3rd Sunday Lent C - Homily 3

Homily 3 - 2013

Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.  Unless we repent, we will all likewise perish. Bringing it even nearer to home: Unless I repent, I shall likewise perish.  Do I believe that? Or is Jesus talking to others? Can I get to a stage where I no longer need to repent? where I have changed enough? or where, although I can still improve, I have done enough, at least to avoid perishing?

From what I know of the Gospels, what concerns me is that the ones who thought they were going well were precisely the ones that Jesus thought weren't.  The Pharisees, for example, tried really hard to be good – harder than most others.  By and large, they had got their act together – certainly they thought they had.  They honestly could not see their sin.  What makes me think I am different?

I have been a priest for fifty-five years.  It is sort of "in my bones", and I am glad to be.  Yet, at the same time, belonging to that clerical sub-culture has a deep effect on me and on the way I see things and on what I take for granted.

When the clerical abuse exposure first broke, some time in the late 80s or early 90s, my instinctive concern was not the victims.  Instinctively, I felt defensive of the Church.  I still react a bit that way in light of some of the generalisations made by the media.  But my desire to fine-tune the details can be a distraction from the appalling harm done to the victims – a concern that has not yet become so instinctive.  I am fortunate to live in a presbytery where the parish priest has had for a very long time a highly sensitive concern for people, and particularly for victims of abuse.  I have learnt so much from him.

What else does the clerical sub-culture blind me to? I am lucky also to live in a parish where the pastoral associate has no problem calling me to order, at times, for the way I can speak about, or ignore, women.  We priests as a whole do not call each other to accountability.  And Canon Law gives parish priests a fair degree of independence - that is not always healthy.

Where does that leave you? Might you have blind-spots of which you are blithely unaware? Just belonging to Australian society can blind us and de-sensitise us to certain values.  We take a lot for granted.  We don't lose too much sleep now about abortion.  We can be insensitive to the complex issues and deeper motivations associated with aboriginal reconciliation or treatment of asylum seekers.  We have our scapegoats – who relieve us of the need to examine critically our own conduct.  And the list goes on.

Jesus warns us that without conversion, we perish.  That does not mean that God's patience can eventually run out.  God cannot stop loving unconditionally.  But eternal salvation involves a two-way relationship, and needs our response of love.  Without our love, there is no relationship.  The same goes for peace and fulfillment this side of the grave.  Until we deliberately opt to follow Jesus' way of non-selective, determined and non-violent love, our world will remain as it has always been; and the Kingdom of God will continue to elude us.

We began our celebration this morning by quietly calling on Christ for mercy.  We have listened to his word, seeking to understand it and its implications.  In a few moments we shall remember his death.  We accept our own complicity in that death.  But his death has touched us.  We have chosen to be here.  We could be somewhere else, if we had chosen differently.  We come trusting in resurrection, seeking new life, wanting to see and wanting to change.  We insist on proclaiming his death until he comes in glory.