After a heavenly experience during our retreat it was an abrupt landing to the things of the earth with my Swans being annihilated by the Hawks. Anyway it is good to remind myself that humility is much needed. Still it was a great day at MCG with nearly a hundred thousand people enjoying the Grand Final. No enmity at all, everybody was having a good time (judging by the amount of beer drunk people must have had a good time). Thanks to Fr Mark for his kindness on the way home and allowing me to go through the process of mourning on my own.
Are there any parents here in this church this morning who can say that at times their children didn’t listen to what they were told to do? To the parents who have had such moments I am saying: “Welcome to God’s club!!!” I am sure that if you could sit down with God to share your experiences you would see how much, you parents, have in common with him, the Father of us all. The parable told by Jesus today recalls very many times when God heard from us his children: “Get lost. I am not doing this stuff. I know better. I am a free man. etc.” Can we say that God is a failure when people refuse to listen to him? Do you think that the father from the Gospel for this Sunday failed? I would like to ask the parents in this church: Do you feel like you are failing when your children don’t listen to your advice or your instructions? Why do you feel that you are failing? Because your children don’t listen? But tell me: Why do you give your children advice? Why do you give them instructions? Isn’t because you love them? Isn’t because you want them to be the best of the people? The father form the Gospel sent his sons to work in his vineyard because he knew that inactivity is destructive. He didn’t sent them there as a form of punishment but as a means of helping the boys to mature. Did he fail because one of his sons said to his face that he wouldn’t go while the other just lied to get away? The father didn’t fail because he still loved his sons. What makes me think that? He didn’t choose an easy way just to please his children, even when they disobeyed him, but he was still demanding because he cared about what kind of people they were to become.
My Dear Sisters and Brothers! Today I would like to focus on a forgotten commandment out of the Ten Commandments. As you know they were written on two tablets. How were they organized on those tablets? Not evenly: five and five, but the first tablet had the first three commandments and the other had seven. The first tablet with the three commandments was about how to treat God the Almighty:
1. I am the LORD your God: you shall not have strange Gods before me.
2. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
3. Remember to keep holy the LORD'S Day.
The other tablet had seven commandments about the relationships among the people. The forgotten commandment I have mentioned is the very first on the second tablet or the fourth as we know it: Honor your father and your mother. Why has God wanted to place the commandment about honoring parents straight after the commandments referring to worshiping Him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us: “God has willed that, after him, we should honor our parents to whom we owe life and who have handed on to us the knowledge of God.”
The parents are the first people in the life of their child that encourage the child to go outside his or her own little world. Look at the father from the Gospel today: He didn’t want his sons to stay at home and play Xbox or watch YouTube all the time, but he showed them a way to a bigger world where people work hard, where people need to be responsible, where people need to cooperate with others.
It is the parents who show the child the word that is bigger than his stagnate and smelly room that the child needs to think bigger than just what he wants. The child should take into consideration what the other people want too.
A few word to the young people: If you would like to learn more about God, if you want to understand him better I would recommend to you this activity: When you have an argument with your parents and say to them “No” try to come back quietly as soon as you can and look at you mother or father because in their faces you can see the face of God who hears from us, his children “No” too, probably way too often.
Don’t think that if your parents were like the parents of Pope John Paul II you would really honor them. Do you think that John Paul’s parents always gave him ice-cream for diner? Do you think that they let him stay in his room instead going to school? Do you think that they themselves did his share in housework? As a student the future pope worked in a stone pit. Interesting!!!
To finish let me ask you a question what is the main vocation of a priest, a nun or a religious brother? To serve God and people. Do you know that if the parent of a priest or a nun got ill and needed care the Church would say to the priest or the nun: Leave your ministry for now and go to look after you mother or father?
The Lord is so good. The week of our Oblate retreat was such a grace from heaven. I have no doubt that the Dear Lord joined us, Oblates, for that time of renewal. We had so much time just for Him. Every day we spent two hours in silent adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Such an extended period of silent prayer always makes an impact on us. It is said that prolonged exposure to the sun cannot leave your skin untouched but it is also true that the prolonged exposure to Jesus present in the host in the monstrance cannot leave your heart untouched. It doesn’t mean that it was easy to pray for so long but it was the time when the Lord was coming to help our weakness. As I was looking at my Oblate Brothers being in the chapel together in silence I couldn’t think how blessed I am to call them my brothers. At that time we didn’t talk to each other but we all gazed upon the One who is the center of our life and mission. St Eugene was so right when he prescribed us Oblates to gather every day to spend together quiet time with the Lord. He envisaged such an activity as the most cementing time for the community. People very often go away from their busy life to focus on themselves for us Oblates the time of retreat is not just focusing on becoming a more beautiful priest but it is the time when we invest in our Oblate community, by our prayer, reflection and fraternal support.
We also celebrated Eucharist together every day. I must say that for me it is always an uplifting and enriching experience to hear somebody else giving homily rather then hearing myself preaching every Sunday. I think I have got bored with my homilies. I was amazed how precise Fr Kevin was giving homilies. He didn't use many words but he always reach the target.
During our retreat we also remembered our dear Oblates who have gone before us to the heavenly kingdom. On Tuesday we went to the Springvale Cemetery to pray for those Oblates but also to remind ourselves that they are still part of our Congregation. The Communion of Saints is a powerful belief that those who have died and are with God are our best supporters and friends. I am always fascinated to hear stories of the Oblates who have lived and ministered in this Province for decades. It touches me deeply to hear how fondly they remember those Oblates who are with God. Listening to such stories make me realize that although I haven’t been long in this province yet but I have great examples of Oblates to follow.
It is impossible to imagine a retreat without the retreat master. Fr Kevin who guided us through those days of grace was another grace we were given. He is a man of great knowledge, experience and spirituality, at the same time he is also such a humble and gentle person. I have come to believe that because of his humbleness and gentleness the presence of the Lord Jesus was so evident among us. Fr Kevin was like a magnifying glass that enables you to see an object better. Looking at him was more like looking through him at Jesus. I still remember his first talk when he described his conferences as necessary distractions. How many years will I need to become such a witness to Christ like Fr Kevin is? He is also a great observer. I just loved how he incorporated into his conferences what he heard and saw as he mixed with us. Only a person who is very close to Jesus can see the Lord in the lives of others.
Every year as Oblates we reserve a week for spiritual exercises known as our annual retreat. This Sunday night 14 Oblate priests are beginning their time of renewal under the direction of Fr Kevin. The retreat is held in our scholasticate here in Melbourne. I ask you to pray for us and for Fr Kevin so that we all may grow closer to Our Blessed Lord. Time to go into great silence. Now Jesus is doing talking.
Don’t you think that today’s Gospel is a stir-up? We who are so sensitive o justice and fairness could say that Jesus didn’t set a good example by telling this parable. How can you treat equally the people who worked hard all day long and those who worked for an hour? Probably before they got to the field it was only a 40 minute-work. St Mathew says that the first ones grumbled. I love this word in this passage and I want to make their grumbling the topic of my homily because what I’ve learned is that when you get furious at God, when you are like boiling water you’ve got your chance to shake your life up.
A little example: In the chapel of one of our Oblate houses there was a little dark bottle for wine. For a while we kept replacing the content as it kept going off. One day the wine had a funny taste again. I emptied the bottle to investigate it. After a close look I discovered that there was thick sediment on the bottom. I filled it with water this time but it took me some time of shaking up to clean it.
Don’t you think that it can explain a lot of our life? We would like to have a good and untroubled life like I wanted just to have normal wine for my daily Mass but we don’t realise that the sediment on the bottom of our soul spoils our life enjoyment. That’s why, let's thank God for stirring us up because it is our moment of grace, to move what has accumulated in us: our lack of forgiveness for some people, our selfishness, our addictions the list can go on.
Some time ago I was told of a man who got unsettled with his life so he decided to take a couple weeks off. He booked himself for a reflection programme in a place run by some nuns. He just wanted to calm down, to get his peace back. After two weeks he went back home and when his wife asked him how he went he answered: “I’m going to tell the nuns to give me my money back. I haven’t calmed down at all!” I would say to him: “GREAT. Your retreat programme is working. God is stirring you up. That’s just great.”
We may think that being a catholic should make us relaxed and relieved. But you know what? Get ready for a stir-up. Because God says: “My thoughts aren’t your thoughts. Your ways aren’t your ways.” But God does want to get you on the right track not just to fix up a couple of things. He wants you as his son or daughter who looks like him by your way of thinking and acting.
The last story today: a little girl prayed to God to give her a thousand dollars for Christmas. The Christmas came and was gone and she wasn’t even close to 20 bucks. Her brother laughed at her saying: “God hasn’t listened to you.” The girl answered: “God has listened. He just said: NO!”
I believe that this is where all God’s stirring up is taking us to. God is taking us to the stage of our life when we can say: “God, your thoughts are my thoughts too. Your ways are the ones I walk every day and I am content with that.”
Let me finish with something scandalising: I love when people grumble, when they are furious at God because they are getting better, not at grumbling or being furious of course but because God is shaking them up and all the stale and smelly sediment accumulated on the bottom of their soul moves to the top where God removes it. God is a good stirrer and happy the people whom God stirs up.
During the morning Mass today our Provincial installed Br Sayyane as an acolyte while Br Casmir and Br Anthony were installed as lectors. In his homily Fr Provincial focused on the ministry of a lector and an acolyte as a part of the journey which leads the future priests to exercise the priesthood in depth. He used an example of students from a high school who were required to prepare an piece of art but the focus wasn’t simply on the outcome, on the final item, rather it was to take the students on a journey which from a simple draft, to a more developed item and finally to the piece they worked on. He made an interesting observation that the students who would skip the first stages of the work and went straight to the last step would produce an item that was lacking depth. Priesthood requires depth and the various stages of the seminary formation including the ministries of lector and acolyte serve this very purpose.
As I proclaimed today the Gospel of St John at the morning Mass which describes Jesus on the cross and his Mother and the Beloved disciple standing at the foot of the cross I remembered that scene from my home church where I grew up. Even before I was able to read I was always captivated by that scene. Every time we went to church I saw it above he altar. I guess I saw it so many times that when I went to another church some years later and saw a big crucifix there I started thinking that something was not right. Then I realized that the crucifix was alone. There was no Our Lady, no John, not Mary Magdalene. Even after so many studies I have done on the Bible I still treasure that simple lesson from my childhood that was captured by the painting from the church. There is no a lonely crucifix. When Jesus was dying his Mother and some other people were there too. Not a big crowd but a quality crowd which stood there, not out of curiosity but out of love for the Lord. It is a clear image of the Church. When our Lord was dying our Church was being born, a very small Church made of Our Lady, John, Mary of Magdala and Mary’s sister. Today we continue that vigil kept by those four people as we profess our faith in the power of Jesus’ death and Resurrection.
Imagine if we had fiery snakes biting us and we were told to look at the bronze snake on a standard, like it happened in the first reading, most of us, I guess, would die, because instead of looking at the bronze snake we would be rather taking a selfie with the bronze snake or Moses.
My Sisters and Brothers! That scene from the Book of Numbers leads us to the Gospel where Jesus looks into his near future where the cross and his Resurrection appear. Jesus says: “The Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” As Christians we are in the picture of the crucifixion too, we are part of that picture. If we were out of the picture of the Crucifixion and of the Resurrection… Oh, my God, we would be in such a trouble. Our Salvation, our eternal life, our believing, our hope, our love – it’s all there – in the Cross and the Resurrection of Our Blessed Lord.
Let’s go back to our selfie. As you know it is a picture of yourself, which you take yourself, usually with something interesting in the background. Can a Christian take a selfie of him or her against the Cross of Jesus? In a selfie you turn your back to whatever or whoever is in the background. I can’t imagine a Christian taking a selfie with the Cross of Jesus because he or she should be so captivated, so drawn to the cross that what is important is to cling to the cross rather than to immortalize the moment. A selfie, a picture, simply captures a moment, it freezes the moment, even if it is important, but a second later the moment already belongs to the past, while Jesus’ cross and his glorious Resurrection aren’t events from the past they are still the gate to heaven, to our eternal life, to our bright future with the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. A picture with the cross shouldn’t focus on me but on what the Lord Jesus has done for me through his death and Resurrection. It is a picture capturing me being drawn to the cross, a picture expressing my faith, my gratitude, my trust placed in the Lord.
Lately I have spoken to a woman whose husband is dying of cancer. She shared with me what she heard form a doctor in the hospital where her husband is. He said to her: “Don’t take all this cancer thing personally.” She said to me: “How can I not take it personally? It is my husband. The man I have lived with for thirty odd years. He is part of my life. What affects him affects me.”
My Dear Friends! The Lord Jesus says in the Gospel today: ”God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have an eternal life.” God took our human, sinful condition personally. Like that woman takes the illness of her husband personally. Our condition made God compassionate so much that he gave us his Son. That’s why we say that our believing is also personal, not private, but personal. Some people have been trying very hard to make us think that we should keep our faith private. Private is something that is for use by one person or group, not for everyone. Personal is what affects and involves you as a person, it is something that shapes who you are. That’s why we Christians say that our faith is personal, so no one can expect us to ignore our faith in various situations, decisions etc. Like no one can expect that woman to ignore the illness of her husband and move on with her life.
In our creed which we recite every Sunday we say: “I believe.” Faith is a personal act, believing involves every aspect of me. But believing is not an isolate act. “The life and death of each of us has its influence on others.” as we read in the Letter to Romans. Why I say “I believe” with conviction and involvement do you know what happens? I start hearing other people saying the same thing: “I believe.” I discover that my personal believing puts me in the picture with others who are drawn to the Cross and the Resurrection of the Lord.
A few days ago I have read an interview with the Archbishop of Mosul Amel Nona. It the city of Mosul in 2003 there were 100 thousand Christians today here is no even one left. I read also that for the first time in 2000 years there is no Mass celebrated in the city of Mosul. The archbishop lives now in exile with his people. He said that when he was leaving his cathedral he took a relict. It is a small silver cross. That’s what the bishop said: “This cross belonged to a 16 year old boy, Rami Katchik, who was killed a few hours after Pope Benedict announced my appointment as Archbishop of Mosul.” His predecessor Archbishop Paulos Faradż Rahho was killed too.
Pope Francis in his first homily said: “When we walk without the cross, when we build without the cross and when we confess Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.”
Let’s praise the Lord that there are still such disciples of the Lord that take their faith so personally that they choose exile or even death rather that to hide their believe behind the curtain of privacy.
A very memorable event we attended today: The perpetual vows of four Missionaries of God’s Love (MGL). It is always a powerful experience to witness young people taking a commitment for life. Those four young brothers made their final vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and thus they placed themselves for the service of the Church of Our Blessed Lord. The joy that was shining from their faces was a convincing sign that they took the right step. I am not surprised that they were so happy because, can anyone have a greater happiness then to join his life to the Lord Jesus? It was also a new experience to me as I have never witnessed vows in other Congregation then the Oblates before. However what has struck me most was meeting the founder of the Missionaries of God’s Love Fr Ken Barker. I must say that those priests and brothers are living a very unique experience of having their Founder around. They are directly exposed to the experience of the Holy Spirit he had when he founded their Congregation. They assimilate their charism by observing and being influence by him. As I was listening to his homily my mind, I must confess, had wandered away. I was thinking of our own Founder St Eugene de Mazenod. I thought of those early Oblates who knew him and who learnt from him what the Spirit had communicated him. Although I couldn’t meet him personally but it doesn’t mean that Fr Eugene doesn’t communicate his experience of Christ to us. Once again I was overwhelmed when I started contemplating the mystery of the Communion of Saints. I am convinced that Fr Eugene keeps influencing us. Last year when I was overseas I was confronted by a person who was surprised that I spoke of our Founder as if I was seeing him regularly rather than treating him as a saint. I do treat Fr Eugene as a saint but he is so powerfully present in our lives as Oblates, as his spiritual sons, that simply sometimes I forget that he is dead. In a sense the fact that the Church recognized him as a saint means that he is alive in God in such a dynamic way that we walk our oblate path with him by our side.
This week we had two birthdays to celebrate. The first one was the Birthday of Our Blessed Mother. How could an Oblate miss such an event? Here at St Mary’s Seminary we didn’t miss it either. Beautiful roses and orchids were ones of many expressions of our love for the one who is the Mother of Jesus and our Blessed Mother too. We reflected on such an awesome mystery of her birth which was like the first rays of the sun in the morning announcing that the day is coming. When Mary was born it was inevitable that the true light, Jesus Christ, was coming to take over the darkness of human existence. Every time when people turn to her in prayer she comes to them with her Son Jesus who can dispel the drama of our existence. Looked like we were so much in mood to celebrate her birthday that after Mass the scholastics run up to the altar to blow the candles as if it was her birthday cake. I hope they made a wish to be as holy as she is.
Such a celebration would be enough to make our week but God is always more generous in giving then we can expect and we were given another birthday to celebrate. Br Casmir brought lots of joy to our small community as we came together to celebrate the gift of his life. This time there was no competition at blowing candles at the altar as Br Casmir did a splendid job to blow the candles himself (though he struggled with the last candle). Our Founder St Eugene de Mazenod was always very particular to make sure that the important events in the life of the community were celebrated in a simple but friendly way. We have big events to celebrate like the anniversary of the Oblate Foundation but we don’t overlook the events in the life of our brother Oblates, like their birthdays. It is not only a good excuse to have a cake but it is the day when in a special way we praise God for blessing us with these people who are our brothers because they have been given to us by Jesus himself who called them to be the Oblates of his Immaculate Mother. Happy birthday Br Casmir!!!
Fr Daniel OMI
An Oblate Priest