Frank Brennan’s homily

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

St Vincent’s Church Redfern

12 July 2009 – (The Eucharist preceding the launch of Edmund Campion’s Ted Kennedy, Priest of Redfern, David Lovell Publishing, Melbourne, 2009)

Amos 7: 12-15
Mark 6: 7-13

In 1975, I turned 21 and headed down from Queensland to join the Jesuit novitiate here in Sydney. Most nights a fellow novice used offer a prayer for Ted Kennedy. I could not work out why we needed to pray constantly for a US senator – no matter what his Irish Catholic pedigree. I then learnt that there were two Ted Kennedys. As a second year novice I was sent here to Redfern. Ted enjoyed forming Jesuit novices. I was appointed Mum Shirl’s driver. I learnt a lot. Then I was asked to drive Len Watson down to Canberra where we watched the passage of the Northern Territory Land Rights Act through the Senate. In those months, I learnt that there were many Ted Kennedys. He was an enigma – exhibiting sophistication and simplicity, subtle discernment and black and white judgment, a romantic vision and that resignation born of hard, bitter experience, soft love and brittle anger. Everyone of us gathered here in this Church knew many facets of Ted the priest, Ted the man.

It is very appropriate that we gather here to celebrate the Eucharist before launching Ed Campion’s book Ted Kennedy, Priest of Redfern. Ted was a man of the Word proclaimed Sunday after Sunday from this lectern, and a priest of the Sacrament blessing and breaking the bread for all comers here at the Tom Bass altar. Today Bishop David wears the Aboriginal vestment with the Daly River design sewn by my mother, worn by Ted at Mum Shirl’s funeral and first worn by David at Ted’s funeral. We sing the hymns by Peter Kearney and by Ted’s old Ryde parishioners Richard Connolly and James McAuley. We give thanks for the “Living Parish” which was a gift to all Australian parishes.

How appropriate are today’s readings for the 15th week in Ordinary Time. We easily recall Ted as we ponder Amos confronting Amaziah and as we reflect on the twelve taking nothing for the journey as they step out proclaiming repentance and casting out demons. Like Amos, Ted did not plan to become a prophet here at Redfern. But he found no need to shake the dust from his feet here. He proclaimed and lived the radical edge or, was it, core of the gospel – making it more ordinary, more demanded and more expected of each of us.

He spent a lot of his time and nervous energy engaging with a string of Amaziahs from “Head Office”. He often heard religious authorities telling him not to prophesy at Bethel, the king’s sanctuary, the temple of the kingdom. He just kept prophesying about the swarms of locusts, the devouring fires and the plumb line which would lay waste the hypocritical, institutional aspects of Church and nation. His family background and his early parish experience was no preparation for the ministry he exercised here. Like Amos, we all heard him say, “I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore trees. But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” (Amos 7:14-15)

This past week, I was wondering what he would have made of the exchange of literary gifts between the Pope and our Prime Minister. Benedict gave Kevin Rudd a copy of his new encyclical Caritas in Veritate which is definitely worth a read. I think Ted would have heartily endorsed Ratzinger’s observations (#56):

The exclusion of religion from the public square — and, at the other extreme, religious fundamentalism — hinders an encounter between persons and their collaboration for the progress of humanity. Public life is sapped of its motivation and politics takes on a domineering and aggressive character. Human rights risk being ignored either because they are robbed of their transcendent foundation or because personal freedom is not acknowledged. Secularism and fundamentalism exclude the possibility of fruitful dialogue and effective cooperation between reason and religious faith. Reason always stands in need of being purified by faith: this also holds true for political reason, which must not consider itself omnipotent. For its part, religion always needs to be purified by reason in order to show its authentically human face. Any breach in this dialogue comes only at an enormous price to human development.

For his part Kevin Rudd gave the Pope a copy of the apology declaring:

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.
To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.
And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.
We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.
For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

All of this would have been music to Ted’s ears. He was always wanting those in positions of power and authority to make these acknowledgements. But I can’t help thinking that his delight would have been tempered by dissatisfaction. Those of you who knew him better than I would know the source and manifestation of his niggling. Though he wanted and expected much from authority, he was ultimately mistrustful of it. He knew that in the end, no matter how much was said or promised by those in authority, there was a need for commitment on the ground. There was dirty work to be done and suffering to be embraced. Even when he waxed lyrical about Paul Keating’s 1992 Redfern Park speech, he preferred to focus on the weeping responses of Aboriginal people he knew rather than the grandeur of the prime ministerial rhetoric.

Like the twelve in today’s gospel, Ted knew he was sent from Concord and Ryde to here. Though he started here at Redfern in a group of three priests, he was soon on his own. And he remained something of a loner – a loner who could fill a church with friends and admirers four years after his death. He took today’s gospel almost literally – taking nothing for the journey. Danny and Kathleen Gilbert delight in telling the story of Ted’s journey to Ireland with them. He traveled with his old brown travel bag without even a spare tunic. Though he did fill the bag with books. From this lectern, he proclaimed a message of repentance to our whole nation, seeking to cast out the demons deep in the soul of the country – those historic abuses of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters still being played out as evidenced by the recent inquest into the death of Mr Ward in Kalgoorlie.

As we prepare to move from the lectern to the altar, let’s recall some of those poetic Eucharistic prayers Ted used pray without rhetoric or pious flourish. He was matter of factly a man of prayer praying (Creativity, Michael Moynihan SJ):

Send us your Spirit, Father,
The Spirit of Truth,
To open our eyes and ears:
To see where we are afraid to look,
To hear you in voices
That offend our sensitive ears.

We seek you in the spectacular and extraordinary,
And you come to us poor,
Hungry, thirsty, naked,
Diseased, in prison, alone,
And as the least of our brothers and sisters.
Teach us to see you, hear you, touch you, know you,
Where you really are,
And not where we would like you to be.

The last time so many of us gathered here in this Church was for the blessing of the mural. Let’s now join Ted addressing the Aboriginal people in our midst with the words of John Paul II at Alice Springs in 1986:

For thousands of years, you, the Aboriginal people have lived in this land with a culture that endures to this day.

With an endurance which your ancient ceremonies have taught you.

You are like a tree standing in a bush-fire, leaves scorched, bark burned, but inside sap still flows and roots are strong.

Always the Spirit of God has been with you. Your Dreaming is your own way of touching the mystery of God’s Spirit in you and in Creation, with its animals, birds, fishes, waterholes, rivers and hills.

You have still the power to be born. The time for rebirth is now.

Together with our Aboriginal brothers and sisters, with Fr Ted and Mum Shirl, we pray, “Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.” We make this prayer through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Frank Brennan SJ
Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply