Opening Mass at CHA Governance Conference “Effective Governance and Leadership for Mission”

30 Mar 2015

Introduction for Opening Mass at CHA Governance Conference “Effective Governance and Leadership for Mission”, Crowne Plaza, Coogee Beach

Welcome to this morning’s Mass as we ask God to inspire this Catholic Health Australia Governance Conference on Effective Governance and Leadership for Mission. I am pleased to acknowledge the presence of auxiliary bishops (Most Rev.) Don Sproxton of Perth and (Most Rev.) Terry Brady of Sydney, the Vicar-General and Episcopal Vicar for Health and Welfare in the Archdiocese of Sydney (Very Rev.) Gerry Gleeson, and my brother priests. I also acknowledge Sr Annette Schneider representing Sr Berneice Loch, President of Catholic Religious Australia, who ia attending to her mother’s funeral arrangements, Rowena McNally, Chair of the Catholic Health Australia Board and Suzanne Greenwood CEO. And I welcome all of you involved in the leadership of Catholic health and aged care in Australia.

Homily for Opening Mass at CHA Governance Conference “Effective Governance and Leadership for Mission”, Crowne Plaza, Coogee Beach, 30 March 2015

A delightful scene in a week of few joys: Jesus relaxes for a few moments with dear friends Lazarus, Martha and Mary, is fed by them and spoilt a bit by Mary. A gratuitous gesture like hers adds something extra, something lovely to life. It exemplifies the virtues of hospitality, magnanimity and magnificence – the ability to mark an occasion by doing something out of the ordinary. Its scent extends far beyond the moment, being long remembered.
Holy Week has begun. We fast and creep to the cross and dress our sanctuaries in the colour of bruises. Unawares Mary prepares Jesus for trial and burial. On Thursday night He will repeat her gesture, preparing His disciples for trial by feeding them, for burial by washing their feet. Yet Pope Francis warns Christians not to live in a perpetual Lent (EG 6). The climax of this week is not Good Friday, important as it is for our salvation, but Easter with its promise that after fasting comes the feast of life and love. Though we are realistic about the brokenness of our world, our relationships and ourselves, our faith is not a grim-faced stoicism: we celebrate all that it is good and true and beautiful, and want that shared by all. Easter is the horizon for the Christian.
So it is appropriate that this Gospel opens our conference. Catholic health and aged care is concerned with bringing Easter to people who often feel more like Good Friday. Our Gospel helps us see that the crucifixions of our sick brothers and elderly sisters can be the harbinger of greater joy; that suffering is not the be-all-and-end-all of human existence; that our work in Catholic health and aged care has, as its ultimate goal, “the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting”.

We see today that Judas is literally a kill-joy: he hates how much people enjoy themselves around Jesus and this hate so consumes him that he will hand his friend over to be killed. John, writing from embittered retrospect, assures us Judas was a greedy hypocritical thief: for all the talk of social justice, he was only in it for himself. Yet Jesus’ rebuke “You’ll always have the poor to care for; you won’t have me much longer” seems a rather harsh rebuke. Surely Judas and many like him have a point when they charge that churches could do more to help needy? Isn’t there too much ‘expensive ointment’ about the Vatican, our churches, our schools, our health and aged care institutions? 

Well, one thing is clear: Jesus, for one, was not unconcerned with the poor or sick or otherwise needy; He was the fulfilment of the Old Testament reading dream of someone “endowed with God’s Spirit” who would “bring true justice to the nations and serve the cause of right”. As the Gospels tell Jesus was a great friend to the poor and sick, preaching good news and bringing healing to them, while challenging those of us who live in relative ease.
The Church too, at her best, has long been a friend to the poor, ignorant, sick and elderly – feeding, housing, nursing and schooling them, helping them help themselves, working for social change to their advantage. The Church is, of course, mostly constituted of the poor (broadly understood); her Scriptures and Tradition propose an option for the poor; and the popes, at least since Vatican II, have been very focused on the Church being with the poor, alongside them in their struggles. The congregations that established our health and aged care system, and the lay groups that carry forward and extend those works, have clearly walked the Church’s talk. The Church in Australia now has around 10,000 hospital beds, 40,000 retirement, residential aged care and home care places or packages, 700,000 school desks, and assists countless people through parishes, CatholicCare and the St Vincent de Paul Society. Yet still some complain about all the expensive ointment wasted on buildings and their furnishings, vestments and vessels, bells and smells… Couldn’t we add all those resources to those already committed to the needy, and so make up the shortfall as governments retreat from providing?

Jesus’ answer is for us as much as for Judas: because this is part of being with Me, of being truly human and a little divine, of delighting in the good things of creation, marking an occasion, tasting a little heaven while on earth. Ointments and artworks and the rest are, after all, part of how you serve each other, delighting each other and in each other. To do more than necessary may be inefficient in worldly terms but may still be worthy.
If Jesus Himself no longer has tired, dirty feet deserving such care, God is still worthy of the best ointment we can give and the poor offer us plenty of feet to be getting on with washing. May God bless our deliberations this week and bless all of you other Marys of Bethany, reverencing and caring for those in need as if they were the Crucified Christ.