Homily for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: 2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16a; Psalm 89; Romans 6:3-4, 8-11; Matthew 10:37-42
2 July 2023
Today is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday. The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) is the formal Voice of First Australians in the Catholic Church. Let’s listen respectfully to that voice. Whether or not we all agree on what NATSICC says, we owe it to them and to ourselves as a more synodal church to listen attentively and prayerfully, especially when they are speaking on their lived experience as Aboriginal and Islander Catholics and citizens. NATSICC has invited us to reflect on the theme: ‘A New Life in Christ’.
Looking back, NATSICC is marking the 50th anniversary of the Aboriginal Mass celebrated at the 1973 International Eucharistic Congress held in Melbourne. NATSICC observes: ‘It was the first time many people witnessed Aboriginal people expressing their Catholic faith in culturally significant ways, and it was the first public and National Aboriginal Liturgy in Australia. The Liturgy was a new attempt by the Catholic Church to re-shape the ancient Catholic ritual of the Mass by incorporating the faith experiences of those belonging to an even more ancient culture, the Aboriginal cultures.’ In 1986 at Alice Springs, Pope John Paul II when meeting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, said, ‘[The] Gospel now invites you to become, through and through, Aboriginal Christians. It meets your deepest desires. You do not have to be people divided into two parts, as though an Aboriginal had to borrow the faith and life of Christianity, like a hat or a pair of shoes, from someone else who owns them. Jesus calls you to accept his words and his values into your own culture. To develop in this way will make you more than ever truly Aboriginal.’
Looking forward, NATSICC, like all the rest of us, is preparing for the October Referendum on the Voice. NATSICC has taken a strong position in support of the proposed change to the Constitution. Their formal statement commences:
‘The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) expresses our support for a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous Voice to Parliament. We acknowledge that the Indigenous Voice represents a significant stride towards empowering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in addressing the deep-seated inequities prevalent in numerous social, economic and health indicators. By working in tandem with truth-telling, a robust First Nations Voice will serve as the bedrock for the journey towards reconciliation.’
In a respectful tone, their statement concludes:
‘We acknowledge that people of goodwill who care for First Nations Peoples can come to different conclusions and form differing opinions from the same information. However, we offer these comments to encourage Australians to consider the benefits of the Voice to Parliament for helping to achieve reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.’
Regardless of the imperfections of process and wording – and there have been and are some, this referendum provides us with the opportunity to respond to the heartfelt challenge which Senator Patrick Dodson sent to the Senate from his hospital bed:
‘This Alteration is profound because it is facing up to Australia’s legacy of colonisation and assimilation.
It is in response to the generous invitation of First Peoples in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. A response to those communities who have been oppressed, de-stabilised, and who never ceded their sovereignty.
Through a successful referendum, Australians will finally acknowledge those injustices of the Crown and will do so without undermining the integrity of our political and institutional framework of our nation.
This move to recognise the First Peoples of Australia in the Constitution is part of an action of restorative justice.
Doing this will give a sense of honour for all Australians, as we collectively stand with courage to face these past legacies and ensure that they are not bequeathed to future generations.
This is one commitment our generation can make.’
In today’s first reading from the Second Book of Kings, we hear the story of the gracious hospitality of an unnamed woman who provided the wandering prophet Elisha with a roof over his head and a square meal every time he passed through the small village of Shunem. Elisha then wonders if there is something he can do for her, showing appreciation for her hospitality and expressing thanks for all she has done. It turns out that she and her husband have been unable to conceive a child. The prophet Elisha promises that next time he comes to Shunem, he will witness the woman fondling a baby son.
If only we could come to celebrate and rejoice in the same way every time we are welcomed to country and every time assistance is offered to those in need. As Jesus tells us in today’s gospel: ‘And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple— Amen, I say to you, that person will surely not lose their reward.’
Looking back those 50 years to the Aboriginal mass at the Eucharistic Congress, and looking forward to the October referendum, let’s join in the NATSICC Voice Prayer committed to a new life in Christ:
We pray for a bright and just shared future for all who call Australia home.
We ask that Your grace of acceptance and compassion will guide us.
Let the Creator Spirit lead our journey with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples of this land.
May we share Your Spirit more deeply; celebrate the gifts You have given us.
Help us appreciate true harmony and peace just as our Old People did;
Keep us strong, make us resilient and remember us in this time.
Now is an opportunity to change our Nation’s history for the better.
Walk with us as we write a new chapter together and may we be one in Your love.
Fr Frank Brennan SJ is the Rector of Newman College, Melbourne, and the former CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA).
 Senator Patrick Dodson quoted by Senator Penny Wong, Senate, Hansard, 15 June 2023, p. 105.
 Listen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XON8LhkfT9A&t=9s