Homily for Mass for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C  + Installation of Fr Sebastian Savarimuthu as Parish Priest

10 Oct 2022

All Hallows Catholic Parish, Five Dock, 9 October 2022

Productivity apps are among the most popular today. Driving this is the yearning to squeeze as much as we can out of each week, day and hour, to get more done, more efficiently. Of course, this push for greater productivity predates smartphones and apps.

One of the authors of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution was Benjamin Franklin. A scientist and inventor—who famously flew a kite in a thunderstorm in order to prove that lightning was electricity—he was also a public intellectual and writer, newspaper editor and printer, statesman and diplomat, abolitionist, postmaster general and all-round over-achiever. He was also known for his fondness for to-do-lists.[1] Franklin adhered to a regimented plan for each day and used a checklist each evening to examine what he’d achieved that day and what virtues he’d exhibited. Franklin made a compelling case for productivity enhancers, whether they be checklists and mental audits, or fancier calendar apps and digital reminders.

Much of the value of these tools and strategies is their emphasis upon prioritisation. By ranking our daily tasks by importance and then systematically ticking them off, we can plan our progress and feel a sense of achievement along the way. There are, after all, only so many hours in a day, so we must identify what’s most important to us and give it the attention it deserves.

But knowing what matters most can be tricky. We are drawn this way and that by our emotions and desires, the attractions and distractions of the world, the demands others make of us. Our time or resource allocation can fall out of whack, so we spend too much on some things and neglect others. Think of those who prioritise climbing the ladder at work over human relationships, or partying and having a good time over health and well-being…

The risk of getting our spiritual priorities wrong is also a real one. We can, for instance, fall into the activism trap. Of course, Jesus wanted us to be just and charitable, and praised those who produced good fruits.[2] On the other hand, He preferred Mary’s sitting at His feet listening to Martha’s busying herself about many things and praised those who let go of even good projects to follow him.[3] So there’s more to the Church than being a humanitarian NGO and to the Christian life than being a do-gooder. In fact, important as it is for us to have good projects, we can risk being so focused on them that we put our own will and power before God’s.

Cleansing of the Ten Lepers from the Codex Aureus Epternacensis (c.1035)

In the ancient world leprosy was both a physical ailment, affecting the skin, peripheral nerves, respiratory tract and eyes, and a social affliction, excluding the sufferer from public life and worship (cf. Lev ch. 13). In our story today the lepers “stood some way off” and had to shout to Jesus, as they were forbidden to get any closer. Lepers were outsiders in every sense of the word!

Only one leper returned to thank Jesus, and this one was a Samaritan. Jesus says the man’s faith saved him—yet we know the other nine were healed also. What’s going on here? We have to look deeper at what Jesus meant by saved. There’s the physical healing that the ten craved and that Jesus, moved by pity, granted. But there’s a spiritual side to all this, which is why Jesus sent then to the priests. So, to be saved is about more than absence of a skin disease: it’s about total restoration of body, soul and spirit, and being restored to the community as a result.

Our Samaritan returns and thanks Jesus. Not just a British handshake and “thanks a lot”; it’s a Middle Eastern “praising God at the top of his voice and throwing himself at Jesus’ feet” sort of thank you. He puts the first commandment first, thanking God for the grace received. He puts thanking the mediator of divine grace—Jesus—next. Thirdly he goes to the priests as Jesus directed. And finally he returns to his family and friends to celebrate. In questioning where the other nine were, Jesus wasn’t seeking their thanks or validation: He was highlighting a crucial point about priorities. The Samaritan had his 4-point to-do list in order. He understood that having encountered the living God in Jesus he had been totally restored, and so the right response was praise and worship, thanksgiving and celebration.

Something similar is at work in the Old Testament reading (2Kings 5:14-17). The Syrian general Naaman also had leprosy. He obeys Elisha’s instructions to bathe seven times in Jordan. Prefiguring of the saving waters of Baptism, he’s healed and returns to Elisha full of gratitude to the one true God and his prophet. While he wants to reward the prophet, he’s even more intent on worshipping God and so he takes some of Israel’s soil home with him, so he can sacrifice on a piece of the promised land.

The two stories remind us that our ultimate spiritual priority is to worship God and render Him praise for the gift of ourselves—our life, person, world, fellows, opportunities; to worship Christ and give Him thanks for His saving actions, making us whole each time we sin or are hurting in some other way and cry out to Him; to go to the priests of the Church for that cleansing baptism and the absolution that certifies our healing; and to go back to our families and friends celebrating all God has given us. If Five Dock is to be truly the home of All Saints, these must be our true spiritual priorities, our most important to-do list.

This very idea was at the heart of a sermon given by St John Henry Newman, whose feast we’d celebrate today were it not a Sunday. Entitled Remembrance of Past Mercies, Newman encourages us to develop a habit of looking at all we have as a testament of God’s mercy, seeing our lives as total gift and each of our day’s blessings as further examples of God’s care. As creatures, Newman claims, we have two duties: to submit faithfully to God and His loving ways, trusting in Him and His promises; and to live lives of praise and gratitude.[4] By being both faithful and thankful, we can navigate life’s ups and downs, and look forward to what awaits us as sons and daughters of God.

Fr Sebastian will now be responsible on my behalf for the worship, evangelisation and service in All Hallows parish. In his priestly service, he must sanctify you by prayer and sacrament. In his shepherding, he must lead and serve as Christ did. In his prophetic ministry, he must proclaim the Gospel and Church teaching in season and out. But he cannot do this all by himself. Together, priests and people achieve far more than any one of us could do alone. To strengthen Fr Sebastian for this task, we now have the formal Rite of Installation of a Parish Priest. It is a useful reminder to us all, not just of his mission but yours. I ask you, of your mercy, to keep supporting Fr Sebastian, as he prays for and serves you.

[1] https://www.themarginalian.org/2012/02/09/willpower-to-do-list/

[2] e.g. Mt 7:15-20; 25:14-30, 31-46.

[3] Lk 10:38-42; Mt 4:19-22; 8:19-22; 10:38; 16:24; 19:21,27-28 etc.

[4] https://www.newmanreader.org/works/parochial/volume5/sermon6.html

Introduction to Mass for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C  + Installation of Fr Sebastian Savarimuthu as Parish Priest, All Hallows Catholic Parish, Five Dock, 9 October 2022

I am delighted to be here today at All Hallows Five Dock formally to install Fr Sebastian Savarimuthu as your parish priest. I acknowledge concelebrating with me Assistant Parish Priest Fr Richard Ddumba and Very Rev. Fr Paul Marshall, Rector of Holy Spirit Seminary at Harris Park. Serving with us are deacons Louis Azzopardi, Constantine Rodrigues and Mervin Francis.

Joining us today representing Sydney Catholic Schools are Executive Director, Tony Farley, and Director of System Stewardship, Glenn McLachlan, and staff and students from All Hallows Primary School.

To everyone present from the parish, and visitors from Bossley Park, a very warm welcome! In witnessing the Rite of Installation of a Parish Priest this morning, we are reminded of the various ways that God’s word and sacraments touch and heal us, and so as we offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving that is the Mass we first repent of our sins…