receiver
receiver
receiver

Fr Brendan’s Homily – Year A – 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Walking on Water

WALKING ON WATER

I think most of us would be happy to describe our lives as they unfold over weeks, months, and years as a journey. From the day we are born—though we can’t remember anything of that—we are being shaped by all the experiences that come our way, some happy, some painful; sometimes with a strong sense of purpose and direction, sometimes feeling we are floundering around, not getting anywhere in particular.

Those of us who have the privilege of being believers know that our journey through life has a beginning and an end beyond what we can presently see and feel. At the Last Supper, on the night before he died, Jesus made a magnificent statement to his disciples:

I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father” (John 16:28).

Though Jesus said that about himself, there is a sense in which it is true of every human life seen from the perspective of faith. Each one of us has come from God and each one of us is going to God. Pope Francis, citing his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, put it this way:

We were conceived in the heart of God and for this reason ‘each one of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary’ (Laudato Sí 65).

As people of faith our lives may not seem all that different from the lives of others who do not share our beliefs. But what we are trying to do as a community of believers, when we come together for Mass each Sunday, is keep in mind that deeper story of our life that has a beginning and an end—though it is hardly an end but rather a new beginning of life—in God.

We are trying to deepen the sense that accompanying our journey through life is a journey of faith, which is not something quite separate from our journey of life but rather its deepest meaning.

These two journeys—our life journey and our faith journey—are in dialogue and interaction with each other throughout our lives. When we are young, we may take what we are taught about our faith in a very accepting and simple way—even though there are many aspects that we may not understand. As our life journey proceeds, especially as we enter that questioning stage of adolescence and young adulthood, our understanding of the faith will have to grow if we are not to slough it off as we discard old clothes when we grow out of them—through age or putting on more weight!

Wider experience of life, especially painful experiences—loss, sudden death of family members and friends—will severely test our faith in the power and goodness of God, and sometimes seem to blow it out of the water entirely.

We may give up on God. What we do know is that God never gives up on us. And God takes a long range view of our lives and is patient with our failures and sins far beyond anything we can hope or imagine.

I think we can see Peter’s walking on the water as described in the Gospel today as something like the journey of faith that we all have to make. I’ve never quite made up my mind on what it was that prompted Peter to want to leave the safety of the boat and walk on water towards Jesus. Clearly, there was a bit of bravado as well as spontaneity in his character. I bet the other apostles said, “There he goes again!” But that might be being a bit unfair. Surely, it was also love and faith that made him want to join Jesus.

For a while Peter’s journey across the stormy water went well. But then he made a bad, near fatal, mistake. He took his eyes off Jesus and focused only on the wind and the waves, at which point he began to sink. When he cried out in panic and fear, “Lord, save me!”, Jesus put out his hand at once and held him.

Can we imagine what it was like for Peter to feel that strong hand of Jesus holding him up out of the water and bringing him back to the boat? And Jesus’ gentle chiding, “Man of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Our own journey of faith towards Jesus probably has many moments that are rather like the journey of Peter across the water: times when we feel the force of the wind and waves, and are tempted to concentrate on those—whatever shape they may take in our lives—rather than towards Jesus; times when our faith seems “little” and doubts swamp over us—sometimes big doubts, sometimes just little waves of doubt that niggle at us and crush our spirit.

Jesus is always there to put out his hand and catch us, as he caught Peter. That is surely one message we should draw from our Gospel today.

And, when Jesus and Peter come back to the boat, we’re told that all the apostles fell down and worshipped him, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God”. The whole experience had led them to know more deeply the divine presence in the human Jesus that they had come to know so well.

In the dialogue between our life journey and our journey of faith that goes on continually in our lives it is perhaps through the challenges and difficulties that we come to know God more clearly—not as someone remote and mysterious watching us from afar but more like what Peter experienced when he felt the strong, loving hand of Jesus lifting him up from the sea and walking with him back to the boat and a new sense of life.

The First Reading tells a similar—and wonderful—story about the prophet Elijah. But perhaps we should leave that for another day.

Brendan Byrne, SJ
8 August, 2020.

Read More →

‘We were hoping …’

Our gathering this weekend, for most people still in digital form, coincides with the annual commemoration of Anzac Day. We do not “celebrate” Anzac Day. We commemorate with great respect the sacrifice of so many young lives and the lasting wounds left by the conflicts in which they were engaged. It is a day that leads many people to reflect on the deeper values that underpin our society and to ask whether we are currently living in a way that could make the sacrifices of past generations in some sense worthwhile.

The end of conflict is always marked by expressions of hope that things will be different—and better—in the future. Such hopes are seldom realized, at least in their fullest extent. The fall of communist regimes in Europe in 1989 was a time of hope. Thirty years on, new global polarities and terrors have replaced the Cold War, and now we have a global pandemic threatening gains made to lift people out of hunger and poverty worldwide. In so many ways we can find ourselves echoing the words of the two disciples who, in today’s Gospel, met Jesus on the road, “We were hoping …”.

They had become followers and friends of Jesus and, as such, had treasured high hopes that he would be the leader who would free the Jewish people from the harsh occupation by the Romans under which they laboured and establish for their country a new regime of peace, prosperity, and justice. These were the standard hopes at the time for what the Messiah would do.

But these hopes had been shattered by what had happened over the past week. On Palm Sunday he had made a triumphant entry into Jerusalem, hailed as its messianic king. By late on Good Friday he had died a most brutal death on a cross, mocked by the leaders and all the passers-by as a false messiah and a failure.

So they trudge on, disillusioned, going back, away from Jerusalem, to resume what they, presumely regarded, as their pretty ordinary lives.

They are joined by a mysterious stranger who walks with them, asks them what they have been talking about, and listens to their sad story. Without interrupting, he lets them tell it all to the end. It’s all part of that “divine courtesy” in which the risen Lord comes to people just where they are emotionally, respecting their feelings. He doesn’t come in a blaze of divine glory and in a sense blow them out of the water by revealing who he is. For a time, he just becomes their companion on the road, walking with them and hearing them out.

Only when they have finished does he begin to take them back to the Scriptures and help them to understand the prophecies concerning the Messiah in a new way. Later, they will describe what they then began to feel while he talked as, “Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?”

What did they mean by that? “Our hearts burning with us” probably refers to a rekindling of hope. What had happened to Jesus was not the end of all their hopes. It was in fact how it was meant to be: the Messiah was not going to be a triumphant leader who would set everything right politically and economically. Rather, the Messiah would be one who would enter into the pain and suffering and sinfulness of the world, personally suffering its violence, in order to heal it from within.

In other words, what had happened to Jesus should not shatter their hope but transform it, calling for a totally new understanding of God and God’s designs for their people and the world as a whole. This is what Jesus, still unrecognized, led them to understand.

The story moves to a new stage when, fascinated by this stranger, they prevail upon him to be their guest. There at table, Jesus takes the bread and, as at the Last Supper, begins to turn the meal into a eucharistic celebration. From receiving hospitality from them, he becomes the host, offering them, in the Eucharist, what we might call “the hospitality of God”.

At this point, they recognize him, but instantly, he vanishes from their sight. We might think this would be a great disappointment to them: losing the Lord, they have just recognized as restored to them, risen from the dead. But No! They hasten back to Jerusalem to share their experience with the other disciples who are still there.

I think their lack of disappointment at losing sight of the risen Lord makes an important point. Jesus will cease to appear to his disciples as risen Lord. He will no longer be present in that way. But he will be present in two other ways that this whole episode illustrates so well. He will be present in the Eucharist. That is why he “disappeared”, so to speak, just after making the eucharistic gestures at the table.

But he will be present in another way too. Just as he explained the Scriptures to these two men as he walked with them on the road, so he will be present in the Church in the Word of God, heard and explained in the Scriptures. For all time, he will be present in Word and Sacrament in the ministry of the Church.

The Church is called to walk with people of every age, especially the sad, suffering, and those who have lost hope; like Jesus on the road, it is called to hear their story, respect their experience, and then, with sensitivity and love, bring the healing Word of the Scripture to rekindle hope. Then, in the sacrament of the Eucharist the Church offers people the warmth and life of the hospitality of God.

Perhaps many of you will be tempted to say that the Church itself is not in the shape today to carry out that role. It is too bruised, too discredited, too shamed, to offer that of hospitality and hope. If the shame brings a greater humility, gentleness, and readiness to listen, as Jesus listened, then perhaps, at least on the local level, we can find grounds for hope.

In our multi-cultural and increasingly secular society, the Anzac commemoration is now, pretty much—and probably rightly—conducted without appeal to specifically Christian words and symbols. In essence, however, its central values of sacrifice, acknowledgment of debt, and gratitude, do go to the heart of our faith centred upon the cross. The risen Lord walked with the two disciples, helping them to see that event in a new way, and rekindling within their hearts a fresh hope. We pray that he may walk with us at this time, rekindling our hopes.

Brendan Byrne, SJ.

 

25 April, 2020.

Read More →

Easter Sunday: 2020

 “The Light Shines on in the Darkness” (John 1:5)

 

None of us, whether young or old, could have imagined a few weeks ago how we would be celebrating Easter this year: shut up in our homes, deprived of physical presence at the ceremonies, anxious about the spread of a virus that is gathering pace world-wide, and bringing not only death but unemployment, isolation, and the threat of economic ruin.

As in the case of the bushfires earlier in the year, there is heroism and self-sacrifice as well. The best of human nature in many respects comes to the fore and a sense of all being in this together overcomes a lot of social division and prejudice.

And here we are celebrating Easter: Christ’s bursting from his “three-day prison”, as the old hymn had it, to a glorious life that he has won for us all, if only we will grasp hold of it.

Though there are signs of hope, at least here in Australia, in regard to the overcoming of the virus, it would be far too premature to link that progress with Christ’s victory over death. It is not, however, wrong to see how the resurrection story begins, as all God’s interventions begin, in surprising and often unpromising ways.

It begins with a terrible emptiness: the emptiness of the tomb in which Jesus had been hastily buried. With our resurrection faith we can look upon that emptiness as very positive indeed; we know the full story. But that wasn’t how it was for the disciples—especially Mary Magdalene—who discovered the empty tomb on the third day. They could only conclude that grave robbers had been at work, or else the authorities, in a further act of cruelty, would not let even Jesus’ broken body to rest in peace.

Not only have they lost, in a terrible way, their living Lord; now even his body has been taken from them before they could give it the rite of anointing prescribed in their Jewish culture.

Sometimes, however, an emptiness on the human side is an indication that God has taken over and is at work in a wonderful, divine way.

So this emptiness in the tomb is not a barren or devastating emptiness. It is not a sign that grave robbers or the authorities have been at work. It is an emptiness, as the angel explains, that God has filled by raising Jesus from the dead, exactly as he had foretold.

We are all to some extent “imprisoned” in our present situation of lock-down. It is too much to say that we are “entombed”—though that is perhaps how the lockdown bears upon some of the more vulnerable and isolated people in the community. For some it will be loneliness, for others it will be the challenge of living too much together without the outlet for play, recreation, travel, and the distance that even the best of relationships need from time to time.

While we wait for a deliverance that may still be many months down the track, we have to give ourselves time to let the light of the risen Lord enter into our hearts. Our faith teaches us that God is always a God who brings life out of death, a God whose light reaches even into the darkest places, including the darkness and emptiness in which we find ourselves at the present time. There is no time, no situation, that God’s power cannot reach into, no emptiness that cannot be an occasion for grace and gift in surprising ways.

We cannot this year stand physically together in community, our candles lit from the Paschal Candle, as we reaffirm our faith and baptismal commitment to the light.

What no confinement, no restriction can take away from us, however, is that we are “children of the light”, called out of darkness into God’s wonderful light. “The Light shines on in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). May our Easter faith gives us hope that, through the trial now upon us, a darkness of spirit will not overcome the light that God has lit in our hearts.

 

Brendan Byrne, SJ

12 April, 2020

Read More →

As we gather in our homes to commemorate the passion of our lord Jesus Christ on this Good Friday 2020, we gather to hold holy the love that opposed violence and the love that endured violence, the love that made its’ way with the cross on its back.

We gather to profess our gratitude for that love, and to stand in solidarity with all those people whose courageous love makes them victims of violence. The cross of Jesus has not been dismantled, the suffering he experienced has not ceased. The cross stands in the midst of life. This is the first time in our lives where we do not meet each other in our churches, but we meet in our domestic churches, in the company of our families in our homes due to the coronavirus that has had an impact on the world at large.

I am daunted by what this virus is doing to lives all over the world…

  • those who are suffering from it;
  • those with compromised health and living in deadly fear of catching it;
  • those who have lost their jobs and don’t know how they will get through this;
  • the elderly in our community, and those isolated from human contact;
  • those at the front line courageously risking their lives for others, our doctors and nurses and carers;
  • millions of refugees living in unsafe situations with no place to go and now with less hope than before;
  • those whose kids are lonely for companionship and play, and are frustrated and bored;
  • millions of people around the globe trapped in their homes and cannot go out even for a walk;
  • people without health care, people who cannot get the medicines they need and the general loneliness millions are experiencing in isolation.

It isn’t often that the whole world feels this vulnerable, that we lose the illusion that we are in control. It is a sobering time, a reflective time, a time to recognise that we are not in control, and a time to count our blessings.

During this unusual time that we are living in, where the death toll of those who have died through this deadly pandemic rises daily, we ask the question: Why is it so significant that we recall the death of a man who died 2000 years ago? The reason is that his death has changed forever the very face of death and given it a new meaning.

We can see this exemplified in the Vietnamese cardinal Francis Van Thuan who had been ordained a bishop of Nha Trang in Vietnam in 1967 and appointed coadjutor bishop of Saigon in 1975 just days before it fell to the North Vietnamese army, was arrested and spent next to 13 years in prison. While in solitary confinement in 9 of the 13 years, he describes the conditions in which he was held.   He was in a cell without windows, and for several days and nights the light would never be switched off. And then for several days and nights he plunged into total darkness. He felt as though he was suffocating of heat and humidity to the point of insanity, and he was distressed because he could not fulfil his ministry as a priest.

Living in the present moment in silence and isolation does not make everything easy and Van Thuan explains, time passes slowly in prison, above all in isolation. Imagine a week, one month or more of silence. They are terribly long.   We are not experiencing something so severe, but we may find the next few weeks and months very hard. Many times in his life he explains, when he suffered from being unable to pray, and he writes, he cried like Jesus on the cross: My God, why have you abandoned me.   He adds at once: Yes I know that God did not abandon me. However difficult this time may be for us, and however hard it can be sometimes to believe it: our faith assures us that we will never be abandoned. As Christians we are committed to remember the passion of Jesus: “whenever you do this, do it in memory of me”. When a community chooses to remember suffering, their memory becomes a protest. That memory also serves to make us aware of the crosses that are in our midst. The memory of Jesus’ passion educates us to pay attention to the sufferings of others. The cross demands that attention should be paid. So today we pay attention to the suffering of Jesus, and the suffering of all those who are paralysed in the grip of fear, and all who are victims of hate and violence.

For us Christians, keeping the memory of Jesus’ death is a living reminder that we are never alone, as we stand near the cross in our lives. While our faith does not magically remove the pain, you and I are assured that Jesus, the crucified son of God, is in solidarity with us at that place. He is intimately close to us because he experienced that place in the most personal and intense way possible.

Our experience over the next few weeks and months will not, we trust, be as extreme as that of Cardinal Van Thuan. But it will offer us an opportunity. “When I lived in times of extreme physical and moral suffering”, Van Thuan writes, “I thought of Jesus crucified”. To the human eye, Jesus’ life was a defeat, a disappointment and a failure. However in the eyes of God, that was the most important moment of his life, because it was then that he poured out his blood for the salvation of humanity. Standing near the cross of Jesus is a painful and a powerful place to be. As we pray this Good Friday, we are invited to stand there with Jesus and his disciples. And we are called to trust that what is happening there is what happens wherever the God of Jesus Christ is present; God is faithfully present and at work to bring life out of death.

I invite you as a family, as you venerate the cross in your midst, to be reminded that the cross of Jesus stands at the centre of the Christian story, as the sign of the length love will go to in its passion for others. If we ever wonder if we are really loved, we should look at the figure on the cross. It is difficult to maintain, that we are unloved, when we know that someone thought that we were worth dying for. The cross was lifted up as a sign of our worth; someone thought that we were worth all that pain and suffering. And that somebody is Jesus, Son of God.

Fr Jude Pirotta mssp

Read More →

We enter the Church’s most sacred week, Holy Week, this year in circumstances that have no precedent, prevented as we are from any public ceremony and burdened by the anxiety caused by the pandemic and all the other restrictions that have followed in its train. We are, perhaps then, in the mood to hear the very sombre account of Jesus’ Passion as described by St. Matthew.

 

But not only do we have the longest of the all the Passion accounts as Gospel. A wealth of Scripture comes before it to set the tone.

First, after the blessing of the palms, there is the Gospel of the Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. What is distinctive of St. Matthew’s account is the stress upon the way Jesus fulfils Scripture (a blend of Isa 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9) by riding into the city on a colt. (So anxious, actually, is Matthew to have Jesus fulfil the prophecy of Zechariah exactly that he actually has him riding both the she-ass and her colt at the same time!) What Matthew wants to bring out is the truth that, though Jesus is entering David’s city as its Messianic king and is rightly acclaimed as such by his disciples, he is not doing so in the way of worldly rulers. They would enter seated on a magnificent white charger. He is coming in the way Scripture had foretold he would: riding the mount of the common people. He chooses this mode of entry to make clear that he comes not as one who will lord it over people but, as the Son of Man who has come, “not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28). This agrees with the presentation of Jesus as the “Servant” figure throughout the gospel (8:17; cf. Isa 53:4; 12:15-21; cf. Isa 42:1-4).

The First Reading set down for the Mass, Isaiah 50:4-9), is in fact the third of the Songs of the Servant of the Lord recorded in the latter half of the Book of Isaiah. All four will be read during Holy Week, culminating in the reading of the last and greatest, Isa 52:13–53:12, on Good Friday. These four texts, in which the personal fate of the prophet and that of Israel are mysteriously intertwined, have from the beginning been central to Christian interpretation of Jesus’ passion and death. For the early believers they provided the “script” for the sufferings of Jesus (Luke 24:27, 44-45; Acts 8:30-35), which otherwise were totally unforeseen in Jewish messianic expectation.

In the Second Reading, Phil 2:6-11, St. Paul quotes what seems to be a hymn from an early Christian liturgy. The sense of Christ’s status—divine and human—that emerges from this text at such an early stage of Christian history, only a few decades after his all too human death upon a cross, is quite remarkable. What the hymn points to is that at three stages of his “career”—pre-incarnate, incarnate up to death, and post-resurrection—the disposition of Christ is to pour himself out in self-emptying love. The “obedience unto death” displayed in his passion is absolutely continuous with the divine outpouring of love that led to the incarnation of the one whose nature was divine. The hymn thus provides the essential background and accompaniment to our consideration of the Passion of Jesus throughout Holy Week: behind every word, gesture and suffering is the outreach of God’s love to an alienated world.

St. Matthew’s account of the Passion follows that of St. Mark very closely but with certain additions that bring out an issue Matthew particularly wishes to stress. In the biblical tradition which Matthew inherited and of which he is so conscious, the shedding of innocent blood was considered a monstrous crime; guilt for shedding innocent blood could adhere to towns and communities down entire generations. If such a crime occurred, it was essential to find the perpetrator and carry out the prescribed punishment and ritual so that the guilt would not remain a stain and pollution upon the community as a whole. Matthew invites us to contemplate the arrest and eventual execution of Jesus from this point of view—as a shedding of the most innocent blood the world has ever known. This haunting issue lends the Matthean Passion narrative great dramatic power—which is why it has inspired works of high art down the ages (such as, in music, J. S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion).

So Matthew lingers on persons and episodes central to this issue. Most prominent is the tragic figure of Judas. We are told not only of his betrayal of Jesus but also of his subsequent remorse and his futile attempt to cleanse himself of guilt by getting the chief priests to take back the blood-money (27:3-10). The priests will have none of this. Nonetheless, anxious to avoid any guilt themselves, they use the money for a philanthropic purpose (buying a plot of land as a burying place for strangers). Judas meanwhile, unable to forgive himself and unable, it would seem, to believe that he might find forgiveness and a fresh start with Jesus, goes off and hangs himself.

Peter, by contrast, when he hears the cock crow after his third denial, realizes what he has done and “goes out and weeps bitterly”. He is overcome with sorrow and shame but somehow the fact that Jesus had foretold his failure, allows him to see it gathered up within the overall divine plan. He does not despair but awaits a better day.

Pilate, warned by his wife to have nothing to do with “that innocent man” (27:19), washes his hands before the crowd, saying “I am innocent of this man’s blood” (27:24), which of course he is not. Finally, the people as a whole answer, “His blood be upon us and upon our children” (27:25). No verse in scripture has caused more suffering than this one. None needs such careful handling in preaching and interpretation. In no sense does this cry, terrible as it is, mean that the crowd is taking upon itself responsibility for the death of Jesus down the generations, so that in some way the responsibility would fall upon Jewish people for all time. This would be a monstrous misinterpretation. Matthew’s gospel was written shortly after the Fall of Jerusalem to the Roman armies in 70 CE. Many other Jewish writings of the time cast about for a reason for that calamity. For Matthew the reason is that the citizens of Jerusalem, urged on by their leaders, called down upon themselves “and their children” responsibility for the innocent blood of Jesus. “Their children” refers strictly to the coming generation—the generation that would be in its mature years at the time when Jerusalem fell to the Romans. There is absolutely no suggestion that the responsiblity should somehow continue on or that it should adhere to the Jewish people as a whole. This needs to be made expressly clear.

Early in the Passion narrative, when Jesus is arrested, one of his companions attempts to resist violently, cutting off the ear of the High Priest’s slave (26:51). Jesus’ rebukes him, pointing out that, if he wanted, he could appeal to his Father for twelve legions of angels (26:52-53). But then he adds, “How then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?” (26:54). This makes clear the absolute freedom with which he goes to his death—the freedom of self-sacrificial love. All that will happen—the betrayal, the miscarriage of justice, the shedding of innocent blood: all this evil—is gathered up and overcome by an overwhelming act of divine love, foretold in the scriptures. Even as Jesus dies there is already a hint of love’s victory as the earthquake and opening of tombs foreshadows the resurrection (27:50-54).

 

 

Read More →

Dear brothers and sisters,

We are celebrating the fifth Sunday of Lent, and today’s readings have a lot to tell us about the particular circumstances we are all living in at the moment. In some way or other, the COVID-19 pandemic is having an impact on each and every one of us, especially those who are more vulnerable, those infected and those who have lost their lives, and their loved ones. Reflecting upon the raising of Lazarus by Jesus may help us gain strength, even as we prepare to celebrate the passion, death, and resurrection of Our Lord.

The whole theme is introduced by one of the prophet Ezekiel’s visions: the valley of the dry bones. Ezekiel is taken by the Spirit to this valley, strewn with dry bones. In obedience to God’s command, Ezekiel addresses the bones. Beyond his wildest dreams, the bones come together, flesh and sinew grow on them, and gifted with the spirit of God, they become living beings once again. A great people. Such is the great power of God’s love for his often errant people. He brings life out of death, even in situations where no such hope seems to exist.

As we read John’s gospel, and the sign of Lazarus’ raising from death, there are some aspects that really come to the fore.

Among others, we meet three people, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, who are described as being Jesus’ friends.

  • Mary is described as being the same Mary who, in another episode at Simon’s house, anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. Her love was beyond compare, as a lot was forgiven her. With his forgiveness, Jesus granted her a new life, and she would never forget that.
  • Martha is the one who welcomed him to their house, but was too busy to sit and listen to what he was saying. Through his response, that Mary chose the better part, she learnt that being close to Him is much more important than doing things for him. She did come around, and knew him for what he was. In today’s gospel, she tells Jesus: “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.” She received the gift of really knowing Jesus.
  • Lazarus, described by neighbours as a friend of Jesus, and by Martha and Mary, as a man loved by Jesus.

For some not-readily understood reason, Jesus did not hurry to Lazarus when he received the news of his sickness. And all being said, both Martha and Mary remonstrate with Jesus when he did turn up, telling him: “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Both women were very expressive of their grief. Their pain, coupled with His love for his friend Lazarus, brought Jesus to tears, and to a statement of who he really is:

I am the resurrection and the life.

If anyone believes in me, even though he dies, he will live,

And whoever lives and believes in me will never die.

He asks Martha: Do you believe this? She replies in the affirmative. But she probably did not expect much, so much so that at the tomb, when he told the people to remove the stone, she tells him that by now he would be smelling. The corruption process has begun, and he is now beyond the possibility of life. “If you believe, you will see the glory of God”, he tells her. And after a prayer addressed to the Father, he calls Lazarus out. “Unbind him, and let him go free”, Jesus tells the people.

The emotions (grief in particular) and words of Martha and Mary may resonate with our own grief, and with the questions emanating from that grief.  We too feel the pain brought about by sickness and death, especially when our loved ones are involved. Why Lord, do you allow such things to happen? Why him? Why her? Why should the innocent suffer? Why is there pain and suffering in the world? If you are a loving God, why is there injustice in the world? Can you do something about this coronavirus, Lord? People are suffering. People are dying. Do you not care?

There is no easy answer to these questions. Perhaps there is no answer at all. But then, perhaps like Mary and Martha we are invited to believe. To believe that He is the Son of God, the one who came into this world.

And that is when things start to happen. That is when we start to see things differently. That is when we begin to note that God is working in our world. How will God act? When will He act? Where will we see his actions? At the moment we do not know, but we can expect God’s actions to be the unexpected ones. Ezekiel never expected the bones to take life. Martha and Mary never expected Jesus to raise their Lazarus from the dead. But He did.

Already in the present circumstances, we are noting beautiful things happening. To be sure, these circumstances do bring about the worst in people… epitomised by sheer lack of responsibility and selfishness.   They bring about financial uncertainty especially among those who lose their jobs. And they bring grief and pain to those who lose friends and family.

But on the other hand, we also hear and are touched by many edifying examples of selfless care and love. Of how responsible people are and how they act, of dedication and generosity, of people going out of their way, sometimes at some personal risk, to care for others.

Some are speaking of families becoming closer as they spend more time together, and of a cleaner environment. People are asking about life. What is the meaning of life? What are we created for? What have we become? What is most important? What aspects of our life need to be corrected, so that we may live more humanely?

We note and we ask, because we are intelligent beings. What is God trying to tell us? Is it in this way that He is touching people’s hearts? Maybe! Maybe his actions will be more surprising than we might think. God does have a habit of responding in ways that surpass our expectations. Martha and Mary are witnesses to the way God acts.

 

Jesus tells those present to remove the stone. Then, when he calls him, Lazarus comes out, still bound. Finally, Jesus says to those present: Unbind him, let him go free. He works a miracle, which left them speechless, amazed and overwhelmed. He invites them to participate, to have a share in the miracle-working (remember the miracle at Cana?). Jesus raised him. Now they have to set him free.

In the present circumstances, as in all circumstances for that matter, we too are being called to do our bit. We are called to see the plight of those who suffer, and we are called to do something about it. We are invited to show our love of neighbour through our care and responsible actions.   We will be partakers in the miracle that will show, once again, that He is the resurrection and the life.

Fr Silvio Bezzina mssp

Read More →

The Resurrection and the Life

Years ago I met a remarkable Chinese bishop, Archbishop Tang, who had been removed from his diocese and imprisoned for over twenty years. Among many things he shared with us was that, although completely cut off from any possibility to celebrate the sacraments, for all that time in prison he carefully observed all the seasons of the Church’s year. He knew how to calculate the moveable times for Easter. When after so long he emerged from prison and made contact with other Catholics, he could say before they told him, exactly what day it was on the Church’s calendar for that year.

For the first time in the lives of most of us, I presume, we shall be going through the most sacred seasons of the Church’s year—Holy Week and Easter—without attending the ceremonies. The experience of Archbishop Tang and—doubtless many others of our fellow believers in similar situations of persecution today—remind us that it is possible to experience the grace of this sacred time even when deprived of the ceremonies that celebrate it.

In this context perhaps the long Gospel for today, the account of Jesus’ raising of his friend Lazarus, becomes even more important. It prepares us to understand how the death and resurrection of Jesus reach out to grasp each one of us in a very personal way.

There is so much contained here. In the space of this homily, without trying your patience unduly, I can only touch on a few essential points.

First of all, we have to understand that when the message comes to Jesus that his friend Lazarus is seriously ill, he himself is presently in what is for him “safe territory” on the east side of the Jordan river. As the conversation he has with the disciples makes clear, the authorities in Jerusalem are now so hostile to him that to go into Judea, where Lazarus and his sisters live, will be to put his own life in mortal danger.

Secondly, a curious feature of the story is that when Jesus receives the message, we are told that, though he loves Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary, he doesn’t set out immediately but delays two days longer. Is this the action of love? By delaying in this way he effectively lets Lazarus die—which is precisely what each of the sisters point out when eventually he does arrive, ‘Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died’.

Jesus assures Martha that her brother would rise again. To which Martha responds, “I know he will rise again on the last day”—a comforting thought from her conventional Jewish faith but not one that really addresses the present loss. But then she hears from Jesus one of his most majestic utterances:

 

I am the resurrection and the life;

those who believe in me, even though they die, will live;

and whoever lives believing in me will never die.

 

Jesus sweeps the hope of resurrection from the indefinite future (“the last day”) to the present: “I am …”. He also speaks more generally. He is “the resurrection and the life” not just for Lazarus but for all believers—and also for all those who, like Martha and Mary, will mourn the loss of loved ones.

Jesus does not deny that believers will continue to die, that is, die in a physical sense. But their living and believing in Jesus will ensure that physical death is not the end of the story. In this sense they “will live” and “will never die”, that is, die eternally. Faith in Jesus and living in that faith communicates to believers here and now a share in the eternal life that is the very life of God. The whole point of Jesus’ mission from the Father is to communicate “life” in this sense to human beings (John 1:4, 12-13; 10:10b, 28).

In the end, Jesus does bring Lazarus back to life—a return to this present human life, from which, of course, one day he will have to die once more. However, the restoration of Lazarus to present human life is a symbol of the “eternal life” which Jesus, as “Resurrection and Life”, comes to impart to all.

In this connection let us remember how Jesus was putting his own life at mortal risk by leaving a region of safety for him (across the Jordan) and going to Judea to raise Lazarus. In this way his going to Lazarus becomes a model of his whole saving mission as Son of God. In obedience to the given him by the Father, the Son left the “safe country” of his eternal dwelling with the Father “in the beginning” (1:1-2) to enter our world, where he would be in mortal danger, a danger that in fact became reality in his death upon the cross.

Here lies the most profound truth of the story: Lazarus stands in for each one of us. Each one of us is the friend “whom Jesus loved”, the one for whom he left his “safe country” in order to rescue us from death at the cost of his own life. Having heard this Gospel about the raising of Lazarus today, each one of us to hear—or, most likely in our present situation— read the Passion on Good Friday saying all along, “This is for love of me, this is to rescue me from death and give me eternal life”.

A final point: the Gospel also addresses grief in the Christian community. Jesus does not abolish physical death. Just as to Martha and Mary’s dismay he let their brother Lazarus die, so he lets us and our loved ones die. His “remedy” for death, as he hinted to Martha, is to be “the Resurrection and the Life” in a more profound way. This is not just “spiritual comfort”. The emotion Jesus displays just before raising Lazarus (mentioned four times and including an element of anger as well as grief) shows a divine sharing in the complex emotions that make up human response to death. Though he has come to give eternal life, Jesus weeps over our death and the deaths of those we love and mourn.

These are just some of the ways in which this long Gospel has profound meaning for our faith and prepares us for the commemoration of Jesus’ death and resurrection in Holy Week and Easter.

Brendan Byrne, SJ.

28–29 March, 20

Read More →
Exemple

Fr Jude – Homily – 4th Sunday of Lent

The liturgy today makes memory and proclaims the passage in which Jesus heals the man born blind.

A miracle which takes the entire chapter 9, 41 verses in John’s Gospel.

Blindness is a terrible thing because our sight is central to so much that we enjoy in the world.

This man in the Gospel was blind from birth and Jesus brought healing to him both physical and spiritual.

When we trust Jesus there is always something powerful and unexpected that happens to us. Jesus doesn’t always give us what we want or desire but he always gives us what we need because he’s our Father even if we don’t always recognise it.

The blind man received the gift of sight then later he received the gift of eternal life through his faith in Christ.

Although the healing of his physical blindness was instantaneous, his growth in spiritual sight was gradual. He grew from the vague perception of the Saviour as the man called Jesus to boldly proclaiming Jesus as a prophet, and finally to turning his back on his lack of parental support and the hostility of the religious leadership to recognize Jesus – whom he had never actually seen face to face – as the Lord whom he worshipped.

While the blind man came to see, the seeing became more blind. The Pharisees saw the same miracle, but to their spiritual loss. The Pharisees met Jesus, without really meeting him. Their spiritual blindness deepened because of their smugness, self-centredness, and general hardness of heart – qualities that often characterise people who haven’t sufficiently suffered. They heard Jesus and they saw him, but they neither saw nor heard the salvation that was at hand. They were expert at preaching the word of God to others, but they were blind to the words of their own Scriptures, such as that if you would hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.

This miracle not only met his physical need but more importantly it met his greatest need of all; his need of a saviour.

When the disciples asked Jesus if the blindness of the man was a consequence of his sin or the sin of his parents, Jesus replied this wasn’t the case, but that his blindness revealed the works of God. So Jesus teaches us that when we are faced with difficulties, the challenges of life, rather than finding someone or something to blame, we could recognise this as perhaps an opportunity for God to display his power and love that will go beyond our expectations. That’s exactly what the Father did with his son Jesus on the cross. The cross was not the end of it but rather an opportunity for God to display his power and glory.

The miracle of healing wasn’t over until this blind man started believing that Jesus was the Son of God, the Saviour. And it was that belief that led him to worship and to have a personal relationship with him. As we continue our Lenten journey I invite you to continue to have faith and to place your trust in God which really means that you look at him not just for what he can do for you but for who he really is and what he has already done for you on the cross.

Our present situation – this so called pandemic really might be a venue for dialogue among peoples for the disease does not discriminate. It could be a point of convergence, of coming together, of working together looking at the common good.

Our Lenten journey this year I believe, is made more significant by this world wide concern.

We cannot separate our Lenten journey from the COVID-19 pandemic and I also believe that the spirit of Lent, could help us especially Christians, help us face the health crisis. The Spirit of Lent might open for us new lights, new visions, so that even beyond the coronavirus pandemic we would have something lasting – what has Lent taught us in the context of this crisis.

Every year the Lenten journey happens in a context and whether we like it or not, Lent 2020 will always be remembered as a Lenten journey in the mix of the corona virus 19 crisis.

Fr Brendan Byrne gives a more detailed account of this Gospel which is well worth reflecting on at this time. This can be found on our Parish website.

Read More →
St James The Apostle