3rd Sunday Year C - Homily 3

 Homily 3 - 2013

Today's Gospel talks about the Lord's Year of Favour.  The Australian bishops have designated this year a Year of Grace.  Providentially, perhaps, it is also the Year of the Royal Commission.  Jesus spoke of the Lord's Year of Favour in terms of liberty and freedom, of new sight and of Good News to the destitute and oppressed.  Is his message relevant in any way to us as Church, as Catholics, in the year 2013?

I suppose that until the sexual abuse crisis scuttled our complacency, the Church in Australia had had clout.  We couldn't always get our own way – but we were seen, perhaps even feared, by some, as powerful, if not always persuasive.  We could sometimes influence legislation.

Nationally, we have a highly respected Education system and first-class schools – largely funded through close cooperation with Government.  We have a very effective social welfare outreach through Centrecare, St Vincent de Paul and other smaller but well-informed justice-oriented groups and organisations – some of them assisted by Government funding.  We run great hospitals, and the nation would be in trouble without them.  Generally we were seen – and certainly tried to be seen – as beacons of integrity.  We are also seen as wealthy - even if we don't feel that way in our parishes.

What kind of Church does Jesus want us to be? That's a hard one to answer; and a quick, arresting sound-bite would hardly do justice to the question.

With all our efficiency, our numbers at Church have been declining; priests and religious are ageing [with wonderful exceptions]; people aren't flocking to join us; and our ability to persuade the general population, and perhaps particularly youth, on matters that we see as morally important may be lessening.

That, however, is not the story on the world stage.  The Church is vitally alive and growing, paradoxically, in many parts of the world precisely where it is not wealthy, powerful and officially respected – indeed, where it is sometimes even persecuted.  The pattern is not consistent, but it at least raises questions.

I wonder how we shall come out at the other end of the Royal Commission.  Perhaps, power and wealth and prestige are not bad in themselves.  But they can be dangerous, tempting us to self-congratulation, complacency and blindness.

Jesus' call to conversion is constant.  The conversion he had in mind was not "try harder" (Pharisees are excellent at that), but "see differently".  How on earth do we do that? How on earth does the Church do that?

We may need others to show us – unexpected others, unlikely others, unwanted others.  We may need a prophet or two from within our own ranks.  But we need to be open; we need to be listening.

Jesus saw himself as sent to help the blind to see – to see what to him is obvious but what to us is not so   … to set people free – free from our familiar mind-sets and our comfortable, quiet satisfaction with ourselves, as individuals and as Church.  But we need to listen to Jesus, to be open to him challenging us and offering us the freedom that we don't realise we need.  We need to listen as individuals, but equally importantly we need to do it together, even in the parish.  St Paul pointed out clearly in tonight's Second Reading: Together we are the Body of Christ.

Might the Royal Commission help us? It could well do so.  But I don't think it will unless we are open to be challenged and surprised, and wanting to be converted.

At every Eucharist we remember the death of Jesus.  Conversion has its price.  We also celebrate his resurrection.  It is that that empowers us to be people of hope.