The word “homily” does have, deservedly sometimes, negative associations. It is certainly not a genre that most people rush to read, unless rebadged as in today’s Sunday Telegraph, a topic for my Journalspace blog, as an editorial by Glenn Milne.
Last Sunday I published a good example of the genre from South Sydney Uniting Church. In another note that day I wrote: “Afterwards Sirdan and I had lunch at Chinese Whisper in Surry Hills, and then I went to PK’s for the afternoon.” Today’s lunch will be at The Shakespeare — cheap and nourishing — and I am being a slacker about church this morning. However, I am getting my Sunday homily, or a whole host of homilies, from a book PK lent me last week.
One of the many eccentricities of my old friend PK is his devotion to St Francis of Assisi, Paddington, Sydney.
It really is an amazing place. PK once took me to a choral concert there.
The book PK lent me is by Geoffrey Plant who was a parish priest at St Francis through the 1990s. He is now out in Rabbit Territory. PK’s copy is personally inscribed. It is a book of homilies. The definition linked above reminds us that homilies are more practical than heavily theological, and Geoffrey Plant’s “stories” stay true to that brief. As writing they are very commendable — unpretentious, warm but not not fuzzy, reflective of an amazing range of reading, not all of it theological or even Catholic. I can understand why PK likes this man.
There are some surprises. For example, who wrote this?
The fundamentalist approach is dangerous, for it is attractive to people who look to the Bible for ready answers to the problem of life…[The] Bible does not necessarily contain an immediate answer to each and every problem… [Fundamentalism] actually invites people to a kind of intellectual suicide. It injects into life a false certitude, for it unwittingly confuses the divine substance of the biblical message with what in fact are its human limitations.
Answer: Pope Benedict XVI when better known as Cardinal Ratzinger in 1993. The homily that cites this is on Genesis 3:13. Ken Ham would hate it.
I have called the story of the serpent a myth . In other words, it is a sacred story about the nature of evil in this world, using the metaphors of a garden, forbidden fruit, and a wily serpent.
The Genesis myth explores the nature of sin as rebellion, a rejection of our divine destiny, a loss of innocence — as alienation and exile from the harmony symbolised by the Garden of Eden. The myth is set “in the beginning” — in the time before time. It is a story about every time.
Nor is the story from Genesis about a particular man and woman, Adam and Eve. Adam (a name meaning ‘of the ground’) and Eve (‘life-giving’) are like Everyman, a character in a medieval morality play of that name…
Likewise, in the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve are not two individuals who once lived in a specific time and place. The man and the woman of Genesis transcend map and calendar. They are every man and woman who has ever existed, and their story is also the story of our own struggle with the forces of evil in the world.
Reading that eminently sensible approach to Genesis where the book is seen for what it really is, I was reminded of an older post of mine: Spiritual Classics Pt 3: Judaism: Radio National which featured a very remarkable translation of Genesis by Mary Phil Korsak:
We will make a groundling (Adam) in our image, after our likeness
Let them govern the fish of the sea the fowl of the skies, the cattle, all the earth every creeper that creeps on the earth
Elohim created the groundling in his image created it in the image of Elohim male and female created them
Elohim blessed them
Elohim said to them
Be fruitful, increase, fill the earth, subject it
Govern the fish of the sea, the fowl of the skies every beast that creeps on the earth
Here I give you all plants seeding seed upon the face of all the earth and every tree with tree-fruit in it seeding seed
It shall be for you for eating
And for every beast of the earth for every fowl of the skies for all that creeps on the earth with living soul in it all green of plants for eating
It was so
Elohim saw all he had made
Here! it was very good
It was evening, it was morning
The sixth day (Gen. 1:26-31).
Great stuff that.