“Who do you say I am?” (Homily, 21st Sunday in OT)

Sunday 23 August 2020

Archbishop Peter A Comensoli

Archbishop Comensoli is presently in quarantine, having been in close contact with someone who is COVID positive. Therefore, he was unable to celebrate today's televised Mass. However, he offers for spiritual reflection the homily below, which he preached on Migrant and Refugee Sunday 2017 in the Diocese of Broken Bay.

Jesus was on foreign soil when he travelled to Caesarea Philippi, and in more ways than one. Caesarea Philippi was located less than 100kms north of the Sea of Galilee, yet this was a different nation to that of Israel. So, while close to the homeland of Jesus, it was a foreign country for him and his friends. Even more foreign to Jesus was the purpose of Caesarea Philippi. It was a sacred site, with a temple dedicated to the Greek god, Pan. So, in today’s gospel, we have Jesus travelling to a foreign country, with a foreign religion, to make the point of his own universal kingship. Pan was a god of the natural world, but Jesus is the one true God of all. “Who do you say I am?... You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It took a foreigner in a foreign land, among foreign beliefs, to show how all can come home.

Australia – at least since the abandonment of the White Australia Policy – is essentially a pluralist society, made up of first peoples and migrant peoples from all corners of the globe, living in relative peace, concord and comfort. Yes, I am sure we can all name problems and challenges, disharmonies and discords about Australian society. Yet, it remains blessedly free of the ancient hatreds and newer animosities that many other countries are burdened with. Australia remains a place that others wish to come and settle in, even if we have recently become rather mean-spirited in our welcoming of newbies.

But even in a land of relative wealth, decent weather and acceptable democracy, there remains an underlying sense of dislocation and unease among many of our fellow Australians. It is not all goodness and light in this ‘lucky country.’ I notice this in many of our parish communities, and among the priests of our Diocese. It is not that there are overt tensions between long-timers and new arrivals, but that the diversity of cultures is not always overcome by simply adopting each other’s cuisines.

For me personally, I am very much a neophyte when it comes to understanding an Asian way of seeing the world and engaging with others. I often make mistakes in interpreting those subtle signs of gesture and manner of speaking we all operate from, and I suspect many of my priests are puzzled – and sometimes hurt – by my misunderstanding of what they are trying to convey to me. There is no language of humanity which is not passed through cultural and familial filters. We might say: how rich are the depths of God, but we can also say how rich are his creatures, made in his image.

All of this is a way of saying that even when we are home there can be a foreignness about it. We can remain foreigners in a foreign land, among foreign beliefs, unless and until we are able to ask of ourselves and our neighbours “Who do you say I am?” and seek an answer that can accompany us in our daily lives. Being sensitive to this reality, respectful of our diversity, and determined in our learning is the path to acceptance and cultural welcome.

Our kids have a particularly helpful way of teaching us in this regard. Theirs is not a life of marking out the differences from others or setting up barriers towards others – at least, not unless or until us adults model unhelpful attitudes in our own behaviours. Kids are good at play and delight, and they will instinctively look for others – any others – to find things to do together. There is such an openness and trust in them that is so precious to observe. The grace of innocence is one which is worth acknowledging.

May we learn the way of Jesus, who welcomed into the home of his divine life all who might find themselves in a foreign land. As our own St Mary of the Cross once said: We are but travellers here, on the way to our heavenly homeland.
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