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First World Day of the Poor

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Homily for the First World Day of the Poor, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, 19 November 2017. Holy Trinity Church, Curtin; Transfiguration Parish, North Woden. Listen

It's been a big week with the announcement of the result of the survey on same sex marriage. Today is also the World Day of the Poor when Pope Francis invites us to be generous to others less well off than ourselves and then to do more than extend our generous charity to those who are poor. He invites us to 'a true encounter with the poor and a sharing that becomes a way of life'. Francis tells us, 'If we truly wish to encounter Christ, we have to touch his body in the suffering bodies of the poor, as a response to the sacramental communion bestowed in the Eucharist.' Pope Francis says, 'We are called, then, to draw near to the poor, to encounter them, to meet their gaze, to embrace them and to let them feel the warmth of love that breaks through their solitude. Their outstretched hand is also an invitation to step out of our certainties and comforts, and to acknowledge the value of poverty in itself.'

I don't think it is too much of a stretch at the end of this big week for us to try and reach out on this World Day of the Poor both to those who are gay or lesbian and to those who are worried about what the change to the law will mean to their freedom to practise and profess their religious belief.

After all the divisiveness of recent months, this is a week to honour those who with dignity and perseverance have convinced their fellow Australians that the civil law should both recognise their faithful, exclusive commitments and support their families, regardless of their sexual orientation. For them, it is rightly a time of celebration.

We need our politicians to lead the nation in healing the hurts caused by the plebiscite campaign. While legislating promptly for same sex marriage, our politicians also need to commit to a transparent, fair dinkum process for determining and rectifying the shortfalls in Australia's legal architecture for the protection of religious freedom and conscientious beliefs. This must be done with all participants accepting that from now on, civil marriage in Australia will be available to any two persons wanting to commit faithfully and exclusively to each other.

If we are typical of the nation, eight out of ten of us in this Church went to the trouble of posting our response to the survey. Of those who voted, six out of ten of us voted for this change in the law. If we are typical of Canberra, then three out of four of those of us who voted in each pew opted for a change in the law.

During the recent campaign one bishop wrote, 'This of course means that with regard to the current postal survey on legally redefining marriage to include same sex unions that a Catholic is morally obligated to vote 'no'. There is no option to claim that in good conscience that a Catholic can vote 'yes'.' That's the 21st century equivalent of a bishop telling the flock that they have to vote for the DLP. Those days have gone, and they've gone forever. Archbishop Mark Coleridge, an accomplished scripture scholar and vice president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, got it right when interviewed on national television. He said:

To think of a Catholic vote all going one way is just naïve. Of course, it's possible to vote 'yes'. It depends why you vote 'yes'. It's possible to vote 'no', but equally it depends why you vote 'no' ... As a Catholic you can vote 'yes' or you can vote 'no'. I personally will vote 'no' but for quite particular reasons. But I'm not going to stand here and say: you vote 'no'; and you vote 'yes', and you're a Catholic, you'll go to hell. It's not like that.

No matter how we voted, we all now need to accept that the civil law of marriage will permit the exclusive, committed relationship of any two persons to be legally recognised, granting the couple endorsement and respect for their relationship and for their family. This will be the case no matter what moral or normative assessment religious authorities might make of particular sexual acts or orientations. These are not matters of concern to the civil law.

Many Catholics when contemplating the situation of the gay person who would never contemplate marriage in the Church find the loving and merciful response of Pope Francis helpful: 'Who am I to judge?' Yesterday, I celebrated a nuptial mass for a couple who later expressed the wish at their reception that that the bride's gay brother who was MC might one day be able to marry under Australian law. At the mass, we had prayed the preface:

For you have forged the covenant of marriage as a sweet yoke of harmony and an unbreakable bond of peace, so that the chaste and fruitful love of holy Matrimony may serve to increase the children you adopt as your own.

By your providence and grace, O Lord, you accomplish the wonder of this twofold design: that, while the birth of children brings beauty to the world, their rebirth in Baptism gives increase to the Church, through Christ our Lord.

In today's gospel, Jesus tells the story of the man going on a journey who entrusts his talents to his employees. One receives 5, another 2, and another 1. Whatever their sexual orientation, they were expected to produce. When the servant given 5 talents returned, he said, 'Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master's joy.'

Whether we're given five talents, two talents or only one, whether we're straight or gay, whether we are called blessedly into a permanent, exclusive relationship of love, each of us is called to produce fruit. In the parable, Jesus is not casting adverse judgments on how the more endowed servants actually earned their returns. His criticism is of the fearful servant with only one talent who produces nothing because he simply buries what he has in the ground, failing to step out of his certainties and comforts.

No matter how any of us voted, let's take heart that there are good reasons for separating religious arguments about marriage from legal propositions applicable to all citizens, of all faiths and none. And let's put our talents — whether five, two or one — to good use. And let's help others, whether gay or straight, rich or poor, to put their own talents to good use. Let us draw near to those who are poor or marginalised; let's encounter them; let's meet their gaze; let's embrace them and let them feel the warmth of love that breaks through their solitude. Let's recall that their outstretched hand is also an invitation for us to step out of our own certainties and comforts.



Frank BrennanFrank Brennan SJ is the CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia.

Topic tags: Frank Brennan, work, fair wage, Rerum Novarum



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There is a paragraph in Dignitatis Humanae (Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom) which is often overlooked: ‘government is to see to it that equality of citizens before the law, which is itself an element of the common good, is never violated, whether openly or covertly, for religious reasons. Nor is there to be discrimination among citizens.’ Walter Abbott in his edition of the Documents of Vatican II adds this footnote: ‘This statement about equality before the law as an element of the common welfare has an accent of newness in official Catholic statements. It is important for the construction of the full argument of religious freedom.’

Frank Brennan SJ | 20 November 2017  

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