26th Sunday Year C - Homily 5


Homily 5 - 2019

What if we see the characters of today’s story referring not to individuals but to groups of people. Instead of a “rich man”, let us say the citizens of Hamilton or even Australia? What if we saw “Lazarus” as the homeless people in Hamilton, or the people of Kiribati whose island is being slowly but relentlessly flooded by the rising waters of the Pacific Ocean as the world’s climate continues to change. What if “Father Abraham” were really the upsetting voice of our own conscience?

Would we hear our conscience saying to us, “Remember that during your life good things came your way, just as bad things came the way of [the Hamilton homeless or the coastal dwellers of Kiribati]. Now they are being comforted here while you are in agony”? Could we argue, “I did nothing wrong to them. In fact, I did not do anything at all”? And might our conscience say, “Too bad! No point in arguing! If you don’t “listen to Moses or to the prophets, you won’t be convinced even if someone” [the one who pointedly said, and meant, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’] “should rise from the dead” – or even if Pope Francis should continue calling everyone urgently to ecological and environmental conversion at every appropriate opportunity.

Can we be held morally responsible for things we do not do individually? The people of Germany were held responsible for the things that happened under the Nazis. Might “Father Abraham” hold us responsible for the pathetic response that our politicians have made to the crisis of Global Warming? Could the politicians argue that they just do what their constituents want, or don’t want?

The Catechism I learnt as a child many years ago said nothing about such responsibilities. But I grew up after I left school, and my conscience was meant to grow up with me. Has it? Or do I face life as an adult still with the conscience of a child? Have we priests invited you, helped you, to enlighten and fine-tune your consciences, and to trust them, as you continue to mature across life? Indeed, have we priests enlightened our own consciences?

We are not used to considering the extent to which we as individuals are morally complicit in the decisions of the communities to which we belong. Should we take dissent seriously when we disagree with the morality of certain public policies? We are not used to facing the consequences of collective moral responsibility.

Global Warming is, at the name says, a global phenomenon. It is a highly destructive problem. And there is limited time in which to reverse its current direction. The problem is urgent. Climate change denial is not simply a purely political option anymore. To deny the science is to risk being complicit in the world’s and our own extinction. That is mind-blowing.

Individuals can do lots of things to lesson their carbon footprint on the atmosphere. My conscience tells me that I have a moral responsibility to do what I can. Here we face a problem. We do not see the effect of our individual actions. And the problem is too big to be solved by individual actions alone. Practical efforts to avert disaster will ultimately be effective only when done collectively.

We see little from politicians at the national or international levels. Meanwhile the situation continues inexorably to worsen. The risk is that our anxiety becomes so debilitating that it leads to a sense of resignation —the struggle seems futile. We need to learn how to acknowledge the urgency of the crisis without becoming overwhelmed by it. Crucially, without faith, ethics can lack effective motivation. But such faith needs to mature well beyond primary school level.

We can keep encouraging each other. The shot in the arm from seeing crowds of people sharing our concerns can be invaluable. Personally I was quite heartened to see so many young people attending the School Strike a week ago – they are the ones whose personal future will be most sorely affected.