20 Mar 2020

Our Lady of the Rosary Church, Fairfield

Ecology, ecowarriors, ecoterrorists, climate change campaigners, climate change deniers, environmental science, even environmental ethics. These terms were not common parlance a decade ago: now they are whole movements or disciplines, passions, even obsessions. Today the very Christian concern for ‘our common home’ the planet is often romanticised, catastophised, or presented as the sole or defining issue of our time. We think of the young people protesting all around the world in the name of Climate Action, and people occupying sites, disrupting traffic and more on behalf of ‘Extinction Rebellion’. When an 83-year-old woman glued herself to a London street[i] and a 75-year-old man glued his hands to the road in front of Parliament House,[ii] they epitomised the radical turn in ecological concerns.

This morning’s prophesy from Hosea (Hos 14:2-10) seems like an early example of this fascination with all things ecological. We get some rather romanticized poetry about galloping horses and falling dew, blooming lilies and shooting poplars, beautiful olives and fragrant cedars, flourishing cornfields and cultivated vines, evergreen cypresses and fruitful orchards. But it’s not all airy-fairy: there’s something going on beneath the surface, and a serious message about what’s wrong here and what to do about it.

Mysterium iniquitatis – the mystery of evil. How are we to think of natural evils like bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic? Or of Israel more mundane iniquities? Is evil a force ‘out there’ or a problem in here? How are we to make sense of iniquity and combat it? Our prophesy from Hosea gives us some ways to think these things through…

First, Hosea presents evil as a wandering away, stumbling, losing all sense of direction. When we lose perspective, we damage the vines that used to produce our wine, the trees that once provided the fruit and shade, we ruin the natural ecology. So he calls us back to the wisdom, understanding, intelligence of a sound conscience, that right path we know in our heart of hearts, the common morality of all people of good will, the faith compass we used to follow. Only then, Hosea thinks, will we find ‘the straight path’, the direction we need.

Secondly, the Prophet sees sin as a species of disloyalty, to God, family, friends, ourselves, a kind of two-timing, adultery, abandonment of those you love. When we are disloyal, we damage the friendships that give life and love, we hurt other people and the ecosystem of human relationships and networks that we rely upon. The text invites us to return home, let our disloyalty be healed, learn love again, for only ‘at home’ will we find the shelter, shade and security we crave.

Thirdly, Hosea compares sin with idolatry, with loving things more than God, self more than others, ideologies more than truth, our own inventions more than what we have received. When we give priority to lesser goods, we harm our internal ecology, we mess ourselves up inside. So the prophet calls us back into relationship with the One God, who hears our prayers and cares for us, who is not angry but loving, who offers healing for our hearts and flourishing for our souls.

But what’s so bad about a bit of wandering? After all, explorers are praised for discovering new places and new ways to get there, and we’ve all got a bit of the explorer inside us. What’s wrong with some imagination, some experimentation? Can’t we change our loyalties over time, grow out of old relationships and into new ones? Or put ourselves and our own fulfilment first sometimes, rather than always having to worry about other people’s needs and expectations? As for idolatry, sure we make gods of pleasurable experiences, consumer items, our own ideas, ourselves. But what harm does that do? Nothing of the scale of ecological catastrophes. And God, if there is a god, will surely forgive our little foibles: He’s got more to worry about than our rather mundane sins…

Hold on, Hosea says this morning. Sin messes you up. “Your iniquity was the cause of your downfall”. There’s no lasting happiness there. You won’t be saved by anger or lust or disloyalty. You won’t bloom, put down roots, put out shoots, be beautiful and fragrant and fruitful. No, you’ll be stunted, sterile, stink.

So, what to do about it? Hosea has some thoughts here too. Turn back like the prodigal son. Say sorry and ask for help. Then let God do the rest. His mercy will fall like the dew, like rain upon our barren and burnt land of Australia, that’s making it fruitful again. Whatever dries up our hearts and souls God can water and make fertile again. Approach Him in prayer and worship, what the prophet calls “our words of praise”. Fall into His arms in the sacrament of Confession, what he calls “finding the words to return to the Lord and to ask Him to take away our iniquity”. Open your mind to right thinking and your heart to right relationships, what Hosea calls ‘loyalty’, ‘flourishing’, ‘wisdom’ and ‘virtue’. If there is to be true ecological redemption, if we are to save the people who carry the culture and the planet that carries the people, if we are to address our internal ecology, our natural ecology, and our social ecology, we must come home to Christ at Easter. Wherever you’ve wandered, come back to me with all your heart, Jesus says through Hosea today


Our Lady of the Rosary Church, Fairfield

Welcome to this celebration of the Eucharist as I continue my canonical visitation of the Parish of Fairfield. I thank the parish priest, Fr Michael De Stoop, the parish clergy and all the parishioners for their preparations and welcome.

Today’s was to have been a celebration with all the leaders, staff and students of Patrician Brothers College. But sadly, we’ve been overtaken by the COVID-19 virus. That reminds us all of the need at this time to pray and fast for the victims of the pandemic both the sick and the dead, and their families, for those most at risk, for health workers and those seeking a cure, and for our civil leaders. As the government ramps up precautionary measures, the Church is determined to play its part, including helping keep people healthy and ensuring the sick have healthcare and pastoral care.

To everyone present this morning a very warm welcome!

[i] Joe Roberts 7 Zoe Drewett, “Gran, 83, explains why she’s glued herself to the floor fort Extinction Rebellion,” Metro 7 October 2019 https://metro.co.uk/2019/10/07/gran-83-explains-glued-floor-extinction-rebellion-10874960/

[ii] https://www.couriermail.com.au/truecrimeaustralia/police-courts/police-lay-more-charges-after-brisbane-extinction-rebellion-protest/news-story/9a49b87b5215488f2048cc295268090a