Sorry I have no pics of me with parishioners, but here's the homily I gave this morning.
Maybe I should begin by introducing myself and saying why I am here in Marquette. Why have I come to this part of the world which is certainly very beautiful in the summer but which I have been warned is so cold in winter?
I’ve been a priest for 13 years, the first four of which were at the Cathedral of my archdiocese of Southwark which comprises that part of London which is south of the River Thames and the whole of the county of Kent. For the last 9+ years, I was pastor of a parish in Ashford, Kent. It was not without its challenges but, thanks be to God, it was a time of many blessings and I was able to rejoice in the spiritual growth of many people in the parish and in the reconciliation of many with the Church after having been away. My special joy was to share the lives, the joys and the sorrows, of many lovely families. However, I discerned that it was time to ‘move on’. Rather than immediately become pastor of another parish I thought it might be better to have an opportunity to review and renew my priestly life and ministry by being in another local Church. Whilst visiting Bishop Sample last summer, I asked whether a sabbatical year in his diocese might be a possibility and he immediately responded affirmatively. So, here I am. Bishop Sample and I were classmates in Rome and so I am privileged to count him as a friend. I hope I don’t say or do anything in my time here in Marquette to ruin that friendship!
When I tell people I am a Canon Lawyer, the expression ‘Oh no!’ is not unusual. For perhaps they perceive laws to be somewhat incompatible with the ‘new commandment’ of love that the Lord proclaimed. And we hear something about law in today’s scripture readings. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people to ‘heed the voice of the Lord … and keep his commandments … that are written in the book of the law.’ But he also says that this law is also contained somewhere else: ‘in your mouths and in your hearts.’ And yet how often we find God’s law difficult to discern, hear, obey and proclaim.
It is an expert in the law who tries to test Jesus in today’s Gospel. But Jesus tells him that it is in the very law in which he is an expert that the key to eternal life is to be found and he gets the lawyer to summarise for himself, in quoting from the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, the law to love the Lord God will all one’s heart, being, strength and mind, and to love one’s neighbour as oneself. But this expert in the law appears not to understand a key point of the law. He thinks he knows what loving God is about, but does not know who his neighbour is. Here we see how this law which is not distant from us, which is in our hearts, is not always easy for us to discern as our minds and our wills are wounded by sin: the original sin of our first parents, and our own personal sins.
We are like that man on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Jerusalem is the house of peace, the place of worship where God’s temple is to be found. The plain of Jericho on the other hand is waste and desolate, its climate hot and unhealthy. The man in our Good Samaritan parable was travelling from the city of the temple and health to the city where the conditions for a healthy life are not so good. He was travelling from the city perched on Mount Zion downhill to a city 1200 feet below sea level. He was descending rather than ascending. He was sliding away from God, and became vulnerable to spiritual attacks symbolised by the encounter with the robbers who stripped him of his true dignity as a man made to dwell in the city of God, stripped him of the splendour of supernatural grace, left him beaten and half dead, wounded in the core of his nature. Pope Benedict in his book ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ says that ‘The road from Jerusalem to Jericho thus turns out to be an image of human history (and) the half-dead man lying by the side of it is an image of humanity.’
We can think how mankind turns from God and seeks himself: indulging his ego; allowing passions to be uncontrolled; craving after riches, the esteem of others, wealth, even physical fitness to the excess of obsession; always wanting to be ‘on top’. Mankind does not find his true dignity in these things. And so beaten up mankind needs a neighbour to heal him. This healing cannot come from within human history alone but it is an outsider, a foreigner who makes Himself neighbour to wounded mankind. It is Jesus Christ, foreign and distant, who sets out to take care of him, to offer him the soothing oil and cleansing wine of the sacraments, bringing him to the inn of the Church, the Church which is precisely present by those highways of the earth on which man is travelling away from God and attacked by evil so that men and women may be brought in and healed and restored.
It is Jesus who is our Good Samaritan who makes Himself our neighbour. It is He who promises to pay whatever it costs – by His saving Passion and Death – to restore mankind to the full glory of supernatural life and divine sonship. The healing oil and cleansing wine will be administered in the inn which is the Church until the end of time when our Good Samaritan, Jesus Christ, will return.
The fundamental law of the Church is mercy. And the lawyer recognised that it was the merciful Samaritan who showed himself a neighbour to the man who fell among the robbers. The conclusion that the lawyer must draw is to ‘Go and do likewise.’ And we must do so too: showing compassion to all, whoever they might be, and helping all who are in any physical need; but also by being neighbours to those who are far from God, who have forgotten their great dignity as creatures created in God’s image, or who are sliding away from God down the path of dissoluteness, so that we might draw them towards the healing and cleansing power of the sacraments and to worship in the communion and fellowship of all the saints in God’s Church.