Chaplain's Comments

On some of our long journeys these holidays we all had some sense of joy and happiness as we sat together as family or with friends or strangers contemplating the extraordinary or the ordinary in finding the world is our home. Emma Lockwood, a Vietnam pilgrim soulfully expressed her deepest desires in these lines, "We saw the poor, the sick and the neglected. Tears, sadness and their envy is what we expected. But in their eyes I saw no fire, no pity, nor pain, nor material desire only values of affection, compassion and laughter a message that will stick with us here and after"

Some of our privileged students and teachers had a transformational experience in their journeys to Vietnam, India and the Red Centre. Each of us definitely bears within the marks of change, on our journey of faith which is definitely at the heart of our mission here at John XXIII College in seeking justice beyond borders. This change brings to mind the words of Richard Rohr OFM: "Education is about transformation. What we don't transform in ourselves, we transmit". Our pilgrims challenge us to take a pilgrimage and embrace the new frontiers of global education. These young men and women point to us the dangers of inertia and the temptations to be too comfortable in our strengths and successes.

Malala Yousafzai the 14 year old girl in Pakistan doesn't have the luxury of her Western sisters and brothers to go to school, which was considered a waste and forbidden in the militant controlled area. She was determined to go to school so they shot her in the head on her way home. Her silenced yet courageous voice becomes a global beacon calling us to say a little prayer that her yearning for education won't be her dying wish.

One Sunday morning during Mass, the congregation was surprised to see two men enter, both covered from head to toe in black and carrying submachine guns. One of the men proclaimed, "Anyone willing to take a bullet for Christ remain where you are!" Immediately, the choir fled, altar servers fled, and most of the congregation fled. Within a few minutes, out of the two hundred strong congregation, only ten people remained where they were. The man who had spoken took off his hood, looked at the priest, and said, "OK, Father, I got rid of all the fence sitters, how about we make a start"

In many respects this shocking story makes an important point. I would like to think that faced with such an extreme moment like this I would have the courage of my convictions, but I must admit I have my doubts.

Each Sunday by coming and celebrating the Eucharist we implicitly, and explicitly, state that we want to become like Christ. As the gospel repeatedly tell us, if we follow him in his saving love for the world, then like him, we must confront injustice, defend the rights of the poor and the oppressed to dignity, give and forgive, heal and reconcile. By saying this, we are clearly not looking for a smooth ride through life.

In concert with the whole church, what most of us have done is domesticate the hard edges of Jesus' teachings to suit our comfortable existences. And then we get a Gospel like today's the sons of Zebedee want the best seats in the house without knowing what the admission price is going to be. They want the glory without the gore.

Jesus teaches them, and later all the other apostles, that for his kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven requires of us to drink a cup of suffering and be baptized in a river of sacrificial love. We can't dress this teaching up, or put a good spin on it. There is no resurrection without the cross. No gain without the pain.

For most of us this challenge means doing whatever we can politically and socially to bring the values of the gospel to bear on our different spheres of influence. But Jesus also links this challenge to that of service. And in this regard some leaders in the church give us mixed messages and let us off the hook.

Whatever the patrimony of the past, today's Gospel reminds us that bishops, priests, deacons and the people of God, should be excellent models of the humility of service. The leadership Jesus advocates is not monarchical or tyrannical, it is being the least, and being a servant. The Second Vatican Council taught that leaders in the church should be outstanding in humility, charity, and simplicity of lifestyle. Some leaders are just this. Others have domesticated the hard edge of the gospel blaming people for being left out or pushed out.

As the ground-breaking 1996 Australian Bishops' Social Justice Statement declared: 'In the main, people are poor not because they are lazy or lacking in ability or because they are unlucky. They are poor because of the way society, including its economic system, is organised.'

Anti-Poverty Week (14-20 October) exists so that more of us will be impelled by solidarity and compassion to make poverty eradication a reality, by addressing its structural and historical causes; so that the mainstreaming of gender analysis will go hand-in-hand with the acknowledgement of the necessity of class analysis, and so that none of us become silent about the fact that poverty is caused by bad policy, not bad behaviour.

Last week was the 50th anniversary of the Opening of the Second Vatican Council, 1962. Here is the opening address of Pope John XXIII (1881-1963) our college founder. "The great desire, therefore, of the Catholic church in raising aloft at this Council the torch of truth, is to show herself to the world as the loving mother of all mankind; gentle, patient, and full of tenderness and sympathy for her separated children. To the human race oppressed by so many difficulties, she says what Peter once said to the poor man who begged in alms: "Silver and gold I have none; but what I have, that I give thee, In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise and walk". In other words it is not corruptible wealth, nor the promise of earthly happiness, that the Church offers the world today, but the gifts of divine grace which, since they raise men up to the dignity of being sons of God, are powerful assistance and support for the living of a more fully human life. She unseals the fountains of her life giving doctrine, so that men, illumined by the light of Christ, will understand their true nature and dignity and purpose. Everywhere, through her children, she extends the frontiers of Christian love, the most powerful means of eradicating the seeds of discord, the most effective means of promoting concord, peace with justice and universal brotherhood.

May the Gospel call to radical detachment from wealth, challenge us in our exercise of power and authority as we press forward with courage to make a difference from those who are actually sitting on the fence. We worship Jesus as Lord, are we comfortable in venerating him in his role as Servant?

Fr Gaetan Pereira SJ
College Chaplain