Mass celebrated at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne - Sunday 20 September, 2015

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Throughout the year in Australia there are constant discussions about who is the greatest like the apostles in today’s Gospel. Jesus is very quick to notice these arguments. It may be about the tennis in January or July. It may be about the Olympians and the swimmers. It may be about footballers from March until September. It may be the performance of our cricketers in the World Series. It may be about the behaviour of any of these off the field.

In Australia we really expect the very best of our sports people and we hold them in high esteem. We are proud that many of our leaders in football and in sport have been great ambassadors for our country, who have shown not only greatness in sport, their working to win, their ability as a ruckman, a rover or a full-forward, but also their ability off the field to wear their sporting success lightly and to show amid the glare of constant publicity an essential human warmth which, because of their achievements, is an encouragement to their sisters and brothers in the community.

This is a responsibility of leadership which Australian sports people have carried with distinction and perhaps with some remarkable exceptions. Another great world leader wrote these words, “A devotee who is jealous of none, who is a fount of mercy, who is without egotism, who is selfless, who is ever forgiving, who is always contented, whose resolutions are firm and who is dedicated mind and soul to God, is a true disciple.”

Today, whether in sport or in work, we are challenged to respect the dignity of our sisters and brothers. As God guides creation according to the law of love, so that same law has to show itself in our relationships. The first Reading speaks of evil people lying in wait for someone who is good, jealous of God’s protection, and yet that protection is real. In the words of the Psalm, “The Lord upholds my life.”

Whether any of us here is a great sportsperson, an academic success, or a great servant and ambassador for the community, the challenge is the one that Jesus gives us in the Gospel. “If anyone wants to be first he must make himself last of all and servant of all.” And again even more powerfully, “Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me.”

Jesus is pointing to the dignity and respect which are owed to all. The great Indian leader, Mahatma Ghandi, gave great example, both in India and South Africa, in his concern for the untouchables. To deny the untouchables their dignity and to exclude them from fellowship was an injustice that Ghandi would not tolerate. The greatness of his leadership was that he would not resort to force. His only ambition was to serve the needs and defend the rights of those who followed him.

Jesus says, ‘become last and a servant to lead in service’. This can be true of people of superior gifts in sport or elsewhere. Everything we have is received. Everything we have is used for others. It reflects an even deeper spirit in the words of Ghandi, “Live simply so that others may simply live.” Again, although not a Christian, he says these words, “Prayer is the key of the morning and the bolt of the evening.” All leadership, all work, as an ambassador of sport or of community, is indeed a service. That is the challenge and invitation, which we have, to live often in the midst of misunderstanding or suffering, always with the support of Christ and the call of his Gospel.

It takes our life and challenges us to look beyond our own personal experience to the God-given talents which are so rich and diverse and which he dispenses so lavishly. Saint Mark makes the point that we cannot receive Jesus unless we are ready to enter into the spirit of discipleship and thereby become servants in the use of our gifts. As we thank God today for our heroes and ambassadors in sport and elsewhere, let us not forget the challenge, that we too have a special heroism which Jesus invites us to exercise.

+ Denis J. Hart,
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