26th Sunday Year C

See Commentary on Luke 16:19-31 in Luke 16:19-29

Homily 1 - 2007

There are too many Lazaruses. We see them daily on our TV news coverages. There are too many. they confront us with our impotence. What can we do? It’s their leaders; it’s their enemies; it’s just bad luck!

To preserve our peace of mind, we learn to switch off – perhaps even feel resentful because they make us at times feel awkwardly guilty. So we see them at one level, and we don’t see them at another. Not unlike the rich man in today’s Gospel parable.

The root problem is one of enough – but enough of what? We are confronted by the fact that for the millions who have less than enough, there are even more who have more than enough – that’s most of us in the Western world. We have become addicted to more, more… and we will not give it up, will not even slow it up.

Yet, for all our “more than enough”, as a society we do not have enough happiness, inner peace, wisdom, or serenity. Precisely because we do not have enough of these inner resources, we have become addicted to the panic-driven search – for more powerful cars, for more food than is healthy, for bigger homes.

I think that, if we in the West had enough inner peace, self-knowledge and serene self-acceptance, there could be enough food, water, shelter, work and security for everyone in our world. I don’t think that there will ever be enough basics for all until we in the West learn to experience and appreciate the genuine human values – but for that to happen, we have to be converted, (or even half-converted).

And conversion involves learning to love, which in turn involves waking up to our own self-obsession, and gradually letting go of it. Perhaps, what the rich man in today’s parable needed most of all was to find enough inner peace, serenity and wisdom. Only then would he really have seen Lazarus at his door.

I remember about 35 years ago, a time when I had become very involved in issues of Global poverty. (Some of you might remember the early inter-Church cooperative project: Action for World Development.) In the face of my sharpening and better-informed awareness of the totally unacceptable poverty and injustice around the world, and the urgent need to become effectively involved, I began to question the relevance and effectiveness of priesthood.

Fortunately, the insight came that I have talked about this evening/morning: There will always be injustice and rampant greed in the world until people’s empty hearts are filled. Jesus was not content to heal the sick and to include the marginalised. He called them, and everyone else, to radical conversion. I made then the deliberate choice to keep with priesthood, because it gave me privileged access to people’s minds and hearts – and I am glad that I did.

Only as we in the West are healed of our addictions; only as the emptiness in our hearts is filled; only as we identify in ourselves our deepest needs will we have the freedom to share with others the resources that, at the moment, we compulsively grasp for ourselves.

Today, in the Australian Church, is our annual Social Justice Sunday. As has been theircustom, the Australian Bishops have prepared a booklet for our reflection and action. They have called it: Who is my Neighbour? Australia’s Role as a Global Citizen. With the talk of elections in the air, it is a timely contribution to broader debate. It is a helpful, easy to read, but challenging reflection.

Homily 2 - 2010

Today’s story haunts me. It challenges me. On the world stage, I am the rich man. In the eyes of 2/3 no the world’s population, I am unimaginably rich.

The rich man in the story did nothing – with Lazarus there at his doorstep, every day. Why did he do nothing? We don’t know – though we might hazard a guess. But I can ask myself: How has the current world situation affected my comfortable life-style?

I know something of the plight of the poor. My head does not retain the figures – but I have a general grasp of the situation. I can’t do everything. I can’t solve the problems – they’re complex; they’re beyond me. I do some things. I contribute, through Caritas, to urgent tragedies and to on-going developmental projects.

What does that do to me? Does it quieten my conscience? - let me off the hook? Does it lead me to look at myself? With my limited energies, my limited opportunities, my other responsibilities, does it call to my deeper self? to my sense of solidarity? to mycapacity for compassion?

Where am I … Who am I … in this sin-scarred, oppressive world in which we live? Where is my heart? Where are my priorities? Personal comfort?“Don’t disturb! I’ve got enough on my plate!” or Content with enough … basically other-directed … sufficiently sensitive, and vulnerable to be disturbed, and to re-adjust?

When I die, I have no doubt that God is love, infinite love – but what about me when my life on earth stops short and my fundamental life-orientation snaps shut into eternity? Shall I face into eternity a loving person, energised by love, practised in love? Or shall I still be absorbed in my own narrow self-interests, cynical,frightened of love, indifferent to the needs of the world?

Today marks our Church’s Social Justice Sunday. The Bishops’ Committee has prepared a great statement that is available in the Church foyer. This year, it is not focussed on the world scene or on specific national or local questions – but on the deeper, more pervasive issue of violence.

It is important to name it, to call violence for what it is – whatever about the media, the culture – whether it glorifies it, exploits it or ignores it. Violence, in whatever form it takes, and wherever it happens, is the opposite of, the absence of, love.

Even the rich man’s doing nothing was violence. I think that the spontaneous hostility that lurks just under the surface in all of us is the practical shape of original sin. It disfigures our world. And it is insidious because so often we do not recognise it.

I can’t change others – but I can seek to change myself (or let God change me) and, perhaps, in that way, I can contribute to changing society. But how? How do we become aware of our spontaneous hostility? (In the story that Jesus told, the rich man probably didn’t even see Lazarus after a while – he had sort of merged into the scenery.) And, when we do notice our hostility, how do we break out of it?

My own response has been to pursue the inner journey – the inner journey of self-knowledge through prayer, through meditation, through trying to keep attuned to the voice of Jesus as I hear it in the Gospels, and through trying to listen to my conscience, I try to keep informed and stimulated and challenged by reading. I try to keep an open mind, and to do what I can – what I judge appropriate – to meet some needs of some people. I could be better. But I am not sure what else to do. The challenge of Jesus’ story still persists.

Homily 3 - 2013

 This Sunday is Social Justice Sunday.  As is their custom, the Australian bishops have published their annual Social Justice Statement.  This year, taking its lead from today’s Gospel, the Statement addresses the issue of world poverty.  The Statement is timely, in light of the fact that, thirteen years ago, when we marked the beginning of the third millennium, just under two hundred nations agreed to what they called Millennium Development Goals.  The first of those goals was to eliminate the worst of the world’s poverty by the year 2015.  Two years to go!  They agreed that by devoting 0.7% of their annual GDP to world development, they could meet the world’s major needs.  Australia has never mustered the political will to meet that undertaking.

The Statement spells out clearly and simply the statistical details.  It alerts us to the need to continue to influence public opinion so that, as a nation, we accept our obligations as responsible and influential members of the global community.  As Pope Francis has been reminding us lately, changes of attitude need to precede structural changes.  What we all need is a radical conversion of heart.  

To begin with, do we Christians even really believe that Jesus has anything truly useful and relevant to say to political realities?  Today’s Gospel passage is a case in point.  It is a quaint story with its talk of the bosom of Abraham, Hades, and an unbridgeable gulf separating the two.  Can we look beyond its quaintness to suspect what it really might be suggesting?  What might be the unbridgeable gulf separating the rich man and the poor man?  

Perhaps, it is a question of mindset. Of himself, the poor man had nothing to rely on.  He needed others.  He had to learn to accept that he could not live without others.  His only hope, right throughout his life, was mercy.  To the rich man, mercy was totally irrelevant.  He did not need it.  He was totally self-sufficient.  It just did not figure in his mental make-up.  Though the story does not say so explicitly, he probably saw himself as a self-made man and convinced himself that he deserved all he had.  Two diametrically opposed attitudes, setting up an unbridgeable gulf.

The poor man’s learning to rely solely on the mercy of others stood him well for the Kingdom experience.  Relying on the mercy of God would have come easily, instinctively.  The rich man’s proud self-sufficiency and independence closed his heart to the only God there is, the God who is only, totally, mercy.  

Interestingly, the rich man thought that the witness of someone risen from the dead would be sufficient to lead his brothers to change.  How do you see the risen Christ?  A triumphant conqueror – not all that different, when you come to think of it, from the kind of company probably kept by the powerful rich man?  Yet, when the Gospels picture the risen Christ, it is as the one still bearing the nail holes in his hands, his  feet and his side.  The risen Christ is the risen victim, the risen crucified and rejected one.

All this says to me, “Watch out, John!”  What am I on about?  Becoming perfect, self-sufficient, independent, trying to deserve eternal life?  Or is my focus learning my need for mercy, learning to see and to accept my inherent neediness, letting go my drive to deserve, or to build up some non-existent bank account of merits, etc.?  And if it is this, who might help me honestly adopt that attitude?

Let us get back to the issue that we started with – Australia’s place and responsibilities in the contemporary global world.  Do we need to learn that we do not deserve the wealth we have as a nation, and the natural resources concentrated in our part of the world?  Would it help us to learn solidarity, not primarily with the powerful, but with those most in need?  Through that genuine solidarity with those poorer than ourselves, could we learn to become, and enjoy being, more human?  Can they help us to learn to look at life through the eyes of Christ, through the eyes of the victim of the world’s violence?  Things can look different depending  on where we stand, and on whether we are looking up or looking down.

Is the way to happiness the way of humble openness to those most in need? and genuine solidarity with them?  And if so, where can I begin, right here, right now?

Homily 4 - 2016

There are more kinds of wealth, of well-off-ness, than monetary wealth – and I score high in all categories. I am psychologically well-off: I have friends, family, security. I am intellectually well-off: I was taught to read and write. I can access libraries, bookshops, the internet. I am physically well-off: I am covered by Medicare; I have health insurance; and there are not too many contagious diseases I am likely to fall foul of around Hamilton. I am socially well-off: I enjoy freedom. War and fighting are a long way away. I have spiritual wealth: I have known God’s love since I was a little child. I have had great teachers over my life, even great popes. And from a monetary point of view, in comparison with most of the world’s population, I am rich. I certainly know I have “enough”.

So the problem of the rich man in the story could well be my problem. What was his problem? We might assume that he was unjust, or that he was unkind to Lazarus – but not a word is said about that in the story, if he was. The story seems to see his problem as  something other than that. It tells us that ‘Lazarus lay at his gate’. So his property had a gate, which meant it had a wall or a fence, too. After he died, that wall had become ‘a great gulf that could not be crossed’ from either side. The rich man had built the wall himself. Presumably, the great gulf was also his construction, a natural improvement, as it were, of the wall.

The wall, or the uncrossable gulf, was simply the physical expression of the rich man’s psychological choice to focus his world around himself and his needs. It protected his ‘Comfort Zone’. The trouble with comfort zones is that, while they seem comfortable, there is a price. To enjoy them, we have to be prepared to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world that might disturb us. Another word for the wall, the uncrossable gulf, could equally be ‘Sovereign Borders’. The problem with them, as Pope Francis said quite early on in his time as pope, is that they tend to deaden our capacity to weep. We deaden ourselves to reality, to the world as it is, and to the suffering of people whom we refuse to see as our sisters and brothers. We deaden ourselves. Our human horizons contract. We forget how to live. Our would-be ‘Shangri La’ seems, however, to be breaking down; and drugs and distractions, bread and circuses, or sheer boredom and existential discontent, are all we have to fill the gap.

Out of profound respect for our human dignity and freedom, God does not violently break down the walls we build so effectively around us. God does not violently invade our personal sovereign borders. They can be dismantled only from the inside. But there is a price. At least there seems to be, because we rarely show much interest in doing so.

But God never gives up. In the story Abraham was of the opinion that, ‘They will not be convinced, even is someone would rise from the dead’. But Abraham did not know Jesus. Jesus is not just anyone, and his death was not just any other violent death at the hands of wall builders. Jesus was a victim who went voluntarily to his death from his conviction of the eventual power of love. He loved even his murderers, and others complicit to their varying degrees in his lonely death. This victim chose to forgive those who killed him.

If we can somehow break through the anaesthetising power of familiarity, perhaps we can see his way, hear his invitation, and find life to the full. He did say we find life by losing life – which is a bit off-putting. But, if only we would believe that we are loved and surrender to being loved, we could well be surprised at the changes that happen within us.


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.