Moving Mercy – part 1 – rat poison

moving-mercy-screen‡ Week one – Overview

1.    What it isn’t

Mercy is not:

  • Condoning what they did. If they did something that was wrong, then that is not okay.
  • Waiting for them to apologise or repent for what they did or make amends.
    This may never come, so stop holding onto a likely dream.
  • Ignoring justice or eliminating consequences.
    You may sill have to call your lawyer, or the police, or seek an AVO on the person.
  • Forgetting what happened. Sometimes mercy requires remembering first. Boundaries may need to be established.
  • Pretending that nothing really happened
  • Reconciliation – at least, not necessarily. In the very best of circumstances and situations, yes, it will be. Reconciliation should be our ultimate aim, but forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things.
    • Sometimes you can’t go back to what you had / what it was
    • Don’t pretend that it didn’t happen

Reconciliation takes two healthy people who have worked very hard to resolve this matter

2.    What is it?

You may need to forgive someone:

  • If you can’t or won’t say their name. How many people only speak about their former spouse after the divorce as “my ex”? You see something similar when you only speak about a person’s title or position, rather than using their name. Not to name someone separates us and reduces or even removes any intimacy. A clear sign that we are still holding onto stuff.
  • If a person’s name comes up in conversation – how do your friends react? Is there an immediate tension as people brace themselves for you to react?
  • If you hear of something good happening to that person and you are saddened, or angry, or hurt; conversely, if you hear that something bad happened and you are happy: these are strong signs.
  • If someone else is almost haunting you like a disembodied spirit or ghost; it is like there is an annoying buzz or static in your heart.
  • If whenever you think about that person, you always associate them with the memory of that thing that they did / that action that hurt you so much.
  • If you blame them whenever things don’t go well.
  • If you wish you’d never met them / fell in love / married them / worked for them / ministered with them / been in their parish / been inspired by them…
  • If you wish they were dead

3.    Who do I need to forgive?

  • You can’t forgive an institution
    • The Church didn’t wrong you
    • That company didn’t wrong you
    • That country didn’t wrong you
    • The government didn’t wrong you
    • Your family didn’t wrong you
  • It is always people or a person that we need to forgive

4.    What is forgiveness?

  • It is a process that takes time. Wounds do fester, so it takes time to heal.
  • The first step is the awareness of the problem.
  • If this week, you begin to be a little less angry or revengeful – then that is a victory. Let us agree to claim the victory whenever we can!
  • Mercy indeed moves. It moves us to respond; it moves us towards healing; ultimately it moves us to reconciliation.
  • Moving to mercy may happen in an instant; or more likely, it will take many days, or weeks, or years.
  • You recognise that you are beginning to move into mercy when you refuse to allow someone else to rob you of your joy.
  • Forgiveness is making the decision to set someone free, and discovering the person set free is me.
  • Someone said that not forgiving is like drinking rat poison yourself and wondering why the rat never dies! Not forgiving allows the other person to rent free space in your head or heart.
  • Moving Mercy is all about being set free.
  • If you want mercy for yourself, then you need to extend it to others as well. This is exactly what we pray in the Our Father each day: forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

snorkelExample of a snorkel

  • How do you get breath when you are underwater?
  • You need to both breathe in and breathe out.
  • A snorkel lets air go both ways.
  • If you don’t forgive others it blocks the flow to yourself.
  • Our issues with other people often come back to us.
  • We first live in this flow and then share it with others.
  • This is what we will undertake over the next four weeks.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am Mass
Sunday One, Season of Lent, Year C (L1C).

Video: Preparing for Lent
Slides: Moving Mercy 1

Good goats did it for me


Bad sheep and good goats

Justice is something that we learn very early as children. We have this strong instinct for when something doesn’t just seem to be fair. Perhaps as a result, justice is one of the most profound longings of the human race. When there is no justice, then we know that something is wrong from deep within ourselves. Justice is both hard to define and hard to enact. This has never stopped humans from seeking it, praying for it, and working hard to find better ways of doing it. Justice means bringing the world back into balance.

The scene of the last judgement that is presented in the Gospel of Matthew in chapter 25 has burned itself deeply into our consciousness – not least because of its depiction in many paintings. The Son of Man is identified as the king who sits on his glorious throne admitting on one side the righteous to the final kingdom of God – prepared from the foundation of the world. In contrast is the other side with the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. The common image of a shepherd separating the sheep from the similarly coloured goats is used.

In this present moment, these two kingdoms are interwoven and confused through the ambiguities of history. But the kingdom of God is the only true kingdom. What appears to be the present struggle between the two kingdoms will not last forever, because ultimately only God is King!

Part of what is proclaimed in this gospel is that in the coming of the son of man, justice will at last be done. This passage comes as the climax of a whole series where Jesus has denounced his own people and especially the leaders for their failure to live as God’s people should.

What Jesus wants the church to know is that he is already ruling the whole world as its rightful Lord. This is especially true where the kingdoms of this world treat many of our brothers and sisters with contempt, torture, abuse and too often with death. Then, and now, this passage provides great encouragement for all who work for justice in the name of the kingdom of God.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (8min 47sec)
Solemnity of Christ the King (Sunday 34, Year A)

We celebrated the reception of Holy Communion for the first time for 305 Year 3 and older children over 6 special Masses this weekend, when the temperature rose to over 42 degrees (hence the reference to cold weather.)

A salted earth

Cow_dung_pattiesThe writings of the prophet Isaiah continue to echo across the centuries to provide a challenge for us; they were certainly well-known at the time of Jesus and seem to provide the background for the teaching that Jesus gives us in the second part of the sermon on the mount. The call for Israel was to be a sign to the other nations of what a nation that was in a covenant relationship with the God of everything looks like. Israel was meant to live this out and embody it, so that if someone else wanted to know what it would be like to be changed and challenged by the Lord, they could look at Israel and see the presence and power of the God of everything in the people and their way of life. Unfortunately, all that Israel tended to be worried about was seeking justice from the Lord against the other nations and longing for the Messiah to come to set them free from their oppression. 

When Jesus uses these two striking images in the Gospel today (Matthew 5:13-16), the call of the prophet Isaiah (58:7-10) is firmly in mind. Israel was meant to be salt for the earth – to bring flavour; to preserve; to provide light and fire; to challenge and correct all wrongdoing. So the call of Jesus is directed not only to the disciples and all who were listening, but all of us across the centuries who struggle to make sense of the teaching and ministry of Jesus.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (10’43”)
Sunday 5, Year A.

An Apocalyptic Age

curtain-openingOne of the styles of biblical literature that causes great misunderstanding is apocalyptic. This is not helped by the many, perhaps more fundamentalist interpreters who attempt to find literal meaning in the events of the present world, when the only direct literal meaning concerns events at the time the texts were written. In this case, the Gospel of Luke concerns the events leading up to the destruction of the city and temple of Jerusalem in the year 70AD. Nevertheless, the apocalyptic genre of writing offers great hope for the Christian church across the centuries as we do all that we need to do to allow the breaking in of this new messianic age which first happened with the death and resurrection of Jesus.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (6’57”)
Sunday 33, Year C. Luke 21:5-19

The parable of the dishonest manager

chartresIn the forty or so parables that Jesus tells in the first three Gospels there are lots of twists and surprises along the way – but perhaps none is quite as perplexing as the one that we find in the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, the parable of the unjust steward. It is enough to give a moralist apoplexy – why does it seem that Jesus is praising the actions of this man who has been dismissed from his employment for being wasteful with his rich master’s estate, and how can he tell us to use money to build eternal dwellings? One of the difficulties is that the parable is so far removed from our common experience that the basic meaning is difficult to ascertain, leading to all manner of interpretations across the years from both scholars and saints.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (9’26”)
Sunday 25, Year C. Luke 16:1-13.

A place at the table

banquetThe vision that the letter to the Hebrews paints today is certainly expansive. It is an image of the new creation where everyone is welcome and treated as a first-born son and citizen. After attending a forum at the University of Wollongong this week on Refugees, it became even more apparent how far removed this vision is from our current experience in Australia. Bishop Peter Ingham released a pastoral letter on the issue and friends linked a letter that the Bishop of Darwin, Bishop Eugene Hurley wrote recently to Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott. The letter is powerful and worth quoting in full:

16 August 2013

Dear Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott,

I have just returned to my office from the Wickham Point and the Blaydin detention centres here in Darwin.

Sadly, I have been involved with detention centres since the creation of the Woomera centre, followed by Baxter and now, over the last six years, with the various and expanding centres here in Darwin.

I experienced once again today, the suffocating frustration of the unnecessary pain we inflict on one another. I celebrated Holy Mass with a large number of Vietnamese families, made up of men, women, children and women waiting to give birth. The celebration was prayerful and wonderful, until the moment of parting.

I was reminded of something a young man said to me during one of my visits to Woomera, all those years ago. I was saying something about freedom.

He replied, “Father, if freedom is all you have known, then you have never known freedom.”

I sensed the horrible truth of that statement again today.

I was also conscious of that beautiful speech made when the UNHCR accepted the Nobel Prize in 1981. In part it states,

“Throughout the history of mankind people have been uprooted against their will. Time and time again, lives and values built from generation to generation have been shattered without warning. But throughout history mankind has also reacted to such upheavals and brought succour to the uprooted. Be it through individual gestures or concerted action and solidarity, those people have been offered help and shelter and a chance to become dignified, free citizens again. Through the ages, the giving of sanctuary had become one of the noblest traditions of human nature. Communities, institutions, cities and nations have generously opened their doors to refugees.”

I sit here at my desk with a heavy heart and a deep and abiding sadness, that the leaders of the nation that my father, as an immigrant, taught me to love with a passion, have adopted such a brutal, uncompassionate and immoral stance towards refugees.

I imagine he would be embarrassed and saddened by what has occurred.

It occurred to me today that neither the Prime Minister or yourself know the story of any one of these people.

Neither do the great Australian community.

I find that it is quite impossible to dismiss these people with all the mindless, well-crafted slogans, when you actually look into their eyes, hold their babies and feel their grief.

There has been a concerted campaign to demonise these people and keep them isolated from the great Australian public. It has been successful in appealing to the less noble aspects of our nation’s soul and that saddens me. I feel no pride in this attitude that leads to such reprehensible policies, on both sides of our political spectrum.

I cringe when people draw my attention to elements of our history like The White Australia Policy and the fact that we didn’t even count our Indigenous sisters and brothers until the mid 1900’s. I cringe and wish those things were not true. It is hard to imagine that we as a nation could have done those things.

I judge the attitude of our political leaders to refugees and asylum seekers to be in the same shameful category as the above mentioned. In years to come, Australians who love this country will be in disbelief that we as a nation could have been so uncharacteristically cruel for short term political advantage.

It seems that nothing will influence your policy in this matter, other than the political imperative, but I could not sit idly by without feeling complicit in a sad and shameful chapter of this country which I have always believed to be better than that.

Sometime I would love to share with you some of the stories I have had the privilege of being part of over the years. I am sure you would be greatly moved. Sadly, for so many, such a moment will be all too late.

Yours Sincerely,

Bishop E. Hurley

 This seems to be precisely what the Gospel is calling us to today. Jesus always welcomed everyone and anyone to eat with him – to share life with him. But the Christian church today is so much more exclusive than this. We have forgotten what it is like to be boat people ourselves.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (12’32”)
Sunday 22C. Hebrews 12:18-24; Luke 14:1, 7-14.

Changed by black fire

blackfireThe scene that is described in the first reading, from Nehemiah 8 is certainly most extraordinary. Hearing that after almost a century since King Cyrus had allowed the people of God to return from Exile to the promised land, Ezra the priest and Nehemiah the civic official in the Persian court organise to return with the third wave of exiles to re-establish covenantal life in Jerusalem in the year 445 BCE. Nehemiah first sets out to rebuild the walls of the city, so that the people will feel protected and they might again have the sense of identity and purpose that walls provide. But Ezra knows that walls are never enough – you also need to have the purpose that the word of God provides. So he gathers the whole people – men and women and children old enough to understand – and proclaims the Word of God into their lives. He knows that the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures – the Torah – has the power to bring new life into a people who have lost everything. He has experienced the truth that in the Torah there are the black fire – the literal words of the scripture – written on white fire – the white space of the parchment and the white space of the lives of the people of God. So he proclaims the black fire (reading it in Hebrew, and offering a translation into Aramaic as well as commentary and instruction) in a powerful ceremony that lasted all morning – around six hours. The response of the people – shouting aloud “Amen, Amen”, raising their hands in worship, kneeling down and falling prostrate, weeping and crying out seems to be a different experience from our own. But perhaps we need to hear the black fire of the word of God and allow it to be written on the white fire of our own lives?

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Recorded at St Mary’s, Leppington 8am (11’11”)
Sunday 03, Year C

First and last

The parable that Jesus tells today, from the beginning of Matthew 20, about a landowner hiring workers for his vineyard throughout the day – some who begin work at 6am and work for 12 hours for the agreed standard wage, and then various other groups who are employed at 9am, 12pm, 3pm and 5pm – is probably not your favourite – nor even in the top ten of the 40 parables that Jesus told. Many people find this parable annoying and unfair – particularly people who have been actively involved in the church for a long time!

Strangely, when it comes time to make payment, the owner calls the latest arrivals first and begins by paying them the standard rate – not for an hour’s work, but for 12 hours work. Of course, those who had worked longer therefore expected that they would receive a more generous rate of pay – instead they only get what they agreed to in the first place. No matter how much the owner protests that he is not being unfair – he is paying what they had agreed to work for – the parable goes against our deeply ingrained sense of fairness and justice – a sense that even the youngest of children are able to know. To demonstrate this, just try setting unequal portions of icecream before a group of children, or cakes that are different sizes!
So how do we make sense of this parable?

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Recorded at SJV, 8.30am (9’29”)

Leviticus and Jubilee

The book of Leviticus doesn’t get much of a run within the lectionary readings – just two weekday readings and a single reading during the Sunday cycle in Year A and Year B. Since there were none during the leactionary readings before the Second Vatican Council, this is a vast improvement. Nevertheless, Leviticus still has the record for stopping many valiant attempts to read the whole of the Bible. What this reading from Lev 25 does remind us about is the concern for justice that our God has. The Jubilee – even if it was never fully practiced in the life of Israel – speaks of God’s desire to return people back to their basic freedom and their connection with the land.

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Recorded at the Catholic Fraternity Regional Meeting, Brisbane (8’03”)

Heaven and earth together

The feast of the Ascension can be one of those feast days that seems utterly bizarre and irrelevant – it is so mythological and pre-scientific to border of pointless. Or if we can reclaim it somehow in our understanding of its place in the life of Jesus, we can still be left wondering what this means for us. One bridge that we first have to cross is the acknowledgment that much of our thinking is not biblical – we are more formed by the systems of thought that the western world has taken from the ancient Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle than they are by the rich eastern and Hebrew spirituality of the Bible. We tend to think of the world in a dualistic way – divisions between spirit and matter, between good and bad, here and there, now and then. When we think of heaven and earth, we try to fit them into one or several of these dichotomies. But this doesn’t help us to approach the Ascension and its meaning – to do this we must dive into the original biblical vision.

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Recorded at Mater Dolorosa, 8.30am (11’15”)
Ascension Sunday. Acts 1:1-11; Matthew 28:16-20.