Issue 40 - 19 Oct

Mission Sunday
 
I was once invited to preach at Sunday Mass in St Martin De Pore’s Parish at Soweto in South Africa.
 
I was one of two white faces in a packed congregation of six hundred people. Everyone danced, sang loudly and well, laughed at my jokes, called out support for the big points I made in my homily, but they lamented that it only lasted 10 minutes. It was the first time I had ever been accused of being short-winded! At Soweto they like homilies that go at least 20 minutes. I was to discover that during the homily the congregation fully participate, calling out at the big points, “Ah-men”, Hall-le-lu-jah” and, my favourite, “Umm-ahh”. I grew to like these interventions, so feel free to do likewise any time the Spirit moves you!
 
The energy and life of this parish was palpable. Even with a short homily, Sunday Mass lasted two and half-hours. No one came late and no one left early.
 
This Sunday is Mission Sunday. Traditionally, it’s the day when we reflect on our mission to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus to all people. In years gone by it was the time when we prayed for vocations to the Missions, we raised money for the work of the Church in far away places and hoped that pagan peoples would be converted.
 
Do you remember how ten cents kept a plane in the air for a minute? In addition, a dollar stocked a dispensary for a week?
 
Well, God has a way of answering our prayers and turning our world upside down, because it is hard, now, to work out where the missionary territories are and who is in greatest spiritual need.

There is no question that the first world has grave financial responsibilities toward our brothers and sisters in developing countries. For while we have so much, on average, 31,000 people continue to die every day of malnutrition and starvation.
 
But it is in developing countries where the Church appears to be most alive, producing vocations and martyrs. We have lived to see the so-called missionary countries now the beacon of Christian faith in the world.
 
In South Africa, for example, 80% of the population is Christian and 60% attend Sunday Church services. Amidst the poverty and deprivation of the indigenous community, vocations are flourishing and prophets of a more just, less violent and peaceful society are rising up and Christian martyrs are laying down their lives to see such a society becomes a reality.
 
In previous generations our talk of the missions was paternalistic, Euro-centric and normally the kiss of death for the local culture. Those days are gone. Current thinking in the Church does not impose a white Jesus on black babies, but recognises that God has already been present since the dawn of time in the best aspects of every culture.
 
What the Universal Church offers to these local Churches, through its money and missionary personnel, is an opportunity for us to practise what we profess here every Sunday. If we do not care about the world’s poor, we have not heard the message of the Gospel. We have been commissioned to give the resources necessary so that all God’s children will have access to education, welfare and health services. God desires for all people to live with dignity.
 
For too long we thought that belonging to the Roman Catholic Church was a question of lording one European Church over another and treating our Church as a master, and cultures as servants. 
 
What we are seeing now, though, is that our culture, for its marks of sophistication, goodness and fairness, is losing its very soul. Developed countries are fast becoming the new mission territories of the world.
 
In the future developing nations may help us to find Christ in our culture and to find, again, the way, the truth and the life of the Gospel. They may also show us that while one needs the basics of life to have dignity, even in the midst of hardship and love, one can hold on to fidelity and faith.
 
This, of course, should not come as shock to us for Jesus tells us today that this is how it is meant to be amongst us, where no one, no thing or any culture is to rule or be tyrannical. What marks greatness in the Christian Community is the humility and generosity not only to serve but to be served as well.
 
And this is something to which we all cry out, “Umm-ahh.”
 
Rev Dr Richard Leonard SJ is the author of 12 books. His most recent is The Law of Love: modern Words for Ancient Wisdom. Paulist Press 2021.
 
You can change lives by donating to these outstanding Catholic mission agencies:
https://jesuitmission.org.au/
https://www.catholicmission.org.au/
https://www.caritas.org.au/

Issue 39 - 12 Oct

Monday 11th October is the newly established feast of St John XXIII.
 
A story told about the last days of John XXIII, even if apocryphal, is instructive about the Church at that time. On 1 June 1963 the Vatican said that the Pope had the flu and asked for our prayers. On 2 June we were told the Pope was in bed and very ill. By the 3 June it was announced that he had died of cancer. At least officially, the Holy Father’s demise had been very quick indeed. We now know that he had been battling a stomach carcinoma for eight months, with the associated dramatic weight loss that accompanies it. Without telling us, this genial and generous man had been dying before our eyes.  
 
When John Paul II beatified John XXIII he announced that his feast day would not be the day of Papa Roncalli’s death but 11 October, the anniversary of the opening day of the second Vatican Council, which he had convoked. It was an inspired decision. One of the many guiding principles which John hoped would guide the Council was the saying which he quoted in his 1959 encyclical Ad Petri Cathedram: “in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity”. I wonder what he would make of us now. Except that a saint cannot be unhappy in heaven, John XXIII would surely be rolling in his grave.
 
The petulant critics snapping at Pope Francis seem to have as their motto: “in all matters, unity; in doubtful matters, hostility; in no things, charity.” I note that these same cardinals, bishops, theologians and laypeople now throwing stones at the Pope were often the ones who sternly lectured the rest of us, from 1978 to 2013, that the litmus test of one’s Catholic orthodoxy was public fidelity to the teaching of the Holy Father. How things have changed – for them; the rest of us continue to remain loyal to the See of Peter.
 
Some of his detractors even cast doubt about the validity of Pope Francis’ election. Apparently, either the Holy Spirit abandoned the cardinal electors on 12 March 2013, or she never entered the Conclave in the first place. So much for trusting the Lord’s promise that he would never abandon his Church until the end of time; apparently that only works out if I get the Pope I want.
 
In previous pontificates I remember being warned against the grave sin of “scandalizing and confusing the faithful”. I move in very wide circles and I can attest to Pope Francis’ extraordinary gift of inspiring faith, hope and love in believer and unbeliever alike – in sharp contrast to the nasty taste left by the ugly language of online character assassins, the pompous demands for Yes or No answers by dubious cardinals, and the pious claims of theologians that they feel forced to point out the Pope’s errors “out of charity”. Could anyone imagine what would have happened to people whose charity impelled them to behave in similar ways towards St John Paul II or Benedict XVI? Honest, open, respectful disagreement: yes, of course. We edge closer to the truth through arguments between friends. But as one of Christ’s faithful I am confused and scandalised by these arrogant and sanctimonious stone-throwers.
 
They don’t care about the schismatic tendencies they are encouraging because 
the present not-so-loyal opposition to the Pope argues that “error has no rights”, which masks an inclination to creeping infallibility which forecloses debate on issues about which there is legitimate disagreement. This has serious pastoral fallout at the grassroots. One gets the sense that their doctrinal edifice is very shaky indeed – give any ground on anything, and the whole house of cards will come tumbling down. The bottom line for Christians is that every person has rights, even those who hold what we might believe is an erroneous position: the right to dignity; to respect; to charity; and to being listened to and interpreted with generosity. If we fail to honour these rights, the evil one is certainly not far away. 
 
Without changing a single jot of essential Catholic doctrine, Pope Francis challenges us all to reflect on the complexity of every life, the struggles everyone faces, and everyone’s need for God’s mercy, and he invites the Church to look afresh at its pastoral practice and its teaching on peace, social justice and the environment in the light of scripture, theology and tradition, the “signs of the times” and the best science and psychology. 
 
This of course is just what John XXIII asked of Vatican II. And he and Paul VI were each to discover that there were powerful forces in the Church filled with fear of change and frightened about where it would all end. They were prepared to do anything to stifle reform, to halt and reverse the work of the Council. The present bitter brawling in the Church shows that the struggle to bring the unfinished work of Vatican II to fruition has reached a new crisis point. St John XXIII pray for us.
 
Richard Leonard SJ latest book is The Law of Love: Modern Words for Ancient Wisdom.

Issue 38 - 5 Oct

The Rich Young Man

John Calvin, one of the founding fathers of the Protestant Reformation, reacted against what he saw as medieval Catholicism’s adherence to the sacramental law as a means to salvation. “If you keep the law, the law will keep you.” He was right to condemn the preaching of some Catholic priests of his day. Calvin maintained that since time began God predestined those who, by faith, would be saved. Calvin argued that the rest of humanity would be lost. It was impossible to know for certain, Calvin argued, who was who. This was tough stuff!

Within a few years, however, his own congregation in Geneva wanted to know how anyone could be sure they were on the right path to salvation. Calvin’s disciples taught that strict and right behaviour was an indication of who belonged to those elected by God to be saved. Not dancing, drinking, swearing or gambling, working hard, saving one’s money and the careful observance of the Ten Commandments became the benchmarks of the elect. Within a few generations of Calvin’s death, it is easy to see that the observance of the strict, Protestant, moral code had replaced the seven Sacraments as a way of being assured of heaven. 

This Sunday we hear about the 10 Commandments and The Rich Young Man. This fellow wants to be assured of salvation too. He was a good man; an observant Jew and someone Jesus looked on with love. But he was hoping the law would save him. He wanted to be sure of gaining heaven by jumping through the right hoops, at the right time, for the right reasons.

Jesus doesn’t reject the importance of faithful and good living, but he offers the young man a relationship that would make sense of the choices involved in following Him. Without a loving relationship with God, who calls us to live the best life we can, the fulfillment of any law, civil or moral, is a tyranny. We do not believe in a tyrannical God.

We do believe, however, in a God who makes demands of us, who often challenges us in the places where we are most vulnerable. For the young man, his money was an obstacle. He could not embrace a relationship with Jesus because this would have placed in peril his wealth and the comfort that his many possessions afforded him.

For the earliest Christian community today’s Gospel highlights serious issues on which people left their company: the role of the law in following Christ; the divide between rich and poor; the commitment demanded of followers in the earliest community.

In comparison to our forebears in faith, we have domesticated this radical edge of the Gospel.

We often comfort ourselves with the assurance that the law will save us, whereas Jesus tells us that salvation comes from a loving relationship with him, shown in the sacrifice of our lives. To the degree that any law enables us to deepen this relationship with Jesus and to serve his people, then it is helpful and good. If a civil or religious law gets in the road, then its moral authority over us is questionable.

In a world where the vast majority of the world’s wealth and resources are held and used by a dominantly white, educated and, at least nominally, Christian Developed World, then the demands of today’s Gospel should be as confronting to us as they were to the rich young man. “There is still one thing you lack, sell everything and come follow me.” It has suited us to move away from this financially hard teaching of Jesus.

The law and money are in themselves neutral things. They can be used for good or evil. At their worst the law and money seduce us into pride, greed and power. At their best they can serve the liberation of all people and enable our world to better reflect the Kingdom of dignity, justice and equality Jesus taught and lived.

Given that all things are possible for God, let’s pray this Sunday that we might stop domesticating the Gospel but allow it to lead us more deeply into a relationship with Jesus who looks on us, loves us and calls us to write the law of love on our hearts in such a way that there will be justice for all people.

Rev Dr Richard Leonard SJ is the author of 12 books. His most recent one is The Law of Love: Modern Words for Ancient Wisdom (Paulist). https://www.paulinebooks.com.au/search/search.cgi?search=richard+Leonard

 

NEW APPOINTMENT

Fr Richard Leonard SJ

Nominated by the Jesuit Provincial, Fr Quyen Vu SJ, Fr Richard Leonard SJ has been appointed by the Archbishop of Sydney as next the parish priest of Our Lady of the Way incorporating the communities of Star of Sea, Kirribilli, St Francis Xavier, Lavender Bay and St Mary's, North Sydney.

Richard is well known to many in the parish, having lived with us for 13 years as Superior of the Jesuit Community, a role he will continue to fulfil in the short term.

Richard has graduate degrees in theology and communications and a PhD from the University of Melbourne. He has been a visiting scholar within the School of Theatre, Film & Television at UCLA and a Visiting Professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He directed the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference for 22 years.

He is a regular columnist with The Tablet magazine in London and is the author of ten books including the international best sellers: Where the Hell is God?; Why Bother Praying?; and Hatch, Match & Dispatch: A Catholic Guide to Sacraments. His most recent book The Law of Love: Modern Words for Ancient Wisdom was released in April this year.

A highly acclaimed international speaker, Fr Richard has lectured on faith and culture all over the world.

 “The Jesuits have been devoted servants of the parish community of North Sydney for 143 years and it is my honour to follow in that tradition. I hope we will make our own what Pope Francis has said should characterise contemporary Catholic parish life: a missionary community that ‘reaches out to everyone, without exception, particularly the poor’; that possesses great flexibility in helping people to find God, and celebrate Christ’s presence in their lives; that has good preaching, excellent liturgy and is generous in its mercy, compassion and hospitality,” Fr Leonard said. “The parish of Our Lady of Way has been my base for my other ministries for 13 years so I know what a wonderful community of lay people, religious and brother Jesuits we have, and how together we can inspire each other to be even greater disciples of Christ.”

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About the author

Richard Leonard is a Jesuit priest. He has degrees in arts and education, as well as a Master’s degree in theology. Fr Richard did graduate studies at the London Film School and has a PhD from the University of Melbourne. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Australian Catholic University; has been a visiting scholar within the School of Theatre, Film & Television at UCLA and a Visiting Professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He directed the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference for 22 years. He has served on juries at the Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Warsaw, Hong Kong, Montreal, Brisbane and Melbourne International Film Festivals and he has lectured on faith and culture all over the world. He has been published in America MagazineEureka StreetUS Catholic, is regular columnist with The London Tablet and is a regular guest on ABC Radio.

He is the author of ten books, among the titles are:  

Where the Hell is God?

What does it all mean? A guide to being more faithful, hopeful and loving

His most recent book is Hatch, Match & Dispatch: A Catholic Guide to Sacraments.

Richard’s next book The Law of Love: Modern Words for Ancient Wisdom, will be released in early 2021.