The Kingdom of God is like… - Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > The Kingdom of God is like… - Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

The experience of being a Catholic is going through significant change at the present time. In living memory being a Catholic meant being part of a close-knit community, with priests and religious a vital part of its life. Catholics knew that attending Mass on Sundays was central to being their faith and Mass was a focus of the week. They supported their local Catholic school, which was run by the Sisters. They had a clear sense of identity, indeed with a certain pride in being a Catholic. While Catholics sometimes experienced some bigotry, generally Catholics were respected as part of the local community.

Of course, in those days it was expected that everyone in Australian society had a faith of one kind or another, even if they did not practise it. Indeed, it was presumed that Christianity was the foundation to our society and its values. Australia was seen as a Christian country. Our laws and customs were grounded in the European Western civilisation which in turn had been fashioned by Christianity.

Things have now changed significantly. The experience of being a Catholic is now quite different. Firstly, we are aware that many in Tasmania now consider that they have no religion. In fact the last census reveals that Tasmania is the most irreligious state in Australia - 38% of Tasmanians claim to have no religion: 192,000 Tasmanians, while another 50,000 did not answer the question.

Secondly, due to the Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, the general public in Australia consider that sexual abuse is rife in the Catholic Church and that key leaders like bishops have failed badly in handling sexual abuse. Many think that there are still many priests who are abusers. The fact that the Church began addressing the issue over 20 years ago and that there have been few cases since the 1990s is not understood. Yes, in the past we did not face the issue as we should, but we have changed. We, however, have experienced huge loss of reputation.

Thirdly, we now find that there are moves within the broader society to challenge the teachings and practices of the Church. Just this week the South Australian government passed a law which obliged priests to report any case of abuse revealed in the confessional. Priests cannot and will not do this. The Seal of Confession is inviolate. Another example is that the Royal Commission has said that the law of celibacy should be changed. In other words civil authority has begun telling the Church what it must do. There are many other ways in which Catholic belief and practice is coming under challenge.

When we witness many of our family members and close friends drifting from the Church. When we hear steady criticism of the Church in the media or among our acquaintances we know that it is tough being a Catholic today.Faith in God and confidence in the Church has been quite shaken.

In the light of this experience, we have listened to the Gospel this evening. Twice, Jesus says,”What is the Kingdom of God like?” Most of the parables of Jesus are about the Kingdom of God. We need to ask, why this theme so important to Jesus?

Jesus began his public ministry by declaring: “the Kingdom of God is close at hand.” This was the heart of his message. Sometimes I think we overlook this as we think that Jesus primarily offered moral teaching. The notion of the Kingdom of God was central to what Jesus sought to convey to people. It was because they did not understand what he meant by the Kingdom of God that he used stories or parables to help people grasp what he was talking about.

Essentially, what Jesus wanted to convey was that he came to enable people to come into a personal place whereby their life was under the protection and guidance of God. He wanted people to cease focusing on their worldly existence, and give attention to what God can do in their lives. To do this he said that the people needed to repent and believe.

In the two parables given to us this evening, Jesus describes the Kingdom of God as being like a seed. The first parable says a telling thing - that the farmer watches the seed sprout and grow. “How, he does not know,” the Lord comments. Something extraordinary happens to enable a seed - which looks like a pebble - to suddenly come to life. There is a hidden power of life locked within. In the right conditions it will transform itself into a plant and be wonderfully fruitful.

The Lord reveals that the Kingdom of God has a hidden spiritual power within it to transform a person’s life in a wonderful way.

In the second parable, the Lord speaks of a tiny seed capable of becoming an enormous tree spreading its branches everywhere. One cannot but think of the spread of the Church to every nation on earth. Beginning in such an unlikely place and among a group of unlikely individuals the Church now embraces the lives of over one billion people, across every culture and language.

Christ came to bring in the Kingdom of God among humanity. This Kingdom is not a political or physical reality - though it does have a certain external expression. However, it is essentially spiritual in nature. It abides not in structures but in persons. It is driven by the Holy Spirit, its inner source of transformation.

In all that may happen in the future here in Tasmania, one thing is certain - God will continue to be present and to work in the hearts of those who turn to him. The Church may come under persecution. It may be criticised and even condemned by many. However, the Kingdom of God is among us, and will live as long as there are people who have faith. It will be strong especially in those whose hearts are given over in generous trust to God. It will be fruitful and grow in the hearts and lives of true believers.

The presence of the Kingdom of God in the world is hidden but real in the hearts of believers. It is strangely a hidden yet powerful reality in the world. It is of its nature spiritual and the Church is the external expression of this reality.

In all that lies ahead for us as Catholics, the most important thing is that we hold fast to our relationship with God revealed by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit. These times will call upon us to open ourselves more willingly and generously to God.

Tonight I invite you to offer up a simple prayer: Lord I offer myself to you, draw me into your life, the life of your Kingdom.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Sunday, June 17, 2018