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Homily - Sacred Heart 2007

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					A Homily by Michael E. Putney, Bishop of Townsville

                         Feast of the Sacred Heart, 2007

                         The image of Christ upon the cross and of his wounded side from which
                         flowed blood and water when pierced with a lance is an image simply of love.
                         To love someone is to be vulnerable. A desire to protect or to care for
                         another, to serve or to assist the other to reach their fullest human potential,
                         leaves one exposed to rejection, the pain of loss, the suffering that comes from
                         seeing the pain or mistakes of the other, and the cost of sacrificing oneself in
                         small or large ways because of one’s love for the other. This vulnerability
                         which is integral to loving is found in some way even in God. We can see
                         this when we look at the figure of Christ upon the cross. In taking human
                         flesh, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity exposed God to the cost of loving
                         us. God became vulnerable and the cost was great. The cost was the life of
                         Jesus himself, the divine Son of God.
A Homily by Michael E
                         Pope Benedict has been at pains since he began his papal ministry to remind
    Putney, Bishop of
                         us that God’s love for us is a passionate love that desires our response. The
    Townsville, on the
                         readings for this feast add to such an understanding of the divine love,
  Feast of the Sacred
                         through the image of the Shepherd God in the Prophet Ezekiel and Jesus’ own
  Heart, 15 June 2007
                         use of that image. As St Paul made clear in our second reading, God’s love is
                         not for someone who is so good, so perfect, so utterly beautiful that it is
                         impossible for God not to be attracted. Rather, God’s love is for those who do
                         not deserve it, who are lost until they are found by the love of God.
                         The Prophet Ezekiel was among the exiles in Babylon when he prophesied to
                         his nation which had so failed their Saviour God that He had allowed them to
                         be carried off into captivity. Ezekiel had castigated their leaders, but then
                         revealed to them the extraordinary image of God desiring to take over where
                         their leaders had failed, and to be the Shepherd others had never been for His
                         people. God promised to look after his flock himself, to gather them from
                         where they have been scattered, to pasture them in rich pastures, and
                         especially to look for the lost ones, to bring back the stray, to bandage the
                         wounded and to make the weak strong, without neglecting the fat and healthy.
                         For all of them God would be a truly devoted and self-giving Shepherd.
                         Jesus used this image of God when confronted by Scribes and Pharisees who
                         complained that he was welcoming sinners and eating with them. He told a
                         truly crazy story of a shepherd who would risk ninety-nine sheep to go after
                         one lost one. When he had found it, he would place it on his shoulders as if it
                         were something precious and something he loved intimately; and finally, in
                         almost high comedy, he would invite his friends and neighbours to come in
                         because he had found one, silly, dirty, useless lost sheep. But this was Jesus
                         telling the story. This was God.
                         The love of God may well be a choice by God who is utterly free and not
                         bound in any way, but it remains a love for those who are unworthy. It is a
                         foolish love. There is an absurdity about it. There is no way of possibly
                         explaining the absurdity of the figure of Christ upon the cross because the
                         explanation is found in an equally absurd love.
                         From this foolishness of God came our salvation. Jesus breathed forth the
                         Spirit as he died upon the cross. From his wounded side poured out the life-
                         giving waters of baptism and the precious blood of the eucharist. In giving up
                         his life he gave it up not just for us, but to us. We are so used to baptism and
                         eucharist that we forget that they issued forth from his broken body and his
                  pierced heart. We are so used to our life in the Spirit that we forget that it is
                  only the one who died who breathed forth his Spirit for all of us. After his
                  death he rose and returned to the Father, and then with the Father sent the
                  Spirit so that all of the love which led to his birth and to his death would
                  finally reach our hearts.
                  We are very blessed in this diocese to have a Cathedral named after the Heart
                  of Jesus. It announces to all that our diocese finds its life from the love of
                  God revealed in that heart pierced on the cross. The image of Christ that
                  meets us as we leave the Cathedral (which has just been blessed) invites us to
                  believe, that we might see the power of his heart in our lives. It is not enough
                  that we profess the Catholic faith and believe truths about Jesus. What
                  matters is that we believe him when he speaks to us as the Shepherd, when he
                  speaks to us as the Lover, when he speaks to us as the one who has made
                  himself vulnerable, and in whom God has made himself vulnerable, because
                  of a passionate love for us.
                  What our diocese needs most of all, as it always has, is that we believe in that
                  love and that we draw from him the life that he breathed forth and that poured
                  out from his pierced side as blood and water.
                  Our care for each other, our ministry to each other, our concern about justice
                  and reconciliation in our world all flow from our acceptance in our own lives
                  of this incredible love. We are transformed by it to share it with others in
                  turn.
                  As our diocese reflects upon the call of God, our personal vocations, (as we
                  have been in our meeting of our Diocesan Pastoral Council), whether the call
                  be to committed forms of Christian life flowing from our baptism, or the
                  committed life of a priest flowing from ordination, or the committed life of
                  men and women with religious vows, we need to go back to the source of
                  every call which is the heart of Christ, that calls us to love God and each other
                  in return for love received. Love begets love. Love begets vocations.
                  To follow a vocation with all one’s heart is to love and to be made vulnerable
                  by one’s own love for God, just as God became vulnerable because of His
                  love for us, so vulnerable that Jesus died on the cross. When we surrender to
                  a call from God we become victims in some way of our own love. We live
                  our lives differently. We make sacrifices. We do foolish things by the
                  world’s standards because our love for God which has been created in us by
                  God’s own love for us makes us vulnerable.
                  To illustrate such vulnerability I would like to tell the story of our Church’s
                  most recent martyr, Fr Ragheed Ganni. He had not long returned to Iraq from
                  studying ecumenism at the Angelicum in Rome. The Sunday before last he
                  was taken from outside his Church in Baghdad, with three deacons, after
                  mass. They were driven away and then all were shot by Islamic militia. The
                  car was booby-trapped to prevent access to the bodies.
                  A Muslim friend wrote in grief to honour Fr Ragheed and his bishop replied
                  to the Muslim in words of great affection. It was as if hands were joined in
                  friendship across his broken body.
                  On June 2 he e-mailed from Mosul to one of his teachers in Rome: “The
                  situation here is worse than hell, and my church has been attacked a few more
                  times since we last met. Last week, two guards in it were wounded after an
                  attack. We shall meet in the near future and have a chat about all these
                  events. God bless, Ragheed."
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                  In October last he emailed to the same teacher: “I' really happy to get your
                  message, and to know that there are people who still think of and pray for my
                  country. The situation, as you can follow in the news, is dreadful. Christians
                  are suffering twice, first because of the situation, second because of their
                  religion.
                            s
                  The Pope' speech (in Regensburg) lit a fire in the city. A Syrian Orthodox
                  priest was beheaded; my parish church was attacked five times. I was
                  threatened even before that priest was kidnapped, but I was very careful about
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                  moving around. I postponed my vacation twice because I couldn'leave the
                  city under such conditions. I was planning to travel to Europe on Sept. 18,
                  but I moved it to Oct. 4. Then I had to change the date to Nov. 1.
                  Ramadan was a disaster for us in Mosul. Hundreds of Christian families fled
                  outside the city -- including my family and uncles. About 30 people left all
                  their properties and fled, having been threatened. It is not easy but the grace
                  of the Lord gives support and strength. We face death every day here.”
                  In his homily at a requiem Mass celebrated by Father Joseph Chedid of the
                  Antonine Maronite order in Lebanon, he spoke about the "souls of the martyrs
                  whose blood was shed to witness to the word of God." He asked the faithful
                  to pray to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for the Iraqi people, and especially for
                  Christians, to remove the "dark clouds hanging over them during the dreadful
                  situation they are experiencing." We will do that tonight.
                  Fr Ragheed died because his love of God made him vulnerable. He died as
                  Jesus had died before him, because he followed his vocation.
                  I pray tonight that everyone in our diocese becomes completely vulnerable
                  because they are captured by the vulnerability of God who has loved us first
                  and shown that love in the wounded heart of Jesus, and thereby give their
                  heart and their lives to following their call, whatever it may be.
                  Thanks be to God for such great love.

                  + MICHAEL E PUTNEY
                    Bishop of Townsville




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