Homily for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Deuteronomy 6:2-6; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 12:28-34
31 October 2021
In the 1970s, I was a law student living in Queensland when Sir Joh Bjelke Petersen was Premier. All was not well with the rule of law and public administration in the Sunshine State back in those days. Victorians used to make jokes about us Queenslanders led by an elected leader who was fond of saying, “Don’t you worry about that!’’ I moved back to Melbourne two years ago. I’ve developed a sense of déjà vu. There’s been the Lawyer X royal commission, the farcical prosecution of Cardinal Pell initially upheld by the state’s two most senior judges, the completely inconclusive inquiry into the breakdown of hotel quarantine which had caused over 800 deaths, and this week, the report of the royal commission into Crown Casino was published. Crown has been damned unequivocally, but is to keep its monopoly licence to print money. All is not well with the rule of law and public administration in Victoria.
There would have been no royal commission into Crown which is Victoria’s iron lung by the Yarra unless there had first been an inquiry in NSW exposing that “Crown Melbourne facilitated millions of dollars to be laundered through a bank account of its subsidiary” and that “Crown Melbourne allowed operators with links to organised crime to arrange for junket players to gamble at the casino”. The Victorian royal commissioner found that Crown’s conduct was “in a word, disgraceful” – conduct that was “variously illegal, dishonest, unethical and exploitative”. The commissioner said that “The catalogue of wrongdoing is alarming”, some of it being “nothing short of appalling”. With a monopoly licence, Crown was found to have “bullied the regulator”, providing “false or misleading information”. “Perhaps the most damning discovery by the Commission is the manner in which Crown Melbourne deals with the many vulnerable people who have a gambling problem.”
The Commissioner observed: “When these facts came to light, it was inevitable that Crown Melbourne would be found unsuitable to hold its casino licence. No other finding was open.” But there was a “risk that cancellation of Crown Melbourne’s licence would cause considerable harm to the Victorian economy and innocent third parties”. So Crown is to be given another chance reporting to a Special Manager over the next two years. People have jested, “What would it take for Crown to lose its monopoly casino licence in Victoria?” While Crown’s Barangaroo operation in Sydney lies idle, its iron lung by the Yarra will continue to spew out its mix of fruit and toxins – a cocktail which government cannot afford to surrender.
It’s not as if public administration is a cesspit only in Victoria. This week in New South Wales, we’ve also witnessed the damning evidence of improper government practices exposed in ICAC. It’s a very testing time to have faith in our public officials, our elected politicians, and our legal system. With a pandemic and the challenges of climate change, more than ever, we need our elected leaders and government officials to be competent, honest, and committed. We need to have faith in our legal and political processes. There’s no point in pretending or hoping that all is well.
Our Prime Minister has flown to Glasgow for COP26 which commences this evening. He has carried with him a commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 but with sketchy detail as to how we might get there and with little tangible proof of how far along that path we might be by 2030. No doubt in the year ahead as we come to vote in another federal election, there will be much talk about how the risk of action on climate change would cause considerable harm to the Australian economy and innocent third parties. Much the same sort of calculus that we’ve heard this week with the renewal of the Crown casino licence! Let’s hope people will not be jesting: “What would it take for the world’s democratically elected leaders to take concerted action on climate change?”
On the eve of COP26, Pope Francis has taken to the airwaves on the BBC telling the world:
“Climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic have exposed our deep vulnerability and raised numerous doubts and concerns about our economic systems and the way we organize our societies. We have lost our sense of security, and are experiencing a sense of powerlessness and loss of control over our lives. We find ourselves increasingly frail and even fearful, caught up in a succession of ‘crises’ in the areas of health care, the environment, food supplies and the economy, to say nothing of social, humanitarian and ethical crises. All these crises are profoundly interconnected. They also forecast a ‘perfect storm’ that could rupture the bonds holding our society together within the greater gift of God’s creation.”
It’s in the midst of this moral morass that we observe the refreshing exchange between Jesus and the scribe in today’s gospel from Mark. This is not one of those gospel scenes where the inquirer is out to trick Jesus. It’s not one of those scenes where Jesus sees fit to answer a question with another question. Rather, Jesus and the scribe are seeking common ground. The scribe asks: “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus answers with a formula which any good scribe would know off by heart, being used to reciting it every morning and every evening – the opening words of the Shema from the book of Deuteronomy: “This is the first: Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Jesus then adds a second commandment: “You must love your neighbour as yourself.” The scribe is grateful and engaged. He repeats a variant of the Shema and then observes that love of God and love of neighbour “is far more important than any holocaust or sacrifice”. Prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Hosea often “stressed the insufficiency of the sacrificial cult when more radical obedience to God and social justice were lacking”.
In his great encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis invites us to focus not just on our relationship with God and with our neighbour, not just on more radical obedience to God and social justice. He tells us that “human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself. According to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin. The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations. This in turn distorted our mandate to “have dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), to ’till it and keep it’ (Gen 2:15). As a result, the originally harmonious relationship between human beings and nature became conflictual (cf. Gen 3:17-19).”
Pope Francis claims that “the harmony which Saint Francis of Assisi experienced with all creatures was seen as a healing of that rupture.’ He tells us, ‘This is a far cry from our situation today, where sin is manifest in all its destructive power in wars, the various forms of violence and abuse, the abandonment of the most vulnerable, and attacks on nature.”
In the ruptured, sinful society of which we are a part, we are being called individually and collectively to love our God, our neighbour, and the whole of creation. We are being called to take transformative action. Let’s pray with Christians in every land this Sunday as the world leaders commence their COP26 deliberations in Glasgow:
We praise your name with all you have created.
You are present in the whole universe,
and in the smallest of creatures.
We acknowledge the responsibilities you have placed upon us
as stewards of your creation.
May the Holy Spirit inspire all political leaders at COP26 as they
seek to embrace the changes needed to foster a more sustainable society.
Instil in them the courage and gentleness to implement fairer solutions
for the poorest and most vulnerable,
and commit their nations to the care of Our Common Home.
We ask this through Our Lord Jesus Christ your Son.
Pope Francis concluded his BBC Thought for the Day:
“The political decision-makers who will meet at COP26 in Glasgow are urgently summoned to provide effective responses to the present ecological crisis and in this way to offer concrete hope to future generations. And it is worth repeating that each of us – whoever and wherever we may be – can play our own part in changing our collective response to the unprecedented threat of climate change and the degradation of our common home.”
If only we could talk and act wisely in confronting the many challenges to love God, neighbour and creation so that we might hear Jesus say to us: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Each of us has our part to play avoiding the unethical practices that rupture our society and our planet.
 Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence, Report, Overview, available at https://www.rccol.vic.gov.au/overview-recommendations
 Pope Francis, ‘BBC Radio – Thought For The Day’ on the occasion of the COP26 Meeting in Glasgow,
 Brendan Byrne, A Costly Freedom, St Pauls, 2008, p. 191
 Pope Francis, Laudato Si’ #66
 CAFOD Prayers for COP26 available at https://cafod.org.uk/Pray/Prayer-resources/COP26-prayer
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.