Twenty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time 12 September 2021

“Who do people say I am?”

It’s a question that bothers many people in our world today…and asked frequently by various groups, organisations, movements, parties and even family dynasties.

Individuals rarely put the question to the community, though journalists try often to get leaders in the community to answer their persistent demands.

Many attempts in the past few weeks have fallen upon deaf Taliban ears or shrugged off with a cursory “we’ve changed.” Reports from the Panjshir Valley in more recent days would have James thundering his words read this Sunday, “…now you prove to me that you have faith without any good deeds to show.”

“Who do people say I am?”

Something must have been niggling at Jesus. He is on his way to Jerusalem. His words and deeds have won the admiration of, well, nearly all. Pockets of resistance, even hostility, have emerged. Battle lines are hardening. Some see him as the new saviour in the tradition of the promised Messiah. He will deliver us from the rule of the hated Romans. Others see him as a threat to the existing order, which he was. Jesus senses that his mission is not really understood by his chosen friends…and sets out to put them on the right road.

It is tough to ask this very same question to a group of friends. Yet, we do need to do just that, every now and then. Their answers may not be as forthcoming as Peter’s. On the flip side we may not really wish to hear them.

But…if James and his forthright statement, “I will prove to you that I have faith by showing you my good deeds”, is a touchstone for following Jesus, then let’s accept that every now and then we must ask the question, “Who do people say I am?”

 

Mons Frank

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time 5 September 2021

“Go to the peripheries, smell the sheep” is a rough translation of Pope Francis’ words of some years ago. Today’s readings found me remembering not just his words, but also the historical fact that in our long history, so many wonderful movements within our faith community started “on the periphery”; Mary MacKillop is but one of a great number in our world.

We find Jesus in an alien gentile world again today. He is, in Mark’s account, slowly making his somewhat circuitous way to Jerusalem. We can easily see today that he, in effect, was saying gently, “You are all God’s children”. This truth is hammered home by the action he took, drawing on his own tradition “…the ears of the deaf unsealed…and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy”.

His six-step action of taking aside, putting hands in the ears, spitting, touching the tongue, deep groan and command of healing may reflect some of the practices of the gentile world, but Jesus said in his own name “Be opened.”

That raised the bar.

That action set a new standard for the early Church and, indeed, for all time…

We sometimes fall into the security of complacency. Prophets like Isaiah reminded the community then, of the Lord’s standards, and Pope Francis is in similar vein today.

It may well be the task of the elected Governments to tackle the physical ailments of Covid-19, but who will pick up the pieces of fractured relationships in the near future? People need people. Families need families. That task may well rest with you and me.

We still belong to the family of whom it was said by Matthew, “Jesus preached the news of the kingdom, and healed all who were sick.”

Mons Frank

Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary 15 August 2021

It is many years since I, and hundreds of boys, celebrated this Feast at Assumption College Kilmore. In my time, the feast was always preceded by a retreat…and followed, for us coming from a 1950’s form of lockdown, a day off. We often were bussed into Melbourne; Kilmore could not have coped with 300 plus students roaming the then Hume Highway Main Street for eight hours. The city was ours for the day and ended with the obligatory three cheers for the old boys as we passed Pentridge Jail on the way home! Such were the innocent days when the same school sent many of its students off to the seminary and to the noviciate each year. I am not sure what we really learnt about this feast except that “Mary was taken up to heaven body and soul”. On the surface we all believed, got on with our lives and, in the winter cold, looked forward to the next football match!

The role of Mary in our long 2000 years of history is mixed and wonderful. The people seemed to recognise the important role of this young lady long before the theologians and scholars started to dissect the evidence, and we don’t have all that evidence to dissect.

She said “YES”.

She was a loving Mother

She raised her special child with what emotions we can only really guess at.

Even at the foot of the cross she does not speak, nor is she quoted as commenting upon the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Despite this, our Tradition loves her, prays to her, seeks her intercession, and rejoices to tell anyone that listens, that she is our Mother.

This year, amidst the turmoil of flood and fires in the north, wars and power struggles in Afghanistan and Myanmar, lockdowns and restrictions on our freedoms, maybe it is a timely moment to remember her words…

“…his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him.”

Further, quietly, but also publicly, to petition for that mercy to be poured out on our troubled world, our troubled families, and our troubled Church, according to “the promise made to our ancestors”.

That mercy has flowed freely in the past; why not now!

Hail Mary…

Mons Frank

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time 8 August 2021

The readings today are those appropriate to the Solemnity of Mary MacKillop.

Pardon a little history.

Mary opened the first Josephite school in Victoria at Numurkah, a parish in the Diocese of Sandhurst, on 12 January 1890. She returned to the Diocese in August 1891, visiting the many families who had accepted a child from one of the homes that the sisters had established in Melbourne. She was ever solicitous for the wellbeing of those children. Mary arrived in Bendigo (then called Sandhurst) on August 3, 1891 and in the next few days, she endured “some rough driving around Eagle Hawk and Myers Flat” whilst staying at the Convent of Mercy in Barclay Place. She then visited Pyramid Hill, Echuca Toolamba before leaving for Melbourne on August 6. All this by train and coach, 140 years ago. Celebrate this grand woman in a creative way this Sunday.

Looking back, it is now obvious that the Word of God came to Mary as it did to Elijah. She, too, in some way was told to “up and go”. On her many journeys around this vast continent, she was often in the receipt of the “widows” or “fellow travellers” mites, who offered her hospitality and money to assist her works. Mary, like Elijah, had a great trust in Divine providence. In an age that is rather sceptical of the religious dimension, let alone the benefits of a solid spirituality (the Victorian Parliament is to debate the removal of the Our Father from the opening order of the day’s work in the coming days), it is timely to remind ourselves that for ourselves, as for Mary, the words from today’s psalm are apt, “My soul shall be filled as with a banquet”.

The Gospel for today is Matthew 6:25-34. Some of its key words are, “Each day has enough trouble of its own”. This current outbreak in the eastern states is a grim reminder for our affluent age, that things were not always as comfortable for people as we have experienced since World War II. Mary had her troubles, including the famous misunderstanding with the Bishop in Perth. I have found a little quote from one of her letters written on August 7, 1888….

“Do what you can with the means at your disposal….

And leave all the rest calmly to God.”

May this great Australian continue to be a source of great pride for all Australians. May we endeavour to continue her work where we can with what we have.

Mons Frank

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time 1 August 2021

Gold, silver and bronze. The Olympics are back. The nations, some 196 plus, have gathered. Around 10,000 athletes and many more support staff. New sports, skateboarding and BMX to name just a couple which were not invented when I was young. Even mixed relay teams in and out of the water. And people say that things don’t change!

I wondered for a long time about these events and where the “true bread“  fits into this world in which hunger still is present and the locals have never eaten wheaten bread, let alone dined with barley loaves or drank a glass of wine.

We have our medals. Servant of God, Blessed and Saint.

A golden victory at Tokyo for the Philippines was their first ever and has produced a wonderful sense of pride for the people. Perhaps a little like the Jesuit Community as they remember the Feast of St Ignatius on July 31. They recall the occasion 500 years ago when Ignatius fell foul of that cannonball! What makes a person train for years to be first on the podium? What makes a person like Ignatius do a back flip and harness a mighty force that helped transform a wounded Church back to life?

Jesus, offering the “true bread”, set off alarm bells in the minds of his immediate listeners and shock waves amongst the leaders in Jerusalem. Could they cope with a better bread than what they had in the time of Moses?

How do we cope with trying to offer “true bread” to all the new nations of our world…and not impose on them the bread of Moses?

Tokyo 2021 offers us a glimpse of a new world being born and poses questions for a Church community called to preach the Gospel to every creature. There are some wishing that the Olympics were more like they were in the “good” old days, as there are those wishing our beloved Church to be as it was. Pope Francis puts it in “Let us Dream” … “attempts at restoration always takes us down a dead-end street”.

The scripture this week calls us to really ponder our path to glory. Paul’s exhortation contains a number of pertinent statements.

  • Are we living in the way we have learnt from Christ?
  • Have we heard his truth properly?
  • Are we a new self, created in Gods way?

Indeed, are we training in the goodness and holiness of the Truth?

Happy Olympics viewing!

Mons Frank

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time 25 July 2021

“Give it to the people to eat”, so said Elisha, the man of God.

Our Gospel story today is set in the context of the coming feast of Passover. Jesus, the disciples, and the people would all be aware of the coming feast and holiday season. Etched in their collective memory were the great deeds of their liberating God working, as it were, hand in hand with Moses. We are exposed, today, to the new Moses sitting on yet another mountain.

Something had to happen.

It did, enough to elicit a spontaneous move to make him King.

Abundance. Yet again the new agent of the True God fulfilled the ancient memories of that fabled journey out of Egypt. Not only liberated from slavery but fed in abundance each and every day of their long march. Here, today, again, abundance…., “Giving out as much as was wanted.”

No such abundance offered to NSW by the other States in recent days, even if we are all in this together. So much for Commonwealth.

Often in the gospel, Jesus is seen as a messenger bringing hope to people, so oppressed in their society at that time. He not only “cured the sick” as in today’s reading but was an agent of peace. “Your sins are forgiven”, “Has no one condemned you?”, “Do you love me?” to recall some instances. Real conflicts are not found only on the battlefields. There are many conflicts, in a sense, right here on the grass. Sit down. Let me feed you in mind and body. We will find peace and satisfaction together. And we will do it, not in a miserly way, but in abundance.

So, the lesson is heard again today. Maybe after all the years of hearing this story, we may yet again miss like Philip and Andrew, the point. Take comfort. In time they understood.

Never begrudge hospitality. Make sure there is some left over. You might yet entertain angels in the unexpected guests.

Mons Frank.

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time 18 July 2021

What a week for shepherds, be they civic or religious!

Take a moment to add your addition to these:

#the riots in South Africa

# the enormous floods in Western Europe

# the scandals unfolding in Brazil

# the growing Covid crisis in Indonesia…and elsewhere

# the decision about the Tridentine Rite by the Pope, these and many others make our fifth lockdown in Victoria seem “small beer”.

Where are the shepherds?

What are they doing?

Against the big picture we are alerted to the ancient warning, “Doom for the shepherds who allow the flock of my pasture to be destroyed and scattered” in Reading One.

Then we are given another idea in the gospel. Tired, weary, seeking solitude. He, nonetheless, “took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”

We are often given for reflection the baptismal “priest, prophet and king” line. Sometimes we add “shepherd” with a small “s”. We are all called to be shepherds, in our family at our workplaces, when leading the flock on the sporting fields let alone at the supermarket. We are part of a Church that invokes the name of Jesus, hence, we must be concerned about the spiritual and physical hunger of all people today. For many see our need today to be of crisis proportions. Let us deal with what we can at our local level.

There are some words from Pope Francis in the book “Let Us Dream.”

“We have to see clearly, choose well, and act right”. Echoes of another shepherd of blessed memory.

Crises have come and been met before by our predecessors. As he set himself to teach them at some length so, too, must we.

 

Mons Frank

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time 4 July 2021

It was his home. He was the carpenter, the son of Mary…and a member of a large family group. We know them. We know all about him.

But they could not handle his wisdom and mighty works. Nazareth had never produced anything startling.

Perhaps, for the first time, Jesus experienced what the great messengers of God had experienced down the long history of God’s people, powerlessness…he could not compel acceptance. All the great experiences that we have recalled these past weeks were of no consequence here in his own village, amongst his own family. Sometimes that happens to members of our own family, of our own village. A member goes travelling, or off to the big city or to a higher place of learning and can never settle back home, can never again feel acceptance ‘at home’. 

The role of the prophet, or the bearer of news asking us to do something new, e.g., vaccinate for a fresh disease, no matter how many needles we have received from our dentist or taken willingly to achieve a ‘high’, that news is often met with scepticism and refusal. Likewise, when deeper reflection on the word of God invites us to get involved with a ‘good work’. Such news can provoke a “why me?” response.

Yet we need prophets. 

We especially need prophets of the true God to remind us of the Good News. 

We need people among us to exhibit wisdom and work mighty deeds.

We need such people who keep proclaiming and, sadly from our point of view, keep proclaiming despite rejection. Jesus sadly moved his mission from Nazareth at that time. He now concentrated on his new family. But he continued to exhibit wisdom and perform mighty deeds. 

This week try to identify a person in our Church community and one in our Civic community who is in the mould of the prophets of old. Hold them in your prayers…we need them even, if like the master, they suffer rejection in their own home.

 

Mons Frank

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time 27 June 2021

Illness and death.

Two constants in our lives; often the cause of solid questions…Why me? Is it fair? Response to these trials is often not unlike community, let alone individual, reactions when a waste dump is proposed “Not in my backyard!” Nonetheless, we all have to deal with the twin realities. 

Our teaching today is part of a series of manifestations of Jesus’s power revealed in the past few weeks by Mark. 

Power over chaotic nature…crossing to the Gentile shore. 

Power over the demons in the Gentile land. 

Power over sickness and death, crossing back to the Jewish shore and next week, the lack of faith in his home town. 

Too much to consider in one week, but a challenge to be explored privately.

Illness and death are still with us.

So, what is to be learned from today’s accounts?

Obviously, Jesus exhibited great love for the afflicted women…and he did not let the social mores and customs of the Jewish law prevent him from allowing his clothes to be touched or to take the hand of the dead girl. The latter, almost a ‘death’ sentence in those times for a male.

Further, we note that the number twelve is used in both narratives. We see those healings reflect Jesus’s concern for the wellbeing of the community. He restores, to both women, their life-giving capacity. Both can now bring forth life from their bodies. Both can resume their honoured place in their communities.

Faith can exist in difficult situations.

For some reason, our society is under great pressure when questions of life and death arise. Four States have now legislated ‘dying with dignity bills’. Sadly, all have passed abortion provisions. Some are reluctant to provide adequate palliative care funds. Our Gospel illustrates a different approach. It is our duty now to find a way through this morass, as early Christians overcame the less than noble practises about life in our early history. 

Faith still exists and can prevail in our times.

We can still bring wholeness and dignity to our communities.

Mons Frank

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time 20 June 2021

“…and there were other boats with him”.

The sudden storm on the Lake in Galilee was not uncommon then, as now. The fishermen were aware and knew what to do. We presume that they set out at night willingly; all weather reports must have been favourable. Suddenly, unexpectedly and in the dark, they were hit hard. Distraught, fearful and on the point of despair, anger was rising in their being. We presume that the other boats had crew and people feeling the same.

It occurs to me that their situation is not unlike ours in Australia. Initially, COVID-19 caused much panic amongst us all. Certainly in Victoria, the confusion continues. As we slowly emerge from lockdown four, dragging more or less willingly our sister states along; they are wanting our spending power but scared of our presence, there is evidence of more and more anger, distrust and a feeling of enough is enough.

Our scientific age with a plethora of experts, proposes answers to our health but so far has not allayed the fears of many. The ancient cry “do you not care? We are going down” is not prefaced by the word “Master”.

We do have a good health system. We do have competent nursing staff and competent doctors just as the disciples had a great teacher and relatively good boats.

But…

We have set out on our voyage happily. We have tried to build on the hand -me -downs of the earlier generations. We have been mesmerised by the gains and gifts of recent science. (Our priestly retreat this year was conducted on Zoom). Maybe, we have just got on with the sailing and let the Master gently go to sleep. We, like the fisher-folk, know what we are doing!

But…

Our biblical history is replete with accounts of our ancestors making hay and then finding the silos empty because of their wastefulness. So, too, our Church history. Then they turned to their God. We have the boat with the sleeping Jesus. If we awake him and implore his assistance, not only will our boat reach the shore safely, but all those other boats sailing with us.

Mons Frank