15th Sunday Year C - Homily 2

Homily 2 - 2013

Go and do the same yourself!  Go and treat people as a neighbour, as a person.  

What people? That was the lawyer’s concern: Who is my neighbour? Who are the persons to be treated like myself? And who are nuisances, threats, strangers, or enemies to be ignored, or opposed or somehow controlled? For Jesus the issue was academic, irrelevant: Simply, Go and do the same yourself! Relate as person to person, to whoever in some way engages with you, makes a claim on you, comes within your radar – announced or unannounced, invited or uninvited, planned or unplanned.  I find the whole thing quite challenging, after close on eighty years.

Do asylum seekers qualify as neighbours, as Jesus sees it?

Are you up with the latest with Pope Francis? The secular media have generally been fairly silent on the matter.  But just last week, he took a trip down to an Italian island named Lampedusa, only about a hundred kilometers from the North African coast, and a favourite landing spot for African refugees seeking asylum in Europe.  Over the last twenty-five years or so, about twenty thousand boat people have lost their lives at sea, trying to get there.  Lampedusa is a bit like our Christmas Island.

Before saying a word, the Pope cast a wreath of flowers out on to the waters as a sign of respect for the lives of those twenty thousand desperate people drowned at sea.  Then he celebrated an outdoor Mass there, on an altar built over a small overturned boat, using a chalice carved from the wood of one of those wrecked boats, and preached from a lectern that had a ship’s wheel mounted on the front of it.  He used the prayers from the Mass for the Forgiveness of Sins, not the sins of those who were drowned but for those who did nothing.

In his homily he asked, "Who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters of ours? All of us respond: 'It wasn't me.  I have nothing to do with it.  It was others, certainly not me.'  Today no one feels responsible for this," he said.  "We have lost a sense of fraternal responsibility" and are acting like those in the Gospel who saw the man who had been beaten, robbed and left on the road half dead, but they kept walking.  "Maybe we think, 'Oh, poor soul,' but we continue on our way," the pope said.

"The culture of well-being, which leads us to think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of others," Pope Francis said.   "Who among us has wept" for the immigrants, for the dangers they faced, and for the thousands who died at sea, the pope asked.  "The globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep."  "Let us ask the Lord for the grace to weep over our indifference, to weep over the cruelty in the world, in ourselves, and even in those who anonymously make socio-economic decisions that open the way to tragedies like this," Pope Francis said.  Explaining why he chose a penitential liturgy, the pope said, "We ask forgiveness for our indifference toward so many brothers and sisters" and for the ways in which well-being has "anesthetized our hearts."

How can I see the other as a person? A good starting point is with myself.  I think that I need to learn to be at peace with myself if I am ever to see another as a person and treat them as a person.  Can I accept myself as the person that I am, not the one I should be, am trying to be, would be if, may be one day ... but just as I am, now? I believe that I need to make peace with myself – far from perfect, but nevertheless with a real dignity, even loved, certainly by God, even by a few others – but needing to be loved by myself, first of all.  I believe that I need to be gentle with myself as I am now, to hold back that vague but ever present conditional acceptance of myself, if I am ever to learn to do the same to others.

Across my life, this has turned out to be a surprisingly big and on-going task.  But somehow I want to learn how to Go and do likewise.