Taken any risks with your faith lately? My own tendency is to think that faith is something that should make us feel safe and with a well-developed faith we look to God for protection. But a genuine trust in God can make us act in other ways, ways that can led us to risk all that we have, even if it appears to be little.
The leper in this Sunday’s Gospel was an outcast. Yes, he had a skin disease but the people of his time understood this not as an illness but as a sign of his sinfulness. I can imagine him sitting destitute and despised on the fringes of his society, not allowed to come any closer than two metres to anyone, wondering what he had done to deserve this. Was he such a greater sinner than all his family and friends? Out there wondering, he well could have gone to the wild places of the spirit that questioned the interpretation of the law that had caused his situation. Hearing of this healer, Jesus, he would have pondered long and hard. Healing a leper was considered almost as great a feat as raising the dead. Then he came to his decision: he took the risk; he came back into society and found Jesus. What was truly amazing is that he did not ask Jesus for a cure. His words: “If you want to…” imply that he believed Jesus to have divine power. Sitting on the margins, taking the risk of coming back, had loosened his mind and heart to be open to the person of Jesus in a way that those comfortable in society were not.
My father was a gambler – or so I have been told. Mum used to say, ‘Your father’s a gambler, that’s why he took up mushroom farming.’ It was only after he died that I learnt the story. He came from a poor family and having gotten a scholarship to university, he lost a lot of that money on the horses. Well, through sheer hard work he was able to stay at Uni but he never bet on the horses again. Early in life, he faced a demon squarely and judged how weak he was. And he was the better man for it.
We each and all have demons. Part of the genius of the 12 step programs is to get people to face them squarely. Our demons don’t have to be as obvious as addiction to alcohol, gambling or drugs. Anything that undermines the growth of life and love within us is a ‘demon’. The man Jesus cured in this Gospel was not a vicious low life. This was a respectable man who attended synagogue! So what was his demon – resentment, concern for respectability, fear of what others think? We need to face our demons because it is then that we will be open to the salvation that Jesus offers: life to the full. If our lives seem less than full, we need to come before Jesus and ask for the healing that he so wants to give us.
Congratulations to Indigenous elder, artist and educator Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann AM for being named the 2021 Senior Australian of the Year. Apart from her artwork, and work in education, she is perhaps best known for her reflections on dadirri – “inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness”. Dadirri, she says, “is perhaps the greatest gift [Aboriginal Australians] can give to our fellow Australians… dadirri recognises the deep spring that is inside us. We call on it and it calls to us. This is the gift that Australia is thirsting for. It is something like what you call ‘contemplation’”. The following reflection on dadirri, which is a speech she gave in 2002 when she was Principal of a Catholic primary school in Daly River in the Northern Territory, also seeks to integrate dadirri with her faith as a Christian:
‘Faith is a face to face vision in the dark.’ This paradoxical statement captures the ‘now and not yet’ of the reign of God. It presses in upon us, but like a presence in the dark, it is only felt, not seen. Personal and intimate, it entices us to live close to the heart of God yet we have little tangible evidence to ‘prove’ that it is there. We find it hard to describe, but we know the compulsion it places in the heart. To embrace such a life comes at a cost. Not one of silver or gold or the riches of this world but rather a giving up of our bondage to sin and the sub-human forces that can so easily dominate our lives.
Jesus’ emphasis throughout Mark’s Gospel will be on the transformation of the human heart that takes place when we turn from the bondage to Satan and freely accept a loving relationship with God. Make no mistake about it: Mark takes sin seriously. It binds us to sub human behaviour and in the face of its force, we are weak. But Jesus, the Strong Man, has come in on our side. The battle has been fought and won in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Now, we each have to ratify that victory in our hearts and lives.
Freud said that despite thirty years of research into the feminine soul, he still couldn’t answer the question, what does a woman want? Maybe it is not only about women that the answer is unclear, but also for all of us. In this Sunday’s reading Jesus utters his first words in the Gospel of John: ‘What do you want?’ The verb Jesus uses is richer than our ‘want’ as it also includes the sense of ‘seek’ and ‘desire’. In other words, Jesus was asking those first two disciples, ‘What are the deepest longings of your hearts, the ones that determine the course of your life?’ Andrew and his companion found the question too difficult and deflected it with a question asking where Jesus lives!
Our longings and desires! They can be the energy that powers our lives along, and the force that derails us. We can ride on their strength and they can undermine our dreams. So how do we deal with these forces? If we peel back the layers of our longings and desires, even the ones that we call ‘bad’, even ‘evil’, we will eventually come to something good. Having been made in the image and likeness of God, our deepest desires bear the trace of grace. It is when our good desires become disordered that destruction takes place. For example, I have noticed that some people get caught in bad relationships, not out of desire for sex, but rather out of fear of loneliness…and what is loneliness but the desire for communion. How much suffering would have been averted if those people had known the skills of friendship? When we are being tossed by our desires, it is a good time to stop and ask, ‘Where is the face of God in this desire and how can this desire foster life?’
How people make decisions is a popular theme for current psychological research. For anyone who thinks they make wise decisions based on reason, the results are not looking good. We are more likely to be influenced by prejudice, emotion and impulse than we would like to admit. One way to counter our biases is by developing good habits of mind and heart.
So what has that got to do with the Annunciation? Many paintings, especially from the Renaissance period, show Mary not only at prayer but more especially reading the scripture at the time of the Angel’s greeting. What is implied is that the woman who said, ‘Be it done unto me according to your Word,’ had been trying to live according to the Word of God before she was faced with the momentous decision to become Mother of God. A lifetime, true a young person’s lifetime, of trying to see God at work in her ordinary life made her heart capable of making a decision that was beyond credulity. In the history of Israel that she had pondered, she saw God’s almighty love working in the most unlikely of places. Well she regarded herself as an unlikely person for God to work through but she trusted God’s power and love to do the impossible within her.
And what about us? If we are having trouble trying to find God’s Word for our lives, maybe we need to regularly try to find God’s Word in the small events of life. That is, we need to discipline our hearts in small things so that when big decisions come we are attuned to the heart of God. Morning offering, grace before and after meals, prayer for those we journey with to and from work – there are a multitude of ways we can be open to the Word of God spoken in the ordinary events of life. As we build the habit of shaping our lives according to the Word, we make ourselves ready for the times when God will call us beyond what we believe humanly possible but which we discover is more than possible for God.
Rarely has someone in the spotlight worked so effectively to deflect attention from himself. The opening words of this Gospel describe John as a ‘witness’ and the series of responses that he gives to the questions of the Jews show the depth to which he sees his identity in relation to the person to whom he is to give witness. What is extraordinary is that, at this time, John didn’t know who the Christ would be, how he would act or even what type of Kingdom he would inaugurate. In all his responses he shows that he is capable of living a vocation which was largely undefined. But what he did know he was utterly faithful to. He knew a Messiah was coming who was greater, far greater, than himself and that the proper response to coming Messiah was to prepare – to make straight the way of the Lord.
Many of us have times when the calling of God within our lives can be unclear: times of transition, crisis or illness. The diminishments of age can bring this about. Until God makes things clearer there is nothing we can do…except be faithful to what we know we should do. Sometimes that can seem to amount to little. John the Baptist, in such a time, saw himself simply as a voice, a voice crying in the wilderness, a voice that was passed over once the Christ had come. But John needed nothing more: that was his fulfilment. He was the voice preparing for the Bridegroom, the one prepared to diminish, so that the Christ could increase, the one who could see that ‘it was all about Christ’.
Your own John the Baptists… Why John the Baptist? All the Gospels give great importance to the person and preaching of John the Baptist. In the iconography (religious paintings) of the early Church he held a prominent position. But did Jesus really need him? John the Baptist represents the culmination of the Old Testament. In him all the hopes and dreams of the Jewish people across the centuries find expression. But did God really need the Old Testament and Jewish history in order to offer salvation? No, God didn’t need any of this. God could offer salvation personally and individually to any one of us. But God’s plan of salvation involves not merely the supreme human mediation given through Jesus but all the many other people through whom God choses to bring to us grace and love. A prayer of thanksgiving often said in my community is for those who have brought our faith to where we are today. As a way of preparation for the coming of the Lord we would do well to recall the people who have formed our faith to what it is today. Perhaps it was grandparents, parents, teachers, the atheist who challenges or the friend who dies tragically – there are many different ways, both positive and negative, that God has used these people as channels of grace into our lives. As we recognise who they are and give thanks we make ourselves even more open to the coming of God in our lives.
Steve Jobs, soon before he died, said that one of the determining practices of his life was to live each day as if it were the last. That practice has had a significant place in Christian spirituality. St Benedict exhorted his followers ‘to keep death daily before one’s eyes.’ This was not to be an exercise in morbidity but rather a liberation from entanglement in all the lesser passions of life and it has the ability to transform the quality of our lives. A story was told of St Francis de Sales. Someone was surprised to find this holy bishop playing cards and asked him: ‘What would you do if you knew that you were to die and face God’s judgement in 15 minutes.” “I’d tell them to hurry up and deal the next round,” he replied. Living with God’s presence before him, he was able to enter fully into each moment.
Life is not meant to be a filling in of time before we shuffle off this mortal coil. If it is that, we will alternate between boredom and distraction. Given the quality and type of much that passes for ‘entertainment’ nowadays, we could well be forgiven for thinking that our society lives in fear of a death it cannot face. That death will surely come – but it need not be dreaded. It can be the companion of our lives teaching us to enter fully into all the partial moments of living so that we can be ready to enter fully into the great moment of God’s embrace.
MASSES GOING TO 100 PARISHIONERS. THANKS FOR ALL THE PRAYERS
The 4 square metre rule stops us from going to higher numbers
The fine print will be sorted on Monday between the DHHS and the Archdiocese and we will know any details shortly afterwards. Meanwhile the following instructions will need to be adhered to: ……
There will be NO bookings for Masses and 100 will be the limit. The church will be open half an hour before Mass, and all Registrars and Ushers must be there when the church opens. All participants must be at the church at least 10 minutes prior to Mass starting. Parishioners will need to be registered by name and contact phone number. Sanitiser and Masks will be mandatory. An usher will seat each person/family who must remain in that seat until receiving Eucharist. Then return to that seat after Communion. In receiving Eucharist, please extend your arms as far as possible to allow for correct social distancing. Communion will only be in the hand. We will need to clear the church immediately after Mass. Each Mass will require the correct number of volunteers, if not Mass cannot go ahead. Please consider what role you can play in the celebration and phone the Parish Office with your offer.
Volunteers needed are: Set-Up, Lector, Musician, Singer, Registrars x2, Minister of Communion, Ushers x 4-5, Cleaners x 4
Our parish community has been extremely generous in supporting the LAP team but unfortunately, due to the pandemic restrictions, we will not be able to hold our planned fundraising collection at Masses in November. If you are in a position to make a once-off donation to enable the LAP team to continue their work, If you can help, could we please encourage you to make an electronic contribution using the following parish bank details:
While our Faith hasn’t changed, the world in which we express our Faith has. Our Parish of twelve months ago has gone. We are moving into unknown territory but we still have Jesus to walk beside us. Fr Kevin is calling for people who are walking with Jesus to come forward and help plan and manage how we face this new world.
PARISH COORDINATING TEAM PCT: Are you an active member of our Parish community who has reached the age of eighteen (18) years? Do you have an interest in, and a commitment to the welfare of all parishioners? Do you have a desire to be of service to the Parish community? Do you have a keenness to promote the teachings of the Gospel Values and ongoing Mission? Do you have an ability to work cooperatively and constructively with all other members of the PCT? And sufficiency of time (around 7 meetings per year, personal preparation and any allocated action items) to devote to PCT duties? If this is you and you would like to make a commitment as a Parish Leader, please send a note to Fr Kevin telling us: Why you would like to nominate for the PCT and what you can offer in helping our Parish achieve its Vision “Christlike relationships of friendship and faith, valuing one another and sharing our gifts for the good of all.” Nominations can be by Mail to the Parish Office or email to email@example.com Nominations should be sent by 18 November. …. Fr Kevin McIntosh