07 Mar 2019

St. Canice’s Church, Elizabeth Bay

The philosopher, Thales of Miletus, is commonly known as the founder of philosophy. He was also an amateur astronomer, and there’s an old story about him walking along one day, looking up at the sky and contemplating the heavens. So intent was he on his thoughts, that he failed to notice a ditch right in front of him, and fell in! On another occasion he was at a sports match all day in the open sun, forgot to cover his head and drink lots of water, and he died of heat stroke! Ever since, people have spoken of the dangers of ‘having your head in the clouds’…

The stories may well come to us from someone who didn’t like Thales much, or perhaps didn’t like philosophers in general. rue or not, the story highlights the tendency to focus too much on the future at the expense of the present. Our readings this morning might seem to encourage a Thalean other-worldliness: Moses promises the people that one day they’ll live in the promised land, which is code for eternal life in heaven as opposed to ‘perishing’ (Dt 30:15-20). Jesus, too, speaks to us of the promise of resurrection, of regaining our life after losing it (Lk 9:22-25). All this talk of long-term, resurrection, heaven and hell, and the rest might sound rather theoretical or spiritual or head-in-the-cloudsy for those who struggling, day to day, just to makes ends meet.

Yet if we look again we find the text is not really ‘head in the clouds’ or, to the extent that it is, it requires us to both be head in the clouds and feet on the ground at the same time. Moses’ point is that our choices, here and now, will play out for good or ill in the rest of our lives or the lives of others; so it’s best, he says, in all our choices, to choose life, love, goodness, God. Jesus, likewise, calls his people to self-sacrifice and following now, if they are ever to share in heavenly glory with Him. It’s not all about theory: it’s about action. It’s not all about some distant future: it’s about the here and now. It’s not all about the spiritual: it’s about very concrete things. Moses and Jesus don’t say, ‘Sit in your room thinking I love god thoughts all day’: no, Moses says ‘Love the Lord and follow His ways’ and Jesus says ‘Take up your cross and follow me’. So it was that the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council said that “Far from diminishing our concern to develop this earth, the expectancy of a new earth should spur us on, for it is here that the body of a new human family grows, foreshadowing in some way the age which is to come.” (GS 39)

So today’s message is very practical and immediate. But it’s not altogether attractive. We don’t like to obey, to compromise our will to someone else’s, even God’s. We don’t like self-sacrifice, renouncing our life so as to regain it. We don’t like putting others first. In this age of self-self-self – self-discovery, self-expression, self-fulfilment, and the rest. In Thomas More’s ironic Utopia, people like the sick and the elderly, who demanded our care, were kept out-of-sight out-of-mind, outside city walls and then taken to the abattoir to be painlessly killed with animals. Undoubtedly there are elements in our community that point in that general direction. But Moses day calls upon heaven and earth as witnesses today as he says, “I set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life, then.”

In Lent we walk the way of the Cross with Jesus, conscious that He suffered like any person. He carried to Calvary together with the weight of His cross the truth of human suffering, humiliation, pain, loneliness, death. In His death Jesus entered into the fullest and deepest solidarity with the entire human family, especially the poor and vulnerable. In this He never bought the lie that happiness is found through focusing on self, avoiding everything unpleasant and maximizing the agreeable in our lives. No, He stood for the truth that happiness is found by stepping outside ourselves, our own self-contained little worlds, in service of others, of their happiness. It is a profound and liberating truth that anyone who gives up their life for sake of Gospel, the life of love and love of life, saves it. Choose life then – eternal life.


Canice’s Church, Elizabeth Bay

It’s some years since I last said Mass at David’s Place, and no doubt much has changed, including the venue, even if the ethos and mission remain the same.

Cardinal Pell was a great friend of David’s Place and so we might keep him in our prayers today, even as we pray, first and foremost, for all victims of sexual abuse or other violence or injustice, and pray for truth and justice in the present case.

But to Sue and all friends of David’s Place: a very warm welcome to you all!