8th Sunday Year C - Homily 1

Homily 1 - 2019

Jesus talked about our being expert in observing the minimal splinter in our brother’s eye but being unable even to see the plank in our own eye. He was quite insistent that we take that plank out. The problem is, how do we begin to observe what we can’t see, what has become second nature to us? There are many possible answers to that, but one common one stems from the fact that we are often run more by our feelings than we realise. We do well to alert ourselves to them. The current situation regarding Cardinal George Pell is a case in point. Most people feel very strongly about what has so far occurred. Feelings are running high – of both his supporters and of his opponents. I want to comment just a little about this.

Yesterday I had lunch with a few friends of mine, whose chaplain I was when they were key leaders in the YCW movement back in the 60s. Two of them were discussing the recent court case. One was quite prepared to accept the outcome; another was condemning it strongly. In both of them, feelings were running high – with the result that neither was listening to the other, but each was simply expressing more definitively and loudly what he believed and why.

When feelings are strong, reasons tend to count less. What can be important in that case is quietly to ask ourselves what we want to be the outcome, and why we want it. What we want can influence more than we realise what arguments we listen to and the importance we give to them. It might help all of us now quietly to stop for a moment and ask ourselves. What outcome did I want? And why did I want it? And has my wanting influenced the arguments I take notice of and the ones I simply discount?

What matters with our feelings is that we notice them. Once we notice them and admit them to ourselves, they are less likely to influence inappropriately the conclusions we adopt. We are able to reason more clearly. However, it can be difficult to notice our feelings. The common wisdom it that we men find it harder than women to be in touch with what we feel. In that case, we need to try harder.

It helps to realise that, often contrary to what many of us were told as children, feelings of themselves have no morality. They are neither good nor bad. "Should’s" and "shouldn’ts" do not apply to feelings. It is actions and deliberate attitudes that come under the heading of morality and can be good or bad.

A few years ago, about the time when the Royal Commission began, I was at an information meeting in another town where parishioners were opening up the whole issue of clerical sexual abuse. A lovely older woman stood up and confessed to feeling very confused and bewildered. She felt guilty because she could not help feeling angry at the brothers and priests who, she was coming to learn, had abused young children. She felt that somehow it was wrong and disloyal for her to feel angry.

Though actions flowing from anger can be out of order, even vicious, the feeling of anger is neither morally bad nor good. We feel anger when we have in some way been hurt. It is as simple as that. Like all feelings, anger is a potent source of energy, and that energy can be used to destroy or to change things for the better. It can certainly be a precious resource. Our problem may well have been that we were not angry enough with the offenders and the bishops and superiors who covered up.

There is so much more that could be said. If you feel confused or would simply like to talk things over further, I know that Father Paddy, Father Doan and myself are quite ready to help to the best of our ability.