus, seemed to be powerless, or unaware, or uncaring. As far as Mark was concerned, it was to this wavering community that Jesus was saying, “Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith?” Mark’s point seemed to have been: though they were under enormous pressure, Jesus was not unaware. Jesus was not uncaring. Jesus was not powerless. Why then did he seem to do nothing for them? Mark pointed the finger not at Jesus but at them. What was at stake was their faith – or lack of it. What sort of answer was that?

Let’s move forward to our own time. The Church is in turmoil, and people are feeling the pain deeply. The disclosures of the Royal Commission are humbling for us – though the pain for victims and their families and friends has been around for a long time. For some, the revelations of clergy abuse have stirred up memories of abuse from other sources as well.  All this has happened for faithful people already bewildered by the constant experience of emptying churches, fewer priests and religious, and, for many, the pain of seeing their children no longer sharing the faith that has meant so much to them.

Is Jesus asleep? Does he not care? Is he powerless? Indeed, is he powerless? Does faith give us an answer? I believe in a God who is love, and who, in that love, enables and calls us to love. I believe that love requires freedom. So I believe that God does not coerce people, even to refrain from sin and all the consequent hurt and destruction that flow from sin. I believe that in love for us, out of respect for us, God surrenders all power to coerce. I hesitate to say that God is powerless. And this is where faith also comes in. I believe that, even in the midst of turmoil, God is present, alert and caring, calling and enabling. God does not prevent our being hurt. Jesus told us to expect it. Jesus even went so far as to tell us to rejoice, even “to dance for joy, when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name as criminal, on account of the Son of Man”. Our experience confirms that, through handling crises well enough, we become more deeply human.

Faith also enables us to see others differently. We can learn to see goodness in others, the telltale indication of the presence there of God, even where we previously did not expect it. How often do you see that goodness in your children? But to see God, our faith needs to grow beyond rules and regulations, rewards and punishments. It needs, instead, to grapple with the mystery of unconditional love and creatively to engage with justice.


Homily 4 - 2018

For the past week or so the St Vinnies have had a poster in the church porch. It haunts me. It shows a distraught woman with a young child in her arms. The caption reads: “She should not have to choose between violence at home or sleeping on the street”.

This weekend also marks the beginning of International Refugee Week, just as another refugee dies in off-shore detention. I remember fifty years ago being actively involved in reaching out to refugees through the ecumenical organization, Austcare [which was short for Australians Care for Refugees]. It was the time when the refugee question first came on the radar and, not just the churches, but the whole Australian population needed to be sensitized and encouraged to respond practically to the challenge they presented. I believe that we really did make an impression. But of late, a tired callousness seems to have taken over, encouraged by disastrous political leadership and an abysmal absence of true statesmanship. This has generated a sense of powerlessness across much of the population, that fits too well with a growing individualism and selfishness. I try to work myself out. My own energy levels have noticeably dropped.

Pope Francis mourns the loss of people’s ability to weep. I gather that it is when children reach grades five or six at primary school that teachers concentrate on helping them consciously and deliberately to learn how to stand in the shoes of another, and to practice seeing things from a different perspective.

What can we do? We cannot do everything. Many of you can feel flat out meeting the seemingly endless calls made on your time and your resources. It is important for us responsibly to sort out our conflicting priorities as best we can. Some things we can do without too much fuss. We can sign appropriate online petitions to politicians and others. We may be able to contribute financially to support the work of organisations such as the St Vincent de Paul Society who reach out particularly to people in need locally. The Jesuit Refugee Service does admirable work, nationally and internationally, supporting refugees financially and personally, representing them legally and lobbying for just and compassionate political responses.

When we choose to support financially, I think it is important for us to give enough to ensure that we feel the continuing need to respond. Giving to no longer feel guilty usually means giving too little – particularly when we judge there are real needs to be met.

More significantly, but not possible for all, is to join with others and to work together. Join the St Vincent de Paul Society; join the local branch of Rural Australians for Refugees. The contribution simply of our own wisdom can be particularly constructive, especially when it is important to nourish an ongoing sense of anger at obvious injustices. However, anger easily degrades into disrespect and violence. People need to be encouraged and to learn how to channel their anger constructively and to work against injustice actively but non-violently.

I like today’s parables. They both reassure us that God’s energy is always on tap and at work: “The Kingdom of God is like …”. That energy, the world’s energy, is essentially relational, instinctively loving. Since we all are made in the image of God, the energies of mutual respect and responsibility are already in our DNA. However, experience only too constantly reminds us that that original energy has been overlaid by generations of indifference and hostility. We need consciously and frequently to touch into those deeper sources of positive energy in order to bring them to the surface. We need, like Mary, to treasure experience and to ponder it in our hearts. We need time to pray and to reflect.