Homily by Fr Brendan Byrne – 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Sun 22 Oct

Twenty-Ninth Sunday, Year A (2023)
“Whose image is this?”

It is perhaps appropriate that at the end of a week that has been so highly charged politically following the referendum last weekend that we should be reading this Sunday Gospel where Jesus is placed in something of a political trap. If he agreed that taxes should be paid to Caesar, he would lose his standing with the people, who resented being taxed by the foreign occupying power. If he forbade paying taxes to Caesar, he would be in trouble with the Romans themselves as a dangerous threat to their rule.

Jesus refused to endorse either choice. He avoided the trap by asking his questioners to produce a coin and then throwing a question back at them. Coins in the ancient world, like those in circulation today, bore the image of the ruler whose authority ran in that place. So when Jesus asks his questioners, “Whose ‘head’—really, ‘whose image’—is this?” they are forced to reply, “Caesar’s”, that is, the Roman emperor. The image of the emperor determines what belongs to him: that is, the whole monetary system and the political set up that goes with it. So Jesus leaves it to them to determine whether and to what extent taxes should be paid to Caesar.

But that’s only half of his response. His questioners had set the issue simply in terms of obligation to Rome; they had not brought God into the equation at all. His majestic answer, “Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar—and to God what belongs to God” brings in a whole new dimension.

The image on the coin shows it to belong to Caesar. What then is going to show what belongs to God?

Again it will be shown by an image. Whatever belongs to God will be shown by an image and should be given to God. But where do we find such an image?

On its very first page the Bible tells us. The first account of Creation—the one we hear at the Easter Vigil each year—comes to a climax with its description of human beings as created in the image and likeness to God. Each and every human being, of whatever race, colour, creed, belongs to God, is precious to God and must be treated as such—must be respected as such and valued as such.

And so we, or the state, or the government is ultimately accountable to God for the way we have treated our fellow human beings. It is very sobering to be reminded of this at a time when, especially in the Middle East, there is so much suffering inflicted on those who, like us, belong to God and bear his image.

When human beings had gone astray—as we still do—and, through sin, violence, and all manner of evil had distorted and tarnished the image of God in which they were created, God sent his own Son to become human and embody in the world what it means to be the perfect image of God, the God who is love.

As Christians we have been baptized into that renewed likeness of God that is Christ. Through God’s grace and the sacraments the Holy Spirit continues to transform us so that we, both as individuals and in community, become more and more reflective of that likeness of God in which we were created. St Paul puts it in one of his most attractive sentences:

where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; and this comes from the Lord as Spirit (2 Cor 3:17–18).

That statement doesn’t come from the reading from St Paul that we heard today in the Second Reading. But what we did hear from him in that reading does form a fitting ending to what we’ve been considering in response to the Gospel:

We know, brothers and sisters, that God loves you and that you have been chosen, because when we brought the Good News to you, it came to you not only as words, but as power and as the Holy Spirit and as utter conviction.


It is that conviction that should accompany us as we leave each celebration of Mass and take up our vocation to be and live out the image of God in our world today.


Brendan Byrne, SJ,

St James, Hoppers Crossing North,

21–22 October, 2023.

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Twenty-Eighth Sunday, Year A (2023)
Invited to the Wedding

I’m sure you’ve all had the embarrassing experience of arriving at a function or celebration to which you’ve been invited and finding that you’re not properly dressed for the occasion. Either you’re too formal—coat and tie, etc., if you’re a man—when everyone else is casual; or else you’re too dressed down—shorts and thongs, maybe—when everyone else is dressed up. So, unless you can work a quick change, you’re going to feel uncomfortable all night.

If you’ve had that experience, I’m sure you’ll be feeling very sorry for the poor wretch described at the end of the Gospel I’ve just read—the one who’s kicked out of the feast and cast into exterior darkness because he’s not wearing a wedding garment. It all seems so unreasonable and unjust. If he’s been dragged in from the highways and byways to fill up the number of guests, where could he possibly have got a wedding garment for himself? And how could he have afforded to buy one in any case?

It’s certainly a rather strange and disturbing ending to Jesus’ parable. Let’s leave it there for a moment and take a broader look at the parable as a whole.

I think, that, as Jesus told it, it’s one of the most attractive of all his stories in the Gospels. Taken as a whole, the story about the wedding feast put on by the king, suggests that God’s whole desire in our regard is to have us as his honoured guests at the banquet of the Kingdom.

This is what the First Reading, from Isaiah, also illustrates very well.

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will prepare for all peoples a banquet of rich food. On this mountain he will remove the mourning veil covering all peoples and the shroud enwrapping all nations.

Jesus has been sent to issue the invitations to this banquet of life. What the parable addresses, as its details unfold, is how those first invited, the respectable people, so to speak, refuse to take up the invitation—even when the king makes a second attempt to invite them. They are too absorbed in various affairs of their everyday life to realise the wonderful invitation that is being made to them. And so they miss out.

So the invitation goes to the poor and marginalised, even the disreputable, in order to make up the numbers for the feast. They are all rounded up and brought in, good and bad alike.

You see, you don’t have to be good or worthy to receive an invitation to the Kingdom, to the banquet that God has prepared for us. God’s invitation is a great net of grace that goes out envelops all. But, once invited and accepted, then some transformation of your way of life is required. You have to live in such a way as to be worthy of the invitation you’ve received to take part in the banquet.

That’s where the final detail about the man who was discovered not to have a wedding garment comes in. The wedding garment symbolizes the good works, the transformation of life, that is required once the invitation has been received and accepted. His expulsion from the banquet represents those who fail to show by their way of life that they are indeed worthy to be admitted to God’s banquet of life.

The parable thus holds together these two truths. You don’t have to be good to receive God’s invitation to share his eternal life. But once you have heard and accepted it, your gratitude and your anticipation of sharing in the banquet should transform and regulate your life.

We have all received through Jesus an invitation to God’s banquet of eternal life. We should all gain from that a sense of how valued, how wanted we are by God. We are not yet at the banquet. That will only come after we die. However, in the meantime we should live in the hope and joy of the invitation we have received, and to allow that hope and joy to transform our lives so that, in the end, we may be worthy to enter into the God’s banquet of the fullness of life. The hope would be that, unlike the man thrown out of the wedding feast at the end of the parable, we will have a wedding garment of good works—especially works of love and service to our neighbour—to show.

Let us not, like those first invited, reject the wonderful invitation we have received, but treasure it and value it, and live in the hope and joy that it should bring to our lives—especially at this time when the news from overseas is so bad and when we are grappling with division in our own national life as well.


Perhaps we can find some encouragement from St Paul’s words in the Second Reading. He is speaking of how he has come to accept the hardships of his apostolic calling:

There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the One who gives me strength. … God will fulfil all your needs, in Christ Jesus, as lavishly as only God can.


Brendan Byrne, SJ,

St James, Hoppers Crossing North,

15 October, 2023.

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Twenty-Seventh Sunday, Year A (2023)
The Vineyard of the Lord

To have and manage a winery is, I gather, an expensive and financially risky hobby. Nonetheless, it must be an attractive business to be engaged in. To produce, after some years, some fine wines and to share them with one’s friends, especially at moments of celebration, must be a source of great satisfaction.

It is not surprising, then, that when the prophets that we hear in the Old Testament wanted to express God’s love for Israel that they turned to the image of a vineyard. So they spoke of Israel as the “vineyard of the Lord”, as we hear in today’s First Reading.

But what the prophet, Isaiah, is actually pointing to is how disappointing the vineyard has been for the friend who planted it. Instead of grapes that would make fine wine, sour grapes were all it produced.

So the prophet sees this as a symbol of how disappointed God has been with Israel, and especially with its leaders. God looked for justice and integrity, but found only bloodshed and cries of distress from the poor and vulnerable, who they should have helped and protected.


The parable told by Jesus in the Gospel picks up this image of Israel as a loved but disappointing vineyard. It needs rather careful handling if it is not to be misunderstood. Jesus told it at a time when his public ministry was coming to a climax and his conflict with the leaders of his people more and more bitter and intense. They were failing in their responsibility to care for the people and see to the well-being of all. That was the “produce” that God was looking for from his “vineyard” (Israel).

So much for the parable as Jesus probably told it against the leaders of his own day. As we hear it in today’s Gospel, however, it reflects the experience of the early Church. Following Jesus’ own rejection by the leaders of his people, his death, and resurrection, and in the light of their faith in him as the Son of God, the early Christians heard the parable as prophecy of what had happened to Jesus himself.

God had sent his own Son to the “vineyard”. He had been rejected and crucified. But God had raised him from the dead to be the “keystone” of a new building, the Christian Church made up now, not only of Jews, but of peoples from other nations of the world.

In this way, the members of the early Church came to understand that they were now the “vineyard” that God loved and from whom he would be looking for “produce”—the justice and worthy way of life previously sought from Israel.

I said at the start that this parable needs careful handling if it is not to be misunderstood. It is possible to derive from it an interpretation that simply sees the Christian church as replacing the Jewish people as the beloved people of God. As all the most recent popes have taught since Vatican II, such a view of Judaism is to be rejected. The Jewish people remain, as St Paul wrote, beloved of God: “for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). Their ultimate salvation is a mystery that we must respect and leave to God (Rom 11:25, 33-36).

What we should derive from the parable is a call to our own responsibility in view of the privilege that God has given us of being “the vineyard” from whom he expects fine produce.

A vineyard, however, does not just produce fine wine for its owners. Its produce is something to be shared—to give joy to people on a much wider scale. Not only the leaders of the Church but all of us members have a common vocation to radiate what Pope Francis has called in his first encyclical “the joy of the Gospel”.  He often tells young people that they shouldn’t look sad, like people coming back from a funeral. They should look like people who have just left a really good party.

There’s a lot of course to weigh us down and depress us at this time, especially the increasing division and sharp debate in our country leading up to the Referendum on Saturday.

But, deep down, let us not allow such things to stifle the joy that comes from knowing that, despite all our faults and failures, we are the beloved vineyard of God, and have tasted the “good wine” of his love. That is certainly the message that St. Paul gives us in one of the most attractive passages from his letters that forms the Second Reading, Phil 4:6–9:

There is no need to worry; but it there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving, and that peace of God, which is so much greater than we can understand, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus. … Then the God of peace will be with you.


Brendan Byrne, SJ,

St James, Hoppers Crossing North,

5-6 October, 2023.


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Twentysixth Sunday, Year A (2023)
“He emptied himself …”


I don’t usually comment on the reading from St Paul on Sundays because there’s usually not enough time to do so. I’m afraid that I cannot refrain from doing so this morning because what we heard in the Second Reading is one of the most famous passages from his writings.

St Paul is urging his beloved community in the Macedonian city of Philippi to accept one another by putting the interests of the other person above their own. He bases this exhortation on the attitude of Christ. To spell out what he understands by this, he quotes what appears to be a very early Christian hymn, introducing it with the words: “Let that mind—or basic atttitude—be in you which was in Christ Jesus, …”. The hymn then describes the self-emptying attitude displayed by Christ in three stages of his existence: in his existence with God before becoming incarnate, in his human life on earth, in his present life as risen Lord.

First, then, “His state was divine, but he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave”. That is, a reference to his incarnation, his taking on our human condition.

Even then his self-emptying disposition continued in his humah life, when—for our salvation—he accepted death, becoming obedient to death, death on a cross.

Even in the third stage of his existence, when he has been raised to be “Lord” of the universe, it is not for his own glory, but for the glory of God.

In each state, then, of his existence, Christ displayed nothing but self-sacrificing love, revealing the essence or nature of God to be love.

Why this hymn is so precious is not only because of what it reveals about God in this way. Along with that, it shows that the early Christians—only two decades or so after Christ died on a cross—were already acknowledging his divine nature; they were understanding his human life as the incarnation of the Son of God, and worshipping him and praying to him as such.

I think the short parable that we heard in today’s Gospel, though not immediately connected with the reading from St Paul, also reveals much about God.

Like all the parables told by Jesus, it takes something with which his hearers would be familiar: the difficulty parents often had to get their children, as they move through adolescence to adulthood, to do household chores: in this case to spend some time in the family vineyard.

One son boldly says, “No, I won’t go”. But afterwards thinks better of it and does go and work in the vineyard. The other one immediately agrees to go but in the end doesn’t. The leaders to whom Jesus puts the parable and the question, “Which of the two did the father’s will?” are forced to agree that it was the one who first refused to go. And, doubtless to their discomfort, he points out that tax collectors and prostitutes—that is, those considered disreputable by the religious authorities—are getting into the Kingdom of God before them. Why? Because somehow they are more open to the message, the Good News, that Jesus is bringing.

The parable can be understood in several ways. But I think basically it shows that what God looks to — and can wait for with infinite patience — is the final outcome in people’s lives. God can put up with an initial “No”, and many other “No’s” besides, on the way to a final and lasting “Yes”. From the human angle, people who appear religious and obedient from the start may never have sufficiently plumbed the depth of God’s mercy to know God as God really is. Conversion at depth and the knowledge of God that goes with it overflows into an attitude and pattern of life that truly reflects God’s grace. But a hard, judgemental attitude to others may indicate lack of true conversion and knowledge of God: something that may leave such people waiting at the door, while those whom they thought far less worthy enter before them into the fullness of life.

What ultimately determines fitness for eternal life is conformity of our human hearts to the heart of God. None of us could ever amass sufficient good works to merit even a second of life with God. That will be God’s gift in abundance if only we have grown — sometimes in the course of a very winding and to-and-fro life journey — into the capacity to receive it.

Brendan Byrne, SJ, St James, Hoppers Crossing North, 1 October, 2023

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Twenty-Third Sunday, Year A (2023)
Life in Community

I once lived in community with an elderly priest who was a good man and did great service to the Church over the years of his long life. He was, however, much given to correcting other members of the community when he thought they had made mistakes, especially in the celebration of the Mass, because he was much devoted to the liturgy. He was a very rational man and couldn’t understand why people who had made mistakes weren’t glad to have them pointed out. One of the younger members of the community summoned up courage one day and asked him, “Father, have you ever made a mistake?” The elderly man thought for a moment and then replied, “Oh Yes, it was once when I thought I had made a mistake and then discovered that I hadn’t after all”.

This man, you see, was big into what in religious communities we call “fraternal correction”. Fraternal correction rests on the principle that we are responsible not just for ourselves but also for those with whom we live and work and share life. And it is this that is the theme running through our Scripture readings this morning.

It begins with that rather grim text from the prophet Ezekiel that we heard as First Reading—chosen, I presume, to throw light on the Gospel by contrast: to show up how different is the process outlined by Jesus in the Gospel.

It may be something of a comfort to us that Jesus recognizes that the Church is not going to be a community of the perfect. Allowance has to be made for dealing with moral lapses and dissensions that inevitably occur in a community still on the way to the Kingdom.

The procedure that Jesus lays down reveals his sense of the Church as the family of God. Correction should as far as possible be carried out in private. Only if that proves unsuccessful should a carefully staged progression of increasingly public procedures be set in place. The goal is not simply to win—that is, to win the argument—but to “win back” the “brother or sister”, to preserve as far as possible the dignity of the person who needs correction and enhance everyone’s sense of being a respected member of the “family”.

If, despite all, the process fails, there is nothing to be done but to treat the person as an outsider to the community. There comes a point beyond which a community can no longer tolerate members who consistently defy its core values. That will apply to a school, a sporting club, as well as to the community of the Church.

But it is what Jesus says at the end of the Gospel that has most to give us comfort:

“Where two or three are gathered in my name,
I shall be there with them”.

In its original context, Jesus is giving this guarantee to those who have to make difficult decisions in the matter of dealing with members of the community who misbehave. However, it has a far wider application than this. At the beginning of the Gospel, St. Joseph is told that the child to be born to Mary his wife, will be known as ‘Immanuel’, that is, ‘God (is) with us’ (1:23); at the end of the Gospel, Jesus as Risen Lord, sends his disciples on mission to the nations of the world with the assurance, ‘And, behold, I am with you always, to the end of the world’ (28:20).

Here in today’s Gospel, in the middle of the story, so to speak, we have the same assurance that the divine presence will always be with the Church—not just in the very solemn gatherings like a Council or Synod of the Church presided over by the Pope in Rome, but even in the simplest of gatherings. Even when only two or three gather in Jesus’s name, he is present there also as risen Lord, unseen yet effective.

In a very lively parish, there are constant meetings for all kinds of matters: liturgy, youth, sacramental programs, RCIA, St. Vincent de Paul, seniors, pastoral council, finance, building, and, I’m sure, many others. All these parish groups are in some sense meeting in what Jesus refers to as ‘in my name’. We can be sure, then, that in some way, he is there present, guiding them with his Spirit and breathing into them his love.

On this final note of love, just let us keep in the wonderful words we heard from St. Paul in the brief Second Reading:

Avoid getting into debt, except to love one another. … All the commandments: You shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not covet, and so on, are summed up in this single commandment: You must love your neighbor as yourself. Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbor; that is why it is the answer to every one of the commandments.

Paul considers that the rescue from sin and death which God’s love has won for us in Christ has created an inexhaustible “debt” of love that we owe to God. We will never be able to discharge that debt to God. God wants us to consider it owed to our fellow human beings, deserving or undeserving as they may be.

All in all, then, our Scripture readings at Mass today enclose our whole life together as a Church and as a community within these two profound truths: that the risen Lord is present in all our life together and that binding all together is this mutual ‘debt’ of love.

Brendan Byrne, SJ

St James, Hoppers Crossing North,

10 September, 2023.

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Twenty-Second Sunday, Year A (2023)
Taking up the Cross and Following Jesus

Last Sunday we heard St Peter get it right. In response to the question Jesus put to his disciples, “Who do people say I am”, Peter, speaking in the name of all, rightly responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”. And Jesus went on to pronounce him blessed and appointed him to be the “rock” foundation of the Church.

What follows immediately, however, is not so happy. Jesus begins to make clear to his disciples that he is destined to go to Jerusalem to suffer at the hands of the authorities, to be put to death and to rise on the third day.

For Peter this is all wrong. This is not the kind of Messiah that he, and the other disciples, think Jesus should be. So he takes Jesus aside and begins to remonstrate with him: “This must not happen to you”.

Doubtless, Peter was speaking out of love and concern for Jesus. He didn’t want him to suffer.

Yet what he gets from Jesus is a very severe rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan. You are a stumbling block to me, because the way you think is not God’s way but a human way”.

By calling Peter “Satan” Jesus is suggesting that what Peter is doing recalls the scene when he himself was tempted by Satan in the desert—tempted to be the kind of Messiah that would lead to power and glory in a worldly sense.

Had he followed Satan’s suggestions then—and in a sense they were reasonable—he might have become a successful Jewish king for a time. But he wouldn’t have changed the world for good. He wouldn’t have overcome the evil of the world in any lasting sense. He wouldn’t, in short, have fulfilled the mission that God sent him to carry out: to redeem the world, not by using the weapons of the world, but by overcoming evil with the only thing that could ultimately prevail: the power of divine love.

Those temptations that Satan put to Jesus were real. They offered an easy way out. There is no doubt that he felt their force—because we know that, in his Agony in the Garden, on the night before he died, Jesus did shrink from what lay before him and beg the Father to take “this cup”, that is, the suffering and death, away from him.

The fact that the temptation to abandon his mission was so real for Jesus explains the sharpness and severity of his response to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan”. One of his closest followers was, against his best intentions, playing the role of Satan.

And Jesus goes on to lay down to those who would be his followers, including you and me, the terms of what that involves. It means denying oneself, taking up one’s cross and following him. Being a Christian means being caught up in the mission that Jesus received from the Father to redeem the world by love—and love inevitably gets caught up and tested by the selfishness and self-interest that affects us all as human beings, which means that love unavoidably leads to the Cross.

Just this past week I have been involved in two funerals. At one I presided. At both I preached the homily at the request of the families of the deceased persons. There was nothing particularly tragic about their passing as both were elderly and had little quality of life. But both, in different ways, involved loving and successful marriages that were struck in mid-life by dementia affecting the female partner.

The photos in the funeral booklet and on the overhead display showed the very happy times of engagement, marriage, and the arrival of beautiful children—plentiful in both cases.

The vows taken in marriage pledge faithfulness “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health, until death do us part”. At the happy moment of pledging those vows, there is, I suppose, little thought of the negative side of each couplet. But, as we know too well, every human life, every human relationship, has to adjust to the disappointments, the limitations, the dashing of hopes and dreams, that the progress of years almost inevitably brings.

In both of the marriages in question the love of the husbands in each case had to take on an entirely new dimension and depth with the onset of dementia and, in both, their love did meet that challenge to the end. But the cross fell very sharply across their lives and that of their family members.

I have mentioned these two instances of the cross falling across human lives because they were the examples that I had to deal with over the past week. But of course there are so many other ways in which people have to bear the cross, especially when they commit themselves to be instruments of God’s love. I think especially of the life of our own Australian saint, Mary of the Cross MacKillop.

I think it was the Carmelite St Teresa who said that the little daily crosses were in some ways harder to bear than the big ones. In the big ones we can perhaps feel sorry for ourselves and experience the sympathy of others, whereas the little daily crosses that come our way are so much the product of our character and foolishness and so are the more humiliating.

Our Christian faith, our following of Jesus, does not in any sense mean that we should seek suffering or find it desirable. What it does ask of us is that we strive to be instruments of God’s love, ready to bear the cost, sacrifice, the disappointments that love and fidelity in relationships so often entails.

Our Christian faith does not shield us from suffering. It is not an insurance in that regard. It does, however, remind us that when we suffer we do so in union with Jesus, in whose death we shared sacramentally in baptism that we might also share not only in his suffering but in the hope that his resurrection brought to our world.

Brendan Byrne, SJ

St James, Hoppers Crossing North,

2-3 September, 2023.

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Twentieth Sunday, Year A (2023)
A Faith that Breaks Down Barriers


It is no secret that many good people find it rather shocking that Jesus in today’s Gospel keeps this woman at arms’ length or even rebuffs her before finally giving in to her request.

The woman was beseeching him to cure her daughter, who was “tormented by a devil”. People in the ancient world attributed to demons illnesses and psychological conditions that we would explain as due to natural causes. The child may have suffered from epilepsy or simply depression; we cannot know exactly.

Whatever the child’s situation, Jesus at first completely ignores the mother’s cries for help. Then when his disciples, if only to get rid of her shouting after them, plead with him to give her what she wants, he coldly remarks, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel”—a clear statement of the separation and division between Jews and outsiders like this Canaanite woman.

I love the touch when, finally, she comes and kneels before him and simply says, “Lord, help me”. As much as to say, “Look, whatever about your special mission and all that, just, please help me”.

But Jesus, for a third time, acts coldly, with a hard image about not taking the children’s food and giving it to the dogs—the implication being that the Jews are God’s special children and others are like the domestic animals around the house.

But the woman rises to the occasion. She takes his image and, with superb wit, turns it to her advantage. A mother of a family, she knows that children eat untidily; a lot of scraps fall from the table onto the floor—where the small dogs allowed to live in the house are quick to eat them up.

She is not big-noting herself in any way; she is simply begging that some scraps of Jesus’s power to heal be available, aside from Jews, for others like herself. “Outwitted”, Jesus gives in, agreeing to her request and praising the greatness of her faith.

Some scenes in the gospels bring out the divine nature of Jesus—for example, the Transfiguration or his walking on the water, as we heard last Sunday.

Some scenes bring out his humanity—something especially the case in our Gospel today. Does the coldness that Jesus, for a while at least, displays towards this desperate woman show an all too human sense of privilege as a Jew from a person of another religion and ethnic background?

By depicting him acting in such a way, the Gospel first intensifies the sense of barrier between Jews and non-Jews. But this serves to highlight the significance of what is happening when the woman’s wit and faith causes that barrier to come crashing down.

Jesus allows her to “educate” him out of the narrow understanding of his mission that his early responses betray. He is not only Messiah for the Jews but also the One, as stated elsewhere in Matthew’s Gospel, in whose “name the Gentiles will place their hope” (12:21). In due course, after his resurrection, Jesus will stand on a mountain in Galilee and charge his disciples to take the Gospel to all the nations of the world (28:18-20). The woman’s faith has anticipated this moment. In some sense, she has contributed to its eventual coming about—and we, believers of later generations, are the beneficiaries of that.

What, above all, we learn from this scene, is the power of faith. It is faith that channels God’s power into the world. But, as the action of the woman so clearly shows, faith so often has to break through barriers, has to persevere in the face of what may seem as if God isn’t hearing or is holding us at arms’ length.

God will always hear our prayer, even if our prayers are not answered exactly as we would want.

We are all too conscious in our world and in Australia today that religion can be a source of misunderstanding and division between people. It has that effect, and can even lead to violence, when elements open to extremism are not balanced by a more informed and complete understanding. Our fellow believers in Pakistan have experienced violence and the destruction of their churches from that kind of religious extremism just this week.

But true religion, involving the kind of deep faith, as shown by the woman in today’s Gospel, does not create barriers and division but, on the contrary, breaks through such barriers to create understanding and compassion. The harmony of our multicultural society is not helped by doing away with religion, as many think, but by people understanding their religion with informed knowledge and deep faith.

We don’t enhance our attachment to our Catholic faith by putting down the beliefs of others. We enhance it by appreciating the hope, the meaning, and the direction it gives to our lives—the treasure we come together to celebrate each week, as now, as a parish community of faith and service.


Brendan Byrne, SJ

St James, Hoppers Crossing North,

19–20 August, 2023.

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Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (2023)
Walking on water


I think most of us would be happy to describe our lives as they unfold over weeks, months, and years as a journey. From the day we are born we are being shaped by all the experiences that come our way, some happy, some painful; sometimes with a strong sense of purpose and direction, sometimes feeling we are floundering around, not getting anywhere in particular.

Those of us who have the privilege of being believers know that our journey through life has a beginning and an end beyond what we can presently see and feel. At the Last Supper, on the night before he died, Jesus made a magnificent statement to his disciples:

I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father” (John 16:28).

Though Jesus said that about himself, there is a sense in which it is true of every human life seen from the perspective of faith. Each one of us has come from God and each one of us is going to God. Pope Francis, citing his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, put it this way:

We were conceived in the heart of God and for this reason each one of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary’ (Laudato Sí 65).

As people of faith our lives may not seem all that different from the lives of others who do not share our beliefs. But what we are trying to do as a community of believers, when we come together for Mass each Sunday, is keep in mind that deeper journey of our life that has a beginning and an end in God.

These two journeys—our life journey and our faith journey—are in dialogue and interaction with each other throughout our lives. When we are young, we may take what we are taught about our faith in a very accepting and simple way—even though there are many aspects that we may not understand. As our life journey proceeds, especially as we enter that questioning stage of adolescence and young adulthood, our understanding of the faith will have to grow if we are not to slough it off as we discard old clothes when we grow out of them—through age or putting on more weight!

Wider experience of life, especially painful experiences—failure, loss, sudden death of family members and friends—will severely test our faith in the power and goodness of God, and sometimes seem to blow it out of the water entirely.

We may give up on God. What we do know is that God never gives up on us. And God takes a long range view of our lives and is patient with our failures and sins far beyond anything we can hope or imagine.

I think we can see Peter’s walking on the water as described in the Gospel today as something like the journey of faith that we all have to make. I’ve never quite made up my mind on what it was that prompted Peter to want to leave the safety of the boat and walk on water towards Jesus. Clearly, there was a bit of bravado and spontaneity in his character. I bet the other apostles said, “There he goes again!” But that might be a bit unfair. Surely, it was also love and faith that made him want to join Jesus.

For a while Peter’s journey across the stormy water went well. But then he made a near fatal, mistake. He took his eyes off Jesus and focused only on the wind and the waves, at which point he began to sink. When he cried out in panic and fear, “Lord, save me!”, Jesus put out his hand at once and held him.

Can we imagine what it was like for Peter to feel that strong hand of Jesus holding him up out of the water and bringing him back to the boat? And Jesus’ gentle chiding, “Man of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Our own journey of faith towards Jesus probably has many moments that are rather like the journey of Peter across the water: times when we feel the force of the wind and waves, and are tempted to focus only on those—whatever shape they may take in our lives—rather than towards Jesus; times when our faith seems “little” and doubts swamp over us.

Jesus is always there to put out his hand and catch us, as he caught Peter. That is surely one message we should draw from our Gospel today.

And, when Jesus and Peter come back to the boat, we’re told that all the apostles fell down and worshipped him, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God”. The whole experience had led them to know more deeply the divine presence in the human Jesus that they had come to know so well.

In the dialogue between our life journey and our journey of faith that goes on continually in our lives it is perhaps through the challenges and difficulties that we come to know God more clearly—not as someone remote and mysterious watching us from afar but more like what Peter experienced when he felt the strong, loving hand of Jesus lifting him up from the sea and walking with him back to the boat and a new sense of life.

The First Reading tells a similar—and wonderful—story about the prophet Elijah. But perhaps we should leave that for another day.


Brendan Byrne, SJ

St James, Hoppers Crossing North,

13 August, 2023.

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The Transfiguration of the Lord
(18th Sunday of the Year, 5–6.8.23)

As with the celebration of our parish patron, St James, last week, this weekend also, because Sunday falls on the 6 August, we have a feast, the Transfiguration of the Lord, taking over the Sunday celebration.

As many of you would be aware, 6 August, besides being the feast of the Transfiguration, as described in the Gospel I’ve just read, is also the date of a much more terrible anniversary, the date in 1945 when the first atomic bomb exploded over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, with immense loss of life and destruction.

That event nearly 80 years ago will be in many peoples’ minds at the present time because of the current screening in Australian cinemas of the blockbuster film, Oppenheimer, which maybe some of you have already seen. I haven’t—and I’m rather put off by the three hours that apparently it lasts. However, its drama revolves around the issue that caused nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer so much anguish in his later life, as to whether it was ethical to develop nuclear weapons at all.

On that issue, of course, opinions differ, with many maintaining that the war against Japan would have involved much greater destruction and loss of life had it not been brought to an end by the two atomic bombs.

Whatever one’s views in this matter, the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima on 6 August, 1945, does form a terrible background to the feast of the Transfiguration on the same day. Both involve glory in some sense: in one the indescribable brightness of a nuclear chain reaction; in the other the heavenly glory that attends and reveals the presence of God. One shows the human capacity for destructiveness at its most extreme. The other the remedy God brought to the human race in the person and mission of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

We won’t really understand the full meaning of the Transfiguration: what the three select disciples—including our parish patron St James—experienced on the mountain, unless we associate it with an exchange they had with Jesus a few days before.

There Jesus had asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They reported various responses: “John the Baptist; Elijah; one of the prophets”. Jesus then put to them, “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter, responding on behalf of them all, had got it right, “You are the Messiah”.

But Jesus immediately went on to detail what kind of Messiah he will be—not one who would be a triumphant worldly king but one destined to suffer and die in Jerusalem, working salvation by entering into the pain and suffering of this world.

That prospect immediately struck fear into the disciples and, especially, in the person of Peter, they started to protest and hold Jesus back from such a destiny.

They could not hold together these two truths about Jesus: that he was the Messiah, the Beloved Son of God, and that he was destined to suffer and die.

The Father’s command, “Listen to him!” addresses this issue. Jesus is not only the Messiah; he is the Father’s Beloved Son, and yet he is going to suffer and die in Jerusalem. Being God’s Son will not shield him from this fate. In fact, precisely as God’s Son he will, in obedience, accept and fulfill it.

The event told in our Gospel today, the Transfiguration, is not so much a glimpse of heaven, away from earth, but the revelation that Jesus, a truly heavenly and divine figure, is with us here on earth, not running away back to heaven from the evil and destructiveness of our world troubles but confronting them with the only power that will ultimately overcome them: the power of divine love.

God has not deserted us nor is God absent. In the person of the Son, God bore the pain of the world’s evil on the cross. His resurrection showed that love, rather than hatred and evil, will have the last word. And whenever human beings allow themselves, often at great cost, to be instruments of God’s love, their lives contribute greatly to making our world a safer and more loving environment for other people as well.

This coming week, on Tuesday, 8 August, we will celebrate the feastday of one who became a most effective instrument of God’s love in that way: our own Australian saint, Mary of the Cross MacKillop, founder of the Josephite Sisters, one of whose best known instructions to her sisters was, “Never see and need and do nothing about it”.

Mary MacKillop is a wonderful patron for our country, revered by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. She heard God’s command, “Listen to him—listen to Jesus” and took it to heart. Let us, try to listen to Jesus and really hear all that he has to say to us in our own place and time.


Brendan Byrne, SJ

St James, Hoppers Crossing North,

5–6 August, 2023

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St James, the Apostle
(17th Sunday of the year, 29–30.7.23)

We don’t really know very much about St. James, the Apostle. He and his brother St John, the two sons of Zebedee, were fishermen, called by our Lord to follow him as he walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. James, along St Peter and St John, formed a kind of inner circle of three within the wider group of the twelve apostles. They witnessed Jesus’s transfiguration. He called them to be with him and support him with their prayers at his Agony in the Garden. We know that James was the first of the apostles to die. According to a report in the Acts of the Apostles (12:2), in a bout of persecution King Herod had James killed with the sword. This suggests that he exercised bold leadership in the church in Jerusalem, provoking the hostility of the tyrant king, who decided it would be best to get rid of him in this way.

So we can honour James as a very early courageous witness of the faith we have inherited from the apostles and which we share today nearly two thousand years later.

What are we to make of the Scripture readings we’ve heard today for his feast?

In our first reading St Paul, speaking in the name of all his fellow apostles, describes the very risky and vulnerable life that they had to live. I find the image with which his description begins very attractive:

We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us.

Clay pots are fragile; prone to chip and break. Paul is describing the vulnerable humanity of the apostles in this way, but also pointing out that, as such, they were carriers of a great treasure.

What is this treasure? It is the “treasure” of all they had learned and experienced from Jesus. They had lived closely with him for two to three years; they had witnessed his miracles and heard his teaching. They had, yes, deserted him at his Passion and death but experienced his loving forgiveness and restoration when he appeared to them as risen Lord.

He had commissioned them, by the power of the Spirit, to carry his message to the ends of the earth, to form communities of faith in the great cities of the Mediterranean world, who would continue to hold this treasure and pass it on down the years, right down to ourselves: the treasure that is the good news of God’s love and God’s desire to have us as honoured guests in the banquet of his Kingdom. This is the treasure—our faith—that we owe to St James and the other apostles.

It is “good news” (gospel) but it does not come without cost. It may not place us in danger of death as presently as is the case for many of our fellow believers in not a few countries throughout the world: Myanmar, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, to name just a few. But, as the most recent census has told us, it is no longer “normal” to be a practicing Christian in Australia. In view of many young people it is decidedly “uncool”. It requires going against a lot of values asserted in the celebrity lifestyle, especially as portrayed in the media and other public forums. It requires a conviction that what we hold in our hearts is indeed a “treasure”, a treasure that would be worth dying for if the occasion arose.

In this connection I love the image in the Responsorial Psalm that we heard:

Those who are sowing in tears

will sing when they reap. (R.)

  1. They go out, they go out, full of tears,

carrying seed for the sowing:

they come back, they come back, full of song,

carrying their sheaves. (R.)

In this psalm Israel is reflecting upon the time of exile and captivity that she had suffered in Babylon. It was a time of suffering, portrayed as the labour of carrying seed out to the fields for planting. But the labour of carrying and planting the seed will be followed, at harvest time, of returning, carrying the sheaves of wheat, singing for joy.

St James, in the sufferings of his apostolic life and especially perhaps in the prospect of his death, may have drawn comfort from this psalm: now he was sowing in tears; one day he will reap with joy. We too can draw comfort from this psalm and its image when we have to face sufferings and difficulties, “sowing” in tears, in the hope of “reaping” with joy.

But, of course, James did not gain such awareness overnight. He had to follow Jesus and learn what was involved. The Gospel tells how his mother, like all mothers, was ambitious for her two sons. Jesus was the Messiah, the one destined to be Israel’s king. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if her two sons, were the top officials in the kingdom, sitting on his right and left, at the great banquet. So she makes her request.

Jesus doesn’t knock her back. But he spells out very clearly that it’s not as simple as all that. He is only going to come into his kingdom by drinking the ‘cup’—the cup of suffering that lies before him. They can only follow him by sharing that cup—which, of course, James eventually did only a few years later.

But the request James’ mother makes allows Jesus to give all the apostles a little talking to about how leadership and authority is to be exercised in his community. Leaders are not people who sit at table and have other people, of lesser status, serve them. Leaders are to follow the pattern he is setting: the Son of Man has come not to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.

Just as he became life-giving for the world by laying down his life in self-sacrifical love, so those who follow him, according to their vocations, will be life-giving for others, in so far as they allow his utterly unselfish love to mould the pattern of their lives and service. They can, like James, become in this way fishers for people.

So, in a sense, St. James isn’t all that remote from us. He is a very good patron for a parish community that aims to help all its members live out their Christian vocation as fully as possible.

We are all, as St. Paul tells us, in the First Reading, people who carry a treasure in earthenware jars—fragile and apt to break. But it is a wonderful treasure that we carry: our faith, our knowledge of God’s love, our identity as Christians. Let us pray that, by word and example, we can pass it on.


Brendan Byrne, SJ

St James, Hoppers Crossing North,

29 July, 2023

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St James The Apostle