Padre Pio Glenmore Park

Bishop Anthony Homily: Redfield College Chapel, Dural, Monday 28 July 2014

01/08/2014

Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Mass of Monday, 17th Week in Ordinary Time Year 2, Redfield College Chapel, Dural, 28 July 2014

Who could have guessed that the host country for this year’s World Cup, Brazil, would have bombed out so spectacularly? For generations people will talk of the 7-1 defeat by Germany. In a sport when one goal every hour is common, these guys conceded five in the first 30 minutes of the semi-finals. Later they were beaten 3-0 by the Dutch in the play-off for third. Unlike the sheer joy of World Youth Day in Brazil only a year ago, this World Cup has been like a funeral for football-mad Brazil. Before the comp began, the chief of the Brazilian soccer federation declared that if they didn’t win “we’ll go to hell”. A former star described the team’s failure as “the greatest shame in our history”. The coach described it as the worst day of his life. And the fans looked winded, with men, women and children crying as if they’d been through an earthquake.

In my talk today I mentioned that the Prophet Isaiah sometimes preached in the nuddy: it’s fortunate priests don’t do that anymore. In our first reading today we saw another prophet behaving strangely: Jeremiah wanders around in his underwear, buries it and digs it up (Jer 13:1-11)! What on earth, we might wonder, was that all about? Obviously it was a provocation, intended to shock, to draw attention. But it may be that it was also about what Jeremiah felt, what Israel felt: they felt like losers, like God’s closest garments, now discarded, torn and ruined.

We can all feel like that sometimes. Young men can experience a lot of internal upheavals and external pressures. They can feel like they’ve got the world on their shoulders. Those who are supposed to be on our side, such as family and Church, can seem weak and broken or out-of-date and unhelpful. People write old institutions like family and Church off as rotten linen, soiled, corrupt, good-for-nothing.

However justified some of the criticisms, that’s not the whole story of our Church, or of that Church in miniature, the domestic Church, your family, or of the Church in its most miniature, the individual disciple, you. Jesus makes the point in our Gospel passage today that we can seem, we can feel, like the most insignificant seed, that hidden, unappreciated ingredient (Mt 13:31-5). Yet buried in the ground, hidden in a hole in the rock like Jeremiah’s loincloth, and the Body of Christ can experience resurrection from the tomb. After the humiliation of death and dying, of personal failure and public ridicule, the Church can be purified and so can we, to become again that spotless maid, that “loincloth” God intends His people to be. The Church is united to Christ like a wetsuit. It is a cloth impressed with His image like the Shroud of Turin. To look upon the Church and her members is to see Christ, however imperfectly represented.

We may not always seem to be on the winning side. We can feel like Brazil right now. We can feel like the People of Israel being humiliated by defeat by their neighbours. We can feel like Jeremiah, called by God to act strangely. Because the Church is made of weak human beings like us, it can fail, even scandalize: preaching can be dull, liturgy boring, prayer dry, prophecy mute, our leaders ineffectual, our mission self-preservation. Judged purely in terms of number of shareholders, rate of return upon investments, balance sheets of current good works or evident holiness, and some would declare the Church bankrupt! But the Kingdom of God is not a multinational corporation, nor its purpose self-promotion: it is God’s work first, and when God is working there can be far more happening beneath the surface of the soil or the dough than first meets the eye.

So the Church and the individual Christian are more than the sum of our humble efforts, achievements and failings. They are Christ’s vehicles for growth in our world. And as He promises today, that might mean the mustard seed becomes a prodigious bush, the yeasty dough a full-blown loaf. It will happen in God’s good time. The progress of the Church, its growth and fruit, are gentle, subtle, invisible. Yet many birds will perch in this tree: prophets, saints and mystics, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, like John XXIII and John Paul II, like Augustine and Martin de Porres, men of heroic self-sacrifice and Christliness.

The Church is where we encounter Christ in worship, service, healing. We need His Word and Sacraments to embed in us like seeds and nourish us like bread, to give us spiritual identity, to interrogate and challenge us repeatedly to be better than we currently are. We need our co-religionists, our World Cup team mates, ‘birds of the air’ who suffer what we suffer, hope what we hope, share our needs and deepest longings, perch alongside us. We need a community of family, friends and fellow disciples, to encourage us to convert, seek forgiveness, experience the holy. We are no angels: we human beings need the support of creeds, altars, sacraments, preachers, schools - all branches of the tree for us birds to nest in.

Ultimately the choice is ours: we can worship golden calves of work and success, entertainment and acquisition, self; or we can seek the God who alone will satisfy our deepest yearnings. If the latter, we can give back to that God in worship our small but precious gift: the offering of our linen loincloth, of our sorrows, sins, selves. Merely going to church, however mechanical or faithless we sometimes feel, is an action of great worth: it is faith seeking greater faith, our little attempt to render to our God the thanks He is due. In the Church’s branches there is room for all sorts of birds, from saints to sinners to most of us who are a bit of both; room to find shelter, rest, renewal. Have confidence, then, in God’s presence in the struggling trees of your Church, your family and yourself, and believe that what God has begun in us, He will bring to completion.

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