To welcome the stranger - Twenty sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

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Social Justice Sunday 2015

A man or woman of faith has their eyes set on the transcendent. Life on earth is always viewed in terms of eternity. Our daily life is essentially linked with the presence of God. Our Christian faith declares – and we know through experience – that God is active in our journey through life and is active in the world. A man or woman of faith is alive to the presence of God.
A man and woman of faith determines their actions in the light of their knowledge of the nature of God and is inspired by the revealed moral codes that have been handed down in the tradition. We are not the ones to decide right and wrong. We turn to a higher authority. In particular the Christian seeks wisdom through the Word of God, knowing that the Sacred Scriptures are the inspired word of God.

In this interesting interchange which began the Gospel today Jesus tells his disciples not to intervene with the man who was invoking his name in order to cast out devils. The work is a good work. The man is acknowledging the power and authority of Jesus, so he is, as the Lord comments, not likely to speak evil of him. This man, in fact, is recognising the saving power of God is being manifested through Jesus. In this own way he was furthering the work of God.

We are living in an age when many are turning away from belief in God and seeking to find a human path without Him. We are living in an age when many believe that God is not an active player in human history. They believe that humanity can manage without reliance on the presence and guidance of God.

As growing numbers of people adopt this view they see those having faith as benighted and clinging to myths long since dismissed. Not only is the Christian faith seen as irrelevant, but it is viewed as an obstacle to human advancement. Thus it is being eradicated from having a place in public debate. Those who are in any way seen as Christian are deemed as prejudiced, and unable to provide anything of substance to public discourse.

The twentieth century reveals that when nations have chosen a godless path violence and suffering are ultimately unleashed. Nazism sought to fashion a godless super race, and systematically wiped out perceived enemies in the gas chambers and concentration camps. Communism, established on the basis of an atheistic socialism, caused the death of millions through the gulags and forced starvation.

Societies without God at their heart will ultimately turn to tyranny and the ruthless suppression of any opposition. Godlessness begets a darkness on conscience and creates a culture of death.

There is another path. It is the path of faith in a God who is “over all and in all”. (cf Eph 4:6)  God is the only true reference point for human life and for human society. Attention to God should fashion not only our personal morality but also our response to particular social issues.
It is not the place for the Church to impose itself on the government. We recognise and acknowledge that the Church and the State operate in their own respective spheres.

Pope Benedict taught in his first encyclical, “God is love”, that the just ordering of society and of the State is a core duty of politics and therefore cannot be an immediate responsibility of the Church. Catholic social doctrine does not seek to confer upon the Church power over the State, but simply desires to illuminate public decision-making processes, making its own contribution to the formation of conscience, so that the true requirements of justice and equity may be perceived, recognized and subsequently practiced.

The Pope Emeritus stated, “The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper. A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply”. (#28)

Thus the Church here in Australia has produced an annual Social Justice statement on different issues on importance in Australian society over many years. This year its subject is one of particular focus for our nation: the issues around refugees and asylum seekers.

In this complex and distressing issue the Church has a role to play in the public discourse. It can make appropriate representations to the government, but what becomes most important is not our words but our actions.

The Christian has a fundamental approach to matters of social justice. The Christian is inspired by the knowledge that God is love and that in the teachings and example of our Lord Jesus Christ we have an inspiration to how we can personally respond to the needs of refugees and asylum seekers: we reach out to them in love.

Pope Benedict captured this very clearly when he said, “There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such.

There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbour is indispensable.” (#25)

Pope Francis has urged all Catholics to be open to receiving refugees from Syria and the Middle East. This is a practical expression of love of neighbour. He has asked Catholic parishes and institutions to offer practical help and welcome.

As our government here in Tasmania has doubled the quota of refugees adding a further 500 to the annual intake, we as a Catholic Church are ready and willing to assist in welcoming and assisting them when they arrive.
Our love, as St John teaches, is not just mere words, but something real and practical. (I Jn 3:18)

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Saturday, 26 September 2015