Homily: Saint John of God Hospital Bendigo - Commissioning Mass

Saint John of God Hospital
Commissioning Mass
18th August, 2015

God’s call to Gideon is one of the oldest accounts of ‘calling’ in the Scriptures. In it the sacred writer includes features to be found in all instances of vocation.

We read that God’s choice falls on a man who never would have expected a vocation. He receives the call in the course of his ordinary work, when he is threshing wheat. The call is God’s initiative. In some particularly important cases (such as this) recorded in the scriptures, the Lord uses an angel to convey his message. His greeting begins with references to the fact that the Lord God is close to his chosen one and to the mission being assigned him. ’God is with you’: God has seen the needs of his people and is going to send this man to their aid.

A fairly usual reaction to a call from God is a reluctance to respond. Gideon recites all the difficulties and limitations, which would disqualify him from the task; and he even asks for a sign to confirm that the call really does come from God. Then, when he decides to accept the role God is offering him, he is given words of consolation "Do not fear” and he feels at peace.

We talk perhaps less often than we used to about careers as a calling, or a vocation. And that's a pity, because generations upon generations of health care professionals have responded to that call because - as much as anything - they wanted to be a certain kind of person. It's my hope and prayer – and I trust the hope and prayer of many in this chapel today – that the health care profession, in particular St John of God Bendigo, continues to invite people who want not just to do a job, but to be a kind of person who responds to the call to be changed - to grow in excellence.  To be a person who is not just caring from the outside, but being alongside and negotiating any difficulties that brings; while keeping your own space, your own integrity and your own freedom, yet at the same time being generously open. No one pretends that this will be easy. But when it happens, when people do grow into that kind of humanity, things change and vision is truly implemented.

So, God does continue to call men and women today, and as you are commissioned today, it is appropriate to reflect in faith, that this is in fact a call from God: a vocation, as expressed in your Mission statement: to continue the healing mission of Jesus Christ through the provision of health care services that promote life to the full by enhancing the physical, intellectual, social and spiritual dimensions of being human.

We heard how Gideon’s faith was wavering, and in fact, a weak faith can be a protection against disappointment. If a person does not have complete confidence in other aspects of life, he or she will not be totally surprised by betrayal or infidelity. In our own lives we can sometimes find ourselves up against impossible odds. We wonder how we will get through some test, how we will keep going.

In such circumstances, the saying in today’s gospel can be a great encouragement to us, “for God everything is possible.” In other words, if people expect the worst, they have already given up on the best! Faith can always be strengthened and strong faith works on the assumption of the best!

With this background, Jesus’ enigmatic statements in today’s Gospel about wealth, about first and last, about human impossibilities and divine gifts begin to make sense. To a person of faith, with the memory of stories like that of Gideon, with experiences of prayer and fidelity, Our Lord’s words are a summons to the active response of faith.

However, a final phrase in today’s Gospel is one of those paradoxes that can puzzle and irritate us. How are we to know that the first shall be last, and the last first? The rich young man who came to Jesus looking for the path to eternal life went away sad because he was possessed by his possessions. Whatever possessions we have, we must always be on the guard that they don’t possess us.  Even if we have little by the world’s standards, we can become fixated on protecting and guarding what we have. Whether it is our money, or our possessions, or our time, or our energies and abilities … all these things really belong to God … and we are stewards. In addition, Jesus reminds us that the Lord is not outdone in generosity.  The generous giver is in fact repaid a hundredfold in this life – and ultimately, receives eternal life.

The generosity proposed by Jesus is not something we give from our leftovers, once we’ve fully satisfied our own concerns.  Rather, the very reason why God allows us to have things is so that we can be generous givers … both of our things and of ourselves, to our brothers and sisters. And in the context of St John of God Health Care, there is the values framework of hospitality, compassion, respect, justice and excellence to guide our actions.

And so, inspired by St John of God and the religious women and men who founded this organization, today let us reflect on what God has given to each of us … the blessings of our life, our energy, our love, our time, our professional skills and our possessions.

Let us thank God for calling us into his service in this way and let us pray that we will use all of God’s gifts to us in generous service; realizing that God has given them to us precisely for this purpose.  As we unite ourselves with Jesus’ offering now in this Eucharist, may we become more and more like him, as we give ourselves and all that we have, in loving service.

Bishop Leslie Tomlinson