Homily: 11 November: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Sunday 11 November 2018
Archbishop Peter Comensoli
I was having a coffee recently with someone who has been accompanying the poor and vulnerable in our city for many years. He shared with me a thought that really struck me. To journey with the poor, he said, and in particular the homeless, is to go on a journey home.
In the eyes of God, it is the poor and the little, the vulnerable and the broken, the bereaved and the ill, who show us where home is. Throughout the Bible, God constantly and consistently brings his people back to the anawim – the little ones – and says: here is my home among you; make it your home too. In the Book of Kings, as we just heard, the Lord brings his prophet Elijiah to the feet of the poor widow of Sidon. In the Gospel, Jesus points out to his disciples the witness of the woman offering her last few coins.
The Hebrew word anawim means those who are bowed down. In the Bible they are the poor of every sort: the vulnerable, the marginalized, and socio-economically oppressed, those of lowly status, refugees, the mentally and physically ill or disabled. Often, they were named as the widow and orphan, or the lepers and possessed. Today, we might use different names, but the persons are the same. The anawim are the ones in all societies who have come to depend totally on God for whatever they have.
We all know that charity sits are the heart of Gospel action. ‘Doing’ our faith – as distinct from ‘knowing’ our faith – is the true path of holiness. Recall Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats: Whenever you did this to the least of your brothers and sisters you did it to me. Or his parable of the Good Samaritan, told to the young scribe who knew the commandment of loving one’s neighbour: go, and do likewise. Charity – the love of our neighbour, founded in the love of God – is the ‘doing’ of the Gospel.
Personally, I’ve become a little circumspect about the actual word ‘charity.’ Sadly, it now carries quite a bit of unhelpful baggage; it can be associated with government programs, bureaucratic structures, or programs rather than persons. Sometimes, it is used in terms of an entitlement owed, rather than an accompaniment offered. It is a pity that the word itself has lost much of its shine. What might we do to recover a more deeply godly and more human living of the way of charity? Perhaps using its Latin form – caritas – might help us break through the ho-humness that our English word can generate.
Or more significantly, might a deeper living of the way of charity – the witnessing to a charitable life by our daily actions – help to rescue the word from its demise? Perhaps this is where my friend’s remark could help. To see the anawim – as God sees them – as those whom we might travel with to our own home, would be to recover charity as the true framework of our lives. Do we not all want to come home to where we might find our true selves? To accompany those persons who are the anawin among us today – to be their companions on the journey – is to orient our own lives towards our homeland in heaven.
In gratefully acknowledging the many people here today who support the works of CatholicCare Melbourne, may I offer to you the witness of the widow in the Temple. As Jesus observed, she gave more than all the others, for she gave of her very self. May your work in charity be a sign for us all as to how to give of ourselves to others.
In acknowledging this day of the regaining of independence of Poland as a nation, may the image of ‘coming home’ be a sign present in all Polish people, not only to an historical homeland, but to any people who today are denied a place to call home.
Finally, on this centenary of Armistice at the end of World War One, might the words of Jesus to his disciples about how to love be the mark of our lives, so that war, conflict and violence against peoples is purged from us: No greater love is there than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command: and what I command is to love one another. (Jn 15)