Homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: Jeremiah 17:5-8; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20; Luke 6:17,20-26
13 February 2022
In today’s first reading, the prophet Jeremiah proclaims:”Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh”. “He is like a barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season, but stands in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth.” This past week, Pope Benedict XVI published his response to the adverse findings made about him by the lawyers’ inquiry into the Church’s handling of abusive priests in the Munich archdiocese 40 years ago. The problem has not been what Benedict did or did not know 40 years ago. The problem is what he and his advisers did or did not know this past year when his advisers assisted him putting together an 82-page document responding to the lawyers’ initial inquiries. That document contained some significant errors.
Five days prior to the publication of Benedict’s response to the lawyers’ findings, Cardinal Marx, the present archbishop of Munich, insisted that he did not “want to falsely protect or to harm” Benedict. Marx was hoping that the Pope Emeritus would explain what had happened at some length. “And that his explanation will contain words of sincere empathy for the victims and regard of the expectations people have of him.” 
Benedict’s letter was finally published on 8 February 2022, stating: “Amid the massive work of those days – the development of my position – an oversight occurred regarding my participation in the chancery meeting of 15 January 1980. This error, which regrettably was verified, was not intentionally willed and I hope may be excused. I then arranged for Archbishop Gänswein to make it known in the press statement of 24 January last.”  The matter remains quite unresolved. And perhaps it is now irresolvable as to how the verified error was both unintentional and excusable. Let’s hope the relevant lessons have been learned to ensure that such institutional errors do not occur again. If only Benedict had apologised without reservation for the unintended but verified error whether by him or his advisers. Such a simple unreserved apology would have provided some succour to victims of abuse who have long thought that church leaders will go to great lengths to avoid responsibility for past wrongs or omissions.
The German hierarchy seems to be somewhat underwhelmed and embarrassed by Benedict’s response. They were expecting a more complete explanation or else a forthright apology. Benedict’s assistant and confidante, Archbishop Gänswein, was asked to respond to criticisms by some victims’ advocates and media in Germany that Pope Benedict’s apology was insufficient. Gänswein responded: “Whoever reads the letter in a sincere way, the way in which the letter was written, cannot agree with these criticisms or these accusations. [Benedict] asks all victims of abuse for forgiveness.”  Benedict surely does, but he has not apologised for his oversight and his mistake. The head of the German Bishops’ Conference, Limburg Bishop Georg Baetzing, put out a tweet simply saying that Benedict “deserves respect” for having published a response. One bishop, Franz-Josef Overbeck, noted with concern that “people affected by sexual violence have reached with disappointment and in some cases also indignation to the former pope’s comments on his time as archbishop of Munich and Freising.” 
The prophet Jeremiah in today’s first reading also proclaims: “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord.” Whatever his mistakes or shortcomings, Benedict concluded his letter: “Quite soon, I shall find myself before the final judge of my life. Even though, as I look back on my long life, I can have great reason for fear and trembling, I am nonetheless of good cheer, for I trust firmly that the Lord is not only the just judge, but also the friend and brother who himself has already suffered for my shortcomings, and is thus also my advocate, my ‘Paraclete’.” Jeremiah assures us that one whose hope is the Lord “is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: it fears not the heat when it comes; its leaves stay green; in the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit.”
In today’s gospel, we hear Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. Unlike Matthew, Luke juxtaposes those who are blessed – the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and the hated – with those who suffer woe – those who are already rich, those who are already filled, those who are already happy, and those who are praised. The blessed will have their fill in the Lord’s good time. The cursed have their fill here and now and are satisfied that they have no need of the Lord’s grace.
This past week, we’ve been treated to the unedifying spectacle of our Parliament being unable to heed the cry of the poor, the hungry, the weeping and the hated. Whether it’s gay teachers, transgender students or religious teachers simply wanting to run schools which are true to their religious ethos, they’ve all been marginalised or demonised. For four years, our elected leaders have kicked around this political football. For the first time in 30 years in public life, I declined a request from the politicians to appear before their parliamentary committee. Before Christmas, I told them:
“Thank you for the invitation to appear before your committee inquiring into the three bills presently before the Parliament in relation to religious discrimination. I must confess that I have lost all faith that the 46th Parliament will be able to resolve the deadlock on these issues… I see no point in appearing before your committee simply to repeat the concerns I have outlined for so long, with our elected leaders having failed to act during the life of the 46thParliament.”
For four years, I, like many religious citizens of goodwill have been pursuing three key principles:
- There should be no adverse discrimination against kids FULL STOP.
- Religious schools should be able to choose staff with an eye to maintaining the school’s religious ethos.
- Should a highly conservative or evangelical school want to be very restrictive in staff selection, that selection should not be on the basis of sexual orientation, and it should be based on a published, coherent moral principle rigorously and equally applied to all staff regardless of their sexual orientation. 
In the wee hours of Thursday morning, politicians from all sides claimed that they espoused all three principles. But still, after four years, they could not agree on legislation which was workable and clear.  So still we wait for yet another federal election and for yet another parliament.
“How happy are you who are poor: yours is the kingdom of God.
Happy you who are hungry now: you shall be satisfied.
Happy you who weep now: you shall laugh.
Happy are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name as criminal, on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy, for then your reward will be great in heaven.”
It’s in waiting for the justice that has not yet been delivered by man’s law that we are blessed with the promise that we will know God’s justice, empowering us to keep fighting for the breaking in of the Kingdom here and now.
Fr Frank Brennan SJ is the Rector of Newman College, Melbourne, and the former CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA). He has been appointed a peritus at the Fifth Plenary Council of the Australian Catholic Church.
 The Tablet, 12 February 2022, p. 27
 The full text of the letter dated 6 February 2022 and published on 8 February 2022 is available at https://www.ncronline.org/sites/default/files/file_attachments/Pope%20Benedict%20letter%20Feb.%208%202022.pdf
 See National Catholic Reporter, 10 February 2022 available at https://www.ncronline.org/news/vatican/benedicts-secretary-says-former-pope-has-full-support-francis