05 Mar 2019

“What about me?” sang Shannon Noll after coming second in the first Australian Idol series in 2003. Peter asks the same in our Gospel today (Mk 10:28-31).

Feeling overlooked or pushed aside is a common feeling. We experience it in relationships, jobs, shops. We’ve made our contribution, we expect our reward. It’s reasonable enough: all Peter wants are his just deserts, a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work. “Fair’s fair” can motivate us to fight for just deserts for all, not just ourselves.

Yet all too often the sense of justice becomes a sense of entitlement. That can blind us to others’ rights and needs. We can end up all too measured in our good works, too careful that everything is acquitted right and gratefully received. Our need for self-esteem and neatness trumps all else.

Our first reading suggests God’s accounting is very different. Whether its atonement for our sins (through Confession), offering holy sacrifices (in the Eucharist), giving and receiving finest flour (in Holy Communion), offering sacrifices of praise (in our Daily Prayer), we do our duty by Scripture and Tradition. But beyond our temple sacrifices, Ecclesiasticus says (Sir 35:1-12), God looks for generous and grateful hearts, and for proof in our fighting injustice, embracing virtue, being unstinting in our tithes and generous in our alms. As if writing for Project Compassion, Ben Sirach says what most impresses God is almsgiving, as much as we can afford, and with a smile on our faces. For this God rewards us many times over.

Whingeing Peter should have known better. He knew the God of his fathers was ‘no respecter of persons’, paid each according to his deeds, or even seven times that, as Sirach said. So why the bellyaching? Apparently Peter and the lads think they’re pretty special and deserve extra. It’s the first recorded case of Christian clericalism and privilege. Ever so gently Jesus turns Peter’s aspiration on its head.

First, He reminds them why they’ve given up what they have: “for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel”. That, of course, should have been enough. I trust Peter blushed at that point. Next, Jesus recalls the prophet’s reward, promising not just seven but a hundred times their deserts. You’ll get your privileges Pete – siblings, parents, children, Sydney real estate, you’ll get the lot – but “not without persecution” and there’s the rub. Special as Christians might be, and priests, bishops, apostles, none is exempt from persecution. There is a lesson for us here in these dark times for the Church. Give without counting the cost, lend expecting no return, and know that as they persecuted Christ nad the prophets they will persecute you.

Project Compassion makes giving easier. The shift from ‘me’ to ‘thee’, from us to them, is easier when you see the faces of those for whom it will make a real difference. This week, for example, we meet 12-year-old Thandol-wayo from north-western Zimbabwe, whose father left years ago and whose mother works 90 km away as a casual worker. She lives with her grandparents and used to walk seven km every day before school to collect (contaminated) water for her family. She’d start her school-day already exhausted. Now, thanks to Caritas providing two solar powered pumps and two 10,000 litre water tanks, clean water is available, not just for Thandolwayo but for many others. Plentiful water has triggered new ventures in moulding bricks for building and in pounding maize to sell. Plans are underway to establish a community garden and a fish pond. Now Thandolwayo can drink safely, can wash, and can concentrate on her education: she hopes to train as a nurse when she grows up.

In the Lenten call to alms we discover, with Peter, that we already have lands and houses aplenty – more than we need here in Australia, and more with needs overseas. We discover that we already have family aplenty – some in need of help nearby, but far more overseas. ‘Lives change when we all give 100%’ – not just the lives of those we help, but our own lives too. We shift from the miserly ‘I’ll only do my bit’, the self-focused ‘What do I get out of it?’, the ‘me versus thee’, ‘us versus them’ mentality. Let us make Project Compassion our project this Lent.


St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica, Sydney

Welcome to St Mary’s Cathedral as we gather for the launch of Project Compassion. I welcome Paul O’Callaghan, CEO of Caritas Australia, along with other members of Caritas; the Vicar-General, Very Rev. Gerry Gleeson, concelebrating with me today; and Super Dube (Doo-bay), Coordinator of Caritas Zimbabwe, who will be speaking to us after Communion.

To everyone present, including visitors and more regulars, a very warm welcome!