See Commentary on Mark 16:15-20 (Year B) in Mark 16:9-20

Homily 1 - 2006

Luke is the scripture author who sees the outcome of the resurrection of Jesus in two stages. Jesus ascends to the Father, and from there, Father and Son send the Holy Spirit to the Church.

The ending of the gospel reading today spoke of Jesus as taking his place at the right hand of God. It’s what we celebrate today: the Ascension of Jesus.

What the author is telling us by his reference to the right hand of God (It’s a kind of code language) is that Jesus shares in the power of God. In fact Jesus lets us see clearly just what the power of God is like.

Jesus’ resurrection was not the occasion for him to crow, as it were: I have triumphed; you have failed. I’m on top now; you’re under my feet.

The persistent message of the risen Jesus was: Peace be with you! What resurrection made obvious was that Jesus’ patient, respectful, non-violent and consistent critique of domination and exclusiveness was indeed the way to go –even if those committed to domination and exclusiveness keep on winning in the short term.

The resurrection shows that vulnerability, the refusal to compromise personal integrity, and a non-negotiable respect even for enemies is indeed the way to go. The Jesus who now sits at God’s right hand hasn’t changed his tactics from what they were before they executed him.

And he sends us out as witnesses to him and to his message and to his techniques.

He does not send us to succeed, but to be real, authentic, attuned to real needs of real persons, ready to share with those who miss out or who get trodden on. Even more, perhaps, he sends us out to witness another, more life-giving, way of relating than dominating or ignoring those who unsettle our consciences.

We do not witness to Jesus by imposing his vision on a world that won’t understand it, that doesn’t want to understand it. But he does want us to share that vision: to go out to the whole world; to proclaim the good news to all creation, by firstly living it ourselves in vulnerability, perhaps looking, and feeling, ineffectual, not appreciated and often criticised.

This is the Jesus to whom we witness – not a weak, irrelevant, submissive Jesus, but a free, engaged, assertive and critical Jesus who refused to dominate, to pressurise or to act violently.

The media has brought to our notice this week the destructive dysfunctionality in many Aboriginal communities. These are people whose whole lifestyle, developed over 40,000 years, was destroyed - made impossible - in a few decades by white occupation of the continent two centuries ago.

In the face of such self-destructive behaviour, a strong temptation is to say: What’s the answer? It’s hopeless!

I don’t know if Jesus had the answer to the needs of the oppressed and marginalised hopeless cases of his day. But he certainly cared, engaged, listened, shared, and refused to say: "They’re hopeless! It’s too hard!".

As our nation this week observes “Aboriginal Reconciliation Week”, Jesus’ words keep echoing in our ears: You are to be my witnesses.

He has not promised that we may, perhaps, succeed in sharing our vision, (certainly not by the tempting methods of coercion or manipulation). But he has promised: you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you to keep caring, to keep getting actively engaged somehow, to keep being honest, and to grow humanly, even, perhaps precisely, in the face of failure.

Homily 2 - 2009

You have all been Christians for a long time - most of you, for all your lives. I presume that you would say that Jesus has quite an influence on your lives.

Would you say that that influence comes from what he had to say? and what he did? that is, from the past? Would you say it's more than that? Would some of you say that you relate to him, not simply as a significant figure from the past, but as someone now?

You pray to him; you talk to him, as someone real now. Perhaps, you would even say that Jesus also communicates with you.

There have been other significant religious figures in the past: the Buddha, the prophet Mohammad… Do you know of people who talk to them as real people – now? Do they say that the Buddha, Mohammad, communicate to them? Our claim seems be quite unique.

What makes us so sure? Is it because others have told us? Is it simply because others have told us? Or, would you say: No, it's more than that ... ? Would you say: You know it – from your own experience? You know it. You know it in your bones. It's not visions. It's not mysterious words you hear inside your head - but, at some deeper level, you know it.

You know it so really that you might even be prepared to give your life for your conviction. In fact, right now, you are living your life the way you do because somehow Jesus is real to you. You're here, today, because somehow he is real to you - not just a figure from a long time ago, but someone you relate to now.

I think that it is that kind of experience that we are celebrating today, with the Feast of the Ascension.

Imagine you were a first generation Christian author telling the story of Jesus' life. It would be OK up to his crucifixion. That was history. But, after that? What we're dealing with after that is quite beyond our clear understanding. It's mystery. How would you continue, in story form, your narrative? All the accounts we have talk about Jesus' resurrection - though the details of the stories are somewhat chaotic.

But, after that? Is he around? or Isn't he? If he's around, in what sense is he around? 

Luke, in his Gospel, and in its sequel, the Acts of Apostles, wrote in terms of Ascension, followed by the coming to the world of the Spirit of Jesus at Pentecost. Jesus is no longer around as historical figure. He is around and operating now through his Spirit.

Mark, the earliest Gospel, preferred to leave it mystery, and didn't even try to put it in story form. Mark's Gospel finished with a mysterious young man telling the women who went to the tomb where Jesus' body had been laid, simply that he had been raised, and that the disciples would meet him back in Galilee - Galilee meaning back wherever people live their ordinary lives. And he left it at that.

Matthew told the story of the empty tomb, and then of the risen Jesus meeting the Apostles back in Galilee, commissioning them to continue his mission, and assuring them that he would be with them always until the end of the world - but without further explanation.

The Gospel passage that we read today we can ignore. Scholars are virtually unanimous in saying that it's not really part of Mark's composition, but a later addition, made up basically of details from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

All four Gospels together, in their different ways, wrestle with the question... What is a good way to help us come to terms with our now experience? Jesus is obviously not around as the historical figure who lived and died in Palestine 2000 years ago. Jesus is obviously alive, present and operating in my life and yours today in Horsham.

However we tell the story, what matters is the fact of his now presence and life-giving influence. 

Homily 3 - 2015

The Ascension of Jesus was not an early primitive version of the launch of an astronaut into space. St Luke was not describing a literal event but imaginatively introducing us to mystery. He drew on an image used by Isaiah when he described his vocation to his prophetic ministry. Isaiah spoke of a dream/vision of God in the Jerusalem temple – lifted up, hidden in a cloud of incense-smoke, accompanied by angels. That is basically what we have here: a vision of Jesus, his humanity undergoing a process of divinisation, placed at the right hand of God. That divinisation, Luke insisted, did not separate him from his disciples. He would be back in the same way as the disciples saw him going – no longer the historical figure they knew, not visible, but real and accessible not just to that small group of followers of that time and that place, but to anyone anywhere. Something had happened to the human Jesus. 

The human nature of the one who was already Son of God – that limited human nature with its brain and memory and intelligence, no different essentially from ours – was changed, transformed, somehow divinised by the power of God. In today’s Second Reading we heard "that same power is now at work in us", transforming our humanity into his. We are his body, the fullness of him who fills the whole creation. What might it mean for us to be in the process of becoming divinised with Christ? 

What is God? God is love. That is it. No more; no less. To be divinised is to be transformed into love. We are becoming transformed into love. Experience shows it to be a slow process, one that we can resist. But to the extent that we permit, it will happen inexorably – transformed by Love into love. That dynamic is gently but powerfully straining now within us. And I would think that most of us, if we take the time to notice carefully, will be aware of it quietly changing us across the years.

We shall need it.  Over the following three or four weeks, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will be working in Ballarat, largely listening to the harrowing stories of victims and survivors. The revelations will be awful, simply awful. Among other feelings, it will probably arouse deep and spontaneous hostility within us – at the Church authorities whose responses were seen to so mistaken and inadequate, perhaps at the media for relentlessly parading the sad story everywhere, or at the priests, brothers and nuns who were cruelly guilty of the abuse, or [heaven forbid!] even at the victims for telling their stories.

There will be others who have been abused and who, for whatever reasons, have chosen not to tell their stories. They may find themselves reliving their past experiences, and suffering their pain all over again.

There is nothing wrong with feeling angry. Anger provides the indispensable energy needed to work determinedly for change. Persistent hostility is something else. Not dealt with, it can become poison, for individuals and for communities.

And God? Where will God be during these coming weeks? God is not blind. God sees the incredible harm that we humans do to each other and to ourselves. God has judged the evildoers in our world – and God’s judgment is “Guilty”. But the energy of the God who is love is never a destructive energy. God is determined to save the world – the guilty world. That is why he sent his Son. How did Jesus respond to the world’s evil? How shall we respond to the world’s evil as we are confronted by one awful expression of it that happened in our world, in our time, by ones among us whom we trusted?

The First Reading today had Jesus say, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and then you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth.” As disciples being transformed by Love into love, how shall we each witness to Christ? By this time next month, shall we have become more compassionate, more respectful and supportive of each other, better listeners? 

Homily 4 - 2018

I can no longer remember whether it really happened, or whether I read about it somewhere. Anyhow, for a priest, it is a fitting sort of “feel good” story. In the seminary, a priest from the diocese came to visit us and, after a while, one of the students asked him, “What does a priest do?” And he answered to this effect. “I remember when I first started. It was my first day in my first parish, and I was sitting down, asking myself, ‘What do I do now?’ Then the front door bell rang, and I went down to the front door – and from then on, I have never asked myself again, ‘What do I do now?’”

I can picture the first disciples. Jesus had gone. Full stop! I can imagine them asking, “What do we do now?” Have you ever asked yourself, as a disciple of Jesus, “What do I do now?” Have you ever asked Jesus, as a disciple of his, “What do I do now?” In today’s first reading from the book, Acts of Apostles, Luke has Jesus saying, “You will be my witnesses…” That sums it up succinctly, “Witness to me. Show them what I did. Do what I did.”

Was there one underlying, one unifying, thread that sums up what Jesus was doing during his life? My answer to that is that Jesus wanted to show the world, the people whom he met, all of them, whoever they were, ultimately that God loved them, that God was essentially, and only, a God of mercy. He did that by witnessing to God’s love, by himself loving them in practice, by respecting them, and more than that, by engaging with them, relating to them, respecting them, responding to their needs whenever he could, however he could, whoever they were. He treated even those who did not like or approve of him, as responsible adults. In some cases, his love was “tough love” – but it was firstly love, and never violent.

I am constantly thrilled, helped, encouraged, empowered by so many of you ordinary Catholics who do just that [and I hardly know most of you]. I have been so privileged to have met so many good people over my life, and at times to have been accepted as their friend myself.

I wish that all in leadership positions in the Church could be more like Pope Francis. He doesn’t say all that much, but so much of what he says, when he says it, is said joyfully, and caringly. You may not hear much about the practical things he does, but they are constant, they are simple, and they are challenging.

Here in Australia, sadly, we in leadership positions, priests and bishops, have simply lost credibility. The less we say at the moment, the better. Until people see us as loving them, as interested in them, as prepared to listen to them and their struggles, they are not interested in what we say, especially when we endeavor to lay down the law. I don’t blame them. Fortunately, Church leaders are only a small segment of the Church. You are the Church. You are the voice and the hands of Jesus in the world. You are the ones who meet the ordinary ones; and you are the ones who can show them, in their constant need, the love of Christ embodied in yourselves. Jesus asks no one to succeed – just to love as best we can. We can leave outcomes to the grace of God.

What do we do? “You will be my witnesses”. And if we wonder at times how to, or whether we are up to it, Luke has Jesus adding, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you”. Stand by!