Exclusion and Embrace on the Cross

cross-sunsetTo gather each Good Friday for prayer around an instrument of Roman torture is still a very strange practice to have. To sing songs and come forward in procession to touch, embrace or kneel before this sign of brutality and terrorism… It can also be a very difficult exercise to reconcile the fragility and weakness of both Jesus and the early church with the power and domination of the contemporary church – even if it has been dramatically weakened by the ongoing scandals of sexual abuse and the increasing irrelevance with which the rest of contemporary post-modern society considers the church. Although weak, the church continues to so often act against the basic impulse of the cross – to embrace sin and offer redemption to the whole world.

Play MP3

Recorded at St Paul’s (11:46)
Solemn Commemoration of the Passion

God is always enough

mymatzoh18B – Bread of life (John 6:24-35; Exodus 16: 2-4, 12-15)

When you read the Gospel of John, you must always be aware of the broad canvas upon which John writes his Gospel. He is always mindful and aware of all that has gone on before in the past – the history of the people of God; and he is also aware of what may come in the future as he writes for us who will come after him – as we do the things that he talks about. So as John tells us the story of John 6 that we have just read, the one story that he clearly has in mind, and which everyone who was there with him in Capernaum would also have had in mind, was the story that we have just read – the story of Exodus 16, those days when the Lord gave them bread from heaven. The Lord fed and nourished his people. For when the people came to him and said – give us this sign – give us this food to eat: they are asking Jesus to show himself as the true Messiah. They want him to prove and prove that he is the one that they have longed for; the one who will lead them on the new Exodus. That was the role of the Messiah. So Jesus is wanting to both affirm that and wanting them to remember the true nature of the Exodus, and what was actually happening.

When we go back to that scene and that place in Exodus 16, there are a number of things that we need to be aware of. The real event that we call the Exodus – the night of the Passover when the Lord with mighty hand and outstretched arm led the people of God from slavery to freedom – where in the book of Exodus that this happen, in which chapter? In chapter 14 you have the marvellous story of the people escaping through the Sea of Reeds and then in chapter 15 the magnificent song of Miriam of praise and thanksgiving – the one that we sing each year at the Easter Vigil as the response to the Third Reading. Here in chapter 16 we are in the very next chapter after the incredible events of the Exodus. Very little time has passed. Verse 1, which is not part of our reading today, tells us that a few weeks have passed since those incredible events – when they left Egypt with this whole cacophony of people along with their flocks and their herds, their sheep and their cattle. They left ready with provisions; they didn’t leave empty-handed. They had plenty of food to eat because they knew that the journey would be long and hard. So here in chapter 16 when they complain and cry and out and say to the Lord ‘how could you do this to us?’; ‘how could you lead us to this barren place?’ In the end of chapter 15 all they do is complain about the lack of water. So the Lord gives them water to drink. Here the Lord doesn’t say, ‘well, just go away and leave me alone, if you are not going to be thankful.’ No, he feeds his people. He gives them this food to eat.

When the dew lifts in the morning from the camp, and the people see this white flaky substance that has come there from overnight, they look at it and they say ‘what the…?’ (man-nu?) The Hebrew word for ‘what’ is ‘man’, so they look at this stuff and say ‘man-hu’ – what is that? And Moses says no, not ‘man-nu’, but the bread from heaven. This food that the Lord gives us. They are fed by God. The Lord gives them this food to eat. But the Lord also wants them to know that they are on a journey; what he is doing is creating a people. A people who are being led from slavery to freedom. It is sometimes said that while it only took God one night/one day to take Israel out of Egypt, it takes 40 years that they are in the wilderness – those 40 years of beginning to trust in God; beginning to allow the Lord to feed them; those 40 years to take Egypt out of Israel. To take those desires away; to allow them to know that indeed they can trust in God; indeed the Lord will feed them. He will give the manna in the morning; he will give the quail in the evening. The Lord will lead his people; the Lord will feed his people.

I don’t know about you, but at times I think back on the past – I look back at those memories and those things that I have done in the past that I regret, that still burden me and which are still present. And then I need the bread of God. I need the life of God to feed me now. To remind me not to go back; not to go back to those times when the fleshpots looked so wonderful – but they weren’t. Because that was slavery. The Lord wants to free us; he wants to do the same as what he tried to do with the people in the desert. To purify us and give us that hunger for the true bread; for that true presence of the Lord.

Recorded at St Col’s – Vigil and Sunday morning (10min 30sec)

Play MP3

Apostles breaking down barriers

Jesus-Shepherd-TissotWe meet the disciples of Jesus today as they return from their missionary journeys where they went out in pairs to not only proclaim the message of salvation but they were also tasked to heal the sick and bring release to those bound with evil spirits. They return no longer as disciples – but they are now called for the first time ‘apostles’ – that is ones that are sent. Seeing how tired and stressed they are, Jesus invites them to go across the lake to a wilderness area (eremos topos) – the same phrase that is used to describe the wilderness that Jesus spent the forty days at the beginning of the Gospel. But when they cross the lake they find the even larger crowd has hurried even more than they did and are waiting for them when they step ashore. Jesus models the ministry of shepherd by having compassion on the crowd and he sets about to teach them at some length. (So a long homily is a sign of the preacher’s compassion on the crowds.)

Paul also offers us an insight into the ministry of the shepherd by describing the alienation that his audience used to live in – they were both spiritually and physically excluded from the life of the Jewish people by the commandments of Moses and the wall that surrounded the inner courts in the Jerusalem temple which bore an inscription which warned any Gentiles (in Greek) that if they entered into the inner courts they should prepare to die. Sorry about that.

What happens in the life and death of Jesus is the beginning of the incredible process of reconciliation – the tearing down of all barriers to allow both Jews and Gentiles to no longer be two separate streams, but now one newly recreated humanity able to live in the grace and peace of God.

Play MP3

Recorded at St Col’s, Saturday Vigil and Sunday morning (9mins)

Sunday 16, Year B

Celebrating the Easter Experience

christ_pantocrator_mosaic_hagia_sophiaEntering into the experience of Easter is always a profoundly moving event. I found this year to be no different – even though it was the first time that I have had the chance to lead the liturgies in a parish that I am responsible for which added its own stresses. The liturgies and encounters that are offered by the church are profoundly rich and provide an opportunity to focus on what is truly central to our lives as Christians.

The following links take you to the links on frrick.org to listen to or download the various audio files (I can only link one audio file here or iTunes doesn’t work.)

Easter Vigil – Play MP3

Wilderness now redeemed

Wild_iStock_000006508876As we move into the new season of Lent accompanied by the Gospel of Mark, the starkness of the presentation of the testing in the wilderness in Mark becomes quickly apparent. Whereas the other synoptic Gospels offer us more detailed descriptions including the fasting, the nature of the testing and the dialogue that occurs between Jesus and the Satan, Mark simply tells us that immediately the Spirit of God – freshly poured upon Jesus at his baptism in the wilderness of the Jordan valley – drives Jesus out into the wilderness. The wilderness was not a comfortable place but rather a frightening place characterised by the wild animals that prowled around within its empty expanse. But unlike others who were tested by the accuser and failed – Adam is the primary example – Jesus succeeds in his testing. And unlike the whole nation of Israel that was likewise tested in the wilderness and also failed, Jesus offers redemption to the whole people by demonstrating that he is the stronger one who will overcome all failure and sin.

Play MP3

Recorded at St Columbkille’s, Corrimal, 9am (9 mins, 26 secs)
Lent, Sunday 1, Year B. Mark 1:12-15

From the Pastor’s PC – First Sunday of Lent

Well with a new season comes a new priest. I thought that it would be helpful for a bit of background info on who this new guy is – if you have to put up with me you deserve at least this much! So to begin with I’m a country kid. I grew up as the youngest of five kids on the far south coast of NSW, on a farm north of Bega. I am a very productive uncle: I have two sisters and two brothers; they are all married and have given me 17 nieces and nephews. I attended school in Bega – the local Catholic Primary School and then the local state High School – there was no Catholic school there in those days. My parents will celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary this year.

After school, I completed a degree in economics at Sydney University (1987-89) – with a triple major in economics, accounting and commercial law. I then worked in University ministry as part of the Disciples of Jesus Community – a lay Catholic community (1990-93), and began studies in theology at St Patrick’s College, Manly (1992-95) and Good Shepherd Seminary, Homebush (1996-98). I continued to work in the area of evangelisation and youth ministry during my seminary formation, as part of the Communauté de l’Emmanuel, which included opportunities to take part in street evangelisation in cities like Rome, Paris, Brussels, London and Dublin. I also spent more than four years with the Discalced Carmelites (1999-2003) and worked in the area of media and communications for the Archdiocese of Sydney (2003-2005).

I joined the Diocese of Wollongong at the beginning of 2005. The first five plus years were spent in the Nowra parish, as a seminarian, deacon and priest, being ordained deacon in December 2005 and priest in June 2006. In July 2010 I was appointed to Fairy Meadow parish as an assistant priest to the new Lumen Christi pastoral region in Wollongong, and in October 2011 as assistant priest to St Paul’s Parish, Camden. As you know, I have now been appointed as the administrator or the ‘priest-in-charge’ here at St Columbkille’s. I have also applied to be the parish priest of the northern suburbs cluster – but we will have to wait and see what the bishop and the good Lord wants with all that!

I am somewhat into technology and gadgets, and I have presented at national conferences on the role of technology and the church. In addition to my parish role, I am also the Vocations Director and chair of the Vocations Team, chaplain to Catholic Youth Ministry in Wollongong, chair of the Youth Council, I help with the Diocesan website, several other parish and national websites, I have helped to prepare the Lenten and Advent Programs, and I am a member of the Proclaim Conference organising committee and the Diocesan representative on the National Evangelisation Forum.

From 2007 – 2013 I was also secretary of the Wollongong Diocese Council of Priests, and a member of the National World Youth Day Committee. Since 1992 I have been a regular presenter at the Summer School of Evangelisation in Bathurst, and since 2008, I have been very blessed by the opportunity to travel to Queensland in January to help out with initial training for NET Ministries and to be a presenter at the Ignite Conference and chaplain to six Ignite Summer Camps for teenagers. I prepare liturgical resources for the Church, including the iPriest Missal and Lectionary – which is what I use during the Mass. Since November 2008, I have also published a blog (frrick.me) and podcast (frrick.org) of my weekly homilies, which is available on iTunes. The audio recordings of my homilies have received several hundred thousand downloads. Finally, like Fr Graham, I am a regular contributor to the Journey Radio program.

So, let us journey with the Lord during this season of Lent, embracing the chance to hear the kingdom of God being proclaimed into our lives, and this chance to repent – to turn again to the Lord of all life and goodness.

Fr Richard Healey (or Fr Rick – or any variation that begins with R!)

Jesus and the isolated leper

lady-griefToday in the Gospel (Mark 1:40-45) we find Jesus on the move from Capernaum, through the nearby villages of Galilee, wanting to preach there as well. A man with leprosy comes and falls at the feet of Jesus with a pitiable plea to match the fact that lepers in that society are not only pitied but greatly feared.

People did not know what caused this wide range of diseases which included what we today call leprosy — but they knew that they were contagious — so the only solution was to isolate the victims and not allow them to have any contact with other people. Although the disease featured an appalling physical disintegration of body and limbs, the real pain of the disease was the social ostracism that the disease engendered. It is also tragic that many of the people who were forced to be ostracized may not have even had the disease but some other non-contagious skin complaint.

The response of Jesus today is odd. Jesus is deeply moved by the leper – some translations say with compassion or pity, but others say with anger. The Greek word can be translated either way. But once he heals him in a very matter-of-fact way, then Jesus warns him sternly not to say anything about the healing. Perhaps this is simply because before the man can be reintegrated into society, he has to be seen to be clean by making the appropriate offering that is prescribed in the Book of Leviticus.

Perhaps we can take great courage from the Gospel today, knowing that when we bring any of our complaints and diseases before the Lord, he will respond to us in the same way that he responds to this man: “Of course I want to, be made clean.” Jesus is never constrained by social conventions or legalities that prevent him from being part of our lives. If we have isolated ourselves away from family and friends, perhaps today offers us a chance to reconnect with our church family or offer that healing touch of Jesus to someone we know.

Play MP3

Sunday 06, Year B.

This was my final Sunday in St Paul’s, Camden. This week I move to St Columbkille’s Parish in Corrimal, as the Administrator, ready for the new season of Lent.
To listen to my words of thanks at the end of Mass, click here. It also includes a few thoughts after Bishop Peter’s 2015 Lenten Message.

Service of a Woman Disciple

Woman with tissue and hot drinkWe continue the day in the life of Jesus that the Gospel of Mark famously opens with. The four new disciples of Jesus travel with him as he leaves the synagogue and the now freed formerly possessed person and goes to the house of Simon and Andrew, where they find Simon’s mother-in-law sick in bed with a fever. Going against ordinary social convention, which is especially important in the case of a Rabbi and teacher like Jesus, he goes into her room, takes her by the hand, and assists her to get up. This action is enough to allow her to be freed from her sickness, and she immediately adopts the action of a disciple by serving the small community gathered around Jesus. The people who heard Jesus teach in the synagogue follow him to the house once the evening falls and the sabbath day is over. It is significant that the ministry of Jesus continues into the new day – the first day of the week, or Sunday. After Jesus has freed the people from disease and possession, he takes the opportunity to escape into a quiet place where he can be alone with the Father in prayer. However the clueless Simon and his companions (note they are not yet described as disciples) come hunting for him. Unlike his mother-in-law, Simon has not yet learnt that the first act of a disciple is service; rather than trying to help the people himself, he simply goes in pursuit of a solution which he perhaps hopes (rather than believes) may be found in Jesus.

At this stage, we might presume that Jesus would simply then set about healing all those still in need of a miracle – but he doesn’t. He announces that he needs to keep moving on. Even though he is famous here and people are clamouring to be entertained by his signs and wonders, this is not enough to keep Jesus in his home town. Others also need to hear the kingdom of heaven proclaimed, so he moves on. Redemption is so much more than what the people of Capernaum were looking for. A powerful lesson for the contemporary church?

Play MP3

Sunday 05, Year B. Mark 1:29-39

My child in whom I delight

baptism-jesusThe transition from the season of Christmas and the gathering around the manger scene to the arrival of the Magi to this feast of the Baptism of the Lord and the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus is a rapid one. We meet the adult Jesus who is presented as the answer to all the hopes and expectations of so many generations of faithful Jews – and yet he arrives innocuously and simply – walking into the waters of the muddy Jordan River. It is only when he emerges out of the waters of repentance and identification with the rest of sinful humanity that there is even a hint of signs and wonders. The thin curtain that separates the world where the glory of God dwells and the will of God is always done – heaven – from the mixed existence that is our ordinary experience – earth – is drawn back and the voice of the Father is heard declaring “my son”, “my beloved”, “my delight.” The gift of the Christian faith is that these declarations – while unique initially to Jesus – are no longer declared to him alone. Through the incredible gift of baptism, the Lord has shared these declarations with the whole believing church.

Play MP3

Recorded at St Paul’s, Camden (8am: 7mins, 30secs)
Baptism of the Lord. Mark 1:7-11.

God has drawn near in love

 

babyhug

I love technology. I love the fact that Google Maps is able to navigate you around traffic snarls – often allowing you to take the exit just before all the traffic has built up on the motorway. So cool! I was in Brisbane a couple of weeks ago for a wedding, and stayed with a mate who is also into tech. He works for the church in youth ministry – which means he doesn’t get paid enough! So on the side he uses the app to be an Uber driver – which uses the tech built into our smart phones to identify the location of the passenger and the closest available driver to be able to respond and pickup the passenger within minutes. The passenger can also choose to select a playlist on her Spotify app and have it synced with the driver’s car stereo so that the music keeps playing when she gets into the car. As impressive as this tech all is however, the main thing that allows all of this to work is an age-old reality: wealth disparity. Companies like Uber rely on the fact that there are enough people who are under-employed to offer their services to those who are able to pay for them – with the company acting as a go-between to collect their 17% fee from the transaction. Which means that the world that Jesus was born into is remarkably similar to our own in this respect. God could have chosen a woman of significance to send the angel Gabriel to – a princess, or wealthy merchant, or at least a Roman citizen – but instead he chose an impoverished young girl from an out-of-the-way village in a dirt-poor region of a Roman occupied Jewish territory. As St Paul reminds us in his letter to Titus today, “it was not because he was concerned with any righteous actions we might have done ourselves”; no, he saved us “for no reason except his own compassion.” (Titus 3:4-5)

Play MP3

Christmas Day (Dawn Mass; 7min 52sec)

Mary and Gabriel

The scene that is presented in the Gospel today is one of my favourites. We read from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, verses 26-38. The angel Gabriel appears to announce the birth of a child and follows the pattern established in the Hebrew Scriptures: the angel says, ‘do not be afraid’; the recipient is called by name and reassured of God’s favour; the birth and name of the child is disclosed and then the future role of the child is revealed.

But the similarity between this scene and the announcement of the birth of John also invites us to closely reflect on the differences. While the announcement of John came as the fulfilment of fervent prayer, the announcement to Mary of the birth of Jesus was completely unanticipated. Even more so, while John would be born to parents who were past the age of child bearing, the miracle of the birth of Jesus would be far greater – he would be born to a virgin. The announcement spirals down and through time from the general to the specific: from God to the region of Galilee to a town called Nazareth to a virgin who is betrothed to a man named Joseph – and finally to Mary.

According to the customs of the time, the marriage would have been arranged by her father. Mary would live at home for a year, then the groom would come to take her to his home and the wedding celebrations would last a week. But legally the marriage was already sealed after the engagement. For example, if Joseph had died before the wedding, Mary would have been treated as a widow.

The birth of this child would not only be extraordinary – but he would be the Son of the Most High God. Although Mary had not had sexual relations with any man, this child would be born by the power of God.

These scenes remind us that God works in the lives of ordinary people like Zechariah and Mary. Gabriel was not sent to the home of a queen or princess, but to the insignificant home of a girl betrothed to a labourer. Her significance lies in her answer: “Let it be done unto me, according to your word.” Let our significance be the same.

Play MP3

Description is of the Journey radio program reflection: Three versions of the homily available here (including radio)

Advent, Sunday 4. Year B.