Fr Frank’s Homily: Third Sunday of Lent

By Fr Frank Brennan SJ, 03 March 2024
STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN - APRIL 16, 2010: Stained glass window depicting Moses showing the Stone Tablets with the Ten Commandments, in Saint James's Church in Stockholm, Sweden.


Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent, Year B

Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19;1 Corinthians 1:22-25; John 2:13-25

05 March 2024

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On this third Sunday of Lent we hear one of the Old Testament versions of Yahweh’s proclamation of the ten commandments.  In the Book of Exodus, Chapter 20, Yahweh gives us a preamble before setting down the all too familiar commandments:

‘For I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God,  inflicting punishment for their fathers’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me,  down to the third and fourth generation;  but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments.’

The laying down of the law takes place in the context of Yahweh’s infinite mercy and love – bestowed not just down to the third or fourth generation but to the thousandth generation.

There is always tension between prescriptive laws and the abundant blessing of God’s mercy and love.  At times as Church we tend to focus on certain neuralgic issues, drawing a line in the sand, convincing ourselves that there are clear guidelines for all, especially in relation to sinful situations or complex arrangements in which the clergy are unlikely ever to find themselves.  Pope Francis has definitely blurred those lines or given others licence to blur them in the name of love and mercy in ways never contemplated or allowed by his predecessors John Paul and Benedict.

This being the weekend of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, it might be appropriate to reflect on the recent declaration of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith on the ‘Blessings of Couples in Irregular Situations and of Couples of the Same Sex’.  Pope Francis’ handpicked new head of the Dicastery from Argentina Víctor Manuel Cardinal Fernández issued the declaration Fiducia supplicans a week before Christmas[1]. It caused immediate ructions.  Some people, including gay rights activists, were very happy; others were upset; and many were confused.  I have heard a variety of viewpoints in our parish communities, with a request for some conversation and guidance.  The dicastery even took the thoroughly modern approach of issuing a press release early in the new year ‘to help clarify the reception of Fiducia supplicans, while recommending at the same time a full and calm reading of the Declaration so as to better understand its meaning and purpose’.[2]

The Dicastery in rather folksy style said: ‘Since some have raised the question of what these blessings might look like, let us look at a concrete example: let us imagine that among a large number making a pilgrimage a couple of divorced people, now in a new union, say to the priest: “Please give us a blessing, we cannot find work, he is very ill, we do not have a home and life is becoming very difficult: may God help us!”.  In this case, the priest can recite a simple prayer like this: “Lord, look at these children of yours, grant them health, work, peace and mutual help.  Free them from everything that contradicts your Gospel and allow them to live according to your will. Amen”. Then it concludes with the sign of the cross on each of the two persons.  We are talking about something that lasts about 10 or 15 seconds. Does it make sense to deny these kinds of blessings to these two people who ask for them? Is it not more appropriate to support their faith, whether it be small or great, to assist them in their weaknesses with a divine blessing, and to channel that openness to transcendence which could lead them to be more faithful to the Gospel?’

The press release then returned to more legalistic form stating: ‘In order to avoid any doubt, the Declaration adds that, when the blessing is requested by a couple in an irregular situation, “even though it is expressed outside the rites prescribed by the liturgical books, this blessing should never be imparted in concurrence with the ceremonies of a civil union, and not even in connection with them. Nor can it be performed with any clothing, gestures, or words that are proper to a wedding. The same applies when the blessing is requested by a same-sex couple”. It remains clear, therefore, that the blessing must not take place in a prominent place within a sacred building, or in front of an altar, as this also would create confusion.’

This did not satisfy the critics of the declaration, particularly a large number of the African bishops who were upset about what it could mean for their congregations.  Pope Francis, being interviewed on Italian television a couple of weeks after the press release said: ‘Sometimes decisions are not accepted, but in most cases when decisions are not accepted, it is because they are not understood.  The danger is that if I don’t like something and I put it (the opposition) in my heart, I become a resistance and jump to ugly conclusions’.[3]

People could be forgiven for not understanding quite what was being said.  For example, could a priest do a blessing for a same sex couple or couldn’t he?

Fr James Martin SJ, a strong advocate for LGBTQ+ persons in the church, a friend of Francis and a participant in the recent Synod, said: ‘The distinction between these blessings and a sacramental marriage was abundantly clear in the original declaration.  These blessings are not to be confused with a marriage ceremony.  It’s also clear that it is a blessing of a same-sex couple, not simply two people who happen to be standing together in front of the priest.’[4]

After speaking to the Irish bishops a week later, Martin said: ‘My sense is that the document means what it says: priests can, under certain circumstances, bless same-sex couples.  And we should note that this phrase is in the document: same-sex couples.  So, it is not merely two people who happen to be standing together in front of a priest, but a couple.’[5]

Fr Frank O’Loughlin who was Director of the Melbourne Liturgy Office and lecturer in liturgy and sacramental theology at Catholic Theological College has now published a suggested liturgy of blessing to be used by Australian priests.  He suggests this Initial Prayer:

‘Father, by the power of your Spirit you have filled the hearts of your faithful people with gifts of love for one another.  Hear the prayer we offer for A and B.  Increase in them your Spirit that they may live in the light of your gospel.’

He then provides a suggested list of scripture readings.  He suggests that a homily then be delivered touching on the couple’s expression of commitment to each other.

Then follows some suggested Prayers of the Faithful:

‘We pray for A and B that in their life’s journey they may be a blessing to each other;

We pray for their families and friends who support and surround them;

We pray that they may know the patience, kindness and selflessness which are marks of Christian love;

We pray for all here present that they may be blessed in their relationships.’

After the congregation prays the Lord’s Prayer, he suggests this blessing:

‘Ever-living Father, you always show your faithful love to those who love you and you are never far away from those who seek you.  Remain with your servants A and B on their life’s journey and guide their way in the light of your gospel.  Shelter them with your protection by day and by night and give them the peace of your grace, and, as their companion on the journey.  Bring them to the peace and joy of your kingdom. We ask this through Christ our Lord.Amen.’[6]

He then suggests a Final Blessing.  I daresay this is all a little more elaborate than the spontaneous 10-15 second blessing approved by the Dicastery in their press release.  But if a brief ad hoc blessing is in order, surely a more planned and prayerful blessing would be appropriate, especially for a couple anxious for a blessing in their Christian community, aware of the gravity and solemnity of their commitment though it not be a canonical marriage.

Let’s pray that the Lord will continue to bestow mercy down to the thousandth generation on the children of those who love the Lord and keep the Lord’s commandments.

Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.

The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul;
The decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.

Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.

The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the command of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eye.

 Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.

The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever;
the ordinances of the LORD are true,
all of them just.

Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.

They are more precious than gold,
than a heap of purest gold;
sweeter also than syrup
or honey from the comb.

 Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.

From the start of 2024, Fr Frank Brennan SJ will serve as part of a Jesuit team of priests working within a new configuration of the Toowong, St Lucia and Indooroopilly parishes in Brisbane Archdiocese.  Frank Brennan SJ is a  former CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA). Fr Frank’s latest book is An Indigenous Voice to Parliament: Considering a Constitutional Bridge, Garratt Publishing, 2023.


[1] See

[2] See

[3] See

[4] The Tablet, 3 February 2024, p.3

[5] The Tablet, 10 February 2024, p.29

[6] See

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